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A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle

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Here you will encounter emperors and slaves, Jews and Greeks, and men and women lifted from the pages of the New Testament as they stumble forward following the death of Jesus, unwitting midwives to the birth of Christianity. Follow Paul and James as they contend for the soul of the newborn Jesus movement; their struggle is the story of Christian origins.

421 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

R.W. Holmen

16 books23 followers
I’m a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants who eventually found their way to a farming community in Central Minnesota near the end of the 19th century. My paternal great-grandparents settled a few miles north of the town of Upsala, and my maternal great-grandparents settled a few miles south of town. Members of both families remained until my parents married and moved off the farm and into town where Dad became a successful small-town businessman. I was baptized and confirmed in the same Swedish-Lutheran church that nurtured my grandmother and mother.

I experienced a glorious childhood in Upsala in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Bike riding, ball playing, pony riding, and especially fishing and water-skiing on nearby Cedar Lake where G-pa and G-ma Holmen lived in the lakeside retirement home they built. When high school rolled around, I was active in sports, and when I was honored as valedictorian of my forty-two-person graduating class, I was merely following family tradition after three of Dad’s sisters, Mom’s sister, and Mom herself had been valedictorians before me.

In the fall of ’66, I was off to Dartmouth, but within two years, I arrived in Vietnam as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. On Christmas eve 1970, I was discharged in time to return to Dartmouth for the start of winter term. Following Dartmouth, I endured the paper chase of law school at the University of Minnesota before becoming a trial attorney in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

In the early ‘90s while continuing my law practice, I studied with the Benedictine monks at the nearby St. John’s School of Theology where I discovered a keen interest in the history behind the formation of the Biblical canon. Who were the authors? What were the circumstances that influenced them? For whom were their writings intended?

Years later, my interest in Paul, the principal author of the Christian New Testament, resulted in publication of A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the Apostle. Readers sang the novel’s praises. “Regardless of your personal religious background, this book is absolutely breathtaking.” “The novel was difficult to put down and brought to life a distant time and place with such humanity and liveliness.” Academic reviewers praised the historical authenticity of the novel’s treatment of the lives and times of the first generation of the Christian church.

My experiences as an army Ranger scouting the jungles of the Central Highlands of Vietnam serve as inspiration for my bold, dark, and intense novella entitled Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand. One reviewer suggested the book was “not merely a war story but a story of life and choices.”

For years, I followed the struggle of LGBTQ Christians to be fully accepted by their churches, and when my own Lutheran denomination changed their policies during their national convention in Minneapolis in 2009, I was there as a “graceful engagement” volunteer. Queer Clergy, A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, remembers the queer prophets and celebrates the journey toward full inclusion. This non-fiction book was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award.

More recently, I have returned to early church history and the tumultuous 1st century that saw a Jewish revolt against Roman imperialism.Wormwood and Gall: The Destruction of Jerusalem and the First Gospel remembers the context but fictionalizes the characters behind the “Gospel According to Mark.”

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Jess.
723 reviews41 followers
July 26, 2010
I approach books like these very carefully. I did a bit of background about Holmen before I started reading the book, and began in earnest after I satisfied my curiosity.

This book is a number of things. It is well-researched; Holmen clearly has a solid background in early Christianity and religious history. It is also well-written. When reading about Paul—or Paulos, as he is referred to in the novel—I felt that I had a more personalized understanding of who Paul was. Often accused as being anti-Semitic or a problematic Jewish Christian, Holmen addresses these issues. But more importantly, he presents Paul as human. Paul is as subject to human desires, human complexities, and human experiences as the rest of us. The best kind of book, in my opinion, is one that prompts you to think more, to pursue more knowledge. This book definitely incited that curiosity in me.

Some readers may worry that this book revolves around Paul's purported conflicted sexual orientation, but even devoutly religious individuals will find Holmen's handling of the matter to be deft. Some may even find Paul's reluctance to engage in supposedly unclean acts to be a testament to his faith. I would say that if this matter is the issue holding you back from reading this book, it shouldn't be. You may be pleasantly surprised.

While it might help to have some understanding of this time period or the religious and political issues at hand during and immediately after Jesus' death, it's not necessary. I found this book to actually be quite a good accompaniment to my studies of Jesus as a social revolutionary, upsetting the status quo. I felt like I gleaned a new understanding of the early Judeo-Christian world, which is pretty astounding after having taken four years of academic religion classes.

Moreover, I'm curious to speak to the author. What's next after this? How did his background inform his writing of A Wretched Man? I'd be curious to see how Holmen would approach Saint Augustine, but alas, I doubt he is that interested in Augustine, as Holmen is Lutheran.

This review was cross-posted to my book blog.
266 reviews72 followers
August 4, 2010

A Wretched Man by R W Holmen is a stupendous novel about Paul, The Apostle. Most of us are aware of Paul's Damascus Road change, his beatings, his letters to the churches and his friendships before and after conversion. My question became do I need to read a fictionalized picture of his life. My answer became yes rather quickly after I started reading the book. Without reading this book about Paul, The Apostle I had an idea of a man. In other words, I had an unfinished painting. R W Holmen paints a background for the painting I held in my mind. The book is beautifully written full of descriptions of the Holy Land's landscape and Agriculture. "He longed for....his parent's rooftop, the smell of fresh goat leather....the taste of ....fresh bread dipped in honey, the feel of goat's milk warming his throat, and the splashing melody of the river rapids."

Words written like this quote from the book made me see a place more clearly. Along with the pictures of the land R W Holmen drew the men and women who lived beside Paul: Caligula, Barnabas, Gamaliel, Roman soldiers, friends, family of Jesus and friends of Paul and ordinary people. "Cyrene was prominently located where Africa jutted into the Great Sea pointing toward Rome. Lucius and Agathe were darkskinned North Africans, nut-brown not black...Paulos had seldom seen dark-skinned persons, and he greeted the North Africans with eager curiosity."

I did know Paul worked as a tent maker. My mind never thought about the strength needed for such a job. After reading A Wretched Man, I gained an idea of the way Paul's hands must have looked. I feel his hands must have been callused, rough, strong and may be stubby. It had to be tedious and difficult to pull a needle through layers of leather tent material .

On friendship in A Wretched Man Paul's best friend is Arsenios, a Greek. Paul and Arsenios religions are totally different. How is it possible that two odd birds like these two men could have an enduring friendship? Over the years, I've heard arguments, debates, soft mumbles about whether Paul was married or not married. R W Holmen takes the ideas about this side of Paul's life and manages to come up with a whole new idea that had never entered my mind. This idea made me read further, stop reading, begin reading and so on throughout the book. My mind was being cleared for new knowledge vs. old knowledge. Leaving me the choice on how to look at the part of Paul's life I don't see in The Bible.

I questioned and examined myself. How staunchly do I believe what is not ever mentioned in The Holy Bible by God's inspired writers? If a thought is not in the Bible, how far do I go to force pieces of information to fit my comfort zone? Have I made Bible heroes and heroines without sin? Have I made Paul, Simon Peter and other men and women in The Bible walk without a care in the world. Do I see these people struggling with flaws and sins? If I get to meet God's most blessed servants one day on the other side or wherever will I fall apart learning the rest of their story? Will I feel shocked in a good way or a bad way? Will I feel offended?

These are only some of the questions I asked myself while reading R W Holmen's A Wretched Man. I questioned, I discovered, I began to see with a better lighting. For example, the life for Christians under Roman rule was very harsh. R W Holmen birthed in me a desire to know more about the Roman Empire because Christ and Paul lived with these people daily."Rebellion stalked the streets of Jerusalem.......Jews openly jeering Roman soldiers and pelting them with rotten tomatoes. The outnumbered troops....A massive army of two legions, thousands of armed infantrymen, marched on Jerusalem, Led by the Governor of Syria."

R W Holmen's A Wretched Man has left a deeper desire in me to restore the painting given to me. Taking this approach can only help me draw closer to my magnificent Creator, God and Lord. It will also make The Bible more exciting. As people say, "there is more gold to discover in them thar hills."

"The Sabbath service at the synagogue was a delicious blend of old and new: Hebrew traditions flavored with Iesou stories and songs." Yes, I think a love fest. One that I can joined every day.
Profile Image for Ray Branstiter.
4 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2010
Just finished this book last night (Easter), seems appropriate. I enjoyed this book. Holman presents an interesting perspective into the life of Paul and his struggle with the Orthodox early followers of Jesus who insisted that the followers of Christ must conform to their ways of worship and belief in Christ.
Holman opens up the first century world in a way that helps me appreciate the difficulties that Paul face in his multi-point parish. There was little in this book that changes those things about Paul that I have not heard in the past, he fight with James and the Nazarenes of Jerusalem, the struggle with his “thorn” and the speculation that Paul was gay.
I got a good chuckle from the sailors in the book (I am a retired sailor). Holman gave them a dialect that was closer to the Pirates of the Caribbean then first century Greek or Roman sailors, but it added to the fun……arrrrrgg!
Profile Image for Susan Peterson.
Author 16 books10 followers
June 14, 2016
As someone who's self-published a novel, I know that self-published books have to work twice as hard to prove their worth. When I pick something up on Smashwords, I assume it will be bad until it proves that it's worth reading. I came to "A Wretched Man" in that spirit. Within the first dozen pages, I knew that the author could write. It wasn't long after that that I figured out that he also had something worthwhile to say.

"A Wretched Man" is not only a good read, it's thought provoking and solidly researched. It's not just a regurgitation of the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, in a couple of places there are slight inconsistencies between the two. But the two authors are doing two very different things with their text, so the differences didn't bother me much. "A Wretched Man" wonders out loud, "What was Paul really like?" "Why did he seem to be such an extremist in certain areas of doctrine and practice?" The book will probably tick some people off, but then so did Paul.
4 reviews
June 7, 2010
I won this book a couple of weeks ago and absolutely loved it. It was and still is, interesting to compare Holmen's writings with Pauls letters in the new testament. Besides that, it was just a really good read.
115 reviews1 follower
May 21, 2011
Interesting to learn the author's perception of the research he completed. This could be unsettling or challenging to some but I found it another perspective of the bible history we know so little.
125 reviews1 follower
May 25, 2015
A somewhat quirky look at Paul's life. Almost a young adult writing style.
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews

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