During the past decade, if not before, I’ve been wrestling with an angel: Paul the Apostle. I’ve been reading the letters of Paul intensely from the time I was a young man, drawn by his wild and visionary sense of reality, his “invention” of Christianity, his example as a man who moved through the wide cosmopolitan world of the first century without the slightest fear of consequences. (In this, he’s very different from me and, I suspect, most of us!) As Easter approaches, I begin to think about what Paul said when he urged us to “take on the mind of Christ” [Philippians 2.5], which in his theology means entering completely into this cosmic spirit so that the spirit itself becomes part of us.
My own spiritual journey has been a textual one in part, living in the gospels and letters of Paul as a reader, digging into the Greek words themselves to unearth their full meaning. This work, most recently, has led to a series of 21 lectures that I recorded some months ago about Jesus, Paul, and the early Christians. And I have just published The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul.
In this novel, I write as Paul in the first person, countering or “correcting” his narrative with that of his traveling companion, Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and, of course, the Acts of the Apostles, the latter being an account of their missionary journeys through the Roman world—a journey that ended with the martyrdom of Paul in Rome around the time of the great fire of 64 A.C.E. Luke’s cool-headed view of what was happening stands (at least in my novel) in contrast to Paul’s mad visionary rhetoric, as embodied in his letters.
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