In his well-written and provocative book Jeremy Wade Barrier provides a fresh reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, concentrating on intercultural differences between Paul and his addressees rather than theological discourse about “works of the law” versus “justification by faith”. The focus on the cultural background of the Galatians challenges usual interpretations of the letter as a reaction to Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents. Barrier argues that Paul is criticizing his addressees for integrating circumcision in their pagan view of apotropaic rituals and is offering baptism as the appropriate and effective alternative ritual. Moreover, the emphasis on sorcery and the “Evil Eye” sharpens the view of the religious and cultural context presupposed in the letter. Future interpretation will have to look more carefully on the discourse behind the letter, particularly on the meaning of the verb “bewitch” in Galatians 3:1.
Barrier’s study adds to the work of redescription of Paul in terms of the magical, medical, and ritual context of the ancient Mediterranean world. The wealth of information on the understanding of pneuma in antiquity is impressive.
By drawing on knowledge of ancient medicine and magic, in particular issues related to disease etiology, illness, the evil eye, pneuma, and the role of the fascinum in ensuring one’s health, this volume seeks to unravel the cultural script that unfolds from reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians.