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Historical look

JESUS AND PAUL: PARALLEL LIVES

By Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St Pauls, $24.95

Reviewed by Br Brian Grenier CFC

THE sub-title of this fine new book by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor recalls the 23 volumes of Plutarch, in each of which the ancient author parallels the biography of a distinguished Greek with that of a Roman of comparable attainments.

Using a like approach in considering the stories of Jesus and Paul, the Dominican scripture scholar identifies similarities in their lives.

He highlights their experience as child refugees, their need to adapt to an alien environment (Sepphoris and Tarsus), their temporary vocations as Prophet and Pharisee ardently committed to the Law, their second conversion with its accompanying rejection of the Law, and their common fate at the hands of the Romans.

“To compare and contrast Jesus and Paul in terms of these events,” writes Murphy-O’Connor, “reveals aspects of their personalities and circumstances that have not received the attention they deserve.”

Drawing on pagan, Jewish and Christian sources and on the fruits of 40 years of distinguished scholarship as a Professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem, Fr Murphy-O’Connor expands the scriptural record of the lives of his two subjects and our understanding of their respective missions by introducing pertinent insights about the social, political, cultural and economic history of their times.

This ability to contextualise the events recorded in the gospels with the skill of a detective is one of the author’s strengths and one of the reasons why his writings, even when demandingly academic, command the reader’s interest.

The book challenges some popular misconceptions and, in places, questions the conclusions of other scholars.

For example, Murphy-O’Connor queries the claim of those who would see Matthew’s account of the virgin birth as a theologumenon.

He also makes a good case for the historicity of that evangelist’s account of the holy family’s flight into Egypt.

As one would expect, the book contains a useful bibliography and all of the appropriate indexes.

I am happy to recommend Jesus and Paul: Parallel Lives to readers who have a reasonable background in scripture study.

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