The details of the early career of Paul are given in three parts of Acts: 9:1-30, 22: 3-21, and 26:4-23. In the latter two passages Paul is speaking in later years, giving what appears to be a repetition of his conversion that was presented as narrative in Acts 9. But in fact he is giving additional detail, so as to supply a full account of his career up to September AD 43, the season when the separation of Christians began. The three passages, with other relevant texts, may be woven together in chronological order.
As always, the pesharist is expected to make a close study of every word. The fact that Paul's words are not simply re-iterating the conversion story is illustrated by comparing the narrative in Acts 9:4-6, in which Jesus appears to Saul, with an account that looks similar in Acts 26:13-18. The superficial reader assumes that the latter is a more detailed account of the former, since both include the same words of Jesus. But the pesharist, treating every variation as significant, asks why, in the Acts 26 account, there appear the new facts that Jesus is said to have spoken in Hebrew, and that he said to Saul, "it is hard for you to kick against the goad". Also, the directions given by Jesus to Saul vary considerably in each case.
The pesharist was aware that in the organizational system there were repeated ceremonies, the same words being used each time. The assumption that everything happened spontaneously, and that variations came from the processes of transmission, comes from the lack of information of previous generations of scholars. As the Dead Sea Scrolls have indicated, the history is that of an organization already functioning like the Church, with rituals, liturgies, feast days governed by ceremonial. Moreover, their calendar has made it possible to work out the chronology of the New Testament books. The special chronological terms in the accounts differ, so as to show that there were different occasions.
The history of Paul that is learned from this new method may first be summarised, then the Word-for-Word of each verse of the relevant passages is given, showing that every word, when its special meaning is known and consistently applied, gives an item in the narrative. For each verse the Greek text is given, followed by a transliteration in green, then in blue a very literal translation, often at the expense of natural English. In the blue verses underlined words when pressed will show the special meaning of the term from the Lexicon at the top of the screen.Words followed by RLR or SRLR are affected by the Rule of the Last Referent, explained in the Lexicon. In the red part following the pesher of the verse is given fully, with additional relevant facts.
At the age of 12, that of his Bar Mitzvah, the boy Saul began his elementary education. He was sent 8 miles down the coastal road to Qumran, which was still functioning as a school, as it had been in the time of Herod the Great. His serious studies began at the age of 15, and his higher education at the age of 16. His own account of these stages is given in the Acts passages, through the special meanings of terms. In the ascetic society that the Dead Sea Scrolls describe, a man at the age of 20 made the decision whether to marry, or whether to become a celibate. For the latter alternative, a man from one of the great dynastic lines still had to marry in order to have sons to continue his line, but he could defer marriage until the age of 36. Other men could adopt the same rule. It was this alternative that Paul chose when he reached the age of 20 in September, 37 AD.
Celibates belonged to the ascetic schools which had been established by Essenes on the Pythagorean model. These institutions were governed by a hierarchical system of annual promotions. It was only after three years of preparation that a man, if proved worthy, was given full initiation. It was a major step, meaning a total commitment for life. Paul took this step at the age of 23 in AD 40.
In his zeal for the propagation of Judaism in the form taught by the ascetic society, the young Saul (who would change his name to Paul when he reached the top of the educational ladder) dedicated himself to be a missionary. He would help recruit proselytes from the many Gentiles who at that time were showing an interest in the teachings that combined hellenistic learning, philosophy and science, with Jewish ethics and monotheistic theology. The missionary program began in the east, where Semites other than Jews were ready for the advance on their culture. When the east was won, as "the sons of Shem", the missionaries would turn to the inferior west, to the "sons of Ham" (Egyptians and Ethiopians) and the "sons of Japheth' (Greeks and Romans). This scheme is set out in the Qumran War Scroll.
Saul was appointed to serve for three years in the east, from September 40 to September 43 AD. These were the years of political upheaval. In the wider Roman world, Caligula, emperor 37 - 41 AD, turned out to be a madman, was assassinated, and replaced by the tolerant emperor Claudius (41 - 54 AD). In Judea, a descendant of the Herods, Agrippa I, took advantage of a boyhood friendship with Caligula to regain the Herodian monarchy that had been lost in 6 AD. At Caligula's decline he turned to Claudius. But his own arrogance, expressed through his claim to be divine, brought about his downfall, and in March 44 AD Agrippa himself was assassinated.
Paul was at the center of events during those years, events that brought about the separation of the Christian party from its Jewish matrix. He remained a loyal member of the court of the Agrippas, and was appointed tutor to the young prince, born 27 AD, who would become Agrippa II. He himself underwent the changes that many were going through during this period of upheaval. As his final stage, he abandoned his early commitment to proselytisation for Judaism, as well as his next stage, subservience to Jewish Sadducee priests with a liberal outlook. He left behind Judaism and its priesthood altogether, and taught that Jesus alone held all priestly authority.
Jesus, who had survived the crucifixion, continued to guide his pro-Gentile party from his seclusion in the series of monasteries that had been set up in the western Diaspora. Paul became his closest executive, competing with Peter, whose views were less radical than those of Paul and of Jesus himself. Directed by Jesus, the Christian party finally established itself as a new religion in Rome.
The changes that Paul went through during the years 40 to 43 AD are given in Acts 9:22 and 26. When combined they give a much fuller account of his history than appears on the surface. His own record in Galatians helps to fill out the picture. The full story of these years will be found in the Word-for-Word pesher below.
The decisive conversion of Saul took place in 43 AD. It was a political conversion, a change from nationalistic anti-Roman attitudes to pro-Roman co-operation. It was a direct consequence of the peaceful reign of the emperor Claudius, which repaired the antagonism aroused in the east by the crazed Caligula.
Saul's change was influenced by Matthew Annas, a wise high priest, whose eirenic attitudes brought about the reconciliation of missionary factions at this troubled time. Appointed high priest in the Jerusalem temple between 41 and 43 AD, Matthew - the sponsor of the first gospel - used his influence to encourage the emerging Christian party. Jesus was in agreement with Matthew Annas on political matters, but Jesus alone became Paul's final mentor.
The Christian party was formally founded December 24, 43 AD and January 1, 44 AD. The name "Christian" was used by Peter and his Gentile associates James Niceta and John Aquila. Paul himself did not use the name, for it meant that Jesus was only the Christ, the subordinate Messiah of the two that Qumran had expected, not the priestly Messiah that Jesus claimed also to be. Paul's final position was that Jesus combined both roles in himself, and there was no need for Jewish priests.
For the physical description of Paul, see the story of "Paul and Thecla" in Section 4.
Peter and Paul as the main executives of Jesus agreed that their goals were slightly different, although both remained well within the mission to Gentiles that had now separated from the longstanding mission to Diaspora Jews. Peter would go to those Gentiles who included Jewish Christians, wanting to retain the best aspects of Judaism. Paul would go to western Gentiles who had little knowledge of Judaism and saw the fusion of Jewish and hellenistic thought as a new and vital religion.
The plot to assassinate the grandiose Agrippa I succeeded in March, AD 44. It left Paul clear of blame, for he had taken no part in it. He now had the upper hand in the court of Agrippa II. The timorous personality of the young prince, who was under 17 when his father died, played into the hands of the Gentile mission, for Paul as his lifelong tutor could exercise strong influence over him. But on the other side, the prince's weakness did much to discredit the Christians in the eyes of their moralistic opponents, the writers of the Damascus Document. He committed incest with his dominating twin sister Bernice, who with her husband Herod of Chalcis - who was also her uncle -roused the Damascus party against the mission of Jesus.
When Jesus' own marriage failed because of Mary Magdalene's continuing commitment to the Damascus side, the charges of immorality intensified, for the Essene sexual code on which the ascetic community had been founded forbade both divorce and remarriage. Paul as a former Pharisee condoned divorce and acted as the legal representative of Jesus in the proceedings. When Jesus married again, incurring the charge of polygamy, Paul acted as the celebrant in the ceremony.
On becoming a provincial bishop by "receiving the Holy Spirit" in the form pneuma hagion (Acts 13:9) Paul was appointed to be head of the mission in Asia Minor, with its capital at Ephesus. He worked there during the years 44 to 50 AD. These were the years during which Jesus with Peter was in Rome. Jesus had found it necessary at the time of his divorce to be as far away as possible from his eastern opponents, and he had gone to Rome with Agrippa II at the time the prince was applying to Claudius for endorsement of his succession. In Rome, some of the worst features of the ascetic community came to the fore, their insistence that heaven governed events according to the symmetrical periods of the solar calendar, as predicted in the books of Enoch. In 49 AD they were convinced that it was the end of a jubilee from 1 BC, and that meant that their Restoration to power, world power, should now be sent by heaven. They held excited public demonstrations, and were expelled from the city by an edict of Claudius. The reason given was that they were "rioting in the name of Chrestus".
They retreated only as far as Greece, for the east was now closed to them. Paul saw it, not as a failure, but as a new beginning. Europe was their mission field, not Asia. Paul began to use the term "the beginning of the gospel" for the year 50 AD, when he himself crossed to Macedonia in northern Greece, invited by "the man from Macedonia", who was Luke representiing Jesus.
In 50 AD Jesus remarried in Macedonia, giving his enemies fuel for their attacks. He took his family, including his children from his first marriage, to live in Corinth in southern Greece. His daughter, born in September AD 33, was 20 in AD 53. She had been called Tamar, the name of the virgin daughter of the biblical King David. At the same season Paul, born September 17 AD, was 36, the age for a dynast to marry. Jesus gave Paul his daughter's hand in marriage. At her marriage she changed from her Jewish name to a Greek name, Phoebe. She remained an active fellow-missionary with Paul.
For Paul, there was still some leftover business from their Jewish past. Of the five brothers of the Annas family who became Sadducee high priests, three upheld the full equality of converted Gentiles. Of these, Matthew Annas had been outstanding, respected by all. But Jonathan Annas the second brother had a difficult personality, noted by the historian Josephus as interfering and obstructive. It was Jonathan who was being supported during the gospel period because of the Sadducee liberality to Gentiles. The associates of Jesus were acting as a lobby group to have him appointed as high priest against the Pharisee incumbent Caiaphas.
Their plan had succeeded in 37 AD, although he only lasted six months in the office. He is presented sympathetically in Acts as Stephen because of his political stance, but the name also meant that he wanted to be "the Crown". He wanted to preserve the exalted position that the Annas priests had held after 6 AD, when the Herodian kingship was abolished. They were high priests and also exercised ruling functions under the Romans.
Jonathan, doubtless as a compensation for his personal insecurity, laid great emphasis on his priestly status. He was carried about in a "palanquin", a basketware couch, to avoid having to make contact with the "unclean" ground. This earned him the nickname of "paralytic". The contest between Jonathan and Jesus was illustrated in the gospel story of the "raising of the paralytic", in the course of which Jesus maintained that he, as the Son of Man, could also forgive sins, that is give the absolution that was a function of the priest.
Jesus' continuing claim to be a priest, even though he was only the lay leader, irritated Jonathan Annas in particular. Even though he was politically on the same side as Jesus, he watched for his opportunity. When the other party of Jesus' enemies, the nationalists, also saw their opportunity of getting rid of him and tricked Pilate into crucifying him in the place of Theudas-Barabbas, Jesus was vulnerable. As far as he knew, he would have to endure the intense pain and humiliation of hanging for days or even weeks on the cross. A way out of it was suicide, considered to be a noble method of avoiding an intolerable fate, following the example of Socrates. Jonathan Annas, under the guise of sympathetic help, arranged for a cup of poison to be brought up to Jesus' lips. The evening before, he as Abba had ordered Jesus to drink the cup, and Jesus had replied that it was not his will, but he would obey.
There had already been a plan by Antipas Herod to deceive Pilate again so as to bring about the rescue of the three crucified men. But Jesus was not told of it or was too depressed to accept it. The poisoning was unnecessary. Jesus, rescued by the medical skills of Simon Magus, subsequently saw that Jonathan had been treacherous to him, but he himself took no action against him.
But it was different for Paul. Already as a young man, before his commitment to Jesus, he as a Pharisee had been hostile to the Sadducee Jonathan, and had watched his deposition with some satisfaction. The "death" of Stephen was only his excommunication, like all "deaths". By 57 AD Jonathan was becoming overbearing, and a nuisance for the Roman governor Felix.
Felix's own weaknesses played a part in what happened. He got by, by relying on his brother Pallas, one of the richest and most powerful men in Rome, with influence over the emperor Nero. On his arrival in Judea Felix joined the Herod family by marrying Drusilla, the beautiful younger sister of Agrippa II. He consequently received instruction in the Herodian form of religion, and his tutor in philosophy was Paul. Paul again exercised a personal authority. In late 57 AD Jonathan Annas was stabbed to death by the Sicarii, the dagger-men, under direct instructions from Felix. Paul was accused of involvement, for the Sicarii were the militant members of his own ascetic community. It seems very likely that he was behind Felix's order, although he himself was in Greece at the time.
Apollos, the head of the Sicarii, was another one who was at odds with Paul about missionary methods. When the company including Jesus and Paul arrived in Malta after their final ship journey to Rome, Apollos was the "viper" who came out of the "fire". He informed on Paul, saying that he had been complicit in Jonathan's death. Jesus, who was present, was at first blamed because of his influence over Paul, but he was able to prove that he had played no part, having gone through many years without taking the opportunity of revenge on Jonathan. In the Rome tormented by Nero, it took some years before the final trial on these matters was held. During this period Paul received help and comfort from the great Stoic philosopher Seneca, with whom he had exchanged correspondence. (See "Paul and Seneca" in Section 4.) Between 61 and 63 AD Paul was free to write epistles to his former diocese, and to take the year's journey to Spain that he thought would complete his work. But when both Seneca and Pallas fell out of favor with Nero, the trials of Felix and Paul were resumed. In the atmosphere of public resentment at the further demonstrations of Christians led by Peter, the evidence against Paul was accepted. He was executed by beheading in 64 AD at the same time as Peter.
Jesus outlived Paul, remaining in Rome until his own death in the early 70's AD. (See Section 10:REVELATION: THE DESCENDANTS OF JESUS; Part C - Revelation 18:24)
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