I think the best line to sum up the contents on the book is the last sentence of the preface: “This book is an attempt to get further inside Paul’s world, and, through this, to understand him better.” By “Paul’s world,” Ruden refers primarily to the Greco-Roman world. She has worked for some time translating a significant amount of the primary literature, and in the front matter her translation of The Aeneid, The Homeric Hymns, Lysistrata and Satyricon are listed among her other publications.
Ruden lays out the book’s contents topically rather than systematically working through the Pauline epistles. It seems she has chosen the topics based on those areas in Paul’s thought where she believes modern readers have misunderstood him on account of having insufficient knowledge of the Greco-Roman world. Since the topics are based on misunderstandings, some of the topics are controversial, whereas other are not necessarily controversial. For example, Ruden includes chapters on Paul’s views concerning women and homosexuality, but she also includes a chapter on Paul’s views on love. 1 Corinthians 13 may be one of the less controversial texts attributed to Paul, seeing as it has made it’s way into many marriage ceremonies; however, Ruden believes the passage has, nonetheless, been misunderstood.
The chapters themselves consist of laying out some important passages in Paul next to passages from authors of the Greco-Roman world. So, for example, in the chapter on Paul view’s concerning homosexuality, Ruden lays out Romans 1:24-27 alongside texts from Martial, Plutarch, Petronius, and Juvenal among others. If I can make an analogy then, the book is somewhat like Readings From the First Century World only written in a much more engaging style and with more interpretation on the part of the author. She brings in personal anecdotes and even possesses a gift for invective, as comes out as she narrates some of her experiences living in South Africa.
Other topics that Ruden covers are Paul’s views on pleasure, government and slavery. I’ll be posting my own personal thoughts on the book within the next couple of days, but from what I’ve read so far it’s worth the read.