Saul the Apostate – Part II

Did Saul and Jesus teach two fundamentally different religions?
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This is the question I pose to anyone who professes belief in the Christian canonical New Testament. When one closely compares Saul’s epistles and “Christ” — six epistles which are probably not authored by Saul — with the Jewish-Jesus and the Gospel-Jesus, the differences will shock many Christians. If one made a list of everything Saul denotes Jesus did, stated, and experienced from birth to death, they would indeed be shocked by just how little Saul mentions; it’s near nothing. Yet, that isn’t really the controversy. The shock is about what Jewish-Jesus and Gospel-Jesus taught about his God and His coming kingdom and whether that aligned with what Saul taught about his God and His kingdom.

Saul’s “Christ” vs. the Jewish-Jesus

As I expounded in the previous post Saul the Apostate – Intro to Part II, a necessary segue into this post, we must read the Gospels with high-def glasses and critical caution. An astute reader of the New Testament will always be cognizant of the demonstrated problems and failures of the reliability in the canonical Hellenic Gospels. This doesn’t necessarily mean we cannot decipher who the Jewish-Jesus was, the quasi-Sectarian from Galilee, or what he was preaching. As Dr. Bart Ehrman describes in a number of his blog-posts, …there were lots and lots of sources [oral traditions], from the early days of the Christian movement, some of them coming straight out of Aramaic-speaking Palestine… of which many independent [oral traditions] saying similar things about the man Jesus made it into (albeit partially) later Jewish and Hellenic Christian writings. Hence, when one inclusively considers without nepotism all possible sources of a Jewish-Jesus, a general, historical caricature does emerge.

In his Sermon on the Mount (Beatitudes) and later speaking to his students/disciples, generally regarded by scholars as probable words from Jewish-Gospel Jesus, he was reportedly known to teach his followers that they must reach higher Halakha righteousness and purity, as well as greater mutual love for each other deeper than the Pharisees practiced (Matthew 5:20; 18:4-5). Jesus, being an exceptional follower of the Torah, the Mosaic Law, was pulling directly from his sectarian teachings in Deut. 6:4-6 and Lev. 19:18, key components of Essene practice. Another Essene practice followed and taught by Jesus was that of the core principle of non-resistance to evil which was found exemplary in his Synagogues and the Talmud Mishnah:

Those who are insulted but do not insult, hear themselves reviled without answering, act through love and rejoice in suffering, of them the Writ saith, But they who love Him are as the sun (Judges 5:31) when he goeth forth in his might. — Shabbat 88b

Those who practiced this two-fold Mosaic concept better than the Pharisees, Jesus taught, would be saved from judgment when evil (Rome) was overthrown and the Son of Man soon returned within one or two generations, tops. In other words, approximately in 80 CE to perhaps 140 CE. That was what Jesus promised (Matt. 18:11-12, 18:8-9; Luke 13:28-29, 14:15-24) followed by such ‘an abundance of over-sized grapes and fruits for the Essenic-Mosaic righteous worthy of the greatest banquet in Paradise’ (Papias, in Irenæus, “Against Heresies,” Book V. Ch. 3334). This was the Kingdom of God that Jewish-Gospel Jesus taught.

greatest essene commandment(s)

Was this what Saul of Tarsus preached? No.

The core, the marrow of Saul’s teachings in public and his epistles to his various 1st-century new Gentile-Jewish churches and Jewish synagogues was encapsulated in many of his passages, but very concisely in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Saul’s followers must believe through faith in “Christ’s” death for sins and his resurrection to be saved from impending judgment. Keeping the Jewish law (Halakha), he taught, would not make believers right with God. Only those who believe in “Christ’s” death and resurrection, then baptized, will join God in Paradise (1 Thess. 4; Romans 8). Here was Saul’s four essential elements of salvation:  faith, Christ’s death, his resurrection, and baptism. However, because it was heavy on mystical “faith” galvanized by his TL-epilepsy visions-revelations, as discussed in the previous posts, unsurprisingly and from a neurological-psychiatric standpoint Saul’s Christ was at the expense of common sense and rational reasoning. Dr. Bart Ehrman says regarding this fundamental difference of true readiness for God’s soon to come kingdom…

Should a person follow the Jewish Law or not? Jesus thought the answer was yes — this was the core of his teaching. Paul thought the answer was no — doing so would not allow one to be saved. So that’s a stark difference, right? Quite possibly. But on the other hand, Jesus did not think that the scrupulous following of the law (as preached by the Pharisees) was what God desired; and Paul certainly did not think that people should go about breaking the law (committing adultery, or murder, or false witness, etc). So are they fundamentally different or not?

One way to answer the question: what did a person need to do to be saved? For Jesus, it was repenting and keeping the law as God instructed (with the love commandments). But Paul does not say much about repentance and thought that keeping the law would decidedly not bring salvation. What mattered was [Christ’s] death and resurrection, something that the historical Jesus almost certainly did not talk about. The Bart Ehrman Blog, March 2016, “Do Paul and Jesus Represent Fundamentally Different Religions,” accessed September 16, 2018 

silhouette of essene

Son of Man

Another stark difference between the two men’s teachings was who was the Son of Man, who was the Messiah—that is the Messiah of Second Temple Judaism/Sectarianism. The Jewish-Gospel Jesus was either cryptic about who it was — due to Rome’s well-known policies against rebel kings — or denied it and spoke as if it was not himself. Saul, on the other hand, unequivocally teaches Christ was the Son of Man and Messiah. For me, in light of my two previous posts and these further comparisons, the two men are clearly in fundamental opposition. Saul’s Christ was not what Jesus the Galilean taught.

Saul’s Two-Pronged Hellenic Attack on Jesus’ Judaism

Whether Saul/Paul realized it or not, he fueled and fanned the fiery, growing anti-Semitism between his Hellenic Rome and Judaism. He accomplished this in at least two different ways:  1) his conflicts with the Torah, part of Jesus’ core teaching, and its expanded Essene function within Judaism in general, and 2) antinomianism which further fueled Jewish hate, and by default undermined Jesus’ principle of mutual love. The details and support for these two combined Saul attacks will come in Part III of Saul the Apostate.

From a few different passages in Saul’s epistles we are able to find an intrinsic animosity toward the Torah and mainstream Judaism of which Jesus was not advocating. These I will address in the next post. But the one specific passage that drives the wedge deep between the two opposed religions was found here with my inserts [] and emphasis to help clarify:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to [Torah] decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, [to be without any doubt!] the appearance of wisdom in a self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. — Colossians 2:20-23

This is further evidence of a different Kingdom of God than what Jewish-Gospel Jesus was teaching. Jewish-Jesus would not have preached this and Saul’s animosity for fellow Jews does not align with Jesus’ great commandment of two Golden Rules: the unbounded love for God and each other. ‘The Law [the Torah] and the Prophets’ Jesus taught ‘hinge on these two principles.‘ No wonder the Jewish-Jesus disciples/apostles had serious belligerent problems with Saul (e.g. Acts 15:39a and Galatians 2:11-21). The conflict and confusion between the two fundamentally different Kingdoms of God and their principal doctrines of impending judgment-readiness, exacerbated by the failure or mis-identification of Jewish-Jesus as the Messiah was the dual spark to a 400-year and counting, unstoppable schism. What? Yes.

After Saul’s death and all of the disciples’/apostles’ deaths, and more so the deaths of the first generation “Patristic Fathers,” or earliest Church Fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Marcion of Sinope, what Jewish-Jesus promised had not happened. What followed was the 3rd and 4th generation Hellenist Roman Fathers retro-fitted, revamped, rewritten, and reinterpreted Jewish-Gospel Jesus’ failed kingdom into Saul’s anti-Semitic Christ-kingdom, a spiritual awakening or rebirth not of this Earth, but of TL-epileptic mysticism and visions.

In the next post I will examine four particular passages in Saul’s epistles that were tampered with or reframed by the later Church Fathers to spiritualize Jesus’ death and Saul’s Christ. Also how Saul enamored the Hellenist Gentiles to his new-fangled “die in order to live” spiritualized mysticism perceived during his epileptic seizures.

Until Part III, please feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, or questions below.

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Saul the Apostate – Intro to Part II

“Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable;
but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—
whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know,
God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know how such a man—whether in the body
or apart from the body I do not know,
God knows—was caught up into Paradise
and heard inexpressible words,
which a man is not permitted to speak.”

— 2 Corinthians 12:1-4

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To review, in Part I of this series I introduced epilepsy, Simple Focal Seizure and temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) specifically, some accounts of this disease/disorder both in ancient and modern history, and some broader context for Saul’s (Paul the Apostle) drastic 180° turnaround toward Jesus’ The Way sect or disciples/students in and around 1st-century CE Syro-Palestine while on his way to Damascus. The Christian Bible(s) are full of various accounts of epileptic “visions” or revelations in both Old and New Testaments, e.g. 2 Kings 3:11-15 to name one. But the passage most glaring and most telling for Saul’s hopeless, embarrassing ailment of TLE are the above verses in his second letter to the Corinthians. With these verses I wish to further substantiate Saul’s condition as temporal lobe epilepsy, or form(s) of it as the ailment varies case to case, yet still within the taxonomy of epilepsy.

As I briefly mentioned to Infidel753 in my comments of Part I, there were practices by Bronze Age Jewish Mystics (later Kabbalah) using two techniques:  Merkavah (moderate, safe) and Heikhalat (intensive, more dangerous). During Second Temple Judaism, particularly the Pharisaic sects and their sub-sects, Merkavah mysticism was mainstream because of the high-risks of extreme ecstasy or depressive paranoia of Heikhalat followed by being generally labeled a heretic and/or possessed by demons by colleagues and the public. There was a lot less control over Heikhalat types of visions or revelations, naturally too in the cases of “fall down” epileptic seizures. One of the “visions” or non-bodily states Heikhalat mystics would try to achieve and experience by chanting, reciting divine names, and with magical hymns was ‘ascending to a system of heavens or paradise (ecstasy) and antechambers surrounding the divine.’ This is in all likelihood what Saul/Paul refers to in verses 2 and 4 above caught up to the third heaven” and “caught up into Paradise” inside his dramatic and unconventional visions/seizures. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that Saul, having suffered his epilepsy for much of his life, most likely including in Tarsus and Jerusalem during his educational youth, would have felt much more “accepted” in Heikhalat Jewish mysticism and of the school of Bet Shammai, as opposed to Bet Hillel or the moderates and Merkavah mystics.

It deserves noting too that Merkavah mysticism along with Hillelite ideology aligns almost perfectly with Hellenism and Neoplatonism. This gives good reason for later 3rd – 4th-century Hellenistic Patristic authorities supervising the composition of the New Testament canon to retrograde (change) or retrofit Saul’s education to Hillel, Gamaliel, and Pharisaic references in Acts, 2 Timothy and Philippians — more recognizable by Hellenistic Gentiles (perhaps rural, average Jews too) — rather than to his less auspicious, more volatile background, seizures, and short-temper of Shammai-Heikhalat teaching, behaviors and praxis inferred in Galatians and Philippians. With the latter, people in Cilicia, Syro-Palestine, Judah, and Galilee would’ve literally spat upon Saul as a perceived demonic, shameful spectacle; something Saul alludes to often in his letters.

Furthermore, and to conclude the topic of Saul’s epilepsy (TLE), increasing studies and breakthroughs over the last four centuries into the recognition of, causes, education of, and the treatment management of TLE, have led medical neurologists, psychiatrist, and clinical pathologists as well as related researchers to compile a rich neurobiological encyclopedia of epilepsy and the Sacred Disease. Two are of particular importance with regard to Saul and other famous and infamous historical figures:  St. Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy by D. Landsborough, and Epilepsy and Mysticism by Dr. Javier Alvarez-Rodriguez. I recommend at least browsing over these two very informative medical journal articles to see why it is very plausible, if not near certain, that Saul/Paul, the founder of Christianity, was an epileptic pseudo-Jewish mystic with frequent seizures.

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The Gospel-Jesus vs. the Jewish-Jesus

Before any viable discussion can be made about Saul/Paul in correlation to Jesus, or as I sometimes refer to him the quasi-Sectarian Jesus/Yeshua, the discussion has to begin under a cloud of complex, convoluted, and sometimes suspicious literary sources from a very tumultuous, violent, and politically militarily volatile period in late-Republic and Principate-Imperial Rome. This goes equally for the Christian — including the Christian clergy and apologists — and the non-Christian or Secularist. This is not to say that plausible even highly certain conclusions cannot be made, but it is to say that an equitable playing field with equitable rules and protocols should and must exist for all parties and positions. Who wants to start a game where opponents or an opponent begins with multiple points, scores, or goals before one even gets onto the field, right?

One of the immediate problems modern New Testament readers face is that the books or the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation are not in chronological order. To make matters worse, the time-gaps in between the books, events and person(s) they narrate are as long as a decade, half, a full-century, or more than a century in elapsed time. This speaks volumes, or to some degree, as to why the Hellenistic Church Fathers would choose to order them (27 manuscripts/traditions out of some 45-50+ available) instead of a simple linear timeline reflecting a more objectively honest cause-and-effect, start, middle, and end.  An astute and attentive NT reader/researcher would soon learn that one reason the Gospels are in the front/beginning (of many reasons) is because they originate exclusively by oral-sayings passed around in Sectarian homes and Jewish Synagogues with few actual c. 35-65 CE papyri manuscripts similar to Q-source. Below is a side-by-side comparison of the Greek-Patristic (Hellenic) canonical NT order and the best chronological order of it by general consensus…

Canon-Chronologoical Comparison

Here’s the bigger question or concern, it is estimated that Jesus was executed about 30-33 CE. The very first Gospel of Mark was composed c. 70 CE, about 40-years after Jesus’ execution. There are somewhere between 10-40 years between Mark’s Gospel and Luke’s, around 5 for Matthew’s and Luke’s, and 5-15 between John’s and Matthew’s. All of Saul’s Epistles come well before any of the Gospels and Saul doesn’t concern himself in the least with anything about Jesus’ incarnate birth, teachings, supernatural healings, or trial and execution except the “resurrection” of Christ, strictly his Christ in his epileptic visions. Apparently to Saul/Paul nothing matters in c. 36-48 CE about God’s Sacrificial Lamb for the entire world except the meaning of the/his “resurrection.” Why 40-60 years later are Jesus’ Gospels, teachings suddenly critical to record? Most historical-biblical scholars reason that it was because of many questions and challenges over the decades to the validity of a Messianic anointing and the actual nature and purpose of Jesus the Galilean. What was it and what were they exactly that should make this Galilean stand out? There was no unanimous agreement. In fact, very little for at least 300-years. I repeat:  THREE HUNDRED YEARS.

Yet, there is still another monumental concern/question. The oldest copy of the Gospel of Mark, or the earliest narrative of Jesus’ execution and burial has nothing about a later “resurrection” and appearances. The Codex Vaticanus, Mark’s Gospel, stops at 16:8, Jesus’ burial and empty tomb. Was it the correct tomb? Verses 9—20 were later additions to later copies of Mark’s Gospels, some short, some long.

These two strange, troublesome failures anomalies regarding the shuffling of books and the reliability of the Gospel narratives must be kept in mind when reading their “traditional” words and teachings of Jesus the Galilean. These NT and Gospel conundrums make finding what Jesus actually said and taught, and their intentions, difficult at best. Therefore, it is quite judicious that one clearly distinguish a Gospel-Jesus versus a Jewish-Jesus. Dr. Lawrence Schiffman explains the necessity of the distinction with my own inserts [ ] and emphasis for clarification:

Early Christianity seems to have combined the apocalyptic view of the sects with a heavy emphasis on the Davidic [Hellenic] Messiah, apparently the hallmark of the Pharisaic [Jewish] approach. From this combination emerged a concept that the Messianic era was in fact at hand as Jesus was [re]identified as the Davidic [Hellenic] Messiah. When his mission failed to bring about the expected results foretold in the Hebrew prophets, nascent [Hellenic] Christianity revised those prophecies through the medium of exegesis and so was able to preserve the concept of the [Jewish] Messiahship of Jesus despite the disappointment.

That is a good general description capturing the context of the Hellenic Gospel-Jesus. Schiffman goes on:

[Hellenic] Christianity went even further and saw the Messiah as a divine or semi-divine being [Greek apotheosis]. Soon [Hellenic] Christianity abrogated Jewish law and so took the steps which would separate it decidedly from Judaism. When this breach became fully apparent, the [Hellenic] Christians realized the deep gulf separating them from Judaism and began to shift their mission toward the gentiles. The Christian view that Jewish law had been abrogated served to make [Hellenic] gentile Christianity a realistic possibility.

Dr. Schiffman guides us into a deeper contextual understanding of the motives or intentions behind the Patristic shuffling of the canonical Hellenic New Testament despite the fact that Saul/Paul was spreading an implicitly and sometimes explicitly interpolation, or spin if you will, independent of Jewish-Jesus’ life and death. One further note deserves mentioning. It is my personal opinion and conclusion that the primary cause of the earliest divisions, ambiguity, fallacies, and confusion of the Christian Church and its Apostolic Fathers at 7-21 different Ecumenical Councils over some 400-years can be linked directly to Saul the Apostate. For further consideration of this problematic ambiguity first, below are popular manuscripts not included in today’s NT:

Non-Canonical Writings (Incomplete)

From this muddied, murky, dubious situation of 1st and 2nd-century CE Christianity, what the earliest Fathers debated with approximate dates:

Table Canonical Debate

With these table-images it is clearly deduced that the what, who, and why of Jesus the Galilean, after just 30-40 years of his execution, became a symbol of clashing cultures, amalgamated stories and myths, resulting in heated often violent splintering. Saul widens the growing gulf between Judaism and his mystical Hellenism and ultimately with Rome—more anti-Semitism. The sharp contempt was frankly accelerated, not resolved, by Saul of Tarsus, his TL-epilepsy, and personal Shammaite(?) misanthropy.

Saul’s “Christ”

New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in his June 2016 blog-post Was Paul the Founder of Christianity? writes:

But [Jesus’] public ministry was not the core of [later] Christian belief. Instead, the core of Christianity is the belief in his death and resurrection. And this is what Paul preached, not what Jesus preached. So that even if Jesus’ life and teachings are important to Jews or Gentiles, they are not really what Christianity hinges upon.

Because of Saul’s background influenced by and under Jewish Merkavah and/or Heikhalat mysticism, catalyzed by his TL-epilepsy, Saul’s Christ was part Meṭaṭron and part Akteriel of Sophian Gnosticism. Quite intriguingly in Jewish mysticism the natures and purposes of Meṭaṭron (Mithra) and Christ (Saul’s vision) are interchangeable, synonymous as defined here. Note in the Britannica Encyclopedia link the part about “…[Meṭaṭron is] as Enoch after his bodily ascent into heaven. He is commonly described as a celestial scribe recording the sins and merits of men, as a guardian of heavenly secrets, as God’s mediator with men, as the “lesser Yahweh,” as the archetype of man, and as one “whose name is like that of his master.

Now, compare Jewish Merkavah-Heikhalat mysticism above to Saul’s interpolations of Christ in his epistles…

Woven throughout these mystical concepts is Israel’s ancient Zoroastrian divine spirit, Philo of Alexandria’s divine spirit in his work “That the Worst is Wont to Attack the Better” (IX.30), or here Saul’s Holy Spirit.

Coming up in Part II of Saul the Apostate I will begin to further compare and contrast Saul’s Christ to the obscured Jewish-Jesus and popular Hellenic Gospel-Jesus. Meanwhile, please feel free to again share your thoughts, ideas, or questions below.

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An Easter Reflection

I read this post on Dr. Bart Ehrman’s blog yesterday — twice as a matter of fact — and there is just no way I can skip it and not let it follow-up my own post April 1, 2018:  April Fool’s Everyone! Dr. Ehrman essentially echoes most everything I’ve posted and commented about Christendom, its very distorted and amputated history throughout its two millenia of existence, and how Christianity became the misguided monstrosity it is today. This is just too good to pass up. Therefore, I am simply going to repost what the acclaimed scholar wrote himself about Easter, or the modern myth that is the resurrection missing body of a Jewish reformer. Here is Dr. Bart Ehrman’s post:

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“It is highly ironic, but relatively easy, for a historian to argue that Jesus himself did not start Christianity.   Christianity, at its heart, is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation, and that believing in his death and resurrection will make a person right with God, both now and in the afterlife.  Historical scholarship since the nineteenth century has marshalled massive evidence that this is not at all what Jesus himself preached.

Yes, it is true that in the Gospels themselves Jesus talks about his coming death and resurrection.  And in the last of the Gospels written, John, his message is all about how faith in him can bring eternal life (a message oddly missing in the three earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

These canonical accounts of Jesus’ words were written four, five, or six decades after his death by people who did not know him who were living in different countries, and who were not even speaking his own language.  They themselves acquired their accounts of Jesus’ words from earlier Christian storytellers, who had been passing along his sayings by word of mouth, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.   The task of scholarship is to determine, if possible, what Jesus really said given the nature of our sources.

Fundamentalist scholars have no trouble with the question.  Since they are convinced that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, then anything Jesus is said to have said in the Gospels is something that he really said.  Viola!  Jesus preached the Christian faith that his death and resurrection brought salvation.

Critical scholars, on the other hand, whether they are Christian or not, realize that it is not that simple.   As Christian story tellers over the decades reported Jesus’ teachings, they naturally modified them in light of the contexts within which they were telling them (to convert others for example) and in light of their own beliefs and views.   The task is to figure out which of the sayings (or even which parts of which sayings) may have been what Jesus really said.

Different scholars have different views of that matter, but one thing virtually all critical scholars agree on is that the doctrines of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection were not topics Jesus addressed.  These words of Jesus were placed on his lips by later Christian story-tellers who *themselves* believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead to bring about the salvation of the world, and who wanted to convince others that this had been Jesus’ plan and intention all along.

My own view is one I’ve sketched on the blog many a time before.  Jesus himself – the historical figure in his own place and time – preached an apocalyptic message that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil and destroy all who sided with them; he would then bring a perfect utopian kingdom to earth in which Israel would be established as a sovereign state ruling the nations and there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering.  Jesus expected this end to come soon, within his own generation.  His disciples would see it happen – and in fact would be rulers of this coming earthly kingdom, with him himself at their head as the ruling monarch.

It didn’t happen of course.  Instead, Jesus was arrested for being a trouble maker, charged with crimes against the state (proclaiming himself to be the king, when only Rome could rule), publicly humiliated, and ignominiously tortured to death.

This was not at all what the disciples expected.  It was the opposite of what they expected.  It was a radical disconfirmation of everything they had heard from Jesus during all their time with him.  They were in shock and disbelief, their world shattered.  They had left everything to follow him, creating hardship not only for themselves but for the families near and dear to them – leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves and doubtless to suffer want and hunger with the only bread-winner away from home to accompany an itinerant preacher who thought the end of history was to arrive any day now.

This reversal of the disciples’ hopes and dreams then unexpectedly experienced its own reversal.  Some of them started saying that they had seen Jesus alive again.   In the Gospels themselves, of course, all the disciples see Jesus alive and are convinced that he has been raised from the dead.   It is not at all clear it actually happened that way.  The accounts of the Gospels are hopelessly at odds with each other about what happened, to whom, when, and where.  So what can we say historically?

One thing we can say with relative certainty (even though most people – including lots of scholars!) have never thought about this or realized it, is that no one came to think Jesus was raised from the dead because three days later they went to the tomb and found it was empty.   It is striking that Paul, our first author who talks about Jesus’ resurrection, never mentions the discovery of the empty tomb and does not use an empty tomb as some kind of “proof” that the body of Jesus had been raised.

Moreover, whenever the Gospels tell their later stories about the tomb, it never, ever leads anyone came to believe in the resurrection.  The reason is pretty obvious.  If you buried a friend who had recently died, and three days later you went back and found the body was no longer there, would your reaction be “Oh, he’s been exalted to heaven to sit at the right hand of God”?  Of course not.  Your reaction would be: “Grave robbers!”   Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”

Body of jesus the man

The empty tomb only creates doubts and consternation in the stories in the Gospels, never faith.   Faith is generated by stories that Jesus has been seen alive again.   Some of Jesus’ followers said they saw him.  Others believed them.   They told others — who believed them.  More stories began to be told.  Pretty soon there were stories that all of them had seen him alive again.  The followers of Jesus who heard these stories became convinced he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus himself did not start Christianity.  His preaching is not what Christianity is about, in the end.  If his followers had not come to believe he had been raised from the dead, they would have seen him as a great Jewish prophet who had a specific Jewish message and a particular way of interpreting the Jewish scripture and tradition.  Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism.  It would have had the historical significance of the Sadducees or Essenes – highly significant for scholars of ancient religion, but not a religion that would take over the world.

It is also not the death of Jesus that started Christianity.  If he had died and no one believed in his resurrection, his followers would have talked about his crucifixion as a gross miscarriage of justice; he would have been another Jewish prophet killed by God’s enemies.

Even the resurrection did not start Christianity.  If Jesus had been raised but no one found out about it or came to believe in it, there would not have been a new religion founded on God’s great act of salvation.

What started Christianity was the Belief in the Resurrection.  It was nothing else.  Followers of Jesus came to believe he had been raised.  They did not believe it because of “proof” such as the empty tomb.  They believed it because some of them said they saw Jesus alive afterward.  Others who believed these stories told others who also came to believe them.  These others told others who told others – for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and now millennia.  Christianity is all about believing what others have said.  It has always been that way and always will be.

Easter is the celebration of the first proclamation that Jesus did not remain dead.  It is not that his body was resuscitated after a Near Death Experience.   God had exalted Jesus to heaven never to die again; he will (soon) return from heaven to rule the earth.  This is a statement of faith, not a matter of empirical proof.  Christians themselves believe it.  Non-Christians recognize it as the very heart of the Christian message.  It is a message based on faith in what other people claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified – all the way back to the first followers of Jesus who said they saw Jesus alive afterward.”

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Here was my comment and question for Dr. Ehrman. He usually gets back to me within a quick, reasonable timeframe:

Dr. Ehrman, a wonderful summary of today’s meaning of Easter in modern Christian churches. Well done. Thank you.

As your colleague, Dr. James Tabor has studied, written and published, Paul/Saul and his Christology is a major force in spreading and growing the Gentile/pagan side of the “faith.” When I super-impose the full context of the Hellenistic Roman Empire and geopolitical and socioreligious infrastructure over and onto Second Temple Judaism and the Messianic Era, to me personally the gradual and eventual overshadowing (and eventual success) of Paul’s “Neo-Religion” opened up to all Gentiles, with several Greco-Roman ideals of Apotheosis, throughout the Empire (endearing the social classes struggling to survive — blossoming welfare system) takes on an entirely DIFFERENT form than Jesus the Reformer had ever intended! Notwithstanding Jesus’ true pure teachings/reforms, the new Gentile religion was too far gone, popular, and honestly distorted — particularly when the Jewish-Roman War wiped out so many of the outlying sects and those in Jerusalem by 70 CE! Which might have been some of Jesus’ very Jewish 2nd generation followers? Perhaps?

And I am utterly challenged to find out WHY did Paul go to Arabia for 3-years and WHAT was it that he learned there (about Jesus)? Because when Paul returned from Arabia he obviously had a different version of “the Way” and the Kingdom of God than the disciples and the Jerusalem Council had, yes? Any thoughts?

We’ll see what his response will be. Personally, I find Paul’s/Saul’s business in Arabia for 3-years to be very significant in better understanding why and how a floundering Jewish reform movement led by Yeshua/Jesus, suddenly took off 200-300 years later to become the Western Hemisphere’s primary religion. Who better to ask about that than one of the renown experts in biblical history and that era, right?

4-4-2018 Addendum — Here was Dr. Ehrman’s reply to my question:

“I don’t think he went into the deserts of Arabia to meditate, reflect, and develop his views. I think he went to the cities of the Nabatean Kingdom (then called Arabia) to begin his missionary work. He claims that he realized the significance of Jesus for Gentiles as soon as he had his vision.”

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