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Paul Among the People
The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in his own Time
Sarah Ruden

Pantheon Books
2010 / ISBN 0375425012
Non-Fiction / Religion / History

Reviewed by Carmen Ferreiro

Saint Paul, known as the apostle of the gentiles, was a first century AD Roman Jew who in his youth persecuted Jesus' followers. One day, on his way to Damascus, he had a vision in which Jesus confronted him and he converted to the new Faith, becoming, from then on, one of the most outspoken apostles (apostle meaning one who is sent forth as a messenger).

His epistles or letter are an important part of the New Testament. In them, Paul shares his views on what it means to be a Christian and how to live according to Jesus' teachings. Traditionally, Paul's writings have been interpreted as opposing women's or gay rights and a general enjoyment of life.

According to Sarah Ruden this interpretation is inaccurate.

Ms. Ruden who understands Greek, Latin and Aramaic has gone to the original letters and by challenging the translation of the words that had created this perception, challenges the real meaning of Paul's writings. It's not only that the words had been mistranslated to the point of changing their meaning, but that life in the first century AD was so different from our Western XXI world that there is no accurate translation.

The Roman Empire in the first Century AD was a brutal world where, women were property, slaves were objects, and pederasty was an uncontested right for the masters. In this context, when Paul, in his letters, opposes homosexuality what he is really against is the abuse of boy slaves by their owners, and when he condemns parties, he is condemning orgies, where rich men destroyed property and used women and boys for their drunken pleasure.

Ms. Ruden graphically shows us these customs by including excerpts from classic texts she has herself translated into plain English. Paul Among the People is an amazing window into the past that shocked and amazed me. Thought provoking and highly entertaining this is a book to read and reread for it goes down to the roots of what it means not only to be a Christian but a human being as well.


Reviewer Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban is the author of a YA fantasy Two Moon Princess and four nonfiction titles.

Reviewed 2011
© 2011