A life between Jerusalem and Rome
How should we imagine Paul? As a misogynist, the enemy of lust and a martyr for the faith, or as the shameless prophet who single-handed saved Christianity, as Nietzsche describes him in The Antichrist? Fik Meijer prefers to concentrate on presenting Paul as the naive, tough and clever evangelist of early Christianity, which, instead of dying out like so many other faiths in the Roman period, found unprecedented success.
Meijer’s approach is both simple and innovative: what was the key to Paul’s triumph? How could a representative of the marginal ‘Christos’ sect turn the Roman Empire on its head? By looking at the apostle through the eyes of the ancient Romans, Meijer sees not so much a hero of the faith or the founder of a new world religion as a prophet often out of tune with his time.
To explain Paul’s success, the author retraces his main character’s missionary journeys. We join Paul at sea, battered by storms; with him we are jeered at and imprisoned, spat upon and mocked. One thing is certain: Paul’s achievement came at a price.
Meijer gives the evangelist’s approach a name: the Pauline method. It is central to the book. In Athens, Paul was dismissed as a mere provincial, an experience repeated in other sophisticated cities of antiquity. He had more success in less civilized regions such as Galacia, inhospitable Macedonia, and Corinth, a port city populated by plebeians. This indicates the secret of his success: start with the ‘poor in spirit’. Paul performed miracles large and small, in fact his way of working was rather like that of twentieth-century missionaries who took gramophones with them into ‘darkest Africa’ to impress the natives.
Paul searched for weak spots in the pagan Roman Empire. The adventure of that quest and Paul’s martyrdom have never been described so exhaustively before, nor so grippingly and vividly: ‘People yawned during Paul’s lengthy and nagging sermons. On one occasion someone was even overcome by sleep and fell out of a third-floor window’. It is that feeling for the sufferings of the little man that makes all Meijer’s books such a pleasure to read.