Theologian Michael F. Bird has taken on the herculean task of answering certain questions that religious scholars have debated for millennia: “Who was Paul? Where in Judaism should we situate Paul? What kind of Jew was he? And how did he relate to contemporary Judaism as a Christ-believing Jew?” "[W]as Paul an anomalous Jew on the margins of Judaism?”
Bird admits that this is a difficult task, writing a "whole industry of scholarship has attempted to map Paul in relation to Judaism and to show where he fit into the spectrum of Jewish beliefs and practices.” Placing this debate in the historical context, Bird notes that Pauline religious scholars in the twentieth century were forced to reassess and "even recast" the Jewish nature of Paul's thinking as a result of: 1. "scholarly recoil at the horrors of the European Holocaust, coupled with the observation that the grotesque evils of the Holocaust were at least partly perpetuated by a specifically Christian anti-Semitism [which] required a radical rethink of Paul and the Jewish people," and 2. "the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
Bird makes clear that with this book, he intends to “test this hypothesis of Paul as an anomalous Jew on the margins in a number of areas that will highlight the jarring nature of Paul’s thought and clarify the meaning and limits of Paul’s Jewishness.” In so doing, Bird examines, among other things, Paul’s concept of “salvation,” whether Paul thought that “salvation was attainable within Judaism” and whether Paul was more involved in Jewish evangelism than previously thought.
This is an important, extremely relevant, scholarly book . Most emphatically, this is a book that deserves a wide audience.
*Michael F. Bird is lecturer in theology at Ridley Melbourne Mission and Ministry College in Australia.
(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Eerdmans (November 15, 2016)