RELG415

Was the apostle Paul a Jew, a Christian, or something else? And more importantly, why does it matter? Why would Paul identify himself as a circumcised Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin and a Pharisee after experiencing a revelation of Christ? In this course, students answer these questions for themselves by engaging with historical evidence for Paul’s religious and ethnic loyalties as well as some of the most influential answers theologians and scholars have given to these questions over two millennia. We begin the semester by interrogating the reasons that the Holocaust functioned as a watershed in the discussion of Paul’s religion and ethnicity. Whereas before the Holocaust, authoritative definitions of Paul’s Christianity by theologians such as Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther went unquestioned, after the Holocaust, intellectuals sensitive to the violent implications of eradicating Judaism from history proclaimed Paul a Jew. After this orientation to some of the most extreme historical influences and implications of these questions, we turn to examining Paul’s letters and the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament in their ancient contexts. We use textual and material evidence to reconstruct the ways that people in the Greco-Roman world understood religion, ethnicity, conversion, Judaism, and Christianity. After determining the importance and limitations of the historical evidence, we read a selection of literature on Paul’s religion and ethnicity ranging from later New Testament authors to Augustine to Luther to modern political theologians (e.g., Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek). By the end of the semester, students will be able to give a sophisticated and critical answer to the course’s driving question. At the same time, students will also have developed critical thinking skills useful for evaluating the implications of scriptural interpretation and historical reconstruction for the contemporary world.