RABBI PAUL—AN INTELLECTUAL BIOGRAPHYWritten by Bruce Chilton Reviewed By J. R. Dodson
In Rabbi Paul, Chilton attempts a new understanding of Paul by focusing on the places, people, and milieu that influenced Paul’s evolving theology. Part I is primarily concerned with the impact that Stoicism and Judaism had upon Paul. Part II demonstrates how the divorce between the Jews and Christians was derived from Paul’s post-conversion definition of Israel, which included an arrogant denigration of Moses. This section displays a Paul who incited rejection from every side, including Peter, James and Silas, and whose successes were either short-lived or exaggerated. Part III illustrates the influence of Paul yesterday and today, positing that much of Paul’s influence and success was posthumous as well as indebted to Timothy’s pseudepigraphal writings.
Chilton believes that he has reconstructed a ‘better portrait’ of Paul—a Paul whom he claims has been ‘watered-down’ by dogmatists and hagiographers. However, Chilton exchanges the ‘watered-down’ Paul for a washed-up one, who was an arrogant, pretend apostle whose life was riddled with failure and whose genius was only discovered after his death.
To reach his reconstruction, Chilton presupposes a paradigm which causes him to make some creative interpretations of Scripture. An example of this is where Chilton states that since Paul reasoned that the believer actually becomes the body of Christ during Eucharist. Paul also regarded sexual union even with one’s spouse a bad idea, and for this reason, he commanded the Corinthians to abstain. The author also propounds that Paul based his seemingly misogynous arguments in 1 Corinthians on his personal aversion to the sexual attraction of the female flesh and voice. Chilton surmises that similar temptations of Paul, especially with prostitutes, might be seen in Paul’s psychological struggle depicted in Romans 7.
Chilton’s employment of the book of Acts is rather inconsistent: holding it to be a valuable resource when it supports his paradigm, but as a myth when it does not. The story that Acts and tradition do not tell, according to Chilton, is that Paul’s relationships with all of his churches crumbled. This caused Paul to return to Jerusalem in desperation in order to get authorisation to try ministry in Rome However, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and thus gave up on his calling. Instead, he merely existed and his death.
Moreover, Chilton’s new ‘portrait’ contains some bold, but not necessarily substantiated strokes. Some examples include his portrayal of Paul’s role as a humble and silent observer at the Jerusalem Council to depiction of Silas’s role as a ‘more’ and later ‘enemy’ of the Apostle, and his proposal that Paul’s true purpose for penning Galatians stemmed more for a desire ‘to entertain the Ephesians than to convince the Galatians.’
In spite of some good biographical sketches of the political and people groups of Paul’s world, and scintillating insights that enliven an imaginative reconstruction of Paul’s story, this book would be of interest primarily to readers looking for a biography on Paul that contains untested Claims and interpretations which cut against the grain of what has been expressed in Scripture, tradition and much of contemporary scholarship.
J. R. Dodson