I have finally started reading John Ziesler’s, Pauline Christianity (1990 edition) and it has been rather enjoyable thus far. I’m always curious to see how scholars go about an intro-level book on Paul, especially when the book is around a respectable 150 pages (or less). Part of my curiosity stems from my desire to write a similar book of my own, thus I am trying to see how scholars deal with various topics, how much they say and what they avoid. In the present case, Ziesler has done quite well with ‘staying the course’ and not straying too far into arguably difficult territory. However, I was completely surprised and caught off guard by a seemingly disconnected remark in an otherwise well-presented section.
When dealing with Paul’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage, Ziesler follows the standard path of considering both Hellenistic and Jewish influences (or, ‘inheritance’ as he calls them). Ziesler first points out that because Paul writes in Greek, employs the Septuagint in scriptural quotations, borrows Stoic and Platonic terms and/or ideas; all of these things (and others) at least point to a basic influence of Hellenism.** Zielser then moves on to consider other, more substantial possible influences–i.e. the religious aspects. Here Ziesler once again deals with the standard options: the mystery religions and Gnosticism.
To address both of these topics in roughly two pages for each one is certainly ambitious, but I must applaud Ziesler for his efforts. In such a short span of text, Ziesler does a fine job with showing the basic similarities as well as the substantive differences between Paul and these respective options. He then begins to round off this section of the chapter by considering one further possible influence: the (supposed) Hellenistic notion of a good god battling against the forces of an evil one, spiritual powers guiding or determining political activities and so-called guardian angels keeping watch over specific groups or nations. He argues that Paul shows a familiarity with this sort of thought-world, but Ziesler contends that Paul most likely drew from the OT as his primary source rather than Hellenistic religions, ‘for Judaism had a similar idea even in the Old Testament . . . and is the more ready source of Paul’s conception’ (17).
All of that treatment was fine and good. Again, to address such things in a short amount of space is respectable and worthy of commendation. But here is my ‘hullo’ moment. To finish off this section on Paul’s ‘Hellenistic inheritance’, Ziesler provides the following statement:
[Paul] does, of course, use literary devices familiar to his Hellenistic readers. For example, on several occasions he conducts a running debate with an imaginary opponent whose arguments and objections are promptly countered (see especially Rom 2 and 3). Though some doubts have arisen, it is likely that he is employing the Hellenistic device known as the diatribe. Certainly his freedom and skill in writing included rhetoric.
—Pauline Christianity, 17.
I understand that Ziesler is more than likely attempting to balance his comment about the OT being ‘the ready source of Paul’s conception’ in the previous paragraph. However, after rereading the entire section, I am convinced that such a balance is not really necessary. The OT comment makes for a good ending for the Hellenistic section and it serves as a useful segue into the next. Moreover, I think Ziesler’s concluding statement (the one just quoted in full) would have been more useful and effective if it were placed near the start of the Hellenistic section. After all, Ziesler begins by pointing out that Paul wrote in Greek and was familiar with various Greek styles and ideas. Finally, and this is really just me being nit-picky: the very last sentence about rhetoric is really a throw-away comment. Unless Ziesler deals with rhetoric somewhere else in the book, it is not really necessary. However, it seems to be included because it’s become standard procedure (in some cases dogmatic policy) to say something about rhetoric when dealing with Paul.
* I’ve been watching (and reading) a bit of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ lately, so the lingo is fresh in mind.
** To be sure, Ziesler hesitates in putting too much stock in the Stoic and Platonic influences. He argues that much of what seems to be direct knowledge is most likely Paul borrowing things that were more or less gnomic (or, proverbial).