‘Saint Paul’ or ‘Paul The Villain’
Paul of Tarsus, or Saint Paul, has oftentimes been called the greatest missionary of the Christian faith.
This may hardly seem newsworthy, but when one adds the claim that he deliberately twisted and subverted the original teachings of Jesus, while maligning his fellow apostles, that throws a whole new light on this narrative.
St Paul's epiphanic conversion to Christianity is well documented. But little is told of his rogue-like independent movement that clashed with the veridical, authorised Jerusalem ministry led by Jesus' brother, James.
Now there is an emerging scholarship that highlights Paul's uncompromising revolution. It paints a disturbing picture of a megalomaniac, a renegade, and a divisive, polarising figure.
In his 2012 opus, 'Paul and Jesus: How the apostle transformed Christianity', biblical historian and scholar, James Tabor, who echoes my long-standing view on this issue, details Paul's neuroses.
Under a psychoanalytical microscope, Paul, in his letters to the Corinthians, is didactic, troubled, narcissistic and even delusional. He offers opinions - his own - with little reference to a divine source.
He is convinced that he is set upon by an evil entity, a punishment for his boastfulness: "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me."
And this boastfulness is definitive in 1 Corinthians 14: 18, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all."
And when his stature as a veritable apostle is challenged, he becomes threatening. "This will be my third visit to you. Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me (Corinthians 12:19-13:4)."
In 1 Corinthians 7:25, Paul offers his opinions that many now misconstrue as the Word of God: "Now regarding your question about young women who are not yet married, I do not have a command from the Lord for them. But the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom than can be trusted and I will share it with you."
And again speaking indirectly about himself, Paul reveals his special gift in 2 Corinthians 12:2: "I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago - whether in the body I do not know or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven."
In 1 Corinthians 9:20, Paul reveals a perplexing and duplicitous bent: "To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win over the Jew. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law."
That James and the other apostles remained unrepentantly Jewish, praying in synagogues and looking towards the return of a Jewish messiah did not sit well with the architects of Christianity.
Paul's new religion marked by glossolalia and prophecy while proclaiming the immediate return of Jesus in his lifetime was alien to the rabbinical teachings of James and every other apostle. His teachings were also characterised by Grecian lore and practices.
Indeed, Hellenism strongly influenced Jewish sects, especially the Pharisees, of which Paul was a member.
Tabor writes: "The idea of eating the body and blood of one's god, seen in symbolic manner, fits nothing with what we know of Jesus or the Jewish culture from which he comes. The closest parallels we have to this idea are found in Greek magical materials for this period."
Tabor concludes from the Didache that there is no indication that Jesus spoke about the divine properties of his body and blood as reported by Paul. On this issue, he pens: "This precious text provides us with clear evidence that early Christian communities were gathering for a common thanksgiving meal called the Eucharist, blessing bread and wine, but with no connection whatsoever to the Pauline practice associated with the Lord's Supper that has become the norm within Christianity."
Tabor also contends that Paul's baptism as seen today is at odds with the various rites of ritual purification requiring immersion in water, a common Jewish custom.
But Paul's baptism was something different since it was connected to repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Tabor adds: "Christians would have a hard time explaining why Jesus needed to be baptised for remission of sins."
He also stated that this new kind of baptism that emerged 'in the name of Christ', as practised by Paul, was foreign to Apollos, who was a powerful preacher of the Christian message (Acts 18:24-25).
If there is truth to Tabor's thesis, why did the early Church exalt Paul, while marginalising the role of James, the rightful leader of the apostles?
Gospel of Thomas
In the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (Saying 12), we read: "The disciples said to Jesus. 'We know you will leave us. Who is going to be our leader then?' Jesus said to them, 'No matter where you go you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake Heaven and Earth came into being'."
Clearly, Paul's anti-Semitism served the early Church fathers. He marked a total break with Christian Jews and established a Gentile religion with no reference to the law or any strain of Judaic thought. Paul, who never met Jesus, denounced the Torah - music to the ears of early Christendom.
Contextually, a bitter rift between Paul and James' Jerusalem movement cannot be ignored (Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul will not allow his newly created Christian religion to be questioned.
In Philippians 3:2-7, his outbursts against the other apostles speak volumes: "Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh (meaning circumcised Jews). For we are the true circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and Glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in flesh..."
Undoubtedly, today's Christianity was created by none other than Paul, and politically and militarily advanced by fourth century power brokers in religious and political circles.
Original scriptures were doctored, and the revelations of the Nag Hammadi codices, circa 80 AD (predating today's gospels) were violently suppressed because they were starkly at odds with what was being conveyed as truth.
How convenient! Yes, Paul was their boy, as he is today for so many unsuspecting and gullible followers of this shrewdly contrived religion.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the president of Global Interfaith Council and author of 'Anam Cara Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment.' Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby