This is the third installment of my review of Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People from Image Catholic Books. You can read my Q&A with Sarah as well as get an idea of the contents of the book. In this post, I will give my own personal thoughts.
First, I think that Ruden’s command over the primary literature is phenomenal. I discussed this in relation to the contents of the book in my previous post; however, it bears mentioning again that her long-standing work as a translator of Greek and Latin texts really pays off here. Ruden’s examples are always pertinent to the issue she is discussing and always shed a great deal of light on the subject. Other books on Paul’s writings might include references to the ancient world; however, if authors have not scoured the primary literature, the examples they use might not really be the best.
Second, I very much enjoyed Ruden bringing in a number of personal anecdotes. She admits to being a person once uncomfortable with the apostle Paul, placing him in the same category many of the Hebrew prophets (though I guess it depends on how the word prophet is being used here). However, she notes how she has come to appreciate Paul much more. Further, having recently completed my degree from the University of Stellenbosch, I enjoyed many of her anecdotes about living in South Africa. She relates several instances that show she how clearly speaks her mind. The book, then, is not a dry academic tome, but communicates much of the enthusiasm of the author.
Third and probably most importantly, Ruden really does accomplish her goal with the book, namely “to get further inside Paul’s world, and, through this, to understand him better.” I felt like after reading the book I had a better understanding of the Greco-Roman world in which Paul lived. And, I can’t think of anything much better that I can say about book, other than that it accomplished its goal.
As one point of critique, I would mention that the book did lack detailed focus on Paul’s jewishness. It is not as if this aspect of Paul’s life is completely absent, as there is some information in the preface and throughout the chapters. Yet the focus is overwhelmingly on the Greco-Roman world. Of course, there are a number of excellent books on Paul’s jewishness. So, I’d recommend reading Paul Among the People alongside other texts that help fill out the picture of who Paul was.
Overall, I’d recommend the book. It’s a fairly easy read and not too long. And you should leave with a better understanding of Paul’s thought on a number of important topics.