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J Green

Why did Saul persecute Christians?

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Every now and again I hear the theory that Saul was outraged by the fact that early Christians were accepting gentile converts without applying the proselyte requirements of normative Judaism, such as circumcision. I just ran into the theory again reading Borg and Crossan's 2009 book: The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon:

What, by the way, was so wrong with Christian Judaism--or at least the part that concerned Paul--that made him launch a lethal persecution against it? We can only conjecture, but here is our best reconstruction. Some Christian Jews claimed that the awaited eschatalogical era was already present, that, in other words, the kingdom of God's divine transformation of the world from one of violent injustice to one of nonviolent justice had already begun. Therefore, they concluded, Gentiles could now become full members of the people of God without following Jewish conversion requirements, for example, circumcision for males. Paul began as an opponent of this belief, but was converted to being a proponent of exactly the same belief--he went from persecuting those proposing open Gentile inclusion to becoming its major missionary advocate.

This is certainly an intriguing theory, yet it seems to run counter to the narratives of the difficulty Paul himself faced in changing attitudes within the church towards gentile converts--e.g., Peter's vision, the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council, etc. And Borg and Crossan offer no evidence for this type of open gentile conversion activity before Paul's missionary journeys and conflicts with church leadership.

Has anyone else encountered this argument? If so, what are your thoughts?

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It seems weak for the reasons you have mentioned.

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...

Paul began as an opponent of this belief

...

I wonder if Saul began as a half-Jew with a Roman father and a Edomite mother,

whose family background was suspect, and he felt a need to prove his loyalty

to the Jerusalem Temple establishment. He might have thus volunteered to help

rid Judea of blasphemous apostates, in order to gain favor with the High Priest

and his circle of Herodians.

At least I think it possible that Saul had family and political ties to the

Herodians, and also had some additional political clout as the son of a

Roman citizen.

Did the High Priests of that period try to appease the Roman occupiers by

rounding up traitorous messianic pretenders and their followers? Did the

Pharisees and other zealous Jews of that period demand the apprehension and

trial of apostates?

I think that was the social scene that Saul worked his way into -- perhaps

even becoming an associate of the armed Temple guard and an upholder of

armed force against disloyal Judeans.

UD

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He was a theologian, a Bible scholar. He interpreted the Bible with his scholarly training and concluded that the Christians were teaching heresy -- "These are cultists, preaching a false Messiah". He pointed out many scriptures that contradicted their teachings.

He rejected the concept of modern prophets and revelation. "We have the words of Moses and the ancient prophets, and that is sufficient for me."

He decided to start an anticult ministry, and asked for assistance from the synagogue to help him in his ministry to bring those Christians to the true messiah. He loved the Christians, but they were dupes of Peter and the other leaders. The witnesses of the resurrection were either co-conspirators with Peter, others suffered mass delusion.

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...

He decided to start an anticult ministry

...

Perhaps so, I don't know for sure.

But did he really persecute the Jesus-followers "unto death?"

Only the Romans could legally put an apostate to death in those days.

UD

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I wonder if Saul began as a half-Jew with a Roman father and a Edomite mother,

whose family background was suspect, and he felt a need to prove his loyalty

to the Jerusalem Temple establishment. He might have thus volunteered to help

rid Judea of blasphemous apostates, in order to gain favor with the High Priest

and his circle of Herodians.

Marion Soards (The Apostle Paul: an Introduction to His Writings and Teachings) asks an interesting question: "But what would have motivated a Jewish tentmaker, even a pious one, to engage in persecution of those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah?" Soards then explores archaelogical evidence of extensive proselytizing by Jewish synagogue communities in the diaspora, with many gentile proselytes joining these communities. Soards then wonders if Paul was first an aggressive missionary among these gentile communities on behalf of these Jewish synagogues. It would make his missionary approach after his conversion a familiar one.

At least I think it possible that Saul had family and political ties to the

Herodians, and also had some additional political clout as the son of a

Roman citizen.

I believe Robert Eisenman has argued consistently for Paul having family ties to the Herodians. It's an interesting question. One thing I find intriguing about the book by Borg and Crossan is where they question Paul's Roman citizenship. It's only Luke's narrative in Acts that makes the case for it (several decades after the epistles), whereas Paul himself doesn't claim this status in his letters. He even mentions being beaten by a rod several times without commenting on the fact that this punishment was not allowed for Roman citizens.

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He was a theologian, a Bible scholar. He interpreted the Bible with his scholarly training and concluded that the Christians were teaching heresy -- "These are cultists, preaching a false Messiah". He pointed out many scriptures that contradicted their teachings.

This is certainly how this issue is usually interepreted--that Saul would have had issues with the claims of Messiahship of someone who had essentially been hanged, based on the strictures in Deuteronomy. The idea that it had anything to do with circumcision is fairly rare, which is why it makes me curious. What's the argument for it?

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He was a theologian, a Bible scholar. He interpreted the Bible with his scholarly training and concluded that the Christians were teaching heresy -- "These are cultists, preaching a false Messiah". He pointed out many scriptures that contradicted their teachings.

He rejected the concept of modern prophets and revelation. "We have the words of Moses and the ancient prophets, and that is sufficient for me."

He decided to start an anticult ministry, and asked for assistance from the synagogue to help him in his ministry to bring those Christians to the true messiah. He loved the Christians, but they were dupes of Peter and the other leaders. The witnesses of the resurrection were either co-conspirators with Peter, others suffered mass delusion.

I think you hit the nail on the head. The reason I say that is because if you change a few words you get this.

'He was a theologian, a Bible scholar. He interpreted the Bible with his scholarly training and concluded that the Christians Mormons were teaching heresy -- "These are cultists, preaching a false Messiah". He pointed out many scriptures that contradicted their teachings.

'He rejected the concept of modern prophets and revelation. "We have the words of Moses and the ancient prophets the Bible, and that is sufficient for me."

'He decided to start an anticult ministry, and asked for assistance from the synagogue churches to help him in his ministry to bring those Christians Mormons to the true messiah. He loved the Christians Mormons, but they were dupes of Peter Joseph and the other leaders. The witnesses of the resurrection restoration were either co-conspirators with Peter Joseph, others suffered mass delusion.'

:P

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Without attempting a full psychoanalysis, I think Paul was overly defensive of his religious beliefs because he wasn't as sure he was right as he presented.

It's just my working theory for now.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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Vance,

I selected my words very carefully.

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Vance,

I selected my words very carefully.

I figured as much. :P

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It's just my working theory for now.

I'd become a fan of Consig's working theories on FaceBoook if I could get my account back from my wife. As it stands, apparently all I can offer is a chocolate Easter bunny.

Cheers.

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I wonder if Saul began as a half-Jew with a Roman father and a Edomite mother,

whose family background was suspect, and he felt a need to prove his loyalty

to the Jerusalem Temple establishment.

Paul was "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews" . . . but

either his father or his grandfather obtained Roman citizenship for the family, possibly by purchasing

it. His mother was not Edomite, she lived in Rome. Paul said in Romans 16:13 "Salute Rufus chosen

in the Lord, and his mother and mine."

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His mother was not Edomite, she lived in Rome. Paul said in Romans 16:13 "Salute Rufus chosen

in the Lord, and his mother and mine."

Welcome to the board, LinuxGal. The verse you note here likely refers to the idea that the mother of Rufus was like a mother of Paul, not the mother of Paul. Similar to the concept that "kinsmen" (Gk, suggenes) can mean a blood relative or someone from the ethnic group, race, or country.

Regards

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Every now and again I hear the theory that Saul was outraged by the fact that early Christians were accepting gentile converts without applying the proselyte requirements of normative Judaism, such as circumcision. I just ran into the theory again reading Borg and Crossan's 2009 book: The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon:

What, by the way, was so wrong with Christian Judaism--or at least the part that concerned Paul--that made him launch a lethal persecution against it? We can only conjecture, but here is our best reconstruction. Some Christian Jews claimed that the awaited eschatalogical era was already present, that, in other words, the kingdom of God's divine transformation of the world from one of violent injustice to one of nonviolent justice had already begun. Therefore, they concluded, Gentiles could now become full members of the people of God without following Jewish conversion requirements, for example, circumcision for males. Paul began as an opponent of this belief, but was converted to being a proponent of exactly the same belief--he went from persecuting those proposing open Gentile inclusion to becoming its major missionary advocate.

This is certainly an intriguing theory, yet it seems to run counter to the narratives of the difficulty Paul himself faced in changing attitudes within the church towards gentile converts--e.g., Peter's vision, the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council, etc. And Borg and Crossan offer no evidence for this type of open gentile conversion activity before Paul's missionary journeys and conflicts with church leadership.

Has anyone else encountered this argument? If so, what are your thoughts?

I personally don't think that was the reason (although perhaps it was a small factor.). Saul/paul's personality seemed to be quite zealous and he behaved as enthusiastically for the christians after conversion as he did against them earlier. Since he was a pharisee, I believe he persecuted them for the main reason of their hatred and rejection of Jesus as the messiah.

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I figured as much. ;)

So, then you do know it was a "parody" of anti-mormonism???

Just checking... :P

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I personally don't think that was the reason (although perhaps it was a small factor.). Saul/paul's personality seemed to be quite zealous and he behaved as enthusiastically for the christians after conversion as he did against them earlier. Since he was a pharisee, I believe he persecuted them for the main reason of their hatred and rejection of Jesus as the messiah.

I agree, Katherine. Borg and Crossan's theory seems wrong to me as well.

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