Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, 255p.
Murphy-O’Connor reconstructs the outline of Paul’s life and work using his letters rather than the account Luke offers in Acts. Large portions of the book are conjectural, and M-O has no qualms about telling the reader what was “logical” or “necessary” for Paul to have done. He also works within a “Great-Man” historical frame in which Paul seems to steer history, directing characters here and there as if they had no interests or projects of their own. By over-playing Paul’s missionary ambition (as an obsession from the moment of his conversion) and his ability to direct and control those loyal to him, M-O actually ends up underplaying Paul’s remarkable accomplishments. Largely a popular text, the book relies on the arguments and dating set forth in the author’s 1996 text, Paul: A Critical Life and makes no case for the dating or authenticity of letters. Nevertheless, the book provides a helpful narrative framework for Paul’s life, brings flesh and blood to his personality by setting his whole story down in a single account, and provides (as must be stressed) one possible account of Paul’s motives and thoughts over the course of his life. M-O’s “common-sense” approach to Paul’s thoughts and feelings takes quite a bit of artistic license.
[The blog has been languishing a bit as of late and so I’ve been thinking of different ways to use this space. Short reviews of books that I am reading (for class or otherwise) may feature more prominently here in the future. I don’t intend to bore the few people who read this by devoting entirely to my academic work, but realistically it will get more attention if it is more fully integrated.]