Thursday, May 20, 2004

In the Footsteps of Saint Paul, Edward Stourton

Two years ago I was lucky to be consultant on an excellent BBC Radio 4 series called In the Footsteps of Saint Paul, produced by Phil Pegum and presented by Edward Stourton. British readers will know Ed Stourton from BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Stourton has now produced his own book based on the series and it is reviewed in this week's Tablet by Karen Armstrong:

Sympathy for a maligned disciple
In the Footsteps of Saint Paul
Edward Stourton
Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99
I myself made this journey some 20 years ago, at the very beginning of my own career as a writer and religious historian. When I was invited to make this television series by Channel 4, I was still sceptical about faith and hostile to religion. This, I thought, was my chance to tell St Paul exactly what I thought of him: it was he who had transformed the loving message of the gospels into a hard, authoritarian dogma, and had in the process bequeathed to the Christian Churches some of their worst failings, such as anti-Semitism, misogyny, and a preoccupation with complex doctrine.

Instead, in the course of my journey, I found that I had to revise these prejudiced opinions and discovered, much to my surprise, that by the end of the trip I felt very close to Paul. Stourton seems to have had a similar experience. This is not a scholarly book. Stourton recoils in mock horror from the crowded bookshelves that are positively groaning under the weight of heavy tomes on New Testament scholarship. It is a pity that he did not take the time to read a few of them. Biblical criticism need not be a dry-as-dust discipline; it can lead to intellectual illumination and new spiritual insight. Stourton, however, has relied on the works of a couple of doughty Victorian clergymen, some travelogues and a few modern scholars. Nevertheless this is a genial, attractive and highly readable introduction to the life and times of Paul and will dispel some of the common misapprehensions about his contribution to Christian history.
It is good to see Armstrong not only endorsing Stourton's refusal to engage in Paul-bashing but also speaking well of the value of reading some New Testament scholarship. Armstrong herself reads widely and so is not to be faulted for herself not being bang up to date on that scholarship when she writes later in the review:
Paul did not see Jesus as a divine figure, and neither did the other New Testament writers, with the possible exception of St John. St Luke, who is the evangelist whose theology is closest to Paul’s, simply calls Jesus a prophet, even after the Resurrection. There is usually a clear distinction in the texts between Jesus, the Kyrios Christos, and God himself.
In the light of Bauckham, Wright and now most prominently Larry Hurtado, this may well need rethinking.

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