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The world in which the apostle Paul lived and worked was very different from our own. Some of the differences are fairly obvious: Paul was a powerless subject of a transnational empire, not a citizen of a democracy, and the people around him worshiped many different gods, not a single almighty deity. Others are less apparent: the pervasive influence of Greek cultural values; the close link between religion and government; the rigid hierarchy that separated the wealthy elites from the rest of the population; the acceptability of slavery. Still others lie buried beneath the surface, operating at the level of cultural presuppositions: the image of a flat world covered by a starry dome; the idea that some people are inherently better than others; the view of women as “incomplete men.” Occasionally some of these differences bubble to the surface in one of Paul’s letters, but most of the time they are simply taken for granted. This course explores some of the major elements of the social world that lies behind Paul’s letters and evaluate its influence on Paul, his audiences and his letters.
Christopher Stanley is Professor of Theology at St. Bonaventure University in western New York. Stanley has published widely in the field of New Testament studies.