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THE AFTERMATH OF PAUL'S DAMASCUS ROAD EXPERIENCE...A NEW RELIGION?

I think it would be good to summarize what we have encountered so far in our study of Paul before we go on to new areas of study. No one summarizes these events so well as does H. Maccoby and we quote from his Mythmaker: Paul And The Invention Of Christianity: "We have seen, then, in Saul's background and present circumstances all the ingredients for extreme mental turmoil and near breakdown. Not only is his mind torn between the pagan and Gnostic background of Tarsus and the Judaic religious outlook, but his personal ambitions have been cruelly frustrated and he is suffering from a rude-awakening to his self-esteem. In his vivid imagination, the sacred history of the Hebrew Bible (in its Greek translation, the Septuagint) with its heroes and prophets jostles with memories of the sacred processions of the mystery god Baal Taraz, the dying and resurrected deity who gave Tarsus its name. The prestige of Pharisaic Judaism, which excited his aspirations, has proved so elusive and disappointing that his mind searches for some way of escape from the demands of Judaism; and the consolations of the mystery religion of his youthful environment with its colorful and moving ceremonies of mourning and rejoicing beckon to him with a promise of relief from his misery, but, at the same time, arouse in him the fear of apostasy, regression and the abandonment of his hopes" (Maccoby, Mythmaker, pp. 100).

A PAULINE VISION...OR WAS IT A SYNTHESIS OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS?

It is not uncommon to find in such circumstances of spiritual conflict and disappointment, that many individuals would have suffered a nervous breakdown or a mental collapse. Of course this is not indicative of all and how they would respond. Some individuals, however, of great gifts and psychical resources can meet the situation by a sudden psychological leap, an overwhelming synthesis or multiple insight that unites all the disparate elements of conflict into a single solution. Such a solution is apt to take the form of a vision, welling from the unconscious mind without apparent inference or conscious effort, and so having for the person involved a supernatural quality.

Saul's vision on the road to Damascus, shattering and painful as it was, solved all his conflicts and raised him from the abyss of self-hatred and failure. By it, he was able to reconcile all the conflicting needs of his complex nature. Paul arrived at the solution to his apparent spiritual conflict and failure to meet the standards for acceptance; both in his pursuits within the membership of the Sadducces and Pharisees. He cleverly saw that the answer to his malady was to arrive at a religious synthesis of his many ideas and experiences and appoint himself as the "ambassador" of "his gospel." Simply said, the panorama of Jewish sacred history was combined with the individual salvation and consolation of pagan mystery religion; the divide in his own soul was answered by a divide in the universe, similar to that found in the dualism of Gnosticism; and, finally, from the personal point of view, his desire for a surpassing role for himself was satisfied in a way far beyond his previous ambitions (Maccoby, Mythmaker, p. 100-101).

For the realizations of the ambitions of Paul the cleverness of his remedy to his plight is overwhelming. He was to devise a synthesis of religious ideas that guaranteed world-wide acceptance; acceptance that is with everyone but the Jews who had already rejected him. He would provide for the world "what they already" had; and in that stroke of genius would be the guarantee of his success and acceptance. For you see, the broad appeal of Christianity stems from the fact that it is a synthesis of the most important doctrines which had already been developed in the great pre-Christian pagan cultures during thousands of years. Had this not been so, it would simply have been a narrow creed and would, like many others, soon have vanished from the stage of history. The central elements in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are:

What will be most shocking to you as a typical Gentile Christian is that the immediate source of these concepts was the Essene society; but their ultimate origins must be traced to the mystery-cults and the major religions of the pre-Christian -world.

Saul had just been taking part in the sordid persecution of Jesus' followers by the politically motivated High Priest. He had now been give a task of surreptitious violence; to kidnap certain persons from Damascus and convey them to the High Priest's custody for condemnation as plotters of sedition against the Roman occupation of Judaea. The fact that he had been entrusted with this mission, and made the leader of the band of kidnappers, shows that Saul was regarded with some favor by the High Priest. Yet Saul must have regarded his promotion in the secret police with a mixture of feelings: how different from the kind of promotion he had pictured for himself when he came to Judaea as a hopeful convert.

This conflict of feelings held by Paul was only aggravated and enlarged by the nature of the movement which he had been deputed to investigate and persecute. For at the centre of the beliefs of this Essene-Christian movement was a figure who had died and had been resurrected and was seen as the the "Teacher of Righteousness of the Essenes" who had returned among them; only to die as had the Essene teacher earlier. It was the fulfillment of the return of the Teacher for the Essenes.

When Saul, in the course of his duties of arrest and interrogation, probed into the belief of Jesus' followers in the resurrection of Jesus, he must have felt a shock of recognition from his pagan background. Here again, where he least expected it, was the figure who had moved him as a child, despite the warnings of his "Godfearing" parents: the dying and resurrected deity, who was always the same under all his names and guises, whether Attis, Adonis, Osiris or Baal-Taraz. Bound up with the worship of this ubiquitous deity was a deeply emotional experience: that of dying and being reborn together with the deity, as his "passion" was enacted in dramatic and ecstatic ceremonies.

Because of his upbringing in Tarsus with his pagan background, Saul would have read into the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus meanings which were in fact absent from the minds of the Nazarenes and Ebionites themselves, for these followers of Jesus were people of Pharisee background on the whole and indeed still regarded themselves as Pharisees, and, therefore, as utterly opposed to pagan schemes of salvation based on dying and resurrected deities. Their belief in the resurrection of Jesus was conceived within the patterns of Jewish thought; that is to say, they thought of it as a miracle wrought by God, but did not think of Jesus himself as anything other than human. No doubt they read some sacrificial meanings into the event, for the idea of vicarious suffering by saints on behalf of a sinful community (Israel only; not universal; not for the world) was not alien to Judaism, being found in the Bible in the story of Moses, for example, or in the figure of the suffering servant of Isaiah (the corporate nation). But even then these were isolated events and allegory at best. But the idea of the sacrifice of a deity was utterly alien to every variety of Judaism. Jesus, to his early followers was not a deity, but a Messiah: i.e. a human king of the House of David, whose mission was to liberate Israel from foreign rule and the world from the sway of military empires. That instead of succeeding in this he had met with crucifixion which was interpreted by them to mean that the sins of Israel had not been sufficiently expiated by the campaign of repentance which Jesus had conducted among the lost sheep of the house of Israel (that Israel had not merited the Kingdom nor her King and the prophecies would not be fulfilled), and that therefore Jesus himself had had to fill up the measure of expiation by undergoing a cruel death, preparatory to his miraculous resurrection as a triumphant conqueror. But his return to Earth as a resurrected figure would not change his status as a human king, any more than the resurrection of Lazarus raised the latter above human status.

To Saul, however, the idea of Jesus as a sacrificial figure would have had resonances that were quite different. The personal and individual significance of the death of the god in the mystery cults would have been aroused in him, especially in his highly individualized plight; whereas, for the Nazarenes in general, the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus was more of communal than individual or personal significance, presaging the coming of the restoration of the Jewish commonwealth and the universal Messianic age on Earth. The mystery cults had arisen in a Greco-Roman environment in which national loyalties had been crushed by the vast machine of a bureaucratic empire; consequently, detribalized individuals had sought individual salvation in them, hoping for an individual immortality by dying and rising with the deity. Among the Jews, this disintegration of community feeling had not occurred; to them, salvation still meant the salvation of the community and of all mankind in an earthly Kingdom of God, not an escape into an otherworldly disembodied state.

While persecuting Jesus' followers, Saul would have become aware of Jesus as a figure that seemed strangely familiar to him, answering a need in his soul suppressed since his childhood by the rationality and conscious verities of Judaism. In particular, his strong imagination would have been captured by the picture of Jesus dying on the cross. For this picture would have reminded him irresistibly of the ikons he had seen in Cilicia of the god Attis in his various guises - the hanged god, whose dripping, flayed body fertilized the fields and whose mysteries renewed the souls of his frenzied devotees. It is significant that, in later times, the imagination of Paul played round the Deuteronomic passage discussed above about the curse (as Paul understood it) adhering to the body of the hanged one.

THE BEGINNING OF PAUL'S NEW RELIGION....A RELIGIOUS SYNTHESIS REALIZED

At this time, however, these thoughts had not yet broken into full consciousness. Saul was attempting to live an unspiritual life, that of a secular police officer, his hopes of attaining spiritual stature in the Pharisaic movement having been disappointed. But the disquiet of his soul could not be stilled; and when his distress erupted into a psychological attack on the road to Damascus, the centre of the disturbance was occupied by the figure which had been forming in his unconscious mind - that of the Hanged God, the focus of both guilt and hope. By identifying this figure with Jesus, whose followers he had been persecuting, Saul made sense out of the meaninglessness into which his life had degenerated. For instead of being merely a hireling of the quisling High Priest, harrying people for pay, he now saw himself as a historically significant person - he who had persecuted the dying and resurrected god and who, by his very guilt, could switch to the antithetical role of the god's chief acolyte. This sudden change from utter sinfulness to utter release and sinlessness became the motif of the new religion which he began to develop from the vision which had marked him out from all mankind.

ANALYSIS OF THE ACCOUNTS OF PAUL'S SPIRITUAL CRISIS

We may now turn to an examination of the account which Paul himself gives of the crisis of his life, his vision of Jesus and the mission resulting from it:

You have heard what my manner of life was when I was still a practising Jew: how savagely I persecuted the church of God, and tried to destroy it; and how in the practice of our national religion I was outstripping many of my Jewish contemporaries in my boundless devotion to the traditions of my ancestors. But then in his good pleasure God, who had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace, chose to reveal his Son to me and through me, in order that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles. When that happened, without consulting any human being, without going up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I went off at once to Arabia, and afterwards returned to Damascus. (Galatians 1:10-17)

Paul introduces this account in the following way:

"I must make it clear to you, my friends, that the gospel you heard me preach is no human invention. I did not take it over from any man; no man taught it me; I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."

It is clear from this that it is wrong to talk about the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus as a "conversion," as is usually done. The use of this term presupposes something that ought not to be presupposed: that Christianity already existed before Paul had this experience, and that therefore all that was required was that Paul should be "converted" to this already existing religion among the Gentile nations of the world. The correct designation of Paul's experience is the word he uses himself "revelation." In fact, Christianity, as a religion separate from Judaism, stems from this event. Paul's vision of Jesus was the epiphany or divine appearance which initiated Christianity, just as the appearance of God in the burning bush initiated Judaism. Just as Moses was marked out by the revelation of the burning bush as the founding prophet of Judaism, so Paul by his Damascus vision became the founding prophet of Christianity.

Paul, throughout his Epistles, insists on referring to "my gospel" or, as here, "the gospel announced by me" (translated above, in the New English Bible translation as "the gospel you heard me preach," which is inexact and misleading, in that it makes Paul sound more modest than he was. Paul is thus claiming a direct line to Jesus - not only because of his Damascus revelation, but also because of other revelations subsequent to it. Paul is claiming a much higher authority than that of the Jerusalem apostles, Peter, James and John; for their claim derived from acquaintance with the earthly Jesus, while Paul's claim derived from acquaintance with the heavenly Jesus, now divorced from all weakness of the flesh and assuming the omniscience of a transcendent deity.

The leaders of the "Jerusalem Church" did not regard themselves as the founders of a new religion.

They regarded themselves as Jews, who were differentiated from their fellow Jews only by their belief in Jesus as Messiah. They confidently believed that when the resurrected Jesus returned to Earth, which they expected to happen very soon, God would perform through his agency such astounding miracles - the defeat of the Romans by supernatural means and their expulsion from the Holy Land - that all Jews would accept him as the Messiah, and would be united under his royal rule in a theocracy governed by the prescriptions of the Torah of Moses, as interpreted by the Oral Law, administered by the Pharisee masters. They did not envisage any split between Jesus' movement and the main body of Jewish believers. They themselves observed the Jewish laws and prayed in the same words as their fellow Jews, with the addition of certain prayers (such as the Lord's Prayer..abbreviated Amidah) which were added to the normal services in the way that special groups among the Jews (for example, the Hasidim) have always done without any sense of schism. The Jerusalem Jesus movement did not observe the special service known as the Eucharist, Communion or Mass that marked off Christianity as a separate religion eventually.

Paul was the very first to envisage Christianity as a new religion, different from Judaism. In order to do this, he asserted his own claim to special authority through his series of visions of the heavenly Jesus Christ (as he called him, for the first time using "Christ" as a divine title), beginning with his Damascus vision.

PAUL MAINTAINS AND BOASTS OF HIS SEPARATION FROM THE JERUSALEM CHURCH...HE HAS A SPECIAL REVELATION THEY DON'T...AND WON'T ACCEPT

In the passage quoted above, it will be seen how Paul insists on his independence of the Jerusalem authorities. He says that, after his Damascus revelation:

"without consulting any human being, without going up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I went off at once to Arabia, and afterwards returned to Damascus."

By this statement Paul is rejecting the idea that he was a convert to Christianity. A convert is a person who humbly approaches the authorities of the religion which he wishes to join and submits himself for instruction. Paul denies such a description of his entry altogether: he does not seek instruction either in Damascus or in Jerusalem; instead he goes off "to Arabia." The impression conveyed by the latter information is purposeful on Paul's park as he is arranging events in his life to show others that his experience parallels's Moses'. Paul is the new Moses! This was calculated on Paul's part to reinforce the analogy between Paul and Moses. Just as Moses, on receiving the tablets of the law, stayed in the Arabian wilderness for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34: 28), so Paul retired to the desert to assimilate and meditate on the new revelation before returning to impart it to mankind.

Of course, the story told in the Acts of the Apostles is very different. Here we are told that Paul did indeed seek instruction, first in Damascus and then in Jerusalem. In Damascus he is cured of his blindness (which Paul himself in Galatians, does not mention) by Ananias, who then instructs him in his mission; and then Paul, after escaping from Damascus, goes immediately to Jerusalem, where he is introduced by Barnabas to the Apostles, and where he adopts an active but subordinate role in Jesus' movement. The picture given in Acts is thus indeed that of a convert, not of the founder of a new religion, but we have to consider the purpose and standpoint of the book of Acts, in order to understand the startling difference between its account and that of Paul himself in Galatians. The book of Acts, we must remind ourselves, was written about forty years after Paul's letter to the Galatians, and a great deal had happened to Jesus' movement in that time. It had turned into the Christian Church, which had adopted the Essene/neo-pagan ideas of Paul, but was concerned to derive these ideas from Jesus himself and therefore to deny Paul originality. Moreover, contrary to extra-biblical accounts but yet according to the Acts account, the Christian Church had adopted an account of the early Nazarenes in which there had been no rift between Paul and the Jerusalem Apostles: the myth now was that supposedly all the Apostles, including Peter and James, had believed, like Paul, in the divine Jesus and in his role as a divine sacrifice for the sins of mankind - in other words, in the mystery religion doctrine for which, in historical fact, Paul alone had been responsible. If we had been "Old Testament Christians" before we were "New Testament Christians" we would have know before reading such Pauline "theology" that such ideas were totally foreign to the Old Testament and Biblical Judaism.In order to preserve the doctrine of the essential unity of the early Church and thus its unbroken continuity with Jesus himself, which would have been seriously jeopardized by any acknowledgment of Paul's originality and his break with the Jerusalem Apostles, who provided the real link with the historical Jesus) Paul had to be represented as just one of the Apostles, indeed the latest and least authoritative of them, who had learned his Christianity from James and Peter, even though he was given a special role as "apostle to the Gentiles." The book of Acts and indeed the Gospels themselves were composed (or rather edited from previous materials) in order to consolidate this myth of the unity of the early Church and to derive from Jesus himself the ideas of the later Church, which in fact were based on those of Paul. Because of the way the writer of Acts has written his account of the events, the utter originality of Paul and his status as the founder of Christianity have thus been obscured; even though Paul is the hero and central character of the book of Acts, his real status and role in the foundation of Christianity are played down and transformed in that work.

Answer for yourself: There is one problem that remains...do you know what it is?

The rift between Paul and the Jerusalem Apostles is indeed not entirely absent from Acts: it has been edited and disguised, but it is still there, as we shall see later. But the main aim is to achieve an appearance of continuity...an appearance of continuity that is dispelled over and over again by extra-biblical accounts and other various documents...you just have not seen them yet...I and others have!

DID YOU KNOW PAUL'S SPECIAL REVELATION...MADE HIM THE "INCARNATION OF GOD'S SON" FOR THE WORLD?

If, however, we read Paul's own account of his revelation at Damascus without any presuppositions in our minds derived from the much later account in Acts, we can begin to appreciate what enormous claims Paul was making. We have already seen one instance in which the New English Bible translation has played down Paul's claims, but in another phrase, this translation plays them down even more. For where the New English Bible has:

"God. . . chose to reveal his Son to me and through me" (Galatians 1:16), what the Greek actually says is "...to reveal his Son in me," as the Revised Version says.

Paul is saying, quite straightforwardly, that he is himself the incarnation of the Son of God. He is thus claiming to have even higher status in his new religion than was claimed for Moses in Judaism and certainly for the Jerusalem Apostles themselves (although they knew Jesus best since Paul had never met him in his earthly ministry and it is quite doubtful, knowing the origin of the religious tenets of Paul's "revelation" that he ever met Jesus after his death as well). It must be replied that Paul is here only claiming for himself what, in his view, is possible for every Christian: an identification and merging with the personality of Jesus as divine saviour; Christ, it may be said, is "in every Christian," just as every Christian is "in Christ." But the same was said about Osiris, the risen Godman of the Egyptians long before and again we find pagan ideas expressed by Paul in his "revelation" of the resurrected Jesus. Even so, Paul is claiming to be the first person in whom this miraculous merging has taken place. He was not and any serious investigation into comparative religions of the world will show you this (http://paganizingfaithofyeshua.netfirms.com). His "revelation" is thus more even than a revelation: it is a transformation and a deification of Paul himself as the supreme manifestation of the phenomenon of impregnation by God. Other Christians may be able to partake of this state, having been shown the way by Paul, just as other Buddhists may find Nirvana, and as other Egyptians were taught to "become Osiris." Having been shown the way by the Buddha and Osiris; but Paul, like Buddha and Osiris, remains pre-eminent and quasi-divine.

PAUL'S DIVINE REVELATION DOES NOT END ON THE DAMASCUS ROAD

Further confirmation of Paul's sense of his own uniqueness can be found in his letters. Thus, he claims that he has supreme mystical experience, quite apart from his Damascus revelation: that he was "caught up into the third heaven," and that he was "caught up into paradise and heard words so secret that human lips may not repeat themµ (2 Corinthians 12:2-3). Even more important for an understanding of Paul's view of his own status is his claim to have special marks or stigmata on his body, showing the depth of his self-identification with the sufferings of Jesus on the cross (Galatians 6: 17). This phenomenon became common among ecstatic Christians in the Middle Ages, starting with Saint Francis, and has been much studied by psychologists. In the early Church, however, only Paul is known to have experienced such a physical manifestation. There are remarkable parallels, however, in other forms of ancient mystery religion. The devotees of Attis, for example, at the height of their ecstasy, castrated themselves in order to experience the same agon as their god, and so sink their individuality in his and become "in" him ("in Attis"). Thus the stigmata of Paul, whether self-inflicted or psychosomatically produced, made him, in his own eyes and those of his followers, the supreme embodiment of the power of the mystery god, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here we must note the parallel between Paul and other mystagogues of the period, who also sought to found a new religion, based on their own embodiment of a divine power. Simon Magus is a good example. He is mentioned in Acts as having started a movement among the Samaritans, claiming to be "that power of God which is called 'The Great Power'". That Paul and Simon Magus were regarded widely as similar figures is shown by the fact that in certain anti-Pauline documents, Paul is referred to under the code-name "Simon Magus." This brings home to us that the picture of Paul found in the book of Acts as merely one of the Apostles, with no claim to a special doctrine of his own or to outstanding pre-eminence as the possessor of divine, mystical power, is untrue to the way in which Paul, as a historical fact, presented himself.

THE CLEVERNESS OF PAUL'S RELIGIOUS SYNTHESIS ...REVISITED

Yet we must not forget the aspect that differentiated Paul from all the other mystagogues of the time and ensured that his religion, unlike theirs, was not forgotten. This was Paul's determination to connect his new religion to Judaism and thus give it an historical basis going back in time to the beginning of the world - rather than basing it solely on his own personality. This was the feature that gave Paul's religion substance and impressiveness in the eyes of the Greco-Roman world, so that his followers felt themselves to be carried along in the sweep of cosmic history - though again, Paul was not unique in this harnessing of the Jewish Bible to his purposes, for this had been done by some of the Gnostic sects, particularly the Sethians as well as the Essenes. Paul's feeling for the Jewish Bible, which he had absorbed in its Greek translation and had studied avidly during his phase of ambition of Pharisaic eminence, can be seen even in the account quoted above of his Damascus revelation. Not only does he refer obliquely to Moses, as we have seen, but there is also a plain identification of himself with the prophet Jeremiah. He says:

". . . God, who had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace, chose to reveal his Son to me and through me. . . . "

Once more, the New English Bible has blurred the matter by its search for modern English idioms, rather than literal representation of the original. The literal translation, as in the Revised Version, is:

". . . God, who separated me from my mother's womb"

. . and this immediately recalls the summons to prophecy of Jeremiah:

"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).

Paul, too, declared himself to have a mission to the nations, but he wished this mission to have biblical sanction, and he therefore described himself in terms derived from the biblical prophet Jeremiah. We must remember this is coming from a man who had been ultimately rejected by both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He was a man of crushed spiritual ambition. Now he had a way that no one could question his "mission" since drawing upon Divine sanction!

In so far as Paul likens himself to Moses, he is thinking of himself as the founder of a new religion; but in so far as he likens himself to Jeremiah, he sees himself as the continuator of Judaism, even though his message is not for the Jews but for the whole world.

"Thus Paul's Damascus revelation not only resolved the conflicts of a convert struggling to find his feet in the Jewish world by reinstating the pagan romanticism of his childhood; it also gave satisfaction to the yearnings of one who had regarded the Jewish tradition with awe and envy, and had sought to master it, only to meet with failure and rebuff. Paul fantasized a career as a successful Pharisee, which he had voluntarily renounced since not being able to make the grade; this consoled him for his actual failure. But he also wove for himself a far greater fantasy: that his status was far above the Pharisees (none of whom claimed prophetic status), for in him the biblical gift of prophecy had been renewed; and that the whole panorama of biblical prophecy had existed merely to culminate in him, a greater prophet than Moses, and the initiator of the culminating phase of history, for which a new type of religion, transcending but containing that of the Bible, was required" (Maccoby, Mythmaker, p. 108-109).