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Michael, do you see how what you've just written weakens your argument? You're saying that this small-minded man allied himself with an Osama bin Laden-like figure (your words), and that the two in combination founded the world's most influential religion?

Really?

Bruce, have you read much about the life of Mohammed?

He founded a pretty influential religion.

I don't know much about Mohammed, Michael. Was he a jerk? If so, you raise a good point.

In any case, I admit that I'm a strange one to be defending Jesus, since I have no connection with any religion whatsoever.

But having said that, let me share something personal. I don't know about you, Michael, but I'm in the habit of praying. I pray to God, whom I see as my larger self—the totality of my being.

And starting late last year, I found myself praying to Jesus too. How this came about would take some explaining, so instead, I'll just share a little excerpt from my journal, a passage in which I talk about these developments:

"Naturally, the whole situation felt odd! And hard to trust. Trying to make sense of it, I thought to myself that Jesus represents a personage who is part man, part God. He embodies the best in each of us—the best in me—and in calling on him, I am calling on that part of myself that is pure, wonderful, and supremely giving.

"I saw Jesus as perfectly suited to being my helper, since he lived in a human body, and knows the human experience well. Talking to Jesus, in some ways, feels more satisfying, and easier than, talking to God, for whom I have no image, no easy way to think of as friend.

"For the rest of that day, I continued to pray to Jesus. To talk to him. As I would talk to the best friend I can imagine. And I've been doing that ever since!"

So there you have it. I don't claim to know a thing about Jesus in a historical sense. But in practical, metaphysical, spiritual terms, he means a lot to me.

Michael wrote:

"He goes on to say that after three years he finally went to Jerusalem to visit Peter for just two weeks but saw no one else except James — that is, Jesus' brother, who had assumed control of the movement after Jesus' death….After James was martyred, leadership passed to yet another relative, a cousin named Simon."

James was the most prominent elder in the Jerusalem church. It doesn't follow that he had "control of the movement", much less that the movement was "handled in dynastic fashion" with a "king in a political sense", as you suggest elsewhere. The cousin named Simon you refer to lived to an old age, dying in the early second century. If he had the sort of position you're claiming and lived so long as a witness to it, then the lack of evidence for your view in the historical record is even more difficult to explain.

You write:

"Fourteen years later, Paul says, he went to Jerusalem again, apparently summoned there to answer for his unorthodox teachings."

Paul doesn't say that, and you've offered no evidence to support your conclusion.

You write:

"Though he does his best to whitewash his account and put the outcome in a favorable light, it is clear that the encounter was acrimonious in the extreme."

No, the fact that Paul stayed for so long (about two weeks) suggests that they got along better than you're claiming, and his positive language ("become acquainted with Cephas", 1:18; calling both Peter and James "apostles", 1:19; "the right hand of fellowship", 2:9; etc.) also suggests that you're wrong. Paul refers to how he and Peter share in the same apostleship with a division of labor (2:7-8). He tells us that the only thing they requested of Paul was that he remember the poor (2:10). That suggests they were in far more agreement than you've claimed.

You write:

"Note also his defensiveness in downplaying the status of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, insisting that their leadership position was a matter of indifference to him and to God. Clearly, however, this was not the case; after all, he had meekly consented to travel to Jerusalem and defend himself before James and the others, thus implicitly acknowledging their authority."

Paul refers to them as "apostles" (1:17, 1:19, 2:7-8). He isn't just "implicitly" acknowledging that they have authority. He says it explicitly, on his own initiative, without qualification. What he rejects in chapter 2 isn't their authority, but rather the overestimation of their status by some, the notion that they were "pillars" in an inordinate way (2:9). Similarly, Paul elsewhere corrects those who are overestimating his own significance by making comments like "Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). Within Galatians itself, he anticipates the potential for people to overestimate his own status when he makes his "even if we" comment (1:8).

You write:

"In any event, he claims that they worked out an amicable agreement, but this dubious assertion is immediately undercut by the next event in his timeline"

Nothing in Galatians 2:11-21 contradicts what Paul said earlier. The best explanation for why he criticizes Peter for acting hypocritically on the occasion in question is that Peter acted hypocritically. Paul says that Peter's behavior changed, and he says that it changed in a public, verifiable way (2:12). If Paul was willing to criticize Peter over that sort of hypocrisy, then the best explanation for why he expresses so much agreement with Peter elsewhere (Galatians 1:18, 2:7-10, 1 Corinthians 9:5, 15:3-11, etc.) is that they were fundamentally in agreement, even though Peter acted hypocritically on the occasion under consideration.

You write:

"The disagreement was over whether or not one had to be an observant Jew in order to follow Jesus. Paul insisted that simple faith in Jesus was enough, and there was no need to be circumcised or to obey Jewish rituals, observe Jewish holidays, and follow the Law as laid down in Deuteronomy. The Jerusalem church, on the other hand, saw their movement as a subset of Judaism and, as such, required full commitment to Jewish practices, including circumcision, observance of rituals and holidays, and obedience to the Mosaic Law."

You've also said that Paul disagreed with the other apostles about their highly political, dynastic view of the Christian movement. If Paul disagreed with men like Peter and James so much, then why does he speak so highly of them? Under your view, individuals like Peter and James would have been under Paul's anathema in Galatians 1:8-9. The idea that Paul held such a view of them, yet went on to speak of them as highly as he did later in the letter, is absurd and fundamentally undermines your position. Paul speaks of them as fellow apostles (Galatians 1:17, 1:19, 2:8-9, 1 Corinthians 9:5, 15:3-11) who taught the same things he did on the issues of "first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3, 15:11). As I mentioned in a previous thread, Paul had a reputation for teaching the same faith that Christians held prior to his conversion (Galatians 1:23).

You cite Paul's condemnation of false apostles in 2 Corinthians 11. Given that Paul also speaks so highly of men like James and Peter in his correspondence with the Corinthians and refers to those other apostles as coworkers (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5, 15:3-11), it's unreasonable to take 2 Corinthians 11 as a reference to them. Rather, Paul is referring to other individuals he considered false teachers. One of the biggest problems with your view is that you're taking two different groups Paul refers to and lumping them together. In Galatians, Paul is focused on false teachers and false brethren like the ones he refers to in Galatians 2:4, "secretly brought in", who had "sneaked in", which wouldn't be referring to prominent leaders like Peter and James.

Another major problem with your position is that it's contradicted by the many positive references to Paul, the gospels, the unity the apostles had with each other, etc. in sources of the late first century and second century who were highly influenced by Jesus' original disciples and family members like James (First Clement, Papias, Polycarp, etc.). Your view is also contradicted by what the early non-Christian sources tell us about Christianity. It would have been in their interest to have said that Christianity was as radically redefined by Paul as you claim it was. They don't say that. Instead, they refer to Jesus and the early Christian movement in ways that fundamentally contradict your view.

Michael, I just want to comment that my King James Version of the Bible does not have the same translation as the New Revised Standard Version. There is no mention of anybody castrating themselves in the chapter and verse you cited.= AOD

"My King James Version of the Bible does not have the same translation as the New Revised Standard Version."

The KJV is not always accurate, and in this case, for propriety's sake, a euphemism ("I would they were even cut off") was employed.

Check out the range of translations here:

http://biblehub.com/galatians/5-12.htm

"Paul doesn't say that, and you've offered no evidence to support your conclusion."

See Brandon's "Fall of Jerusalem" for a long discussion of this point and the various other objections you raised. It's obvious that going to Jerusalem was something Paul did only when he felt he had no choice. On his final visit he was made (by James, who seemingly took all the leadership decisions, as befits the man remembered by tradition as the first bishop of Jerusalem) to undergo a humiliating public exercise in ritual observance designed to demonstrate his subjection to the Jerusalem church; this activity very nearly got him lynched and led directly to his arrest and (probably) his execution in Rome.

"I don't know much about Mohammed, Michael. Was he a jerk?"

Far be it from me to call the founder of a major world religion a jerk ... but Mohammed, after his revelation, did make his living by organizing bandits to carry out raids on caravans. The merchants were killed and their goods were stolen. Most likely he did not personally participate in the raids, but he ordered them and profited by them. See:

http://muhammadsquran.blogspot.com/2008/10/muhammad-caravan-raider-war-profiteer.html

Michael,

I've just ordered Brandon's book from Amazon.

I've also gone to Amazon and Google Books to try to get some idea of how much of my material is addressed by the book. The indexes and my searches at both sites indicate that there's a large percentage of the evidence I've brought up that Brandon doesn't discuss. Earlier, I cited First Clement, Papias, and Polycarp as examples of extrabiblical sources that need to be addressed. Brandon discusses each one briefly, but not in a way that's relevant to what I've argued. (For those who don't know, First Clement is a document of the late first century written from the Roman church to the Corinthian church. Both of those churches had been highly influenced by both Peter and Paul, so both churches are significant sources for evidence pertaining to the relationship between the two apostles. As First Clement 63 notes, there were old Christians still alive at that time who had been part of those Christian communities since their youth. Papias was a disciple of the apostle John. And Polycarp was a disciple of multiple apostles, including John.) Some of the relevant patristic sources (e.g., Justin Martyr) aren't in the indexes of Brandon's book at all, nor do searches at Amazon and Google Books turn up any results. He apparently discusses or makes reference to at least most of the Biblical passages I've cited, but the ones Amazon and Google Books allow me to view are unpromising. Only one page is listed for 1 Corinthians 9:5, for example (p. 196), but the passage just appears in a footnote in a way that's irrelevant to my argument.

You write:

"It's obvious that going to Jerusalem was something Paul did only when he felt he had no choice."

Had no choice in what sense? He refers to a revelation that led him to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:2). Since he goes on to refer to his equality with the other apostles, the reference to running in vain in verse 2 is likely to be about coordination rather than subordination. He didn't need the approval of the other apostles, but disunity with them would have had bad results.

You write:

"On his final visit he was made (by James, who seemingly took all the leadership decisions, as befits the man remembered by tradition as the first bishop of Jerusalem) to undergo a humiliating public exercise in ritual observance designed to demonstrate his subjection to the Jerusalem church"

Where is Brandon getting those conclusions? From Acts? If so, how does he justify accepting that portion of Acts while rejecting so many other parts of it that contradict his hypothesis? And since Luke doesn't present the events in question as you describe them above, how would Brandon supposedly know that Luke's account is wrong and his (Brandon's) variation of it is right?

If Paul had radically redefined Christianity and had anathematized people like James (as your and Brandon's reading of Galatians suggests), why should we think that Paul would be "undergoing a humiliating public exercise in ritual observance designed to demonstrate his subjection to the Jerusalem church" years later? And if that sort of antagonism between Paul and the original disciples of Jesus continued so far into the middle of the first century, it's hard to explain why so many sources of the middle of the century and beyond seem so unaware of that situation and, instead, contradict it.

" ... how does he justify accepting that portion of Acts while rejecting so many other parts of it that contradict his hypothesis?"

The basic procedure used by many NT scholars involves giving credence to "admissions against interest." The assumption is that the Gospels and Acts are polemical documents designed to advance a certain agenda. If the document includes details that work against the author's purpose, those details are more likely to be true. They were apparently so well known that they could not be suppressed.

So when Acts says Paul and the Jerusalem church had a basically amicable relationship, it is seen as simply reflecting the author's standard polemical line as he idealizes early Christian history and whitewashes conflicts. (And it's contradicted by Paul's letters anyway.) But when Acts admits to conflicts such as Paul's argument with Peter, this is seen as an admission against interest - a historical detail that does not serve the author's propagandistic designs and so is likely to be true (albeit probably watered down or smoothed over as much as possible).

This is just how NT historians work when dealing with their source materials. Literalist Christians, of course, take a different approach. They seek to harmonize the documents and validate the claims made by the texts, because in this way they feel they can provide a firmer foundation to their faith.

Michael wrote:

"But when Acts admits to conflicts such as Paul's argument with Peter, this is seen as an admission against interest - a historical detail that does not serve the author's propagandistic designs and so is likely to be true (albeit probably watered down or smoothed over as much as possible)."

I asked you about some claims you made about James and Paul, claims that aren't found in Paul's letters or Acts. To have an admission against interest, you first need an admission. You don't have that.

The fact that Paul acknowledged a dispute with Peter in Galatians 2 doesn't justify assuming other disputes that not only aren't referred to, but are even contrary to the evidence we have. If Paul and other relevant sources refer to his relationship with Peter (and James, etc.) in generally positive terms, but sometimes make negative comments like the ones in Galatians 2, the most likely conclusion (unless other relevant evidence is brought in, which you haven't actually done) is that Paul had a generally positive relationship with Peter, even though it wasn't entirely positive. We apply the same sort of reasoning when a husband gets into an argument with his wife, two friends have a disagreement on an issue, etc.

You refer to "how NT historians work". I'm familiar with how they work, so I know that they take a lot of evidence into account that you haven't been addressing in these recent threads.

Seth states that what manifested was a gestalt tri-part entity, at once being born as John the Baptist, the historical Jesus and Paul.

This was part of a larger plan to initiate a new religious tradition that would change the wider culture.

John the Baptist paved the way for the historical Jesus, and the historical Jesus provided the context and a launch pad for Paul's universal vision.

So in this interpretation, Paul's vision of the Transcendent Christ was actually an encounter with his own gestalt self, or higher self - a self that had manifested not only as him, but also as Jesus and John the Baptist.

As I favour a gestalt, holonic structure of consciousness, I like this interpretation and find it plausible.

In this scheme, it doesn't matter that the historical Jesus was only preaching to the Jews, and was concerned with the Kingdom of Israel rather than universal salvation, he still played his part, a part of a wider drama that he himself was perhaps unaware.

Thus it is the transcendent Christ Consciousness which is really what this is all about, with the historical circumstances playing out in order to point us in the direction of the greater vision of the transcendent Christ.

While this is all well and good, Seth (or Jane Roberts), then threw a curve ball into this gestalt interpretation by saying that Jesus was never crucified but he was switched at the last minute - which is a tradition which seems to have survived into Islamic interpretation).

I find it difficult to buy into that as I don't see what the point of this would be. I wonder whether this last part was more Jane Robert's creative imagination than anything to do with Seth.


It sounds a lot like you are saying that everything people agree about can't be true, but what they disagree on must be true. This kind of reverse [read: faulty] logic is why so many people give up on traditional religion.

My question for all of this would be: Why? Why would Paul and the Apostles go to all of this trouble to concoct a religion? Christianity wasn't a big money-making scheme back then (at least I don't think so). There were no evangelists on TV growing fabulously rich. It just seems like an awful lot of trouble - for what? What was in it for them? I guess these early Christians received some kind of donations and support, but I can't imagine much, and at the same time were often persecuted.

On a totally unrelated note, I thought I'd share something odd. For some odd reason, yesterday I happened to think of a man I worked with years ago. There was nothing even vaguely noteworthy about my very brief and entirely NOT worthy-of-note-dealings with this person. I can't even think of why I thought of him (nothing against him, it was a just run-of-the-mill business thing). I had just very briefly wondered what he was up to. Today, I woke up and found out he had died! The Skeptics will counter that this was pure coincidence (and coincidences will happen), but so very weird.

FYI, I've started reading a 2010 book by James D. Tabor called "Paul and Jesus," which makes some of the same arguments I've been presenting here. Unlike S.G.F. Brandon's book, it's aimed at a popular audience, and could serve as a good intro for people who want to explore this line of argument a little further.

"It sounds a lot like you are saying that everything people agree about can't be true, but what they disagree on must be true."

No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that if a suspect in a murder case says he was nowhere near the scene of the crime, his statement carries little weight, since it's just what he would be expected to say. But if he admits he hated the victim and recently quarreled violently with him, this is almost certainly true, since it hurts his case and he would not invent it. It's an admission against interest. Of course, this approach requires us to interrogate the text as if it is suspected of lying. People who believe implicitly in the reliability and honesty of the NT materials naturally find such an approach distasteful. But it is standard practice among the more skeptical, liberal, or secular-minded scholars.

"You refer to 'how NT historians work'. I'm familiar with how they work ..."

From your comments, I'd guess that you're familiar with conservative NT scholars who work hard to harmonize and validate the NT accounts. I'm more interested in the critical scholars who view these documents as tendentious and polemical, and who try to tease out the facts from beneath layers of obfuscation.

By the way, I just reread Bruce's comment about Paul being "this small-minded man" who couldn't have founded a world religion. For the record, I'm not saying Paul was small-minded. Quite the opposite; I think he was a genius. His mind seems to have worked mainly in terms of imagery, symbolism, and vast sweeping patterns, rather than in a methodical, strictly logical way, and he did not systematize his thought, but he was wildly creative and inspired, and he was clearly willing to die for his unique vision. The fact that he could also be petulant, sarcastic, and malicious doesn't detract from his genius. Many inspired geniuses, prophets, and seers are temperamental, moody, and hard to deal with. And Paul had legitimate reasons to hate his enemies. They ultimately got him beheaded in Rome. The conflict that divided the early church was literally a matter of life and death, and we shouldn't be surprised that people used all their rhetorical (and other) resources to fight it.

Bruce, I also note that you've had meditative conversations with Jesus. This is exactly what Paul did. He appears to have had an ongoing relationship with Jesus (as he understood it) throughout his life, and to have derived and developed his theology through these meditations. This is why he was indifferent to the historical Jesus. As far as he was concerned, the Jerusalem crowd knew Jesus in the past, as a human being, but he himself knew Jesus here and now, as something more than human.

It sounds as though you may have more in common with old Paul than you think! 😊

Kathleen, I'm not saying anybody "concocted" Christianity. Both sides were wholly sincere in their devotion to their vision of the truth. The Jerusalem faction honored the memory and purposes of the historical Jesus, while Paul honored the revelations he experienced in the form of personal, subjective visions. They were all willing to die for their faith, and Paul, James, and Peter did die for it, according to tradition. They were not in it for the money!

At the heart of most stories is a kernel of truth. Storytellers embellish and change the sequence of events to make the story more appealing to their audience. It doesn't have to be either "all lies or all truth." It can be some of both. If you examine a story and think about it we can see the truth hidden within. What makes sense to us.

I think Mediums do this with the information they are given. They are given glimpses of and information from the other side and they try and put together a story that fits the information they are seeing. Their interpretation may be completely wrong or it may be spot on. But I also believe that a lot of time they just ramble on to fill up the 50 minutes or so even though they may only have the briefest glimpse of the other side.

They stretch it out to fit the allotted time. If the editor says you got to have 200 pages you make up some filler so you can sell your book.

Sorry for going OT, just wanted to know if anyone's familiar with U.S. medium Matt Fraser? Recently stumbled across clips that seem to suggest the "real deal", but also an industry of some sort that is always puts me off although I understand that everyone needs to make a living.

Michael said:

"By the way, I just reread Bruce's comment about Paul being "this small-minded man" who couldn't have founded a world religion. For the record, I'm not saying Paul was small-minded. Quite the opposite; I think he was a genius."

There are different kinds of genius. If I were looking for a guru, I'd want him or her to shine not only intellectually and spiritually, but emotionally. I'd be looking at one of the clearest indicators of his worthiness to lead—how he relates to others.

As you describe him, Paul doesn't impress me in this regard, and that's what I meant by small-minded.

"Bruce, I also note that you've had meditative conversations with Jesus. This is exactly what Paul did. He appears to have had an ongoing relationship with Jesus (as he understood it) throughout his life, and to have derived and developed his theology through these meditations. This is why he was indifferent to the historical Jesus. As far as he was concerned, the Jerusalem crowd knew Jesus in the past, as a human being, but he himself knew Jesus here and now, as something more than human."

Excellent point! It does make me feel more comfortable with him.

And hey—anger management is a problem for me too.

But then, I'm not founding a religion. :)

Slightly relevant, albeit somewhat out of date, let's make fun of a terribly clumsy attempt at an anti-Christian moral in a really bad movie: http://celticpyro.tumblr.com/post/141297793019/hugsforvillains-not-a-hat-blog-i-cant-bring

Everybody, see this discussion with Steven Novella:

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/tribal-epistemology/

Another nice post!

Yeah, Paul's words here are not a "good look."

As far as the extrapolations go, I'll repeat what I said in my comment on the preceding post: we just don't know.

I think it's easy enough to forget how the recent past was. Period detail is hard to get right in movies. Dial that back 2,000 years, and we simply have a hard time know what life was like then and how people thought.

How would we feel if we visited a Christian community of the time? Would it feel amazing, beautiful, supportive, alive? Or more like Jonestown with better beverages?

We just don't know.

"We just don't know."

"Que sçais-je?"
—Montaigne

Sorry to go OT again, but I've just been spending time on countless youtube readings by John Edward and I find them fantastic! I do understand why Skeptics might find his work to be a hoax but I for one is very convinced he is the real deal! I like his humor, how he sometimes asks the silliest things because that's what the spirits bring to him, and how he usually insists on the messages he get although people often don't get it (at first). I mean, it would be so much easier to adapt according to what people suggest and wish to hear. And Skeptics totally miss his point when they suggest that he leaves a topic people don't connect to, but what he does is to go where the spirits take him, often to other people who are also there - and often coming back to a previous point when spirits have been able to provide further info that can be validated so everyone knows they're with the right person. And Skeptics ridicule the fact that he's providing letters and suggestions of several similarly-sounding names (what they call fishing to get "anyone"), when it actually is his way of working and validating connections through letters/sounds that he can be sure of although he very seldom gets whole names. Skeptics seem to expect that messages be loud and clear and something like us talking to each other, anything less will be dismissed. To me this is very significant at a moment in time when loved ones are passing as it seems one by one on a regular basis, to know that they can still hear me and takes an interest in our everyday activities. (Yes, I know I'm at a vulnerable phase, but it's not like it's the first piece of the puzzle that is put together - it's more "Yes, one of the final pieces!")

Lisa: I agree that Skeptics' acusations of "fishing" seem overblown. First, the answers to them (unless a large number of such questions are asked, or unless the inquirer retroactively modifies his guess substantially) don't get the inquirer very far. Second, it seems normal to me that a medium would engage in some "groping" toward an answer, since information from the far side is likely to be foggy and incomplete.

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