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Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle Hardcover – 1 Sep 2009


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  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (1 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060722916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060722913
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 629,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In this provocative book, biblical scholar Eisenbaum points out that the traditional Christian portrait of Paul as a former Jew . . . is a misreading of Paul's life and religious work . . . Eisenbaum's lively prose and meticulous scholarship provides a compelling new portrait of the apostle. --Publishers Weekly

Eisenbaum's is one of a few important voices drawing our attention . . . to the continuing tensions and contradictions in Christian readings of Paul . . . This book does more than challenge and inform: it changes the way we think about Paul and the origins of Christian faith. --Neil Elliott, Author of Liberating Paul: The Justice of God and the Politics of the Apostle

Professor Eisenbaum offers the general reader the most realistic first-century portrayal of the Apostle Paul ever written. --Jewish Book World

About the Author

Pamela Eisenbaum is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins at the Iliff School of Theology. One of four Jewish New Testament scholars teaching in Christian theological schools, she is the author of Invitation to Romans, a contributor to the Women s Bible Commentary and the Oxford Access Bible, and has published many essays on the Bible, ancient Judaism, and the origins of Christianity, especially Paul. She was a featured scholar in the ABC documentary Jesus and Paul: The Word and the Witness.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Bevan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 29 Aug. 2012
Format: Hardcover
An exciting trend in Christian theology over the past twenty-five years has been the rediscovery of just how Jewish the apostle Paul was. The so-called 'New Perspective' on Paul has significantly shifted thinking on Jesus' most notable (or notorious, depending on your viewpoint) ambassador. But in this superb book, a Jewish (rather than Christian) scholar gives an excellent appreciation of just how `mainstream Jewish' Paul remains - and in the process offers what seem to me significant fresh perspectives on the apostle's thought in his letters, particularly Romans and Galatians.

Arguing that we need to see Paul not primarily through the lens of his Acts `conversion', but rather through his undisputed New Testament writings, Eisenbaum opens with a bracing re-evaluation of first-century Judaism as a faith in which God's grace is key, redemption is inclusive rather than exclusive, and Torah observance is a response to God's love and mercy, not an attempt to earn salvation. This is the world of Paul the (not untypically) flexible Pharisee, whose experience of the risen Jesus leads him to conclude that God's promised `end of history', when `every tongue' shall acknowledge God's rule (Isaiah 45:23), is near. Adjusting his priorities accordingly, he then seeks to draw `the nations' into the service of the one true God.

Critically, though, Paul holds that from now on the Gentiles, as distinct from those who had previously converted to Judaism, were to live `as the nations' - that is, exempted from taking on the full yoke of Torah.
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An interesting and thoughtful book. The argument is based on what the author considers to be those letters definitely written by Paul.
Not all scholars would agree regarding this area of authorship as these more conservative scholars would believe that all those letters in the NT bearing his name were indeed his. Her argument then might need to be addressed. I think I also detect within her writing one way of salvation for the Jews and another for the Gentiles.
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0 of 11 people found the following review helpful By L. de Klerk on 22 Aug. 2011
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Good service from seller, but nothing special. Purchase arrived before due date, which is always what I am looking for in good service.
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78 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Paul Was Not A Christian 25 May 2010
By Sherry M. Peyton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm deeply indebted to HarperOne, division of Harper Collins for providing this book, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle, by Pamela Eisenbaum, for review.

Catchy title huh? It surely will cause most Christians to pause and pick it up. And pick it up they should. This is simply a new way (for most laypersons at least) of looking at Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, and commonly thought of as the major force in creating Christianity.

Pamela Eisenbaum, a practicing Jew, has all the credentials in the world, and teaches at a Iliff School of Theology in Denver. She is a biblical scholar with degrees from both Harvard Divinity and Columbia. She claims as mentor the acclaimed biblical expert Krister Stendahl.

Her premise here is a startling one for most Christians: Paul, far from renouncing his Jewish faith and "converting" as we are wont to believe on the road to Damascus, remained throughout his life a staunch Jew, follower of the Law. And, he preached the Lord Jesus Christ as savior. How can this be we ask?

Eisenbaum takes us through a long and detailed and clear explanation. Based on the work of what are known as the "new prospective" scholars and building upon that from the now "radical" new prospective scholars, Dr. Eisenbaum paints a convincing picture of Paul as a man thoroughly embedded in his Jewish heritage, and remaining in it to the end. Much of what has gone wrong in Pauline interpretation comes from reading him through a lens of "conversion," a conversion Eisenbaum claims never happened.

Most all scholars today would agree that Jesus certainly never set out to create a church. He if anything, wished to reform Judaism. Dr. Eisenbaum argues that essentially Paul did the same, and for somewhat the same reasons.

In making her case, reference is made to the authentic letters of Paul, those seven that all scholars agree were written by Paul--Romans, Corinthians I, II, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest are almost universally or substantially agreed upon as not Pauline in authorship and thus not fruitful for this discussion. This is of course nothing new.

She then traces a history of Second Temple Judaism, the time that Paul was alive, and determines what assumptions would have been his based upon the current belief structure of Pharisees of his day. Contrary to public opinion, Pharisees were not so much sticklers for adherence to the Law as they interpreted it, but rather they often interpreted it in ways that were novel and supported present day problems. IN other words they were opportunists of a sort.

Eisenbaum indicates that independent records show that Jews of this period did not consider Gentiles "unclean" or people to be separated from. They were more tolerant that we might suppose. They believed that Gentiles could follow Torah and such people were known as proselytes.

Her argument is that Paul, steeped in Pharisaic belief of the apocalyptic end times, came to see in his Damascus experience, evidence that the end times were upon them. He viewed his experience as his call from God to take the message to the Gentiles, that Jesus by his faithfulness, had justified the Gentiles in the same way that Torah justified Jews in righteousness.

In other words, time was of the essence. Jews had imputed righteousness through the grace of God in giving them Torah, which, even if badly followed, gave them the way to atone for sins. The Gentiles, having no such covenant, and being outside the covenant, had no means of atonement for the sins that they had accumulated. Following Torah was not enough.

Jesus, by his faithful obedience to God, won for Gentiles (the nations of the world as it were), that righteousness, that Jews received by virtue of the covenant. This explains why Paul was so adamant that such things as circumcision and dietary laws need not apply to Gentiles.

What is of critical importance, is Eisenbaum's claim that Augustine, then Luther and so forth misread Paul, thinking he had condemned Torah as the way, and substituted Jesus as the only means of salvation. In this reading, then all Jews must one day convert to Christianity. This of course is the belief of many, (especially conservative) Christians today.

Eisenbaum makes clear that in order to read Paul correctly, one must keep in mind a number of things. First and foremost among them, is that at no time is Paul speaking to Jews. He is speaking only to Gentiles. Secondly Torah is for Jews, but sets a standard for all peoples.

Perhaps what will most alarm Christians is her claim that Paul did not see Jesus as God, but as God's son, the one sent. Moreover, she would claim that Paul did not call Gentiles to worship Jesus, but rather to have faithfulness as Jesus had faithfulness.

She bases this conclusion on a lengthy explanation of the phrase pistis iesou christou. Because Christians have so thoroughly seen Paul as "converting" they have almost always translated this as "faith in Jesus Christ" rather than what she contends is the accurate translation, "faith of Jesus Christ." Her claim is that Jesus expressed a faithfulness to God by his perfect obedience, and that Paul calls Gentiles to be "saved" by also following the lead of Jesus, and trying to imitate Jesus faithfulness.

Dr. Eisenbaum of course admits that even among radical new prospective scholars, there is still much argument. Her opinions and conclusions are not universally accepted. It is a new way of looking at Paul, and given Paul's general difficulties, there will be years of new exploration ahead.

But indeed, this work is a must reading for anyone who wishes to understand that there is much yet to do in unpacking Pauline theology. The test will be, does Eisenbaum's theory explain more satisfactorily than do previous paradigms. There have been, and perhaps always will be passages in Paul that are seemingly contradictory. This is in part the result that he no where sets out to put down his theology in any one place. We have letters, written over a fair stretch of time, often addressed to quite disparate problems. The theory that "solves" the most problems will be the one that finds most favor no doubt.

This is an important book in current biblical studies of Pauline theology. It is one that all, both scholars and laypersons can benefit from.

**As noted, this book was sent to me free of charge for purposes of review. No agreements as to contents of the review were discussed. The opinions here are strictly my own.
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Great on Judaism, Wishful Thinking on Paul 14 Dec. 2010
A Kid's Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book offers a very accurate and extended portrait of Judaism in the first century-and one of the fullest to be found in a book about Paul. The book is valuable for that reason alone. It also presents a compelling portrait of Paul as a follower of Jesus who considered himself a Jew and who understood his mission to non-Jews as a vocation within his native Judaism, not a convert from one religion (Judaism) to another religion (Christianity). Clearly, Paul's essential theology and ethics are thoroughly Jewish, as is his interpretive approach to Jewish Scripture. For those who have never read a book on Paul before, it is important to know all this, even though it is not exactly breaking news.

When she discusses Jesus, however, Eisenbaum is way off the mark. On the one hand, Eisenbaum is certainly right that Paul's thought is theocentric, that Paul never calls Jesus "God," and that Pauline prayer language is addressed to God though Christ, with Jesus filling the role of mediator. One the other hand, Eisenbaum too facilely claims that Pauline veneration of Jesus in no way infringed on Jewish monotheism. It is very telling that when she discusses the "Christ hymn" in Philippians 2:6-11, she does not discuss verses 6-7, where Paul describes Christ as one who "was in the form of God" and "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form." These lines picture Jesus as the human embodiment of a divine being. One can only conclude that Eisenbaum quietly passes over these verses because they are inconvenient for her Jewish reclamation of Paul.

Even more problematic is Eisenbaum's understanding of what Paul says in his letters about Christ in relation to the Torah and non-Christian Judaism. She is certainly right in emphasizing that Paul wrote his letters to Gentile followers of Jesus, not Jews or Jewish followers of Jesus, and that Paul evidently had no problem with Jews who followed Jesus as messiah and Lord continuing to observe Torah. This is old hat by now but still worth emphasizing. But she is clearly wrong in arguing that Paul envisioned two paths to salvation: Jesus for Gentiles, Torah for Jews. Though claiming to offer a "new" framework for understanding Paul, she is rehashing a view that has been around for decades in the work of scholars like Lloyd Gaston and John Gager.

Eisenbaum has to avoid major chunks of Paul's letters to make her case. She buries in a footnote a reference to 2 Corinthians 3. She writes, "Readers who know Paul's letters may be wondering about a passage in 2 Corinthians in which Paul seemingly [!] compares the `new covenant' to a `written code.' This is the only passage in the undisputed letters in which Paul seems [sic!] to disparage Torah. [Not true]. . . An extended discussion of this text is beyond the scope of this discussion [sic!] . . . . In actuality Paul is contrasting two modes of interpretation" (p. 284, n. 25). In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul speaks of the "old covenant" and calls it "the ministry/service (diakonia) of death" and "the ministry of condemnation." He contrasts "we" with "the people of Israel," who have been "hardened." "Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil [that covered Moses' face "to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside"] is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside, but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed." Jews who do not recognize Jesus as the inaugurator of a new covenant (not a new mode of Torah interpretation!) need to turn to the Lord--that's Paul.

More tellingly, there is no discussion of Romans 9-11 -- in a book all about Paul's relation to Judaism! In a few sentences at the very end of her monograph, she says in effect, "Gee, reader, I've run out of space to discuss Romans 9-11. Darn! Only another book could do justice to those chapters. Bye for now." I kid you not. Here is what she writes of this extended section of Romans: "One of the reasons I did not treat it in this book is because there are several good discussions of it already. Another is that it would require another book. For the sake of manageability, I have tried to stick with more narrowly defined units of text" (p. 251).

The problem at issue in Romans 9-11 is that Paul and others who follow Jesus have not succeeded in getting most Jews to join them. Paul attributes this to God's temporary "hardening" of Israel. "Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained it, but Israel, which pursued righteousness with respect to the Law did not attain it. . . . Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness. For Christ is the telos (end/goal) of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who has faith. . . . . Israel failed to attain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened. . . . ." Etc.

Eisenbaum's work is a showcase example of the phenomenon known as wishful thinking. She is a Jewish New Testament scholar, and one of her implicit goals (perhaps her chief one) in this book is to make Paul palatable to Jews in our age of religious pluralism. (See the very last sentence of the book.) How I wish she were right about Paul! But it would be more honest to say "I think Paul was wrong" than to dodge every line in Paul letters which indicate that, for him, there is no membership in the covenant people of God, and no eschatological salvation for anyone, Jew or non-Jew, apart from Christ.

Daniel Harlow
84 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Impressive and Slanted 21 Sept. 2010
By Raymond - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This review is for Evangelical readers who want to learn more about the Jewish context of Jesus and of the first generation Church. Prof. Eisenbaum's book is well researched, tightly reasoned, well-written and in places thought-provoking. Her point that Paul did not stop being an observant Jew when he came to believe that Jesus is Messiah is well stated. She also calls to account interpretations of Paul that have led to antisemitism in the Church, and for that Christians should thank her. She dispels the misperception that Judaism is a faith of salvation by works but by the grace of God. I also admire her effort to find a Paul, whom she doesn't like at all points, but whom she can reconcile to as an observant Jew rather than the Paul who's the source of persecution of Jews throughout history.

However, here are just some examples of problems I have with the book:

1) She follows the typical contemporary pattern of choosing which books of the New Testament she allows to be "authentic", hurls around the "majority view" language, while ignoring that there are many fine scholars who would not lop off the Book of Acts and other Pauline epistles as authentic sources for Pauline studies. As has happened since the search for the historical Jesus started, people pick and choose from the canon and come up with a Jesus, and now a Paul, made in their own image rather than an historically convincing portrait.

2) Her impressive effort to deal with Paul's attitude toward Jesus the Lord just doesn't line up with important verses even in her canon within the canon. She says that Paul uses the term "Lord", simply to mean an exalted being rather than an equal with God. Yet, Philippians 2:6 refers to Jesus being in very nature God and equal to Him. She says that Paul is theocentric, but not Christo-centric, but again in Philippians Paul says that for him to live is Christ and that he has given up all to become like Christ. Her concern is to steer Paul away from the dangerous rocks of polytheism that the doctrine of the Trinity creates, but she created a Paul that doesn't line up with his writings. The Trinity continues to be a mysterious doctrine for Christians and an offensive one for Jews and Muslims.

3) She slaughters the true Reformed view of the faith vs. works issue. She says that, according to the Reformers, moral behavior is at least extraneous and even detrimental to salvation. The Reformers taught the entire counsel of Scripture, which clearly teaches repentance from sin as an expression of sincerity and gratitude for the salvation that is theirs through faith in the work of Christ on their behalf. One wonders how she can misread or misrepresent the Reformers so much on this point.

4) She makes a big point that Paul writes to Gentiles and thus all his anti-Torah talk is for them because they were never meant to observe Torah. According to Prof. Eisenbaum, Paul teaches that Jews continue to look to faithfulness to Torah for grace and Gentiles look to Jesus. This is perhaps the weakest point of the book. For example, Paul obviously addresses both communities when he says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power for God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Romans 1:16, NIV) That's hardly a picture of Torah for Jews and Jesus for Gentiles. In the midst of this effort, she tries to strip Paul of the message of salvation from the wrath of God, and so tips her hand that she is driven by the modern ideology of universalism. Like it or not, that universalism is foreign to Paul, and she shouldn't try to use Paul to advocate her modern ideology.

5) I was disappointed that she didn't describe in more detail just what Paul's continued Jewish observances were. She spends her time dissecting Paul's doctrine expressed in seven of his letters so the book is very heavy in theological examination. That's certainly valuable, but I would vey much like to have heard more about what she thinks Paul's ongoing practice of Judaism entailed.

6) Finally, her final sentence makes it clear what her ultimate agenda is: religious pluralism. Unfortunately, her historical research seems to be a tool to advance her ideology rather than to present a truly accurate portrait of Paul.

All that being said, if you are interested in the Hebrew roots of the first generation of Christians, I encourage you to read this book. Prof. Eisenbaum's book is a valuable contribution to the effort to recover the Jewishness of the first century Christians. She reminds us of information that we should already have firmly in mind and she challenges us to think about some other issues. That process is valuable, and, while in the end her portrait of Paul is unconvincing, nevertheless I'm a better student of the New Testament for it. Thanks, Prof. Eisenbaum, for a provocative read.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
otherwise you should trust a scholar who you consider to be a good thinker who typically comes to sound conclusions 25 Nov. 2014
By bbennett1988 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Review of “Paul was not a christian”
By Pamela eisenbaum

Pamela Eisenbaum is professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins at Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver. Her unique situation as a practicing Jew and professor of Christian origins has led to her ideas for this book. Her primary thesis is quite simple: “Paul lived and died a Jew.” This simple thesis can be affirmed by almost any contemporary NT scholar, but the implications which she draws from it are far from typical. Eisenbaum is motivated to oppose the traditional notions about Paul as one who converted from the ‘bad’ religion of works to the ‘grace’ religion of Christianity. She argues that Paul saw himself as a Jew and that in his historical context he would have been understood as a sectarian Jew, not a ‘Christian.’ (6-8) This may sound radical to lay readers but virtually all contemporary Pauline scholarship recognizes that Paul did live and die a Jew. The unique thing about Paul is how he understood his Judaism differently than many of his contemporaries, but more on that later. From this basic premise Eisenbaum sketches a view of Paul that allows for a very different interpretation of his (undisputed) writings.
The second chapter focuses on the problems of the evidence and interpretation of Paul. She first points out that Acts and Paul portray different ‘versions’ of Paul. Eisenbaum concludes that due to the indirect nature of the Pauline material in Acts, it will not be used in her study, she will focus only on the letters of Paul. (She takes Acts to be a second century work of little historical value for Pauline studies, while this is a scholarly option, many are now leaning towards an earlier date with more optimism concerning its value.)She also discusses the problems of the letters themselves, including a rather typical overview of why the some of the letters are disputed. Eisenbaum therefore conducts her investigation based solely on the undisputed epistles. She continues by noting some interpretive difficulties within these undisputed letter themselves, such as apparent contradictions and assuages which are simply difficult to interpret because we do not have the same background information as Paul’s initial audience would have had. From here Eisenbaum seeks to point the way forward to a fresh understanding of Paul which will help resolve some of these difficulties. This skepticism regarding the Paul of Acts and the disputed epistles is rather radical. Most scholars do doubt Pauline authorship of those epistles, but many still see the material there as genuinely reflecting actual Pauline tradition.
Chapter three discusses how Paul came to be understood as a ‘Christian.’ Since earliest times Paul was interpreted in light of the story of Acts as well as the now disputed epistles. Eisenbaum argues that the understanding of Paul found in Acts and the disputed epistles is different than the picture of Paul we find in the undisputed letters and has altered Pauline interpretation. While the differences in emphases she points out are there, I question whether or not these are not simply that, different emphases, and may not consist in mutually exclusive pictures of Paul. Eisenbaum then traced how through Augustine and Luther the Western introspective conscience was read into Paul. Augustine’s Confessions were understood as parallel with the conversion of Paul and Luther’s need for justification by faith from overwhelming guilt was read too much into Paul. From here Eisenbaum wants to proceed with two main challenges: 1) Judaism is/was not a religion of works, and 2) Paul’s gospel was not justification by faith. These two critiques are common in new perspective approaches.
Chapter four shows how 20th century Jewish scholarship continued to read Paul in Augustinian/Lutheran light until the emergence of the New Perspective. The New Perspective corrects the wrong view of 2nd Temple Judaism and therefore enables a fresh reading of Paul. Eisenbaum essentially wants to push the New Perspective even further. She notes that in Sander’s work, Pauline religion is still antithetical to Judaism and she says that Judaism should not be understood as opposite to Paul’s religion.
Chapter five consists in a brief attempt to describe the Judaism of Paul’s time, or Hellenistic 2nd Temple Judaism. The chapter is something of an explication of the points of the New Perspective. Judaism was not a strictly legal system focusing on minutia and weighing merits vs demerits but was also based on grace. For more on this view see Sanders’ covenantal nomism. Another important point from the chapter is the idea that Gentiles did not have to be ‘converted’ to be saved. They had to abandon their idols for the one true God but they did not have to become Jews and be circumcised. Much of the material in this chapter is based on findings in 2nd Temple Judaism and so I cannot either affirm nor deny its findings. Many different scholars represent 2nd Temple Judaism differently. I have read some texts from this period but there is a lot more that I could read. Suffice it to say that I think one needs to engage with second temple texts for themselves to see what they think, otherwise you should trust a scholar who you consider to be a good thinker who typically comes to sound conclusions.
Chapter six discusses who exactly was Jewish and what was the relation towards Gentiles. Eisenbaum suggests that the majority of Jews were not hostile to Gentiles and that “Gentiles were not susceptible to ritual impurity, and Jews did not contract impurity by contact with Gentiles.” (100) She points out the high level of Jew/Gentile intermingling in the 2nd Temple Period. Just as resident aliens in the OT could become part of Israel, so also God fearers and any who would come and obey the Jewish way of life could join in the community even while uncircumcised. Acceptance in the Jewish community (πολειτεια) came to be more based on observance of proper conduct and morality than ethnicity. In light of these ideas Eisenbaum suggests that Paul’s extensive interaction with Gentiles was not novel.
Chapter seven looks specifically at the Pharisees because this is the group which Paul (and Josephus) were in. The Pharisees exercised political influence and were also influential among the common people. They sought to uphold the traditions of the elders with the Torah. They are typically faulted for being hypocrites in the Gospels and the Qumran scrolls. They tended towards leniency in Torah interpretation. For example, their teaching on marriage and divorce was more lenient than that of Jesus and the Essenes. They also extended some of the priestly cultic washing rituals surrounding eating to the common people, which was uncommon in non-Pharisaic circles. All of this shows that Paul was probably not a super strict Torah interpreter, but likely tended towards more loose and creative interpretations already prior to his ‘conversion.’
Chapter eight looks more closely at Paul’s ‘conversion’ from his ‘former’ life. Essentially Eisenbaum follows Stendahl in stating that Paul’s life changing experience was much more of a prophetic call than a ‘conversion.’ Paul at this time was still a sectarian Jew and did not reject his Jewishness. Paul then should not be interpreted through his conversion experience, indeed he hardly refers to it in the undisputed epistles. Eisenbaum suggests that Paul should be understood changing within his context, not changing to something totally different. She further suggests that Paul’s experience of the risen Christ caused him to push forward his eschatology and led to his desire to fulfill the OT expectations of many Gentiles coming to true monotheistic faith.
Chapter nine looks at the ways in which Paul remains a rather typical first century Jew. Paul looks down on Gentiles for their sexual immorality and idolatry and considers these issues of moral purity. The believing community is at risk of defilement for allowing these issues of moral impurity to go unchecked. Paul’s conception of holiness for the believers is also typically Jewish. Just as OT Israel was distinguished from other nations by the ritual and moral law, believing Gentiles are distinguished from non-believing by their moral purity. Paul’s divorce views are lenient, which is an indicator of his Pharisiac interpretive tendencies. Marriage partners must be of the same πολιτεια but not the same race. The OT was for Paul’s God’s word and authoritative Scripture. Eisenbaum claims that Paul never condemned the law (Torah) but only condemned the observance of the law by Gentiles. Since Christ, Gentiles do not need to become Jews, but can be the eschatological nations which come to true monotheism.
Chapter ten is a defense of Paul’s radical Jewish monotheism. Most Christian scholars simply assume Paul’s monotheism, but Eisenbaum suggests its greater importance. She goes as far as to say that proclaiming aniconic monotheism was more central to Paul’s mission than proclaiming Christ! Paul’s early views of Christ do not exist as something separate from monotheism but exist within the Jewish monotheistic framework. Early in the chapter (cf. pg. 178) Eisenbaum clearly states that Jesus is presented in Paul’s letters as a unique divine figure which prefigures later Orthodox Christian views about him. Then later in the chapter she argues that for Paul κυριος was a title used for Christ for reasons of expediency not theological import. She further argues that Paul did not have Jesus as an object of worship or posit him as equivalent to God. I think she means that though Christ was a unique divine figure in Paul’s thought, he was always kept distinct from God and not worshipped. This may be arguable based solely on the undisputed letters. She also contends that for Paul there is no faith ‘in’ Christ. Christ is never the object of faith but God is the object of faith through Christ’s faithfulness. This of course is contrary to the majority of Pauline scholarship.
Chapter eleven is primarily about Paul’s mission. Eisenbaum focuses on the apocalyptic nature of Paul’s mission. Paul’s Christ encounter led him to believe that the end of the world was very near and the time for mass Gentile inclusion into the people of God was at hand. Therefore he saw his own purpose as an eschatological fulfillment of the purpose of Israel as a light to the nations in general. Abraham’s family is extended through Christ and Paul sees himself as a primary agent of that extension. Eisenbaum posits that the similarity between Gentiles and Abraham lies not so much in their faith but in the way they turn from paganism to aniconic monotheism. She also proposes a new interpretation of Gal. 3:6-9 which emphasizes the faith of Abraham rather than the faith of individual believers, seeing Gentiles as the recipients of Abraham’s merit.
Chapter twelve is concerned with Paul’s view of the law. Paul obviously makes some quite negative statements about the law upon which the traditional views have been based, but if Paul did not ‘convert’ from his past Jewish life, why all the negativity about law. The main answer for Eisenbaum is that Paul’s work is directed towards Gentiles and so all of his negative comments are for them. She gives four interpretive points which characterize the ‘radically’ new perspective on Paul: 1) “Paul’s audience is made up of Gentiles, so everything he says about law applies to Gentiles, unless specified otherwise.” 2) “Torah is for Jews but provides a standard for all.” 3) “The law is not meant to condemn humanity; it serves a positive pedagogical function.” 4) “The doing of good works is not the opposite of having faith.” This is a long chapter with many sub points underneath of these main points. Two were especially interesting: 1) Eisenbaum argues against human depravity, stating that Paul does not teach it, and 2) Christ is the solution for the Gentile accumulation of sin only, not Jewish. These two points in particular are extremely difficult to make. Even scholars who do not subscribe to some type of total depravity still usually recognize the low moral ability which Paul ascribes to (at least) people without faith in Christ. Also it is fairly clear that Paul considers Christ the solution for Gentile as well as Jewish sin.
Chapter thirteen explains Eisenbaum’s view of justification by faith. Essentially, to be justified by faith is to be included into God’s people based on Jesus’ faithfulness. Just as the merit of Abraham provided grace for Israel’s covenant relationship, Jesus’ merit provides grace for the Gentiles. She also here clarifies her idea that Jesus’ atonement was for Gentiles only and not Jews.
In the final chapter Eisenbaum finally admits to the two ways of salvation view. Torah for Jews and Jesus for Gentiles. She provides some brief argument from Romans 9-11 to try and support it. She then finally argues for universalism.

The work overall is very interesting and pleasurable to read. Eisenbaum has of course a bias as a practicing Jew which guides her interpretation of Paul. She is motivated to curb anti-semitic tendencies in Pauline scholarship and to present a Paul who is palpable to the Jewish community. This has some good and some bad aspects. One of the main benefits of this is a fresh reading of Paul with new lenses. The lenses represent the ‘radical’ wing of the new perspective, suggesting that the new perspective has not gone far enough. Paul should be understood as more thoroughgoing Jew than is usually thought. The primary point of her book is well made, “Paul was not a Christian.” He was a first century Jew who represented a unique and emerging sect within Judaism that became a separate religion later. It is also very true that Paul needs to be read as a first century Jew and that this context helps to elucidate the meaning of his writings. While there is no such thing as objective neutrality, these aims definitely slant her portrait of Paul.
I will also say that many of Eisenbaum’s smaller arguments are not entirely watertight. I cannot recall them all but two from chapter twelve will show my point. Eisenbuam contends that because Paul’s audience is Gentile, everything he says about law applies to Gentiles not Jews. (cf. 217-219) The glaring problem here is that Paul wrote to mixed communities of Gentile and Jewish converts, not purely Gentile. Given that this is the case, would not Paul have said at least once something along the lines of, “But of course none of this applies to my Jewish listeners in the audience,” or something of similar effect? A second example is Eisenbaum’s notion that Christ provides the solution for the accumulated sin of Gentiles, but not of Jews. (cf. 222-224) I think I speak with the majority of NT scholars when I say that Paul rather clearly sees Christ as the solution for both Jew and Gentile. These points are very brief and would need to be argued mush further but I only mention them because quite a few similarly deficient argument appear throughout the work. Eisenbaum may have a defense for these arguments, but often times I was left thinking that a point was still unsubstantiated.
On a few occasions Eisenbaum also misportrays Christian doctrines and ideas. One example shows the tendency (though not too common). Luther’s notion of simultaneously justified and sinner is explained as Christians being justified by faith but unchanged in nature without improved moral status. I know of no Christian scholar who would agree with this description. Christians, including Lutherans, see believers as new creations which have been altered and will display a higher level of morality than prior to belief in Christ. Luther was simply pointing out that though one is considered totally righteous by God because of Christ, one never achieves total righteousness in this life, but continues to struggle with sin. He did not think there was no difference.
Ultimately Eisenbaum’s interpretation of Paul simply does not take into account many of the things Paul himself says. Even though she excludes Acts and the disputed letters, her picture of Paul is still not what is represented in the undisputed epistles. I think it would have been a much more convincing book if the good arguments were retained while not trying to push Paul somewhere he was not. Someone should be able to say, “Paul thought such and such, but I think he was wrong at this point.” We don't need to twist his arm to say something different. One of the most glaringly obvious distortions is the notion that Jews are now saved apart from Christ. Anyone could take an afternoon and read through the undisputed epistle and see that Paul does not think that. “91 I am speaking truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscious testifying with me in the holy spirit, 2 that my grief is great and unceasing pain is in my heart. 3 For I almost prayed for I myself to be accursed from the Christ on behalf of my brothers, my countrymen according to the flesh; 4 who are Israelites, of whom is the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the service and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, the one being over all God blessed into the ages, amen.” (My translation Romans 9:1-5) This is just one of many examples where Paul does not seem to think that the Jews are fine simply continuing to follow Torah.
These negatives are very real but I think that much of the work, and even the main arguments of most chapters, are valid and should be thought through by Pauline students everywhere. There is a lot to be learned here and I commend the work despite the faults in the argument at various points. I still think that it was worth my time and effort as a Pauline student and in some ways provided a helpful corrective to my own understanding.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Paul's True Faith 19 April 2010
By S. E. Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is perhaps the best book about Paul from a Jewish perpective that I have ever read. I have always wanted to know Paul from the Jewish perspective, untainted by the theology of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Most Jewish portrayals are critical but fair and are worth reading; ie Daniel Boyarin, Samuel Sandmel, and Alan Segal. I have found only two which are not worthy; Hyam Maccoby's biased account and the absolutely absurd portrayal by Robert Eisenman. Pamela Eisenbaum's book rises above most of the others and is well worth reading.

Eisenbaum focuses solely on the authentic letters of Paul and gives us an understanding of the apostle which is untainted by the doctrines of Augustine and Luther.

Eisenbaum refutes the common notion among many Christians that Judaism is a legalistic religion in which salvation has to be earned. The Mosaic covenant, with its provision of atonement, was never merited by the Israelites who were saved by it. To Paul, salvation was never a problem for Jews who lived under the covenant, but it was a problem for gentiles who lived outside the covenant with no means of atoning for their sins. Thus Paul felt that the Law which was a blessing for Israel, was a curse for gentiles. Paul never condemned the Law as it applied to Jews. Israel was a chosen nation of priests. Therefore, Jewish ritual laws such as circumcision, and food laws only applied to Jews. Paul felt that it was inappropriate for gentiles to abide by Jewish ritual laws. Gentiles had to be included in God's kingdom according to prophecy, but as gentiles, not as Jews. Eisenbaum sresses that Paul's letters were addressed to gentiles and not to Jews.

Paul was proud of his Jewish heritage and his schooling as a Pharisee. His experience of the risen Christ was not a conversion away from Judaism. The resurrection of Jesus convinced Paul that the final judgement was imminent and that the prophecies of gentile nations being gathered into the Kingdom of God had to be fulfilled. Paul felt a prophetic calling to preach the gospel to the gentiles. He never preached a "replacement theology" and chastises gentiles for their idolatry and moral failings. Paul was not obsessed with individual salvation but with gentile nations on a large scale. Eisenbaum places Paul in the mold of a first century apocalyptic Jew, not a Baptist preacher.

Eisenbaum demonstrates that Paul never taught a doctrine of faith without works. This is so blatantly clear in Romans 2:13 which so any of Paul's detractors seem to overlook. Eisenbaum explains how gentile salvation by "faith in Jesus Christ" should be read as salvation by the "faithfulness of Jesus Christ". To Paul, the problem of atonement for gentiles, who lived outside the covenant, was solved by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Gentiles were saved by the faithful obedience of Jesus just as Jews were saved by the faithfulness of Abraham and the Patriarchs. Paul stresses that it was the power of God which raised Jesus and exalted him in Heaven. While Jesus is the heavenly mediator, it is the God of Israel which gentiles must worship.

This book should be required reading for anyone who truly wants to understand the enigma of Paul the Apostle.
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