Many BAR readers are familiar with the quest for the historical Jesus, but what of the historical Paul? James D.G. Dunn, Emeritus Lightfoot Professor at the University of Durham, asked this question in his contribution to a recent festschrift for fellow New Testament scholars Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor and Father Joseph A. Fitzmyer.1
A popular theme in New Testament scholarship over the past two centuries has been “The Quest of the Historical Jesus.” The quest provided the main driving force behind the development of tools and techniques in Biblical scholarship for most of that period. It was widely recognized that the way Jesus was portrayed in the Gospels and other New Testament writings might be very different from the way he actually lived and spoke during his mission in Galilee. So it became a guiding principle in studying the beginnings of Christianity that the actual history of the prophet from Galilee could not be taken for granted but had to be reconstructed by historical critical scholarship.
Somewhat surprisingly there has been no real equivalent in the case of Paul, no real “quest of the historical Paul.”