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Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical…

Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus

by Donald Harman Akenson

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The gospels, scholars agree, were written after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. This catastrophic event, argues Donald Akenson, forever altered the outlook--and the agenda--of the Christian and Jewish faiths. Of all the New Testament writings, only Paul's letters were composedbefore 70 CE. Thus, Akenson says, they are the only direct evidence we have that is untainted by this profound and lasting shift in perspective. And yet this most important source on the life of Jesus is also the most neglected. In Saint Saul, Akenson offers a lively and provocative account of what we can learn about Jesus by reading the letters of Paul, providing fresh new insights into both Jesus and Paul. Akenson painstakingly recreates the world of Christ, a time rich with ideas, prophets, factions, priests,savants, and god-drunk fanatics. He insistently stresses throughout the Jewishness of Jesus (for example, referring to Jesus and Paul as Yeshua and Saul, as they were then known). Equally important, he dismisses the traditional method of searching for facts about Jesus by looking for parallels amongthe four gospels; they were handed down to us as a unit by a later generation, he argues. Saul, although he did not know Yeshua personally, knew his most important followers, and wrote immediately after Yeshua's death. Saul's teachings were approved (though sometimes reluctantly) by Yeshua'sbrothers and other early leaders. As an eminent historian, Akenson approaches his subject with a fresh eye and a scholarly rigor that is all too rare in this hotly disputed field. The result is a vibrantly written and provocative book that will captivate anyone seeking to know more about the historical Jesus and the earliestChristians.… (more)
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The writer seeks - through an analysis of everything known about Paul - to "create a skeleton key to unlock the historical Jesus." But the author forgets or ignores one thing that undermines his thesis from the start - "Paul knows not Jesus." This lack of recognition led Alvin Boyd Kuhn to title one the chapters of his work "Who is this King of Glory," "'The Shout of Paul's Silence." If Paul were speaking about an historical Jesus Christ, his descriptions of his visits to Jerusalem would have been entirely different and completely reverential; something like, "...and the very brother of our Lord Jesus, James himself told me how our Lord cleansed..." There is nothing remotely like this in any of Paul's actual writings and he has no respect at all for Peter and is ambivalent towards the group in Jerusalem that identified itself as "the family of the Lord." This alone should make it clear that Paul's Christ is something other than a literal incorporated God named Jesus. Finally, no matter how you do the math, if one compares Paul's most probable date of birth with the likely dates for the "birth" of Jesus, they must have been alive at the same time - at least long enough for Paul to have heard something about Jesus while Jesus was still alive. This creates all sorts of problems doesn't it? In short, Mr. Akenson's knowledge is exceptional. However, its quality and his insights are marred by his assumption that there was a living Jesus who was the one Christ and God incorporate as a literal misinterpretation of the Gospels may imply. This blinds him to the implications of Paul's own writings - that the Jesus story is a form of a Hebrew "dying and resurrecting god-man allegory" in which it is believed that everyone may have a "Christ" within. Like it or not, Paul's actual writings (minus the later "modifications," corrections," insertions, and outright forgeries) show that he was indeed a, or the first, gnostic . Therefore one cannot take his writings and try to reverse engineer a Jesus from them. That is something that would be beyond even the brightest minds of area 51. ( )
  millsge | Jun 25, 2009 |
If the popularity of the World Wrestling Federation is evidence of the audience for a well-orchestrated brawl, Saint Saul should have no trouble finding readers. Akenson leaps into the ring with a bravado that could obscure the academic virtuosity he shares with his primary targets-particularly Morton Smith and Dominic Crossan; but little doubt remains that participants in this battle have chosen to enter a public arena where entertainment and scholarship mix. Akenson argues that any quest for Jesus as an historical figure should begin with the earliest available documents-not the synoptic Gospels, but the authentic letters of Paul. Akenson counters 2000 years of Christianizing by consistently avoiding Hellenized forms when naming the objects of his inquiry: Saul, not Paul; Yacov, not James; Yeshua, not Jesus. Saul's letters constitute the one source of information about Yeshua that survived the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. (which, in Akenson's understated simile, had the impact of a nuclear explosion) more or less intact. As a result, those letters may contain information that is unfiltered by the two forms of Judahism (Christianity and rabbinic Judaism) that devised successful strategies for temple worship without a temple. Readers will be both entertained and informed. Whether they are convinced that Saul is a "skeleton key" or not, they will come away with a deeper understanding of the modern quest for the historical Jesus and of the pre-70 worlds inhabited by Yeshua and Saul.
  stevenschroeder | Jul 30, 2006 |
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McGill-Queen's University Press

2 editions of this book were published by McGill-Queen's University Press.

Editions: 0773523952, 0773520902

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