OK, by show of hands, how many of you think the apostle Paul is a jerk?
I'll admit that before reading The First Paul (by Marcus Borg and John Crossan), my hand would have been flying pretty high. Because I couldn't help but associate Paul with quotes such as: "Women should be silent in the churches... If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home." ~and~ "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling..."
Borg and Crossan explain why they are able to view Paul in a positive light (even though they don't agree with everything he ever wrote). For one thing, not all of the letters attributed to Paul were actually written by him. Mainstream New Testament scholarship has concluded that of the 13 letters attributed to Paul, only 7 are considered to be "genuine" (written by Paul himself). Later letters were written by others in the early church to "deradicalize" Paul's message of true equality to make it fit Roman social norms regarding patriarchy and slavery. (That's where those quotes I find offensive came from!)
The authors present Paul as a "Jewish Christ mystic" who lived with a deep sense of "one-ness" with God. Putting Paul in the proper historical context, he believed in peace through justice, an alternative to Rome's program of peace through victory (military victory which presumes violence). Quoting from the book: Paul's view of "justice means distributive and not retributive justice (punishment). There will only be peace on earth, Paul claims, when all members of God's world-home receive a fair and equitable share of its bounty, when all members of God's family have enough. Do not confuse, he might have added, peace with lull."
The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon --that's the complete title!-- is an excellent book. Marcus Borg never disappoints me. I highly recommend you pick up a copy (or Kindle it)!