Monday 23 November 2015

Mythmaker: 6 propositions

(This is the third part of a review of Hyam Maccoby's 1986 book Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity.)

In chapter two Maccoby briefly sets out to provide an overview of where he's going.

1. "Paul was never a Pharisee rabbi, but was an adventurer of undistinguished background... He deliberately misrepresented his own biography in order to increase the effectiveness of his missionary activities."

That's not mincing words. Taking away the inflammatory rhetoric, the basic proposition is that Paul was never a Pharisee.

2. "Jesus and his immediate followers were Pharisees."

Now there's a thought to conjure with, running very much against the grain. Obviously he'll need to build a strong case in order to convince most readers.

3. "The first followers of Jesus... were called the Nazarenes... indistinguishable from the Pharisees, except that they believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and that Jesus was still the promised Messiah."

That seems to be a fairly uncontroversial point, though big news to most lay Christians.

4. "Paul, not Jesus, was the founder of Christianity as a new religion which developed away from both normative Judaism and the Nazarene variety of Judaism."

Again, nothing really new here, at least to students of early church history, though the consensus position would be that the Gentile church followed the lead of the Holy Spirit while the Jewish church was incapable of such change. Paul, in the standard narrative, was the one who was forging ahead while the Jerusalem-led church stagnated. That of course moves beyond the facts to a winners' narrative. Maccoby wants us to pull off the apologetic glasses and take a new look.

5. The testimony of the Ebionites (as recorded by Epiphanius) provides solid historical information about the real Paul who "had no Pharisaic background or training; he was the son of Gentiles, converted to Judaism, in Tarsus, came to Jerusalem when an adult, and attached himself to the High Priest as a henchman."

6. "The Ebionites were not heretics, as the church asserted, nor 're-Judaizers', as modern scholars call them, but the authentic successors of the immediate disciples and followers of Jesus..."

Maccoby is not using nuanced language here, and building his conclusions and judgments into his argument from the start. Many of us would much prefer to see the case laid out before we reach our own conclusions. But there's no denying that the reader is in for an invigorating journey, with more than one bucket of icy water thrown in their face along the way. I'm happy with that. Bring it on!

Next time we'll delve into the third chapter, The Pharisees, as Maccoby seeks to put flesh on his argument.

1 comment:

  1. So the Apostle Paul was a fraud.

    The question is, just how many people are going to accept the truth, particularly since it doesn't suit them?