It is difficult to appreciate how Stephen qualifies as a friend of someone who attended and approved of his murder (Acts 7:58; 22:20). Yet Stephen belonged to the very group of Israelites to whom Paul later brought the Good News: the Hellenists. These Israelites lived mainly outside of Palestine, thoroughly acculturated in the Greek language and culture of their habitat, and they practiced their traditions in a very modified way. These modifications created great difficulty for Stephen and other Hellenists who resumed residence in Jerusalem, as we read in Acts 6–7. In this account we learn who Stephen was, what he said, and how he died—all things that made a huge impression on Paul. That experience set the stage for Paul’s commissioning by the risen Jesus to evangelize Hellenists (Acts 9). In Stephen: Paul and the Hellenist Israelites, John J. Pilch reflects on Stephen as a Hellenist Israelite, a collectivistic person, a deacon (the word does not appear in Acts), and one who true to his tradition communicates with the world of God in alternate states of consciousness. Paul has much in common with Stephen, so to know Stephen is to gain a better understanding of Paul.
John J. Pilch, PhD, is professor of theology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He is author of numerous articles and books, including Visions and Healing in Acts of the Apostles: How the Early Believers Experienced God (Liturgical Press, 2004). He is a member of the Catholic Biblical Association of America and the International Society for Shamanistic Research, among other professional organizations.
Dr. John Pilch's Stephen is not a `deacon'-ancient or modern-but rather a Mediterranean collectivist, a Greek-speaking Hellenist-Judean honored by provoking his antagonists to violence, a minister who cares for the neglected widows among his people, and a holy man who experiences altered states of consciousness. Pilch's cultural-anthropological portrait is new and distinctive. It will tease the imagination and challenge readers to re-think the one whose terrible death changed the life of the Apostle Paul forever.
Dennic C. Duling, PhD, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York
[A]n engaging introduction to Stephen as he is portrayed in the Acts.
Catholic Library World
This book is an engaging and lucid introduction to the figure of Stephen as he is portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles. A pioneer in the development of cultural anthropological approaches to the New Testament, John Pilch places Stephen the Hellenist within the context of ancient Mediterranean collectivist society. Pilch brings his particular expertise in the study of alternate states of consciousness to bear on Stephen and his companions as holy persons who have contact with the spirit realm. Readers will come away from the book with an understanding of Stephen more grounded within his particular age and culture than many other treatments of this figure.
Alicia Batten, Associate Professor of Religion, Pacific Lutheran University
Stephen is a provocative look at the character in the Acts of the Apostles which integrates historical, grammatical, and social scientific sources to give us a fresh look at the Hellenistic martyr, which informs, corrects, and challenges the `popular' and `received' views. This is mandatory reading for those who wish to move beyond anachronistic and ethnocentric readings of the texts and contexts concerning Stephen.
Bishop F. Josephus Johnson, II; Presiding Bishop of the Beth-El Fellowship of Visionary Churches; Senior Pastor of The House of the Lord, Akron, Ohio
[I]ndispensable to students of the New Testament and to ongoing scholarship in New Testament studies.
This new series of books is a welcome and promising initiative. While Paul still continues to attract scholars' attention, his closest collaborators, friends, and relations remain all too often in the dark or are dealt with only incidentally. Yet giving proper consideration to Paul's web of social relations can help us understand the Apostle himself and his legacy.
God's Word Today
John Pilch's discussion of Stephen is by no means just another book on him. Like a householder who brings forth old and new from his store, Pilch both presents old Christian materials about Stephen and offers new cultural perspectives to interpret Luke's narrative. The result is an informed, enlightened, and innovative treatment of Stephen. Like all of Pilch's writings, this book is an accessible study, a rewarding read, and an inventive exploration. The cultural lenses for interpretation have been clearly and carefully handled. `Rich' and `rewarding' best describe this book.
Jerome Neyrey, SJ; Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame