Another Angle on Paul

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Greg Doudna once again challenges us to think outside the box (recall his thoughts on the John the Baptist passage in Josephus and related discussion): this time, regarding Paul. See his conference presentation online at:

Note his second part of the title. His thoughts, as I understand that title, are an invitation to dig further into the possibility.

The proposal here is that the Christian Paul and Apollonius reflect independent tradition trajectories from a single original figure, i.e. that Paul was Apollonius.

GD takes up the suggestion that Saul the Herodian in Josephus is our Paul: see Robert Eisenman’s Paul as Herodian. (GD earlier opened up the questioning of the conventional date for Paul on the basis of his letters — though other evidence allows for a far wider set of options for the time of Paul’s activity) He notes the presence of three famous anti-Roman namesakes in Jerusalem: Simon bar Giora, John bar Sosa and James bar Sosa. Were the different visits of Paul to Jerusalem that we read about in Galatians and Acts actually different versions of the one visit? Is it possible that Joses (=Joseph) Barnabas in Acts is Josephus, the Jew who remained observant to Judaism while his companion Saul the Herodian rejected Jewish observance?

The original gospel of Paul was analogous to the views set forth by Josephus in his post-70 writings concerning the positive role of Rome in the divine economy in dealing with the Jewish rebels’ bloody defilement of the temple in Jerusalem. As Josephus told it, the Roman destruction was a purification of the Jewish temple cult, a temple which Josephus portrayed as defiled by the revolutionaries who brought divine wrath upon the Jewish nation as a result of their misdeeds, wrath carried out through the divine agency of the Romans, the severity and scale of the disaster and atrocities squarely the fault of the rebels who could have avoided it by surrendering earlier.

This was the ideology of Josephus in interpretation of the disasters which befell the Jews in 70 even as Josephus in Rome continued to be observant and sought in his writings to represent the Jewish people favorably to the educated world through his writing of Jewish history. Josephus’s ideology or “gospel” is startlingly similar to the ideology or gospel of Paul in the epistle to the Romans and in the other epistles as well. The writings of Josephus and Paul reflect the same basic ideology or lines of interpretation in response to 70, though Paul went beyond Josephus in arguing creatively—on the basis of Jewish scripture and in the name of a Jewish messiah—that Jewish religion and practice were superceded and now obsolete.

And to come back to the title of the article…..

This teaching of Paul with respect to Jewish religion and ideology in a post-70 context may be understood as in keeping with, a special case of, Apollonius’s rejection of sacrifices and cult practices in Apollonius’s view of true religion.

I simply have no idea where to place the canonical letters attributed to Paul in the history of the early church. I have no idea who the person behind the name of “Paul” was — and that name pops up in all sorts of places with all sorts of (contradictory) beliefs and practices. But I am increasingly partial to the idea that Christianity as we might recognize it as something with a distinct identity as a “movement” did not begin until after the Jewish War of 66-70/73 CE. This possibility makes me open to exploring ideas such as those raised by Greg Doudna.


The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

9 thoughts on “Another Angle on Paul”

  1. The idea of a “movement” seems to not come into view until about Eusebius and Epaphanius. The [earlier] Patristic writings are not a good measure of a unified understanding of what had taken place in my view.

  2. It seems that Saul/Paul was a man desperate to claim an exalted place in his society but not attracted to politics or mercantile business. He chose to become special religiously. And, he created his entire back story, a typical action of politicians and Israelite leaders of that region. I don’t see anything of Paul’s story that is backed up by evidence, certainly no more than “Jesus’s story.”

  3. Hi Neil, where you write “GD earlier opened up the questioning of the conventional date”, the link doesn’t work. Thank you in advance for the correction.

  4. I’m open to a later date for Pauline materials and I’m even more open, perhaps, to casting shade on the Acts chronology. I am concerned, though (and this is the same objection I have to Marcion gospel reconstruction) that such arguments get to both distrust and trust the sources in question as needed to fit the new story. If the Acts chronology is bogus, why are the Pauline incidents in it not also bogus? Likewise, if Tertullian and Irenaeus are wrong (deliberately or not) about the order of Luke and Marcion, can we then also trust their apparent knowledge of the contents of Marcion’s gospel?

    I was once a juror on a murder trial with multiple defendants that hinged on the testimony of supposed eyewitness that had already misidentified one defendant; they went free, but the other defendant that the same eyewitness identified was convicted. I was picked as an alternate at the last second, a bit of randomness which, I suppose, prevented deadlocking the jury, but I often think about it when considering what constitutes believable testimony and evidence.

    1. Yes — and I have posted a few times suggesting Paul’s life is recycled Peter and Jesus, along with other influences from the 2 Maccabees, Euripides, Josephus and the legend of Aeneas. We don’t seem to have any data that can serve as an anchor. What else can we do but take on board all the possibilities and lean tentatively to whatever seems to explain the most?

    2. Paul in Acts is broadly speaking a Superman story; it has no basis in reality at all beyond a few place names. Paul swoops about the Med overthrowing the forces of darkness with barely a flick of his wrist. Breaking out of jail; defying pagan gods; convening meetings with governors and other high officials – in the middle of nowhere – at a whim. Not to mention playing the “get out of jail free” card of being a Roman citizen.

      It’s wish-fulfilment fantasy, and bogus, from start to end and the writer is essentially writing a fan-fic account of a hero’s life, melded into the writer’s later context and views with a very hazy notion of what the world of the “real” Paul would have been like.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading