Saint Paul, ca. 1482, by Barolomeo Montagna (Poldi Pizzoli Museum)
The New Testament contains 13 epistles written in the name of “the apostle Paul” to communities he had founded, and others he had not yet visited, around the Mediterranean world from Asia to Greece to Italy. Many scholars today think that likely only seven of those were genuine, and they are the earliest and therefore inestimably valuable written sources we have for what will become early Christianity.
These letters were to become charter documents of the Christian movement, so popular that new letters were written in imitation and were copied, read, and debated intensely. The influence of the letters of Paul on Christian movements from antiquity to contemporary America is enormous. In an absorbing full-day program, Margaret M. Mitchell, an authority on the Testament and early Christian writings, examines the large debates about Paul, his identity, and his letters, and provides tools for critical assessment of the evidence.
9:30–10:45 a.m. Portraits of Paul
Who exactly was the person known as Paul? Was he an intellectual or a fanatic, a prophet or a profiteer, a man of humility or soaring egotism? And who did he think he was? Mitchell explores these and other issues through close readings of key passages in the letters, in the Acts of the Apostles, and engagement with portraits of Paul in the history of Christian art.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Reading an Ancient Letter
One unambiguous fact about the historical Paul is that he wrote letters. Mitchell situates Paul’s manner of letter writing within other ancient Greek letters of his day as she looks at a number of questions: Did Paul write all 13 of the letters in the canon of the New Testament that bear his name? How do scholars determine which letters he may not have written but that others wrote in his name? Should we evaluate ancient pseudepigraphy (writing in the name of another) as a “pious fraud” or forgery—or as something else altogether?
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Paul and Judaism
Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew who believed that Jesus the Messiah had come and was destined to return. Did Paul convert to Christianity, or remain a faithful Jew throughout his lifetime? What role did Paul’s letters play in the split between Judaism and Christianity? Especially since World War II and the Holocaust, scholars have taken an intense look at these questions, and changed the way we ask and answer them, even as debates remain.
3–4:15 p.m. Paul, Apostle to America
Through his letters, Paul remains alive and influential down to the present day—and not only for Christians. Mitchell focuses on three areas where the apostle Paul has been at the center of debates in American culture: on slavery, on the role of women in society, and attitudes towards government. What do his letters say on these questions, and how have they been interpreted and used?
Mitchell is the Shailer Mathews distinguished service professor of New Testament and early Christian literature at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)