It is time to move on to other studies in this series. There is one episode recorded in the book of Acts, however, that seems to challenge all the conclusions summarized above. This is the story of the death of Stephen the first Christian martyr.
Answer for yourself: Is the account of the death of Stephen written in such a way as to cover up the truth and achieve a theological advantage for a certain group?
Answer for yourself: Has the account of the death of Stephen been "backwritten" in such a way to make it look as if the early Jewish church held a "Pauline religious belief system" when in reality they did not?
Answer for yourself: Is it possible that Stephen's death was not because of "religious and theological" reasons as it appears in the text of Acts but was because of "political reasons" because active Messianism was basically political activism and this threatened the High Priest and the status quo of Roman peace in Jerusalem?
Answer for yourself: Has the unique religious understanding of Paul's gospel and his Jesus been backwritten by the later author of Acts in order to make it look as if these same "Pauline religious concepts concerning Jesus" had existed in the beginning of the infant church by those who knew Jesus best, when in reality the Jewish Church of Jesus had never believed such "doctrines" about Jesus?
Answer for yourself: Could the account of Stephen's death be an attempt by the later author of Acts to link Pauline theology with the infant church and thereby defuse the charges leveled against Paul much later that he was the inventor and originator of the doctrines of Christianity as applied to Jesus and not the Apostles who did not hold such beliefs about Jesus?
Answer for yourself: Could it be that the writer of the account of Stephen's death is "backwriting" the deification of Jesus and pushing it back in history to make it look as if was not a Pauline invention but that the first church also held to such ideas concerning the glorification and deification of Jesus as "the" Godman of Judaism?
Answer for yourself: Was the writer of the account of Stephen's death, himself a devotee of Paul (Luke), trying to link Pauline theology with the beginning of the Jewish Apostolic Church thereby showing the continuity of Pauline doctrine with the Apostles since Paul's doctrine of the Messiah was recognized my most Jews as purely creative genius loaded with heavy borrowing from pagan mystery religions and their ideas of their solar godmen?
As you can see not only the above questions but the very story of Stephen is very important; important for the following reasons:
Again I cannot stress the importance of this short story in the book of Acts because all of the above items in the list are derived from this story.
A careful examination of the Stephen episode, however, reveals many unhistorical features, and shows it has been built up by the authors of Acts precisely for the purpose of providing a link between Paul and Jesus (when really there are few or none).
Answer for yourself: Why is the creation of this link between Paul and Jesus so important?
This is most necessary since, as already stated and proven that the message and gospel of Paul is completely opposite the gospel and message of Jesus. Oil and water does not mix but somehow the author of Acts has to weave the two together in order for Paul to function as an "ambassador for Christ."
The story given in Acts is that Stephen was denounced to the Sanhedrin by a group of Jews who had been arguing unsuccessfully with him.
Answer for yourself: What was the charge against Stephen in the first place?
The charge against him was that he had made "blasphemous statements against Moses and against God". We are then told:
"They produced false witnesses who said, 'This man is for ever saying things against this holy place and against the Law. For we have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and alter the customs handed down to us by Moses.'"
Stephen is then allowed a statement, and makes a long one which is a recapitulation of Jewish history. This speech seems mostly innocuous, giving an account with which all Jews would agree. At the end of his speech, however, Stephen launches into a diatribe against the Jewish people and their history, going far beyond the kind of self-criticism which Jews were in the habit of making. This diatribe amounts to a repudiation of the Jews as incorrigible enemies of God:
Answer for yourself: Do you not find it rather strange that a supposed Messianic believer who hopes for the redemption of the whole world and his people should turn upon his whole race and call his whole people (the Jewish nation) little more than enemies of God?
Answer for yourself: Is it possible to detect anti-Semitism in this statement and it that not rather strange coming from a Jew?
"How stubborn you are, heathen still at heart and deaf to the truth! You always fight against the Holy Spirit. Like fathers, like sons. Was there ever a prophet whom your father did not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One; and now you have betrayed him and murdered him, you who received the Law as God's angels gave it to you, and yet have not kept it."
Of course such a response angers his hearers. Stephen's response has little bearing, however, on the charges outlined before, that Stephen had spoken against Moses, against the Temple and against the Law. Nor does the ensuing episode in which Stephen has a vision of Jesus, whom he calls "the Son of Man," standing at the right hand of God.
Answer for yourself: Was unique beliefs concerning the Messiah or others possibly thought to be the Messiah considered blasphemy in a nation known for it's theological diversity and leniency toward religious beliefs? No, it was not!
Answer for yourself: Then how are we expected to believe the account in Acts where such "beliefs" constituted "blasphemy" when they did not? Have you ever studied "blasphemy" in Judaism to see if this charge brought against Stephen was even possible? I have! It wasn't!
Stephen's personal understanding of Jesus and his vision of him, little different from Paul's vision which he will have later, is all of a sudden considered blasphemy.
Answer for yourself: What does Stephen's spiritual sight and rhema concerning Jesus have to do with the charges of: speaking against Moses, speaking against the Temple, or saying that Jesus will somehow destroy the Temple...his original charges?
Stephen's vision, it is alleged and we are asked to believe, was regarded as blasphemy by Stephen's hearers, who immediately rushed him out to be stoned, oblivious of the fact that the "blasphemy" of seeing Jesus as the Son of Man at the right hand of God was not what he had been brought to trial for. Yet the "witnesses" who had testified ("falsely", it is said, though apparently the author of Acts thinks that Stephen would have been right in saying such things) that Stephen spoke against Moses, the Temple and the law, change their role with great versatility and act as chief participants in the stoning of Stephen for quite a different charge, that of regarding Jesus as the "Son of Man".
Answer for yourself: Was Stephen killed because of a spiritual vision which he had that speaks of a "theological" issue or because of a "political" issue that involved speaking against the Temple and its imminent demise at the hands of returning Jesus? It would seem that the political issues have been swept under the rug so to speak and the account is made to look as if a "personal religious belief system" was really the reason for Stephen's death!
Answer for yourself: Was Paul persecuting the followers of Jesus as a Sadducee because of "individual personal religious beliefs" or because of the political threat that the High Priest feared if these religious beliefs caused a public disturbances or political uprising that got Rome's attention and involvement since a new Kingdom was to come and replace the one of Rome?
So as you can see the Stephen account in Acts is already twisted and the real reason for his death is changed from "political threats against the Temple and the Roman government's status quo" into "personal theological beliefs" concerning the identity of man supposed risen to Heaven who sits on the side of God.
If individual apocalytpic religious beliefs were against Roman Law then there would not have been enough prisons to hold all the Essenes of Israel in that day so we see that such eccentric religious beliefs were not a threat to Rome; only political anarchy and revolution which was involved in bringing the Kingdom of God to bear on Rome and the world.
This extraordinarily muddled account of Stephen (he is killed for personal religious beliefs and not the charges that brought him to trial) cannot be regarded as providing us with a reliable historical record of the death of Stephen or of his views...or even the Sanhedrin for that matter. . The Sanhedrin was a dignified body that had rules of procedure, and did not act like a lynch mob. It would not suddenly switch the charges against a defendant, or drag him out for execution without even pronouncing sentence or formulating what he had been found guilty of.
Answer for yourself: How can we come to any idea of what the truth is concerning the trail of Stephen, let alone the trials of Jesus and Peter?
There is, however, one way in which we can throw some light on the events leading to Stephen's death, and that is by noting the numerous similarities between the trial and execution of Stephen, as described in Acts, and the trial and execution of Jesus, as described in the Gospels. Such a comparison brings out numerous points of similarity between the two "trials", even including similarities of illogicality and muddle.
So great is the general resemblance that we must conclude that the "trial" of Stephen is simply a double or repetition of the "trial" of Jesus, and its puzzling features can be explained by reference to the fuller accounts of the earlier "trial"; the motives for the invention of fictitious aspects are the same in both.
Stephen is accused of speaking against the Temple:
". . . we have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place. . . ."
The same charge was made against Jesus:
"Some stood up and gave false evidence against him to this effect: 'We heard him say, "I will pull down this temple, made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands"'" (Mark 14: 59).
To many the above similarities don't mean anything, but if you were conversant with Biblical Judaism and it's beliefs concerning it's Messiah then you would know for certain one thing that escapes most Christians: The Messiah will build Israel's New Temple. That is why I cannot get excited by the Temple Mount Faithful or any others who desire to begin construction on the Temple. The one I am waiting for is the one Messiah will build!
Since the Jews have always known, according to their religion and not the religion of Christianity, that their long awaited Messiah will build the Temple, then to hear someone declare an intention to pull down the Temple and rebuild it was regarded as natural and in character for someone claiming to be the Messiah.
Answer for yourself: Since the charges against Jesus and Stephen were that they had both "blasphemed" then is it correct to understand such intentions was to be understood by Jews as blasphemy when that was what their Prophets had predicted in the first place? It is time to wake up and begin to study to find the truth and see beyond the multitude of deceptions in the New Testament that keep you from the truth.
There was no blasphemy in making such a Messianic claim, for, in Jewish eyes, the Messiah was not a divine figure, but simply a human king, a descendant of King David, who would one day drive out the foreign invaders and restore the political independence of the Jewish people (threat to Rome); though some thought that this deliverance would coincide with the era of world peace prophesied by Isaiah and other prophets. The Messiah would naturally build a new Temple, for the present Temple, built by the wicked King Herod, was not expected to last into Messianic times. Jesus' threatened destruction and rebuilding of the Temple was an inevitable feature of his hopes of eschatological "restoration." For the majority of Jews, therefore, Jesus' promise to build a new Temple brought not outrage or shock, but hope; perhaps this man was indeed to be the promised Messiah, since he dared to talk in this vein. But events would not transpire in such ways necessary for the revelation of the Messiah to Israel and the world. The people who would have been annoyed, however, at Jesus' declaration were the reigning Temple Sadducees and hierarchy, who were collaborators with Rome (Saul the Sadducee), who owed their appointments to the Roman occupying forces, and had undertaken to help stamp out Messianic movements which might threaten the Roman occupation of Judaea.
Answer for yourself: Does this help explain why Paul was arresting the Messianic believers in conjunction with the High Priest's wishes in order to maintain the peace?
Jesus' declaration that he would pull down and rebuild the Temple was part of his challenge to Rome and to its priestly henchmen. Only the High Priest and his entourage (Saul and others like him) would feel threatened by it. Messianic Pharisees would be encouraged by it (remember the Gamaliel account...leave them alone...maybe it is of God...hope so). The rank-and-file priests, despite their daily participation in the Temple rites, would not feel threatened, because they would expect to continue their role in the rebuilt Temple. So this charge against Jesus was not a religious but a political charge - one which would stir the High Priest into action, but would not concern the Pharisees or any religious Jews who were not committed to collaborate with Rome. The same political charge will bring Stephen's death...yet it is made to look like religious adversity that was responsible for Stephen's death in the Acts account.
Take time to notice, because it is very important, that Stephen is represented as repeating this threat of Jesus:
". . . we have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place. . . .(Temple)"
It is a mistake to think that Stephen is here prophesying the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70. Stephen is speaking of Messiah's return to build the new Temple. Christians, indeed, have always regarded this destruction as a punishment for the alleged Jewish betrayal of Jesus, and Stephen's words here have been misread as confirmation of this. But if this were so, Stephen would not have said that Jesus would destroy the Temple, but that God would destroy it as a punishment for the death of Jesus. The parallel between Stephen's words and the actual threat uttered by Jesus during his lifetime is the clue to Stephen's meaning. Stephen believed that Jesus' absence from the scene was only temporary. Soon he would come back and resume his mission, which was to drive out the Romans and assume his position as God's anointed, on the throne of David and Solomon. Stephen, by repeating in his preaching the threat that had cost Jesus his life, was renewing Jesus' challenge to the Roman occupation and to its supporters, the High Priest and his entourage.
The strange switch by which the original charge is forgotten and a new ad hoc charge substituted is exactly similar in the trial of Jesus and in that of Stephen. In Jesus' trial, we have the following:
Then the High Priest stood up in his place and questioned Jesus: "Have you no answer to the charges that these witnesses bring against you?" But he kept silence: he made no reply. Again the High Priest questioned him: "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? "Jesus said, "I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and coming with the clouds of heaven." Then the High Priest tore his robes and said, "Need we call further witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What is your opinion?" Their judgment was unanimous: that he was guilty and should be put to death. (Mark 14:60-64).
In Stephen's trial, after the initial charge and Stephen's long, irrelevant reply, we find this:
"But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, and gazing intently up to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God's right hand. 'Look,' he said, 'there is a rift in the sky; I can see the Son of Man standing at God's right hand!' At this they gave a great shout and stopped their ears. Then they made one rush at him and, flinging him out of the city, set about stoning him."
Answer for yourself: What is similar between both trials?
Contrary to the manner and customs, let alone the Laws that regulated the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, formal procedures are then thrown to the winds and the defendant is found guilty of an alleged crime committed during the trial itself, and different from the crime for which he was brought to trial in the first instance. This travesty of legal procedure in a body like the Sanhedrin, famous for the dignity and formality of its legal procedures, is clearly fictional. This conclusion is reinforced by the consideration that the alleged blasphemy is not blasphemy in Jewish law at all. To claim to be the Messiah was simply to claim the throne of David, and involved no claim to be God.
The title "Son of God" also involved no blasphemy, as every Jew claimed to be a son of God when he prayed daily to God as "Father". The Davidic King, however, had a particular claim to this title, since God had made a special promise to regard Solomon and his successors as his "sons" (2 Samuel 7:14):
"I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men."
Please notice that, so far from the title "Son of God" bringing with it divine status, it made the Jewish King especially liable to divine punishment if he sinned.
To claim to be "the Son of Man" was also not blasphemy, since this was also a title of the Messiah (derived from Daniel 7:13) and did not imply divinity.
Neither "coming with the clouds of heaven" nor "sitting at the right hand of God" constituted blasphemy, since the epithets were applied to the Messiah by Jewish tradition without entailing any doctrine of the Messiah's divinity. There is a midrash that says that the Messiah will sit on God's right hand and Abraham on His left (Maccoby, The Mythmaker, p. 76-77)
Answer for yourself: What else should we have learned here today? Nowhere in Judaism do we find any concept connected to their Messiah that he will be God; such is true blasphemy and Jesus never taught nor claimed that. We have to look to the converted Paul for that as he shapes a human Messiah into a Essene Angel-Messiah sun-godman who dies for his followers and offers salvation to them if they believe in him and partake of his eucharist.
We need to recall what we have learned of the Pharisees in the prior articles. We saw that they were known for their theological diversity and their leniency. We also made special note that claiming to be the Messiah was not a "theological" crime or "blasphemy" as many, in the history of Israel had been "anointeds" of the LORD. We took special time to make the distinction between the "religious" and "political" significance of the term "Messiah" and showed that it was the "political" understanding of the term that threatened the High Priest who worked from Rome. Being expected to keep the people in a relative state of "calmness" the High Priest was ever vigilant and on the lookout to quell any possible Messianic insurgence. This is where our friend Paul, a Sadducee, makes his entrance as he was in the High Priest's employ as part of his Temple police force.
Acts 9:1-2 1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (KJV)
Now I ask, since our little refresher on the leniency of the Pharisees and the harsh strictness of the Sadducees, that we focus upon the account of the trial of Peter and contrast the leniency bestowed against the harshness of the trials of Stephen and Jesus as depicted in the New Testament.
The accounts of the trials of Jesus and Stephen before the Sanhedrin are quite inconsistent with the account given of the trial of Peter before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5), in which Peter was defended by Gamaliel, and an attitude of tolerance was shown towards the Messianic claims of Jesus and other Messianic claimants. Gamaliel was by no means an untypical Pharisee, being their chief representative.
Answer for yourself: Why was Gamaliel, the chief Pharisee of his day, who advocated lenience toward Peter and John, no where to be found at the trials of Jesus and Stephen which were supposedly connected by his Sanhedrin?
Answer for yourself: Why should the trials of other Messianics like Jesus and Stephen have been so different from the trial of Peter?
Answer for yourself: How can we account for the unanimous hostility and intolerance that was shown towards Jesus' Messianic claims at his trial, and the same hostility displayed at Stephen's references to Jesus as the Messiah by the same people that were noted for their theological leniency which again is displayed much later at the trial of Peter? We cannot! Is this an example of mob schizophrenia?
The trial of Peter is perfectly credible in the light of what we know of the Pharisees and of their thinking on the subject of Messianic movements, while the "trials" of Jesus and of Stephen are incredible, because they depend on a definition of the terms "Messiah", "Son of God" and "Son of Man" that did not exist in the Jewish religion of the time, but did exist in the later doctrines of the Christian Church, when all three expressions had been given a connotation of divinity.
Answer for yourself: Could it have been little more than literary invention by the writer of Acts to completely misrepresent the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, their procedures, and their trials, in an attempt to interject the later unique and un-Jewish theological doctrines of Paul into the picture of the early church and make it appear to the reader that such "Pauline Messianic doctrines concerning Jesus" were believed by the first Jewish followers of Jesus, and that these unique Pauline views were distinctive of the Messianic branch of Judaism but not indicative of all of Jewish beliefs concerning their Messiah? You bet it could. It happened.
Answer for yourself: Could this be an attempt to say, in accordance with accepted Pauline theology at a later date (Jesus is the Son of Man, Son of God, Divine Godman Messiah), that the Messianic Jews who believed in this Jesus who did not fulfill the Jewish prophecies nor returned as he said he would, were right and that the normative conservative Jews who sill awaited the fulfillments of the prophecies and the coming of their Messiah were wrong?
We must conclude, therefore, that the trials of Jesus and of Stephen have been falsified in exactly the same way: namely, an originally political charge has been worked over in order to represent it as a religious charge of blasphemy.
The facts in the case of Stephen appear to be that he roused the anger of the High Priest's entourage by outspoken declarations of the approaching fall of the Temple and its establishment, on the return of Jesus and his defeat of the Romans and their hangers-on. Since Stephen represented a threat to the crumbling power of the High Priest, he was assassinated without a trial by henchmen of the High Priest; unlike Jesus, he was not handed over to the Romans for punishment. Stephen was thus the first martyr of the "Church" in Jerusalem; but when the Pauline Christian Church took over the leading role, its Gentile leaders faced the same difficulties with Stephen as those which had led them to depoliticize the condemnation of Jesus and to remodel it as a trial for heresy and blasphemy. They could not demote Stephen from his honored role as first martyr, but they changed the reasons for his martyrdom in order to disguise his anti-Roman (Gentile) motivation and make him into a victim of Jewish religious intolerance instead.
Stephen, therefore, cannot be regarded as a precursor of Paul in regarding Jesus as a divine figure with the authority to abolish the Torah (no matter what Pauline esoteric Messianic doctrines were backwritten and put into his mouth in this corrupted earlier account of Stephen). The Gospels and the book of Acts are hoping that the reader make the connection that Stephen, in his defense, is preaching "Pauline Messianic Christianity" and hopes the reader believes that Paul was preceded in his doctrines by Stephen and indeed by Jesus himself; but close scrutiny shows that this is an illusion, and that Paul's doctrines were a new departure, radically different from the claims and teachings of Jesus and the "Jerusalem Church".
We can now return to the consideration of Paul, with a full consciousness of the startling originality of his interpretation of the life and death of Jesus.
In the light of the above interpretation of the standpoint of Stephen, we may discern the probable meaning of the puzzling beginning of Acts 8, following immediately on the death of Stephen:
"This was the beginning of a time of violent persecution for the church in Jerusalem; and all except the apostles were scattered over the country districts of Judaea and Samaria."
It is, of course, extremely puzzling that the body of Jesus' followers were persecuted and ejected from Jerusalem, yet their leaders were allowed to remain. One would have thought that the leaders, in such a persecution, would have been the first to be ejected. This verse, therefore, has been taken to provide evidence that the "Jerusalem Church", at this time, contained two factions, the "Judaizers" and the " "Hellenists". The "Judaizers", on this theory, were led by James and Peter, who had turned away from the radical, heretical views of Jesus and had returned to allegiance to the Torah and traditional Judaism. The "Hellenists", on the other hand, continued to hold the anti-Torah views which had brought Jesus to his death, and their leader was Stephen, who had thus incurred the wrath of strict adherents to Judaism. After Stephen's death, his followers of the "Hellenistic" party suffered a persecution which forced them out of Jerusalem, but the "Judaizers" who followed James and Peter were unaffected by this persecution.
The existence of such a party of "Hellenists" depends entirely on this one verse, taken together with the earlier verses describing the complaint of the "Hellenists" about the distribution to widows. The word "Hellenists", however, does not signify any kind of unJewish religious faction, but refers only to the language primarily spoken by the members of the group. Jews who spoke Greek were not necessarily any less loyal to the Torah than Jews who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, as the same chapter in Acts testifies, when it singles out the members of Greek-speaking synagogues as allegedly adopting a bigoted attitude towards Stephen. There is no real reason to suppose, therefore, that there was any "Hellenistic" free-thinking group among the "Jerusalem Church", beloved as this fiction is to commentators.
The real explanation of the immunity of the Apostles (and, presumably, their closest followers) from the persecution is probably this. Stephen was the leader of the activist section of the "Jerusalem Church", which believed in continuing anti-Roman propaganda and Messianic activity even in the absence of Jesus. The Apostles, however, took a more quietist view: Jesus, they believed, was on the point of returning, but in the meantime they would wait quietly in hope and refrain from any political activity until they could engage in it by his personal direction. Consequently, when the activist members were ejected by the pro-Roman High Priest's party after the assassination of Stephen, the quietist section of the Nazarenes was left alone.
It should be noted that belief in Jesus could actually lead to the cessation of Messianic activity; for example, the Jewish Christians withheld their support from the Messianic revolt of Bar Kokhba, not because they were pacifists, but because Bar Kokhba was not Jesus and was, therefore, in their eyes the wrong Messiah.
We may now turn to consideration of the part played by Paul personally in the persecution of Stephen. We are told:
"The witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. So they stoned Stephen, and as they did so, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried aloud, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them,' and with that he died. And Saul was among those who approved of his murder. "(Acts 7:59-60).
Some scholars have thought that this passage smacks too much of literary artifice to be regarded as historically true. It introduces the character of Saul, later to prove the hero of the whole book of Acts, in a dramatic way, underlining the contrast between his personality before his conversion and after it. Though Paul, in his Epistles, expresses contrition for his earlier role as a persecutor of Jesus' movement, he never mentions that he had anything to do with the death of Stephen; in fact, he never mentions Stephen at all. It may be argued that the author of Acts, having given the death of Stephen such a prominent place as the first Christian martyr, could not resist the theatrical touch of introducing Saul into the scenario at this point. For if indeed Saul played a subordinate role in the Stephen affair in the manner described and if Paul himself never referred to the matter, it would be hard to see how the author of Acts could have obtained information about Saul's participation, and it would seem more likely that he invented it as a graphic addition to the story.
On the other hand, there is an aspect of the matter that has been overlooked. This is that Saul is in some ways excused for his role in the Stephen affair. It is said that he was only a "youth" at the time (the Greek word "neanias" means an adolescent youth, and is somewhat inadequately rendered by the New English Bible translation "young man"). This means that his responsibility is lessened; and this impression is reinforced by the way in which he is given no active role in the execution of Stephen. He does not throw any stones, but only looks after the coats of those who do. His participation is confined to "approving" the killing of Stephen. It seems that the author of Acts cannot bear the idea that Saul might have had active responsibility for bloodshed and thus makes him more a passive spectator than a wholehearted participant.
Some scholars, in addressing Saul's limited involvement of only "holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen" suggests a "doctoring" of the original account and is little more than a watering down of Saul's involvement in the death of Stephen. By turning Saul into a "youth" and by making him the person at whose feet the witnesses laid their cloaks, the narrator has made the presence of Saul seem peripheral and almost accidental - a kind of symbolic coincidence, fraught with ironic meaning in view of Saul's future. But according to the Ebionite account, Paul did not come to Judaea from Tarsus until he was a grown man. This is also partly confirmed by the narrative of Acts, which, without any apparent interval, presents us with Saul "harrying the church" and "seizing men and women, and sending them to prison", hardly the activities of a tender youth. So the likelihood is that Saul, being already a full member of the High Priest's police force, played a prominent part in the Stephen affair, not the peripheral role given him by the author of Acts. The death of Stephen, as argued above, was not a judicial sentence, but an assassination carried out by the henchmen of the High Priest, a police force consisting of heterogeneous elements and not characterized by any elevated ideology or nice scruples. It is not surprising that, later in his life, Paul, having transformed his persecution of the Nazarenes into an ideological affair motivated by Pharisaic zeal, suppressed the worst aspect of this phase of his career, his prominent role in the elimination of Stephen as a dangerous anti-Roman agitator.
It is worthy of note too that the persecutors of Stephen are never called Pharisees in the narrative of Acts; nor is Saul himself at this stage of the story identified as a Pharisee. It is only in the light of the later identification of Saul as a Pharisee that generations of readers have assumed that Saul's participation in the murder of Stephen and his harrying of the Nazarenes arose from Pharisaic zeal. The author of Acts is evidently working, in the early chapters of his story, from sources that have not yet identified Saul as a Pharisee; though Paul's own assertions to this effect in his letters have colored the later chapters of Acts.
We have arrived, then, at a picture of Saul that is quite different from the fire-breathing Pharisee fanatic of tradition.
Answer for yourself: How, then, did Saul, the police mercenary in the service of the Sadducean High Priest, a man of doubtful antecedents and few ideals, come to be converted to Jesus' movement, engage in controversy with its leading figures, and eventually transform it into a new religion which Jesus himself would have regarded with dismay and consternation?
It is to those answers we turn next.