Phoebe: A Story by Paula Gooder is two books in one: a fictional picture of what Phoebe’s life and society might have looked like; and an academic exploration of this same society, world, and individual.
Paula Gooder writes in a style that is engaging and informative. The plot of the narrative section grabbed my interest from the get-go with its interweaving of biblical details with background information from historical studies as well. The main plot is of interest, following Phoebe through potential struggles and a narrative that gives readers rich imagery of what house churches were like and how these could have differed in different places due to income levels, the patrons, and the like. Gooder gives a vital look into the life of early Christians, doing so in a way that is winsome in style. What’s interesting is that, due to the integration of some biblical persons, I as a reader was hyper-aware of these characters. I have to say, I was a bit sad that I didn’t love Junia as a character in Gooder’s book as much as I’d have hoped. But Gooder makes these characters seem true to life, with real motivations and interests beyond simply being set pieces for teaching readers about early Christianity.
The second part is full of notes that bring historical and theological insight into the narrative woven throughout the book. They provide justification for various narrative choices, background information about how things may have been in the early church, and are full of rich details about Christian life. Gooder’s research is quite thorough and will give interested readers more avenues for exploration.
Readers should note that the book is probably best enjoyed with one finger in the endnotes to integrate those notes into their reading of the narrative. I saw the notes section at the back, but read the book front-to-back, thinking that since the notes were called “Part 2,” it made sense to read Part 1 and then 2. But doing so meant I missed out on several key points of interest within the narrative, which meant I went back and re-read portions to make more sense of what Gooder was saying. The book doesn’t have an introduction or preface to recommend this reading order, so be aware of it.
Readers will find much of interest in Phoebe: A Story. From the background information to the more intimate picture of what life may have looked like in the early church, this book is well-worth the time investment. Recommended.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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