A modest proposal: The Collected Writings of Paul

In the last ten years or so, there has been a growing interest both in liberation readings of Paul within the biblical studies and theological guilds and in secular reappropriations of Paul by radical philosophers. Hence, I think that the time is perhaps ripe for a new presentation of the works of Paul: a volume that includes only the undisputed Pauline corpus, in a fresh translation carried out by biblical scholars of a liberation bent.

The volume would first of all need to downplay that traditional trappings of biblical texts: for instance, the chapter and verse breaks could be banished to the margins or even excluded altogether. It should obviously include introductions to each letter and an appropriate level of annotations, along with a general introduction laying out the overall mission and self-understanding of Paul. Ideally these would all proceed as though the “traditional” reading of Paul simply did not exist, though that may be difficult to pull off in practice — at the very least, the apparatus should avoid getting bogged down in “disproving” previous readings.

Naturally, this collection would wind up being pretty slim, so there might also be room for “background” texts from both Roman and Jewish sources, or at least comprehensive essays summarizing those sources. In this way, the volume would provide a ready-made framework for a course on “Paul and Politics” or something of the sort, increasing its usefulness and impact.

If successful, this edition of Paul’s works could pave the way for similar editions of other New Testament writings. For instance, the next volume could be a “political” presentation of Revelation, introduced and annotated along the lines of Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza’s commentaries thereon.

All of them, I think, should be unabashedly agenda-driven, with no attempt to give a “balanced” presentation of the scholarly field — traditional views are easy enough to come by, whereas it’s very difficult to get a fully-articulated liberation reading of the New Testament without delving into some pretty heavy scholarship. The ability to simply read selected New Testament documents from a liberation perspective would be a major advance.

What do readers think?

15 thoughts on “A modest proposal: The Collected Writings of Paul

  1. Not exactly what you’re calling for, but the Norton Critical Edition of the Writings of St Paul was very inviting to this non-Christian reader. But a book that pushed this re-contextualizing further would definitely be welcome. Wouldn’t drop the chapter and verse headings–that would render the book useless as a companion text to the secondary lit..

  2. Good point, Ben. I would still advocate putting the chapters and verses in the margins rather than dotting the text with numbers, so as to make it read more like a “normal” text — that should be enough to allow adequate cross-referencing. (In fact, maybe it’d make cross-referencing slightly easier, as one could scan just the margin rather than the whole text to find the verse numbers. Maybe that’s a stretch, though.)

  3. I didn’t realize there was a Norton edition of Paul, I’ve actually thought about this type of need now that Paul is gaining traction in some philosophical discourse. But I like the liberation-themed volume idea even better. I would recommend keeping the chapter/verse references in the margins, as well.

    I wouldn’t shy away from the fact that it’d wind up pretty slim, either. I have in mind the Hackett editions of various philosophical texts. They’re tiny little things. But then again, with the liberation-theme, this sounds like a different approach. Perhaps something more like the Cambridge editions of various philosophical texts.

  4. Yeah, I also thought of the Norton. This is a good idea, and perhaps right up the alley of things like the Journal of Theological Interpretation. I might say only a theologian could do it. There is definitely room in the field for “clean reads” that do nothing but a straight intentional translation of [X] using thus and such method, and in the guild I see them being received as “position pieces” anyways — so why not?

  5. To thicken it out and make it for class and scholarly use, it would be nice if it had greek with apparatus on the left, and a facing translation.

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