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A Disabled Apostle: Impairment and Disability in the Letters of Paul

SOON, ISAAC,TSUN-YEUNG (2021) A Disabled Apostle: Impairment and Disability in the Letters of Paul. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Full text not available from this repository.
Author-imposed embargo until 11 March 2024.


This first book-length treatment of Paul and disability builds on recent advances in the field of disability studies to show the nature of Paul’s bodily condition as well as a whole new way of approaching the study of disability in ancient texts. Drawing on the socio-cultural model of disability offered by Anne Waldschmidt, I argue that Paul’s circumcision (Phil 3:5) and the angel of Satan (2 Cor 12:7)––the latter which I understand to be a demonic force––were ancient disabilities. These conditions were embedded in a complex social and cultural network, where human bodies, social ideals, cultural artefacts, and sacred texts converged. This project advances scholarship in three significant ways. First, I offer an alternative approach for isolating and studying disability in the ancient world. Instead of analysing how sources depict and receive conditions deemed disabilities today, I provide a framework for isolating impairments and disabilities relative to their respective culture. This allows me to understand conditions excluded from conventional medical taxonomies. Second, I challenge the now widespread view that the specific nature of Paul’s disabilities cannot be known. Rather than trying to medically diagnose Paul’s condition, I focus on social perceptions of the functionality and aesthetic of Paul’s body in its ancient Jewish and non-Jewish context. Finally, I demonstrate the relevance of disability for interpreting Pauline literature. My re-examination of circumcision and demonisation as disability in Paul’s letters generates new questions for key Pauline passages. Such questions inspire new answers to well-worn themes in Paul like the circumcision of gentiles, bodily continuity in the resurrection of the dead, and Paul’s understanding of God’s (in)justice amid his suffering.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Paul, disability studies, circumcision, thorn in the flesh, demons, resurrection, theodicy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Mar 2021 10:02

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