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.)
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