My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How were Paul's writings similar and dissimilar to the paragons of virtue and valor in his day? Did he absorb their categories, and imbibe in their programs, incorporating them into the letters he wrote? These are the types of questions answered in a new 200-page paperback put out by IVP Academic titled, "Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context." The volume is edited by Joseph R. Dodson, associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and David E. Briones, associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and pulls together a cast of collaborators from different venues of academia. I was surprised at how straightforward and simple the publication was to read. High School Seniors, College Freshmen, pastors and seminarians alike would be able to delve into this volume, work their way through, and come forth on the other side conscious of having comprehended the material and gained a few new insights.
The aim of the book is to artificially put Paul "into dialogue with other people in his cultural context who thought just as deeply about many of the topics that mattered greatly to him" (x). Therefore, the authors bring Paul together with folks like Epictetus, Philodemus, Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch, Aratus, Cicero, and Plato. But instead of exhaustively unpacking each aspect of every philosopher, the contributors take one subject and tease it out, such as visions, life and afterlife, giving and receiving, the good life, faith, slavery, friendship, therapy for the weak, and suffering. A few corespondents engage broader subjects and broader perspectives rather than trim their topic to one philosopher. My favorite of these was by E. Randolph Richards, provost at Palm Beach Atlantic University, who addressed the subject of "When is a Letter Not a Letter? Paul, Cicero, and Seneca as Letter Writers." I learned quite a bit from these 9 pages.
Did the book reach it's goal of "comparison brings clarity" (3)? I think so. In almost every section I gained a clearer understanding of the similarities and differences between Paul and a given philosopher on an explicit subject. Though the topics were important (two vital chapters were on suffering), and the engagement with Paul and the philosophical paragons was concise, nevertheless this volume could have been enhanced by adding numerous other discussions, such as, on virtue, discipline, reason, truth, reality, etc. Even a chapter of how each viewed "g/God" would have been a plus.
Overall, I was pleased by "Paul and the Giants of Philosophy." This manuscript can be useful in college and seminary courses. Pastors of every denomination would benefit from a copy of this work. It will make an ideal addition to a book reading circle. And, for that inquisitive investigator in your life, they are going to be advantaged by a copy. In the end, I highly recommend the book.
IVP Academic sent me the book used in this review at my request, and I am grateful. There were no demands made by the publisher; nor any diktats issued by some back-office politburo. Rather, I was left to sink or swim on my own. Hence, all assessments and evaluations in this analysis are mine.
A copy of the book can be picked up here: InterVarsity Press
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