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‘Wholly Jewish’ Saint Paul?

In response to:

Who Was Saint Paul? from the November 5, 2015 issue

To the Editors:

I write to comment on G.W. Bowersock’s review of my book, Who Made Early Christianity? The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul [NYR, November 5, 2015]. I have no complaint about what Bowersock said but rather about what he did not say. His remarks center on just the first chapter of the book; not a word about the remaining four chapters, where I endeavor to explain what I mean by “The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul.” Bowersock’s remark about this “puzzling subtitle” would have seemed less puzzling if he had followed my argument about the long line of Jewish texts and authors, from Late Antiquity to the present day, for whom Paul remained fully Jewish.

The point of my argument overall is precisely that Paul remained wholly Jewish in this long line of Jewish texts, a line largely ignored by Christian authors who have struggled implausibly to make him a Christian. Bowersock worries that I have overshot the mark in attempting to “reconfigure Paul wholly as a Jew.” At this point, I wish that Bowersock might have explained why a wholly Jewish Paul (his chief complaint about my book) seems implausible. Especially since in his own words, “Paul was himself a Jew, circumcised, and a former Pharisee.” I have enormous respect for Bowersock and his many works. He was my teacher in graduate school at Harvard. But I fear that his truncated account of my book yields an incomplete and thus a distorted view of the book as a whole.

John G. Gager
Princeton, New Jersey

G.W. Bowersock replies:

I have warm and positive memories of John Gager as a graduate student and regret that I could not be more supportive of the argument in his new book.