This latest volume in the Readings series offers a helpful guide to the shortest, and arguably the most personal, as well as enigmatic, of Paul's letters. It surveys the range of interpretations put forward over the years, and identifies the strengths and weaknesses in the traditional reading of Philemon as addressing the estrangement that has arisen between Paul’s friend Philemon and his runaway slave Onesimus.
Recent alternatives to this reading are assessed, with particular attention to the light they shed on Paul's own attitude to slavery and his understanding of reconciliation. Historically, the Letter to Philemon has been the focus of much debate between abolitionists and pro-slavery advocates, and the use made of the Letter in the 18th and 19th centuries is here uniquely chronicled. In addition, the story of Onesimus and Philemon, as traditionally conceived, had a great appeal to writers of historical fiction, and a number of examples of that genre are summarized. The book also highlights the way in which Philemon has featured in filmic treatments of Paul's life, including a new and fascinating film in Arabic entitled The Runaway (2006).
The volume offers an excellent introduction, not only to the main historical and critical issues raised by Philemon, but also to the rich legacy that the Letter has created for subsequent generations of readers who remain fascinated by the subtlety of its depiction of human relationships.
Larry J. Kreitzer is Tutor of New Testament and Tutor for Graduates, Regent's Park College, Oxford.
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|Larry J. Kreitzer
|Sheffield Phoenix Press
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