Book reviews

Armstrong, K., St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate

Over the centuries Paul of Tarsus has been a controversial figure, and that will remain the same after this book. Armstrong vividly paints the communities Paul visited, each with its own cultural characteristics. This is the strongest point of this book, along with the differences she convincingly shows between Ephesians and Colossians on the one hand and the authentic Pauline letters on the other.

But in general Armstrong gives a superficial overview of Pauline scholarship, avoiding the most controversial subjects. She keeps silent about the Jesus-Paul problem, that is the fact that Paul, who in the traditional chronology was active shortly after Jesus’ death, does not mention even once the human being Jesus, his home region Galilee, his disciples, his teachings or his spectacular deeds. There are also numerous links between Paul and the Essenes, and if I am not mistaken the Essenes are not mentioned at all. In my opinion Armstrong also underemphasizes Paul’s main objective to unite Jews and non-Jews in a broad anti-Roman politicoreligious coalition.

Anyone who has some familiarity with the origins of Christianity will know that Josephus’s Testimonium and Tacitus’s description of the persecution of Christians under Nero are highly problematic fragments. I understand that Armstrong tries to vulgarize Pauline scholarship, but presenting Josephus and Tacitus as proof for Jesus’ crucifixion without mentioning the highly problematic status of these two texts is below any scholarly standard.