Paul, the zealous Pharisee

He helped Christianity achieve its worldwide influence—and simultaneously laid the ­foundation for its greatest failure and most disgraceful deeds: the “Apostle to the Gentiles”, Saul who turned into Paul.

No other missionary has achieved more distinction in spreading Christianity than Paul. And no other has so falsified Jesus’ original teachings.

Paul, the actual founder of a new religion. No other apostle had such a profound—or negative—effect on Christianity.

Paul was born into a strictly religious Jewish family in the city of Tarsus (today in Southern Turkey) and spent his youth in Jerusalem where the famous Rabbi Gamaliel trained him as a Pharisee, as we learn from Paul’s own writings. In his religious “zeal for the Law”, Saul, as he was called before his conversion, distinguished himself as an inquisitor of the Jerusalem Temple’s priesthood. He was a bloodhound who mercilessly chased and persecuted the first Christians, and even had them tortured and executed.

The more surprising then, that this fanatical representative of Judaism’s Pharisees later converted to Christianity. If we are to believe his testimony, Paul experienced something extraordinary: Jesus supposedly appeared to him in a “vision” of blazing light on the way to Damascus. At least that’s what we find in Paul’s letters. But as we know today, this description doesn’t match the actual events. In reality, Paul met his Lord, later declared to be God, alive and kicking in Damascus. For Jesus had actually survived the crucifixion and had fled north into neighbouring Syria, where a large Essene community was based near Damascus. They offered him shelter until he struck out on his long journey to Kashmir.1

Jesus was a member of this mystical-spiritual movement, some of whom were also known as Nazarenes.2 That is why he was also known as “Jesus the Nazarene”—and not “Jesus of Nazareth”. The modern city of Nazareth was only founded three hundred years after Jesus’ ministry in Palestine.

It was no secret at that time that a large flock of Jesus’ followers lived in Da­­mascus. It was for precisely this reason that Paul went there. He probably even knew that Jesus could not have died (he didn’t hang on the cross for anywhere near long enough) and assumed he was in Damascus, which he was. So what is more likely than that both men looked into each other’s eyes there for the first time—and that Paul was so strongly affected by this personal contact with Jesus that he forswore his hate for the Chris­­­tines (the early Christians)?

Falsified New ­Testament

Paul’s “Vision of Jesus” is only one of many places in the letters of the New Testament where liberties were taken with the truth. It is known that Paul’s letters were subsequently significantly altered. By now, many theologians agree that with the exception of the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude, all the remaining letters were rewritten to support the interests of the Church.

Even the Evangelists were not spared. In his monumen­­­tal work on James, the Lord’s brother, world-­­­f­­a­mous Bible researcher Robert Eisenman asserts: “In fact, you can al­­most make a rule of thumb out of it: when­­­ever one of Paul’s—who, according to his own admission never met the living Jesus [ed. probably not true] and who had no direct knowledge of his teachings—statements has a parallel in the Gospels, you can assume that they slipped from the former into the editing of the latter, and not the other way around.”3

In point of fact, Acts, especially, cannot be taken at face value. The fifth book of the New Testament is supposed to contain the chronicles of the early Christians and the Apostles, the first missionaries. The Protestant theologian Hermann Detering writes for example in his book, Der gefälschte Paulus (Eng: Paul Falsified): “This has long been known in theological circles: the apostle’s story is more like a fantastical, miraculous novel than a historical account, even if the author gives himself the airs of a historian in the prologue and adheres to the conventions of antique historians in his presentation. In the ac­­count­­­ing of the person and work of the apostle [Paul], earthly and heavenly, historical and fabulous elements are wonderfully and indistinguishably intermingled.”

In the case of Paul’s 13 letters, Detering goes even a step further. According to him, they were not only retroactively manipulated, but total falsifications dating from the middle of the second Century after Christ. His scientifically exact documentation brooks no argument. According to him, Paul’s letters were drafted by Marcion (85-160 A.D.), who was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in the year 144. Marcion of Sinope, as he was also called, has been known as the arch-heretic, because he founded his own Church with Gnostic influences which continued to exist into the 6th Century, predominantly in the eastern Mediterranean region.

New Wine in Old Wineskins?

In his paper Zur Unglaubwürdigkeit des Judäo-Christentums (Eng.: On the Implausibility of Judeo-Christianity), Prof. Dr. phil. Hans-Jürgen Hagel also picks up on Marcion: “The question that stands out is whether ­Marcion was excommunicated because he didn’t recognize the Jewish God ‘Yahweh’ as the ‘Father of Jesus the Christ’—and for this reason pressed for the dissolution of the highly visible connection to the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament).” Marcion was the first theologian who systematically defined a difference between the good ‘God of Love’ of the New Testament, declared Father by Jesus, and the angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament.

Friedrich Nietzsche judged in Beyond Good and Evil: “To have bound up this New Testament (a kind of Rococo of taste in every respect) along with the Old Testament into one book, as the ‘Bible,’ as ‘The Book in Itself,’ is perhaps the greatest audacity and ‘sin against the Spirit’ which literary Europe has upon its conscience.”

Hagel also recognizes “an irreconcilable chasm” between the Christian Bible and the Hebrew Bible: “Here, the terrible Jewish God ‘Yahweh’; there the gentile ‘incarnation of Christ’”. To be sure, redemption was the central Jewish concept of the time, continues Hagel, “but no orthodox Jew would have had thought for even a moment of the un-Jewish understanding that Yahweh would let his only Son be hung on the cross as a criminal for his sake.” The supposition that the Old Testament was a kind of preparation for Chris­­t­­­ianity is also “just wrong.” There is nothing “Christian to be found in the Old Testament”, wrote Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), the most important Protestant theologian and Church historian of the early 20th Century. German Wikipedia describes Harnack’s Christian concept with the words: “Jesus thrust aside everything cultish pertaining to Judaism. He didn’t care about ­ritual cleansing and observation, but only man’s soul. Only an individual’s moral actions, his works of Love would determine if he could enter God’s Kingdom or not. Ac­cording to Harnack, the Roman Catholic Church and orthodox Christianity are cults similar to Judaism.”

We must not forget that almost all of Jesus’ early followers were Jewish. Many of these Judeo-Christians, who also logically comprised the majority of the Jersalem congregation, could not fully comprehend the spiritual dimension of Jesus’ message of Love. For those “early Christians were not simply Jews,” explains the well-known British Bible scholar James Dunn, “but also remained fairly orthodox Jews.”

It was for this reason that Jesus had war­n­­­­­ed his disciples early on of the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 16:6 & 12) and had denounced their lack of integrity (Matt 5: 17-20). He denounced the Pharisees and scribes as “blind hypocrites”, who prea­ch­­­ed water and drank wine. He called them “blinded, full of vice” and “serpents, brood of vipers” (Matt 23:1-33). And we can read what Jesus generally thought of the spiritually bereft Judaism of his time in the Gospel of John (Chapter 8). So all four Gospels contain a solemn warning from Jesus that new wine (his teachings) should not be stored in old wineskins (the Jewish traditions), because “the skins will burst and the wine will run out” (Matt 9:17).

The mixing of Jewish and Christian ideas began with Paul. While it’s true that through meeting with Jesus, Saul the Pharisee, was transformed into Paul the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’—the missionary who proclaimed the “joyful message” (that’s the actual meaning of the Greek term we call “Gospel”) to the non-Jews or Gentiles. But Paul’s own background would spell catastrophe for the young Christendom. Raised as a strict orthodox Jew, he naturally thought like a Jew. Judaism is, in fact, very law-abiding but the idea of the divine in man is an alien concept—just as it is in a Jewish-influenced Christianity.

Where Does God Abide?

In Yahweh and Jehovah, Jews and Christians alike pray to a God who exists separately from mankind—an old man with a wavy beard on the throne of Heaven. A God that the Jews of that time hoped to placate through strict obedience to the laws of their faith. It is these religious rules that determine the external aspects of daily life to the smallest detail, and which seem to be more important than the inner maturity of the soul: even today, orthodox Jews must submit to 613 Talmudic laws.

This bears remembering when we want to understand Paul, who, at the most, met Jesus after his mission in Palestine was over and was on the run, and who was never one of his closest companions. Because Paul, like so many of his time, didn’t understand what the “Christ within” means, he made Jesus into the One that he was already familiar with and who the Jews expected: a godlike, worldly messiah.

An idea like this one also appealed to the Hellenistic world of the “gentiles”. The concept of a god who sacrifices himself for the world was already known from the Cult of Mithras, which had a large following in the Roman Empire. In Greek tragedy, the device of the “Deus ex machina” was often used: whenever the human characters were entangled in a conflict that they could not resolve, a “god” was heaved onto the stage with a crane-like machine. This “god” would then set everything to rights, thanks to his divine power, and save the people from their suffering. Through his personal interpretation of Jesus the man, Paul unintentionally turned Jesus into just such a stock character from an antique theatrical performance. This may be one of the reasons why Paul’s proselytising to the gentiles was so successful (he journeyed through the Mediterranean region multiple times, covering c. 8,000 kilometres in his travels).

This concept was not only familiar to the people, but also comforting—it brought them a Messiah who had already vicariously taken over the difficult work of salvation for them all. Goethe expressed his opinion on Paul’s theological lapse in the poetic words: “Jesus in silence his pure heart/With thought of one sole God did fill;/They who himself to God convert/Do outrage to His holy will.”4

Paul distilled the essence of his salvation theology in the idea that man can only be saved by God’s grace and never by his good works—he is only “justified by Faith” (Romans 3:28): faith in Jesus Christ the ­Saviour who died on the cross for our sins.

Faith or Works?

With this assertion, Paul was set on a confrontation course with James, Jesus’ physical brother. James, called “the Just” by his contemporaries, was the true spiritual leader and thus the first “Bishop” of the Jerusalem church, which called itself simply “the Way”.5 No wonder then that Paul was accused of proclaiming “another Gospel” and “another Jesus” by the Apostles of the Jerusalem ­congregation. To which Paul continued to respond in his letters: “Hear the Truth that I proclaim to you! Believe me, I do not lie!”

For James had continued to warn the people that faith without works is dead, as dead as a body without a spirit (James 2:26). This matched the essence of Jesus’ teachings, which had always directed the attention of the listeners to their divine potential within and had exhorted them to express this practically in their lives: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven!” (Matt 5:16). Shortly before his arrest, Jesus reminded his disciples again that the Christ (or Son of Man) shall “reward every man according to his works.” (Matt 16:27).