Monday, May 14, 2012

Review of Mark Given's Paul Unbound

Mark D. Given, ed. Paul Unbound: Other Perspectives on the Apostle. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010. Pp. xiv + 210. ISBN: 978-1-59856-324-5. $24.95 paper.

These essays discuss aspects of Pauline studies that are often beyond traditional theological and historical considerations. They are designed to introduce advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and interested laypeople to areas not often covered in standard textbooks and thus serve as a supplement to such works. Mark D. Given begins with an introduction that explains how the myth of Prometheus relates to the perspectives taken in this collection.
            Warren Carter’s essay provides a critical overview of scholarship that focuses on the Roman imperial context. Carter is particularly helpful in seeing the various ways that Paul negotiated the empire. He contends that there is a paradigm shift occurring in this area, though he rightly cautions against an over-correction that leads to a neglect of Paul’s first-century Jewish context. Steven J. Friesen’s chapter reminds Pauline scholars of the economic context of the early Christ-movement. When this is neglected, they provide anachronistic descriptions of the social status of the earliest Christ-followers. He introduces his poverty scale that provides a taxonomy of economic indicators. Using this scale, Friesen finds that the majority of those described in Paul’s letters lived at or around the subsistence level. He then applies his poverty model to Paul’s Jerusalem collection and argues that it functions as an alternative patronage system. Jerry L. Sumney thinks that there is a need for methodological sophistication when it comes to identifying Paul’s opponents. In his essay, he suggests that scholars pay closer attention to the way they employ information from the surrounding culture, so that their reconstructions of Paul’s opponents are anchored in the text rather than an imagined cultural imposition.
            Charles H. Cosgrove’s essay offers a wide-ranging review of studies focused on various aspects of ethnicity in Pauline studies. He finds that Paul was highly interested in ethnic identity, and thinks that the reconciliation of various ethnic groups was part of Paul’s mission (p. 97). Cosgrove’s essay is particularly helpful in understanding the various approaches to the continuation of Jewish and Gentile identity in Christ. A. Andrew Das provides a description of seven pressure points in the debates between the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the traditional Lutheran perspective. This essay quickly orients readers to the key areas in question, and Das skillfully weaves into this survey his third-way reading that navigates both perspectives. Mark D. Nanos’ chapter provides a sustained argument for the contention that Paul never left Judaism but remained Torah observant, and that the NPP did not go far enough. This important essay introduces readers to an emerging interpretive perspective often overlooked by Pauline scholars. Deborah Krause outlines feminist perspectives on Paul and contends that the field has shifted from a narrow focus on Paul’s view of women to a broader interest in the contributions of women within the earliest Christ-movement. Jorunn Økland’s work is a particularly good example of this (pp. 167-68). Mark D. Given’s essay provides a brief survey of rhetorical criticism, both traditional and postmodern approaches, and shows how a combination of these can bring interpretive insights to 1 Corinthians.
            Given brings together key perspectives that are quite influential in current Pauline studies, and this book achieves its goal of introducing students to different approaches to Paul. Given recognizes that other perspectives need to be addressed (p. 5), and it is hoped that a follow-up book will address some of those omissions. However, this book is a welcome addition to the field, and will provide students an accessible resource that will allow them to quickly orient themselves to these different perspectives on the Apostle Paul.

No comments: