Tag Archives: William Arnal

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

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:  read more »

Jesus Did Not Exist — A New Contribution

latasterI am finding Raphael Latater’s book, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists, a most invigorating and fresh approach to the topic. Caveat: I am taking it slowly and so far have not even completed the first chapter. I have read Richard Carrier’s introductory remarks and Raphael Lataster’s own background introduction and am only about half way through the first chapter. Along the way I’m stopping to study and follow up most of the footnotes, too. But if what lies ahead is as insightful and thorough as what I have read so far then I can see this book being the last word on the flawed attempts of Casey, Ehrman, McGrath and others who have attempted to shriek their conviction that “Yes, Virginia, there really was a Historical Jesus and anyone who doubts that is a very bad person who should be shunned.”

Interestingly, Lataster points out that the only serious attempts by scholars to publish arguments for the historical existence of Jesus — those by Erhman, Casey and McGrath — have done outside the scholarly peer-review process. On the other hand, the two serious attempts by scholars to publish reasons to doubt the historicity of Jesus — Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster — have gone through the scholarly peer-review process.

The irony of that little datum is not lost on anyone who is aware of the complaints of “historicist scholars” (those arguing for the historicity of Jesus and against the mythicist hypothesis) that mythicism does not subject itself to scholarly peer-review.

Who is Raphael Lataster?

He may be among the first to have a thesis sympathetic to Jesus Mythicism approved by a world-class university.  —  Raphael Lataster’s New Book on Jesus Mythicism 

read more »

Biblical Scholars in a “Neoliberal-Postmodern” World

jesus-in-an-age-of-neoliberalism2This is part 2 of my review of Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology by James G. Crossley. (Once again I invite Professor Crossley to alert me to anything he sees in these posts that he believes is a misrepresentation of his views.)

The point of chapter 2, Neoliberalism and Postmodernity, is to

provide the broad contextual basis for analysing some of the ways in which Jesus has been constructed in scholarship and beyond in recent decades. (p. 21)

To explain postmodernism and postmodernity Crossley directs us to Terry Eagleton’s understanding in The Illusions of Postmodernism, p. vii:

The word postmodernism generally refers to a form of contemporary culture, whereas the term postmodernity alludes to a specific historical period. Postmodemity is a style of thought which is suspicious of classical notions of truth, reason, identity and objectivity, of the idea of universal progress or emancipation, of single frameworks, grand narratives or ultimate grounds of explanation. Against these Enlightenment norms, it sees the world as contingent, ungrounded, diverse, unstable, indeterminate, a set of disunified cultures or interpretations which breed a degree of scepticism about the objectivity of truth, history and norms, the givenness of natures and the coherence of identities. . . . Postmodernism is a style of culture which reflects something of this epochal change, in a depthless, decentred, ungrounded, self-reflexive, playful, derivative, eclectic, pluralistic art which blurs the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture, as well as between art and everyday experience.

Crossley explains that he will attempt to link “postmodernity with the political trends in Anglo-American culture”, if not precisely, then by means of a “general case” that itself will be “a strong one”. We’ll see how strong it is as we progress through these reviews.

Crossley did say (see the previous post) that

This book is at least as much about contemporary politics, ideology and culture as it is about Jesus, and in many ways, not least due to unfamiliar approaches in historical Jesus studies, this is almost inevitable. (p. 10)

Now there is much about Crossley’s politics that I like. I share his despair at the political conservatism, the lack of critical political reflection and awareness among his biblical studies peers. I like his idealism and frustration with his peers as well as his respect for their individual decent natures. Unfortunately I sense that too often Crossley loses himself in his efforts to politically educate his peers that he only maintains the most tenuous links with how these political views influence the shape of the historical Jesus produced by these scholars.

The chapter is wide-ranging as we expect when discussions of postmodernity and postmodernism arise. The cultural, economic and political context involves a broad-ranging discussion that consists masses of data: “near hagiographical treatments of the ‘material girl’ Madonna and her MTV stage”,  “Steve Jobs, advertizing his iPoducts as the machinery of the casually clothed”, the politico-cultural symbolism of decaffeinated coffee, television parodies of entrepreneurial culture, 1970s Chile, the recession and oil crisis of 1973, the “sharp rise in personal image consultants in the 1980s”. . . .

Only passing mentions to biblical scholars are found in this chapter (for the reason I mentioned above) and I will focus on those in this post. read more »