New Testament scholar and theologian Dr Paula Gooder is a friend of a friend! I don’t want to name-drop, but really that’s why I started watching Paula’s work online and reading her books. Paula Gooder is currently the Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. She knows a lot about Paul’s writings and her online video content is addictively watchable, which is why when her first novel Phoebe: A Story was published in 2018, I was keen to get into it.
The character of Phoebe in Paul’s Letter to the Romans has always intrigued me. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, trusting Phoebe with the delivery of that letter. A deacon of the church at Cenchreae, Phoebe may well have opened her home to that local early Christian community. So, she’s a landowner, runs a thriving business and is trusted by the Christian community far and wide. That is a life I wanted to read more about. Paula Gooder’s background in Biblical scholarship gives her a stunning point of view for this kind of fictional imagining.
The way Phoebe’s 1st century world comes alive in the novel gave me licence to read other stories in the New Testament with fresh eyes. I have always enjoyed the way that fiction enriches the imagination and exercises my mind in other contexts. The novel, Phoebe: A Story, brought a little more colour to my New Testament reading.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says that this novel is a “vivid and sympathetic picture of the world of the first Christians, opened up through the personality of Paul’s colleague and friend, Phoebe.” I was hooked at this description: a 1st century woman described as a colleague and friend of the great theologian and missioner Paul. It encourages me to remember that while Paul’s letters are inspirational and instructional letters for 21st century Christians, Paul wrote them in a real and lively context, pulsing with the struggles and joys of real, diverse people.
I’ve given Phoebe: A Story to several family members who thoroughly enjoyed it. A friend who is new to Christianity particularly appreciated the picture of the early Church. She told me it added colour to her own reading of Paul’s letters as she notices other names from those letters and wonders about their lives, too: it has had a lasting impact on our imaginations.
Paula Gooder, 2018. Phoebe: A Story. Hodder & Stoughton, London.
Editor’s notes: Please join Jonathan and Fiona of FormEDfaith to launch the new faith formation resource, the Anglican Theology and Practice Certificate at St Francis College, 233 Milton Road, Milton, Brisbane on 14 October 14 at 12.15pm.
If you would like to share with other readers what faith-related book, including those with theological, spiritual, ministry, Church history or justice themes, you have given away (or referred) the most and why, please email the anglican focus team, and we will let you know what is needed.Jump to next article