In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul declares, “I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some.” Through careful analysis of Paul’s letters in the New Testament and his legacy among subsequent generations of Christians as well as some modern thinkers, we will discover just how true this statement was. During the term, we will engage with multiple, often conflicting, interpretations of Paul’s life and thought. This class thus serves as a historical introduction to Pauline thought and its development in early Christianity as well as a critical primer in the methods and politics of biblical interpretation.
The course is divided into three units. In the first, we investigate some of the most prevalent portraits of Paul among scholars, paying particular attention to the question of whether Paul was a Christian or a Jew, and a Greek or a Roman. The second unit decenters Paul—that is, it employs different methodological frameworks in order to use Paul’s letters to reconstruct an internally diverse minority movement that quickly spread throughout the eastern provinces of the Roman empire. Unit three turns to sources that have reimagined Paul from antiquity to our contemporary age, treating each of these sources as products of particular historical contexts.