Friday, May 2, 2008

The Mysterious Disappearance of Paul of Tarsus

"Readers must not complain if the shadow which took his name does not amply fill the important part of hero for which he was originally cast." - Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall

In today's first reading, Acts 18:9-18, Paul might as well be named Paul Pennyfeather, the subject of the above quote; a man notable for his odd absence of self in a book in which he is the main character. (The book, by the way, is dry English satire at its devastating best. Tolle et lege!) Is there another passage concerning Paul, anywhere in Scripture, where he is so passive to the narrative - a "shadow that has flitted about [it]," indeed? Christ comes to Paul in a vision and tells him to stay in Corinth, to not be afraid; He is with Paul and none will attack him. This is the same Paul who not so long before got up from being stoned and went right back into the city that had just attempted to brutally murder him. The same Paul that, in one of his letters, gives a lengthy and blood-curdling list of all the persecutions he has been through. If he didn't group similar incidents together, most lectors would be needing a cup of water by the end. What in Corinth had him so frightened? Acts never says it out...Paul is only a shadow, given definition by the account of the vision. His following year and a half in Corinth is summed up in the words "he settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God." Then he gets taken before the Roman tribunal by the Jews of Corinth - Paul, the master rhetorician and preacher; Paul who has Jesus' own gift of clever verbal escapes; Paul who is "about to reply" when the Roman official throws the case out of court. End of that story. Except for the part where the synagogue official he converted is promptly beaten - but oddly, not Paul. (Or not so odd, he being a Roman citizen and all that. Oops.) He stays on; says farewell; and sails away having not left any impression of himself that Luke troubles to relate. The end of the reading is the ever so bland recount of him having his hair cut "because he had taken a vow." And Paul. Only the flitting shadow that barely corresponds to the man of letters, or even the man shown earlier in Acts.


jjray said...

If anyone is interest, here is an article delving into the theory that Paul was a member of Herod's extended family:

jjray said...

Let's try an HTML link:
Paul descendant of Herod.