2011-04-06

Struggling with a date for Paul’s letters

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is a kind of “thinking aloud” series of responses to Doherty’s list of reasons for adhering to the conventional wisdom on Paul. I am primarily concerned with the relative dates of the letters. It makes no difference to me if the real person behind them was Buttox who sold the world on his pen-name Paul. What counts is the place of the letters in the history of Christian origins.

Earl Doherty’s reasons (reduced to dot-points in my previous post) are in bold type, with my reflections following. There are, of course, various other arguments than those addressed below for sometimes dating the letters well into the second century. But I am only considering these few explicit arguments for the first century (really meaning pre 70 ce) date here.

# Paul’s epistles do not reflect orthodox beliefs in historical Jesus. We would expect them to reflect this if they were second century.

This is one of the reasons I am not willing to toss overboard a first century (pre 70 ce) period for the letters of Paul.

But is this decisive?

I have no problem with some form of first century (pre 70 ce) precursors to orthodox Christianity, but if we are arguing for a “riotous diversity” of Christianities from the beginning, at what point do we introduce a trend to coalesce some of these towards orthodoxy? Does not the evidence from the mid and later second centuries, albeit provenanced among “proto-orthodox fathers”, testify to a very diverse riot of Christianities at that time? Does not the Ascension of Isaiah testify to something of a Pauline-like Christ figure being worshipped in the early part of the second century?

# Claims that Paul’s epistles reflect Marcionism are weak.

Yes, they do not quickly strike us as blindingly obvious. But Marcionism was not the only form of Christianity that reportedly followed Paul before he was embraced by the orthodox. Besides, our evidence for Marcionism comes from the later part of the second century and we have no clear idea if its characteristics at that time are a clear indicator of what it was like in its initiating generation.

# Sections in Paul’s letters that have been said to reflect anti-Marcionite polemics are best explained as later ad hoc orthodox editing.

Agreed. But the second century lasted a hundred years. One can understand the likes of Tertullian arranging for copyists to edit the letters in the latter part of that century.

# The slightly “jumbled, inconsistent” character of the Pauline epistles is what we would expect from uncoordinated and mostly occasional writings spanning years and different situations. (Notwithstanding some clear tampering in the second century as well.)

Yes. But the devil is in the detail. The jumbles and inconsistencies need to be examined case by case to see if each is best explained as being part of a set of occasional writing or as an interpolation (using criteria such as those advanced by Walker and Munro.)

# “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.”

Disagree with this one. There is little doubt that the reader meets an emotionally expressive letter-writer in several of the epistles. But it does not follow that the real author (as opposed to the narrative/literary persona that is expressed through the letters) is to be identified with the one named within the letters themselves. The Paul character was claimed by a number of diverse “sects” and each had their own image of Paul that they expressed in various genres: Acts of the Apostles, Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Pastorals, and our Pauline corpus too? Expressing a character type in creative writing was certainly within the bounds of an educated person who had been through the normal literary exercises of writing from various character points-of-view, writing with verisimilitude in letter formats, etc. Indeed, a group of letters expressing a strong personality would have more potential for competing with dramatic narratives in the long run.

# Paul is mentioned in 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius (probably written in his name, but early in the 2nd century).

This brings us to something more solid. We have no way of deciding whether a strong personality should be identified with a real author or with a literary persona, and hence we have no prima facie reason for defaulting the epistles to a real Paul in the mid first century. Enter external attestation for the purpose of relative dating. (I have spoken often of the historiographical truism of independent attestation for verifying historicity, but here the question is relative dating.)

But still the question of whether or not the Pauline epistles predate the fall of Jerusalem is not securely settled in my mind. Doherty presents strong arguments for dating 1 Clement and Ignatius no later than the (very) early second century. But I have not studied the arguments for the various datings of these works for some years, and have a new book by Roger Parvus reviving Turmel’s argument for the Ignatius letters belonging to a period well into the second century that I have yet to read. I would need to revisit 1 Clement and Ignatius before committing myself either way on this point.

As for the content of Paul’s letters, such as Romans 11 and its relationship to the fall of Jerusalem, there is certainly a disconnect between the thought in Romans 11 towards the Jews and what is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (a clear post-70 text).

This internal evidence does draw me towards a pre-70 date for the letters.

It is not absolutely decisive, however. There are a few what-if alternative scenarios that it does not necessarily exclude.

As for Justin not mentioning Paul, I do find myself in synch with Earl Doherty on this one, too. Paul belonged to a different branch of Christianity — even if that was Marcionism or Valentinians — with which Justin had no interest in engaging.

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33 thoughts on “Struggling with a date for Paul’s letters”

  1. 1 Thess 2:15 and 16 may have come from an earlier original.

    (14)For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s [churches] {assemblies} in [Judea] {Rome}, which are in [Christ Jesus] {the Spirit}: You suffered from [your own countrymen] {Ananus and his brothers} the same things those [churches] {assemblies} suffered from the [Jews] {high priests},
    (15)who killed [the Lord Jesus and] the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men(16)in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be [saved] {cleansed}. In this way they always heap up the wrath of God upon them.

    Were the prophets of the NT seeing their message of the Spirit as applicable to all men?

  2. I have read Parvus’ book; it’s on my shelf. I can say that the first portion is worth reading, though I don’t find it yet convincing. The latter part is far too speculative to be persuasive when he thinks he knows who the real author of the letters of Ignatius are. I also found the author to be rather selective in his quotes, so be wary of his use of primary sources.

    Unfortunately, I can’t find anything by this author beside this one book. When I type his name into WorldCat, one of the items that comes up is Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Am I supposed to think the library considers this a joke?

    1. Gilgamesh,

      The only book I’ve written is “A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and other Apellean Writings.” The book was self-published. I’m just an amateur; a former Catholic priest who years ago lost faith in revealed religion but never lost my fascination with early Christian history and literature.

      I can’t deny that the last chapter of the book is speculative. And there are some parts of my theory that I’m less confident about than others. But I remain as convinced as ever that the three main contentions I make in the book are correct, namely:

      (1) The original letters were written around 145 CE by Peregrinus Proteus.
      (2) His brand of Christianity was Apellean, i.e. he belonged to the sect founded by the ex-Marcionite Apelles.
      (3) Some time between 180 and 220 CE a proto-orthodox Christian reworked the letters of Peregrinus and turned them into letters of Ignatius.

      Regarding my 145 CE date for the original letters: I have noticed that in the last few years a number of scholars have also pushed the date of the letters into the second quarter of the second century. For example, Allen Brent, in his “Ignatius of Antioch and the Second Sophistic” (2006) says “we can…, if we like, place Ignatius’ work towards the end of Hadrian’s reign (AD 135)” (p. 318). And Paul Foster, in “The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers” (2007) places the time of composition of the Ignatians at “some time during the second quarter of the second century, i.e. 125 – 50 CE, roughly corresponding to Hadrian’s reign or the earlier part of Antoninus Pius’ period in office” (p. 89). In a 2008 article in ‘The Expository Times,’ Timothy Barnes concluded that the letters were written “probably in the 140s” (p. 128). And Richard Pervo, in his “The Making of Paul” (2010) says “A date of c. 130 – 140 is the preferable date for Ignatius” (p. 135). But with the exception of Brent, these scholars don’t bring Peregrinus into their picture of Antioch in the 140s , even though – based on the information provided by Lucian of Samosata – that was likely the time that Peregrinus was jailed there.

      Brent thinks Lucian used Ignatian material for his portrayal of Peregrinus. But, as you know, I argue that the original letters were written by Peregrinus. And that after Peregrinus’ death a proto-orthodox redactor — recognizing the merits of the letters but knowing they were damaged goods both because of Peregrinus’ Apellean affiliation and his subsequent apostasy from Christianity altogether — decided to modify them in a way that would disguise their true origin and make them suitable for proto-orthodox use. I don’t think the redactor’s primary objective was to support Roman pretensions to some kind of authority over all other churches. He was mainly trying to salvage letters whose sentiments regarding martyrdom he very much admired. He realized how inspirational the letters could be to members of his church facing persecution by the state.

      1. Roger,

        Thank you for the response and summary. The sources you included were ones I was not aware of, and I’m glad they have been made better known. Indeed, I have wondered about the authenticity/dating of these works, and it really is starting to look like scholars are pushing the date of the Ignatian letters to the middle of the 2nd century.

        As for your work, have you tried writing any articles on some aspect of what you have argued? I think you would have more impact via the peer review process, and the less speculative aspects of your writing could change heads. I have also suspected occasional interpolation, so making the case for it existing in any of the letters may significantly effect the way modern scholars look at early Christianity.

        1. Gilgamesh,

          I am working on an article but it will not just be on a particular aspect of my Ignatian theory. It will be a boiled down version of the theory I presented in my book , and so it will still include my three main contentions (i.e. that the original letters were letters of Peregrinus; that he was an Apellean Christian when he wrote them; and that they were later modified by a proto-orthodox Christian). I intend to leave out anything that can distract from those points. So, for instance, instead of explaining — as I did in my book — how my theory is related to that of Turmel and Loisy, I will just lay out the arguments in a straightforward way. My aim is to present a shorter and easier-to-follow exposition without any distracting side issues.

          Since I am an amateur I can’t really expect my theory to receive any attention via peer review process. But I’m naïve enough to think that, if my theory is convincing enough, it may in time be noticed by someone who is in a position to bring its arguments out for peer review.

  3. Given the generally accepted belief that only some of the letters attributed to Paul are forgeries, it should follow that the ones that aren’t forgeries were written before Paul died. This may be a stupid question, but isn’t the first step trying to figure out when Paul died? John D. Keyser suggested that Paul died before Nero committed suicide in June of 68 and discussed several proposed dates of death for Paul prior to the death of Nero.

  4. The authenticity of the seven “genuine” letters is widely believed to have been established beyond all possible doubt. Nothing could be more wrong. In January 2010, Günther Schwab (University of Salzburg) defended a doctoral thesis according to which Philemon, Philippians, Galatians, and 1 Thessalonians should probably be classified as pseudepigraphical; see

    https://sites.google.com/site/echtheitswahrscheinlichkeit/home

    The preface is written by Wolfgang Speyer, who forty years ago authored a widely cited book on literary forgeries in the ancient world (“Die literarische Fälschung im Altertum”). Speyer, in the preface to Schwab’s dissertation, says (my translation):

    “The comprehensive introduction discusses the potentiality of the criticism of authenticity, emphasizing on historical linguistics. The methods of contemporary criminology are taken into account. A preliminary review is given of the state of knowledge and of the essence of the criticism of authenticity as applied to the Pauline letters and their 2nd-century reception. The voices of 19th-century biblical scholars are combined with the voices from the 20th and 21st centuries. In the main part of the dissertation, the author compares the four epistles with the other Pauline epistles and with the Acts of the Apostles, using computer analysis and focusing on linguistic and stylistic elements. The result of these investigations reveals that the judgment in favour of inauthenticity has a more solid foundation than has been realized. Considerable amounts of circumstantial evidence militate against the assumed authenticity of the epistles.”

      1. Hi Neil,

        Acts is relevant only as far as the two opening chapters of Galatians are concerned:

        (1) Paul the persecutor. Acts 8:3; 9:1-2 versus Gal. 1:13-14
        (2) Paul the convert. Acts 9:3-19a versus Gal. 1:15-16c
        (3) Paul in Damascus/Arabia. Acts 9:19b-20; 9:22 versus Gal. 1:16d-17
        (4) Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem. Acts 9:26-29 versus Gal. 1:18-19; 1:22
        (5) Paul travels to Cilicia/Tarsus. Acts 9:30 versus Acts 1:21
        (6) Rumours about Paul. Acts 9:21 versus Gal. 1:22-24
        (7) Long period of silence. Acts 9:31-11:24 versus Gal. 2:1a
        (8) Paul and Barnabas in Jerusalem. Acts 15:1-29 versus Gal. 2:1b-10
        (9) The Jew-Gentile controversy. Acts 11:1-18 versus Gal. 2:11-21
        (10) Paul’s return to Antioch. Acts 15:30-35 versus Gal. 2:11

        I have not yet read the entire thing, but on p. 405 (Vol. I) the author seems to suggest that Gal. 1:1; 1:11-12; 1:15-24; 2:1-6; 2:11-21; 5:11 may have been written as a reply to Acts. Some of the linguistic parallels between Galatians and Acts are “Lucanisms” and do not occur in the other six “genuine” epistles.

        1. Thanks Michael. I’m wondering if Schwab’s includes statistics sans Acts.

          I am thankful I learned French at school and uni, but am kicking myself for never having the interest years ago to take up German as well. Relying on web-translators is a real pain.

  5. “according to which Philemon, Philippians, Galatians, and 1 Thessalonians should probably be classified as pseudepigraphical”

    I strongly disagree that any of these documents are totally false. This is a coarse and useless classification. The results should classify individual parts of a document. The computer has to be told by a human what is original. Even more difficult for any computer is: what has been changed from something that was original?

  6. I’m hardly a philologist, but it strikes me as odd when something counts differently in two different situations when it is in fact the same.

    From Ehrman’s Forged:

    “Paul probably did not write 2 Thessalonians. That makes one feature of the letter particularly intriguing. At the end of the letter the author insists he is Paul and gives a kind of proof: “I Paul write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark of every letter of mine, it is the way I write.” (3:17) This means that “Paul” had been dictating the letter to a scribe who had written it all down, until the end, when Paul signed off with his own hand. Readers of the letter could see the change of handwriting and recognize Paul’s, authenticating this letter as really his, as opposed to the forged one mentioned in 2:2. What is peculiar is that the author claims that this is his invariant practice. But it is not how most of the undisputed letters of Paul end, including 1 Thessalonians. The words are hard to account for as Paul’s, but they make sense if a forger is trying to convince his readers he really was Paul. But perhaps the queen doth protest too much.”

    Galatians 6:10-18 NIV

    “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[a] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”

    Why does this not clearly mark Galatians out as a forgery as well?

  7. I agree with Eisenman that Paul is the Saulos in Josephus, and the last we hear from Saulos is 66 CE in Greece (War 2.558), where he conferred with Nero regarding the beginning of the war with Rome (which is the same time period that Paul is believed to have died in Christian tradition). This would mean that some of his letters could be genuine and date before this time.

    There are other “similarities” in the lives of Saulos and Paul besides being contemporaries (and according to Whiston’s index, there was no one else named Saulos in the first century). Both were pro-Roman and anti-war (I think that’s obvious in Paul’s case) and acted as agents of the ruling estabishment to use violence against those who were weaker than them:

    “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it,” Gal. 1:13; “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison,” Acts 8:3; “Costobarus also, and Saulus, did get themselves together a multitude of wretches, and this because they were of the royal family, and so they obtained favor among them, because of their relationship to Agrippa, but still they used violence with the people, and were ready to plunder those that were weaker than themselves,” Ant. 20.214)

    Both were possibly related to the Herodians (certainly Saulos was), which would explain Paul’s Roman citizenship and ability to appeal to Caesar and converse so freely with (and even try to convert) Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:23-26:32), as well as Paul’s greetings to “those who belong to the family of Aristobulus … [and] my kinsman Herodion,” (Rom. 16:10-11) and “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22), as well as his relationship with Epaphroditus, Paul’s “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25-30), who may have been one and the same as Nero’s secretary and Josephus’ publisher, who was “a lover of all kind of learning, but is mainly delighted with the knowledge of history, and this on account of his having been himself concerned in great affairs, and many turns of fortune,” (Ant. 1.8). It also explains the presence of Manaen, “a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch,” in Paul’s Antioch church (Acts 13:1).

    Being a Herodian explains why Paul could wield the power ascribed to him in Acts and the Recognitions of Clement:

    “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way … he might bring them bound to Jerusalem,” Acts 9:1-2; cf. the Recognitions of Clement 1.70-71, where the enemy of James’ group “received a commission from Caiaphas, the High Priest…that he should arrest all who believed in Jesus, and should go to Damascus with his letters, and that there also, employing the help of unbelievers, he should make havoc among the faithful, and that he was hastening to Damascus chiefly on this account,” and Josephus: “Costobarus also, and Saulus, did get themselves together a multitude of wretches, and this because they were of the royal family, and so they obtained favor among them, because of their relationship to Agrippa, but still they used violence with the people, and were ready to plunder those that were weaker than themselves,” Ant. 20.214).

    And “Damascus” here is best understood as the Land of Damascus of the Dead Sea Scrolls (where “the New Covenant” was being practised by those of “the Way”) rather than the city in Syria, for what authority would a high priest have over the latter?

    Anyway, that’s Eisenman’s idea in a nutshell, and I buy it. And along with the strong parallels in the Dead Sea Scrolls concerning the Spouter of Lies, it makes me feel confident that Paul existed in the first century and that some of his letters are genuine. It involves accepting that some parts of Acts are trustworthy, but they are, in Eisenman’s words, only like pebbles you can see through its murk of obfuscations and disinformation.

    I apologize for being so long-winded, but I wanted to put this all out there and see what might be thought of this idea, even setting the DSS aside.

  8. Well John, what you say is somewhat interesting. But if Saulos converted to the Way, wouldn’t Josephus have seen fit to mention that? If he was traveling across the Mare Nostrum setting up churches and working miracles, might this not get a nod in Josephus? Josephus certainly would have known how the story ended.

    1. From Josephus’ perspective, what would Saulos have “converted” to? “The Way” was just another Jewish sect. Josephus says of himself that he tried out the various sects until deciding to become a Pharisee. Did he have to “convert” to each one? Likewise, he does not refer to James as a “Christian” (what meaning would that have had at that time and place? Even Acts says that Christians were first called Christians in Antioch), or “those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws [who] disliked what was done” to James and protested to have the high priest who ordered his death removed (Ant. 20.201).

      As for knowing how “the story” ended, not even the author of the very pro-Paul Acts seems to know what happened to Paul, or if they did, chose not to tell us. Josephus tells us “more” about Saulos/Paul than Acts, as Acts ends in 62 CE and Josephus, as we have it, goes up to 66.

      Eisenman speculates that Paul may have been murdered by “extremists” when the war started, like those that declared an oath to kill him in Acts 23:12-15; or perhaps he was executed by Nero as Christian tradition supposes (where is that anyway, the Acts of Paul?) for creating this “revolutionary” Christ thing. In any event, perhaps it was something embarrassing that the author of Acts was not eager to reveal (if they knew). It’s a mystery.

      Maybe Josephus did say something more about Saulos and it was removed by Christian scribes. I’m not saying I believe that, but who knows? In any event, it’s not something I feel is worth overlooking the fact that what he does say about Saulos sounds a lot like Paul.

      1. As far as whatever else Saulos may have done, am I wrong that Josephus is interested in telling us about events pertaining to the war and the part that Saulos played in it? James did other stuff besides get executed. Why doesn’t he tell us “more” about James?

    1. Yes. The passage referring to James may or may not, whether in part or completely, be an interpolation, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be genuine, aside from maybe the “brother of Jesus called Christ” part (though it wouldn’t bother me one way or the other). How could we know anything about James or other early “Christians” if we can’t accept anything Josephus, Paul’s letters, gospels and acts (canonical or not), Church fathers or the Clementine literature have to say about them? I don’t believe someone from the second century would make up Paul and all his letters (though some of his letters, yes) as a mouthpiece for their beliefs, AND make up an ideological opponent for him (James), members of whose group caused Cephas, Barnabas and “the rest of the Jews” to shun him in Antioch over table fellowship with gentiles (Gal. 2:11-13). What would be the purpose of that?

      This shunning, btw, is what is required in the Community Rule when dealing with law breakers: “No man shall consort with him in regard to his work or property lest he be burdened with the guilt of his sin. He shall indeed keep away from him in all things … No member of the Community shall follow them in matters of doctrine and justice, or eat or drink anyting of theirs … [f]or all those not reckoned in His Covenant are to be set apart, together with all that is theirs” (Vermes column 5).

  9. W.C. van Manen was, I think, the first to claim that Galatians might not have been written by Paul. Even leaving aside the fact that virtually all scholars for the past century have rejected Manen’s claim, though, I’m not sure how it holds up. If someone forged Galatians in Paul’s name, it had to have been Marcion – the correspondence with his views is too striking to be coincidence. Either Marcion got his views from Galatians, or Marcion came up with his views on his own and then wrote Galatians to support them and give them Paul’s stamp of approval.

    But if Marcion forged this letter, then the question becomes why no proto-orthodox Christians called him out on it. The Muratorian Canon says that the Marcionites forged two Pauline letters (one to the Laodiceans and one to the Alexandrians) but it accepts Galatians as genuine. (Sure, it also accepts the Pastorals, but those were deliberately proto-orthodox and didn’t pose the theological challenges Galatians did.) And while Tertullian accuses Marcion of cutting out sections from Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s epistles, he never accuses him of forging Galatians, despite the fact that such an accusation would have deprived the Marcionites of one of their strongest scriptural foundations.

    1. Though at the present moment I am losing my earlier confidence of the likelihood of Galatians being a Marcionite product, a question that comes to mind here is how Galatians or any letter might have been expected to have been known prior the Marcionite controversy with “orthodoxy”.

      If the Pauline corpus was only known to “orthodox/proto-orthodox” through their promotion via the “heretics”, then why would anyone have questioned the authenticity of the letters per se as “Pauline”?

      1. I’d like to know why there is such a disconnect. Why is the mention of writing in his own hand in 2 Thess seen as a marker for forgery when it is ignored in Galatians?

    2. Josh, I think it’s pretty obvious why Tertullian wouldn’t say such a thing, he couldn’t say that Marcion forged Galatians without having to throw it out of the canon as a forgery from a heretic.

  10. John — From what you have outlined it sounds as if so much of Eisenman’s thesis relies on Acts being grounded in something historical about Paul. What would happen to Eisenman’s theory if the relevant deeds of Paul could be shown to be “virtual” analogs of Peter in Acts and Jesus before the priests and Pilate as per the gospels? What if the only reason for thinking “Paul” was originally “Saul” could be shown to be very likely a “midrashic” type derivation from the biblical history of King Saul?

    1. I disagree with your statement that “it sounds as if so much of Eisenman’s thesis relies on Acts being grounded in something historical about Paul.” As he says in James the Brother of Jesus (pp. 93-95):

      “[T]he reader should realize that the Book of Acts cannot be considered a historical presentation. There is too much mythologizing, too much that is out-and-out fiction, too much fantasizing. Important materials are left out, yet, underlying the presentation, the broad lines of a ceratin kind of history can be discerned … It would be more accurate to say that Acts is realy a narrative about the “acts” of the Holy Spirit .. and true history goes by the boards from the beginning.”

      As history, he says, “it is often impossible to follow,” (p. 27).

      The same points of Eisenman’s thesis can be made about Saulos/Paul using only Josephus and Galatians, with additonal parallels in the Recognitions of Clement and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
      “[U]sing the Pseudoclementine Recognitions for control, it is possible to make some sense out of these early and highly mythologized chapters of the Book of Acts … [They] give a picture of the early chruch … at odds with the one presented in Acts, yet meshing with it ay key points … [A] case can be made for their being based on the same source as Acts … but the material is being treated differently in one narrative than in the other … [T]he Pseudoclementines are more faithful to the sense of this source and a more faithful presentation of it than Acts.”

      “It can be objected that the Pseudoclementines are not history but fiction … [b]ut this is what we are dealing with in regard to most documents from this period … [A]ll such documents must be treated equally, according to the same parameters,” (pp. 76-77).

      It is arguable that the Recognitions are based on a lost Ebionite source, and Eisenman is not the only scholar to suggest this possiblity.

      But even without that, we have Paul’s attestation that he perscuted the early church violently, and his arguable references to knowing and being related to Herodians and haivng contacts with people in the household of Casear, which is certainly in keeping with Josephus’ portrait of Saulos.

      1. Neil,

        I’ve been pondering these questions you asked me:

        “What would happen to Eisenman’s theory if the relevant deeds of Paul could be shown to be “virtual” analogs of Peter in Acts and Jesus before the priests and Pilate as per the gospels? What if the only reason for thinking “Paul” was originally “Saul” could be shown to be very likely a “midrashic” type derivation from the biblical history of King Saul?”

        I did a couple searches of your blog for “Saul” and “midrash,” and though it may exist, I couldn’t find any mention of these ideas you mention (a possible candidate could be Spong, but I’m only aware of him from your blog), so I can’t respond to your quesitons until I know more about it. I’d be interested if you could point me to a relevant post or scholar, or discuss it in a future post or comment.

        1. I can’t find anything either. Maybe the closest would be my posts about Pervo’s works on Acts utilizing Hellenistic novelistic features. I will post something that addresses this from a publication or two in the near future.

  11. Has anyone ever explained why Saul changed his name to Paul? What exactly is gained by a change in name? Is Saul trying to pretend to be another person with a name similar to Paul, is that meant to be Appollonius?

    1. We should ask why we have a narrative in Acts about the change of name. Not the same as a real-life fact. I seem to recall either Hermann Detering or Roger Parvus suggesting a link with the name Simon — if Paul himself was a gnostic name (meaning “small”) applied to Simon; and in Acts the Simon was changed to Saul as the birth-name.

      Don’t know.

      1. Its very strange how two of the most frequently mentioned and most important characters after Jesus, Simon and Saul both had name changes. Why are two Jews, Simon and Saul both given new Greek names? This seems very strange. While the usual reason for Simon is that he became the rock or Peter of the new church none is ever given fir Saul. No one ever attempts.
        Names in the bible are especially interesting as they are often titles or personal attributes rather than literal birth names. We have the famous examples of Solomon who was not called that at birth. Another label is that given to Aachan which means foolish, or Ai the city destroyed by Joshua. The names are powerful devices which tell us a lot but unfortunately our culture never examines what the name means and only uses it as a label.

      2. mP,

        FWIW, my own admittedly amateur opinion is that Paul’s background as Saul the persecutor was created by the proto-orthodox author of Acts as a diversionary substitute for Paul’s real background as the persecutor Simon of Samaria. I think the development went something like this:

        In the early 130s a proto-orthodox Christian (Clement of Rome?) came into possession of a collection of Simonian letters. He interpolated a number of proto-orthodox doctrines into them and changed the name of their author to “Paul” (the “small one”, in contrast to Simon “who was claiming to be someone great” – Acts 8:9). A few others of his insertions made his new Paul into a repentant former enemy of the church. The interpolator added the “persecutor” background, I suspect, as a “just in case” option. That is, if it should turn out that someone was able to prove the real Simonian provenance of the letters, the proto-orthodox could always fall back on the explanation: “Of course, Paul was Simon, but his letters themselves are testimony that he repented of the harm he did to the church.” (Notice how even in Acts there is still a hint of repentance on Simon’s part: “Simon said in reply, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me’” – Acts 8:24).

        Recourse to the “just in case” option was in fact never needed. True, Marcion protested that the letters had been interpolated and that the author of the original letters worshipped a god above the Creator God of the Jews. But as far as can be determined from the extant record, Marcion never made the precise connection that Paul was another name for Simon. So when Acts was composed about twenty years later, the figure of Paul as distinct from Simon was made definitive. They are introduced at practically the same time (end of chapter 7 for one, chapter 8 for the other), but presented as two clearly distinct individuals.

        But because the author of Acts confirmed Paul as someone distinct from Simon, he needed to create a new persecutor background for him, one that would jive with the repentant persecutor scenario in the interpolated Pauline letters, yet be distant enough from Paul’s real background as Simon. The Saul scenario (inspired by Saulos in Josephus?) accomplished that. Saul the physically violent persecutor of the church is a diversionary substitute for Paul’s real background as Simon the blasphemous heretical, gnostic persecutor of true Christians.

        [Of course not everyone immediately adopted Acts expedient. In the document that underlies the pseudo-Clementines Paul is still Simon of Samaria. And even in some of the later legends about Simon one still sees him facing off with Peter—not Paul—at Rome. Wouldn’t one normally expect Paul to be there in Rome with Peter opposing Simon? After all, supposedly both Paul and Simon were in competition for the same converts: Gentiles. So why is Paul missing in the confrontations at Rome? Answer: He isn’t missing. If we look closely we can see him there under his real name: Simon]

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