The following review first appeared in Reviews in Religion and Theology 1998/3, pp. 94-5. It is reproduced here with permission.
Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: The Unknown Years London: SCM 1997 ISBN 0334 02661 pp xiv + 530
A new book by Martin Hengel demands serious attention. Describing himself as ‘the leading light’ in this co-authorship with Anna Maria Schwemer, and using the first person singular throughout, Hengel writes with authority. Paul Between Damascus and Antioch, a sequel to The Pre-Christian Paul (1991), is characterised by all the Hengel hallmarks. There is careful attention to primary sources, respect for the integrity of the New Testament authors and a tendency to criticise his colleagues for showing neither.
Yet the authority with which Hengel and Schwemer write sometimes turns into disdain. The frequent, negative judgements on ‘so called critical scholarship’ leave an unpleasant taste in the reader’s mouth. Hengel and Schwemer rarely engage with those who are called ‘perverse’ (Kraabel, p. 62; Lüdemann, p. 261) or who have had a ‘pernicious influence’ (Günkel, p. 79) or who suffered from ‘dogmatic rigidity’ (Conzelmann, p. 407). Much scholarship is ‘modern mythologizing’ (p. 147), the scholars that practise it show ‘historical incompetence’ (p. ix) and ‘the NT discipline’ has become a ‘game’ in which ‘everything seems possible’ (p. 119).
One of the main grounds of complaint is that modern scholarship is unduly ‘critical’ of Luke’s portrait of Paul in Acts, a resource, they say, that is misunderstood and wrongly used. While Hengel and Schwemer will concede that Luke may ‘exaggerate’ from time to time (p. 254), or that there might be ‘chronological overlaps’ in his work (p. 246), they have no time for the Knox-Lüdemann view that we should prejudice Paul and only turn secondarily to Acts. Unfortunately, Hengel and Schwemer do not engage with this view, or with the interesting methodological issues involved. Likewise, the lack of interaction with E. P. Sanders, or with any other scholar on ‘the new perspective’ on Paul, is a disappointment.
Nevertheless, this is a genuinely valuable resource and one that makes a critical contribution to the study of Paul’s life and thought. John Bowden and SCM have pulled off a coup in producing the English version before a German one is available, an achievement spoilt only very slightly by the decision to use extensive, consecutively ordered endnotes (1,584 in 180 pages) in a book in which they are as important as the text.
University of Birmingham