August 4, 2009

An Introduction to the Study of Paul by David G. Horrell

The aim of this volume by David Horrell is to not to answer questions but to raise them. Horrell, Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Exeter, UK, provides a very brief survey of the major questions and debates in the scholarly study of Paul, his life, and his letters. He introduces briefly the three overlapping worlds in which Paul found himself - Roman, Hellenistic, and Jewish. The chapters deal with such matters as whether Paul was converted or called, the central elements in Paul's gospel, and Paul's understanding of the Jewish Law. He devotes some time to the extensive debate over whether the Greek phrase pistis Christou means "faith in Christ" or "faithfulness of Christ." And, of course, he devotes considerable time to the issue of "righteousness" language and the so-called New Perspective on Paul. Horrell even includes a chapter on some of the newer and influential approaches to Paul including: social-scientific, political, and feminist interpretations.

Horrell's central focus is to introduce interested readers to the major critical questions in the study of Paul, not to provide his own reading of Paul, though his views do find their way into the discussions at times. He is quite sympathetic to those readings of Paul which resist portraying Judaism as inferior to Christianity, a common trend in post-World War Two scholarship. Also, newcomers should be prepared for a book that does not take Paul to be the author of the disputed Paulines (Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus).

Overall, the book is well written and provides a decent survey of important matters in Pauline studies. Readers familiar with the discipline will immediately realize, though, that the debates are much more complex than the present book has room to address. Such readers will find little new information. The book would serve well as a college text book. It's primary strength lies in the fact that most introductions to Paul are really theologies of Paul as understood by the authors. This book is more interested in introducing the issues. The bibliographies and suggestions for further reading are quite valuable. Unfortunately, the author and publishers decided to place all the notes at the end of each chapter. This is somewhat frustrating especially in a work that intends to point the reader beyond itself to the books it discusses.

I recommend this book to anyone planning to do work in Paul as a volume that provides a nice glimpse at the lay of the scholarly land. I will certainly keep it around as a reference for who said what and where to find it.

No comments: