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Interview by Natalia Marandiuc


Paul in Context

A conversation with classicist Sarah Ruden.

Sarah Ruden is a translator and poet; her translation of The Aeneid was published by Yale University Press in 2008. A Guggenheim Fellow, she will spend the academic year 2010-11 as a visiting scholar in Classical Studies at Wesleyan University. Natalia Marandiuc spoke with Ruden this spring about her book Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, published earlier this year by Pantheon. Their conversation took place at Yale Divinity School, where Ruden had been a visiting fellow since 2007.

Given your formation as a classicist, more particularly one with a subtle knowledge of the classical literary world, what prompted your interest and desire to write a book on Paul?

It was pure chance, or maybe I could say a leading. I prefer to say that. I was in a Quaker Bible study course. We were looking at letters of Paul and considering them in what's now become a fairly conventional way. We were examining them from a position of moral superiority, of political enlightenment, dismissing Paul. But I became curious and at the same time rather irritated when we were discussing a passage that was being interpreted in a way that knowledge of ancient literature simply does not support, in a way that would have been impossible and unimaginable for Paul. And so for the first time I began reading Paul in Greek, alongside the Greco-Roman literature I had studied for years.

Right. And you say that such a perspective is surprisingly rare in the academic study of Paul. You mention specifically the lack of intellectual exchange between classicists and New Testament scholars in your experience at Harvard. Now, however, there is some significant dialogue here at Yale, for example, between people who study classics, people who study New Testament, and people who study ancient Christianity. And there is also another kind of world that calls for being explored in this kind of nexus, the Jewish world of antiquity.

In extrapolating from my experience at Harvard, ...

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