Who Is St. Paul?

Another gem from a lunchtime conversation with a colleague, this time from the professor of Religious Studies responsible for teaching “Introduction to the New Testament.” Her vote for Question of the Semester in that class, three-quarters of the way through the term:

So wait, I don’t get it. St. Paul’s teachings are based on…Jesus?

Did I mention that Felician College is a Catholic liberal arts institution that describes itself (yes, oxymoronically) as “The Franciscan College of New Jersey”?

Saint_Paul,_Rembrandt_van_Rijn_(and_Workshop?),_c._1657.jpg (3167×4000)

The Apostle Paul, reached for comment: “Why do they persecute me?”

7 thoughts on “Who Is St. Paul?

  1. Priceless. Thank you.

    That beats my best similar story. A friend who was teaching a survey of Greek philosophy did a day on Parmenides. The lecture began, of course, with a rough account of who Parmenides was, when he lived, what he wrote, what of his writings we have left, and so on before setting out to explore his ideas and arguments. About halfway through the discussion of the arguments against plurality and change, a student raises his hand and asks, “Wait, did Parmenides believe in God?” “Well, what god do you have in mind?” my friend asks. “You know,” the kid responds, “Christ.”

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    • That’s not a bad runner-up. We should collect these. My reflexive smart-ass response to “You know, Christ,” was, “Which Christ did you have in mind?” (A: “You know, the Jesus one.”)

      Even as I was writing the original post, it occurred to me that I have a very anti-St-Paul friend who teaches New Testament as Literature, and believes that Paul’s Letters weren’t based on the teachings of Jesus–but I think he had something else in mind by “not based on” than the student I was alluding to.

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      • Yes, which “Christos”?

        After all it’s really a title, “anointed”, which not just some of the Jewish kings got accorded, but if I remember right, also Cyrus the king of Persia. . . . .

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  2. I think my favorite thing is that, following your story, Rembrandt’s Paul looks as though he’s thinking, “you’re kidding me.” I once saw a fantastic lecture by Peter Meineck about how our interpretation of facial expressions as indicative of emotions depends fundamentally on context; I suppose he’d point to this as confirmation of his thesis, but even now it’s hard for me to avoid feeling as though Paul really is thinking, “have you even read my letters?”

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    • I hadn’t heard of Peter Meineck, so I looked him up. I have no idea what a “Clinical Associate Professor of Classicsis, but I now want to be one when I grow up. He’s just about got the coolest CV I’ve ever seen. I have a real interest in inferences about character made from visual appearance, so I’d love to get my hands on that lecture you saw. I see he did his PhD thesis on “The Visuality of Greek Drama.” I wonder if the lecture was one of these two items?

      “The Embodied Space: Performance and Visual Cognition at the Fifth Century Athenian
      Theatre”, in The New England Classical Journal, Vol. 39, 2012 pp. 1-47.
      “The Neuroscience of the Tragic Mask” in Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics Vol. 19. 1.Spring/Summer 2011 pp. 113-158.

      God, why didn’t I get my degree in Classics? Oh right, because my Greek really sucked, that’s why.

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  3. I think the lecture was on material from the Arion article. He has a theory about the tragic mask that draws on cognitive studies of the interpretation of facial expressions; roughly, he thinks the tragic mask had a perfectly blank expression and that actors could manipulate it in conjunction with bodily movement, words, music, and the dramatic context in such a way that audiences would more or less naturally interpret the expressions accordingly. He’s made masks of this sort, and he gave us a very convincing demonstration that they work. Whether he’s got sufficient evidence to conclude that the ancient Greek masks were really like that is a different story.

    But yeah, I thought about your bit on character and visual appearance when I wrote that.

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    • Thanks. I’ll take a look at Arion, once (or if) I survive the end of the semester. Of course, I might just break down and read it as a respite from grading: “I just graded five really bad papers. So in compensation, I deserve a reward. Arion, take me away!” You know you’re in trouble when you treat the act of reading a work of scholarship as the bubble bath of your work life.

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