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Reinventing Paul
Gager, John G.
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Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 198 pages ; 24 cm
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BS2655.J4 G34 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Throughout the Christian era, Paul has stood at the center of controversy, accused of being the father of Christian anti-Semitism. But have we misunderstood the man and his teachings for nearly 2,000 years? In this highly accessible book, John Gager challenges this entrenched view of Paul,arguing persuasively that Paul's words have been taken out of their original context, distorted, and generally misconstrued. Gager takes us in search of the "real" Paul--using Paul's own writings. Through an exhaustive analysis of Paul's letters to the Galatians and the Romans, he provides illuminating answers to the key questions: Did Paul repudiate the Law of Moses? Did he believe that Jews had been rejected byGod and replaced as His chosen people by Gentiles? Did he consider circumcision to be necessary for salvation? And did he expect Jews to find salvation through Jesus? To all these questions, John Gager answers no. First, he puts Paul's proselytizing in context. Paul was an apostle to theGentiles, not the Jews. His most vehement arguments were directed not against Judaism but against competing apostles in the Jesus movement who demanded that Gentiles be circumcised and conform to Jewish law in order to be saved. Moreover, Paul relied on rhetorical devices that were familiar to hisintended audience but opaque to later readers of the letters. As a result, his message has been misunderstood by all succeeding generations. Reinventing Paul brilliantly sets forth a controversial interpretation of Paul's teaching. This thought-provoking portrait is essential reading for theologians and lay people, historians and philosophers, Christians and Jews.

Author Notes

John G. Gager is William H. Danforth Professor of Religion at Princeton University. The author of The Origins of Anti-Semitism and many other books and articles, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The large project of this small book is to confront almost 20 centuries of misreading Paul as anti-Jewish, which, Gager argues, anachronistically projects later conflicts into Paul's context and fails to acknowledge that Paul never left Judaism and that the Christianity that incorporated Paul's writings into its scriptures came into being after Paul died. Because Gager's reading of Galatians and Romans plausibly assumes that Paul and his intended audiences were familiar with the rhetoric of their time, Gager uses its techniques convincingly to understand the epistles. He renders Paul as a complex figure who, even after becoming an apostle to the Gentiles, clearly was a member of the Jewish community. By reconsidering a putative font of Christian anti-Judaism, Gager makes an important contribution to Jewish-Christian dialogue and offers a richer conception of Paul than the one that has guided many who have struggled with him over the centuries. Given the importance of Paul and anti-Semitism in the history of Western thought, his book is relevant beyond the precincts of Christianity and Judaism. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this slim book, Princeton religion professor Gager aims for nothing short of a revolution in Pauline studies; he maintains that Paul was not the founder of Christianity, did not condemn works in favor of faith, never claimed that Jews must accept Jesus as their savior and never criticized Judaism or the Jewish law. Paul's sole concern, Gager argues, was announcing God's intention to save gentiles through Christ. Gager wants to dispel what Paul Meyer has called the "dark Manichean shadow across the pages of Paul and his commentators"Äthat is, the use of Paul to justify Christian anti-Semitism. He says that once one has crossed over to the new paradigm, every aspect of the old seems incredibleÄand therein lies the book's central weakness. Gager strains to make contradictory passages fit, resorting to the alleged presence of rhetorical strategies such as the "unreliable author" and a fictive "fellow Jew" in order to disassociate Paul from statements that undercut the new paradigm. The raw truth, as most readers will acknowledge, is that Paul's ad-hoc, hastily written letters are not fully consistent. Yet Gager has still accomplished something important, sketching a new way of reading Paul that, if not always fully persuasive, nevertheless helps us see the man more clearly for what he was: a first-century Jew on fire with the belief that God through Jesus had opened salvation to all people. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gager (religion, Princeton) has written an articulate and well-documented presentation of a controversial but increasingly popular point of view in Pauline studies. Traditionally, biblical scholars have held that Paul taught that the Church replaced the Jews as those now in covenant with God and that Paul thought the Law was no longer binding. Gager sees this as a complete misunderstanding that can be cleared up if we recognize that Paul's teachings on these issues were meant for Gentiles only. The essence of Gager's view is that since Gentiles are Paul's intended audience, it should be clear that rather than rejecting Judaism, Paul is rejecting "anti-Pauline apostles within the Jesus-movement." After he lays out the issues in question and summarizes traditional views of Paul, Gager then makes his argument and discusses various like-minded contemporary scholars, such as E.P. Sanders. He then shows how passages in the New Testament books of Galatians and Romans can be interpreted very differently when his Gentile audience is kept in mind. This informed and revolutionary view of Paul's thought will become one of the central books of modern scholarship on this subject. Highly recommended for any library.DDavid Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Gager (Princeton Univ.) makes the sweeping claim that the dominant view of Paul for 2,000 years has been harmful and cannot be defended. In advancing his thesis Gager leans heavily upon the rhetorical criticism of Stanley Stowers (A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles, CH, Jun'95) and others. He accepts Stowers's conclusion that the implied audience for Romans was Gentile and argues further that the audience in all of Paul's letters was Gentile. Hence Paul never speaks of the effects of the law upon Jews, but upon Gentiles. This thesis causes Gager to make some unsupportable statements, for example, that Paul preached only to Gentiles in the synagogues! He is likewise forced into some curious readings of the texts. For example, he must read anthropos in Rom. 2:15 and Gal. 3:28 as "Gentile"--a reading that has neither lexical nor other precedent, to the best of this reviewer's knowledge. In similar fashion he reads pantes in Rom. 3:23 as "Gentiles." Gager has done well in placing Paul within a Jewish milieu and arguing that Paul did not leave one religion for another, but his "reinvented" Paul may be fully as truncated as the "traditional" Paul he so forcefully rejects. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and researchers. J. E. Lunceford; Georgetown College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introduction Where Did All This Madness Come From?p. 3
Chapter 1 The Traditional View of Paulp. 21
Chapter 2 New Views of Paulp. 43
Chapter 3 The Letter to the Galatiansp. 77
Chapter 4 The Letter to the Romansp. 101
Chapter 5 Loose Endsp. 145
Notesp. 153
Index of Subjectsp. 189
Index of Modern Scholarsp. 193
Index of Ancient Textsp. 197