This is a reasonable question that was unfortunately asked by one who is searching for the one question that mythicism cannot answer. (Earl Doherty responded in detail but this was simply ignored by the questioner who found another question to set up in its place in a game of cat and mouse. Or maybe Earl Doherty has conspired with James McGrath for James to pretend he hasn’t read or understood Doherty’s book and to keep dropping the Dorothy Dixers so that he can use his blog as a platform for a clear and unopposed exposition of mythicism. 😉
I have had my own thoughts on the question, however.
For Paul there is one central focus of his faith and that is Christ crucified. There is not a complex detailed mythological narrative attached to this as far as we can tell. And this stands to reason. For one thing complex mythical tales of gods are traditionally the result of centuries of cultural mixing and matching and evolution responding to changing social and cultural interests. What we appear to have in the case of Pauline “Christianity” is something of a theological-philosophical development with emphasis on the theological. It is a faith that is founded not in a rich literary tradition of mythical tales but in revelation and vision-mysticism. Revelation is spiritual and its matrix appears to be the Jewish sacred writings. And this was an era of flourishing religious and philosophical mutations.
But the research of scholars like Engberg-Pedersen and Niko Huttunen open up the indebtedness of Paul’s theology to Stoic philosophy. I am not referring to Stoic ethics but to the philosophical framework itself. (I’ve posted on some aspects of Engberg-Pedersen before and will be doing more posts on Huttunem soonish.) Paul’s Christ crucified is a theological version of Seneca’s (and Stoic’s) Reason or Logos. It converts and saves the individual — transforms the individual into a new person — by virtue of being grasped, apprehended.
This was the mystery that changed a person from one nature to another nature that was “in Christ” just as truly grasping “the good” or “reason” in other Socratic or Stoical thought systems transformed the person into the embodiment of that good of that reason. To know the death of Christ was to identify with that death and that was the key to knowing (experiencing) the life of Christ. Not that this was an intellectual life like Stoicism. Rather, it involved spiritual gifts, ecstatic experiences, mystic visions, spiritual revelations. Not as much as some other types of religions, perhaps. And a subsequent generation of devotees clamped down on some of these expressions, certainly by means of the Pastoral epistles, and perhaps even by injecting a whole strata of pastoral like chapters in the original epistles of Paul.
No doubt there were mythical details in the repertoire of Paul and his followers. There are allusions to these in the epistles. But Paul’s religion was not a religion of the book. It was of the spirit. That spirit religion, we learn from Paul, was always growing and learning with a new revelation and interpretation. We see some of the growth of the myth with the post-Pauline epistles like Colossians and Ephesians. We see related mythical outgrowths from scriptural revelation in Hebrews and Barnabas.
The “mythology” of Paul did not need complexity of detail. Many details would accrue but none of these was ever central to the faith. What was central was the experience of coming to “know” Christ crucified in a manner that meant identification and transformation. The experience was spiritual and, for some at least, visionary.
Such are my tentative exploratory thoughts.
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