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Laura Salah Nasrallah, Harvard University Divinity School

Archaeology and the Letters of Paul

According to Nasrallah, the mid-first-century letters of Paul have usually been studied as theological documents and evidence of Paul’s intentions. Those who focus on the social world of earliest Christians often continue to focus on Paul or portray the Roman imperial context too broadly. Instead, Nasrallah investigates the local contexts and identities of the earliest communities—the “brothers and sisters” to which Paul wrote. Each chapter brings together one letter with the available archaeological data from the city/region to which it was addressed or in which it was written. Focusing when possible on small finds and bioarchaeological data, Nasrallah’s historical study shows how Paul’s arguments about ethics, theology, and religious practice may have been first read or heard in light of such issues as child mortality, the meat and fish market as a religious site, food shortage, and the pricing of slaves. Influenced by feminist and postcolonial scholarship’s attention to those usually marginalized in the elite sources that survive from antiquity, Nasrallah’s work contributes to biblical studies by bringing archaeological evidence to the fore, by making its focus the low-status communities that first debated these letters, and by reconstructing through case studies the variegated settings of early Christ-followers.