The “Remembered Paul” and the “Historical Paul”


Historians attempting to sketch a historical outline of Paul’s life and missionary undertakings draw on a number of written sources, first and foremost the Pauline epistles and the canonical Acts of Luke. These sources are all anchored, however, to specific projects from a precise time and place, each with their own rhetorical objective(s). It is no coincidence, therefore, that the portrait that emerges from these sources is not so much one of a so-called “real Paul” free from literary or theological interpretations, but rather one of a so-called “remembered Paul” who appears in a variety of reception traditions (see esp. Benjamin L. WHITE, Remembering Paul. Ancient and Modern Contests over the Image of the Apostle, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. See also Judith LIEU, “The Battle for Paul in the Second Century,” Irish Theological Quarterly 75 [2010], 3–14).

It should therefore be clear that the genuine Pauline letters are consciously incorporated in the “Reception of Paul” approach, since in these letters Paul constructs an image of his person and “his” gospel that he wanted to be remembered by his communities. Hence, in the genuine letters we do not encounter the “historical Paul” who could be compared with the “remembered Paul.” Instead, the genuine letters provide a self-construction of Paul's conversion and mission as an apostle of Jesus Christ that belongs to the history of receptions of Paul. Remembrances of Paul thus do not begin with the deutero-Pauline letters and Acts, but with the letters which Paul wrote himself. This approach has been outlined in more detail by Jens Schröter, Simon Butticaz and Andreas Dettwiler in the introduction to the volume Receptions of Paul in Early Christianity. The Person of Paul and His Writings Through the Eyes of His Early Interpreters, ed. Jens Schröter, Simon Butticaz, Andreas Dettwiler (BZNW 234), Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2018, 3–22 .

Should we thus relegate the search for a “historical Paul” to the rank of a causa desperata? Perhaps not. In short, we propose, following a suggestion by Benjamin L. White, to focus on "a new historiography of Pauline Studies" (Benjamin L. WHITE, Remembering Paul, 2014, 66), that is, a growing research field informed by theories of social memory presents historical accounts by bringing together both the instances of Pauline reception—in light of their socio-historical context, rhetorical presentation, and theological framework—as well as the events that triggered such phenomena of tradition (see Benjamin L. WHITE, Remembering Paul, 2014, esp. 66–69.70–107; for the application: ibid., esp. 108–169. See also Christ KEITH, “The Narratives of the Gospels and the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research,” JSNT 38/4 [2016], 425–455; Matthew J. THOMAS, Paul's 'Works of the Law' in the Perspective of Second Century Reception [WUNT 468], Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2018; Luc BULUNDWE, 2 Timothée dans le corpus paulinien. Analyse mémorielle [WUNT 598], Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2023, forthcoming 


Historical Criticism, Theories on Reception, Historical Paul, Remembered Paul

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Simon Butticaz
University of Lausanne

Christine Jacobi
Humboldt University of Berlin

Jens Schröter
Humboldt University of Berlin

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Sofia 2024 Call for Papers

There are many gaps in Paul's biography, especially in the period between his birth and his missionary and founding activities in Asia Minor and Greece. Are these data inaccessible to any historical and exegetical reconstructions? Or is it possible to recompose their general outlines and contents? If so, using which methods and on basis of what sources and traditions?

The challenge will be not only to discuss certain essays along these lines (e.g. Rainer Riesner, Die Frühzeit des Apostels Paulus, Tübingen: 1994; Martin Hengel, Anna Maria Schwemer, Paulus zwischen Damaskus und Antiochien. Die unbekannten Jahre des Apostels, mit einem Beitrag von Ernst Axel Knauf, Tübingen: 1998), but also to put forward working hypotheses on various aspects of Paul's biography.