Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book review

Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul

Authors: Bruce J. Malina, John J. Pilch
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, 2006
Paperback: x + 417 pps.

Thanks to the great folks at Augsburg Fortress for this review copy! I'm quite interested in the 'world' in which the NT authors lived in (i.e., their socio-economic background, customs, worldview, attitude, etc.) and so this seemed to be a good book to look at to see how they understand Paul from that perspective. First, a quick caveat: they are adamant that only seven letters are Paul-authored and the rest are possibly second, third, or even fourth-generation "Jesus-group documents"! I'm not sure how I feel about that, but since this review is not dealing with that issue, I won't stir that hornets' nest. Therefore, this commentary only looks at those seven letters. Second, the writers are equally convinced that a phrase such as Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην in Gal. 3:28 are not referring to racial distinctions between Jews or Gentiles, but refers instead to "Judeans," ones practicing Judean traditions, and "Hellenists," those civilized folk characterized by the use of the common Greek language.

As the title suggests, this is a commentary, so each chapter is devoted to each of the seven letters of Paul. The big plus for me in this book was the chapter that followed these sections, what they titled 'Reading Scenarios for the (Authentic) Letters of Paul' (Seemed like they really wanted to drive home this point...) This section focuses on anthropological themes that help to interpret the letters. Some of the topics mentioned are: challenge-riposte, purity-pollution, collectivistic personality, demons-demon possession, encomium, and patronage system. There's much more, but you get the idea. Again, this is a commentary, not a book meant to be read cover to cover, so I think it is a good supplement to understand some of the things that are going on the NT world. I'm sure I'll look at this book from time to time to see what social conventions might have been detected in the Pauline letters.


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