I received a copy of Walter T. Wilson’s new and improved Pauline Parallels in the mail today and spent the day perusing  it and comparing it to Francis and Sampley’s work of the same name.  In short, Wilson has provided an invaluable tool for any study of Paul and his letters.  A more in depth review of the work  follows below.

Pauline Parallels, by Walter T. Wilson.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.  Pp. xvii + 469. $49.95.

 Walter T. Wilson’s Pauline Parallels is essentially an updated and expanded version of Francis and Sampley’s Pauline Parallels last revised in 1992.  Wilson’s Pauline Parallels is a reference work which provides a list of passages from the New Testament, Old Testament and other non-canonical sources which are similar to those of Paul.  It is an invaluable tool for any study of Paul and his letters. 

The format of Pauline Parallels allows for quick and easy reference.  The letters of Paul are provided in chronological order and divided into blocks of passages.   For each block of passages there is a list of parallel passages divided into four separate categories: the letter being examined, the remaining Pauline letters, other biblical books (both OT and NT), and non-canonical works.  Parallels are identified based on “similarity of specific terms, concepts, and/or images …” (ix) The parallels are concise, normally limited to one to two lines.  For instance the book begins with Romans 1:1-7 and highlights parallels to other passages from Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Jeremiah, Matthew, Acts, 1 Peter, and 4QFlorilegium.  The parallel passages are chosen based on similar key words such as resurrection, apostle of the Gentiles, calling, bond servant, spirit, faith and others.  Each of the key words are in italics for easier reference.  This is especially helpful in passage such as Romans 1:1-7 in which many key words are referenced. 

The inclusion of an extensive list of non-canonical parallels is what separates Wilson’s Pauline Parallels from the earlier work by Francis and Sampley.  Wilson mines a myriad of sources for parallels including: Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4 Ezra, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Cicero, Plutarch and many others.  These non-canonical sources are especially useful because they help situate Paul’s statements in a wider historical context.  For instance, regarding Philemon 10-16 and the sending back of Onesimus, Wilson includes parallels from Xenophon, Pliny the Younger and a Letter to Stotoetis.  These parallels highlight the different types of treatment a runaway slave could expect to receive.

            While Wilson’s work is an incredibly useful tool, there is room for improvement in future editions.  First, the blocks of passages are often too large.  1 Corinthians 14:34-40 is one such section that should be divided into smaller chunks.  By examining such a large chunk of passages, the important issue concerning the role of women is muddied with other parallels regarding prophets and spiritual gifts.  Also, by addressing larger chunks of material, the parallels included often cover more than one topic.  For example, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 covers not just letters of recommendation but includes parallels concerning tablets of stone and spirit as well.  Dividing this section into two parts, 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 would allow the parallels to be more specific and precise. 

Another much needed improvement concerns the parallels to other non-canonical works.  Wilson’s use of non-canonical works is a major reason why this volume is so valuable; however, the non-canonical works mined for parallels is too limited.  Wilson could include more parallels stemming from near contemporary works such as Ignatius of Antioch, 1 Clement and the Didache.  Additionally, Pauline Parallels would benefit from a higher volume of non-canonical parallels.  Wilson generally includes a range of zero to three non-canonical parallels for each block of material.  For example, in Wilson’s section concerning 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 he included only two non-canonical letters of recommendation, one by Cicero and another by Epictetus.  I have to wonder why Wilson only included two when there are hundreds of letters of recommendation that could have been listed.  Obviously one cannot list every available parallel for each section, as the book would quickly become unwieldy.  However, some degree of expansion would be useful.  For this reader, two parallels are simply not enough and may in fact infer to others that there are indeed only two other extant letters of recommendation.  Of course Wilson does address this issue to a certain degree in his introduction by stating that: “This study tool is meant to be employed as part of a comprehensive approach to the interpretation of Paul’s letters.” (x) 

Wilson has provided both the scholarly community and anyone interested in Pauline studies with a valuable tool that should be in every office and library.   I will certainly consult Wilson’s Pauline Parallels for all future projects concerning Paul, especially when looking for OT and “non-canonical” parallels.  However, I was expecting Wilson’s Pauline Parallels to be a replacement for the older volume assembled by Francis and Sampley.  Instead, I have found that while Wilson includes many parallels outside the scope of Francis and Sampley’s work, their older volume is still useful and contains parallels which Wilson has omitted.  Thus, if I were to only purchase one copy of the Pauline Parallels it would be Wilson’s, but I will not be giving away my copy of Francis and Sampley’s Pauline Parallels anytime soon.