Interviews: Paula Fredriksen
Paul and Paula
You can read the full interview, or you can watch a clip. It's full of interesting remarks, and would be ideal for new students of Paul -- I am going to recommend it to my class. Some personal highlights:
The way most modern people get their idea of ancient history is through the movies. In the movies, Romans dress differently from everybody else. The Romans are the ones speaking with a British accent, and the good, liberty-loving slaves are speaking with American accents. It’s an oral coding for the different populations.It is so encouraging that an American has spotted that too, an aspect of American films British people often laugh about. (It's not just true of the ancient world; baddies in American films set in the contemporary world often have English accents, even when they are supposed to be French or German).
In I, Claudius, when Herod Agrippa comes on stage after he’s been home in Palestine for a few years, he has prayer curls the way an 18th-century Polish Jew would, because the movie has only a few seconds to indicate visually who the character is. But the historical Herod, of course, would have looked just like any other Roman. And Paul, for that matter, would probably have been clean-shaven too. People dress like each other if they’re contemporary. This idea of clearly separate populations comes from trying to code these people—historically, when we try to distinguish between them, and also visually, with movies, to make it easier to tell the story. In real life, these populations all swim in the same sea. The Western Jewish population is speaking the great Western vernacular of Greek, and there’s a normal tendency to adopt local habits.I must admit that I've never imagined Paul as clean shaven, but come to think of it, that description of his appeareance in The Acts of Paul and Thecla does not mention a beard (and it does mention his eyebrows). I was also intrigued by Prof. Fredriksen's answer to the following:
DH: We hear increasingly about the new perspective on Paul; what exactly is the “old” perspective?But I would also have liked to have heard her answer to the question "What is the new perspective?" because the answer to that question is not entirely clear to me. It's a bit like "What is the third quest of the historical Jesus?" It is coming to mean some quite different things to different people. I hope to post a little more on my thoughts on that, as it happens, in due course.
PF: The old perspective on Paul is that he became a Christian, and that that meant something other than being Jewish. It’s captured very nicely in a children’s Christian cartoon I once saw, where Paul is on the road to Damascus, and he has the Jewish male head covering—the kippa—on his head. He gets knocked down, the shining light is on him, Jesus speaks to him, and for the rest of the cartoon he doesn’t have a kippa anymore. Finished. He’s “Christian.” Christianity is so easily imagined as somehow the opposite of Judaism, because that’s how Christianity has presented Judaism to itself in the centuries long after Paul. In Paul’s lifetime, Christianity is only understandable as an extreme form of Judaism. And Paul thinks of himself as a Jew. What’s his choice? The only other option would be to think of himself as a gentile.