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Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus
Synopses & Reviews
Scholars agree that the gospels were written after the destruction of the Second Temple in 17 CE. This catastrophic event, argues Donald Akenson, forever altered the outlook — and the agenda — of the Christian and Jewish faiths. Of all the New Testament writings, only Paul's letters were composed before 70 CE. Thus, Akenson says, they are the only direct evidence we have that is untainted by this profound and lasting shift in perspective. And yet this most important source on the life of Jesus is also the most neglected.
In Saint Saul, Akenson offers a lively and provocative account of what we can learn about Jesus by reading the letters of Paul, providing fresh new insights into both Jesus and Paul. Akenson painstakingly recreates the world of Christ, a time rich with ideas, prophets, factions, priests, savants, and god-drunk fanatics. He insistently stresses throughout the Jewishness of Jesus (for example, referring to Jesus and Paul as Yeshua and Saul, as they were then known). Equally important, he dismisses the traditional method of searching for facts about Jesus by looking for parallels among the four gospels; they were handed down to us as a unit by a later generation, he argues. Saul, although he did not know Yeshua personally, knew his most important followers, and wrote immediately after Yeshua's death. Saul's teachings were approved (though sometimes reluctantly) by Yeshua's brothers and other early leaders.
As an eminent historian, Akenson approaches his subject with a fresh eye and a scholarly rigor that is all too rare in this hotly disputed field. The result is a vibrantly written and provocative book that will captivate anyone seeking to know more about the historical Jesus and the earliest Christians.
"From his double-take title through more than 300 zestful pages, Donald Akenson startles us with one fresh insight after another...Saint Saul is an engaging book for anyone willing to take on the current challenges in the quest for Jesus." Christian Science Monitor
"Saint Saul is a splendid book. In touch with the latest scholarship, elegantly written, original, and highly persuasive. The whole area of the early relations between Christianity and Judaism — i.e. in the first three or four centuries — is now in a state of complete turmoil and reconceptualization. It now seems clear that the borders between what we now think of as two religions were very blurred at that time, and that orthodox rabbinic Judaism was not at all the 'normative' Judaism at the time of Jesus and thereafter. In all these crosscurrents, this book by Akenson is a clearly presented argument that will surely advance and clarify the conversation." Harvey Cox, author of The Secular City and Fire From Heaven
"Readers will be entertained and informed and, regardless whether they are convinced that Saul is a 'skeleton key,' will come away with deeper understanding of the modern quest for the historical Jesus and the world inhabited by Yeshua and Saul." Booklist
"An absorbing, if conventional, look at the latest 'Quest for the Historical Jesus' through the letters of the apostle Paul....[Akeson's] learning in a field outside his academic specialty is immense, his style...is lively and inviting, and he has a great regard for Paul as a literary and religious genius." Publishers Weekly
"Finally! A scholarly book examines the evidence that Saul (the Apostle Paul) remained a vigorous Pharisee and adhered to an 'essential Judahism.'....[T]his very entertaining and clearly written work is enthusiastically recommended for students who have the knowledge base and sophistication to interact with his ideas." Library Journal
A brilliantly written, witty, and engaging look at the historical Jesus is filled with insightful new portraits of both Jesus and Paul.
In Saint Saul, Donald Harman Akenson offers a lively and provocative account of what we can learn about Jesus by reading the letters of Paul. As the only direct evidence of Jesus we have that were composed before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE forever altered the outlook of the Christian and Jewish faiths, Akenson claims that these letters are the most reliable source of information. He dismisses the traditional method of searching for facts about Jesus by looking for parallels among the four gospels because they were handed down to us as a unit by a later generation. Akenson painstakingly recreates the world of Christ, a time rich with ideas, prophets, factions, priests, savants, and god-drunk fanatics. He insistently stresses throughout the Jewishness of Jesus, referring to Jesus and Paul as Yeshua and Saul, as they were then known. As an eminent historian, Akenson approaches his subject with a fresh eye and a scholarly rigor that is all too rare in this hotly disputed field.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -309) and indexes.
About the Author
Donald Harman Akenson is Professor of History at Queen's University, Kingston (Canada), and Beamish Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, England. A senior editor at McGill-Queen's University Press, he is an award-winning author of numerous books on a wide range of topics, including Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds.
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