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Judith M. Gundry-Volf and Miroslav Volf

Paul and the Politics of Identity

What do you get when a Jewish professor of Talmudic culture, steeped in postmodern thought, applies himself to the texts of the apostle Paul with such a lively interest that he teaches himself ancient Greek to read them in the original and plows through a great deal of voluminous secondary literature? When such a person is as creative and disciplined as Daniel Boyarin, you get a fresh and brilliant overall reading of Paul and a piece of astute cultural criticism in one.

Much is intriguing about Boyarin's A Radical Jew. Here is a contemporary Jewish scholar reading the Apostle to the Gentiles not as an anti-Judaic apostate but as "a Jewish cultural critic," and inquiring into "what it was in Jewish culture that led him [Paul] to produce a discourse of radical reform of that culture." Here is a reader who finds Paul's thought deeply flawed, yet succeeds where many a Christian exegete and theologian fails—he makes Paul, the author of "some of the most remarkable texts in the canon of western literature," speak almost as if he were our contemporary. Here is a postmodern thinker with a heightened sensitivity to fragmentation and fluidity arguing that Paul's thought is not simply "responsive to particular situations in the churches" to which he wrote, but is "generated by a consistent theological mainspring as well." Here is a newcomer to Pauline studies not only boldly putting Galatians 3:28 at the center of Paul's thought but offering a careful close reading and spellbinding overall interpretation of Paul's writing in support.

All this, communicated in clear and engaging prose, would be enough to keep our eyes wide open with interest, even our jaws dropped in admiration. What makes the book profound—and, as we will argue later, profoundly flawed—is that Boyarin, true to his postmodern sensibilities, undertakes to invert the common valorization of Paul's most radical claim, the putative pinnacle of his whole thought, namely that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave ...

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