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Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed…

Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity

by James D. Tabor

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The author claims Christianity was formed more by Paul than Jesus. He asserts the simple early Christianity was overtaken by Paul. He also asserts the author of the Acts of the Apostles was a close follower of Paul and thus the Acts are slanted toward Paul. As we all know the second part of the Acts is all about Paul and could be called the Acts of Paul. He does also correctly point out Paul's letters written in the 50's are the earliest New Testament writings. The Gospels all come later. He says early Christianity can be found in the "Q" sayings which is lost but appears in part in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. He notes Jesus' brother James was the real leader of the early church and not Peter or Paul. He asserts this fact is partially obscured in the letters of Paul and by the writer of the Acts. He contrasts the theology of James as found in the Letter of James in the New Testament with the theology of Paul. He maintains the Letter of James reflects the early Christianity before Paul. Of course, one of the major differences between Paul and James is that Paul says "faith" alone will save you; whereas, James says "faith" is not enough "good works" are also needed.

On the whole I found this to be a thought provoking work. ( )
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
Tabor's approach is to read the Bible backwards – Letters, then Acts, and finally the Gospels. He reads Paul's letters (the ones he actually wrote) closely, as almost the only record contemporary with what was happening in the early Christian movement. The gospels, written more than a generation later by adherents to the Pauline Church, reflect Paul's twist on what Jesus was about (although the 'Q' document, inferred by overlaps between Matthew and Luke, sheds Paul's affect). Acts, the transitional document, catches the history of the Christian movement in the act of being rewritten.

Amazingly, Paul discounts most of what the people who remembered Jesus alive said about him, and relies on his own ecstatic visions to provide a newer, better "Truth." Paul denies the validity of Torah and the ethical and spiritual tradition that Jesus had raised to a transcendent level. But between the lines in his letters and other accounts are evidence of a Judaic Christian movement, one that apparently persisted in some places for another century or two, until it was finally stamped out as "heresy" by the Constantine Church.

James Tabor is well-grounded in the literature of bible study and history of religions in the 1st Century A.D./C.E. He draws on scholarly work of the last 20-30 years, but this book is new in its clarity and shift of focus onto Paul as the actual founder of what we call Christianity.

Personally, I'm also interested in this book as a 'test' of something the Quakers count on – divine inspiration. Paul claimed it, in spades! Reading his letters closely shows him loudly asserting that his own personal experience of Christ trumped anything that (other) apostles might say. Even the word 'apostle' is revealing. He adopted the title of 'Apostle' and the divine leading of bringing what he calls "my gospel" to the non-Jews. The suffering he endured while pursuing this mission he took as validation. And the early Quakers did the same. But interesting, to me, is the path soon taken by Friends who shifted the emphasis away from written texts and tacitly moved away from the Pauline emphasis on Jesus's bloody redemption (and the rites that enact it).

This book, more than any other I've read, also tells us something important about the modern evangelical movement. In studying the shift that Paul brought to the early Christian movement, we can see the template that evangelicals today have adopted. Tabor steers clear of drawing explicit parallels, but for me they are obvious. And our main lesson is an understanding of why "thy Kingdom come, _on_earth_ as it is in Heaven" is not part of the vision of those who count on being swept away into the sky to rule the universe, sitting by God's side. That was Paul's contribution (literally, in more ways than one) and we are all the worse for it.

This last bit, by the way, is a reference to an 'Easter Egg' which Tabor hides in his book – a feature not mentioned in the documentation (i.e., reviews, blurbs, his own descriptions of the book). It explains the appeal of Paul's gospel for the peoples of Asia Minor and Greece, now occupied by Rome and spiritually devastated in the pillage of empire. With this explanation, it's easier to understand how Paul's version of Christianity was able to spread and take hold as it did, and why Judaic Christianity was left in the dust. ( )
  kofu | Dec 25, 2012 |
A well researched and written book. Dr. Tabor as in his previous work makes a complex subject very readable and interesting. The central theme of this work involves the differences in how the Apostles and later the self proclaimed Apostle Paul saw their mission in forwarding Christianity.

As a firm non-believer myself, I am always looking for information that would change my mind. I find myself still wandering in the wilderness. Based on his work here I drew the conclusion that Christianity would have been more correctly called Paulism. I consider those behind the Christian movement, primarily led by Paul, the greatest MLM folks of all time. As with all religious movements it is unfortunate that millions perhaps billions had to pay with their lives up to this day.

The book offers much for thought and analysis and it gives us much chew on in that respect. I would recommend this book to anyone with curiosity and a quest for knowledge on the subject. I look forward to his next book. ( )
  knightlight777 | Nov 24, 2012 |
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Draws on St. Paul's letters and other early sources to reveal the apostles' sharply competing ideas about the significance of Jesus and his teachings while demonstrating how St. Paul independently shaped Christianity as it is known today.

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