Richard Wallace and Wynne Williams, The Three Worlds of Paul of Tarsus

Richard Wallace and Wynne Williams, The Three Worlds of Paul of Tarsus – Book Review

Bruce J. Malina

New York/London: Routledge, 1998. Pp. xiii + 239. Paper, n.p.

The authors, Mediterranean ancient historians, offer an excellent description of three segments of the Mediterranean world frequented by that Jesus-group apostle, Paul of Tarsus. The segments of concern are Paul’s own ethnic enclave, the wider area of Hellenistic influence, and the encompassing sphere under Roman sway. The work is a work of social history that describes the realia of the regions associated with Paul (Part 1), the peoples, “cultures,” and languages of those regions (Part 2), and the city, the state, and the individual of the Hellenistic polls (Part 3). A final section (Part 4) briefly covers the many cities of the Eastern Mediterranean of relevance to Paul’s story.

The first part of the book opens with a consideration of the general social geography of Paul’s travels, along with a description of what travel at the time involved. The second part looks to various native groupings in the Eastern Mediterranean, Hellenistic impact on these groupings, and an overview of what Roman rule in the region entailed. The third part describes the Hellenistic polls and the individual’s self-identification at the time. Finally the authors take us on a brief but most interesting tour of Paul’s cities in Palestine, Syria, and Arabia, then Cyprus and Asia Minor, followed by Western Asia Minor; Greece and Macedonia; and finally Rome and the West.

What the book lacks is adequate explanation of the presuppositions and models the authors employ to make their evidence evident. As is normal for historians, they show little concern for the anachronistic quality of terms such as pagan, Jew, or Christian in the pre-Constantinian period. Their treatment of the individual’s self-identification is innocent of any cross-cultural perspectives. They identify Israelite henotheism with monotheism. And like most ancient historians, the authors totally ignore the social scientific investigations of people in biblical studies. Honor and shame, limited good, challenge and satisfaction are not part of their interpretive tools. Hence the “culture” they speak of is largely the material accouterments of society along with passages from contemporaries, which are allowed to “speak for themselves.”

Of interest to students of Paul is the author’s opening comment on Tarsus: “Since citizenship in the ancient world went by descent rather than domicile, there is no intrinsic reason why Paul, the citizen of Tarsus (Acts 21, 39), need even have visited the city, much less lived there. Paul’s obvious connections are all with Jerusalem…. In short, attempts to throw light on Paul’s character and teaching from speculations about the environment he experienced in his supposed childhood in Tarsus are buiilt on insecure foundations” (p. 180).

The book provides a wealth of very useful information, definitely of great value for persons interested in the regions and social environment that influenced the career of Paul.

Bruce J. Malina

Creighton University

Omaha NE 68176

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