2011-04-04

Sifting a historical Paul from a nonhistorical Jesus: Doherty’s position

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by Neil Godfrey

Georg Gsell. "The Apostle Paul."

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In response to the Earl Doherty interview posted here two days ago, Evan asked what evidence convinces Doherty that the Apostle Paul of Tarsus was a genuine historical figure, and in what way it is different from the evidence for the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Earl Doherty responded at some length in listing factors that need consideration. I have taken the liberty of turning his reply into a post here, with slightly modified formatting and added subheadings, to make any follow up discussion easier to access.

Earl Doherty’s response:

Boy, nothing like a simple question to start things off. To answer it would take a book in itself. It’s really a topic for a proper discussion board, which I am not too sure is what Neil envisions his blog as being, or wants it to be. So let me just itemize a few points, rather than argue them in any detail.

The documentary record in relation to a first century Christianity and authentic Paul

Acts may be thoroughly unreliable as providing an actual history of the early Christian movement, but given an authentic Paul and a first century Christianity, the documentary record and its content as a whole has always struck me as much more coherent than what I would call ultra-radical alternatives which discard Paul and essentially shove everything into the second century.

There are just too many problems created, too many jerry-built measures which have to be undertaken, to try to make those alternatives work. It’s a lot like the no-Q position, the Luke used Matthew proposal. In my estimation, the latter runs up against too many problems that have to be ‘solved’ in ways I don’t regard as legitimate that it becomes a far less acceptable and workable theory than Q.

The same principle holds true for the question of Paul and the entire epistolary (and extra-canonical) picture of a first century movement. Especially within the context of a movement which began with a mythical Christ operating entirely in heaven, that early picture is thoroughly coherent, and I see no compelling reason to remove Paul from it. Trying to push the epistolary/extra-canonical record into the 2nd century when orthodoxy is already well under way creates distortions which in my view cannot be resolved.

Problems with a second century Pauline forgery theory

A second century Pauline forgery theory also has, for me, a couple of insurmountable problems. One is the absence of orthodoxy in the sense of belief in an historical Jesus, based on the Gospels, or even what might be seen as early forms of them. If a forgery is to be undertaken on that scale, there has to be an agenda behind it.

A second century orthodox forgery of Paul would reflect orthodox beliefs, including some sort of Gospel ethos. Specific proposals for a Marcionite origin fail because there is virtually nothing of Marcionism perceivable in the Paulines. (Claims of such are extremely weak and vague.)

Nor is there much in the way of anti-Marcionite elements. Little bits that might be interpreted as such are better explainable as uncoordinated orthodox editing, rather than a wholesale from-scratch forgery of the Paulines specifically to counter Marcion; anything like the latter would convey a much more focused picture of such an agenda.

Character of the Pauline epistles

Yes, some of the Paulines can seem a little jumbled, inconsistent, including when they are compared one with another. But I don’t find that particularly problematic in an uncoordinated set of mostly occasional writings spanning years and different situations. And I don’t doubt that in orthodox circles around the middle of the second century, there was some editing and splicing going on.

What we also have within the Paulines, which I think is a strong indication of some degree of authenticity, is the personality of a writer who is engaged in the type of apostolic work being presented. The strong and emotional personality that emerges in the genuine Paulines is not conceivable as the product of a deliberate forger living in a later time and slaving over a writing desk to create a fictional character of a century earlier.

I know this answer barely scratches the surface, but it will give some indication of why I don’t subscribe to some of the more radical views of early Christian development.

Comparing the evidence for Jesus

As for the difference between the evidence for Paul and the evidence for Jesus, one major difference is that we have writings purported to be by Paul but none by Jesus. Paul portrays himself as a very human individual on earth. No such portrayal is provided for Jesus in the pre-Gospel record. Even the Gospel Jesus is a two-dimensional mouthpiece character, indicating that he is indeed a writing-desk creation. The same cannot be said for the Paul of the epistles, who is very much three-dimensional. (Note that there is less of that three-dimensional character in the epistles which are acknowledged to be later forgeries, such as Ephesians.)

Earl Doherty

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32 Comments

  • Evan
    2011-04-04 15:20:51 UTC - 15:20 | Permalink

    Earl, thank you for your comprehensive response. I see that you think the difference between Paul and Jesus is primarily in the fact that we have “autograph” epistles from Paul which we lack from Jesus, is that correct? This is certainly a huge difference. I fully understand that this barely scratches the surface and I am genuinely uncertain about the historicity of Jesus or Paul, personally. It strikes me we have no firm evidence for the existence of first century Christianity at all, as you have made very clear in your books (from my way of thinking). Certainly we have no evidence documenting Jesus of Nazareth in the first century, you would agree. So we have a curious lacuna in that Justin has no mention of Paul at all. Why, in your opinion does Justin not mention him, even though he was aware of Marcion?

    Also, I am curious about what you think Paul is discussing in Romans 11. Do you think this makes more sense in a pre-70 CE context or a post 130 CE context?

    Finally, do you think it was common practice in the first century for individuals to write letters to the entire Christian community of whole cities and regions? Is it reasonable to assume that someone would write a letter to all the cities in Galatea, for example, rather than name an individual or a congregation that had been problematic? Galatea is a pretty large area.

  • Geoff Hudson
    2011-04-04 19:29:21 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

    I don’t think it was reasonable to write letters to large areas all over the place. How would they have been collected together? It is reasonable that the letters were originally sent from Rome to one community of prophets in Jerusalem, where Vespasian could later have got hold of them. Or, there were duplicates made in Rome before they were sent, in which case Vespasian would still be able to lay his hands on them.

    Romans 11 is a complete Pauline fabrication, and therefore post 70.

  • 2011-04-04 21:10:25 UTC - 21:10 | Permalink

    I agree that the Jesus figure is a two-dimensional mouth-piece and plot-agent. I have not changed my view about this since a little piece I wrote some years ago about Mark’s characterization.

    The lack of external controls to verify the historicity of the narrative by no means establish Jesus as a mythical figure, obviously, but they do leave us with an “unverified” stamp on the narrative. What tips the scale for me in favour of non-historicity behind the gospel narratives is the clear evidence for the narrative details being derived from other identifiable literary and theological sources. Unlike the evidence we have for any other person we know from history to whom myths attached themselves, there is nothing about Jesus that is left over after the mythical and borrowed layers are removed. And this is just the start of the argument. Once we acknowledge the literary/theological origins of the narrative, we find far more satisfactory explanations for many of the variant tales in the different gospels than the oral traditions model offers. But again, like you, I am just skimming the surface here.

    As for Paul’s 3D character that emerges in some of the epistles, should not this be balanced against the Paul in the Acts of Paul and Thecla also being three-dimensional? Part of ancient literary education was to give students practice in writing realistically, including in epistolary fictions (Rosenmeyer, MacDonald, Hock).

    There is much more to discuss and I simply don’t have time to bring out all the points and questions here that I would like. Maybe I can reserve them for a (not too distant) future post.

    I am always in two minds about the historicity of Paul because to me the evidence “for” seems to be balanced by the evidence “against”. I have heard that the Dutch radical critics of yesteryear have been soundly refuted but I am suspending judgment till I do track down those arguments for myself.

    Till then, I take the same position with the epistles as I do with the gospels. Alone, without external controls, we cannot know for sure either way. In the case of the gospels, I believe that literary analysis tilts the argument in favour of non-historicity. It seems that for you, literary analysis of the Pauline letters tilts the argument in favour of historicity.

    I myself don’t see that literary analysis (the portrayal of a strong and emotional character) as necessarily the product of historical reality. It might be, but I don’t know how to know for sure.

    • 2011-04-05 03:50:35 UTC - 03:50 | Permalink

      I usually find discussions of the historical Paul rather frustrating, because even scholars who acknowledge the unreliability of Acts will allow its biographical “facts” to leak in. Was his real name Saul? Was he from Tarsus?

      However, even beyond all that, by what criteria should we judge the Pauline corpus? We’re told that the later works, especially the pastorals, don’t sound like Paul, that they contradict earlier epistles and contain doctrine that Paul wouldn’t have espoused. Sure, I understand that the pastorals make references to church hierarchy that seems anachronistic for Paul. So we know at least some of the works are pseudonymous — but how do we know that any of it is authentic?

      I just can’t help feeling as though Biblical scholarship continually poses these questions as if we have to decide whether the world rests on the backs of elephants or turtles. It’s always “‘Which’ attributes of Paul are authentic?” and “‘How much’ can we know about John the Baptist?” “Was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet ‘or’ a cynic sage?”

      But getting back to Paul, to say “Romans (or 1 Corinthians) is authentic because it more accurately reflects Paul’s actual beliefs” requires a whole lot of assumptions. It means we’re using the thing we’re measuring as the measuring stick, which strikes me as unsound. The terms on both sides cancel out and we’re left with a meaningless statement — “The things I think sound like Paul tend to sound very much like Paul.”

  • Geoff Hudson
    2011-04-04 21:27:09 UTC - 21:27 | Permalink

    1.1.”[Paul] {James},

    [a servant of Christ Jesus],

    called to be [an apostle] {a prophet} and set apart for the

    [gospel of God – 1.2.the gospel]

    {Spirit} he promised beforehand through his prophets in the [Holy] scriptures.”

    The coming of the Spirit was promised by the prophets, starting with Moses. It was not promised by the priests. Romans was all about the Spirit, not Jesus. Romans was based upon a prophetic document.

    • 2011-04-04 21:57:10 UTC - 21:57 | Permalink

      Geoff, you’ve made your point. But posts that fail to engage in reasoned discussion with the arguments presented, and that repeatedly assert (without argument and evidence) the same speculative conclusions, have appeared from others on this blog before. I have treated them as trolls.

      • Geoff Hudson
        2011-04-04 23:49:00 UTC - 23:49 | Permalink

        I find your arguements more speculative than mine.

        In the case of Romans 1:1, was the Spirit promised by Moses and other prophets, or not? I think you know what the answer to that question is, but won’t admit it. When I read the whole of Romans I find that the only valid solution is to see it as a partially true prophetic document that has had early Christian doctrines superimposed on it. Thus I see Romans 11 as completely Pauline.

        And I don’t see the need to write 500 words when 20 will do. So you can treat me however you wish.

  • 2011-04-05 00:27:16 UTC - 00:27 | Permalink

    Earl, I cannot tell from this post (or the one from which it was spawned) what you think Paul believed about the Christ. That is, do you think he was a perpetrator of the Christ myth or a victim of it?

    Or, are you saying that Paul believed only in a heavenly Christ, devoid of any earthly existence, and that subsequent generations imposed on Paul the belief that there indeed had been a historical Jesus that had given rise to the heavenly Christ?

    (I’ve tried ease your answer with the multiple choices above, but if they reflect misunderstanding please answer on your own terms. Thanks.)

    • Geoff Hudson
      2011-04-05 01:56:14 UTC - 01:56 | Permalink

      Jesus was an afterthought. The pauline editor superimposed his ideas about the Christ, and the historical Jesus came after? Such can be regarded as sequential development. These so-called myths are editors’ deliberate fabrications of an original prophetic document.

    • Evan
      2011-04-05 02:22:03 UTC - 02:22 | Permalink

      Earl’s book is very clear about this. Paul’s Christ was not the Gospel Jesus of Nazareth, but a heavenly redeemer figure. This was also the case for the majority of the authors/forgers of the other epistles as well, with the exception of the pastorals.

  • 2011-04-05 02:29:53 UTC - 02:29 | Permalink

    Geoff and Evan,

    I appreciate your efforts but I guess I just don’t know how to frame the question properly because neither of your responses addresses it.

  • 2011-04-05 03:21:52 UTC - 03:21 | Permalink

    First let me comment on Jim McGrath’s remarks posted on his blog.

    If Jim really believes that there is no difference between the evidence for Paul and the evidence for Jesus (regardless of how they are to be ranked), if he believes that accepting one figure requires that we must accept the other, he has very little understanding about the arguments for mythicism. And he is ignoring the very differences I pointed out in the posting he has quoted from this blog.

    I’m not sure what Jim is so excited about, or what point he thinks he has scored. He claims that

    “Earl Doherty Believes Paul Existed…For Much the Same Reasons Historians Believe Jesus Existed.

    Doherty, in fact, believes that a historical Paul makes better sense of the evidence. That is, of course, precisely the stance of historians when it comes to the question of the existence of a historical Jesus.”

    Yes, it may be their stance, but that does not make the two positions necessarily equal in merit, and certainly not for the same “reasons.” Every field of research, or some segment of it, will make a similar claim, that its current conclusion makes the best sense of the evidence. Until, that is, some other research comes along and demonstrates otherwise. And one case of such a claim can hardly be used to prove the legitimacy of some other case. This is a peculiar type of fallacy.

    There is no question that historicists claim that the existence of an HJ makes better sense of the evidence. But are they justified in so claiming? Are they being unbiased and free from predisposition? Are they immune from reading one set of documents into another? Are their arguments coherent and free of fallacy? The mythicist position is that they are not.

    The fact that we hold respective convictions that we’ve made the best sense of the evidence is not dramatic in itself and hardly proves anything. Jim seems to be suggesting that my acceptance of the likelihood of an historical Paul and my rejection of the likelihood of an historical Jesus is some kind of arbitrary eenie-meenie-minee-moe. Rather, it is a matter of subjecting each case to its own careful and unbiased examination.

    One of the major differences I put forward was the nature of the evidence. We have writings purporting to be by Paul, but none by Jesus. Much of the ‘genuine’ Pauline letters have the sound of a real person with all its human emotions and weaknesses, its personal experiences and reactions to real-life situations. The “sound” of Jesus in the Gospels, on the other hand, is a bunch of set-pieces and mirrorings of scripture, almost nothing in the way of an identifiable personality. Even his third-person-related deeds are midrashic rewrites of passages from scripture. On the cross, Mark can give him nothing more to say than a line from Psalm 22. As for the epistles, they ‘recount’ Jesus’ life by paraphrasing lines from passages like Isaiah 53, as in 1 Peter 2:22. This is just one example of the differences between the two ‘records’ and why a conviction of reality in regard to Paul has its own reasons which are quite distinct from the reasons historicists may have for their conviction of reality for the Gospel figure. If Jim cannot recognize those differences and their quality, or chooses to ignore them, it is no wonder he finds the mythicist case so easy to dismiss.

  • John
    2011-04-05 04:01:48 UTC - 04:01 | Permalink

    I agree with Doherty that “[t]o answer [this question] would take a book in itself. It’s really a topic for a proper discussion board, which I am not too sure is what Neil envisions his blog as being, or wants it to be.”

    I also agree with him that (some of) Paul’s letters, however edited and interpolated they may be, are genuine, and I would throw in the letter of James, too, as being at least genuinely “Jamesian” and evidence for the existence of Paul or his ideas.

    I agree with Robert Eisenman that Paul is the Herodian thug Saulos (Ant. 20.214), as well as possibly the “certain other Jew” (Ant. 20.35) who, along with someone named Ananias, convinced Queen Helena and her “only begotten son” Izates that “worship of God was of a superior nature to circumcision” (Ant. 20.41).

    I agree with Eisenman that Paul is also the Spouter of Lies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the “enemy” of James’ group in the Clementine literature, and that Paul’s leters tend to agree with these assumptions.

    If Paul, like the gospels, is not historical, are James and others “of the circumcision” that he mentions also not historical, AND the reference to James in Josephus? Who then invented these figures (and ideas) of early Christian “history” and put them in Paul’s letters and Josephus, and why do they have such similar parallels and “overlaps” with the Dead Sea Scrolls?

  • 2011-04-05 04:03:16 UTC - 04:03 | Permalink

    Evan: I see that you think the difference between Paul and Jesus is primarily in the fact that we have “autograph” epistles from Paul which we lack from Jesus, is that correct?

    No, I wouldn’t say “primarily.” I mentioned in my reply that I see a broad range of reasons to consider Paul a real figure working and writing in the first century. And I wouldn’t agree that we have no evidence of either him or Christianity in general in the first century. He is mentioned in 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius (probably written in his name, but early in the 2nd century). I know that these documents are often argued to be later forgeries, but this is one example of the necessary contortions in the service of rejecting a first century Paul and his movement. Some may know that I have argued quite strongly in favor of authenticity (except for author) in regard to 1 Clement and Ignatius. Issues like this are particularly amenable to the context of earliest cultic Christianity having been of the mythicist variety.

    As for Justin not mentioning Paul, those who know my website article on the 2nd century apologists or who have read my new book will know that I regard Justin and those apologists as coming out of a separate strand of early heavenly Son belief, and that Paul was not widely known outside of his own branch of that faith until the diverse strands of what we now call Christianity became more amalgamated after the middle of the century. In fact, scholars have long noted that Paul’s particular brand of Christology is virtually unknown, or at least unperceivable, in writers of the 2nd century. Justin could have been familiar with the name of Paul through Marcion, but apparently did not integrate him in any way with his own views. Unfortunately, this question remains murky because we do not have Justin’s anti-Marcion work.

    Also, I am curious about what you think Paul is discussing in Romans 11. Do you think this makes more sense in a pre-70 CE context or a post 130 CE context?

    This is too broad a question. You would need to zero in on the particulars of your own views and I can try to respond to that.

    Finally, do you think it was common practice in the first century for individuals to write letters to the entire Christian community of whole cities and regions? Is it reasonable to assume that someone would write a letter to all the cities in Galatea, for example, rather than name an individual or a congregation that had been problematic? Galatea is a pretty large area.

    You may be creating a problem here which does not really exist. We have nothing near an autograph for these letters, which could originally have been addressed to a congregation. I think that highly likely. After all, a letter has to be sent to a particular destination. When the letters were collected and published or bundled into a canon, such particulars could well have been dropped. It became a convention to style such an epistle as “To the Galatians.” Not that the receiving congregation couldn’t have made a point of circulating the original, or copies of it, to nearby congregations, whether Paul intended that or not.

    Earl Doherty

    • Evan
      2011-04-05 09:34:59 UTC - 09:34 | Permalink

      As I am sure you are aware, 1 Clement has been questioned by the Dutch Radicals on multiple grounds as a first century product. I assume you have reasons for the objections to the authenticity of 1 Clement listed here. It does strike me that the first objection is the most cogent. Would someone really write a letter that long in antiquity?

      As for Romans 11, it seems to me that the whole chapter is a disquisition on the destruction of Jerusalem.

      Finally, Galatians is explicitly addressed to the Galatians within the heart of the text, in Galatians 3. Would an ancient author write a book to the Alexandrians saying that they were all foolish? It doesn’t seem like the kind of letter a real person who knew real people would write.

  • 2011-04-05 04:30:44 UTC - 04:30 | Permalink

    Mike Gantt: Earl, I cannot tell from this post (or the one from which it was spawned) what you think Paul believed about the Christ. That is, do you think he was a perpetrator of the Christ myth or a victim of it?

    Or, are you saying that Paul believed only in a heavenly Christ, devoid of any earthly existence, and that subsequent generations imposed on Paul the belief that there indeed had been a historical Jesus that had given rise to the heavenly Christ?

    I’m not sure about the difference between your multiple choices here, but it’s pretty clear you haven’t read either of my books. Anyway, I don’t regard Paul as the originator of the early Christ cult which believed in a heavenly Son who had undergone (not on earth) a sacrifice as a redemptive act and who was expected to come (not return) to earth shortly. It predated him, though by how much is unknown, though I think it would be a matter of at most a few decades. But I think we can certainly say that he brought a greater degree of sophistication to its christology and soteriological system than it had previously enjoyed.

    And your second choice above encapsulates the matter perfectly.

    Earl Doherty

    • 2011-04-05 05:38:31 UTC - 05:38 | Permalink

      Thanks, Earl. So let me restate your view and see if I’m perceiving it accurately. Some group, no more than several decades prior to Paul, originated a “Christ cult which believed in a heavenly Son who had undergone (not on earth) a sacrifice as a redemptive act and who was expected to come (not return) to earth shortly.” Paul was somehow converted to this belief system (though probably not through the Damascus Road experience), and enhanced the cult’s belief system christologically and soteriologically as he preached and wrote about it. Subsequent to his death, others superimposed an historical Jesus prequel on this cult’s belief system and forged documents (gospels, other epistles) in support of that prequel phase. Is this an accurate representation of your view?

      • Geoff Hudson
        2011-04-05 08:34:28 UTC - 08:34 | Permalink

        And prior to any Christ cult, there was a group of Jews who followed the Spirit, basically as in Acts. These were Jewish prophets. They were the seekers of smooth things in the DSS. The priests had killed James who was Nero’s long established friend. The prophets let Nero’s forces into Jerusalem in 66 – this was changed by later Flavian editors to Idumeans who strangely used the Roman tortoise in their approach to the walls of Jerusalem. Nero’s forces (the so-called ‘Idumeans’) did what they came to do. The soldiers killed the priests who had gone to war with the Romans. The War scroll, 4QMMT and the Temple Scroll all support where the priest’s increasing paranoia was taking them. Then there was a period of peace of about four years. The sanctuary was left intact. The ‘coins of revolt’ were coins of peace. Land was bought and sold. Nero left a garrison in Jerusalem. Vespasian was appointed as governor of Syria. He had been with Nero during battles to first take the fortresses along the Dead Sea starting with Masada, then Qumran, then Machaerus. The prophets were the occupants of the temple when Titus commanded it to be destroyed, that was after he had stripped it of all its gold. Then Titus took the gold and the temple treasure, and the 800 or so remaining prophets for his and Vespasian’s triumph.

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2011-04-05 07:14:44 UTC - 07:14 | Permalink

    Why “forged…(gospels…)”?

    There was no Gilgamesh. Mythical stories were nevertheless written about Gilgamesh. Were they forged?

    Say I acquire the belief that Long John Silver was a real historical person and write a biography of him based on the events narrated in Treasure Island: does the novel become a forgery and not a simple work of fiction because of my belief?

  • 2011-04-05 13:22:02 UTC - 13:22 | Permalink

    Well, Mike, your summary essentially states it up to a point (the point where you introduce the Gospels, but I’ll get to that). Somehow, though, I get an impression you regard that summary as illustrating that the whole thing is ridiculous. I can assure you it is anything but.

    In regard to the Gospels (and I echo C. J. here), no one designed them to pull the wool over Christian eyes. No one was purposely intending to “forge” a prequel to the Christ cult as it stood in Paul’s time. In my view, the Gospels inadvertently created a story and a character, essentially an allegory, which as time passed came to be associated with the heavenly Christ Paul believed in, and to be misinterpreted as history. Two separate expressions on the first century scene came to be amalgamated in the Gospel of Mark and spread from there. It’s a fascinating story, actually, and it took me 800 pages to lay it out with all the supporting evidence and argument I could muster. You might find it interesting.

    Earl Doherty

    • 2011-04-06 19:50:43 UTC - 19:50 | Permalink

      Earl, thanks for your further thoughts. I must confess that your thesis does sound ridiculous even though I was trying to summarize it accurately and not in caricature. Nonetheless, theories like yours sound like Holocaust denials, flat earth societies, Howard Hughes fakes, and “The Beatles’ Paul is dead” discussions. Large tomes of 800 pages are required to draw someone in deeply enough to get them to suspend common sense long enough to accept the premise.

      I respect you as a person. You are certaintly academic, and, more importantly, seem sincere. However, you are overlooking the obvious facts about Jesus in search of an explanation that renders Him meaningless. That Paul could have believed in a Christ who never lived on earth would require a conspiracy of untold proportions to make his letters so clearly say otherwise.

      Earl, you are reminding me of the truth that when a human heart does not want to do something, his mind will generate a thousand reasons why the thing should not be done. God loves you and wants you to use your great mind for Him, not against Him. For if you put Him first in your heart, your love for humanity will only grow.

      Jesus Christ is Lord.

      • Steven Carr
        2011-04-06 20:13:16 UTC - 20:13 | Permalink

        It is the Gospels that have conspiracy theories, complete down to the last detail of the secret government meetings where a cover up is planned.

      • TruthOverfaith
        2011-04-10 19:12:46 UTC - 19:12 | Permalink

        Mike Gantt said “Earl,..when a human heart does not want to do something , his mind will generate a thousand reasons why the thing should not be done.”

        Mike, are you really so obnoxiously ignorant and arrogant that you are completely unable to believe that someone might intensely study the origins and history of Jesus/Christianity/God with an open mind and not come to the same brainwashed and deluded conclusions as you apparently have?

        • 2011-04-10 19:41:09 UTC - 19:41 | Permalink

          The Bible itself instructs that it is from God and anyone who relies on his own understanding and comes to a different conclusion is a fool, self-willed, arrogant, a lover of perversion and hater of God. I think a good and faithful believer would take being called “obnoxiously ignorant and arrogant” as a badge of honour — confirming that the whole world lies in darkness and speaks evil of the lights shining for God.

          It’s one of the evils of bibliolatry.

          I’m tempted to align myself with Jesus Christ when he condemned the Pharisees for keeping the gates of the Kingdom shut to the laity in Matthew 23:13

          But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees and biblical scholars, hypocrites! for ye shut up the truth about the Bible and its myths against men: for ye neither publicize your unbelief and scholarly scepticism, neither suffer ye those who would learn the truth to go in to full understanding. . . . You keep them in ignorance and bigotry. Must not upset their little faith and introduce them to the scourge of rational thought and secular humanistic values.

          Of course we know of a few exceptions.

  • 2011-04-05 14:12:55 UTC - 14:12 | Permalink

    Evan: As I am sure you are aware, 1 Clement has been questioned by the Dutch Radicals on multiple grounds as a first century product. I assume you have reasons for the objections to the authenticity of 1 Clement listed here. It does strike me that the first objection is the most cogent. Would someone really write a letter that long in antiquity?

    As for Romans 11, it seems to me that the whole chapter is a disquisition on the destruction of Jerusalem.

    Finally, Galatians is explicitly addressed to the Galatians within the heart of the text, in Galatians 3. Would an ancient author write a book to the Alexandrians saying that they were all foolish? It doesn’t seem like the kind of letter a real person who knew real people would write.

    I guess all I can say is that these objections (leaving aside Romans 11 for now) strike me as extremely subjective. If the length of 1 Clement is the most cogent argument the Dutch Radicals have to reject the authenticity of the epistle (I read a couple of their articles many years ago, but can only vaguely recall their details), it’s not much of a case. It actually seems to be somewhat fallacious, since if it’s a forgery, it still remains just as long and the question stays on the table.

    Nor do I find it hard to envision Paul speaking to a specific congregation as “You Galatians.” Surely this is not much on which to base a rejection of the epistle as ‘authentic’. Besides, if Paul had visited Galatia, it would be entirely feasible that he had given rise to or visited more than one congregation, justifying a collective address.

    As for Romans 11, this illustrates a point I have often made. If this passage were meant to reflect an agenda, a commentary on the fall of Jerusalem in 70 (rather than the failure of the Jews, in Paul’s eyes, to respond to his and others’ preaching about the Son), such an agenda would surely be more clearly discernable. Christian forgers have never been known for their subtlety (just look at the Testimonium Flavianum). I don’t think anyone not predisposed to finding support for a 2nd century forgery of Paul would think to interpret Romans 11 in that fashion. And what about the rest of Romans? For such an appeal to chapter 11 to have any force, we should find the entire epistle reflecting an agenda pertinent to a 2nd century writer. It does anything but.

    Nor do I find convincing of a 2nd century forgery Paul’s concern not to cast the Jews entirely into outer darkness. He is in fact at pains to assure his readers that eventually all the Jews will be saved. This does not ring true of 2nd century gentile orthodoxy, which seems to have had no compunction about relegating the Jews permanently to perdition. And there is an utter absence in Romans (and everywhere else except the widely-judged interpolation in 1 Thess. 2:15-16) of any concept that the Jews had been in any way responsible for Jesus’ death. In fact, that is one of the glaring silences right in Romans 11. Paul appeals to Elijah’s words about the killing of the prophets, with not a hint that they had killed the greatest of these right in Paul’s own lifetime. No 2nd century forger could possibly have left that void staring out at the reader if he had any knowledge of the Gospel story. Nor would it have been anachronistic, for a Paul he was forging would be expected to know that the Jews had killed Jesus.

    I find that right across the board, the arguments used by some for maintaining a second century Paul and other related interpretations of the record suffer from serious flaws and are up against a lot of counter indicators. Their case is simply not compelling enough and too problematic.

    Earl Doherty

    • Evan
      2011-04-05 23:53:36 UTC - 23:53 | Permalink

      Earl, thank you for your response, I am understanding your position better. You use the principle of analogy frequently in JNGNM and to great effect. My favorite is the gentleman who is reputed to have won a lottery but dies claiming he never got a break. So I think the best question would be, do we know of any analogous non-Christian letters to the epistles of Clement and Paul?

      Also, I think you would agree that early Christianity seems to have been riven by a dispute between “Pauline” and “Petrine” factions. Various stories were told about the two leaders of the sects. Some odd things seem to show up — what is your explanation for the correspondence between the story of Paul and the lion that occurs in the Acts of Paul and supposedly earlier books like 2 Tim 4:17 and 1 Cor 15:32, did the historical Paul actually have an “Androcles and the Lion” event that was widely known about? Is it possible this whole story was interpolated into two different letters by different authors? Were the epistles originally longer, with such a story extant within them, or did the authors of the epistles know the story from the Acts of Paul.

      Similarly, in the Acts of the Apostles there is a story about Paul being lowered from a city a la Rahab. This is echoed in 2 Cor. Did this story from scripture really repeat itself? Is the line in 2 Cor an interpolation, or is the story from Acts an expansion on the idea found in 2 Cor?

      • 2011-04-11 05:33:43 UTC - 05:33 | Permalink

        Was “early” Christianity “riven” by disputes between Paul and Peter? I don’t see much evidence for that. Gal. 2 has Peter reneging on eating with gentiles in Antioch, but that hardly speaks to some great dispute between whole factions centered on Peter and Paul. The latter is a much later legendary development as far as I can see, and none of it contributes to an argument that there is no authentic Paul datable in the first century.

        Nor does a general dispute over requirements to be imposed on gentiles in regard to the Law, with Paul on one side and the Jerusalem group on the other necessarily support a second century Pauline forgery. That could find a home just as easily in the first century, if not more so.

        Also, you read far too much into innocent passages, it seems to me. 2 Tim. 4:17, speaking of Paul being rescued from the lion’s mouth, is simply a figurative expression, much like our own (Bauer agrees). Similarly 1 Cor. 15:32. (The NEB even identifies it as such: “If, as the saying is, I ‘fought wild beasts’ at Ephesus…”). Quite possibly the scene in the Acts of Paul was inspired by a fanciful reading of those passages. But again, what does this do for determining a late date and forgery of Paul? A straightforward derivation is the most likely explanation.

        I don’t know which came first, the Rahab chicken in 2 Cor. or the Rahab egg in Acts. A real-life event like that is not infeasible, and Acts would reflect knowledge of it. There is certainly no need to deduce some kind of inauthenticity for a first century Paul on its basis, and even if the 2 Cor. reference were an interpolation based on Acts, that hardly speaks to no first century Paul with any force.

        It is things like this which I regard as good examples of the very ambiguous and lightweight nature of the arguments against first-century Pauline authenticity.

        Earl Doherty

        • 2011-04-11 18:36:42 UTC - 18:36 | Permalink

          At the risk of sounding very odd: What do you consider to be the core reasons for dating Paul to the mid-first century? (Obviously — I hope — I’m not suggesting there is no reason to accept this. I’m always interested in revisiting basics, and understanding why we should or should not take them for granted.)

  • Geoff Hudson
    2011-04-05 19:48:23 UTC - 19:48 | Permalink

    I think that people see more in the extant NT than it deserves. And for someone to write (and someone to read 800 pages) is too much. People who cannot bring themselves to think that the earliest ‘Christianity’ came out of Judaism are wasting time.

  • Mark Erickson
    2014-07-14 04:57:39 UTC - 04:57 | Permalink

    I can’t read the comment thread right now, but wow, very unimpressed by the main post. Paul existed because there are a bunch of non-coherent letters supposed to be from “Paul”?

  • 2016-12-06 04:37:25 UTC - 04:37 | Permalink

    Citing an unhistoric, second-century Acts as in any way offering proof for the existence of a Paul? HFffffft.

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