Dr. Paul Holloway is the University Professor of Classics and Ancient Christianity, teaching at both the college for the past three years and the seminary for the past 10. He is a cultural historian trained in the study of ancient religion with special interests in Jewish and Christian origins. But he is also a philologist interested in the close reading of ancient texts. Electives taught at the seminary include topics such as Judaism in the time of Jesus, early Jewish apocalpyticism and mysticism, the apostle Paul and his interpreters, the rise of Christian beliefs, and Christians in the Roman Empire. An internationally recognized Pauline scholar, we sat down with Holloway to get a little insight into the man, his scholarship, and life on his family's mini-farm.
I would like our readers to know more about your scholarship. How would you characterize your research?
I trained at the University of Chicago as a social and cultural historian with a focus on ancient Mediterranean religion, and that is pretty much how I still see myself. For the first decade or so of my career I wrote broadly on themes in Second Temple Judaism and early to late-antique Christianity. More recently my research has focused on the letters of Paul. In 2017 I published a commentary on Philippians in the Hermeneia series, and I am currently preparing a similar volume on 1 Corinthians for the International Critical Commentary or ICC series. I am also about two-thirds of the way through a monograph on Romans for the German academic publisher Mohr Siebeck. I hope at some point to return to my earlier broader emphasis, possibly with a volume on the rocky social relations of Christians in the Roman Empire. But it is also possible that after the volumes on 1 Corinthians and Romans I will write a book on Paul's thought more generally, unless I am completely burnt out on Paul by then.
Can you say more about the nature of your scholarship?
In my experience there are three basic types of scholars, each of which is important in a different way. There are those avid readers that consume knowledge; those that collect, organize, and disseminate knowledge; and those that attempt to create new knowledge. There is obviously overlap in these types, but I see myself pretty firmly in the third category, those that attempt to create knowledge—I say "attempt" because there is no sure fire method to guarantee success. It's a slow process, because if you are doing it right you are never quite sure know where you are heading in advance. But it's also exciting when you discover something. With the major methodological developments today in Greco-Roman history and exciting new evidence in Second Temple Judaism, it's a great time to be studying Paul. That's assuming, of course, that you are willing to move the discussion forward and not just rehearse old orthodoxies, which thankfully has increasingly become a kind of rear-guard action. I have had about half a dozen original ideas over the years, and I hope to have a few more before it's over.
That said, I am also happy, when given the chance, to do my part in disseminating knowledge. Last year, for instance, the editors of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible asked me to retranslate Philippians for their 30-year revision. I think it is going to be called the New Revised Standard Version–Updated Edition (NRSV–UE). To be perfectly honest, when the editor first approached me, there was a part of me that said don't take time from your current research—I was already beginning to work on 1 Corinthians—just to translate a text you're finished with. Whatever original contribution I had to make on Philippians had already been published a year earlier in my commentary. But the less selfish part of me won out, and I agreed to retranslate Philippians on the grounds that this would make broadly available to English readers recent developments in the study of this fascinating letter, which was probably Paul's last and certainly his most moving. I'm glad I did.
As the University Professor of Classics and Ancient Christianity you teach in both the seminary and the college. What is that like?
I have a really nice appointment as University professor, and I enjoy teaching both in the seminary and in the college. In some ways both venues are the same. Folks in the Church sometimes assume that only seminarians are interested in the serious study of religion. But that is simply not the case. Thoughtful undergraduates as no less curious. Where college students and seminarians do differ, however, is in the way they ask questions. College students typically don't have the technical language and religious jargon seminarians have. Sometimes technical jargon helps you think through a problem; but just as often it makes you think you know something well when your knowledge is still pretty fuzzy. I enjoy the unique strengths of both groups. It's nice to be able to teach them both.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am a slow reader, but I do try to plow through a hundred or so pages of original scholarship a day, which inevitably sends me back to the primary sources. It can be a grind sometimes, but overall I enjoy it. Fortunately, I wake up at four a.m., like clockwork. I also have several conversation partners in the broader guild that it is always exciting to talk to, typically by email. On good days I will have an email from one of my colleagues waiting for me when I get up. But I have to say that, over the years, my most productive source for new ideas has been my brilliant spouse, Melissa. She raises Nigerian Dwarf milk goats, consumes NYT crossword puzzles with our youngest daughter, reads voraciously, and is a remarkably selfless interlocutor. She loves detective and spy novels. But she also reads a good bit of cultural theory, and she is constantly bringing up new ideas in our conversations, which I seek out daily. Several years ago, Melissa introduced me to the theoretical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, whose theory of types of capital underlies my current work on both 1 Corinthians and Romans. She also got me interested in the social psychology of prejudice that became the basis for my 2009 volume Coping with Prejudice—the first book I published with Mohr Siebeck—in which I explored the way social stigma shaped early Jewish and Christian theology, a topic I hope to return to someday. I also benefit from conversations with students. In their case, however, it is not so much new ideas that they provide, but the kind of clarity and precision that comes from pondering and trying to answer their questions, which are often quite thoughtful and perceptive.
What about hobbies?
My favorite hobby is to sit on our front porch and read and write. From time to time I will venture into my small woodworking shop or take up some maintenance project in our antebellum farmhouse and outbuildings. I am currently repairing four large double hung windows on our front porch. A few years back I built a mid-sized timber frame barn for Melissa's milk goats. It was great fun—and resulted in only one surgery. But mostly it's coffee and books.