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The Church considers him a saint, the Jews think of him as a traitor. Who is Saint Paul? In Jerusalem, at the beginning of our era, the young Saul of Tarsus, zealous upholder of the Law of Moses, participates in Steven's murder, who thus became the first Christian martyr. How did a persecutor become a saint, one of Christianity's founders? What role did he play in the Church's evolution? The Epistles, written even before the Gospels, are the oldest Christian texts. The ideas contained therein are the foundation for Christian theology and constitute the matrix of an unparalleled power acquired by the conquest of souls. How did a Judaic dissident sect become Christianity, a universal religion? By what twists and turns did the road to Damascus lead to Rome? Do the writings of Saint Paul still influence our thoughts, our lives?
On reading Paul’s epistles, I thought, “Now here’s a first-century Jew who addressed several issues still facing Jews, especially now in the twentieth century.” Those issues concern identity and the preservation of our special identity, which inevitably come into conflict with the idea of worldwide solidarity and universalism. When Paul asks, in his Letter to the Romans, how the God of the whole world could be the God of a single people, he raised a theological, ethical, and political question that Jews must still confront.
Daniel Boyarin, Historian