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Books about the Apostle Paul arrive regularly at my desk, in such profusion as to strain the carrying capacity of a Kindle. Some are introductions; many are highly specialized studies from this or that academic fiefdom. Some are impeccably orthodox; others flaunt their scorn for Scripture and the traditions of the church. And then there are the effusions of cranks, self-published and self-important, eager to Explain It All.

Now and then, though, something wonderfully unexpected appears. Earlier this year, Pantheon Books published Sarah Ruden'sPaul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time. Ruden is a translator of Greek and Latin; her Englishing of The Aeneid was published in 2008 to considerable acclaim. She is the translator for The Landmark Julius Caesar (coming down the road in a bit), and in the coming academic year, as a Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting scholar in classical studies at Wesleyan University, she will translate The Oresteia of Aeschylus.

You may be thinking that Ruden doesn't have the background of the typical Pauline scholar. You would be right. Herself a poet as well as a translator of classical texts, she approaches the subject from a fresh angle. A couple of months ago—Ruden was then at Yale Divinity School, where she'd been a visiting fellow since 2007—we talked about her book.

At the very beginning of your first chapter, you say, "The last thing I expected my Greek and Latin to be of any use for was a better understanding of Paul. The very idea that anyone proposed it would have annoyed me." Why was that?

My upbringing was pretty mainstream liberal Christianity. In the Midwestern Methodist church I attended, the word was that, while Paul was very important, ...

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