Guest Post: TJ Lang on Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul
It’s a treat to have Dr. T.J. Lang, Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Durham University, write a brief book notice about Douglas Campbell’s exciting new book, Framing Paul. Without further ado, I’ll pass the mic to TJ…
Conventions and perceived consensus on subjects in New Testament scholarship are important for ongoing research. They can be very good things. But they can also become lures to lazy scholarship—and boring scholarship. Do we not all too often find the conclusions of previous eras repeated without remembrance of the arguments that sustained them? Might those arguments depend on claims we would no longer accept and presumptions we should no longer share?
With respect to Pauline scholarship the usual conventions are well known. If you want to write on Paul, you best stick to the so-called Hauptbriefe. Philippians is great, too. It’s fine to bring in something from 1 Thessalonians if you can, and even Philemon, but they’re mostly harmless. The other canonical letters, whatever you really think about them, are best left alone; it’s just easier this way. This convention certainly has advantages. It’s clearly more convenient to write on Paul when six or seven or nine of his letters have been cleanly amputated from the data set. But what if the so-called disputed letters aren’t fake, and instead our habit of reasoning on these matters is dubious? Furthermore, even if deemed inauthentic in good faith to critical standards, shouldn’t excluded letters merit some consideration, or even some account for why the Pauline legacy has been taken in a particular direction and why or how the differences matter. Take E.P. Sanders’ magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism, arguably the most important book on Paul in the 20th century (it’s surely on the shortlist). No passages from Ephesians and Colossians are ever cited in the main text. Not one. (Although Ephesians does appear in one footnote and Colossians in two.) Texts from the Pastoral Epistles are never referred to at all. (This isn’t a trick, like the famous listing for “Truth, ultimate” in the subject index, which directs the reader to three blank pages.) These “Pauline” letters are denied any role in defining or contributing to the critical analysis of Paul’s thought. It’s no wonder then that people so frequently maintain that the disputed or deuteropauline letters don’t “seem” Pauline to them. Of course they don’t. How could they when they are nearly absent from most major treatments of Paul? Once you stop reading them it’s to be expected that they will seem strange to you. Their marginalization is self-reinforcing.
Alright, enough griping. I come to praise Douglas Campbell’s new book, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, which provides an injection of intellectual energy into the stale conventions described above. After this book the old habits may still persist, but they cannot do so as easily, and all positions will be made sharper by engaging this work. Campbell’s arguments are historically vigorous, bracingly original, and certain to cause offense to dogmatists on any point of any ideological spectrum. Many hackneyed arguments for or against the integrity or authenticity of various letters are finally slain. And the resulting chronology, which is based on critical data not yet considered by previous proposals and conducted on strict internal grounds, is certain to provoke numerous exegetical, biographical, and theological debates. The result is ten authentic letters addressed to seven churches—ten letters which fortuitously correspond to our earliest known edition of the Pauline corpus (that of Marcion) and seven churches reminiscent of those addressed in Revelation 2-3. Perhaps even more interesting is the claim that Paul’s Laodiceans (“Ephesians”), Colossians, and Philemon belong near the beginning of Paul’s letter-writing career, in mid to late 50 CE, and thus reflect the thought of an incarcerated yet optimistic Apostle in Asia Minor not yet embattled in the Judaizing conflicts represented in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans (composed in that sequence in 51-52 CE). This is just a sample of the original theses in the book.
It is, in short, simply thrilling to read (which may say more about me than the book, but still, it’s thrilling!). This will be true whether you find yourself persuaded or not. It’s good for our minds and our critical instincts to reevaluate foundational questions. Books like Framing Paul are all too rare, but when they appear they make the lives of Pauline scholars more interesting. This particular book makes Paul a whole lot more interesting as well.