Paul the apostle is undoubtedly the most important man in Christian history next to Jesus of Nazareth. Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, nearly half (13) have traditionally been attributed to his authorship (modern scholarship reduces that number). Another, the Acts of the Apostles, reports on his missionary journeys. His Greek language letters were the first writings of the Jesus movement, written a generation or two earlier than the gospels were compiled. His ideas have become the bedrock of Christianity and later theologians such as Augustine (fifth century) and Luther and the reformers (16th century) have relied heavily on the theology of Paul.
Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, but he never met the man from Nazareth prior to the crucifixion, and he was not one of those who had followed Jesus as a disciple. His first brush with the Jesus movement came after the death of Jesus--first as a persecutor, but then came his famous conversion on the road to Damascus, and he became the missionary to the Gentiles (non-Jews), establishing a network of churches around the northern tier of the Mediterranean.
Based in Jerusalem, the Jewish friends and family of Jesus remained the core of the movement after their leader's death. Chief among these were his former disciples, led by Peter, and Jesus' brothers, led by James. Paul was never part of this group and his ministry was outside Palestine and mostly with Gentiles. Over the course of two to three decades, there were three notable visits by Paul to Jerusalem, and each of these events played a pivotal role in the uneasy relationship between Paul and the Jerusalem leadership. The first came about three years after Paul's Damascus road conversion, the second a decade or more later (the so-called apostolic assembly, occurring c. 48 CE), and the third eight to ten years after that at the conclusion of Paul's missionary journeys. At issue were the requirements of Torah--such as circumcision, dietary restrictions, and Sabbath observances--for Paul's Gentile churches. The novel's main storyline follows the running conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem leadership.
Although the first and greatest theologian of the church, Paul is nevertheless controversial: to Jews, he is the author of harsh words that others have used to justify anti-Semitism; to women, he is criticized as a misogynist who set the church on a patriarchal path; two centuries ago, slave-holders claimed justification for slavery in writings attributed to him; and today, in the contentious church debate over LGBT issues, his words are atop the list of so-called "clobber" passages that some cite to justify anti-gay policies. The novel will consider each of these in its development of the character of Paul.
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