Saturday, 26 June 2010

Reinventing Paul

The final paper in the B.Theol programme is about to kick in, and its focus is on Paul and especially his convoluted arguments in the first eight chapters of Romans. In preparation (though it's not on the reading list) I went through John Gager's Reinventing Paul with a yellow highlighter. It's a slim volume, but there's a detonation on every second page, and I'm left toying with a reconstruction of the apostle's gospel in marked contrast to anything I've seriously considered before.

Reading early Christianity backwards through Paul has long been recognised as causing more problems than it solves, particularly as Paul's writings are far from simple in their construction. For some this head-whacking, concrete-like density (especially in Romans) indicates Paul's genius as a superlative theologian, but perhaps it indicates instead that he was just making it up on the run. And of course, as advocates of the "new Paul" have convincingly demonstrated, we have long been reading Paul himself through the lenses of later times and issues.

What does seem clear is that these earliest believers centred in Jerusalem, continued to worship at the Temple, and depending on how you read the evidence, some may have served in Temple-related rituals. This would seem to indicate that, however sectarian they were, they did not reject or delegitimate other forms of Judaism completely.

So, here's what may be the first in a series of posts that relate to those issues. Not a conclusion, just a question concerning the world of Second Temple Judaism of which Paul (and the early followers of Jesus) were a part: Is there any historical evidence - putting aside those cloudy Pauline glasses - that the early Jewish Christians (at the risk of using an anachronism) were "exclusive" in their self-understanding? In other words, did they see other factions of Second Temple Judaism as false rather than simply deficient, rejected by God rather than simply incomplete.

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