2019-08-20

But WHY would Paul be made a “Midrashic” Creation?

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by Neil Godfrey

Maurice Mergui

I’ve been distracted from my scheduled reading and planned posts to go back and fill in some gaps to what I wrote yesterday about Paul being cut from the Saul of the OT.

This post outlines some of what I take to be the main ideas from the first part of Paul à Patras by Maurice Mergui.

Paul’s life reads like real history or real biography. Paul is a known character when we think of him alongside the persons in the gospels. The gospel figures read more like foils set up to fulfill prophecies, teach us lessons, and so forth. Even their names are often clearly symbolic and they act out the meanings of their names almost the way we expect parables or children’s stories to read. But Paul, he has a psychology — and one that we may not always like. He has a setting, a real place in history and we know the places he visits — Antioch, Athens, Rome. He has a real name, a Roman one. He has health problems. We are told of the exact street name he was to meet someone in Damascus. All this smacks of reality.

At the same time there are real quirks in the story of Acts. The account of Paul’s conversion is told to us three times; the story is told in the third person and then suddenly without explanation switches to the first. The main character is called Saul and then suddenly he is called Paul and stays with that name to the end; geographical errors appear as when Malta is set in the Adriatic; and there are contradictions to what he wrote in his letters. Paul is both diminished and exalted in our sources. But such anomalies and contradictions are considered generally at one level to be marks of authenticity.

The story of Acts itself bears reflection. From the first chapter we have the band of disciples gathered together, determined to maintain their number of 12, commissioned to preach the message of Jesus to the end of the world. They are given the miracle of tongues to make this possible. But then from chapter 9 everything focuses on just one man, a certain Paul, who persecutes the followers of Jesus, is himself converted, changes his name, and sets out to preach the gospel. And his story it is right through to the end of the book. And the turnover event was the road to Damascus experience, an event that is told to readers three times.

So what’s this all about? Why such a break or change in story half way through?

Why does Acts “lose the plot” half way through?

Maurice Mergui regrets the way many scholars have, he claims, misunderstood and misrepresented another scholar, Georges Perec. Mergui, appealing to Perec’s insights, asks us to imagine the following scenario.

Imagine that you want to produce a story that will draw simultaneously on three different themes.

  1. The grandeur and the fall of the Jewish people

  2. The reign of Death followed by the end of his power

  3. The triumph of paganism being succeeded by the universal conversion of pagans

But keep in mind: the rule is that each of these three themes must be addressed simultaneously, not one after the other, in the narrative. Mergui tells us that Perec believed that the Book of Acts achieved this three-fold aim.

Acts tells the story about the demise of the Jewish people and the replacement of Judah by the new “Judaism” from the pagan world. This is echoed in the symbolism of the story opening with the replacement of Judas (the namesake of the Jews) with a new apostle. The twelve gather in Jerusalem for the start of the new quest. The story moves on to the breaking from the requirement for gentiles to be circumcised, ends with the hardening of the Jews, and the prediction that from that time forward it would be the gentiles who would hear the message.

At the same time, a new question pervades Acts. The resurrection of Jesus has relegated death to a new status. (Or idolatry to a new status — as we will see.) Jesus has conquered death and delivered humanity from sin. So what do we make of death now that Jesus is resurrected? Jesus delivered humanity from sin, thus rendering death powerless, since its power is in sin. The answer, of course, is that when Jesus returns death will be finally extinguished – and this is the good news that is to be preached to the ends of the earth.

But the idea of death being reversed is too abstract.

Midrash, Mergui writes, repudiates abstract ideas. (It is like a dream, according to Freud.) Midrash, a good story, needs a concrete figure. And that is why Christian midrash forged the character of Paul. Paul represents

  1. Paul represents Jews being replaced by gentiles;

  2. and he also represents death on the way to being changed;

  3. and he is the paradigm of conversion.

This “midrashic” tale is possible because the author has found a versatile figure in the person of King Saul (pronounced “shawl” in Hebrew, the same as Sheol, Hades). (Later Mergui discusses the use of another figure, Rahab, to add to the layers of Paul’s role.)

Through King Saul the author of Acts has found the ideal figure from which to draw the one he wants to convey his threefold theme of Acts:

  1. Replacement of the Jews by the Gentiles
  2. Replacement of death by resurrection (or idolatry by healing)
  3. Replacement of the name and character of Saul by Paul

At the beginning of the story it appeared that the plan of God was to move events and persons in one direction. But as so often happens in the OT, God suddenly decided to take history into another direction. There was a change in genealogical lineage. A new generation, a new path.

Compare the beginning of the Book of Samuel. Eli, the chief judge, is trusted with the leadership of Israel but his sons are reprobates, so the promise is transferred to Samuel instead. Then Saul is made king, but he himself is replaced by David.

King Saul to Persecutor Saul

Both two Sauls and one Saul

The themes in 1 Samuel are woven through the story in Acts. Saul the king is a giant physically but he is brought low. The Saul of Acts is changed to Paul, meaning “small” — because the gentiles, his acolytes, are symbolic minors compared with the Jews.

King Saul massacred the priests of Nob along with their families; Saul in Acts violently persecuted the Christians.

When King Saul was converted he became “another man” (1 Sam. 10:6). (In the previous post I think I referenced both Sauls falling flat on the ground, one at the voice of Samuel from beyond the grave, the other at the voice of the resurrected Jesus).

Paul is an allegory of conversion. He is accordingly filled with impossibly antithetical traits: he is both Hebrew and Roman, both young and old (Phil. 1:9), great and small, persecuting and persecuted, binding and bound, sick and healer of others.

What happens after the victorious death of the messiah? Isaiah 25:8 explains:

He swallows up death victoriously!

The messiah must come like everyone in the world to death. But for the first time he conquers death (sheol). Narratively, death, sheol, is visited by the saviour. Just as in various apocryphal writings Sheol or the grave is visited by Jesus. In our canonical texts, too, Saul-Paul (pronounced “sheol”) is visited by the Saviour. That is the scene on Paul’s journey to Damascus.

What is the result of this visit of Jesus to “Sheol” on that road to Damascus? Sheol is defeated. Saul, who is sheol, falls to the ground, becomes converted, begins to announce the resurrection from the dead. That is why Paul “falls to the ground”. King Saul likewise fell to the ground, as in 1 Sam 28:20

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground

After his conversion all the reversals emerge: the interrogator becomes the interrogated; the binder becomes bound; the persecutor is persecuted; blind, he sees; grand and high, like the OT Saul, he is changed to “small”, Paul, etc.

The fall of Paul is at the same time the fall of Saul and the Jewish people. It explains the term “abortion” that we read about in a letter of his.

The “midrash” is of the same kind as we see in the story of Jonah. The theme is not that very different between the two. The city of Nineveh hears the word of God and repents. In Acts it is Death itself (Saul/Sheol) that receives the word and changes. Paul is an extension of Jonah.

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Neil Godfrey

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36 Comments

  • Giuseppe
    2019-08-20 10:54:05 GMT+0000 - 10:54 | Permalink

    What is the coincidence that an author of epistles was named just with the name of an anti-Saul?

    1 Samuel 9:1-2:

    There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head TALLER than anyone else.

    Before reading this post, the his title challenged myself: I will be persuaded that Paul is an invention, only if someone could have a better argument for the origin of the his name than the Detering’s argument:

    Moreover, that the name Paul could already be conceived in a figurative sense by the writer of the Pauline letters can be clearly seen in 1 Cor 15:9, where “Paul” speaks of himself as the last and the smallest, like a “miscarriage” as it were. B. Bauer correctly commented about this: “He is the last, the unexpected, the conclusion, the dear nestling. Even his Latin name, Paul, expresses smallness, which stands in contrast to the majesty to which he is elevated by grace in the preceding passages of the letter.”
    (The Falsified Paul, p. 145)

    Have I just found that “better argument”?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-20 11:11:55 GMT+0000 - 11:11 | Permalink

      Personally, I don’t like to take a firm stand for historicity (and then say “prove to me that Paul did not exist”) OR for ahistoricity (and then say “prove to me that Paul did exist”). Both positions are unwarranted, in my view. I see no secure grounds for the existence of Paul that are in any way comparable to the sorts of evidence we normally expect (and have) for historical figures. But even with “historical” persons there is on occasion some room to justify at least a modicum of doubt (e.g. Socrates or Pythagoras — I hope to post on the historical evidence for Pythagoras, by the way, since I’ve had the raw material stored up here for well over a year now).

      But as for the explanation for the name of Paul, Mergui’s argument is entirely consistent with and supportive of Detering’s. Mergui may extend the significance of it somewhat, but he is totally in agreement with Detering’s base line.

      But one thing I did not see in my reading of Mergui’s book (if I missed it you may be able to correct me) — but I saw nothing to suggest that Mergui related the change of name from Saul to Paul to King Saul’s physical size, in particular to his being a head “TALLER”, as you put it, than all others.

      My reading of Mergui is that King Saul represents “Judaism” or “the Judeans” at their best, their historical pride in being a “Davidic-kingdom”, at least in tradition, as having confidence in their religion as “the true revelation of the true God”, etc. Perhaps the Judean author of the first Saul story did equate Saul’s physical size to his hybrus, but his height is not an issue relating to his counterpart in Acts. The Saul-Paul in Acts is a counterpart to the OT King Saul because of what he represents, not because of his physical height — which is a detail that likewise is only signifcant as a symbol of what he represents.

      • Giuseppe
        2019-08-20 11:21:56 GMT+0000 - 11:21 | Permalink

        Sincerely I don’t find perfect consistency between Mergui and Detering.

        What surprises myself is the difference between two different approaches to the question “Paul”: a scholar who sees all in terms of Jewish midrash and another scholar who sees all in terms of gnosticism.

        The difference is that for Mergui, Paul is named Paul in virtue of a punition: he ceases to be a Saul.

        For Detering, Paul is named Paul in virtue of an exaltation: he owes all to the gnostic Father, nothing to himself.

        Mergui is indebted too much to the author of Acts, from this POV. The his argument about the origin of the name “Paul” seems to assume that the epistles follow Acts.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-08-20 11:39:16 GMT+0000 - 11:39 | Permalink

          Sorry — I was rewriting my initial response while you had posted your reply to it.

          Is Paul a change of name in the letters? In the letters is it not assumed that Paul is the author’s birth-name? Is it not only in Acts that we get any notion of a change of name?

          I don’t know what the significance of gnostic thoughts are to Mergui’s thesis. Are they incompatible? I cannot say.

          I should add, however, in relation to your last point, that Mergui several times writes as if the author of Acts is responding to something in the epistles of Paul. So I don’t think he would say that the epistles follow Acts, certainly not as a rule.

          I would not be quick to draw too many conclusions from what I have posted so far. I see lots of room for fitting the data into a wide range of different scenarios.

          I keep thinking back on Thomas Brodie’s thesis that the letters of Paul were written by a number of writers belonging to a “Pauline school” — similar, I would think, to some of the writings of the OT Prophets on the model proposed by Philip R. Davies.

          But I think that Mergui also attributes little by way of interpolation into the Pauline letters. I think that runs up against a problem of the “battle of ‘what did Paul really write?'” in the mid second century. (I may be wrong, but that’s the impression I gained from attempting to skim ahead through the language handicap.) And some other details Mergui expresses also leave me a little cold. I guess each person needs to consider if and how they might sift wheat from chaff.

  • Giuseppe
    2019-08-20 11:31:09 GMT+0000 - 11:31 | Permalink

    Sincerely I don’t find perfect consistency between Mergui and Detering.

    What surprises myself is the difference between two different approaches to the question about Paul: a scholar who sees all in terms of Jewish midrash and another scholar who sees all in terms of gnosticism. The difference is that for Mergui Paul is named Paul in virtue of a punition: he ceases to be a Saul. For Detering, Paul is named Paul in virtue of an exaltation: he owes all to the gnostic Father, nothing to himself.

    It is easy to see the Mergui’s argument as the way used by Acts to downplay Paul. In essentia, the error of Mergui is that he ignores that the midrash can be used against rivals i.e. the Gnostics.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-21 00:35:46 GMT+0000 - 00:35 | Permalink

      I was not sure what you meant by “punition” and in the context took the word as a reference to a “pun”. But I see now you mean “punishment”. No, I don’t see punishment here, and I don’t think that’s what Mergui refers to, either. (Though I have not read much of his work.) Saul figuratively dies and is resurrected again to a new life in Christ as Paul — “small” has many positive associations in this context: from the mustard seed, powerless humanly so that it is God who can use and work through the person the miraculous conversions of others, etc.

      Compare Luke’s theme of the high being abased and the lowly exalted. That’s what happens to Saul, then to Paul. Saul the arrogant persecutor is brought down but Paul the lowly is exalted.

  • Giuseppe
    2019-08-20 11:49:50 GMT+0000 - 11:49 | Permalink

    I have read in the post:

    After his conversion all the reversals emerge: the interrogator becomes the interrogated; the binder becomes bound; the persecutor is persecuted; blind, he sees; grand and high, like the OT Saul, he is changed to “small”, Paul, etc

    …hence I have thought that Mergui is giving the his reasons about why Paul had to be called “Paul”: as effect of a punition happened to “Saul” (=who is allegorized by Saul). My point is that insofar the name “Paul” is seen as a clue of the previous lost greatness of Saul, then the general tone is denigrative against the (would-be) paulines and Mergui is ignoring this point too much easily. Surely one would like not to read the epistles written by someone punished by God by downsizing.

  • Giuseppe
    2019-08-20 11:57:32 GMT+0000 - 11:57 | Permalink

    Ops: “denigratory tone” instead of “denigrative tone”.

  • 2019-08-20 12:05:48 GMT+0000 - 12:05 | Permalink

    Well, there is more to the use of Paul in Acts than just this.

    In looking at the letters attributed to Paul it is easy to see how they may have been attributed to “Paul” after the fact, i.e. that the letters were written without attribution and were later attributed to someone named Paul.

    When we look at the “letters of Paul” what we find is that the attribution of them to Paul is made in two ways essentially:

    1) With openings and closings, features that are easily added to existing material
    2) In a few cases where is says things like “I, Paul, say to you”. Again these could have been easy conversions from “I say to you”, etc.

    But look at 1 Cor:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+1&version=NRSV

    “10 Now I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

    Firstly, if this letter is from “Paul” he in then talking about himself in the 3rd person here. But secondly, what the writer says implies that his name is not Paul. “Were you baptized in Paul’s name? Thank God you weren’t baptized in my name!” This implies, while some are claiming to have been baptized in Paul’s name, thank goodness none of you are claiming to have been baptized in my name (which of course implies that his name is not Paul).

    So it is certainly possible that the name “Paul” is itself a concocted name, and that such a name was only later tacked on to these letters. Yet, the letters themselves were real letters written by someone prior to the First Jewish-Roman War.

    In that case, what we would have is some real worship and community that existed prior to the war, and some real person who was engaging in the activities we generally associate with “Paul”, but the real name of that person is unknown.

    My view is that the first witness we have to the “letters of Paul” is the author of Mark. And “Mark” knew these letters as a collection. But Mark never uses the name “Paul”. This leads to the possibility that the “letters of Paul” were not yet attributed to Paul at the time that Mark was using them. This would mean that the “letters of Paul” may not have been attributed to “Paul” until after 80-90 CE.

    This leads me to the conclusion that it is possible, I’m not saying we can put any stock in this, that the “letters of Paul” weren’t attributed to Paul until after the writing of Acts.

    In this scenario the collection of letters would have existed as a collection without having been attributed to Paul for some 50 years or so, and would then have been attributed to Paul AFTER the “story of Paul” was written by the author of Acts. In this scenario, the “character” of Paul was an original invention of the author of Acts, and once that character was invented the letters that the inventor used as his source material were then attributed to the character.

    So what I’m saying is, I can see how the “letters of Paul” may have originated as an anonymous collection for a period of time, and that those letters were used by the author of Acts in the creation of their Paul character, and then once that character was invented using those letters, the letters then were attributed to the character of Acts. This also can explain how such a symbolic name was attached to the letters, allowing for the symbolism to have come first.

    If this were all true then the question would be, who was the Paul mentioned in 1 Cor?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-21 00:42:49 GMT+0000 - 00:42 | Permalink

      If so, would this imply that the author of Acts used letters not attributed to Paul but change them in a way that rejected their claims, their biographical details, their teachings, in order to make a different Paul in his narrative? And then, after having written Acts, someone added Paul’s name to the letters even though they contradicted the life and teachings of Paul in Acts?

      When did the name of Paul emerge as a controversial figure, the apostle of the heretics, to some, and of the “orthodox” to others?

      • 2019-08-21 02:12:21 GMT+0000 - 02:12 | Permalink

        What do you mean by, “change them in a way that rejected their claims, their biographical details, their teachings, in order to make a different Paul in his narrative?”

        Are you saying that Paul’s teachings in Acts contradict the teachings in the letters of Paul? Many aspects of the account of Paul in Acts line up with the letters. The revelation of Jesus to Paul, the meeting of Paul and James, etc. Of course there are problems with how they line up, but I can see how the Acts narrative would be based on an attempt to cobble together a narrative from the letters.

        What things in particular are you calling a contradiction between the letters and Acts?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-08-21 02:43:08 GMT+0000 - 02:43 | Permalink

          The teachings of the Paul of the (“genuine”) letters and the teachings of Paul in Acts are at odds at many points, especially re the law. In the letters Paul pretty much condemns to hell anyone who tells his converts to be circumcised but in Acts he has no problem with circumcision just to keep in the good books with the legalistic Jews, including James. That’s not the same Paul who wrote Galatians. In Acts Paul is subservient to the other apostles and leaders in Jerusalem. Again, that’s not the Paul of the letters.

          I am thinking of the studies that see the Paul of Acts being represented in the Pastoral epistles of Paul — which were written to contradict the earlier letters of Paul. Also of the evidence for the “pastoral interpolations” throughout the “genuine” epistles to try to make them conform to the pastorals, but also contradicting the evident message of Paul in other parts of the letters.

          We have the same issues with the Marcionite controversy, each side accusing the other of rewriting the letters. The evidence of the “fathers” like Tertullian support the view that several passages we read in Paul’s letters were added very late to rebut Marcion’s claims about Paul.

          Several scholars have also thought the book of Acts was in fact written to rebut the Marcionite view of Paul, especially the Paul found in the original versions of the letters.

          Paul was labelled the “apostle of the heretics” by the early fathers, and his letters were not even mentioned by Justin, who of course also flatly opposed Marcion. It is after Justin, some time in the mid second century, that we have our earliest evidence for the book of Acts — another indication that Acts was written to claim Paul for orthodoxy and oppose the Paul of the original letters/Marcion. It is around the same time that the Pastoral epistles from “Paul” appear, apparently part of the same anti-Marcionite program and effort to reclaim Paul for orthodoxy.

          • Mark S
            2019-08-21 03:34:40 GMT+0000 - 03:34 | Permalink

            Paul doesn’t have any problem with Jewish boys being circumcized on the 8th day in Galatians. (It’s not a big deal, really, since parousia is next week; in general he has nothing much to say about children.) He isn’t freaked out by proselyte Jews who /were/ circumcized.

            He just doesn’t want /his/ gentiles — a sort of multi-national messianic
            greeting corps — circumcized. It would spoil his whole picture.

            Galatians is written to his gentiles. Of course he is enraged by the thought that they would break with the mystical program he thinks he’s executing, and go over to being proselytes. Proselytes are Jews. But all the ethnē must come streaming to the temple, etc. etc., in all their picturesque variety — not just Jews. No doubt he was into the Galatians in particular because they were Celts and struck him as somehow ethnically distinct.

            Timothy is ethnically a Jew, though he was not circumcized as an infant. Paul’s circumcizing him seems a reasonable application of his views.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2019-08-21 04:01:22 GMT+0000 - 04:01 | Permalink

              The key point is this:

              in Acts he has no problem with circumcision just to keep in the good books with the legalistic Jews, including James. That’s not the same Paul who wrote Galatians. In Acts Paul is subservient to the other apostles and leaders in Jerusalem. Again, that’s not the Paul of the letters.

              It’s not a controversial point that the Paul in Acts is not the same as the Paul of the letters (though he is the same as the Pastoral letters). That’s just Introductory 101 stuff. (Only fundamentalist apologists who insist on harmonizing every word despite the obvious contradictions would see unity between the Paul of Galatians and Acts.)

              • Mark S
                2019-08-21 05:35:13 GMT+0000 - 05:35 | Permalink

                Like most people outside seminaries, I reject the whole anti-semitic, basically Protestant, tradition of reading Paul. It has been exploded in the last 50 years, especially the last 10 or 15 years. There are plenty of curiosa in Acts, given the letters — his views on circumcision just aren’t one of them.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-21 09:45:50 GMT+0000 - 09:45 | Permalink

                Oh come on, now. There is nothing remotely antisemitic in the view that Paul opposed circumcision for gentiles or that he did not bow to the authority of James.

                The interpretations of Paul that I am referring to are not the preserve of the seminaries, either.

                Second Temple Judaism was a “very broad church”, too — and the idea that anything that is not somehow part of a letter-of-the-law legalistic view of “judaism” is somehow an indication of an anti-semitic interpreation of Paul is long, long obsolete.

                Besides, I deplore imputations of antisemitism to rebut an argument when actual reasoning and appeals to evidence would be far more appropriate.

              • Mark S
                2019-08-21 15:04:09 GMT+0000 - 15:04 | Permalink

                I’m not accusing you of anti-semitism. But course the interpretation of Paul that was taken for granted for the last several hundred years is deeply interwoven with anti-semitism. These interpretations are also found in learned, critical, would-be wissenschaftlich contrasts of Paul and Acts-Paul. Part of the reason is the projection onto the text that Paul is introducing something fundamentally novel for a Jew, and that he is building a ‘religion’ that is meant to last for more than the short crisis period he envisages before the messianic-imperial arrival and alteration of the world.

                Thus e.g. Paul’s absolutely essential castigation of his multinational greeting corps of ethnē for attempting to turn themselves into members of the Jewish nation, non-ethnē — this becomes his castigation of the Jewish nation and their law.

                Paul frequently contrasts – in different ways – the messed up world to which the law of Moses was fitted with the coming world of the resurrection – which is already partly here with the resurrection of Jesus, who is about to make his imperial entry to finish the job. In the world of the resurrection law is nonsense.

                This is a conventional view about ‘olam ha ba’ – but with the failure of Paul’s apocalyptic it turns into a condemnation of the stupid Jews who stick to dumb meaningless external rule-following that even they can’t keep up with — versus sound Christian truth which is spiritual and inward etc etc.

                That is, Paul’s fairly standard Jewish opposition between the period of the Mosaic law and the next world, the world of the resurrection – 2 Baruch seems pretty conventional – is turned into a difference between Jews and Christians.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-22 00:50:23 GMT+0000 - 00:50 | Permalink

                I know of those characterizations of Pauline studies but I also understood that “serious scholars” had made great strides in expanding the scope of what constituted “Judaism” in the Second Temple era. It was far broader than we find in later rabbinic tradition. One other example on this blog is my posts on Novenson’s study of Paul’s view of messianism — arguing for its essentially “Jewish” character where many had traditionally assumed it was somehow alien to “Jewish thought”.

              • Mark S.
                2019-08-22 01:02:07 GMT+0000 - 01:02 | Permalink

                Expanding the range of views characteristic of 2nd T Jewry is the condition of all postwar cognition. (Paul is in many respects proto-rabbinical, for example in holding that gentiles were always subject to something like Noahide commandments as Jews are to Moses’. So it’s not clear how important it is to Paul interpretation.)

                De-Christianizing the reading of Paul is another matter, still incomplete.

                But none of this bears on my point, which was that Paul’s view on circumcision of gentiles is the same in Paul and in Acts Paul.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-22 02:36:35 GMT+0000 - 02:36 | Permalink

                We are clearly talking past each other. I understood your response to be only to the first half of my initial opening paragraph, to only half of the thought I expressed.

              • Mark S
                2019-08-22 12:49:31 GMT+0000 - 12:49 | Permalink

                “The teachings of the Paul of the (“genuine”) letters and the teachings of Paul in Acts are at odds at many points, especially re the law. In the letters Paul pretty much condemns to hell anyone who tells his converts to be circumcised but in Acts he has no problem with circumcision just to keep in the good books with the legalistic Jews, including James. That’s not the same Paul who wrote Galatians.”

                No, you wrote then re-quoted this, I attacked it.

                Paul thinks the circumcized must obey the ‘whole’ Mosaic law. Gentiles must obey – it’s not totally clear – the Noahide laws, the laws for the gerim, the law they are are ‘unto themselves’, violated by Cain and the people before the Flood. Idolatry, porneia and murder are the first sign you’ve gone wrong by it.

                All of these laws, as laws, are going to pieces, though, as the cosmos shatters and morphs into resurrection-world in which of course there is no law.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-22 13:10:47 GMT+0000 - 13:10 | Permalink

                I accept and agree with your point. I see no contradiction with what I wrote. Unless perhaps you thought I meant that Paul in Acts agreed gentiles should be circumcised. I certainly didn’t intend to suggest any such thing.

          • 2019-08-21 08:58:05 GMT+0000 - 08:58 | Permalink

            okay, that makes sense.

  • 2019-08-20 12:08:44 GMT+0000 - 12:08 | Permalink

    Interesting post. Does Mergui say, or do you know, Neil, if the name “Paul” was commonly used as a name prior to Saul/Paul?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-21 00:55:14 GMT+0000 - 00:55 | Permalink

      It doesn’t appear that Mergui does tell us that in Paul à Patras — that’s from a word search on “romain” and “nom” in the kindle text. (But I’m open to being informed otherwise, of course.)

      What I can’t figure out yet is the title, Paul à Patras? Why Patras? I can’t see Patras via an index search in kindle, apart from the title. Can anyone help with that?

      • Giuseppe
        2019-08-21 06:57:21 GMT+0000 - 06:57 | Permalink

        The origin of the title is a parody of the place where, according to an apocryphal text, the Acts of Andrew, the apostle Andrew was crucified: Patras in Achaia.

        I read it from here, where there are some spoilers of the book.

        https://www.lechampdumidrash.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=137:contribution-au-jubile-de-paul&catid=79:paulinisme&Itemid=487

        Note that Mergui is so strongly persuaded about the midrashical origin, not only of Paul, but of all the pauline epistles, that he claims that, even if we had a strong independent evidence of the historicity of Paul, even so we wouldn’t know anything about him, since it is a fact that the epistles are entirely midrashic creations.

        “Paul’s historical existence is of no use to us, so it is methodologically useless”.

        I can accept the his logic insofar I can like Thomas Brodie’s case for the epistles being midrashical creations. But the problem is the same with Brodie: how can he confirm that what is made in the name of the midrash is not made for polemical reasons against someone? Without reading the his book (I have read only the his Comprendre les origines du christianisme and Un étranger sur le toit) I am sure that Mergui believes that the irony of a Saul who becomes Paul is only end to itself. That it is not to attack the paulines.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-08-21 09:53:46 GMT+0000 - 09:53 | Permalink

          Sorry, I still don’t get the Patras reference even after reading that site.

          By the way, the more I have tried to extend my reading of some of Mergui’s work the more troubled I become. No doubt much of the problem is my limited ability with the French language, but I am also frustrated when I try to follow up his Hebrew references in both the Bible and rabbinic literature. I sometimes get the impression he is letting his imagination run wild, too wild. Maybe I need to take more time to read small sections very slowly and thoroughly. That’s a project that will have to wait till other priorities are met.

          • db
            2019-08-21 17:05:52 GMT+0000 - 17:05 | Permalink

            It appears that Mergui is claiming that the accounts of the Apostles per Acts of the Apostles were inspired/derived from a historical Apostle: Andrew (Πρωτόκλητος, Prōtoklētos).

  • Steve Ruis
    2019-08-20 12:52:29 GMT+0000 - 12:52 | Permalink

    Re “Why does Acts “lose the plot” half way through?” As someone I respect for careful use of language, how does the first eight chapters of a 28 chapter book constitute “half way through”? It is not even a third of the way through, at least by chapter count. The phrase implies that there were two narratives of equal size and this does not seem to be the case.

    I find these posts most interesting because I do not have the time, or the ability, to do such careful readings. Thank you for these!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-21 00:45:48 GMT+0000 - 00:45 | Permalink

      Damn. You are right. Sorry. “Not even a third of the way through” is what I should have said! I was hearing the expression in my head used in a slapdash colloquial way ….. as if talking with a bunch of buddies over a few beers. I will try to remember to be more professional in future! 🙂

  • Giuseppe
    2019-08-20 13:26:37 GMT+0000 - 13:26 | Permalink

    Matthew assumes that Paul is already known before Matthew (hence before Acts), since Matthew 7:15 talks about “wolves”:

    Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

    …and Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin:

    “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”
    (Genesis 49:27)

  • 2019-08-20 15:30:20 GMT+0000 - 15:30 | Permalink

    There are separate issues here.

    Was “Paul” a real person?

    Is the narrative of Acts based on accounts of the life of a real person?

    Is is possible that there was some “real Paul” and also that the Paul of Acts an an entirely fictive creation that is ultimately unrelated to the real Paul.

    It is also possible that the name “Paul” is a later fictive creation but that the account of the life of the person called “Paul” is based on the life of some real person, who actually went by a different name.

    I think its clear that Acts is based in part on a set of the letters now attributed to Paul.

    It is possible that those letters were a collection written by multiple anonymous persons and that it was Acts that resulted in the attribution of those letters to the single individual “Paul”.

    It is also possible that they were already attributed to Paul or that in fact 5 to 8 of them were authored by a single individual named Paul and that the author of Acts knew this and based his Paul character on a mix of information from those letters and from this “midrash” approach.

    And of course there are more variations than this that are possible. I guess the point is that its possible for a whole mix of things to be true, and one of the things doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.

  • Giuseppe
    2019-08-21 07:05:56 GMT+0000 - 07:05 | Permalink

    So Mergui explains why Pilate was introduced in the story:

    “Herod and Pilate, at each feast (Hag), are accustomed to release their prisoner (sense of plt in Hebrew). We have seen above that this festival refers to Kippur, because it is the only one where something is released (a goat). Voilà, our custom“.
    (Mergui, Mauritius. Understanding the origins of Christianity: From Jewish eschatology to Christian midrash, my translation)

  • Jessie Canton
    2019-08-21 19:03:49 GMT+0000 - 19:03 | Permalink

    One major way the OT Saul prefigures the NT Saul/Paul ? The old King Saul, following and 1) helping define Jewish tradition, absolutely forbids raising the dead, necromancy. But then he 2) accepts it.

    This lead to one of the main developments in Christianity, that differentiated it from Judaism. When 1) as a good Jew, Saul of Tarsus would implicitly not accept necromancy – or resurrection. Or therefore, the heart of Christianity. 2) But then? He changes on this central issue; he believes a resurrected Jesus appeared to him.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-22 01:19:08 GMT+0000 - 01:19 | Permalink

      Thomas L. Thompson makes a similar point about King Saul’s thematic significance in the Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings). The “people of God”, the audience of any writer, are always in need of being warned not to be like the failed generations of the past. And that is the lesson of the repeated stories of the Bible: God delivered and blessed a generation, but then they failed, and were rejected; then a new one was chosen, and the pattern repeated, and repeated…. It’s the ever-present lesson for the current generation. It’s the same, I think, for the original audiences of the gospels.

  • Steven Watson
    2019-08-25 19:31:42 GMT+0000 - 19:31 | Permalink

    I’m filing Mergul et.al. with Atwill and Eisenman for the moment. Charbonnel is plausible in her prolegomena; I’ll be interested in her hypotheses about Christ and and how she uses that prolegomena with respect to those hypotheses. These other people seem implausible, if not entirely crank, to me.

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