Jesus and Paul: Figurehead and founder of Christianity?

When the facts of comparative religion and history are known, typical perspectives of Christian origins and history sometimes sound unsophisticated and uninformed. For example, in the article below Huffington Post writer Robert Orlando raises up a number of “Christian” elements that derive from pre-Christian Paganism. However, he also comments: “There were no models for dying and rising Messiahs…” The reality is that, while the numerous pre-Christian “dying-and-rising” or “birth-death-rebirth” gods and goddesses may not have been deemed “messiahs” per se, there did exist plenty of models from which to draw.

Moreover, Orlando asserts: “Paul never intended to begin a religion himself…” It is not possible 2,000 years later to determine what Paul “intended,” “thought” or “felt,” unless he specifically stated as much in writings from the day we currently possess. Otherwise, we are simply speculating, as is the case with other assertions in this article, such as that Jesus “would not have put aside his religion in light of a lawless Gentile mission or a new cosmic encounter with a Holy Spirit or Holy Trinity–which would have been polytheism!”

According to Christian fathers and theologians over the past nearly two millennia, the idea behind Christianity was to introduce a purportedly “new” religion or to reveal the “true” religion that has always been but that has been veiled and unknown until Jesus’s advent. Of course, within the esoteric mystery schools into which many of the richest and most powerful members of the Roman Empire were initiated, none of these concepts would have been “new,” as they constituted a main part of the famed mysteries. In reality, Jesus’s alleged introduction of these “polytheistic” ideas into society at large constitutes a merger between Judaism and Paganism, which appears to be the real intention of Paul or, rather, the wealthy powermongers behind the scenes. (Yes, the preceding clause involves some speculation, but I used the term “appears to be,” increasing its accuracy.)

Speculation has its place – it is the stuff theories and hypotheses are made of – but some of the below contentions rank as inaccurate, erroneous or ultimately unknowable, based on the data we now possess. The biggest speculation in this issue, in my opinion, is that the character of “Jesus Christ” in the New Testament represents a historical figure, especially since the figurehead in Paul’s “genuine” epistles clearly rates as spiritual, allegorical and mythical, not historical.

Jesus and Paul: Figurehead and Founder of Christianity

For the past 200 years, after holy writ was placed under the microscope of modern science, an alternative view has espoused Jesus as the figurehead and Paul as Christianity’s true founder.

Figurehead is a tricky word, but an accurate one, for if we accept Jesus as the historical figure — by definition — he would have been the original man. Yet, in spite of this fact, he was not the actual founder of the religion.

George Lucas was the figurehead of Pixar Entertainment, but it was Steve Jobs who purchased it and built its success. Lucas, though the original person responsible for the company, meant almost nothing.

Jesus’ ministry was primarily a message to the Jewish people in preparation for a Messianic Kingdom. But it was Paul who targeted a larger Greco-Roman (outside) community after being forced out of synagogue.

Gerd Ludemann states, “Without Paul there would be no church and no Christianity. He’s the most decisive person that shaped Christianity as it developed. Without Paul we would have had reformed Judaism… but no Christianity.”

While there was overlap between Paul and Jesus, there were also large divides between Pauline Christianity and Judean Christianity, which only grows — if you trace Paul’s letters in chronological order — into a full-blown chasm by the end of his life.

In fact, Paul’s new “gospel” broke with the original followers of Jesus, and ultimately got him almost killed in Jerusalem. His assassins charged, “He taught Gentiles to ignore the Mosaic Law.”

On the other hand, Jesus said not a “jot or tittle” of the Law would pass away. And he would not have put aside his religion in light of a lawless Gentile mission or a new cosmic encounter with a Holy Spirit or Holy Trinity — which would have been polytheism!

Paul transformed the Passover “common” meal into a blessed sacrament, eating the body and drinking the blood of the savior, an abhorrent idea for a kosher people. And from a common act of self-cleansing, Paul used baptism as a form of initiation to replace circumcision.

However, the central theme fusing the life of Paul in his letters with Jesus from the Gospels was the coming Kingdom of God; one tradition found in the Synoptic Gospels has — on the supposed lips of Jesus “in red letters” — the expectation of a sudden return in his lifetime.

This “visitation” was not the Jewish understanding of the general resurrection. When Paul confronted Jesus in his Damascus vision, he also faced a new idea of resurrection — but there was no kingdom, no destruction of Rome, no end times. In other words, there were no signs of Jewish Messiah.

From this moment forward, the Christian movement pivots from Figurehead to Founder. Paul’s interpretation of this vision of the Messiah would determine the meaning of his life, his mission and eventually the Western World.

There were no models for dying and rising Messiahs, and though passages for suffering Messiahs would be “teased out” of the Hebrew Scriptures later, Paul had to improvise why this unexpected appearance occurred, and the general resurrection for the Jews did not.

Paul’s response — not totally original — was that a delay in the Kingdom allowed time for a Gentile Mission, in which he — as a new Abraham — would play the leading role; a pre-Mosaic relationship with the Gentiles. This is a plausible conclusion, but — in light of how his peers reacted — highly questionable.

By the mid 50s AD, late in his ministry, Paul’s Christian mission had one “true” gospel –his. Those who wished to add religious law or restore the Gentile believers to a Jewish faith were, to him, “messengers of Satan” and enemies of Christ, certainly not candidates for a new religion.

His opposition included Jesus’ brother James, Peter, John and the others, Jewish Christians never fully accepting of his “gospel.” Jesus as Messiah was merely the completion of their Jewish faith. And, Paul’s message of a new kingdom shared with the Gentiles — in the end — was rejected.

After the Jewish War of 66-70 AD, the Judean Church was wiped out; the Temple was razed when the Romans invaded Jerusalem; the Messiah had not returned; and the geographical home to the Jesus cult (The Way) was transplanted.

Others would later collect the letters of Paul from the diaspora, bundled as encyclicals and used to create the first canon; the core of Christian teachings were codified into the orthodox teachings of the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection.

Paul’s cosmic message was expanded into a historiography in Acts of the Apostles or in the Gospels and eventually — without an apocalypse — an institutional church became necessary, with bishops, deacons, governments and, by the 3rd century, an Empire.

Paul never intended to begin a religion himself, but as scholar Amy Jill-Levine states, “It is because of Paul that the worship of the God of Israel actually made it out to the Gentile world.” A view that is emerging once again in New Testament studies.

Still a common argument against Paul as founder of Christianity was the fact that he had a movement to convert to, but again, this is not what is in question. The question is, would this original cult of Jewish Christian believers in Judea — without Paul — have come to found the Christian church?

History has claimed Jesus “the Christ” as the figurehead, but without Paul the Apostle, the founder, who improvised his message — free of the Jewish religion — and broke the resistance of his original followers there would be no church and perhaps not even a Jesus.

Further Reading

The Christ Conspiracy
Dying and Rising Gods
Apollonius, Jesus and Paul: Men or Myths?
Does Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians reveal a ‘historical’ Jesus?

7 Comments

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  1. Picture of Paul…
    I find it quite amusing that Paul in the composition picture looks like Osama bin Ladin just as the phantom picture of Jesus a couple of years ago looked like Saddam Hussein.

    This is of course people in the middle east would`ve looked like back then and how they still look today. In the white christian church goers head people back then look like the michaelangelo paintings and not like the middle eastern screaming fanatics they see on tv.

    If they met a middle eastern goat farmer tending his goats on a tour guided bus trip across the holy land they would probably hold their noses and look down on the man. They certainly wouldnt think he could hold the secrets of the universe and they wouldnt ask him for moral advice on how to live their life. Still… people just like him wrote their precious holy book and most of them would have nothing but contempt for primitive men of his ilk.

    1. Yes, it is rather annoying how the biblical figures are so often depicted as white people these days, despite the fact that they were middle eastern.
      If people like Jesus, Moses and all those other famous biblical figures had even existed (and I personally doubt they did), then they would have looked about the same as people in the Middle East today.

      1. You’d better make sure that you know.
        Eternity is a long time to be wrong and a doubt can be squashed with one encounter with Jesus and as it was with Thomas. Jesus will reveal himself to anyone who humbly asks Him.

        I personally know that Jesus exists and is alive and I hope ad pray that you find Him before it’s too late for you.

        I understand it’s not easy to discern truth from lies when it comes to the real Jesus. There are so many false Christ’s and people who cannot afford to have a real Jesus in existence because that would shatter their life’s work and religion. All people have faith in something or someone but when it comes down to it faith in Christ alone is the only way we can be made whole and revive the gift of eternal life.

        If I may ask what is it that makes you doubtful?

  2. In the image of “man”
    Your point about Paul’s looks is amusing but valid. I have met and known some Yemeni Jews, Iraqi jews, Kurdish and Iranian jews. Trust me they don’t look like ashkenazi (European) Jews at all. They are dark skinned, swarthy and look like arabs. They are probably the “original ” jews. Paul probably looked like them. Likewise, if Jesus did exist, he probably would have looked like middle-eastern Jews and not Da Vinci’s Aryan Jesus.

    In sub-saharan africa, he is depicted as a bantu, black Jesus.

    Buddha was Indian the greatest Indian ever. In the Indian sub-continent he is depicted as an Indian in sculptures, carvings and paintings . But, in east asia for example china,. japan, Thailand, etc he is depicted an east Asian ! In China, the slim, handsome Indian looking Buddha is depicted as a fat, chubby, portly, chinese looking happy Buddha!!

    Even the Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos look distinctly East Asian and not Indian!!

    So, humans have this habit of depicting there cosmic, ethereal figures in their image.

    All ethnic groups , nationalities have this fantasy that the imaginary “God” must be like them and not like the ethnic “other”.

  3. Quote correctly
    Jesus did NOT say anything about a jot or tittle. That was King James. Any student of a seminary knows that.

  4. Can Paul be identified??
    It looks like Paul can not be identified in the historical record. There is no trace of him outside the Bible. Acharys has several times told us about at least 2 persons that have near identical lives with Paul, or his travels. But Ralp Ellis have written an interesting investigation into this subject. In his book “King Jesus” , the first part of the book have a very good case that Paul can be identified. And if he can be identified, then he goes on to identify what he calls “the historical jesus”. The rest of the book is more speculative, but still very interesting. The strange thing is that Ralp Ellis conclude that Paul is Josephus Flavius, the famous jewish writer and historian from the first century. He lived and worked for a long time in Gallilee, and his lifestory is very close to what is written in the new testament. Have you read this book, Acharya? If not, I think you should.

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