The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon  -     By: Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan
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The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon

HarperOne / 2009 / Hardcover

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Iconoclasts Borg and Crossan seek to uncover the original Paul, believing his radical egalitarian message was squelched by later New Testament writers who turned him into a defender of the status quo by endorsing slavery, subordinating women, condemning homosexuality, and appeasing Caesar. 240 pages, hardcover. HarperOne.

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Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 240
Vendor: HarperOne
Publication Date: 2009
Dimensions: 8.25 X 5.5 (inches)
ISBN: 0061430722
ISBN-13: 9780061430725
Availability: Usually ships in 24-48 hours.

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Publisher's Description

Bestselling authors of The Last Week and The First Christmas, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join once again to present a new understanding of early Christianity—this time to reveal a radical Paul who has been suppressed by the church.

Paul is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the birth of Christianity, and yet he continues to be controversial, even among Christians. How could the letters of Paul be used both to inspire radical grace and to endorse systems of oppression—condoning slavery, subordinating women, condemning homosexual behavior? Borg and Crossan use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to explain the reasons for Paul's mixed reputation and reveal to us what scholars have known for decades: that the later letters of Paul were created by the early church to dilute Paul's egalitarian message and transform him into something more "acceptable." They argue there are actually "Three Pauls" in the New Testament: "The Radical Paul" (of the seven genuine letters), "The Conservative Paul" (of the three disputed epistles), and "The Reactionary Paul" (of the three inauthentic letters). By closely examining this progression of Paul's letters—from the authentic to the inauthentic—the authors show how the apostle was slowly but steadily "deradicalized" to fit Roman social norms in regards to slavery, patriarchy, and patronage. In truth, Paul was an appealing apostle of Jesus whose vision of life "in Christ"—one of his favored phrases—is remarkably faithful to the message of Jesus himself.

Author Bio

Marcus J. Borg (1942–2015) was a pioneering author and teacher whom the New York Times described as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars." He was the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, and he appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. His books have sold over a million copies, including the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Jesus, The Heart of Christianity, Evolution of the Word, Speaking Christian, and Convictions.

John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Historical Jesus, God and Empire, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Greatest Prayer, and The Power of Parable. He lives in Minneola, Florida.

Publisher's Weekly

Revered as a saint of the early church or reviled as a defender of such ills as misogyny and slavery, Paul is one of the most controversial figures in Christian history—and one of the most misunderstood, say Jesus Seminar scholars Borg and Crossan. By helping readers understand the authorship debates surrounding the Pauline letters (scholarship suggests that there were three different Pauls), placing his writing in historical context and emphasizing his identity as a “Jewish Christian mystic,” Crossan and Borg recast Paul’s message as “remarkably consistent” with that of a radical Jesus. The authentic Paul was nonhierarchical, anti-imperialist and communal, they claim, and characterizations of his theology as anything else are inaccurate historical overlays. Paul’s ideas, they posit, “challenged the normalcy of civilization, then and now, with an alternative vision of how life on earth can and should be.” Some readers may find the authors’ Paul fitting too neatly into the mold of liberal Christianity, but many will be thrilled with this fresh, erudite portrait of the man. (Mar. 3)Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Editorial Reviews

“A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization.”
“Paul is one of the most controversial figures in Christian history—and one of the most misunderstood. . . . Many will be thrilled with this fresh, erudite portrait of the man.”
“In this scholarly and engaging account . . . Borg and Crossan successfully argue that we must separate the genuine writings of the apostle from the writings attributed to him . . . This well-researched and highly readable account is recommended for all students of Paul [and] interested lay readers.””

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  1. Gender: male
    1 Stars Out Of 5
    After 2000 Years, the "Real" Paul
    August 28, 2012
    LifeVerse
    Gender: male
    Quality: 1
    Value: 1
    Imagine a book titled Why I Am a Vegetarian. Then imagine two clever scholars, both highly regarded, who write a book to prove that Why I Am a Vegetarian recommends eating meat. So people buy the book and say, "Wow, I'm glad they found the REAL meaning of that vegetarian book." That, in essence, is what this book try to do: deconstruct the apostle Paul and prove he was not only what he appears to be in the New Testament, but that he is (amazingly!) very like a modern liberal theologian.

    Paul, in case you didn't know already, is the Evil Beast in the liberal universe. He condemned homosexuality, told wives to be submissive to their husbands, told slaves to serve their masters faithfully, and told Christians to submit to the secular government. Heretofore, liberals chose to simply ignore Paul—after all, he was a sexist homophobe. But it was inevitable that, having written so many liberal books about the "real" Jesus, liberals would discover the "real" Paul that—surprise!—has gone unnoticed for two thousand years.

    The authors begin their deconstruction (or destruction) of the biblical Paul by discussing the New Testament letters that bear his name. They argue that of the thirteen letters, only seven are for certain by Paul. Scholars have been debating this for centuries, and a smart laymen would respond: so what? For these authors this is important, because the teachings they dislike are, you guessed it, not found in the seven epistles Paul actually wrote. The problem is, Paul's teaching on being submissive to the government is found in Romans, which they say is by Paul. But they are certain the "real" Paul was no pro-government reactionary—as proven by his use of "Lord" and other titles to refer to Jesus, titles that were also used for the Roman emperors. This is sheer nonsense. The Romans ruled over millions of people (including Jews) who referred to their gods as "Lord" and "Savior." The Romans didn't care who you believed in as long as you didn't stir up trouble. It is true that Paul and other Christians were more loyal to Christ than to Rome (as they proved by their martyrdom), but that doesn't rule out submission to Roman authority as a general principle. The authors also overlook the fact that titles like "Lord" were only technically titles for the Roman emperor, and hardly anyone really believed the emperors were divine (including the emperors). In fact, the authors are (like almost all liberal academics) obsessed with politics, yet if you read the New Testament, you see that the apostles hardly ever mention politics. I wonder how these authors interpret Jesus' statement "My kingdom is not of this world"? (He must've really meant "My kingdom IS of this world—let the revolution begin!") Incidentally, author Crossan is guilty of laziness in this section of the book, since he is simply restating ideas from his earlier book God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome. In both books he foolish overlooks the fact that titles like "Lord" were used by the Jews to refer to God, so he is dead wrong in claiming such titles were used only the Romans.

    So sure of their cleverness (and readers' gullibility), the authors at times are just plain silly. Paul often referred to "peace." For Borg and Crossan, Paul's "real" meaning was "redistributive justice." God is not, they say, "Father" (liberals hate that term, despite its constant use by Jesus and Paul), but God is a "householder" who in fairness gives an equal distribution of "rights." So, Paul was a socialist—something that somehow escaped the attention of Christians for two millennia. Psychologists call this "projection": the authors are politically liberal and see Christianity as useful in bringing about social change, so they assume Paul was of the same mind—despite what the New Testament tells us about him. (I wonder if they plan to write a book explaining how the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis "really" means that churches should allow same-sex marriage.)

    Regarding the "sexism" issue, the authors assure us that the "submit to your husband" passages can be brushed aside because they are found in two letters (Ephesians and Colossians) that Paul did not write. In the letters that Paul really did write (they say), he was a full egalitarian, seeing men and women as perfectly equal. (Logically, this Paul would have approved of co-ed showers in dormitories, right?) Also, these two "false" letters contain Paul's command for slaves to obey their masters—something "real" Paul would never have said.

    Not long ago I read Sarah Ruden's fine book Paul Among the People. She admits that, as a woman, she formerly had an unfavorable view of the "sexist" Paul. But, as her book reveals, she found that after much study she understood why Paul is so honored. Her book helps readers understand why this "sexist" attracted women (and slaves too) to Christianity. The difference between Ruden's book and The First Paul is that she isn't attempting deconstruction of Paul, and she didn't delve into the New Testament hoping to find Paul the Political Radical and Socialist. Borg and Crossan had an agenda, and it comes through on every page.
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