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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 63, 2015

BENJAMIN L. WHITE, Remembering Paul: Ancient and Modern Contests over the Image of the Apostle (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). Pp. xxi + 351. Hardback. US$74.00.

This excellent new book by Benjamin L. White, a reworking of his dissertation written under Bart Ehrman at UNC Chapel Hill, informs and intrigues with its argument while delighting with a clear and readable style (OUP’s unfortunate decision for endnotes not withstanding). Drawing on methodological and theoretical developments in relation to social memory, historiography, and tradition, White traces the deployment of Paul’s image by various “reputational entrepreneurs” in their quest to claim Paul as “the preacher of the truth” (16–18).

White’s argument proceeds in five chapters—bookended by the introduction and concluding observations—that take the reader from a critique of the “Pauline captivity narrative” established by F. C. Baur (Ch. 2), through a re-orienting of historiographical approaches to Pauline reception in the second century (Ch. 3), an exploration of the importance of social memory and tradition on second century Pauline images (Ch. 4), and finally to two case studies on Pauline images in 3 Corinthians (Ch. 5) and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (Ch. 6).

In reviewing the “Pauline captivity narrative,” White demonstrates the foundational importance of Baur’s identification of the Hauptbriefe with Pauline theology which allowed later theological developments to be measured against this authentic Pauline theology (24, 27–28). This led, in due course, to the argument that devotion to Paul by Marcion and the other ‘Gnostics’ was attended by a general avoidance of Paul by (proto-)orthodox circles. This narrative rests on Baur’s views which, “were often undergirded by little more than ideological preference, lightly papered over in the language of objectivist historiography” (15).

White then recounts the overturning of this narrative by historical studies such as those from Andreas Lindemann (1979), Ernst Dassmann (1979) and David Rensberger (1981). Their approaches, White contends, were nevertheless bound up with similarly positivist historiographical approaches. White ably takes the reader through developments in historiography in the late 20th century, being particularly indebted to Hayden White’s justly famous Metahistory (1973). This is followed by recounting the more recent studies of Pauline reception among scholars like Dennis R. MacDonald, Elaine Pagels, James Aageson, Richard Pervo and Daniel Marguerat. He concludes, “What is now needed in Pauline Studies is a full-scale shift away from the continued impulse to deploy positivist and Rankean historiography in the service of the ‘real’ Paul of the Haupt-briefe” (69). To this end, the tools supplied by studies of social memory and tradition are noted as particularly valuable.

Chapter 4 grounds this suggestion both in relevant memory and tradition theory while also providing a brief survey of “Pauline traditions in the second century” including “image, text, and tradition” (79–82). For memory theory, White draws especially on Mary Carruthers, Maurice Halbwachs (supplemented by Barry Schwartz) and Pierre Nora.

In several ways, Chapters 1–4 are an extended prolegomena for the two case studies in Chapters 5–6, both of which focus on the relationship of Paul and his teaching to the wider “apostolic tradition,” the importance of the Pastoral Epistles, and hermeneutical concern surrounding the interpretation of 1 Cor 15 on resurrection (109). The first traces the effort in 3 Corinthians to “reclaim the Paul of 1 Corinthians from opposing readings like the one we find in the Gospel of Philip 56.26–57.1” (130). The second explores the importance of the Pastoral Paul for Irenaeus’ “heresy-hunting” project (166). The similarities between the image of Paul in 3 Corinthians and Irenaeus is argued to indicate “that the two works were products of the same developing trajectory of the Pauline tradition” that may be associated particularly with Asia Minor (167).

The volume closes in Chapter 7 with a reflection on the previous material as well as eight considerations for “practicing Pauline Studies” (176–81). These are remarkably insightful and forward looking for a scholar’s first book and they demonstrate his command of the field generally.

When the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket call a book a “must read” (Adela Yarbro Collins), “the new norm” (Judith Lieu) and a “sparkling and enjoyable study” (Markus Bockmuehl), expectations for the reader run high. In this case, White does not disappoint. His book makes the arguments that this reviewer, for one, has thought should be made for some time, and he does so very well. From that perspective, White has done the world of Pauline studies quite a service.

Review by
Benjamin A. Edsall
Australian Catholic University