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Christianity Paul of Tarsus

Paul in Islam: The False Apostle From Tarsus

The purpose of this brief article is to show that Paul, the self-acclaimed “apostle” whom the Christians follow, has no place in Islam at all. Muslims believe that between the time periods of the Prophet Jesus(P) and the Prophet Muhammad(P), no Messenger of God had come between them, whether to the Gentiles or the Jews. This is based on an agreed hadith recorded by Imam Muslim and Imam Bukhari, as follows:

Volume 4, Book 55, Number 651:

Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus).”

We know of only one man who claimed to be a messenger of God in this intervening period. That man was called Paul, formerly known as Saul, of Tarsus.

Self-Proclaimed Apostle of Jesus

According to the Christians, Paul of Tarsus was an “apostle of Jesus”. Jesus(P) had allegedly appeared to him in a “vision” as God and chose him as his “apostle”. Hence, Paul is also a “messenger” of God because Jesus(P) is believed to be God. It is said that Paul was sent “to the Gentiles” to preach to them the Gospel, i.e. he “has been entrusted with the task of preaching” with a message (Galatians 2:7-10).

Since Paul claimed that he was sent by Jesus(P) to the nations with a particular message, it, therefore, follows that he is a “messenger”, and hence he uses the title “apostle” for himself.

Quotes from the New Testament where the title “apostle” is applied to him are as follows:

  • “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…” (Romans 1:1)
  • “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” (1 Cor. 1:1)
  • “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God, the Father…”
  • (Galatians 1:1)

Thus we see that based on the earlier hadith cited from Bukhari and Muslim, Islam clearly denies the so-called “apostleship” of Paul and dispute his claim that he was ever an “apostle of God”, as he lived between the time periods of Jesus(P) and Muhammad(P).

However, the missionary Sam Shamoun took exception to this and proceeded to state otherwise in his article.

Missionary Confusion Between Historical Records and the Theological

One of the claims that the missionary Shamoun made is that Paul was apparently “recognised” as a true follower of Jesus(P), simply because he was mentioned in Muslim records of the Sirah. According to the missionary:

    Contemporary Muslims […] may deny the apostleship of Paul, but the first Muslims did not as the following citations conclusively prove

He then proceeds to quote citations from sources which are merely the record of historians, and they were not even from Muslim theologians regarding the position of Paul in Islam. Even then, some of his quotes are at best spurious and deceptive. Consider the citation which the missionary has provided to us from the translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah:

Those whom Jesus son of Mary sent, both disciples and those who came after them, in the land were: Peter the disciple and Paul with him, (Paul belonged to the followers and was not a disciple) to Rome. Andrew and Matthew to the land of the cannibals; Thomas to the land of Babel, which is in the land of the east; Philip to Carthage and Africa; John to Ephesus the city of the young men of the cave; James to Jerusalem which is Aelia the city of the sanctuary; Bartholomew to Arabia which is the land of Hijaz; Simon to the land of Berbers; Judah who was not one of the disciples was put in place of Judas.1

Compare the above description of the disciples of Jesus(P) with the accounts in Acts and you would find the relevant parallels. Apart from the fact that Ibn Ishaq clearly wrote that Paul was not a disciple of Jesus(P), the footnote to this passage also says:

The form of the names shows that the source was Greek. It probably came to I. I. through Syriac.2

So what does this tell us? It shows that Ibn Ishaq had merely recorded this as a statement of history based on a secondary source from the account in Acts which was either the Greek or the Syriac, and not from an Islamic viewpoint. This we can see as stated in the Introduction of the same work, that:

Occasionally, he [Ibn Ishaq] inserted verses in his narrative, and sometimes gives his own opinion.3

Thus we see the deception that this missionary has no doubt instilled in his twisting of Ibn Ishaq’s work. The rest of his citations from Muslim historians, we repeat, also affirm that Paul was merely a follower of Peter, and not a disciple of Jesus(P).4

Conclusion: Paul In Islam

So what do the early Muslim theologians say about Paul in Islam? The reality is that the early Muslims theologians recognised that Paul was a hypocrite and the corrupter of the religion we know today as “Christianity”.

We hence would like to sum up the position of Paul in Islam with the words of the eminent Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728H), that:

This is just like what Paul fabricated when he entered into the Religion of Christianity in order to corrupt the Religion of the Christians.5

Ash-Shahratain (d. 1153), a theologian of the Asharite school, echoes the above words of Ibn Taymiyyah by stating that:

Paul, however, disordered his affair, made himself (Peter’s) partner, altered the basis of his knowledge, and mixed it with the argument of the philosophers and the (evil) suggestion of his heart.6

And only God knows best!

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Paul in Islam: The False Apostle From Tarsus," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/paul-in-islam/
  1. A. Guillaume (trans.), The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 653 []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. ibid., Introduction, p. xv []
  4. This is consistent with the recording of the activities of Peter and Paul, as seen in the accounts given in the book of Acts, chapters 9-13. []
  5. This statement was originally stated by al-Laalikaaiee (no. 2832) from ash-Shaibee. It was authenticated by Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah in Minhaajus-Sunnah (1/29) and he pointed out the earlier scholars who did this. It was declared hasan by al-Haafidh Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari(12/270). []
  6. As quoted by William Montgomery Watt, Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misconceptions (Routledge, 1991), p. 69 []
Categories
Christianity Op-Ed Paul of Tarsus

Muslim Passion for The Christ

Like everyone else, I was warned about the blood and violence, and braced for it. But the bit about the English subscripts must have slipped my mind. One unexpected thing I got out of watching “The Passion of the Christ” is its affirmation that Jesus never uttered the word “God”. Instead, he called upon the Creator using a name that is very close to what I and other Muslims often evoke, namely, the word “Allah” (the Aramaic word for God is transliterated as “alaha”).

In a broad sense, “The Passion”, as well as the controversy that stalks it, is an extension of the very long struggle for narrative control over the life and mission of Jesus (P). We, the American public, are given the impression that the discussion about the movie and its main character is a discourse between folks on both sides of a curious hyphen in the Judeo-Christian ambit, with Rabbis and Jewish intelligentsia expressing their fears that the movie will inspire anti-Semitism and with Christians denying that.

The irony here is that Muslims are perfectly poised to offer a view that no one seems to be talking about. What “The Passion” depicted in chilling imagery is but one narrative among several about Christ. In fact, Gibson portrayed one “canonized” narrative of Christ (only 12 hours of it) that received approval some centuries after the Messiah had lived and one that does not enjoy consensus even in Christian quarters and scholarship.

When asked, a Muslim will tell you that Christ was not sent to die, but, like the prophets before him and Prophet Muhammad(P) after him, he was sent to live and teach. In short, a Muslim would say there is no Christ-killer and, therefore, no need to associate anyone with that indictment and no need to cause anyone to fear it. What happened to Jesus at the end of his life was not about violence, but about honor in the face of vehement rejection. God raised His prophet to Himself, thus sparing Jesus of the execution Gibson so graphically detailed and imprinted in the public mind through the very powerful medium of art and culture. This is a view that was also shared among some early Christian sects, like the Basilideans, who believed that Christ himself was never crucified.

To vilify Jesus and deny that he is one of God’s prophets and messengers is a cardinal sin in Islam, enough to disqualify one from the faith. To deify Jesus, however, is considered an affront to the primordial foundation of the religion project: the oneness of God and His sole divinity. The Muslim “middle” view here is not a self- conscious act of officiating a religious debate between Jews and Christians. Our understanding and beliefs regarding Christ are essentially identical to the beliefs we have about Noah(P), Abraham(P), Moses(P) and Muhammad(P): all prophets, all humans, sent by God to teach humanity certain things that should keep us guided and clear in our very brief lives. If we are ever to be confused about something, let it not be about God and His divinity, and humankind and our humanity, especially as it pertains to our salvation quest. In Islamic theology, the human being is born pure, brought into this world in a state of grace. The concept of Original Sin is essentially homeless in our tradition. We inherit eye color and receding hairlines from our parents, not their wrongdoing. Forgiveness, pardoning, and mercy are of God’s essence, and He generously bestows them for the cool price of belief and sincerity.

In an important way, “The Passion” is an accidental expose about the religious sensitivities of our times, about a wounded spirituality that seems to require sensationalism to keep the faithful going. This is a point that men and women of religion may all agree upon and observe in their respective flocks. Mel Gibson unwittingly may have done a service in raising issues indigenous to the human spirit that the post-modern world seems to shun, issues about God, prophets, salvation, mercy, and hope. It is a vital conversation with divides and alliances, passions and perils, but a conversation that nonetheless can stand to hear the “middle” view that Islam naturally offers. Something of this view, in unavoidably brief fashion, now follows:

Muslims love and revere Jesus(P), and believe in him as a Prophet and Messenger of God, a great teacher and guide for people. But Muslims do not believe that Jesus was God or the Son of God. Nor do Muslims believe that he was slain on the cross, as some early sects of Christians had once believed. Jesus was sent to the Children of Israel to revive faith and a spiritual connection with God. All the miracles that Jesus performed were indeed true: raising the dead, healing the blind and the leper, and more. These miracles, however, occurred through the auspices of God’s power and will, as it was with the splitting of the sea for Moses(P), Solomon(P) understanding the utterances of animals, and many other suspensions of the natural order. God is the Creator, and when He determines something, He but says to it “Be” and it is! (as the Qur’an states). Muslims venerate Mary, the mother of Jesus(P). She indeed gave birth to Jesus though she was a virgin. She was a spiritual woman who was chosen among her people to the office of special contemplation and prayer. But Muslims do not hold her to be the “mother of God” and similar attributes. She too was fully human and was a beloved and important person in a remarkable series of miracles in a special time in human history. Every biology and miracle, the explainable and the inexplicable, whether it is the creation of Adam(P) from clay or the conception of any given child of two parents, goes back to God. It is all the same to Him. All of it easy. All of it His.

In Islamic parlance, Jesus(P) is known by the venerable titles of “Word” and “Spirit,” since the Qur’an tells us that God cast the “word” or “spirit” upon Mary, the Mother of Jesus:

“Indeed, the angels said: ‘O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in this world and the Hereafter, and he shall be among those brought near [to God]. He will speak to humankind in the cradle and in manhood, and he is of the righteous.” (Qur’an 3:45)

Also, the Qur’an states:

“The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was but a Messenger of God, and His word which He conveyed to Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him.” (Qur’an 4:171)

“And indeed God gave Moses the Book [Torah], and after him We sent Messengers in succession. We gave Jesus son of Mary clear proofs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit [Angel Gabriel].” (Qur’an 2:87)

The thought life of a Muslim with regard to all the prophets is best summed by the following verse of the Qur’an:

“Say [O believers]: “We believe in God and [the Book] sent down to us, and what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to [all] the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him do we surrender ourselves.” (Qur’an 2:136)

And verily, only God knows best!

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Muslim Passion for The Christ," in Bismika Allahuma, October 15, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/muslim-passion-christ/
Ibrahim N. Abusharif is a Chicago-area writer and editor of Starlatch Press. He can be contacted via e-mail at starlatch@hotmail.com. Republished with permission from the author.
Categories
Christianity Paul of Tarsus

The Problem of Paul Regarding Esau

There is an interesting observation made by a pro-Torah Christian and he has issued a “challenge” to Pauline Christians regarding Paul’s (mis)understanding of the nature of Esau in the eyes of God. The issue is what Paul had written in his epistle to the Romans, as follows:

“For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?” (Romans 9: 11-14)

The problem is that Paul had claimed that “it is written”, meaning he is citing from the Old Testament, that

“The older shall serve the younger”

and:

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.”

yet these quotes came from two very different books of the Old Testament.

The former quote came from Genesis 25:23, and the second comes from the very last book of the Old Testament, which is Malachi 1: 1-4. So basically, Paul had confused two different and unrelated concepts by meshing them together as proof for his doctrine of destiny. More details regarding the above quotation by Paul can be found in the link given earlier.

Hence, the challenge is for those who regard Paul as an “apostle” sent by Jesus(P) to show us in which Genesis passage is there any indication whatsoever that God hated Esau before he was born, as highlighted by the author.

And only God knows best!

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "The Problem of Paul Regarding Esau," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/the-problem-of-paul-regarding-esau/
Categories
Bible Textual Integrity Paul of Tarsus The Bible

Epimenides Paradox: Was Paul “Inspired”?

Introduction

In a study of logic, there is something which we call “undecidable propositions” or “meaningless sentences”, which are statements that cannot be determined because there is no contextual false. One of the classic examples cited is the Epiminedes’ paradox. Saul Kripke says:

Ever since Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John XVIII, 38), the subsequent search for a correct answer has been inhibited by another problem, which, as is well known, also arises in a New Testament context. If, as the author of the Epistle to Titus supposes (Titus I, 12), a Cretan prophet, “even a prophet of their own,” asserted that “the Cretans are always liars,” and if “this testimony is true” of all other Cretan utterances, then it seems that the Cretan prophet’s words are true if and only if they are false. And any treatment of the concept of truth must somehow circumvent this paradox.1

Epimenides was Cretan and he said that “Cretans always lie”. Now, was that statement true or false? If he was a Cretan and he says that they always lie, is he then lying? If he is not lying then he is telling the truth and therefore Cretans do not always lie. We can see that since the assertion cannot be true and it cannot be false, the statement turns back on itself. It is like stating “What I am telling you right now is a lie”, would you believe that or otherwise? This statement thus has no true content. It cannot be true at the same time it is false. If it is true then it is always false. If it is false, it is also true.

Paul Creates The Paradox

Well, in the New Testament, the writer is Paul and he is talking about the Cretans in 1 Titus, as follows:

A prophet from their own people said of them “Cretens are always liars, wicked brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason correct them sternly, that they may be sound in faith instead of paying attention to Jewish fables and to commandments of people who turn their backs on the truth. (Titus 1:12-14)

Notice that Paul says that one of their own men — a prophet — said that “Cretans are always liars” and he says that what this man say is true. It is a small mistake, but the point is that it is a human mistake. It cannot be a true statement at the same time that it is a false statement. Thus, how can Christians claim that the writers of the New Testament — in this case, Paul — had “inspiration” from God?

Noted British logician Professor Thomas Fowler, who was in the 1800s, the Professor of Logic in Oxford and Fellow of Lincoln College, to sum up the problem created in Titus 1:12 that must necessarily falsify the inerrantist and the fundamentalist.

“Epimenides the Cretan says, ‘that all the Cretans are liars,’ but Epimenides is himself a Cretan; therefore he is himself a liar. But if he be a liar, what he says is untrue, and consequently the Cretans are veracious; but Epimenides is a Cretan, and therefore what he says is true; saying the Cretans are liars, Epimenides is himself a liar, and what he says is untrue. Thus we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the Cretans are truthful and untruthful.”2

Some Christians have taken the position that a strictly logical approach to Epimenides’ statement can result in it not being a paradox after all. If it is not a paradox, one may argue that Paul’s calling it “true” was a subtle bit of mockery with tremendous foresight regarding later developments in logic. If that is the case, then maybe Paul’s statement actually was inspired. For example, while discussing Paul’s comments in the epistle to Titus, one Christian theological periodical concedes that “one of the very greatest of Christian thinkers enters the logic books wearing a dunce’s cap”3 but then argues that Christians can find recourse in the fact that the statement might not be paradoxical. To back up this claim, the article calls to witness Quine, one of the greatest logicians that ever lived, thus it is important that we consider what Quine wrote:

There is the ancient paradox of Epimenides the Cretan, who said that all Cretans were liars. If he spoke the truth, he was a liar. It seems that this paradox may have reached the ears of St. Paul and that he missed the point of it. He warned, in his epistle to Titus: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said The Cretans are always liars.” Actually the paradox of Epimenides is untidy; there are loopholes. Perhaps some Cretans were liars, notably Epimenides, and others were not; perhaps Epimenides was a liar who occasionally told the truth; either way it turns out that the contradiction vanishes.4

The question that arises now is how Quine was able to figure out that maybe other Cretans were liars or maybe Epimenides sometimes told the truth. Epimenides is clearly saying that Cretans are always liars. Every time a Cretan speaks, he is lying, so how could the statement ever allow for a Cretan (be it Epimenides or some other Cretan) to speak the truth? The reasoning is genius, and goes as follows: the obvious assumption behind the belief that the statement is paradoxical is that if all Cretans lie, then Epimenides is lying, so if his statement is true, it is false. In that sense it seems like any other pseudomenon. From here, if we consider the statement false, we are no longer forced into the kind of paradoxical vicious circle that a true pseudomenon (like “this sentence is false”) pushes us into. Commenting on a similar line of argumentation, Schoenberg writes the following:

We may feel intuitively that the argument is paradoxical; yet, from a formal logic point of view, it does not really have the look of a paradox. It looks simply like reductio ad absurdum proof of the falsity of ‘All Cretans are liars.’5

Thus, as Quine noted, it is not inconsistent to assume that some other Cretan does not always lie, or that some other statement by Epimenides was true. Prior explains this quite well:

If we treat the Cretan’s assertion as true, and so assume that nothing true is ever asserted by a Cretan, it follows immediately that the Cretan’s assertion is false. If, however, we treat it as false, there is no way of deducing from this assumption that it is true. We can, therefore, consistently suppose it to be false, and this is all we can consistently suppose. But to suppose it false (considering what the assertion actually is) is to suppose that something asserted by a Cretan is true; and this of course can only be some other assertion than the one mentioned.6

A paradoxical statement has no discernable truth value, but the statement by Epimenides can be seen as having a truth value (i.e. it is false), and if that is the case we can reinterpret the statement as not being paradoxical. However, establishing a truth value for the statement does not escape the problem with Paul’s claim since the saying of Epimenides is false. As Prior noted above, we cannot consider the statement true (as Paul did). If sophisticated analysis determines after all that this statement by Epimenides is not paradoxical, and thus has a truth value, the only consistent supposition we can make is that it is false.

Conclusion

In the end, the following seven-point syllogism completes our argument:

  • Paul claims a Cretan uttered a certain proposition.
  • The proposition is not true.
  • Paul claims the proposition is true.
  • Paul’s claim is an error.
  • Paul’s writings are errant rather than inerrant.
  • Errant scripture is not inspired scripture, as held on by Muslims.
  • Therefore, Paul was not inspired.

Hence, whether the statement is meaningless or false, the basic argument which we have raised still stands. The conclusion of the seven point syllogism given above still rings true: Paul was not inspired.

And only God knows best!

A further discussion of the syllogism made here was elaborated in Epimenides Paradox Revisited.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Epimenides Paradox: Was Paul “Inspired”?," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/bible/epimenides-paradox-was-paul-inspired/
  1. Saul Kripke, “Outline of a Theory of Truth”, Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 72, 1975, p. 690 []
  2. Fowler, T., The Elements of Deductive Logic: Designed Mainly for the Use of Junior Students in the Universities (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1875), p. 171 []
  3. Mary Douglas and Edmund F. Perry, “Anthropology and Comparative Religion”, Theology Today, Vol. 41, 1985, p. 421 []
  4. Wilard Van Orman Quine, The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 6 []
  5. Judith Schoenberg, Belief and Intention in the Epimenides, Philososphy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 30, 1968, p. 270 []
  6. A. N. Prior, “Epimenides the Cretan”, Journal of Symbolic Logic, Vol. 23, 1958, p. 261 []
Categories
Christianity Paul of Tarsus

Paul of Tarsus: The Clear-Cut Hypocrite

We read the following teachings of the so-called “apostle” from Tarsus, Paul, written in his epistles as follows:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” (Romans 12:18-19)

Another teaching which Paul had written is:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col 3:13)

A summary of the above recorded statements by Paul:

  • Be at peace with all men.
  • Never take your own revenge, beloved!
  • Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.

We admit that these are all beautiful teachings. The question now, however, is did Paul himself put these very same teachings of his into effect? As it so happens, we beg to differ!

Paul’s Hypocrisy Revealed

We read in Acts that:

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. (Acts 15:36-40)

It is clear that Paul and Barnabas had had a sharp disagreement and later parted company because of that same disagreement. So Paul was not following what he had preached, namely to “…be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

We also observe that Paul had not forgiven John (called Mark) for having abandoned him and Barnabas at Pamphylia (Acts 15:38) and opposed Barnabas’ plan to take John with him. Apparently Paul had amnesia with regard to his teaching, “forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). So why did not Paul forgive John for abandoning him earlier?

Further, regarding revenge, this snake taught that “Never take your own revenge, beloved!” (Romans 12:19) but yet Paul himself took his revenge against John (called Mark) by refusing to take him in the journey. So again we ask, why did Paul seek his revenge against John when he had clearly forbidden this? He is no doubt a clear-cut hypocrite, through and through!

On a related sidenote, this snake also has used Jesus’(P) name in his teachings when in reality it is not originally from Jesus(P), but from his own concoction. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul taught that the resurrected Christ had appeared to over five hundred breathren at one time but this episode is not available in the Gospels. Another proof is in Acts 20:35, whereby Paul cites, “remember the words of the Lord Jesus how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive”. This citation is certainly not from Jesus(P) because nowhere in the Gospels is this quote to be found and attributed to Jesus(P). This same snake has also urged all the Jews amongst the Gentiles to forsake Moses(P), he told them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs (Acts 21:21), this goes against what Jesus(P) himself taught. But sadly, the Christian missionaries and Christians in general have taken this hypocrite as their “apostle” and they generally behave like him as well.

Conclusions

It is very clear from the above exposition that Paul was a hypocrite, and hence, how could the Christian missionaries expect Muslims to accept this snake as a legitimate “follower” of the Messiah Jesus(P), the son of Mary? Paul clearly told others to make peace but he himself did not practice what he had preached when he had a sharp disagreement with Barnabas and they parted company (Acts 15). This totally contradicts what he had earlier taught, namely “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18) and “forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:13)

He had also taken his revenge upon John (called Mark) because John had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work, as recorded in Acts 15, even though he told the Romans, “Never take your own revenge, beloved!” (Romans 12:19). It seem that it was Barnabas who was more religious than Paul because he did not take his revenge upon John.

Which leads us to the question:

    If Paul himself has failed to follow what he had taught, would he indeed follow what Jesus(P) had taught?

And only God knows best.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Paul of Tarsus: The Clear-Cut Hypocrite," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/paul-of-tarsus-the-clear-cut-hypocrite/
Categories
Christianity Paul of Tarsus

The Problem of Paul

Hyam Maccoby

Excerpts from The Mythmaker: Paul and The Invention of Christianity

Chapter 1: The Problem of Paul

At the beginning of Christianity stand two figures: Jesus and Paul. Jesus is regarded by Christians as the founder of their religion, in that the events of his life comprise the foundation story of Christianity; but Paul is regarded as the great interpreter of Jesus’ mission, who explained, in a way that Jesus himself never did, how Jesus’ life and death fitted into a cosmic scheme of salvation, stretching from the creation of Adam to the end of time.

How should we understand the relationship between Jesus and Paul? We shall be approaching this question not from the standpoint of faith, but from that of historians, who regard the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament as an important source of evidence requiring careful sifting and criticism, since their authors were propagating religious beliefs rather than conveying dispassionate historical information. We shall also be taking into account all relevant evidence from other sources, such as Josephus, the Talmud, the Church historians and the Gnostic writings.

What would Jesus himself have thought of Paul? We must remember that Jesus never knew Paul; the two men never once met. The disciples who knew Jesus best, such as Peter, James and John, have left no writings behind them explaining how Jesus seemed to them or what they considered his mission to have been. Did they agree with the interpretations disseminated by Paul in his fluent, articulate writings? Or did they perhaps think that this newcomer to the scene, spinning complicated theories about the place of Jesus in the scheme of things, was getting everything wrong? Paul claimed that his interpretations were not just his own invention, but had come to him by personal inspiration; he claimed that he had personal acquaintance with the resurrected Jesus, even though he had never met him during his lifetime. Such acquaintance, he claimed, gained through visions and transports, was actually superior to acquaintance with Jesus during his lifetime, when Jesus was much more reticent about his purposes.

We know about Paul not only from his own letters but also from the book of Acts, which gives a full account of his life. Paul, in fact, is the hero of Acts, which was written by an admirer and follower of his, namely, Luke, who was also the author of the Gospel of that name. From Acts, it would appear that there was some friction between Paul and the leaders of the ‘Jerusalem Church’, the surviving companions of Jesus; but this friction was resolved, and they all became the best of friends, with common aims and purposes. From certain of Paul’s letters, particularly Galatians, it seems that the friction was more serious than in the picture given in Acts, which thus appears to be partly a propaganda exercise, intended to portray unity in the early Church. The question recurs: what would Jesus have thought of Paul, and what did the Apostles think of him?

We should remember that the New Testament, as we have it, is much more dominated by Paul than appears at first sight. As we read it, we come across the Four Gospels, of which Jesus is the hero, and do not encounter Paul as a character until we embark on the post-Jesus narrative of Acts. Then we finally come into contact with Paul himself, in his letters. But this impression is misleading, for the earliest writings in the New Testament are actually Paul’s letters, which were written about AD 50-60, while the Gospels were not written until the period AD 70-110. This means that the theories of Paul were already before the writers of the Gospels and coloured their interpretations of Jesus’ activities. Paul is, in a sense, present from the very first word of the New Testament. This is, of course, not the whole story, for the Gospels are based on traditions and even written sources which go back to a time before the impact of Paul, and these early traditions and sources are not entirely obliterated in the final version and give valuable indications of what the story was like before Paulinist editors pulled it into final shape. However, the dominant outlook and shaping perspective of the Gospels is that of Paul, for the simple reason that it was the Paulinist view of what Jesus’ sojourn on Earth had been about that was triumphant in the Church as it developed in history. Rival interpretations, which at one time had been orthodox, opposed to Paul’s very individual views, now became heretical and were crowded out of the final version of the writings adopted by the Pauline Church as the inspired canon of the New Testament.

This explains the puzzling and ambiguous role given in the Gospels to the companions of Jesus, the twelve disciples. They are shadowy figures, who are allowed little personality, except of a schematic kind. They are also portrayed as stupid; they never quite understand what Jesus is up to. Their importance in the origins of Christianity is played down in a remarkable way. For example, we find immediately after Jesus’ death that the leader of the Jerusalem Church is Jesus’ brother James. Yet in the Gospels, this James does not appear at all as having anything to do with Jesus’ mission and story. Instead, he is given a brief mention as one of the brothers of Jesus who allegedly opposed Jesus during his lifetime and regarded him as mad. How it came about that a brother who had been hostile to Jesus in his lifetime suddenly became the revered leader of the Church immediately after Jesus’ death is not explained, though one would have thought that some explanation was called for. Later Church legends, of course, filled the gap with stories of the miraculous conversion of James after the death of Jesus and his development into a saint. But the most likely explanation is, as will be argued later, that the erasure of Jesus’ brother dames (and his other brothers) from any significant role in the Gospel story is part of the denigration of the early leaders who had been in close contact with Jesus and regarded with great suspicion and dismay the Christological theories of the upstart Paul, flaunting his brand new visions in interpretation of the Jesus whom he had never met in the flesh.

Who, then, was Paul? Here we would seem to have a good deal of information; but on closer examination, it will turn out to be full of problems. We have the information given by Paul about himself in his letters, which are far from impersonal and often take an autobiographical turn. Also we have the information given in Acts, in which Paul plays the chief role. But the information given by any person about himself always has to be treated with a certain reserve, since everyone has strong motives for putting himself in the best possible light. And the information given about Paul in Acts also requires close scrutiny, since this work was written by someone committed to the Pauline cause. Have we any other sources for Paul’s biography? As a matter of fact, we have, though they are scattered in various unexpected places, which it will be our task to explore: in a fortuitously preserved extract from the otherwise lost writings of the Ebionites, a sect of great importance for our quest; in a disguised attack on Paul included in a text of orthodox Christian authority; and in an Arabic manuscript, in which a text of the early Jewish Christians, the opponents of Paul, has been preserved by an unlikely chain of circumstances.

Let us first survey the evidence found in the more obvious and well-known sources. It appears from Acts that Paul was at first called ‘Saul’, and that his birthplace was Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor (Acts 9:11, and 21:39, and 22:3). Strangely enough, however, Paul himself, in his letters, never mentions that he came from Tarsus, even when he is at his most autobiographical. Instead, he gives the following information about his origins: ‘I am an Israelite myself, of the stock of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin’ (Romans 11:2); and ‘… circumcised on my eighth day, Israelite by race, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born and bred; in my attitude to the law, a Pharisee….’ (Philippians 3:5). It seems that Paul was not anxious to impart to the recipients of his letters that he came from somewhere so remote as Tarsus from Jerusalem, the powerhouse of Pharisaism. The impression he wished to give, of coming from an unimpeachable Pharisaic background, would have been much impaired by the admission that he in fact came from Tarsus, where there were few, if any, Pharisee teachers and a Pharisee training would have been hard to come by.

We encounter, then, right at the start of our enquiry into Paul’s background, the question: was Paul really from a genuine Pharisaic family, as he says to his correspondents, or was this just something that he said to increase his status in their eyes? The fact that this question is hardly ever asked shows how strong the influence of traditional religious attitudes still is in Pauline studies. Scholars feel that, however objective their enquiry is supposed to be, they must always preserve an attitude of deep reverence towards Paul, and never say anything to suggest that he may have bent the truth at times, though the evidence is strong enough in various parts of his life-story that he was not above deception when he felt it warranted by circumstances.

It should be noted (in advance of a full discussion of the subject) that modern scholarship has shown that, at this time, the Pharisees were held in high repute throughout the Roman and Parthian empires as a dedicated group who upheld religious ideals in the face of tyranny, supported leniency and mercy in the application of laws, and championed the rights of the poor against the oppression of the rich. The undeserved reputation for hypocrisy which is attached to the name ‘Pharisee’ in medieval and modern times is due to the campaign against the Pharisees in the Gospels — a campaign dictated by politico-religious considerations at the time when the Gospels were given their final editing, about forty to eighty years after the death of Jesus. Paul’s desire to be thought of as a person of Pharisee upbringing should thus be understood in the light of the actual reputation of the Pharisees in Paul’s lifetime; Paul was claiming a high honour, which would much enhance his status in the eyes of his correspondents.

Before looking further into Paul’s claim to have come from a Pharisee background, let us continue our survey of what we are told about Paul’s career in the more accessible sources. The young Saul, we are told, left Tarsus and came to the Land of Israel, where he studied in the Pharisee academy of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). We know from other sources about Gamaliel, who is a highly respected figure in the rabbinical writings such as the Mishnah, and was given the title ‘Rabban’, as the leading sage of his day. That he was the leader of the whole Pharisee party is attested also by the New Testament itself, for he plays a prominent role in one scene in the book of Acts (chapter 5) — a role that, as we shall see later, is hard to reconcile with the general picture of the Pharisees given in the Gospels.

Yet Paul himself, in his letters, never mentions that he was a pupil of Gamaliel, even when he is most concerned to stress his qualifications as a Pharisee. Here again, then, the question has to be put: was Paul ever really a pupil of Gamaliel or was this claim made by Luke as an embellishment to his narrative? As we shall see later, there are certain considerations which make it most unlikely, quite apart from Paul’s significant omission to say anything about the matter, that Paul was ever a pupil of Gamaliel’s.

We are also told of the young Saul that he was implicated, to some extent, in the death of the martyr Stephen. The people who gave false evidence against Stephen, we are told, and who also took the leading part in the stoning of their innocent victim, ‘laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul’. The death of Stephen is described, and it is added, ‘And Saul was among those who approved of his murder’ (Acts 8:1). How much truth is there in this detail? Is it to be regarded as historical fact or as dramatic embellishment, emphasizing the contrast between Paul before and after conversion? The death of Stephen is itself an episode that requires searching analysis, since it is full of problems and contradictions. Until we have a better idea of why and by whom Stephen was killed and what were the views for which he died, we can only note the alleged implication of Saul in the matter as a subject for further investigation. For the moment, we also note that the alleged implication of Saul heightens the impression that adherence to Pharisaism would mean violent hostility to the followers of Jesus.

The next thing we are told about Saul in Acts is that he was ‘harrying the Church; he entered house after house, seizing men and women, and sending them to prison’ (Acts 8:3). We are not told at this point by what authority or on whose orders he was carrying out this persecution. It was clearly not a matter of merely individual action on his part, for sending people to prison can only be done by some kind of official. Saul must have been acting on behalf of some authority, and who this authority was can be gleaned from later incidents in which Saul was acting on behalf of the High Priest. Anyone with knowledge of the religious and political scene at this time in Judaea feels the presence of an important problem here: the High Priest was not a Pharisee, but a Sadducee, and the Sadducees were bitterly opposed to the Pharisees. How is it that Saul, allegedly an enthusiastic Pharisee (‘a Pharisee of the Pharisees’), is acting hand in glove with the High Priest? The picture we are given in our New Testament sources of Saul, in the days before his conversion to Jesus, is contradictory and suspect.

The next we hear of Saul (Acts, chapter 9) is that he ‘was still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and applied for letters to the synagogues at Damascus authorizing him to arrest anyone he found, men or women, who followed the new way, and bring them to Jerusalem.’ This incident is full of mystery. If Saul had his hands so full in ‘harrying the church’ in Judaea, why did he suddenly have the idea of going off to Damascus to harry the Church there? What was the special urgency of a visit to Damascus? Further, what kind of jurisdiction did the Jewish High Priest have over the non-Jewish city of Damascus that would enable him to authorize arrests and extraditions in that city? There is, moreover, something very puzzling about the way in which Saul’s relation to the High Priest is described: as if he is a private citizen who wishes to make citizen’s arrests according to some plan of his own, and approaches the High Priest for the requisite authority. Surely there must have been some much more definite official connection between the High Priest and Saul, not merely that the High Priest was called upon to underwrite Saul’s project. It seems more likely that the plan was the High Priest’s and not Saul’s, and that Saul was acting as agent or emissary of the High Priest. The whole incident needs to be considered in the light of probabilities and current conditions.

The book of Acts then continues with the account of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus through a vision of Jesus and the succeeding events of his life as a follower of Jesus. The pre-Christian period of Saul’s life, however, does receive further mention later in the book of Acts, both in chapter 22 and chapter 26, where some interesting details are added, and also some further puzzles.

In chapter 22, Saul (now called Paul), is shown giving his own account of his early life in a speech to the people after the Roman commandant had questioned him. Paul speaks as follows:

“I am a true-born Jew, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia. I was brought up in this city, and as a pupil of Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in every point of our ancestral law. I have always been ardent in God’s service, as you all are today. And so I began to persecute this movement to the death, arresting its followers, men and women alike, and putting them in chains. For this I have as witnesses the High Priest and the whole Council of Elders. I was given letters from them to our fellow-Jews at Damascus, and had started out to bring the Christians there to Jerusalem as prisoners for punishment; and this is what happened….”

Paul then goes on to describe his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. Previously he had described himself to the commandant as ‘a Jew, a Tarsian from Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city’.

It is from this passage that we learn of Paul’s native city, Tarsus, and of his alleged studies under Gamaliel. Note that he says that, though born in Tarsus, he was ‘brought up in this city’ (i.e. Jerusalem) which suggests that he spent his childhood in Jerusalem. Does this mean that his parents moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem? Or that the child was sent to Jerusalem on his own, which seems unlikely? If Paul spent only a few childhood years in Tarsus, he would hardly describe himself proudly as ‘a citizen of no mean city’ (Tarsus). Jews who had spent most of their lives in Jerusalem would be much more prone to describe themselves as citizens of Jerusalem. The likelihood is that Paul moved to Jerusalem when he was already a grown man, and he left his parents behind in Tarsus, which seems all the more probable in that they receive no mention in any account of Paul’s experiences in Jerusalem. As for Paul’s alleged period of studies under Gamaliel, this would have had to be in adulthood, for Gamaliel was a teacher of advanced studies, not a teacher of children. He would accept as a pupil only someone well grounded and regarded as suitable for the rabbinate. The question, then, is where and how Paul received this thorough grounding, if at all. As pointed out above and argued fully below, there are strong reasons to think that Paul never was a pupil of Gamaliel.

An important question that also arises in this chapter of Acts is that of Paul’s Roman citizenship. This is mentioned first in chapter 16. Paul claims to have been born a Roman citizen, which would mean that his father was a Roman citizen. There are many problems to be discussed in this connection, and some of these questions impinge on Paul’s claim to have had a Pharisaic background.

A further account of Paul’s pre-Christian life is found in chapter 26 of Acts, in a speech addressed by Paul to King Agrippa. Paul says:

“My life from my youth up, the life I led from the beginning among my people and in Jerusalem, is familiar to all Jews. Indeed they have known me long enough and could testify, if they only would, that I belonged to the strictest group in our religion: I lived as a Pharisee. And it is for a hope kindled by God’s promise to our forefathers that I stand in the dock today. Our twelve tribes hope to see the fulfilment of that promise…. I myself once thought it my duty to work actively against the name of Jesus of Nazareth; and I did so in Jerusalem. It was I who imprisoned many of God’s people by authority obtained from the chief priests; and when they were condemned to death, my vote was cast against them. In all the synagogues I tried by repeated punishment to make them renounce their faith; indeed my fury rose to such a pitch that I extended my persecution to foreign cities. On one such occasion I was travelling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests….”

Again the account continues with the vision on the road to Damascus.

This speech, of course, cannot be regarded as the authentic words addressed by Paul to King Agrippa, but rather as a rhetorical speech composed by Luke, the author of Acts, in the style of ancient historians. Thus the claim made in the speech that Paul’s career as a Pharisee of high standing was known to ‘all Jews’ cannot be taken at face value. It is interesting that Paul is represented as saying that he ‘cast his vote’ against the followers of Jesus, thus helping to condemn them to death. This can only refer to the voting of the Sanhedrin or Council of Elders, which was convened to try capital cases; so what Luke is claiming here for his hero Paul is that he was at one time a member of the Sanhedrin. This is highly unlikely, for Paul would surely have made this claim in his letters, when writing about his credentials as a Pharisee, if it had been true. There is, however, some confusion both in this account and in the accounts quoted above about whether the Sanhedrin, as well as the High Priest or ‘chief priests’, was involved in the persecution of the followers of Jesus. Sometimes the High Priest alone is mentioned, sometimes the Sanhedrin is coupled with him, as if the two are inseparable. But we see on two occasions cited in Acts that the High Priest was outvoted by the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin; on both occasions, the Pharisees were opposing an attempt to persecute the followers of Jesus; so the representation of High Priest and Sanhedrin as having identical aims is one of the suspect features of these accounts.

It will be seen from the above collation of passages in the book of Acts concerning Paul’s background and early life, together with Paul’s own references to his background in his letters, that the same strong picture emerges: that Paul was at first a highly trained Pharisee rabbi, learned in all the intricacies of the rabbinical commentaries on scripture and legal traditions (afterwards collected in the rabbinical compilations, the Talmud and Midrash). As a Pharisee, Paul was strongly opposed to the new sect which followed Jesus and which believed that he had been resurrected after his crucifixion. So opposed was Paul to this sect that he took violent action against it, dragging its adherents to prison. Though this strong picture has emerged, some doubts have also arisen, which, so far, have only been lightly sketched in: how is it, for example, that Paul claims to have voted against Christians on trial for their lives before the Sanhedrin, when in fact, in the graphically described trial of Peter before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5), the Pharisees, led by Gamaliel, voted for the release of Peter? What kind of Pharisee was Paul, if he took an attitude towards the early Christians which, on the evidence of the same book of Acts, was untypical of the Pharisees? And how is it that this book of Acts is so inconsistent within itself that it describes Paul as violently opposed to Christianity because of his deep attachment to Pharisaism, and yet also describes the Pharisees as being friendly towards the early Christians, standing up for them and saving their lives?

It has been pointed out by many scholars that the book of Acts, on the whole, contains a surprising amount of evidence favourable to the Pharisees, showing them to have been tolerant and merciful. Some scholars have even argued that the book of Acts is a pro-Pharisee work; but this can hardly be maintained. For, outweighing all the evidence favourable to the Pharisees is the material relating to Paul, which is, in all its aspects, unfavourable to the Pharisees; not only is Paul himself portrayed as being a virulent persecutor when he was a Pharisee, but Paul declares that he himself was punished by flogging five times (II Corinthians 11:24) by the ‘Jews’ (usually taken to mean the Pharisees). So no one really comes away from reading Acts with any good impression of the Pharisees, but rather with the negative impressions derived from the Gospels reinforced.

Why, therefore, is Paul always so concerned to stress that he came from a Pharisee background? A great many motives can be discerned, but there is one that needs to be singled out here: the desire to stress the alleged continuity between Judaism and Pauline Christianity. Paul wishes to say that whereas, when he was a Pharisee, he mistakenly regarded the early Christians as heretics who had departed from true Judaism, after his conversion he took the opposite view, that Christianity was the true Judaism. All his training as a Pharisee, he wishes to say — all his study of scripture and tradition — really leads to the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. So when Paul declares his Pharisee past, he is not merely proclaiming his own sins — ‘See how I have changed, from being a Pharisee persecutor to being a devoted follower of Jesus!’ — he is also proclaiming his credentials — ‘If someone as learned as I can believe that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Torah, who is there fearless enough to disagree?’

On the face of it, Paul’s doctrine of Jesus is a daring departure from Judaism. Paul was advocating a doctrine that seemed to have far more in common with pagan myths than with Judaism: that Jesus was a divine-human person who had descended to Earth from the heavens and experienced death for the express purpose of saving mankind. The very fact that the Jews found this doctrine new and shocking shows that it plays no role in the Jewish scripture, at least not in any way easily discernible. Yet Paul was not content to say that his doctrine was new; on the contrary, he wished to say that every line of the Jewish scripture was a foreshadowing of the Jesus-event as he understood it, and that those who understood the scripture in any other way were failing in comprehension of what Judaism had always been about. So his insistence on his Pharisaic upbringing was part of his insistence on continuity.

There were those who accepted Paul’s doctrine, but did regard it as a radical new departure, with nothing in the Jewish scriptures foreshadowing it. The best known figure of this kind was Marcion, who lived about a hundred years after Paul, and regarded Paul as his chief inspiration. Yet Marcion refused to see anything Jewish in Paul’s doctrine, but regarded it as a new revelation. He regarded the Jewish scriptures as the work of the Devil and he excluded the Old Testament from his version of the Bible.

Paul himself rejected this view. Though he regarded much of the Old Testament as obsolete, superseded by the advent of Jesus, he still regarded it as the Word of God, prophesying the new Christian Church and giving it authority. So his picture of himself as a Pharisee symbolizes the continuity between the old dispensation and the new: a figure who comprised in his own person the turning-point at which Judaism was transformed into Christianity.

Throughout the Christian centuries, there have been Christian scholars who have seen Paul’s claim to a Pharisee background in this light. In the medieval Disputations convened by Christians to convert Jews, arguments were put forward purporting to show that not only the Jewish scriptures but even the rabbinical writings, the Talmud and the Midrash, supported the claims of Christianity that Jesus was the Messiah, that he was divine and that he had to suffer death for mankind. Though Paul was not often mentioned in these Disputations, the project was one of which he would have approved. In modern times, scholars have laboured to argue that Paul’s doctrines about the Messiah and divine suffering are continuous with Judaism as it appears in the Bible, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and in the rabbinical writings (the best-known effort of this nature is Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, by W.D. Davies).

So Paul’s claim to expert Pharisee learning is relevant to a very important and central issue — whether Christianity, in the form given to it by Paul, is really continuous with Judaism or whether it is a new doctrine, having no roots in Judaism, but deriving, in so far as it has an historical background, from pagan myths of dying and resurrected gods and Gnostic myths of heaven-descended redeemers. Did Paul truly stand in the Jewish tradition, or was he a person of basically Hellenistic religious type, but seeking to give a colouring of Judaism to a salvation cult that was really opposed to everything that Judaism stood for?

Chapter 2: The Standpoint of this Book

As against the conventional picture of Paul, outlined in the last chapter, the present book has an entirely different and unfamiliar view to put forward. This view of Paul is not only unfamiliar in itself, but it also involves many unfamiliar standpoints about other issues which are relevant and indeed essential to a correct assessment of Paul; for example:

Who and what were the Pharisees? What were their religious and political views as opposed to those of the Sadducees and other religious and political groups of the time? What was their attitude to Jesus? What was their attitude towards the early Jerusalem Church?

Who and what was Jesus? Did he really see himself as a saviour who had descended from heaven in order to suffer crucifixion? Or did he have entirely different aims, more in accordance with the Jewish thoughts and hopes of his time? Was the historical Jesus quite a different person from the Jesus of Paul’s ideology, based on Paul’s visions and trances?

Who and what were the early Church of Jerusalem, the first followers of Jesus? Have their views been correctly represented by the later Church? Did James and Peter, the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, agree with Paul’s views (as orthodox Christianity claims) or did they oppose him bitterly, regarding him as a heretic and a betrayer of the aims of Jesus?

Who and what were the Ebionites, whose opinions and writings were suppressed by the orthodox Church? Why did they denounce Paul? Why did they combine belief in Jesus with the practice of Judaism?

Why did they believe in Jesus as Messiah, but not as God? Were they a later ‘Judaizing’ group, or were they, as they claimed to be, the remnants of the authentic followers of Jesus, the church of James and Peter?

The arguments in this book will inevitably become complicated, since every issue is bound up with every other. It is impossible to answer any of the above questions without bringing all the other questions into consideration. It is, therefore, convenient at this point to give an outline of the standpoint to which all the arguments of this book converge. This is not an attempt to prejudge the issue. The following summary of the findings of this book may seem dogmatic at this stage, but it is intended merely as a guide to the ramifications of the ensuing arguments and a bird’s eye view of the book, and as such will stand or fall with the cogency of the arguments themselves. The following, then, are the propositions argued in the present book:

1. Paul was never a Pharisee rabbi, but was an adventurer of undistinguished background. He was attached to the Sadducees, as a police officer under the authority of the High Priest, before his conversion to belief in Jesus. His mastery of the kind of learning associated with the Pharisees was not great. He deliberately misrepresented his own biography in order to increase the effectiveness of missionary activities.

2. Jesus and his immediate followers were Pharisees. Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion. He regarded himself as the Messiah in the normal Jewish sense of the term, i.e. a human leader who would restore the Jewish monarchy, drive out the Roman invaders, set up an independent Jewish state, and inaugurate an era of peace, justice and prosperity (known as ‘the kingdom of God,) for the whole world. Jesus believed himself to be the figure prophesied in the Hebrew Bible who would do all these things. He was not a militarist and did not build up an army to fight the Romans, since he believed that God would perform a great miracle to break the power of Rome. This miracle would take place on the Mount of Olives, as prophesied in the book of Zechariah. When this miracle did not occur, his mission had failed. He had no intention of being crucified in order to save mankind from eternal damnation by his sacrifice. He never regarded himself as a divine being, and would have regarded such an idea as pagan and idolatrous, an infringement of the first of the Ten Commandments.

3. The first followers of Jesus, under James and Peter, founded the Jerusalem Church after Jesus’s death. They were called the Nazarenes, and in all their beliefs they were indistinguishable from the Pharisees, except that they believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and that Jesus was still the promised Messiah. They did not believe that Jesus was a divine person, but that, by a miracle from God, he had been brought back to life after his death on the cross, and would soon come back to complete his mission of overthrowing the Romans and setting up the Messianic kingdom. The Nazarenes did not believe that Jesus had abrogated the Jewish religion, or Torah. Having known Jesus personally, they were aware that he had observed the Jewish religious law all his life and had never rebelled against it. His sabbath cures were not against Pharisee law. The Nazarenes were themselves very observant of Jewish religious law. They practiced circumcision, did not eat the forbidden foods and showed great respect to the Temple. The Nazarenes did not regard themselves as belonging to a new religion; their religion was Judaism. They set up synagogues of their own, but they also attended non-Nazarene synagogues on occasion, and performed the same kind of worship in their own synagogues as was practiced by all observant Jews. The Nazarenes became suspicious of Paul when they heard that he was preaching that Jesus was the founder of a new religion and that he had abrogated the Torah. After an attempt to reach an understanding with Paul, the Nazarenes (i.e. the Jerusalem Church under James and Peter) broke irrevocably with Paul and disowned him.

4. Paul, not Jesus, was the founder of Christianity as a new religion which developed away from both normal Judaism and the Nazarene variety of Judaism. In this new religion, the Torah was abrogated as having had only temporary validity. The central myth of the new religion was that of an atoning death of a divine being. Belief in this sacrifice, and a mystical sharing of the death of the deity, formed the only path to salvation. Paul derived this religion from Hellenistic sources, chiefly by a fusion of concepts taken from Gnosticism and concepts taken from the mystery religions, particularly from that of Attis. The combination of these elements with features derived from Judaism, particularly the incorporation of the Jewish scriptures, reinterpreted to provide a background of sacred history for the new myth, was unique; and Paul alone was the creator of this amalgam. Jesus himself had no idea of it, and would have been amazed and shocked at the role assigned to him by Paul as a suffering deity. Nor did Paul have any predecessors among the Nazarenes though later mythography tried to assign this role to Stephen, and modern scholars have discovered equally mythical predecessors for Paul in a group called the ‘Hellenists’. Paul, as the personal begetter of the Christian myth, has never been given sufficient credit for his originality. The reverence paid through the centuries to the great Saint Paul has quite obscured the more colourful features of his personality. Like many evangelical leaders, he was a compound of sincerity and charlatanry. Evangelical leaders of his kind were common at this time in the Greco-Roman world (e.g. Simon Magus, Apollonius of Tyana).

5. A source of information about Paul that has never been taken seriously enough is a group called the Ebionites. Their writings were suppressed by the Church, but some of their views and traditions were preserved in the writings of their opponents, particularly in the huge treatise on Heresies by Epiphanius. From this it appears that the Ebionites had a very different account to give of Paul’s background and early life from that found in the New Testament and fostered by Paul himself. The Ebionites testified that Paul had no Pharisaic background or training; he was the son of Gentiles, converted to Judaism in Tarsus, came to Jerusalem when an adult, and attached himself to the High Priest as a henchman. Disappointed in his hopes of advancement, he broke with the High Priest and sought fame by founding a new religion. This account, while not reliable in all its details, is substantially correct. It makes far more sense of all the puzzling and contradictory features of the story of Paul than the account of the official documents of the Church.

6. The Ebionites were stigmatized by the Church as heretics who failed to understand that Jesus was a divine person and asserted instead that he was a human being who came to inaugurate a new earthly age, as prophesied by the Jewish prophets of the Bible. Moreover, the Ebionites refused to accept the Church doctrine, derived from Paul, that Jesus abolished or abrogated the Torah, the Jewish law. Instead, the Ebionites observed the Jewish law and regarded themselves as Jews. The Ebionites were not heretics, as the Church asserted, nor ‘re-Judaizers’, as modern scholars call them, but the authentic successors of the immediate disciples and followers of Jesus, whose views and doctrines they faithfully transmitted, believing correctly that they were derived from Jesus himself. They were the same group that had earlier been called the Nazarenes, who were led by James and Peter, who had known Jesus during his lifetime, and were in a far better position to know his aims than Paul, who met Jesus only in dreams and visions. Thus the opinion held by the Ebionites about Paul is of extraordinary interest and deserves respectful consideration, instead of dismissal as ‘scurrilous’ propaganda — the reaction of Christian scholars from ancient to modern times.

The above conspectus brings into sharper relief our question, was Paul a Pharisee? It will be seen that this is not merely a matter of biography or idle curiosity. It is bound up with the whole question of the origins of Christianity. A tremendous amount depends on this question, for, if Paul was not a Pharisee rooted in Jewish learning and tradition, but instead a Hellenistic adventurer whose acquaintance with Judaism was recent and shallow, the construction of myth and theology which he elaborated in his letters becomes a very different thing. Instead of searching through his system for signs of continuity with Judaism, we shall be able to recognize it for what it is — a brilliant concoction of Hellenism, superficially connecting itself with the Jewish scriptures and tradition, by which it seeks to give itself a history and an air of authority.

Christian attitudes towards the Pharisees and thus towards the picture of Paul as a Pharisee have always been strikingly ambivalent. In the Gospels, the Pharisees are attacked as hypocrites and would-be murderers: yet the Gospels also convey an impression of the Pharisees as figures of immense authority and dignity. This ambivalence reflects the attitude of Christianity to Judaism itself; on the one hand, an allegedly outdated ritualism, but on the other, a panorama of awesome history, a source of authority and blessing, so that at all costs the Church must display itself as the new Israel, the true Judaism. Thus Paul, as Pharisee, is the subject of alternating attitudes. In the nineteenth century, when Jesus was regarded (by Renan, for example) as a Romantic liberal, rebelling against the authoritarianism of Pharisaic Judaism, Paul was deprecated as a typical Pharisee, enveloping the sweet simplicity of Jesus in clouds of theology and difficult formulations. In the twentieth century, when the concern is more to discover the essential Jewishness of Christianity, the Pharisee aspect of Paul is used to connect Pauline doctrines with the rabbinical writings — again Paul is regarded as never losing his essential Pharisaism, but this is now viewed as good, and as a means of rescuing Christianity from isolation from Judaism. To be Jewish and yet not to be Jewish, this is the essential dilemma of Christianity, and the figure of Paul, abjuring his alleged Pharisaism as a hindrance to salvation and yet somehow clinging to it as a guarantee of authority, is symbolic.