Why is the world a mess and getting worse? There are many causes, but I think the main one is the collapse of morality since WWII, those war years being 'anything goes' in so many ways. The orgiastic bloodbath to end bloodbaths still haunts us. The slaughter is still incomprehensible. 100m? How could Christian Europe allow such a horror, culminating in a genocide of European Jews?
At least part of the answer can be found in the critical years between the death of Jesus in 30AD and the death of Paul (67AD?), the man who replaced him at the heart of the new Jewish messianic movement that Paul's followers would call Christianity.
Those key decades forged a very different, totally new religion, apart and hostile to Judaism, that transformed Europe and much of the rest of the world, in alliance with the empires of the day (Roman, European, American), a system which continues its accelerated destruction of the world as you read this.
Paul's own journey is certainly remarkable. He initially persecuted Christians. He never met Jesus. His 'Damascus moment' was 7 years after Jesus' death, when he saw the heavenly Jesus for the first time. He abandoned his work and went to Damascus, then Mount Sinai and perhaps elsewhere ('Arabia'), and for three years continued to live with his visions of the heavenly Christ, preparing himself for his mission. This signal period in his life is not even mentioned in Acts but is alluded to in Paul's letters to his congregations starting in 48AD with Galatians. In 2 Corinthians, he relates his ecstatic experience taken into heavenly realms, meeting Moses and Elijah, so extraordinary that he wasn't permitted to reveal them. His three years were not with Jesus, but the heavenly Christ. This is almost certainly unknown to the vast majority of Christians.
Paul returned from 'Arabia' and finally went to Jerusalem where he met Peter and briefly meets James, or rather Jacob,ii Jesus' younger brother and leader of the Jesus movement, with Peter and John as right and left pillars. They clearly disagreed on much. Paul was an interloper, demanding status as an apostle, though he had never even met Jesus, dismissing James and Peter's focus on Jews and the value of the Torah. They agreed to differ and Paul struck out on his own, working separately in the Levant for 10 years (hence his letters carefully preserved, unlike the less sophisticated James and Peteriii. Writing back then was still an elite occupation and sophisticate Paul clearly had the advantage there.). He had his big showdown with James and Peter and the other apostles in 50AD. While the Jerusalem group were teaching the original teachings of Jesus, primarily to Jews, following the Torah, Paul was independently forging his Gospel for Gentiles which he developed alone, based on his past and ongoing visions of the heavenly Christ. It seems the apostles were less than impressed, having lived with Jesus until his martyrdom in 30AD.
Paul sarcastically calls James, Peter and John the 'so-called pillars of the church'. Corinthians 15:9-11. He coined the word Gospel, which appears in the New Testament (NT) mostly in Paul's letters, i.e., as he is developing his theology with his own communities. 'Good news' but more like 'announcement'. Paul was truly obsessed with his mission among the Greek-speaking pagans.
He was from a well-to-do family in the cosmopolitan port Tarsus. Greek was his native tongue and he probably spoke pigeon-Aramaic. His elegant Greek ways must have irritated the apostles, not to mention his growing disdain of Judaism. Given his ecstatic visions of the heavenly Christ, he did not envision himself as the betrayer of the historical Jesus or Judaism, but as the founder of a new religion, a version of the Jesus message for the wider non-Jewish world.
Paul understood the mission of Christ as a two stage plan. Stage one fulfilled by Jesus, and continued by his brother James, to the Jews, but stage two to be fulfilled by Paul, inspired by his direct communications with the risen Christ, who, Paul insisted, instructed him to reject his own Jewish past, forget the Jews and make his message more accessible to the heathen Greek and Roman world.
James the Just
Catholics favour Peter, Protestants Paul. James/Jacob, Jesus' appointed successor, is marginalized. Conventional wisdom in both of today's Christianities is that Peter took over the leadership (untrue), then Paul joined at Peter's side (untrue). Twin pillars. James died first, in 62AD when the Romans were attacking Jewish rebels. James/Jacob's Jewish version of Jesus' message (maintain the Torah and Jewish law) dominated till his death, followed by the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul and Peter were then left but never really got along. Paul was never accepted as an apostle, which made him bitter to the end. Peter grudgingly joined the dynamo Paul in his paganized version of Jesus' message.
The Jerusalemites were the centre of the movement, and continued to worship at local synagogues while remembering and honoring Jesus as their martyred teacher and messiah. They didn't divinized Jesus as son of God who died for the sins of humankind. There was no ritual baptism into Christ. No sacred meal, eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ as a guarantee of eternal life. Acts only grudgingly acknowledges James as the head of the movement. No early account of Christian history survived to contradict Paul's version.
Paul was a proud Roman citizen. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. Romans 13:1. According to the NT, Jesus was treated fairly by his Roman captors as is Paul when encountering Roman authorities. It just might be that Paul was looking ahead to stage 3 of his mission: when Christianity would become the state religion of the empire. Despite intermittent persecution by Rome, there is hardly a whiff of political rebellion in the NT.
James echoes the Pharisee position: Noahide lawsiv for righteous Gentiles, God-fearers. The righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. Jesus left behind James, with John and Peter left and right pillars. Not the Papal Pauline 'Peter and Paul' left and right pillars.
Josephus wrote a detailed record of James's death at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His execution led to riots and Herod had to removed Ananus as state-appointed priest. James was thrown from corner of the temple enclosure, stoned and beaten to death with clubs. A bona fide martyr. Contrast with the unknown fate of Paul and Peter in Rome, though legends arose with Paul beheaded and Peter crucified upside down. Thank you, Josephus, Jewish historian, for filling in the Pauline NT gaps.
James/Jacob disputed Paul's 'salvation through faith not deeds.' Jesus did not say that. He argued for the enduring validity of the Torah!, I hear James/Jacob protesting. The only genuine sayings of Jesus were recorded in Q,v the most famous quote being excerpted by Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. Also Luke and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6). Paul was the fancy Greek vs James the Asian Jew.
Judaism became a heresy, an obsolete religion, a crime, replaced by a new covenant. Profligate Paul's literary victory would, by the 4th c, be reinforced by an emerging theological orthodoxy backed by Roman political power. The token letters of James and Peter in the NT are pseudos crafted by Pauline scribes in the 2nd c to try to paper over the fault lines between Paul and the apostles.
The entire NT was written in Greek or translated from Aramaic. Aramaic and Hebrew were Jesus and James's languages. Mark is the earliest narrative circa 75AD, already Pauline in theology. However, the earliest version of Mark lacks the miraculous birth, the physical resurrection,vi post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and Paul's blood-wine spiritual banquet rite (theophagy). Even the edition revised to conform to the other NT writings has no virgin birth.
Luke-Acts expands Mark with the final scene being of Paul preaching his Gospel in Rome. Acts is anonymous, signalling that the author wants us to think his work dates to an earlier (i.e., authentic) time. It ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, and is attributed to Luke, a companion of Paul via a mention of 'Luke the beloved physician' in Philomen. A Pauline flourish.
In his letters after the fateful showdown with Peter and James/Jacob in 50AD, Paul denounces false apostles, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:5. Look out for the dogs, those who mutilate the flesh.vii Philomen 3:2.viii Paul ended up in prison in Rome where he died, alone. He was domesticated posthumously by Acts, and six later pseudo-Paul letters, muting his radical apocalyptic message, were added when the endtimes refused to come. Pseudo-Paul letters depict him as a courageous preacher-martyr taking THE Gospel beyond the Jewish world.
We are left with his Gospel and his ethical teachings, which certainly have some practical and enduring legacy (when his apocalyptic side and misogyny are ignored). His eloquent paean to love, 1 Corinthians 13, is perhaps the most beautiful passage in the NT. So thank you, St Paul, but that doesn't forgive your distorting the message of Jesus, whose words, miracles and martyrdom were sufficient proof of his prophethood.
Did Jesus plant the seeds of a definitive split with the Jews? Clearly, no. But Paul did. By the 2nd century, Jews did not want to be confused with the Christians and Christians wanted nothing to do with the Jews, considering them a rejected people without Christ. It is utterly absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity was brought together to God. Magnesians 10:3.ix
Judaism has always been plagued with sects and occasional messiahs. Righteous Gentiles were to shun idols and live by Noahide precepts from the Torah and Jewish practices. Such Gentiles were 'God-fearers'. Non-Jews attended readings of the Torah and the Prophets and the preaching of Moses. Judaism was open to conversion then. Many budding Christians were eager to convert to Judaism as part of their spiritual enlightenment, and James/Jacob encouraged that zeal.
What a powerful symbiosis: become a Jew to be the best Christian; become a Christian to be the best Jew. Image if James had prevailed.
Paul hid his rejection of the Torah from James/Jacob when confronted. By his own admission, to the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. 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. 1 Corinthians 9:20. At the same time, Paul denounces Peter for compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews. He forbids conversion in Galatians 5:2. If they receive circumcision, they are cut off from Christ. Galatians 5:2. His blow-up with Barnabas in Acts 15:39 is supposedly over Mark coming with him and Peter. Nice try. No. It was over Paul's welcoming pagans, eating and drinking wine with Gentiles. Paul claims he too is an apostle, but he was never accepted by the apostles. The movement was in crisis over paganizing Jesus' message as soon as Paul showed up. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul's opponents in Jerusalem are unnamed, but they are in fact the 12 apostles. For such men are false apostles, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13.x
Paul discouraged conversion, disparaged Judaism. He compared his former life as a Jew to 'rubbish' compared to the new status of being in Christ. Philippians 3:8. He denigrates the Jewish people as 'Israel according to the flesh' broken off the tree of Israel, cut off from God. Replaced by a new and true Israel—according to the Spirit. The Torah of Moses was temporary. For Christ is the end of the Torah, that everyone who has faith may be justified. Romans 10:4. What a foolish, destructive politics! Turn Jews and Christians against each other. Eventually making all Jews Christ-killers and making Jews the insular, vengeful Other of Christendom. Hello, Gaza! Hello, Ukraine! Hello Empire! Hello Christianity, religion of the Empire!
Ironically, the apocalyptic Paul dismissed earthly life, which was not the true Jerusalem, so his Christianity fit well the imperialist agenda. You suffer here as a slave but if you are saved in Christ you will have heavenly glory. Pie in the sky by and by, as communist balladeers joke. Could Paul have had this future in mind as stage 3? Though Paul was probably martyred by the crazed Nero, his version of Christ's message was well adapted to empire, and as Rome declined, Christianity proved to be an alternative authority and was eventually embraced as a palliative, giving Romans some moral backbone.
The checkered history of the Papacy and Reformation since then has been one of scheming and rivalry with the secular authority of the day, war, Crusades, torture, finally a comatose eternal life at the margins. OK, that's unfair. There were great saints and wonderful Christians, but despite the Pauline distortions and the odious role of the Church blessing empire and war.
The Hebrew Bible speaks about believing in God, but never about being in God or Moses. The phrase 'in Christ' (not 'being in Jesus') belongs exclusively to Paul and he uses it more than 50 times in his real letters. It is never used in the Gospels either by Jesus or anyone talking about Jesus. We regard no one according to the flesh, even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him such no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:16
Paul never mentions Jesus' birth, that he was from Galilee, baptized by John, preached the imminent kingdom of God, healed the sick, worked miracles. Paul never quotes directly a single teaching of Jesus. Of course, that's what the (Pauline) Gospels are for.
Paul's major innovations for this 'new creation' were baptism 'in Christ', his 'Lord's Supper', eating the flesh and blood of Christ, and physical resurrection. Christ is everywhere for Paul: when God led the Israelites through the Red Sea and their desert wanderings for 40 years, it was really Christ. Paul mentions Christ 150 times, 'the Lord' (referring to Christ) 100 times, Jesus Christ 100 times vs the single name Jesus 11 times. I.e., his revelations from the heavenly Christ are superior to anything received from the earthly Jesus by the apostles. But Jesus never called himself the Christ or the Messiah.
So 1900 years of Christianity wholly oriented to salvation in the heavenly world, in contrast to the movement Jesus the Jewish Messiah had inspired, with its emphasis on a kingdom of peace and justice on earth. 1 Corinthians 10:4. Paul's theology is platonic/ stoic. The ineffable God manifests in the lower world as the Word, Logos. In John, 'the Logos became flesh', i.e., Jesus. The 'blood, sweat and tears' of the human story culminates in mass conversion, apocalypse, and humans join the heavenly ranks, in eternal glory as quasi-Gods. A message for burn out. Call in the scribes for some editing!
Paul vs Peter
Paul and Peter are portrayed as the two great apostles of Christianity, we assume allies. But in fact they were bitter rivals, and we all know who writes history. This case is no exception. Everywhere, it's Peter on the left, Paul on the right. Peter became the founder of the new administration as the first Pope. Paul, in his famous statue in St Peter's Square in Rome, holds a sword, representing the Word of God. They are similarly joined at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, and Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg, where Russian emperors are buried.
Acts glorifies Paul as the 'apostle' (no!) who brings the Christian message to Rome, though there was already a robust Christian community along with Jews when Paul arrived in 58AD. However testy Christian-Jewish relations might have been, Paul's message was: 'our' enemies are the Jews not the Romans.
Paul doesn't mention Peter (let alone James/Jacob) in his letter to the Romans. Much of his letter is devoted to how the Jewish people, though temporarily cut off from God, will soon come around. In fact, he came to denounce the Jews, and vowed to preach only to non-Jews. Acts 28:23 Acts is pro-Roman and the implied context reflects a time after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, when it was actually written. It deliberately obscures the pre/non-Paul original Jewish messianism. Neither Peter nor Paul founded the church in Rome and Peter was never the bishop of Rome. Peter as 'first bishop of Rome' is likely a 4thc tradition to fit the new imperial role of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire.
The literary victory of Hellene Paul dominates the NT. The Q source and the Didache (circa 100AD a primer for new converts) are the exceptions. The Old Testament was retained but in a Greek translation with Apocrypha, the Hebrew Bible. When Pauline Christianity took control after James' death, the remnants of the Jewish Jesus movement survived as sects (Ebionites, Nazoreans) then heresies. Jews became the despised Other. The Ebionite Gospel found embedded in 4th c pseudo-Clementines criticized Paul for putting his own testimony of visions over the certainty of direct teachings that the original apostles had from Jesus. Peter asks there: how can we know he was not actually communicating with a demonic spirit impersonating Jesus?
Pre-Paul Jewish messianism vs Islam
Look at the Middle East today. European Jews have nursed their hatred of Christianity and Christians their hatred of Judaism ever since Paul. Vatican II encouraged reconciliation with Judaism, but now from a weak position. In any case, the problem is Paul's rejection of Judaism at the start, insisting that his revolution would bring spiritual glory to one and all. Sounds suspiciously like Lenin and we all know how that ended. In today's world, both Christianity and Judaism are footnotes, irrelevant to Zionism's bloodthirsty war of extermination of all Muslims and any Christian fellow travellers who get in their way.
What if the Jesus-James/Jacob version had prevailed? Without the physical resurrection, the blood-wine rite, maintaining the good, the original of the OT. Like most Christians, I fell away from a belief that seemed increasingly irrelevant, while still believing the Golden Rule, the political activism inspired from a sense of justice. Now I see I really like the authentic Jesus message, a revamped Judaism (scribes post-Babylon were no doubt embellishing things too).
Guess what? That's Islam. Under Muslim rule, Jews and Christians were from the start respected as 'people of the book', all living in harmony according to each religion's needs. There were never pogroms, inquisitions, forced conversions as under Christianity, which, thanks to Paul's tinkering, soon became a willing handmaiden to the various imperialisms, starting with Rome, eager to convert natives to the strange Pauline doctrines of theophagy and physical resurrection after death, and let's all drink and be merry.
It sure looks like the Muslim understanding of Islam as the corrected version of OT/NT monotheism is true. And it is James Tabor, Professor of Christian Origins and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, whom we have to thank for Paul and Jesus (2012).
Imagine if Judaism and the non-Pauline Jesus movement had been able to coexist as Jesus-James/Jacob wanted. Josephus names many messiahs before and after Jesus. All executed by Jewish or Roman authorities. Judaism has a tradition of messiahs (not all are executed!).
James/Jacob kept both faiths and attracted many Gentiles who wanted to convert to both Judaism and the new Jesus branch. Win-win. Paul came charging in and upset the applecart. Win-lose. But what was the prize? Pauline Christianity? For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul? Mark's warning is chilling.
In fact, Jamesian Jewish Christianity has survived. Jews for Jesus, a Messianic Judaism founded in 1973 in the US, has branches in 13 countries and a budget of $25m. We’re 100% Jewish and 100% Christian. Jewish people have been following Jesus, well, since the time of Jesus. It is spurned by Orthodox Jews. The Supreme Court of Israel determined that Messianic Jews are not actually Jews.
Most Jews view Jesus either as a good Jewish teacher or as a false prophet, but most certainly a failed messiah claimant. In a 2013 Pew Forum study, 34% of Jews found belief in Jesus as the Messiah is compatible with Judaism and 4% did not know. So I'm sure James/Jacob had fertile ground with his mission back then. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, a rabbi of Reform Judaism and professor of Jewish Theology at the University of Wales, argues, there is simply no consensus among non-Orthodox Jews concerning the central tenets of the faith, nor is there any agreement about Jewish observance. In my view Messianic Judaism constitutes an innovative, exciting, and extremely interesting development on the Jewish scene.
As for Jews for Jesus, their Christianity is standard Pauline, so it's not fair to tar James/Jacob with their brush. In any case, after almost two millennia of hostility, when Christians actively persecuted all Jews as Christ-killers, that option for the Middle East is a nonstarter. More to the point, this revamped Judaism is the heart of Islam. And Islam is the main moral forces standing up to Israel's genocidal imperialist project, surely the litmus test of a genuine religion.
i Islam dominates the North and East of the continent, while Christianity dominates the South and West, with other native and folk religions being scattered throughout. The data comes from the Pew Research Center and it shows that Christians make up 50.9% of Africa’s population, followed by Muslims at 43.3% . brilliantmaps.com/simple-africa-relgions/
iiThe NT latinized Jacob, clearly to emphasize the new religion had no relationship with Judaism;
iii Their letters in the NT are pseudonymous, within the Pauline tradition. (The victor writes history'.)
iv A streamline version of the 10 commandments and Jewish practices The Chabaders were able to get Congress and President Carter to declare 18 April 1978 Education and Sharing Day (ESD) in honour of Schneerson, for his efforts for “education and sharing” for Jews and non-Jews alike. Since then each year in April, the US president proclaims ESD on a day close to Schneerson’s birthday (11 Nissan). In the 1991 bill declaring ESD, the Noahide laws—a version of Judaism for non-Jews—were described as the “ethical values and principles” that are “the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded”.
v The Q source (also called The Sayings Gospel or Q). is part of the common material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark. According to this hypothesis, this material was drawn from the early Church's oral Gospel traditions. Matthew and Luke both used Mark and Q as sources. Its lack of mention by Jerome is a conundrum of modern Biblical scholarship. Copying Q might have been seen as unnecessary, as its contents were preserved in the canonical Gospels, or, in light of Tabor, it may have been suppressed as part of the explicit campaign to suppress James's Jewish messianism.
vi Paul is not 100% clear on this. He is already in Christ while seeing Jesus in his frequent visions. He was essentially a Platonic dualist, body-soul. It is only later that the idea of actual physical reconstitution of our bodies becomes a dogma. A typical defense of physical resurrection is Our souls will be reunited with our transformed physical bodies, brought back to life from the dead. Will the Resurrection of the Body Be a Physical Resurrection from the Dead? | Desiring God
vii i.e., the circumcised Jews.
viii This political struggle brings to mind Stalin wiping out his opposition and building Socialism in One Country, which communism founder Marx would most likely have dismissed as heresy. Lesson: if you start with a lie, your foundations crumble in the end.
ix A letter (epistle) written in the early 2nd c.
x When someone calls you a satanist, it probably means s/he is one.