The apostle Paul’s letter to his friend and fellow Christian Philemon, which focuses on the question of slavery, has long inspired debate. Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, has left his master’s house and sought refuge with Paul, during which time he has converted to Christianity. In a letter to Philemon, Paul assures his friend that he is sending Onesimus back, but pleads for mercy on the slave’s behalf, asking Philemon to treat him as a beloved brother and as he would treat the apostle himself.
Examining Paul’s letter within the context of the social, political, and economic realities of the time, Joseph A. Fitzmyer sheds light on the question of whether Paul was suggesting that Onesimus be granted freedom from slavery or whether he was simply advocating a lenient treatment of Onesimus. His insights not only clarify Paul’s position but show why the letter is relevant in the Church today.
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Joseph A. Fitzmyer is a Jesuit priest and professor emeritus at the Catholic University of America. A past president of both the Society of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Association, and coeditor of The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Fitzmyer has written The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire and The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave 1 (1Q20): A Commentary, available from Logos in the Northwest Semitic Collection (7 vols.), and A Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts.