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Posted March 31, 2006

Book: Paul of Tarsus: A Visionary Life
Author: Edward Stourton
Hidden Spring, Mahwah, New Jersey, 2004, pp. 158

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

After spending several months in Paul’s company, I have come to suspect that part of the fascination he exercises is akin to the passion for genealogy that seems to be driving people in their millions to trawl the Internet for information about their ancestors. Paul is the intellectual forebear of anyone who was brought up in the framework of once Christian Europe. He is one of a handful of towering figures who formed our way of thinking, and when you read his letters you are going back to your roots. You may not always like what you find — just as it can be a bit unsettling to discover that great-great-uncle Harry was hanged for sheep stealing — but you cannot get away from the fact that you have inherited his intellectual genes. . .

Paul is responsible for the biggest bone of contention between Christianity and Islam — the fault line, in fact, which so many people have been struggling to understand since September 11.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The account of Paul’s sea voyage to Rome is largely devoid of anything you describe as theology, but it is a ripping adventure story. . . .

The climax of the story is the shipwreck in Malta. Paul’s ship is driven for days before the storm, a crisis that allows him to demonstrate what one can only describe as “officer quality”’ he gives the crew pep talks to keep their spirits up and insists that they eat to maintain their strength. Eventually they sight land, and Luke’s account of what happens next demonstrates that he can be a fine storyteller, whatever his failures as a historian.

In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

H.V. Morton judged this chapter to be “the finest piece of writing in Acts,” and declares that Luke’s “account of the manoeuvrings of the ship, and of its wreck on Malta, are the most vivid descriptions of such happenings in ancient literature.”[See H.V.Morton's In the Footsteps of Paul -- posted on our website] The picture Luke draws of the moments after the ship ran aground on a sandbank is certainly dramatic, and he gives us just enough to imagine the intensity of the emotions as, with the waves breaking around them, the soldiers drew their swords and turned on Paul and his fellow prisoners, only to be held back at the last moment by a shout from their officer.

This account is believed with unshakeable conviction on the island of Malta today, and the cult of Paul is absolutely central to the way modern Maltese Catholicism understands itself. According to Acts, Paul converted the “leading man” of the island, one Publius, by curing his father. Maltese tradition takes on the story by making Publius the first bishop of Malta, and holds that the catedral that now stands in the old capital, Mdina, is built on the site of Publius’s house, a permanent reminder of the apostolic origins of the island’s faith.

Table of Contents:

1. A child of his time
2. Paul the Jew
3. Paul the convert
4. Paul the Christian
5. Paul the missionary
6. Paul the divider
7. Paul the moralist
8. Paul, man of two worlds
9. Paul the mythmaker
10. Our Paul