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date: 27 October 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay develops a definition of religion and uses this definition to clarify the role of comparison in the historical study of Paul’s letters. Critical comparisons are especially important for understanding Paul’s rhetoric about God, Christ, and other gods in light of both Jewish and non-Jewish myths and traditions. Focusing on 1 Cor 8:1–11:1, 15:23–28, Gal 4:3–10, and Rom 1:18–32, the author finds that Paul’s texts fit with traditions of Jewish polemic that ungenerously misrepresent the gods of other peoples in order to assert their non-existence, relative powerlessness, and subordination. Rather than revealing deities of exceptional power and unrivalled political status, such polemics adapt certain widely shared assumptions about the nature of the gods, especially their human-like attributes and political arrangements.

Keywords: Apostle Paul, idolatry, principalities and powers, apocalypticism, theory of religion

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