This post begins a collection of quotations from ancient Jewish literature illustrating the a form of Jewish thought not so familiar with those of us whose knowledge has rarely extended beyond the canonical literature. Divine figures bearing the name of God appeared in human form on chariot thrones, and holy men of old like Adam, Abel, Abraham and Jacob were said to be divine and even archangels themselves. The notes are taken from Alan F. Segal’s Paul the Convert, but many of the quotations themselves are copied from online or other sources.
The human form of God was an important idea in Jewish merkabah mysticism. An “angel of the Lord” in the form of a man yet who represented or bore the “name of God” was said to have led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 23:21); and a human figure appeared seated on the divine throne in Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7 and Exodus 24. All of these figures appear to be mediator figures who embody the sacred name of God (YHWH) himself.
The New Testament epistles inform us that the original Gospel was a revelation from God. That means it did not originate by means of spoken tradition relayed from historical events, by word of mouth, from eyewitness or preacher to others. Rather, one might almost say that the medium itself was the message: the revelation or vision was, in a significant sense, the Gospel and conversion experience.
Thus Paul — thought by some scholars to be the real founder of Christianity — says that he was not taught the Gospel by men. “In Galatians 1, Paul claims that he did not receive the gospel from a human source. . . . In Galatians Paul speaks of his conversion as a revelation (apocalypse [1:12])” (Segal, 1990: 35, 36)
I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. . . . 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. (Galatians 1:12, 16) Continue reading “Heavenly Visions: the foundation of Paul’s Christianity”
It is interesting to read in a short section of Paul the Convert Alan F. Segal’s case for Christianity originating in an easter-type of experience of disciples of a historically crucified Jesus.
Having run across so many references to Segal’s book when I was reading about the heavenly ascent mystical experiences among Second Temple Jews and early Christians (blogged about in several posts in the first two weeks of March this year) I knew I could not continue posting along this line until I had read Segal’s book for myself. But this post addresses Segal’s encapsulation of the case that Christianity began when disciples of Jesus grappled with theology to explain his death. (I am aware Segal has only recently passed away, and I by no means intend any of the following post as a criticism of Segal personally. I hope it can be read as an impersonal argument. I find much of value in Segal’s works, including Paul the Convert, and of course in Two Powers, and respect him highly as a scholar.)
During the period of Jesus’ ministry some of his followers thought he was the messiah. Segal says only that it is “likely” that some of them did, but his argument depends on some of them certainly thinking so. Segal begins his explanation with this: