In the Footsteps of St Paul by Edward Stourton

 In the Footsteps of St Paul by Edward Stourton

Anne Dunhill

Edward Stourton's book is based on the Radio 4 series of the same name. As well as tracing the saint's footsteps and providing such biographical information as is available, the book emphasises the controversy surrounding St Paul who, at various times and depending on the minority group making the accusation, has been labelled homophobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic and personally responsible for the destructive excesses of Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler.

The book begins with the 1995 discovery of the cave outside Ephesus that contains what is probably Paul's portrait ­ that of a man with short hair, a black beard, piercing eyes and one hand raised in Christian blessing that forms the cover of the book. Unfortunately, even his portrait is controversial as it bears little resemblance to the only known physical description of Paul, written about a hundred years after his death, as `a man of little stature, bald, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace; for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes like an angel'.

The controversy continues with Paul's place of birth. In the Acts of the Apostles Paul tells the mob in Jerusalem: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia" and there are several more references to Tarsus ­ ironically the scene, a generation earlier, of the meeting between those most voluptuous of lovers, Antony and Cleopatra. In Paul's letters, however, Tarsus is never mentioned. Equally controversial is Paul's death. At the end of the Acts of the Apostles we are told that Paul lived in Rome for two years `at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance'. After that he simply disappears from the Biblical picture, though Pope Clement's Letter in the mid 90s records that Saints Peter and Paul died in the first wave of anti-Christian persecution under the Emperor Nero and Eusebius states that Paul was beheaded in Rome.

In spite of the uncertainty surrounding his hero, Stourton manages to weave the conflicting strands into a lively and entertaining book that cries out for a television series or at the very least some lavish illustrations of the ancient cities visited by the Apostle.

In the Footsteps of St Paul is published by Hodder & Stoughton, London: 2004 price £16.99. It can be obtained through Amazon on our Home page.

LONDON - 16 December 2004 - 380 words

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