Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Paul of history and the Christ of faith

Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed ChristianityPaul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity by James D. Tabor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not much new here for those of us already critically informed by things, but some tidbits.

Tabor shows how Paul took personal visions of Jesus, merged them with what must only be considered his conception of a Hellenistic mystery religion, used this to invent the Eucharist and his idea of Baptism, and got either his direct followers of the next generation, or those directly in his orbit, to write most of the Christian New Testament that's not directly attributed to Paul. In doing so, he gave James (Jacob), Jesus' brother, the back of his hand at best and possibly worse. And even more so with Peter, Tabor argues.

None of that is new to me, other than thinking more clearly about Paul creating a mystery religion. What was a bit newer is realizing just how much Paul transformed crudely corporeal Jewish ideas of a bodily resurrection into something creative, somewhat along the lines, perhaps, of middle Platonism, but without any school of Platonism's antithesis to matters bodily.

That said, the book has a couple of weak points. While it generally rejects the gospels for historical value, Tabor still accepts conventional datings of Jesus' birth and death. Alternate ideas, such as "Jesus" perhaps actually being the Pharisee leader crucified a century earlier by a Maccabean king, don't cross Tabor's mind.

And, Tabor is not one to psychologize Paul, namely on the "why" this persecutor became a zealot.

I'd say this book is a four-star for people with little familiarity of the actual development of the New Testament, but just three stars for those who know more.

(Sadly, Tabor is an Eisenmann/Baigent-crowd "Jesus dynasty" guy, per another book of his.)  The third star is probably too much.)

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