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Samuel Sandmel is a Jew, but he writes from within the context of Christian biblical and theological studies. He is fully conversant with the range of studies in Christian history, biblical interpretation and cultural backgrounds. In this book he investigates the cultural and theological characteristics of the Apostle Paul from his writings in the New Testament.
He critically compares the profile and thematic development in Paul's writings with other Jewish and Hellenistic writings of his time. He particularly finds important parallels between Paul and the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria, who was an active interpreter and apologist for Judaism in the Hellenic world.
Historical Trends and Cultural Variations
Sandmel is focused on the impact of historical trends on early Christian thought. He probes how the various expressions of faith in Jesus as the Messiah related to Judaism at large and to each other within the cultural variations into which the Christian message quickly spread. The sub-title of the book expresses the basis of his overall interest in the range of factors involved in this study: A Study in History.
I note that this book was published in 1979. Thus some of his perspectives seem outdated in light of much that has been uncovered and evaluated since that time. One thing I note about his style is that he seems to overplay the differences he finds among the various writers of the New Testaments. Though the book was written a quarter-century ago, Sandmel still provides some important perspectives for Pauline studies and the understanding of early Chrisianity in general.
He interacts with the full range of theological and hermeneutic interpreters of the New Testament up to his time. He originally addressed the topic in 1958, and made two revisions. His separate introductions to each edition give insights into the quality of restudy and documentation involved in this edition. He interacts with additional scholarship publshed since the second edition. The third edition that I own is still the edition available today on Amazon.com from Fortress Press.
I appreciate the important and level-headed analysis he provides about the possible reasons for discrepancies and differences in perspectives. Some of the differences don't seem as great as he concludes. Sandmel does a very thorough job of investigating the amount and kind of influence Paul seems to have had on other writers of the New Testament documents.
Paul's Influence on Other Writers
He finds Pauline influence of some kind in virtually all the writings. In analyzing the style and flow of Paul's arguments, Paul emerges not as the systematic modern theologian recent times have made of him. Rather, Paul's focus on experience is brought forth, the mystic whose life, thought and whole inner being were changed by a dynamic mystical encounter with the very Living God he believed in from his Judaic heritage, but in the form of Jesus the Risen Messiah (meaning anointed one, translated in Greek as "Christ").
Sandmel is sharply eloquent in portraying the distinctive experience-oriented gospel of transformation Paul develops in his letters. As Sandmel writes he serves as an advocate for a dynamic, creative Paul whose radical views on the Torah requirements had been an irritant and challenge for the original Jewish community who followed Jesus as Messiah. Only at certain periodic reflective, concluding points, does Sandmel indicate he is a Jew.
His scholarship is commendable as he honestly deals with what he finds in the writings of Paul -- especially as he looks for the similarities and differencs between Paul and other Hellenic Jews who wrote texts we now find in the New Testament. Sandmel loves the details of history, and shares with the reader the thrill of probing them for clues to our own cultural or religious identity.
The author comments about the lamentable lack of independent information we have on the actual character of Palestinian Christianity. There are only a couple of simple references in contemporary and next-generation sources. We do know that Christianity quickly became a Gentile phenomenon. Sandmel tries to discover the threads of influence in thought and order that this involved. His careful and thoughtful scholarship is pleasant and challenging.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Oral Greek Styles in Paul's Writings
Cultural Drama in Christian Beginnings
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
The Gospels in their Jewish Setting
Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
Hebrew Usage in the First Century
Jesus' Knowledge of Greek: The Role of Language and Motif in the Fourth Gospel Narratives
Jesus and the Hebrew Language
The Language Jesus Used
Literacy Training in 1st Century Palestine
A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature
Yeshua - The Jewish Character of the Early Church and Jesus' Teachings
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First written and posted on Amazon.com and Thoughts and Resources 19 September 2006
Last edited 4 January 2014
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006, 2013 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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