The Cult of the Apostle Paul
A recently arrived book merits notice: David L. Eastman, Paul the Martyr: The Cult of the Apostle in the Latin West (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011). The object of the book is to analyze the evidence for the ways that the Apostle Paul came to be the object of reverence in the early centuries (Eastman’s chronological scope takes us down to ca. 600 CE).
In Part 1, he discusses the emergence of devotion to Paul in Rome. This includes archaeological as well as textual evidence. One of the more interesting facts is that two rival sites for Paul’s martyrdom were touted, one on the Ostian Road, the other on the Appian Road. In the first of these (where the Emperors Constantine and, subsequently, Theodosius I erected basilicas in Paul’s honor) excavations turned up a sacrophagus claimed by the Vatican (in 2009) to contain the bones of Paul. Eastman’s discussion of the archaeological data on the two Roman sites is measured, careful, and seems thorough.
Part 2 addresses the spread of “the Pauline cult” in Latin Europe and in North Africa. Here as well, Eastman continues to provide an impressively thorough discussion. There’s also a 34-page bibliography, reflecting the depth of Eastman’s engagement with scholarly resources on his subject.
The time-frame takes us well past the period of “Christian origins” that I usually try to monitor myself, but I commend the book as a highly informative account of how, especially in the post-Constantinian period, Paul came to hold such a prominent place in Christian devotion.