This double volume is a revised and expanded second edition of a single volume from 2003. There are seven additional chapters, one of which is a reprint from a chapter published elsewhere, two chapters are revised by different authors from the contributors of the corresponding chapters in the original volume, and one chapter has narrowed its focus (Cadwalleder’s “Games and Military” to “Games”). Each essay is divided into a uniform structure of four or five sections. An introduction into each subject is followed by the topic within the Greco-Roman world. Once the context of the Greco-Roman world has been presented by analysing primary sources, the following section then looks at the issues highlighted from the former sections within Paul’s letters. Some essays contain a fourth section which provides key texts and ideas for further studies in Paul and Pauline texts.
Paul Sampley, Emeritus Professor in New Testament and Christian Origins at Boston University, has compiled twenty-eight essays that place the works of Paul in light of Greco-Roman culture and literature. Sampley explains his desire to explore Paul’s familiarity with Greco-Roman culture and his astute knowledge and ability to employ these conventions to propagate the gospel in his mission to the Gentiles (1: ix). The premise remains interesting as little is known regarding Paul’s education in Greco-Roman culture. We do not know if Paul attended school nor do we know whether Paul read Greek classics. However, it appears evident that Paul exhibits an understanding when comparing his writings to studies in Greco-Roman society on issues such as politics, law, religion, and customs. These essays demonstrate insight to Paul’s social awareness and his mastery of rhetoric.
The pursuit of understanding Paul in the Greco-Roman context is a shift from Paul in his Jewish context. However, there is still a respect of Paul’s Jewish identity within these essays. Sampley also notes the impact of Hellenism on Judaism during the Second Temple Period (1:ix). The various authors are careful not to default to the Jewish/Hellenism divide and that the issue of worldviews is more complex than is often thought. The first essay, Paul and Adaptability (Clarence E. Gladd), sets the tone in demonstrating Paul’s adaptability between settings and cultures as well as its appropriate use in Greco-Roman culture. The following chapters continue in respect of the nuances between Paul’s thought and the pervading worldviews of antiquity. The various authors note continuity and discontinuity between Paul, Hellenistic, and Jewish thought. Duane Watson’s chapter on “Paul and Boasting” in particular is able to mark the continuities and discontinuities between Paul, Greco-Roman views on boasting, and boasting in Scripture. This raises an interesting question on the impact of the Greek Scriptures within the subjects of each essay. Of course, these essays are meant to focus on Paul’s thinking within the Greco-Roman world; however, to dismiss the Greek Scriptures’ influence on Paul’s thoughts regarding subjects like family and suffering gives the impression that the essays are overstretching Paul’s reliance upon Greco-Roman culture to communicate with the recipients of his letters. For example, would Paul’s understanding of suffering and hardship derive from reading Job or the Psalms rather than Plutarch or Lucian? The aim of the project is to investigate how Paul is engaging in presenting the gospel in his mission to the Gentiles in his epistles; however, perhaps, when looking at the recipients of Paul’s letters, the focus should include the fact that Paul’s readers are Christians, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, who have been exposed to the Scriptures.
The strength of the essays in this two volume handbook is that they provide a Greco-Roman context for reading Paul and then applying this to interdisciplinary studies. This revised edition, in particular, benefits from recent studies borrowed from social disciplines such as anthropology and sociology (2:391). Rafael Rodriguez’s chapter on Paul and Social Memory in particular demonstrates recent studies on how social memory was used in communities of antiquity and presents a fresh perspective of Paul’s reading of the Abrahamic narratives in Romans 4 (2:355–63). The use of recent scholarship in social studies and the addition of several new chapters to this volume highlights the possibility to a wealth of future studies between Pauline biblical studies and social sciences. Some of these subjects intertwine and overlap. One obvious example is the two chapters on “Paul and Memory” (Peter-Ben Smit) and “Paul and Social Memory” (Rafael Rodriguez). There is also a close relationship between the chapters on “Paul and Family Life” (Margaret Y. MacDonald) and “Paul and Pater Familias” (L. Michael White). Both chapters each have a section reflecting on Paul’s appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus (1:277–80; 2:187–89). Some chapters seem to cover material already addressed elsewhere in the book; yet this demonstrates how connected these aspects are to the broader picture of Greco-Roman society. David deSilva’s chapter on “Paul, Honor and Shame” resonates through many of the other essays. It is interesting to see when different essays use the same texts from antiquity and relate the text to their subject. For example, both Clarence E. Glad (“Paul and Adaptability”) and Duane F. Watson (“Paul and Boasting”) cite the same text from Plutarch’s, “How to tell a friend from a flatterer.” Glad cites Plutarch in connection with the point that no one can trust someone who adapts from one person to the next (1:5), whereas Watson uses the same text to explain the Corinthian reaction to Paul’s apparent contradiction of boasting in letter but meek in person (1:96). The two interpretations are not exclusive of each other, but this example does highlight the danger of making too much of the parallels between texts of antiquity and the subject at hand. Sampley and others impeccably avoid making such pitfalls.