Monday, January 01, 2007

What Paul Meant

Reviews of What Paul Meant by Garry Wills.

Via titusonenine (comments here), NYT:
Wills insists that Jesus and Paul both opposed “religion,” claiming that the worship of God was not something “based on external observances, on temples or churches, on hierarchies or priesthoods.” Both Jesus and Paul were, in fact, “killed by religion.”

Only in the Middle Ages, sometime before the ninth century, did the institutional church, with its “male monopoly” on “offices and honors,” decide that “a woman apostle was unthinkable.” To obscure the radical egalitarianism practiced by the founders of the faith, who believed that women could be “prophets in the gathering,” the Roman hierarchy had to engage in what Wills calls a “Soviet-style rewriting of history.” What most present-day Christians, and especially orthodox Roman Catholics, consider to be essential elements of the faith, he argues, must be understood as corruptions of Jesus’ and Paul’s intentions.

With this bracing book, Wills, who continues to call himself a Catholic, further cements his reputation as one of the most intellectually interesting and doctrinally heterodox Christians writing today. By argument or by implication, he manages to reject the legitimacy and authority not only of the papacy and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy but also of the early church councils, the church fathers and even, in many instances, the Gospels themselves. In their place he substitutes spontaneous devotion to God and neighbor — and commitment to the politically subversive view that “love is the only law.” So much for Christianity necessarily serving as a handmaiden of conservative politics.

The WaPo review ran last week:
Didn't this prissy arch-patriarch warn women not to speak in churches, to cover their heads when they pray and to be submissive to their husbands? Isn't he also the font of Christian homophobia? All in all, the man some people call the true founder of Christianity does not seem to have many friends out there today.

But, says Garry Wills in his new and lucid book, all these depreciators are just plain wrong. Paul was neither an anti-Semite nor a misogynist. In fact, he never converted to Christianity at all, which did not yet exist when he had his blinding experience on the Damascus road. What happened to him on the road was not a religious conversion. It was a call, similar to those received by the Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah before him. As for women, the verses that put uppity sisters in their place are found not in Paul's writings but in those falsely attributed to him. Paul himself frequently commends women leaders in the congregations and proclaims that in these new messianic congregations there should be "neither male nor female, neither slave nor free."
. . .
He taught that God had given his law to both Jews and gentiles, the former in the Torah, the latter by nature. All had fallen short, but now all were forgiven and called to constitute a single new and inclusive community in which there was "neither Jew nor Greek."
. . .
Paul has gotten a bad rap. He took the first big step in transforming a universal message, stifled by a provincial culture, into a world-circling faith. is collecting reviews here, including the WaPo review.

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