2021-06-03

Jesus (and Paul) in the Ancient Philosopher Tradition

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by Neil Godfrey

Think of the world from which Christianity emerged and mystery religions easily come to mind. That may be a mistake. A more relevant context, influencers and rivals were the popular philosophers and their schools in the first and second centuries.

The Jew and the Christian offered religions as we understand religion; the others offered cults; but their contemporaries did not expect anything more than cults from them and looked to philosophy for guidance in conduct and for a scheme of the universe. (Nock, Conversion, 16)

Any philosophy of the time set up a standard of values different from those of the world outside and could serve as a stimulus to a stern life, and therefore to something like conversion when it came to a man living carelessly. (Nock, 173)

Further, this idea was not thought of as a matter of purely intellectual conviction. The philosopher commonly said not ‘Follow my arguments one by one: . . . but . . . Believe me, those who express the other view deceive you and argue you out of what is right.’ (Nock, 181)

A mystery evoked a strong emotional response and touched the soul deeply for a time, but [conversion to] philosophy was able both to turn men from evil and to hold before them a good, perhaps never to be attained, but presenting a permanent object of desire to which one seemed to draw gradually nearer. (Nock, 185)

As an introduction to the view that popular philosophers had a more profound role than mystery cults in shaping Christianity, I’ve distilled biographical details from one ancient biographer of those philosophers. Spot the similarities to what we read about Jesus and Paul.

Follow Me

Socrates

Socrates met Xenophon in a narrow passage way and accosted him with questions. Xenophon was confused, so Socrates told him, “Follow me and learn”, and from that moment on Xenophon became his disciple.

Diogenes

Someone came to Diogenes and asked him to tell him how to live, what do do …. Diogenes told him to “follow him”. Unfortunately Diogenes also imposed a humbling condition on the would-be follower who was too embarrassed to comply.

Zeno

Now the way he came across Crates was this. He was shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Peiraeus with a cargo of purple. He went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller’s shop, being then a man of thirty. As he went on reading the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, he was so pleased that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates passed by in the nick of time, so the bookseller pointed to him and said, “Follow yonder man.” From that day he became Crates’s pupil.

Ethical Teachings and Example, a Physician of Souls

Chilon

“I know how to submit to injustice and you do not.”

The tale is also told that he inquired of Aesop what Zeus was doing and received the answer: “He is humbling the proud and exalting the humble.”

Not to abuse our neighbours

Do not use threats to any one.

When strong, be merciful.

Let not your tongue outrun your thought. Control anger.

Pittacus

Mercy is better than vengeance

Speak no ill of a friend, nor even of an enemy

Cleobulus

we should render a service to a friend to bind him closer to us, and to an enemy in order to make a friend of him.

Aristippus

He bore with Dionysius when he spat on him,

The sick need the physician, not the well

Aristippus

When Dionysius inquired what was the reason that philosophers go to rich men’s houses, while rich men no longer visit philosophers, his reply was that “the one know what they need while the other do not.”

In answer to one who remarked that he always saw philosophers at rich men’s doors, he said, “So, too, physicians are in attendance on those who are sick, but no one for that reason would prefer being sick to being a physician.”

Dionysius was offended and made him recline at the end of the table. And Aristippus said, “You must have wished to confer distinction on the last place.”

Stilpo

And conversing upon the duty of doing good to men he made such an impression on the king that he became eager to hear him.

Plato

If Phoebus did not cause Plato to be born in Greece, how came it that he healed the minds of men by letters? As the god’s son Asclepius is a healer of the body, so is Plato of the immortal soul.

Bion

He used repeatedly to say that to grant favours to another was preferable to enjoying the favours of others.

The road to Hades, he used to say, was easy to travel.

Aristotle

To the question how we should behave to friends, he answered, “As we should wish them to behave to us.”

Antisthenes

“It is a royal privilege to do good and be ill spoken of.”

When a friend complained to him that he had lost his notes, “You should have inscribed them,” said he, “on your mind instead of on paper.” As iron is eaten away by rust, so, said he, the envious are consumed by their own passion. Those who would fain be immortal must, he declared, live piously and justly.

“Many men praise you,” said one. “Why, what wrong have I done?” was his rejoinder

Diogenes

The love of money he declared to be mother-city of all evils.

Good men he called images of the gods

all things are the property of the wise

Zeno

A Rhodian, who was handsome and rich, but nothing more, insisted on joining his class. but so unwelcome was this pupil, that first of all Zeno made him sit on the benches that were dusty, that he might soil his cloak, and then he consigned him to the place where the beggars sat, that he might rub shoulders with their rags. So at last the young man went away.

This man adopts a new philosophy. He teaches to go hungry: yet he gets Disciples.

Cleanthes

Afterwards when the poet apologized for the insult, he accepted the apology, saying that, when Dionysus and Heracles were ridiculed by the poets without getting angry, it would be absurd for him to be annoyed at casual abuse.

Pythagoras

Pythagoras made many into good men and true

Epicurus

He carried deference to others to such excess that he did not even enter public life.

He showed dauntless courage in meeting troubles and death

He would punish neither slave nor free man in anger. Admonition he used to call “setting right.”

Not to call the gods to witness, man’s duty being rather to strive to make his own word carry conviction

God takes thought for man

In storm at sea

Bias

He was once on a voyage with some impious men; and, when a storm was encountered, even they began to call upon the gods for help. “Peace!” said he, “lest they hear and become aware that you are here in the ship.”

Aristippus

It happened once that he set sail for Corinth and, being overtaken by a storm, he was in great consternation. Some one said, “We plain men are not alarmed, and are you philosophers turned cowards?” To this he replied, “The lives at stake in the two cases are not comparable.”

Pyrrho

When his fellow passengers on board a ship were all unnerved by a storm, he kept calm and confident, pointing to a little pig in the ship that went on eating, and telling them that such was the unperturbed state in which the wise man should keep himself.

Divinely called, taught God’s truths, believed to be Divine

Continue reading “Jesus (and Paul) in the Ancient Philosopher Tradition”


2021-05-10

Did Paul Quote Jesus on Divorce? — Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again) — #5

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again) — #4

An examination of the claim that “Paul refers to his teachings that Jesus made during in his earthly ministry, on divorce . . .”

Source-Data Interpretation External facts / context related to interpretation
1 Corinthians 7:10-11

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 1 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

Paul is recollecting the teaching of Jesus found in Mark 10:9-12 and Luke 16:18 that others had passed on to him. (“Paul cites Apostolic, Jewish-Christian tradition as his source of authority.” (Tomson, 117))

Mark 10:9-12

… Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. … Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.

Luke 16:18

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

 

Paul insisted he learned nothing from others about the gospel of Jesus

Galatians 1:11-12; 2:6

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 

. . . As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.

One wonders if it was possible that this rudimentary principle, which is alien to ancient society but was recognized by the whole of primitive Christianity, should have remained unknown in Corinth. At all events it is expressed in such a way that it sounds as if Paul was making it known for the first time. (Conzelmann, 120)

Baur has objected that if Paul had meant to cite a positive command of the Lord, he must have used the past παρήγγειλεν (He commanded), and not the present. . . . No doubt it might also be that the apostle meant to say he had received this command by revelation (Godet, 332f)

Paul omits the limitation put by the Lord on the command not to separate: “unless it be for adultery.” (Godet, 333)

Thus Paul not only corrects himself, but knowingly cites Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and passes it on in indirect discourse to married believers in an absolute, unqualified form, as coming from the risen Christ. Cf. 14:37, “a commandment of the Lord. (Fitzmyer, 292)

What can be said as to which of the Gospel traditions is closest to the Pauline formulation? There is hardly any agreement between the various discussions of this question. . . . the question as to which of the various Synoptic formulations seems presupposed by Paul’s formulation must be left open. (Dungan, 133-134)

Paul makes no attempt to cite the words of the historical Jesus  (Collins, 269)

[Elsewhere when delivering moral teachings] Paul … characteristically gives no indication that he is aware that he is using the language of Jesus, or acting in obedience to his precepts (Barrett, 112)

The context of I Cor 7:10 (vv 1-9) suggest Paul is addressing couples who are challenged by one party wishing to become an ascetic (an issue found frequently in second-century sources) so the situation is different from the divorce sayings in the gospels:

Paul’s specific references to the teaching of Jesus are notoriously few. . . Paul is dealing (perhaps not exclusively) with marriages that are threatened by an ascetic view of sexual relations. (Barrett, 162f)

Others think that the question of a possible divorce has arisen in Roman Corinth because some Christian spouses there were already abstaining from intercourse for ascetic reasons (Fitzmyer, 291)

It is undeniable that Paul felt sympathetic to the ideal proposed by the ascetics, but he could not permit it to be imposed as a general rule. (Murphy-O’Connor, 605)

Doubts against the historicity of the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:9-12 —

The arguments against authenticity are: the Markan version reflects the situation of the early community; the variations in the tradition suggest that the community struggled to adapt some teaching to its own context; the appeal to scripture in vv. 6-7 is not characteristic of Jesus but reflects the Christian use of the Greek Bible; familiarity with Roman rather than Israelite marriage law in vv. 11-12 indicates a later, gentile context. Further, the roles of Jesus and the Pharisees seem reversed: here the Pharisees view the Mosaic law as permitting divorce, whereas Jesus cites the scripture in support of a more stringent view. (Funk, 88f)

and in Luke 16:18 —

Matthew adds infidelity as the one exception to the absolute rule on divorce. A different version is found in Mark 10:2-12//Matt 19:3-9, in which divorce is made contrary to God’s order in creation (‘What God has coupled together, no one should separate’). The confusion in the transmission of the tradition led many Fellows to designate this saying in Luke as gray [=”Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his own”] or black [=”Jesus did not say this. The saying comes from a later time”]. The confusion in the jesus tradition is matched by confusion in the lore of the period. (Funk, 360)

–o–

The above are not intended to suggest they are the only factors to be considered. Some of the sources quoted above attempt to answer the negative considerations I have cited. Example, in response to Baur’s point about the past tense, Godet writes,

But the command of Jesus is regarded as abiding for the Church throughout all time. (Godet, 332)

Opposed to the arguments against authenticity, Funk et al first lists those “for”:

The arguments in favor of authenticity are: remarks on the subject by Jesus are preserved in two or more independent sources and in two or more different contexts; an injunction difficult for the early community to practice is evidence of a more original version; Jesus’ response is in the form of an aphorism that undercuts social and religious convention. Further, the Markan version implies a more elevated view of the status of women than was generally accorded them in the patriarchal society of the time, which coheres with other evidence that Jesus took a more liberal view of women. (Funk, 88)

It’s an interesting question, the source of Paul’s appeal to “the command of the Lord” here. As one commentator remarks with some puzzlement, Paul only cites the command to offer a contradiction to it — accepting the possibility of divorce anyway. (The word “separation” is said to be used often enough for “divorce”.) The rationale of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark for forbidding divorce is an appeal to Genesis and creation — the same rationale we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some commentators say that Paul is appealing to Jesus’ command this time because he knows he is contradicting the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is also pointed out that the Scriptures themselves are contradictory: God hates divorce, he says through his prophets, but through Moses he permits it. Should we see here in this section of 1 Corinthians another allusion to the author presenting himself as a prophet of God, as another Moses, even — declaring the law of God but at the same time acknowledging some flexibility, as per the Old Covenant?

Re: “teachings that Jesus made during his earthly ministry, . . .  on preachers and on the coming apocalypse

Continuing in the next post.


Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black, 1971.

Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, Minn: Michael Glazier, 1999.

Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul; Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life. Fortress Press, 1971. http://archive.org/details/sayingsofjesusin00dung.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. First Corinthians. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2008.

Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary. New York: Polebridge Press, 1993.

Godet, Frédéric. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Translated by A. Cusin. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonstpa01godeuoft.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “The Divorced Woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, no. 4 (1981): 601–6. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266121.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.

Tomson, Peter. Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Netherlands: Brill, 1991.



2021-04-18

Paul and Jesus: Mirrored Rejections, Deaths and Resurrections

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by Neil Godfrey

After posting Paul is Jesus Redivivus in Acts I remembered I had forgotten to include some of the more interesting details from J. A. Mattill’s article. Mattill began with some historical observations of the Paul-Jesus parallels. I have since added key points to the earlier post.

. . . Important is [Eduard] Zeller’s observation that the remarkable feature in Acts that Paul always is compelled only by the unbelief of the Jews to preach to the Gentiles has its undeniable type in the narrative of Jesus’ rejection in his own home town, the narrative with which Luke so characteristically opens Jesus’ public ministry (Lk. iv 16-30 13).

Google translation: The original of Peter and Paul of the Acts of the Apostles is the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. The author of the Acts of the Apostles had the latter in mind … when he borrowed the lines from which he composed the image of both apostles … Since the Gospel portrait of Jesus is unhistorical, even one word about the historical character of the copy would be superfluous.

About the same time as Zeller, Bruno Bauer, whose interest was in the Jesus of the Synoptics rather than of Luke alone, nevertheless set forth thirteen Jesus-parallels in Luke-Acts. The significant part of Bauer’s study, for our purposes, lies in his famous statement:

“Das Original des Petrus und des Paulus der Apostel- geschichte ist der Jesus der synoptischen Evangelien. Der Verfasser der Apostelgeschichte hatte die letzteren … vor Augen, als er ihnen die Züge entlehnte, aus denen er das Bild beider Apostel zusammensetzte ….”

Since the Gospel portrait of Jesus is unhistorical, even one word about the historical character of the copy would be superfluous.

The most thorough-going presentation of the Jesus-Paul parallels is that of Rackham in his commentary on Acts [link is to the online text; see pp xlvii, 401, 477-478]. The active work of Jesus and Paul “is concluded by a ‘passion’ or period of suffering, which in each volume occupies a seemingly disproportionate space …. After early anticipations (Lk. ix 51 = Acts xix 21) and a detailed journey up to Jerusalem (Lk. xvii 11-xix 48 = Acts xx-xxi 17) with ‘last words’ of the sufferer (Lk. xx-xxi = Acts xx 17-38) we have the ‘passion’ proper (Lk. xxii-xxiii = Acts xxi 17-xxviii 10). And then in each case the book ends with a period of victorious but quiet preparation for further advance,.. “For if in the scheme of Acts the last chapters correspond to the last chapters of the Gospel, this chapter (xxvii) forms the parallel (as is fairly evident) to the crucifixion or Lk. xxii-xxiii’’, followed by resurrection. This general parallelism “at once gives significance” to a number of details “which by themselves would have escaped notice”.

Paul’s shipwreck and plunging into the deep are the counterparts to Jesus’ death on the cross (Lk. xxiii 26-49; Acts xxvii 14-24). The storm and darkness during Paul’s voyage correspond to the darkness and spiritual storm on Calvary (Lk. xxiii 44-45; Acts xxvii 20). The verdict of the centurion that Jesus was a righteous man parallels that of the Maltese that Paul was a god (Lk. xxiii 47; Acts xxviii 6). The rest and peace of the three winter months at Malta, when Paul was entirely cut off from the outside world and old life, is like Jesus’ three days in the grave (Lk. xxiii 50-56; Acts xxviii 1-10). Paul’s rescue at sea at Malta is a resurrection from the dead parallel to that of Jesus (Lk. xxiv 1-11; Acts xxvii 39-44). Paul’s voyage to Rome in the spring, which was to Paul the entrance into a new life, is comparable to the joyful period after the resurrection (Lk. xxiv 12-49; Acts xxviii 11-16).

. . .

* Jesus redivivus: Windisch, “Paulus und Jesus”, Theologische Studien und Kritiken 106 (1934-1935), 465.

From the history-of-religions standpoint, Hans Windisch devotes an entire book to the Jesus-Paul parallels in Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. He is concerned with the similarity of the two figures themselves and the comparableness of both to the “man of God” of the Old Testament and the “divine man” of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Paul is Jesus redivivus*, an incarnation of Christ for the church, a Christ under Christ. Luke found this parallelism in the subject-matter itself, and as a theologically-minded historian he developed it so that he made Jesus to be his own apostle as a forerunner of Paul and Paul to be a second Christ-messenger 20).

Much indebted to Rackham is M. D. Goulder, who calls Rackham “a typologist before his time” [see below]. “Acts”, says Goulder, “is not straight-forward history but typological history, the life of Jesus providing the types of the life of the Church”, the body of Christ. “All of the life of Jesus is matter typical of his Church’s history. But the dominant types are the dominant facts of his life, his passion, death, and resurrection ….” Goulder finds wide agreement about the existence of “an intentional set of parallels” between Jesus and Paul.

Goulder strengthens the argument for the parallel between “Paul’s shipwreck and deliverance and Jesus’ death and resurrection”. To the Semites “death was like going into the sea …. All the sea is death to the Semite, whether we drown or whether we paddle and come out again …” Paul himself refers to his shipwrecks as “deaths” and his rescues as “resurrections” (II Cor. i 8-10; xi 23).

Going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death, and being saved from one for resurrection: when St Paul speaks of his shipwrecks in these terms, how can St Luke have thought otherwise ? He has shaped his book to lead up to the passion of Christ’s apostle from xix 21 on in such a way as to recall what led up to the passion of Christ himself in the earlier book: and as the climax of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ, so the climax of Acts is the thanatos and anastasis of Paul. (Goulder, p. 39)

(Mattill, 18-21)

Ludolf Backhuysen 1630 – 1708 “Paul’s Shipwreck” From Art and the Bible

For those of us interested here is Goulder’s discussion (pp. 34-39) on the shipwreck’s relation to the crucifixion (my formatting): Continue reading “Paul and Jesus: Mirrored Rejections, Deaths and Resurrections”


2021-04-17

Paul is Jesus Redivivus in Acts

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by Neil Godfrey

The author of Acts appears to have used the life experiences, trials and death of Jesus as his model for the life and trials of Paul. The following evidence for this claim is taken from a 1975 article by A. J. Mattill, Jr., “The Jesus-Paul Parallels and the Purpose of Luke-Acts”. If one accepts that the source of Paul’s life and adventures was the Lukan account of Jesus then there are implications for the purpose of Luke-Acts and the literary-theological function of Paul himself.

The first-listed parallels may not seem so striking but keep scrolling. The four trials of each are surely worth noting. Mattill fleshes out many of the points with numerous verbal parallels but I have omitted most of those here.

Contents:

 
 

-o-

Jesus and Paul are from their childhood law-abiding Israelites

  • Jesus is circumcised the eighth day (Luke 2:21-24)
  • Jesus and his parents observe Passover (Luke 2:41-42)
  • Jesus teaches that the Law will never fail (Luke 16:17)
  • Jesus is falsely accused of changing the customs of Moses (Acts 6:14)

-o-

Jesus and Paul begin and continue their preaching in the synagogues

A related key parallel:

Zeller’s observation that the remarkable feature in Acts that Paul always is compelled only by the unbelief of the Jews to preach to the Gentiles has its undeniable type in the narrative of Jesus’ rejection in his own home town, the narrative with which Luke so characteristically opens Jesus’ public ministry (Lk. iv 16-30 13).

(Mattill, p. 18)

-o-

The Pharisees who believe in the resurrection affirm the teachings of Jesus and Paul

  • Jesus affirms the Pharisaic doctrine of the resurrection from the dead (Luke 14:14; 20:27-40)
  • Hence Jesus enlists sympathy of Pharisees against the Sadducees (Luke 20:39)
  • Jesus declares “all live in God” (to prove the resurrection) (Luke 20:38)

-o-

Fulfilment of Scripture

The author of Luke-Acts based his narrative around the fulfilment of scripture.

Jesus

Jesus quotes and applies Isaiah 6:9-10 to his work and response (Luke 8:10)

Jesus proves by Scripture that he is

Jesus affirms from Scripture that the Gospel shall be preached

Paul

Paul quotes and applies Isaiah 6:9-10 to his work and response (Acts 28:25-28)

Paul proves by Scripture that Jesus is

Paul affirms from Scripture that the Gospel shall be preached

-o-

Both are God’s ordained servants to fulfil the divine plan of salvation

Jesus is God’s chosen servant (Luke 9:35; 23:35)

Jesus is divinely sent (Luke 4:18, 43; 9:48; 10:16)

 .

Jesus proclaims (Luke 4:18, 19, 44: 8:1)

.

attracting multitudes by the message (Luke 5:1; 7:11; 8:4; 11:27, 29; 12:1; 14:25; 19:48; 20:1; 21:38)

Paul is God’s chosen instrument (Acts 16:17)

Paul is divinely sent (Acts 22:21; 26:17; cf 14:4, 14)

.

Paul proclaims (Acts 9:20; 19:13; 20:25; 28:31)

 

attracting multitudes by the message (Acts 11:26; 13:44; 14:1; 17:4; 19:10)

-o-

Divine necessity (δει) drives the planned careers of both Jesus and Paul

Jesus must be in his Father’s house (Luke 2:49)

He must proclaim the good news (Luke 4:43)

He must go to Jerusalem (Luke 13:33)

He must abide at Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19:5)

In Jerusalem he must suffer many things (Luke 17:25)

then he must rise from the dead (Luke 24:7, 26)

then he must be received in heaven (Acts 3:21)

Paul is told what he must do (Acts 9:6)

He must suffer many things (Acts 9:6)

He must be delivered from death when cast ashore on a certain island (Acts 27:26)

He must see Rome (Acts 19:21)

In Rome he must bear witness (Acts 23:11)

and there must be judged (Acts 25:10)

and must stand before Caesar (Acts 27:24)

-o-

Spirit, Revelations, and Angels direct, control, assure, strengthen Jesus and Paul

Jesus receives the Holy Spirit at baptism (Luke 3:21-22)

Jesus is “full of the holy spirit” (Luke 4:1)

Jesus is controlled by the spirit — led into wilderness and returns in spirit’s power to Galilee (Luke 4:1, 14)

Revelations and voices directing his ministry:

.

Angel appears to Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43)

Paul receives the Holy Spirit at baptism (Acts 9:17-18)

Paul is “full of the holy spirit” (Acts 9:17; 13:9)

Paul is controlled by the spirit — forbidden to enter Asia and Bithynia, purposes in the spirit to go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:6, 7, 21)

Revelations and voices directing his ministry:

Angel appears to Paul during storm at sea (Acts 27:23)

-o-

Parallel signs and wonders confirm the teachings of Jesus and Paul

Jesus casts out demons (Luke 4:33-37, 41; 8:26-39; 11:20)

Jesus heals the lame man (Luke 5:17-26)

Jesus cures many sick (Luke 4:40; 6:17-19)

Jesus cures a fever and others stream in for healing (Luke 4:38-40)

Jesus raises the dead (Luke 7:11-17; 8:40-42; 49-46)

. . . after affirming the person was not really dead (Luke 8:52)

Jesus imparts healing power physically (Luke 5:17; 6:19; 8:46)

Those healed provide Jesus with necessities (Luke 8:2-3)

Paul casts out demons (Acts 10:38; 16:16-18)

Paul heals a lame man (Acts 14:8-14)

Paul heals many sick (Acts 28:9)

Paul cures a fever and others stream in for healing (Acts 28:7-10)

Paul raises the dead (Acts 20:9-12)

. . . after affirming the person was not really dead (Acts 20:10)

Paul imparts healing power physically (Acts 19:6, 11-12)

Those healed provide Paul with necessities (Acts 28:10)

-o-

Turning to the Gentiles is a theme of both Jesus and Paul

Jesus is rejected and persecuted by his own people from the beginning (Nazareth) of his ministry (Luke 4:28-29)

and often thereafter (Luke 5:21-30; 6:1-5, 6-11; 7:39; 11:14-23, 53-54; 13:14-17; 14:1-6; 15:2; 16:14-15; 19:39-48; 20:1-8, 19-26, 27-40; 22:2-6, 47-53, 66-71; 23:1-43)

Jesus is taken outside a city (ἔξω τῆς πόλεως) and threatened with stoning, but escapes with his life (Luke 4:29-30)

Audience is enraged when Jesus speaks of gentiles (Luke 4:27-28)

Jews lie in wait (ἐνεδρεύοντες) to kill Jesus (Luke 11:54)

Jesus declares that just as in days of old Jews to be rejected and gentiles accepted

Jesus travels through Samaria (prefiguring Paul) (Luke 9:51-19:44)

Jesus sends out the 70 symbolizing the evangelization of every nation (Luke 10:1-16)

Teaches the rejection of Israel (Luke 20:9-19) and commands the gentile mission (Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8; 22:21)

From the Law and Prophets Jesus proclaims the passion, resurrection and ensuing gentile mission (Luke 24:44-47)

Jesus proclaims repentance is to be preached to all (Luke 24:47)

Jesus is a light revealing salvation to the world (Luke 2:32)

Paul is rejected and persecuted by his own people from the beginning (Damascus) of his ministry (Acts 9:23)

and often thereafter (Acts 9:23-24, 29-30; 13:45-51; 14:2-6, 19; 17:5-15; 18:6-12; 19:8-9; 20:3; 21:27-23:22; 24:1-9; 28:23-28)

Paul is taken outside a city (ἔξω τῆς πόλεως) and stoned by escapes with his life (Acts 14:19-20)

Audience is enraged when Paul speaks of gentiles (Acts 18:47-50; 22:21-22)

Jews lie in wait (ἐνεδρεύουσιν) to kill Paul (Acts 23:21)

Paul declares that just as in days of old Jews to be rejected and gentiles accepted

After first preaching to Jews everywhere (Antioch Acts 13:46-47), Corinth (18:6), Ephesus (19:9) and Rome (28:24-28 — quoting Isaiah 6:9-10, cf Luke 8:10)

Paul travels through Samaria, reporting how gentiles turned to God (Acts 15:3)

.

From the Law and Prophets Paul proclaims the passion, resurrection and ensuing gentile mission (Acts 26:22-23)

Paul proclaims repentance is to be preached to all (Acts 17:30)

Paul is a light revealing salvation to the world (Acts 13:47; 26:23)

-o-

Journey to Jerusalem and the Passion

The two great travel sections: Luke 9:51-19:44 and Acts 19:21-28:31

Luke 9:51-52 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him

Acts 19:21-22 After all this had happened, Paul decided[a] to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.

A last journey to Jerusalem is a journey toward passion, as prophesied, knowing that he will be handed over to gentiles: (Luke 18:31-33; 9:44)

The ultimate scene of persecution was Jerusalem where the leaders  sought his death (Luke 19:47)

Jerusalem is the place where prophets must die (Luke 13:33)

Jesus is opposed by the Sadducees who deny the resurrection (Luke 20:27)

Jesus is accused by the Sadducean high priesthood (Luke 20:27)

Jesus delivers farewell addresses (Luke 20:45-21:36; 22:14-38; 24: 36-53)

In his last words (Luke 20-22)

Not a hair of your head will perish (Luke 21:18)

The Temple is the setting for the prelude to Jesus’ passion (Luke 21:37)

Jews plot treachery to kill Jesus (Luke 22:2-6)

Jesus is severely tempted to abandon his purpose to die (Luke 22:40-44) — “thy will be done”

Jesus is seized at Jerusalem by the Jews (Luke 22:54)

Jesus expostulates with his opponents (Luke 22:52-53)

A last journey to Jerusalem is a journey toward passion, as prophesied, knowing that he will be handed over to gentiles: (Acts 20:22-23; 21:10-11; 28:17)

The ultimate scene of persecution was Jerusalem where the leaders  sought his death (Acts 25:2-3)

Jerusalem is the place where prophets are expected to die (Acts 21:30-36; 22:22-25; 23:12-22; 25:1-12)

Paul is opposed by the Sadducees who deny the resurrection (Acts 23:8)

Paul is accused by the Sadducean high priesthood (Acts 23:6-8)

Paul delivers farewell addresses (Acts 20:1, 7; 20:18-35)

In his last words (Acts 20:18-35)

Not a hair of your head will perish (Acts 27:34)

The Temple is the setting for the prelude to Paul’s passion (Acts 21:26)

Jews plot treachery to kill Paul (Acts 23:12-16)

Paul is severely tempted to abandon his purpose to be ready to die (Acts 21:13; 20:23; 21:4, 10-14) — the Lord’s will be done”

Paul is seized at Jerusalem by the Jews (Acts 21:27)

Paul expostulates with his opponents (Acts 21:40-22:21)

-o-

Parallel Trials, Charges and Acquittals

Four trials of Jesus

Jesus is accused of

Pilate asks where Jesus is from and then sends him to the authority (Herod) of that region (Galilee) (Luke 23:6-7)

  • appears by order of Pilate
  • before Herod Antipas
  • who happens to be available (Luke 23:7)
  • and can thus have his wish to hear the accused (Luke 23:7-8)
  • Herod Antipas hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle (Luke 23:8)
  • Jews stand and accuse Jesus before Herod (Luke 23:10)

Roman authority Pontius Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus (Luke 23:4)

Pilate exonerates Jesus (“I have found no basis for your charges against this man”) (Luke 23:14)

Roman governor Pilate finds Jesus has done nothing worthy of death (Luke 23:15, 22)

Pilate would have released Jesus (Luke 23:16, 20)

The crowd shout for Jesus’ death (Luke 23:18, 21)

 

Four trials of Paul

Paul is accused of

Felix asks Paul where he is from and then holds him until he can be heard before the relevant authority (Acts 23:34-35)

  • appears by order of Festus
  • before Herod Agrippa II
  • who happens to be available (Acts 25:13-14)
  • and can thus have his wish to hear the accused (Acts 25:22)
  • Felix hoped Paul would give him money (Acts 24:26)
  • Jews stand and vehemently accuse Paul before Festus (Acts 25:7)

Roman authority Claudius Lysias finds no guilt in Paul (Acts 23:29)

Pharisees exonerate Paul (“we find nothing wrong with this man”) (Acts 23:9)

Roman governor Festus finds Paul has done nothing worthy of death (Acts 25:25; 26:31)

Agrippa would have released Paul (Acts 26:32)

The crowd shouts for Paul’s death (Acts 21:36; 22:22)

Jesus was shamefully treated in Jerusalem (Luke 18:32)

Last Supper – take bread, give thanks, break it (Luke 22:19)

The people are numbered, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, breaks bread, feeds the people (Luke 9:12-17)

Jesus is accompanied by malefactors (Luke 22:37; 23:32)

Jesus kneels to pray (usual posture was to stand) (Luke 22:41)

At his trial Jesus is struck by one nearby (Luke 22:63)

Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin “the next day” (not night, as in Mark) (Luke 22:66)

Jesus is “delivered up” by Pilate to his captors (Luke 23:25)

A crowd follows Jesus (Luke 23:27)

Paul was shamefully treated at Iconium (Acts 14:5)

Meal aboard ship — take bread, give thanks, break it (Acts 27:33-38)

The people are numbered, Paul takes bread, gives thanks, breaks bread, feeds the people (Acts 27:33-38)

Paul is accompanied by malefactors (Acts 27:1)

Paul kneels to pray (Acts 20:36)

At his trial Paul is struck by one nearby (Acts 22:30)

Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin “the next day” (Acts 22:30)

Paul is “delivered up” by Festus to his captors (Acts 27:1)

A crowd follows Paul (Acts 21:36)

-o-

Deaths and resurrections

Paul’s shipwreck and plunging into the deep are the counterparts to Jesus’ death on the cross (Luke 23:26-49; Acts 27:14-24). . . .

Goulder strengthens the argument for the parallel between “Paul’s shipwreck and deliverance and Jesus’ death and resurrection”. To the Semites “death was like going into the sea …. All the sea is death to the Semite, whether we drown or whether we paddle and come out again …” Paul himself refers to his shipwrecks as “deaths” and his rescues as “resurrections” (II Cor. 1:8-10; 11:23)

Going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death, and being saved from one for resurrection: when St Paul speaks of his shipwrecks in these terms, how can St Luke have thought otherwise ? He has shaped his book to lead up to the passion of Christ’s apostle from xix 21 on in such a way as to recall what led up to the passion of Christ himself in the earlier book: and as the climax of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ, so the climax of Acts is the thanatos and anastasis of Paul.

(Mattill, pp. 19, 21)

An amazed centurion judges Jesus to be a righteous man (Luke 23:47)

Jesus was three days in the grave (Luke 23:50-56)

Jesus was rescued from death (Luke 24:1-11)

Post-resurrection joy (Luke 24:12-49)

An amazed Maltese judges Paul to be a god (Acts 28:6)

Paul was at rest and peace for three winter months cut off from the outside world (Acts 28:1-10) (28:11 – “3 months”)

Paul was rescued from death at sea at Malta (Acts 27:39-44)

Paul’s voyage to Rome in spring which was Paul’s entrance into a new life (Acts 28:11-16)

-o-

Other parallels though not in Luke

(If Luke was the last written gospel and its author knew the other three, as some have argued…?)

Jesus is said to be out of his mind (Mark 3:21)

Jesus is bound (Mark 15:1)

Jesus is challenged over disrespect to high priest (John 18:22)

Jesus comes before a judge whose wife is mentioned (Matthew 27:19)

Jesus’ judges wish to please the Jews (Mark 15:15)

Earthquake while on cross (Matthew 27:51)

Paul is said to be out of his mind (Acts 26:24)

Paul is bound (Acts 21:11, 33; 24:27)

Paul is challenged over disrespect to high priest (Acts 23:4)

Paul comes before a judge whose wife is mentioned (Acts 24:24)

Paul’s judges wish to please the Jews (Acts 24:27; 25:9)

Earthquake while in prison (Acts 16:26)

-o-


Mattill, A. J. “The Jesus-Paul Parallels and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: H. H. Evans Reconsidered.” Novum Testamentum 17, no. 1 (1975): 15–46. https://doi.org/10.2307/1560195https://www.jstor.org/stable/1560195



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


2019-08-19

Paul as a Midrashic Creation

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by Neil Godfrey

I am beginning to suspect that Nanine Charbonnel’s book on the Christ Myth theory is really something quite different from any other argument for the Jesus of the gospels having been a figure crafted entirely out of “revelation”, especially “revelation” through the Jewish Scriptures. So far I have steadily worked my way through the first part of the book in which NC presents a wide range of ways Jewish scribes of the Second Temple era wrote and interpreted their sacred books. Having since read NC’s introduction to the second part of Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier I have begun to glimpse the relevance of all of that unexpected introduction.

I’ll save the big guns for later, but here is something, or just a morsel of something, that I picked up through beginning to read one of the works in NC’s bibliography. It’s another book in French (so again, it’s not one I can read quickly or even skim) —

What Do We Mean by Midrash?

Let’s first get the term midrash out of the way. Here I fall back on the simplest explanation of the word used by a Jewish scholar of some note, Daniel Boyarin:

Although a whole library could (and has been) written on midrash, for the present purposes it will be sufficient to define [midrash] as a mode of biblical reading that brings disparate passages and verses together in the elabora­tion of new narratives. It is something like the old game of anagrams in which the players look at words or texts and seek to form new words and texts out of the letters that are there. The rabbis who produced the midrashic way of reading considered the Bible one enormous signifying system, any part of which could be taken as commenting on or supple­ menting any other part. They were thus able to make new stories out of fragments of older ones (from the Bible itself), via a kind of anagrams writ large; the new stories, which build closely on the biblical narratives but expand and modify them as well, were considered the equals of the bibli­cal stories themselves.

(Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels, 76)

That won’t satisfy certain purists and it does conflict with my most recent posts on the term but I’m also a believer that words mean what we mean them to mean and if we can all accept for the sake of argument the use of a term for a particular purpose then we are removing an unnecessary barrier to getting a discussion under way. (Boyarin’s is also a definition that NC herself references.)

Paul’s Career Began in Scripture

Again, I emphasize I am not presenting here a full argument but merely a small detail of a much larger presentation. (I have read no more than 2% of the Kindle version of Mergui’s book.)

Paul, we all know, was originally called Saul, according to the Book of Acts.

Saul, pronounced closer to “shawl” in Hebrew, is based on the King Saul of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel.

Saul was a persecutor of the church. He bound the men and women of the Christian faith (Acts 8).

Where did that biographical detail originate? It is not in Paul’s letters: if in doubt see Paul the persecutor? and Paul the Persecutor: The Case for Interpolation. Continue reading “Paul as a Midrashic Creation”


2019-06-14

Mythicism and Paul’s Claims to Supernatural Revelation (Engaging with McGrath — 2)

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by Neil Godfrey

In Australian private hospitals we are likely to see pictures of a crucifix or Mother Mary. In Thailand we see Buddhist paraphernalia. View of one taken by me from a hospital bed where I arrived as result of accident. Life is always full of unexpected surprises.

Again waylaid by life experiences so surfacing here another post begun way back. The first post in this series is  Addressing James McGrath’s Arguments Against Mythicism — 1

This time we are addressing

McGrath begins:

Mythicists regularly claim (as one commenter on this blog recently did) regarding Paul that “Our earliest Christian source claimed to have learned nothing from the Christians who came before him.  He claimed to know what he knew by divine revelation.”

Since the subject has come up once again, in the same form in which it always seems to, let me devote a blog post solely to this topic, in the hope that any mythicists who desire not to be like creationists (who are notorious for repeating the exact same arguments even though they have been addressed adequately on countless other occasions) may at least show a willingness to consider the evidence and respond.

Here are the main relevant points that need to be considered.

First, in Galatians 1:15-17, Paul claims not to have consulted with anyone before starting to proclaim the Gospel.

That “first main relevant point” that McGrath informs readers needs to be addressed simply avoids the problematic verse that the commenter was addressing. McGrath begins with Galatians 1:15 but fails to acknowledge that the commenter, Vinny, was referring to Galatians 1:11-12. Vinny’s comment that McGrath claims to be addressing is:

Our earliest Christian source claimed to have learned nothing from the Christians who came before him. He claimed to know what he knew by divine revelation. He didn’t tell us why he persecuted the Christians who preceded him. Most of the communities he addressed were communities that he founded. The only evidence we have for what those communities knew and understood about Jesus is what we find in Paul’s letters. It is not unreasonable suppose that they knew other things but any declarations concerning what those things actually were are little more than conjecture and speculation. How much of his message came from those who preceded him and how much was the product of his own imagination and creativity is also a matter of conjecture and speculation. Those are pieces of the puzzle that we don’t possess.

The passage to which Vinny was referring was Galatians 1:11-12 (I am using the same NIV translation as McGrath is using):

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

But let’s see how McGrath addresses the comment. As we just noted, he glosses over the above verses and begins at verse 15:

Here is how the New International Version renders it:

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.  I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Important things to note are

(1) that Paul had previously persecuted the church (Neil: The persecution reference is two verses earlier), and so was not entirely unaware of what Christians had to say,

(2) his aim here is to emphasize that his authority is not dependent on the apostles in Jerusalem,

(3) he does not in fact say that he received everything he knew about Jesus or the Gospel by supernatural revelation, and finally

(4) if he did mean to claim that everything that he knew was by supernatural revelation, no historian would believe him, since there is obviously a more mundane explanation available for how Paul knew the things that he did.

I think we can all agree with the first three of McGrath’s four things to note. Concerning #4, historians have no problem “believing” that mystics and visionaries claim to have visions and revelations from spirit realms. Historians acknowledge that Joan of Arc heard voices without believing that a heavenly saint really was speaking to her, that Saint Francis had visions without believing God was really communicating with him, and that people speak in tongues without believing that a real “holy spirit” is doing the work. I learned through an article by Stephen Young that “the now classic analysis” explaining the difference was set out by Wayne Proudfoot in 1987 in Religious Experience:

Descriptive and Explanatory Reduction

We are now in a position to distinguish two different kinds of reduction. Descriptive reduction is the failure to identify an emotion, practice, or experience under the description by which the subject identifies it. This is indeed unacceptable. To describe an experience in nonreligious terms when the subject himself describes it in religious terms is to misidentify the experience, or to attend to another experience altogether. To describe Bradley’s experience as simply a vision of a human shape, and that of Mrs. Edwards as a lively warm sense that seemed to glow like a pencil of light, is to lose the identifying characteristics of those experiences. To describe the experience of a mystic by reference only to alpha waves, altered heart rate, and changes in bodily temperature is to misdescribe it. To characterize the experience of a Hindu mystic in terms drawn from the Christian tradition is to misidentify it. In each of these instances, the subject’s identifying experience has been reduced to something other than that experienced by the subject. This might properly be called reductionism. In any case, it precludes an accurate identification of the subject’s experience.

Explanatory reduction consists in offering an explanation of an experience in terms that are not those of the subject and that might not meet with his approval. This is perfectly justifiable and is, in fact, normal procedure. The explanandum is set in a new context, whether that be one of covering laws and initial conditions, narrative structure, or some other explanatory model. The terms of the explanation need not be familiar or acceptable to the subject. Historians offer explanations of past events by employing such concepts as socialization, ideology, means of production, and feudal economy. Seldom can these concepts properly be ascribed to the people whose behavior is the object of the historian’s study. But that poses no problem. The explanation stands or falls according to how well it can account for all the available evidence.

(Proudfoot, 196f. bolded emphasis mine)

Thus McGrath’s suggestion that Paul’s claim to have received by revelation his gospel of Jesus is implausible confuses acceptance of Paul’s claim with belief in Paul’s own beliefs about his claim. Historians can and should explain Paul’s words without themselves personally believing Paul’s interpretations. It is absurd to suggest that they should reject Paul’s words because they themselves don’t believe his account.

So we can correct #4 to say that “if Paul did mean to claim that everything that he knew was by supernatural revelation, no historian would believe his visions were genuinely from another realm; historians would be quite content to accept that he claimed to have had a direct revelation by whatever means.”

McGrath Does Make a Serious Point

It is too easy to dismiss everything McGrath writes after we read the above lapses where he fails to address the verse Vinny was discussing and confuses the historian’s choices of descriptive and explanatory interpretations. McGrath does, in fact, make a serious point in the next section of his post. Continue reading “Mythicism and Paul’s Claims to Supernatural Revelation (Engaging with McGrath — 2)”


2019-03-06

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3

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by Roger Parvus

The previous post concluded with

. . . at a minimum, the Saturnilians are addressing the same kind of issues we see in addressed in Paul’s letters. At a maximum, . . . 1 Corinthians could be providing us with a window . . . on the Saturnilian church sometime between 70 and 135 CE.

Continuing . . . .

What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. 

 

4th Jan 2021: See comments below for revisions by Roger Parvus to his original post:

The Real Paul

If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. Alfred Loisy was one:

The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.

Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).

But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…

Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)

My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch? Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3”


2019-03-05

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 2

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by Roger Parvus

The previous post concluded with

Thus I think we need to look between 70 and 135 both for the author of the Vision and for the one who projected it into Paul’s letters. We are not necessarily looking for two people. There is no reason why one and the same person could not have done both tasks.

Continuing . . . .

The Best Candidate

To my mind easily the best candidate for both tasks is a man whose name is variously rendered as Saturnilus, Saturninus, or Satornilos. A Latin mistranslation of the name in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is believed to be the source of the confusion. The original Greek version of that work is not extant, so there is presently no way to be sure. In this post I will use the first rendering: Saturnilus

Antioch of Syria

The information available on this man consists primarily of two paragraphs in the aforementioned Against Heresies (1.24.1-2). Though meager, I think it is sufficient to establish him as our lead candidate. He lived in Syrian Antioch and founded a Christian community (or communities) sometime within our target period of 70 to 135 CE. Prior to becoming a Christian he was a Simonian. Irenaeus says he was a disciple of Menander, Simon of Samaria’s successor. At some point, however, Saturnilus apparently switched his allegiance. Although Simon and Menander had put themselves forward as Savior figures, it is Jesus who is named as Savior in the teaching of Saturnilus. Alfred Loisy puts it this way:

In many respects, therefore, he (Saturnilus) was a forerunner of Marcion. Though much indebted to Simon and Menander, he, unlike them, does not set himself up as the Saviour sent from on high, but attributes that role to Jesus. Consequently, heretic though he be, we cannot deny him the qualification of Christian, while, from the Christian point of view, Simon and Menander qualify rather for Antichrists. (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, p. 302).

Justin Martyr includes Saturnilians among those who consider themselves Christians, though he himself views them as “atheists, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of him” (Dialogue with Trypho, 35). Justin’s doctrinal objection is that “some in one way, others in another, teach to blaspheme the Maker of all things, and Christ, who was foretold by Him as coming, and the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” According to Irenaeus, Saturnilus believed God to be “one Father unknown to all,” and that the God of the Jews was in reality just one of the lower angels, one of the seven who made the world. Such beliefs are not explicitly present in the Vision of Isaiah but may be implicit. God there is called Father but never maker or creator of the world. In fact, the world is “alien” (Asc. Is. 6;9), and so is the body (Asc. Is. 8:14), and so are the inhabitants of the world (Asc. Is. 9:1). True, the angels of the world are not referred to as its makers either, but they appear to have been in control of it from the beginning and are not afraid to say “We alone, and apart from us no one” (Asc. Is. 10:13). Regarding Jesus, Saturnilus was a docetist, teaching that he only appeared to be a real human being (Against Heresies 1.24.2). As we have already seen, the Jesus of the Vision’s “pocket gospel” was docetic.

Saturnilus’ Simonian past, however, provides us with another connection to the Vision of Isaiah. The main storyline of that writing is an ancient one, going back, as Richard Carrier points out in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 45-47), to the Descent of Inanna. It is a storyline that has been adapted and adopted many times in history, including by Simon of Samaria and Menander. The points of contact are obvious in what Hippolytus says about Simon’s teaching: Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 2″


2019-03-03

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 1

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by Roger Parvus

Nicolas Poussin, “The Ecstasy of St. Paul”

This post revises a hypothesis I proposed a few years ago in the Vridar series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity.” In those posts I argued for a scenario in which Paul was in reality Simon of Samaria, and the seven allegedly authentic Pauline letters were in fact letters of Simon that, in the early second century CE, received a makeover by some proto-orthodox Christians. By means of certain additions and modifications to the letters these people in effect co-opted Simon’s work and turned him into a proto-orthodox Paul. I argued too that the gospel message embraced by the author of the original letters was some form of the Vision of Isaiah (chapters 6-11 of the Ascension of Isaiah).

I had misgivings about the hypothesis even before I finished the series, but two years of mulling it over has left me even less enamoured. I am still quite convinced that the Vision of Isaiah is the correct background for several key passages: 1 Cor. 2:6-9; Phil. 2:6-11; 2 Cor. 12:1-10. I have come to doubt, however, that these passages belong to the earliest parts of the letter collection. My changed understanding of 2 Cor. 12:1-10 in particular has led me to think it more plausible that the bulk of the letters was composed not by Simon but by later followers of his who converted to Christianity sometime between 70 and 135 CE. In my revised scenario Paul, not Simon, is the author of the original letters; and the bulk of the additional material — material that turned letters into epistles — was likely composed by a circle of Saturnilians, a community founded by the ex-Simonian Saturnilus of Antioch. Proto-orthodox input consisted of some final sanitizing touch-ups.

This revised scenario bears a definite resemblance to that of the biblical scholar Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) and I acknowledge that a re-reading of his later writings has contributed to my change of heart. Loisy held that only a kernel of the seven allegedly authentic Paulines really went back to Paul, and that the rest consisted largely of stitched-together late first, early second-century materials. He characterized many of these materials as gnostic but preMarcionite. Where I go further than Loisy is in recognizing the role of the Vision of Isaiah in the letters, and in proposing a specific provenance for their incipient gnosticism: Saturnilian Christianity.

Before I explain this revised scenario in more detail I should first review the Pauline texts that show, in my opinion, that their author knew the Vision of Isaiah. It is clear, in general, that the Vision would be a congenial text for Paul’s congregations, for Isaiah is described as receiving his revelation in the midst of a gathering of forty prophets. They look to him for guidance and

And they had come to greet him, and to hear what he said. And they hoped he would lay his hands on them and that they might prophesy and he would listen to their prophecy (Asc. Is. 6: 4-5)

While this was going on

they all heard a door opened and the voice of the Holy Spirit (Asc. Is. 6:6)

Now recall the passages on pneumatic gifts in 1 Corinthians where Paul gives guidance and encouragement to his Spirit-filled congregation regarding the gifts of the Spirit and especially prophecy. In the church at Corinth we are again among a gathering of Spirit enthusiasts. But apart from this general affinity there are three texts in particular in which the Vision of Isaiah shows through.

(One last preliminary: Please note that when I refer to the Vision in this post I am also including the so-called “pocket gospel” as part of it. It is found at 11:2-23 of the Ethiopic [E] and first Latin [L1] versions of the Ascension of Isaiah. For reasons that will become clear as we go along I am willing to accept that it was part of the text that the Pauline interpolators knew.) Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 1″


2018-08-14

Was Paul an Apocalyptic Jew Before His Conversion?

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by Tim Widowfield

Earlier this summer while listening to a course from The Teaching Company, Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, something struck me that I’d missed earlier. He alluded to the notion that the Apostle Paul, as a Pharisee, had an apocalyptic worldview even before he came to believe that Jesus was the Christ. That notion, I confess, came as a bit of a surprise to me.

He repeats this belief in his most recent book, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, this time even more clearly and confidently. As proof, he reminds us that Paul called himself a Pharisee. Ehrman writes:

Like many other Jews of the time—including such figures as John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth—Pharisees held to a kind of apocalyptic worldview that had developed toward the very end of the biblical period and down into the first century.

Ehrman, Bart D.. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (p. 44). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

As I indicated above, this notion struck me as a bit odd. First, if you’ve read anything at all about the Pharisees, you know that we have limited information about who they were and what they actually believed. The three main sources for first-century Pharisaism — the later records of Rabbis reflecting on earlier times, the writings of Josephus, and the gospels of the New Testament — all have a particular point of view and an axe to grind. In the end, we are certain of very little.

The small amount we do know requires a great deal of careful analysis and sober judgment. Too often what we thought we knew was simply the result of overconfidence and an uncritical approach to the meagre (and contradictory) sources at hand. Jacob Neusner, author From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism, put it this way:

While every history of ancient Judaism and Christianity gives a detailed picture of the Pharisees, none systematically and critically analyzes the traits and tendencies of the discrete sources combined to form such an account. Consequently, we have many theories but few facts, sophisticated theologies but uncritical, naive histories of Pharisaism which yield heated arguments unillumined by disciplined, reasoned understanding. Progress in the study of the growth of Pharisaic Judaism before 70 A.D. will depend upon accumulation of detailed knowledge and a determined effort to cease theorizing about the age. We must honestly attempt to understand not only what was going on in the first century, but also — and most crucially — how and whether we know anything at all about what was going on. “Theories and arguments should follow in the wake of laborious study, not guide it in their determining ways, however alluring these may look among the thickets and brush that cover the ground.” (Neusner 1972, p. xix)

The quotation at the end comes from G.R. Elton’s review of Fussner’s Tudor History and the Historians from the journal History and Theory.

Scholars who specialize in the history of the Pharisees have been arguing for decades over who they were, when they first appeared, what they believed, and even what their name means. Did it really mean “separatist”? If so, what were they separating from?

In Steve Mason’s 2001 tome, Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A Composition-Critical Study, he provides a useful list of scholars for and against various issues in Pharisaic history (see p. 2). For anyone interested, I will reprint it here with expanded details. Where possible, the links below will take you to the actual online text of the publication.

First, on the overall question of core, common beliefs, Mason lists one as “the repudiation of apocalyptic,” an element found in Kurt Schubert’s “Jewish Religious Parties and Sects”, in The Crucible of Christianity, ed. Arnold Toynbee [London: Thames and Hudson, 1969], 89). Continue reading “Was Paul an Apocalyptic Jew Before His Conversion?”


2017-04-09

The Question of whether Paul was the founder of Christianity: Responding to Bart Ehrman

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by Neil Godfrey

A welcome visitor to the blog has raised a question along with an answer by Bart Ehrman and I have promised to respond with my own thoughts. My first impression is that Ehrman’s response talks down to lay readers and protects them from the reality of the complexity of arguments and the debates among scholars. Ehrman’s responses also fail to acknowledge the arguments expressed in works he has strongly declared he has indeed read. This is a pity since those arguments actually address and rebut the same points Ehrman repeats with such confidence and authority. I have learned a lot from Erhman’s earlier works and I have often cited his works positively in my posts. But in responding to Ehrman’s post on Paul’s role in Christian origins I think it is necessary to be somewhat critical.

My original hope to address his entire comment in this one post has had to fall by the wayside and I have only time to comment on his opening remarks here. The rest will soon follow.

Bart Ehrman writes:

A lot of people (at least in my experience) think that Paul is the one who should be considered the “founder” of Christianity – that he is the one who took Jesus’ simple preaching about the coming kingdom of God and altered and expanded it into a complicated doctrine of sin and redemption, being the first of Jesus’ followers to maintain that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that brought about salvation.   This can’t be the case, because Paul was persecuting Christians already before he had converted, and these were certainly people who believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Can’t be the case? Bart Ehrman infers that the opinion is the preserve of ill-informed amateurs. I do not understand why he does not openly explain to his lay readers that a significant (if minority) number of scholars do indeed argue that Paul was the founder of Christianity and that it is a lively topic among scholars. Just Google the words Paul – founder – Christianity and you will see many pages of links dedicated to the topic — some by amateurs, but a good number involving serious discussion by scholars, too.

Even worse, when Ehrman simplistically replies that Paul could not have been the founder of Christianity because there were “Christians” on the scene before him, it is evident that he has even forgotten the nature of the arguments involved. As will be seen from some of the following quotations from other scholars, this misleadingly simplistic argument is in fact a straw man and bypasses the points of those who do argue for Paul’s foundational role. (His answer even implies for the unwary that “Christianity” itself as a descriptor was in existence as early as the years between the crucifixion of Jesus and Paul’s conversion.)

Notice the scholarly support for the view that Paul should indeed be regarded the founder of Christianity. (I am not suggesting that the scholars who think this way are a majority. Many scholars oppose the idea of Paul as founder. But the debate is a vigorous one, nonetheless. Just try that Google search to see how vigorous.)

James D. Tabor writes in Paul the Jew as Founder of Christianity?:

Countless books have been written in the past hundred years arguing that Paul is the “founder” of Christianity, sharply distinguishing him from Jesus.

  • Joseph Klausner’s, From Jesus to Paul is one of the first and is still worth a close study, but many others come to mind,
  • Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of the Paul the Apostle,
  • Gerd Lüdemann, Paul the Founder of Christianity,
  • Hugh Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians,
  • and Barrie Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian, to name a few.
  • My own new book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity explores these and many related questions.

Most important, I see to place Paul in the broader spectrum of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world as systems of divinization against the background of a dualistic Hellenistic cosmology but within that world I see him decidedly as laying the foundation for a new faith distinct from Judaism in its various forms. (My formatting)

Among titles Tabor did not have space to mention is Hyam Maccoby’s book, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1986). Maccoby writes:  Continue reading “The Question of whether Paul was the founder of Christianity: Responding to Bart Ehrman”


2016-06-18

Detering Responds to Carrier, Part 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Click on the image below to be taken to Part 2:

http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2016/06/18/h-detering-confronts-r-carrier-pt-2/
http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2016/06/18/h-detering-confronts-r-carrier-pt-2/

 

 


2016-06-15

Hermann Detering, Richard Carrier and the Apostle Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

Paul, Mark, and other substitutions:

Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul

by Dr. Hermann Detering

Edited and translated by René Salm

 

Or you can read the original German language version on Herman Detering’s site:

Paulus, Markus und andere Verwechslungen – Richard Carrier über den Gefälschten Paulus