Tuesday 1 December 2015

Mythmaker: Paul & Gamaliel

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

"Saint" Gamaliel
Significant to Maccoby's argument is the figure of Gamaliel, the leading Pharisee of his day.
"[There is a] failure of the narrative in Acts to make clear just how important a Pharisee Gamaliel was. It calls him 'a Pharisee called Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in high regard by all the people', but it does not make clear that he was the Pharisee leader of his generation, a vital link in the chain of Jewish tradition, one of the veritable Fathers of Judaism. To say that he was a secret Christian, in the sense meant, is like saying that Saint Thomas Aquinas was a secret Hindu."
The account referred to is in Acts 5. There are problems with the text, particularly the reference to Theudas who is anachronistic - his rebellion is too late (circa 45 CE) to be part of any speech of this sort. Allowing for this, Gamaliel's portrayal still seems a tolerant one toward Peter, reflecting a historical reality.
"... Gamaliel does not in any way condemn the apostles as heretics or rebels against the Jewish religion. He regards them instead as members of a Messianic movement directed against Rome." (Author's emphasis)
Gamaliel is an inconvenient character in the gospel narratives demonstrating, as Maccoby argues it, that the relations between the Nazarenes and their Pharisee brethren were benign. (The Catholic church later canonized Gamaliel. If you believe the legends, both he and his son were later baptized by Peter and John and his body, which miraculously came to light in the fifth century, is now resting in Pisa, Italy!) However for Maccoby it isn't 'Saint' Gamaliel who is the odd man out, it is Paul. This mutual tolerance between Pharisees and Nazarenes will all change as Paul steers Christianity in new directions.
"Paul's new scenario, in which the Jews no longer had a great role to play, and had indeed sunk to the role of the enemies of God, would have filled Jesus with horror and dismay." 
"According to the Ebionites, Saul was not a Pharisee and not even a Jew by birth. His parents in Tarsus were Gentiles, and he himself had become a convert and had thereupon journeyed to the Holy Land, where he found employment in the service of the High Priest."
Maccoby will flesh all this out later in the book. He rejects any attempts to see tell-tale indicators of a rabbinical approach in Paul's writings.
"The style of argument and thought in the Epistles of Paul, we have been repeatedly told, is rabbinical; Paul, though putting forward views and arguments which 'go far beyond' rabbinical thinking, uses rabbinical logic and methods of biblical exegesis in such a way that his education as a Pharisee is manifest. Beloved as this view is of scholars, it is entirely wrong, being based on ignorance or misunderstanding of rabbinical exegesis and logic."
It is to this point that Maccoby returns in chapter seven.


  1. Interesting speculation. Also, I had no idea that the remains of Gamaliel had ever been identified. It is quite inspiring that one more character from the era of Jesus has now been verified and accounted for. Isn't it awesome that it is Gamaliel? His theorem perfectly describes the demise of Armstrongism which we witness in the current era.

    I don't know about some of Maccoby's conclusions, though. "Paul's new scenario, in which the Jews no longer had a great role to play, and had indeed sunk to the role of the enemies of God, would have filled Jesus with horror and dismay." My comment: It did. But this happened long before Paul had come on the scene. It happened as the Jewish leaders of the day rejected and crucified Jesus. Prior to the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem had been one of the crown jewels of the Roman Empire, illustrating the prominence of the Jews, and Jesus knew that this destruction was imminent. Also, whether Paul was a Jew born in the diaspora, or actually a converted gentile, he felt intensely enough about the Jewish people that he stated he would even give up his eternal salvation if it would mean that the Jews would believe in Jesus and be saved.

    Most of the people who write alternative histories of the Pauline era start by assuming that Paul did not experience a theophany, ie was not struck down on the road to Damascas, and was not personally instructed by Jesus. This is nothing new. Remove one ingredient, and see if everything else remains standing. Jesus Himself is referred to as "Jesus ben Pantera" by people who rejected His Messiahship. One wonders. Just because certain people we all know ripped off the supernatural calling deal here in our own era, and used it to exploit and abuse us, does that mean there never was divine interaction with mankind?


    1. Regarding Gamaliel's remains, in this case I agree with The Skeptic's skepticism (see below). It was a credulous age and bits and pieces of the saints fortuitously turned up with amazing regularity along with slivers of the true cross and other such wonders.

  2. I haven't looked in on your blog for quite a few months, for I was and am busy dealing with the wiles of the devil. But to see you wasting time reviewing a book that claims Paul and Gamaliel conspired to invent Christianity is astonishing. Of course, those who have left WCG screaming that HWA was a charlatan, minds tend to fragment, and become unstable. Sadly, that instability, makes such minds susceptible to every irrational opinion that make be circulated by the enemies of Christ.

    1. Maccoby doesn't claim that Paul and Gamaliel conspired together. True, he regards Paul as something of a charlatan. There's nothing irrational about that proposition, though the evidence would have to be very convincing. Which is clearly what Maccoby is trying to demonstrate. Whether he succeeds is another matter, and I'll have some personal comments on that at the end of the series.

      On Herb Armstrong - of course he was a charlatan. I've known that for decades but nobody has had me committed - yet.

      Good luck with your struggle dealing with the wiles of the devil. Is anybody keeping score?

    2. Paul, loving called, The Chosen Vessel, by his Lord and master, was specially chosen as the vessel into which Christ would pour the hidden wisdom of God. As a consequence, he was taken up into the third heaven, where he heard words that it is not possible for men to utter. So the ides that he could be a charlatan is so absurd, it is not even laughable.

      HWA was mistaken on lots of things, but he was still God's servant. The charlatans are the men who left WCG, and started their own churches to fleece gullible people out of their money.

      God is keeping score on how well I am doing. The malevolence of the devil is very mysterious. No wonder it is called, "The mystery of iniquity."

    3. The title of this thread, "Mythmaker", is apropos! It sounds like somebody has a whole set of myths all his own!

  3. "It is quite inspiring that one more character from the era of Jesus has now been verified and accounted for." Of course it would be - if it were true.

    The Catholic church mysteriously finds Gamaliel's body circa 500 AD? I'm not sure we should take that claim at face value. Might it not fall into the same category as the shroud of Turin and all the pieces of the true cross that can be found in churches throughout Europe?

  4. What struck me about Gamaliel was the sheer unlikeliness factor. Jesus, the disciples, Paul, Mary, or even Joseph of Arimathea I can understand anything pertaining to them being exploited. But, why Gamaliel? He is not mentioned that many times in the books of the NT, and previously, I had never even encountered any speculation that he might have been Christian. From the passages, he seemed to be a teacher, and an Aristotelian logician. What would be a compelling reason for the Catholics to use his alleged remains as a basis for some sort of hoax?