Biblical Archaeology Review 45:2, March/April 2019

Reviews: The Human Drama of St. Paul

While the famous movie line proclaims, “I am Spartacus!” some readers of the apostle Paul have been more likely to lament that they are Eutychus—the poor youth from Troas who fell to sleep and then to death from an upstairs window while trying to follow the dense and endless words that flowed from the apostle. Thankfully, Paul revived Eutychus and then taught on until daybreak (Acts 20:7–11).

A different revival is now available from N.T. Wright, the rehumanizing and “re-storying” of the apostle to the Gentiles, through Paul: A Biography.

“It begins,” says Wright, “with an ancient tale of sex and violence.” This evocative and unexpected line launches readers into Wright’s first chapter. It pertains to the ancient Jew that Saul of Tarsus likely upheld as a hero: Phineas, whose “zeal” for Yahweh’s Law led him to religious violence. Such violent zeal was also a driving force for Saul of Tarsus—at least until that fateful Damascus road experience that “shattered [his] wildest dreams and, at the same split second, fulfilled them.”

As such quotations demonstrate, Wright has a rare ability to encapsulate dense learning into memorable sentences that are both accessible and arresting. And while Wright has written stacks of books on Paul, his latest stands out as a true biography rather than a distillation of Paul’s letters or theology.

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