Paul is second only to Jesus as the greatest figure and leader in Christianity. He is also seen as
The 13th apostle
An Ambassador of Christ
A Recipient of Revelation
A Source of (Christian) law
A Chief interpreter of the law
In addition, Paul was also regarded as
A Member of the Tribe of Benjamin
A Born Jew
Circumcised as a child
A Citizen of Tarsus (Childhood)
A Roman Citizen
A Married man
In his early life, he is said to have been
A man named Saul
A Student of Gamaliel in his childhood
A Persecutor of Christians
Paul is said never to have been
A Quisling Roman official
A Police official in the agency of the High Priest
A Student of Hellenism
Paul traces his ancestry to the Tribe of Benjamin and professes to be an Israelite
Paul’s letters were written about 50-60
The New Testament Gospels were written around 70-110
Acts of the Apostles by Luke (where Paul is the hero) were written around 90
Paul in his own words
‘My life from my youth up, the life that I led from the beginning among my people and in Jerusalem, is familiar to all Jews. Indeed they have known me long enough and could testify, if only they would, that I belonged to the strictest group in our religion: I lived as a Pharisee…I myself once thought it my duty to work actively against the name of Jesus of Nazareth; and I did so in Jerusalem.
It was I who imprisoned many of God’s people by authority obtained from the chief priests; and when they were condemned to death, my vote was cast against them.
In all the synagogues I tried by repeated punishment to make them renounce their faith; indeed my fury rose to such a pitch that I extended my persecution to foreign cities. On one such occasion I was travelling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests.’
(Acts Ch. 26)
“I want you to know brothers that the gospel that was proclaimed to me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
I did not at once confer any human being, neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before I was, but I went away into Arabia and came back to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Simon Peter] and stayed in his company for 15 days; but I saw no other apostle except James, the brother of the Lord. Now what I am writing to you I say in the presence of God, that I am not lying.”
(Letter by Paul to the Galatians 1: 11-16)
James, the brother of Jesus, was not an apostle. He was the Head of the Jerusalem Church and as such the leader of all the apostles, but he was never a disciple of Jesus and never commissioned by Jesus as an apostle.
It should be noted Moses is said to have spent some time in Arabia (whose land area was larger and was closer to Israel than now) and it may be for this reason, Paul envisaged it as the place to go for contemplation and reflection as well. However, it is not known if Paul actually went.
“We know that the law [Torah/Mosaic law] is spiritual; but I am not; I am unspiritual, the purchased slave of sin. I do not even acknowledge my own actions as mine, for what I do is not what I want to do, but what I detest.
But if what I do is against my will, it means that I agree with the law and hold it to be admirable. But as things are, it is no longer I who perform the action, but sin that lodges in me. For I know nothing good lodges in me- in my unspiritual nature, I mean- for though the will to do good is there, the deed is not.
The good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will; and if what I do is against my will, clearly it is no longer I who am the agent, but sin that has its lodging in me.
I discover this principle, then: that when I want to do the right, only the wrong is within my reach. In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive that there is in my bodily members a different law, fighting against the law that my reason approves and making me a prisoner under the law that is in my members, the law of sin.
Miserable creature that I am, who is there to rescue me out of this body doomed to death? God alone, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God! In a word, then I myself, subject to God’s law as a rational being, am yet, in my unspiritual nature, a slave to the law of sin.
The conclusion of the matter is this! There is no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus, because in Christ Jesus the life-giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. What the law could never do, because of our lower nature robbed it of all potency, God has done by sending his own son.”
(Paul’s letter to the Romans 7: 14-8)
Paul is speaking not literally, but using many examples to illustrate his various points. The Torah or the Mosaic Law is good and just in itself, but the soul is weak and has difficulty in following it and rebels against it with regularity.
The believer wishes to do good and become good, but is unable to tightly follow all the commands, prohibitions and legal requirements as set by the Torah all the time and it is this fear of failing that horrifies them.
The ability to maintain a strong and firm will and resolute determination in controlling the inner self is difficult in itself and the variety of legal rulings and regulations on top of that could make a believer fall from grace.
In addition, the soul is incapacitated and all human ability to govern itself with the correct endeavours and exertions available to it are beyond its competence and moral aptitude.
Paul’s solution is to look for the mercy sent to dissolve the demanding rigidness enforced upon Jews until now and the new hope to enliven their spirits in realising God’s visualisation of their moral and psychological condition and state of affairs.
The appearance or rather the symbolic death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has provided a means to be absolved of this duty and God Himself has given clemency to all through the crucifixion.
No longer is it necessary to fear the inability to obey, uphold, adhere to and perform every task and objective with perfection ordained by the law and risk God’s Wrath on the Day of Judgment for obvious human weaknesses.
The law could never force a person to be good and permanently free of error or sin all the time throughout his/her life, but God’s Forgiveness and deliverance from inflexibleness is encapsulated in the generosity and benevolence He desires for His subjects.
In addition the concept of Original Sin, the stigma attached to all human beings from birth is an imperishable law of nature that resides in the soul and no singular or full adherence to the Torah can erase its existence from the flesh except Baptism and the unyielding belief in Jesus Christ.
Jewish commentaries on the above issue prior to Paul stressed God was never one to demand more than what was possible for anyone and where human weakness arose, the doors of mercy, repentance and forgiveness were always open.
The strength of sincerity would differ from person to person and some were more committed and able than others throughout the ages. God was not one to punish those less able or less willing than the best to pursue perfection.
THE DIVINE VERDICT
“Be wary of false prophets, who come to you in the guise of sheep while at heart they are voracious wolves. You will know them by the deed they do… so every healthy tree bears good fruit, but a rotten tree bears defective fruit.
Many will say to me on that Day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, cast out demons and in Your name do many wonderful works? ‘Then I will frankly say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me you evil workers.’
(Speech by Jesus, Matthew 7: 15-23)
“And that (false) prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death.”
(Deuteronomy 13: 5)
“Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, says the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them.”
(Speech by God, Jeremiah 23: 32)
“The (false) prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.”
(Speech by God, Deuteronomy 18: 20)
“My hand will be against the (false) prophet who sees delusive visions and who give lying divinations; they shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the Lord God.”
(Speech by God, Ezekiel 13: 8-9)
“I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment.”
(Matthew 12: 36)
The judgment is more serious where deliberate lies, distortions, manipulation and corrupt creeds are presented as factual and truth is suppressed, hidden and fought against.
Where righteousness is illustrated as wrong and evil is shown to be desirable and good, the accountability and punishment is greater. Where the law is applied to protect and safeguard evil and good is admonished as undesirable and unacceptable, the lie and indictments against the proponents of this is greatest.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.”
(Speech by God, Exodus 32: 33)
“The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his Lord.”
(Speech by Jesus, Matthew 10: 24)
If Paul claims to be the apostle of Christ, his ambassador and representative then the message, teachings and creed should belong to the one who has sent him, namely Jesus and it is more important than the representative’s personal opinions and where there is disparity between the two, it is the master or leader who has supremacy in the correct or official line of thought.
“Verily, I say unto you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, shall he do also.”
(Speech by Jesus, John 14: 12)
A few points of historical interest on Judaism during the era of Paul
The Jews in Israel were comprised of two main branches; the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The Pharisees believed in expounding and interpreting the Written Torah (also known as Written Law) with emerging circumstances and the use of including human intellect and reasoning (known as the Oral Torah) through trained ‘sages’ (Rabbis after 70) and by a majority vote among them when necessary.
The legal rulings, exegesis, differences of opinion and records of debate of professional Rabbis were and remain the principal foundation for Pharisaic Judaism and its application of Mosaic Law to this day and the Talmud was an early brainchild of this line of thought.
Unlike their chief rivals, the Sadducees, they didn’t believe in the literal application of rules and regulations from the Written Torah and otherwise and actually opposed it where it was deemed more harmful than good.
A Pharisee was both a trained lawyer in religion and an active inspirational preacher. This meant he had undertaken a comprehensive education in the Written Torah, Jewish history and the collection of scientific, legal and related-exegesis from the Oral Torah.
A trained Pharisee was as such a graduate of one of the special academies designed for this purpose. At the time, the Pharisees were not a professional class and each member was an artisan of other professions through which they supported themselves and took no financial stipendiary or tithes for their services from the State, the synagogues or the laity.
The Sadducees in comparison focussed on three principal aspects for spiritual guidance; the Bible, the Temple and the Priesthood. They were supported monetarily through the people and represented the more firmer side to Judaism.
Unlike the Pharisees who could stem from the lowest ranks of society and from all walks of life, and still dream of occupying the function of a Jewish religious leader, Sadducee Priests were a hereditary and narrow section of Israelite Jewry.
One had to be born into the Tribe of Levi (Lawi) who was himself a son of Jacob the ancestor and great-great grandfather of Aaron and Moses to have any hope of ever becoming a priest and member of the Temple.
The chief role of preaching, propagation, conveyance and sermonizing in the Bible was given not to the priests, but to the Prophets. The Prophets were individuals selected by God for their qualities and individual integrity and as such were from different segments of society. Moses himself, the Pharisees say, did not elect to be the first High Priest, but appointed his brother, Aaron instead.
THE HIGH PRIEST
The High Priest, the chief leader of the Sadducees, was a ceremonial functionary of the Temple under the loyalty and patronage of the Roman Empire and was assisted by the chief priests. He conducted sacrifices, looked after the Temple and presided over the Jewish nation in the interests of Rome.
Despite the title, ‘High Priest’, his role was as a quisling judge of the highest order and police commissioner to preserve Roman rule. He was not as such trained in Jewish theology, did not hold the authority to decide on spiritual matters and had little personal interest in religion.
The High Priest possessed his own police force, his own armed services, his own tribunal, his own penal system including prisons and arrangements for flogging and other punishments and was an appointee of the occupying Roman Empire.
In capital offences, which included serious insurrection against the Empire, the High Priest was required to send the accused to Rome for trial and not impose sentence himself.
The Sadducees, who were comprised of wealthy families, landowners and the like favoured occupation to native rule and assisted the High Priest in looking for rebels, zealots and revolutionaries.
Religious affairs didn’t concern the High Priest as such, political hegemony was what mattered. The Pharisees worked with him on religious points of interest, but even that at arms length, the former considered him to be ignorant of their theology and was corrupt. They further looked forward to Jewish independence.
Since the Sadducees championed the cause of Rome, the Pharisees opposed their co-religionists further. The Pharisees hated the High Priest and resented his interference in their religion and especially his association with Rome.
The Sadducees gladly offered their fellow Jews over to him when required and saw no contradiction in allying with unbelieving gentiles against their own people. As such, the Pharisees were popular and known among the masses and the Sadducees were generally despised.
The Pharisees had long since seen themselves as being the heirs to the Prophets and the interpreters of the law. An alliance with the High Priest was the last thing on their minds. At best, to the Pharisees, he was a heretic and a traitor.
The Sadducees meanwhile desired to preserve the status quo and maintain everything the way it was. The High Priest to them was the grand master, chief inspiration and principal source of leadership.
Innovations were not to be tolerated, no lay clergy other than themselves were required to clarify and interpret the Written Law and the Bible was to be followed to the letter.
Occupying forces usually favoured rigid control of religious law, but advocated retaining it where it benefited the consolidation of their position as political rulers. The break between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was clearly imminent.
In such an atmosphere, no right thinking Pharisee would approach the High Priest for apprehending and arresting fellow Israelites, only a Sadducee would. Private individuals did not seek letters for seizing other citizens, the High Priest was not someone who permitted such actions, nor did he have the jurisdiction to do so either.
The High Priest orchestrated such manoeuvres himself and authorised those under him to carry out his orders and detain the accused for rebellion against Rome alone, never for religious irregularities.
If Pharisees appeared before him and wished for the incarceration of the leaders or laity of other religious movements, the High Priest would be uninterested in personal involvement.
If Pharisees informed the High Priest of major internal differences between them or with other Jews, he would be more than pleased since he opposed them and desired their demise, but would still stay aloof from direct involvement.
If Paul is to be believed in his assertion, he was given letters to arrest and persecute Christians and travelled to Damascus with a view of extraditing those who had fled there, one can only surmise, he was not only never a Pharisee at all, but a Sadducee (or gentile) and police official sent on the orders of the High Priest himself.
If Paul was trusted enough to lead the expedition, we can surmise further, Paul was employed in the service of the High Priest for some years, perhaps held an official function or semi-judicial role, was a senior figure and possible member of the Sanhedrin.
A Gnostic, a pagan or even a foreigner was less likely to have the same level of sympathy or feelings for Jews than a Pharisee and be a more fitting and loyal member of the High Priest’s entourage. Paul may have been such at the time of his appointment.
As an immigrant from a foreign land, there were fewer options available to him for earning a decent salary. The High Priest is likely to have used mercenaries and foreigners where necessary to accomplish what Jews under him might refuse or be reluctant to do.
It is further unlikely he was a youth at the time as Paul’s actions imply a senior rank, qualification and responsibility not usually designated to young inexperienced personnel.
It is likely and clearly plausible however, Paul was not a member of the Sanhedrin by merit or distinction, but as it has been suggested as a biological relative of the Herodian bloodline; an actual family member of the principal Roman leader of the occupied territory. It would be wise to hide such a connection from future followers.
The Jerusalem Temple began with humble origins as the principal divine house of prayer for the Lord under the auspices of King Solomon, the greatest of the Jewish kings in the 11th Century BC.
The Jewish people were then living under their third monarch after centuries of enslavement and disgrace in Israel. The first two had been King Saul and King David. The former had been guided by Prophet Samuel while the latter used Prophets Gad and Nathan as his intermediaries with God.
Solomon’s father and predecessor, King David, had aspired to be the first to build it in Jerusalem, but it is said due to certain circumstances, he was not permitted to do so, although as a sign the Lord was pleased with him, his son, Solomon would be assigned to do it.
Both King David and Solomon are considered as men of God, but not prophets by Christianity and Judaism.
The Temple represented God’s Favour, His satisfaction with the Jews and a reminder of the level of responsibility upon the Jewish nation as His chosen subjects above all other human civilisations and religions.
The Tribe of Levi assumed responsibility for its preservation, maintenance and continuation of sacrifices, worship and special designation as the Lord’s House and symbolic importance.
In 587 BC, five hundred years later, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (now Iraq), launched an invasion of Israel, annexed the country into his own domains and enslaved 70, 000 Jews transporting them back to Babylon with him.
The Temple’s treasures and finances were seized and the Jewish king was blinded with a spear thrust into the eyes resulting in his death. After the Temple was drained of its resources, it was razed to the ground.
70 years later, King Cyrus of Persia, known as Shahenshah, or King of Kings, defeated Babylon and successfully incorporated all of their territory and lands under them into his Empire.
King Cyrus authorised the rebuilding of the Temple and assisted with finance and labourers. As a gesture of good will, the Jews were transported back to Israel and allowed to settle there. He was one of many monarchs to be awarded the honorific title of Messiah, but perhaps the only gentile monarch in history to be decorated by it.
Another five centuries later, the Prophets Zachariah, John the Baptist and Jesus would visit and regularly teach at the Temple. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, was brought up and raised in an enclosed space within the Temple in her youth.
Some six decades later, the Jewish people staged a revolt against the Roman occupation. Rome had ruled over Israel for a century until then.
The rebellion lasted four years and almost succeeded in destroying the Roman stranglehold on Israel. The Emperor Vespian, sent his son, Titus, to restore order to the province. Titus successfully cut off the Jews from all contact and provisions and waited for ultimate capitulation.
In 70, a decade after the alleged execution of James, the brother of Jesus by the High Priest and some three years after the crucifixion of Simon Peter, the Jews surrendered and Israel reverted to Roman rule. Interestingly it is suggested Jewish Christians and Pauline Christians had not revolted and were spared the worst of Rome’s revenge on Israel.
Pauline Christianity triumphed from the destruction and rose as the principal source of Christian dogma suppressing Jewish Christianity and the earliest interpretations, knowledge and understanding of the Messianic mission and his correct teachings and theme of instruction.
As a consequence for the insurrection however, Rome demolished the Jewish Temple that had existed for over five centuries and inaugurated a temple of their own in its place; the Temple of Jupiter. In later years, the Temple of Jupiter was similarly destroyed. No trace remains of it except a small wall; the Wailing Wall.
The Jewish Temple however, has never since been rebuilt, although several places of worship have been designed and erected there. Among them was the Cathedral of Resurrection, a place the Messenger of Allah led the Prophets in Prayer while on his ascent to visit the Divine Presence.
The Dome of the Rock, a mosque built in the Seventh Century, stands today in one segment of the area where the Temple once was. It is here the Messiah or Messianic Age is said to return and the Jewish Temple will be created for the third and last time.
THE EBIONITE DESCRIPTION OF PAUL
The Ebionites believed Jesus was no more than a man but was granted Prophetic status by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him. They further argued Jesus did not abrogate the Mosaic Law and still accepted its validity. The virgin birth was attested to and given its place in their theology.
Paul meanwhile was seen with suspicion and not as an inspired apostle. His vision of Jesus in Damascus was rejected as were his claim to the receipt of revelation and commands from the Lord.
Paul was born and raised in Tarsus, Cilicia of pagan parents. As an adult, he travelled to Israel where he converted to Judaism and secured employment in the service of the High Priest.
In the Pseudo-Clementine writings, an alleged Ebionite work, Paul is described as a false prophet, a man who spread lies about Peter and in reality knew nothing about the true teachings of Jesus. He never met Jesus in the flesh and based everything on delusive visions.
Whilst not mentioned by name specifically, the subject of attack is on an imaginary character ‘Simon Magus’, Simon the Magician. It has been accepted by many Paul is being described and the writings were declared heretical.
An Arabic manuscript (of approximately the 5th Century and also of an Ebionite stance) discovered by Shlomo Pines showed Paul as a falsifier of Jesus’ teachings and further says Paul abandoned observance of the Torah mainly for support and patronage of Rome and the achievement of personal power and influence for himself.
His Christianity, the source says, was ‘Romanism’. Instead of converting Romans into Christians, he converted Christians into Romans.
Interestingly, the Pauline influence of the Gospels is also touched upon. The source mentions the Synoptic Gospels were untrustworthy and self contradictory. The only trustworthy one it declares was the one written in Hebrew.
In the works of Epiphanius (4th Century), a non Ebionite writer talking about their beliefs wrote-
“They declare he was a Greek…He went up to Jerusalem, they say, and when he had spent some time there, he was seized with a passion to marry the daughter of the priest. For this reason he became a proselyte and was circumcised. Then when he failed to get the girl, he flew into a rage and wrote against circumcision and against the Sabbath and the Law.”
Paul is said here not to be a resident of Greece, but a Hellenised Gentile, a pagan and a Non Israelite. He was interested in marriage with the daughter of the High Priest (in the passage identified only as priest) and in failing to do so declared war on Judaism.
PAUL V’S PAUL
“If through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that way), ‘Let us do evil so that good may come.”
(Paul’s letter to the Romans 3: 7-8)
“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”
(Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians 4:4)
“What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool.”
(Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 11:17)
“He said: ‘We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.”
(Paul’s letter to the Galatians 2: 15)
“A man is not justified by works of the law, but by faith of Jesus Christ. For if righteousness came by law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
(Paul’s letter to the Galatians 2: 16)
“God will render to every man according to his deeds.”
(Paul’s letter to the Romans 2: 6)
PAUL AS A YOUTH
This is one aspect of Paul’s life, few historians or theologians seem interested in. In fact there is a scarcity of scholarship on this issue which is a huge and integral segment of Paul’s career.
This is where Paul started his meteoric rise into the Jewish hierarchy, his education, training and age of maturity and responsibility stemmed directly from childhood. He was born not to Jewish parents in a strictly pious Jewish background, but pagans.
Tarsus, Cilicia, the city of his birth, was named after a pagan deity, Baal-Taraz, and whilst there were tiny pockets of Jewish populations, the greater proportion of residents were actually pagan.
The theology exercised in the World Paul was in was just one branch of several hundred religions, cults and societies. Among the most popular were the Mystery religions, Gnosticism and the like.
Rome was the World’s largest, most powerful, grand and most successful regional superpower and Imperial Empire. Through conquest, it had discovered and amalgamated several global systems, ideologies and even their religions into its own and presented it to the rest of the empire.
Despite this, it was Greek culture (Hellenism) and its sisters; Greek thought, Greek philosophy, Greek poetry and Greek theology among others that represented the elite and most superior forms of idealism in business, commerce, government, literature, the mass media and law. In addition, Greek language still predominated as the principal medium of international communication the way English is today.
The catalyst for this explosion of Greek culture was the dawn of the Hellenistic Age, inaugurated some three centuries earlier by Alexander, the Macedonian monarch of Greece who had a vision of conquering the World. His generals and successors divided his empire after his death and set the stage for rapid Hellenisation.
By the time Paul was born, Hellenisation was complete and normal. There even existed two Bibles; the Hebrew Bible and now a more familiar Greek Bible, the Septuagint (meaning seventy as 72 scribes had written it), for those who didn’t know Hebrew.
It was the Greek Bible, Paul was most fond of and quoted from. The difference was there were aspects in the Hebrew text that the Greek Bible misinterpreted or commented on incorrectly.
As a resident of Tarsus, Paul was a native speaker of Greek and was familiar with the Greek style of writing, rhythm and literary methodology. He spoke the vernacular tongue and this is attested to by his letters and epistles.
Paul is likely to have seen statues or figures of Attis, a hanged god, which was a well known and popular deity in the city of his boyhood and across Phyrigia and Syria and the dripping flayed body may have caught his eye more than once as he travelled with his family.
Attis was a child of miracle, born to a virgin mother, Nana. He was a shepherd and the consort of Cybele, the mother of the gods. He was killed either as a youth by a wild bear or castrated and nailed himself to a pine tree and bled to death.
Attis, however, did not die fully. Although his blood gave new life to humanity, he nevertheless rose from the dead. His tomb was found to be empty the day after he had been laid to rest. In time, the cult of Attis added a sacramental meal and baptism by blood.
The followers of Attis used to castrate themselves to experience the same pain and suffering of their god and become ‘in him’, thus replacing their own individuality with that of their god.
Paul, as a Christian, years later claimed to have had special marks on his body (Galatians 6: 17) illustrating his share of suffering and sense of identification with his Lord, Jesus Christ and became ‘in him’.
The Greek version in Galatians 6: 17 says ‘chose to reveal his son in me’. The English versions say, ‘chose to reveal his son through me.’ The Greek version shows Paul saying he has become manifest or incarnate with Jesus Christ, the English versions show Jesus was to revealed to Paul.
The worship of another Mother-Child family, this time a trinity from Egypt; Isis and Horus (and the father Osiris) was also prevalent in the Greek-speaking World Paul knew. Isis was the ‘mother of god’ as well as a goddess herself.
In the same way, Rome had a Mother and Child deity as well with which to compete with the Egyptian family of gods, namely Fortuna and Jupiter (also known as Zeus in Greek mythology), in Greece the mother and child there were known as Demeter and Dionysus and the list goes on.
All the above was widespread and popular in Paul’s time as were the images and pictures of Isis the virgin mother and ‘queen of heaven’ suckling or feeding the infant Horus. Those portraits of two millennia earlier differ with slight variations to pictures, paintings and images of Mary and the baby Jesus on her lap.
In time, Mary the mother of Jesus, was also bestowed with the being the ‘queen of heaven’, her most famous predecessor included Semiramis, the mother and wife of Nimrod, a millennium before her.
Paul and the Asian Jews in Jerusalem
Paul had come to Jerusalem from abroad to attend the second Jerusalem conference as an invited member. The first had been five years earlier. James the Just had presided over both and Paul’s role had been minimal, even quiet. Only after departure, did Paul have a grand and popular reception by fellow Christians.
“When his seven days were nearly ended, the Asian Jews caught sight of Paul in the Temple, and they stirred up the whole crowd, and laid hands upon him, shouting: ‘Come and help, Israelites! Here is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the Law, and this place; moreover he has brought Greeks into the Temple and defiled this holy place.’
For they had earlier seen Trophimus of Ephesus with him outside in the city, and they thought that Paul had brought him into the Temple. So the whole city was roused, and a crowd gathered.
They seized Paul and dragged him out of the Temple, and at once the doors were shut. While they tried to kill him [or were clamouring for his death] a report was made to the tribune of the cohort: ‘The whole of Jerusalem is in an uproar.”
(Acts 21: 27-31)
The ‘Asian Jews’ here were Jewish Christians and not Jews in general. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were in reality Nazarene followers of the twelve apostles and the Jerusalem Church led by James the Just, the brother of Jesus.
The Jewish Christians thus received their teachings directly from a fixed hierarchy; the immediate followers of the Messiah and firmly on the foundations built and designed by him.
The Jewish Christians had come across Paul’s mixture of ideas, separate philosophy and message of redemption different from their immediate teachers; the disciples and had begun to dislike his presence and theological perspective.
As there was ‘talk’ of Paul preaching a new theology, the Jerusalem Church asked him to come to Israel to explain his position. Paul arrived without incident to the disciples and briefed them on his travels, his successes and his loyalty, James the Just was not convinced in totality of Paul’s sincerity and sent some men with him to evaluate and oversee his work and activities.
Shortly before leaving Jerusalem, Paul decided to visit the Temple and whilst there was discovered by Nazarene Jewish Christians. They had heard of his presence in their city. As they were aware of his different gospel, they stirred the emotions of others to harm him.
Paul had been aware of the possibility of violent repercussions in coming to Jerusalem, but he had been summoned for the conference and could not refuse to attend. James the Just had warned Paul thousands of staunchly loyal Jews (Jewish Christians) existed in the city and they would or might hear of his arrival.
The word used by James, ‘myriads’, to describe the number of Jewish followers to the Jerusalem Church, actually means ‘tens of thousands’, all staunch upholders to the Law had heard of Paul’s alternative gospel and theology and were unhappy with it.
Paul before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest
The Sanhedrin was a Jewish judgment court in Palestine presided over by the ‘Nassi’ or ‘Prince’ and included Sadducees and Pharisees (although the role of the latter may have been largely as observers).
It had replaced ‘The Assembly of the Great Synagogue’ in 310 BC after the death of Simeon the Just. The Sanhedrin was described as an orderly, civilised and respectable legal body.
Its function was to try cases brought before them not on religious grounds, but for political offences against Rome. The High Priest was also present as an integral and essential member.
The trial of Paul occurred shortly after he was arrested by the Roman police for starting a riot. Paul according to Acts (in the New Testament) had been rescued by the Roman police from the ‘Jews’.
However, some historians argue it is more likely Paul had informed the local Roman sentries about his Roman citizenship before the riot, just in case he needed them and they appeared at the scene specifically to protect him and not as by-passers.
Whilst the Roman police force kept the Jews away from him, his citizenship and presence in the city sparked interest in him and as such he was made to appear before the Sanhedrin to explain his position. The High Priest was in attendance as usual and Paul did not recognise him.
The High Priest at the trial was different from the one that had known Paul some time earlier when the latter was a senior figure under them, but Paul’s record and term of office as a police/security official had not been forgotten and neither had the memory he had absconded whilst on a foreign mission to apprehend Christian exiles in Syria.
Paul spoke in his own defence and the speech is retained in the New Testament (Acts 23:1-10).
“My brothers, I have lived all my life as a Pharisee and still live today, with a perfectly clear conscience before God.’ At this the High Priest Ananias ordered his attendants to strike him on the mouth.
Paul retorted, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me in accordance with the Law; and then in defiance of the Law you order me to be struck!’
The attendants said, ‘Would you insult God’s High Priest?’ My brothers,’ said Paul, ‘I had no idea that he was High Priest; Scripture, I know, says: ‘You must not abuse the ruler of your people.’
Now Paul was well aware that one section of them were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, so he called out in the Council, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee born and bred; and the true issue in this trial is our hope of the resurrection of the dead.’…..
Some of the doctors of the law belonging to the Pharisaic party openly took sides and declared, ‘We can no find no fault with this man; perhaps an angel or spirit has spoken to him.’
A few points worth mentioning here. Paul is indirectly saying he is not a believer in the divinity of Jesus Christ, he rejects the death of Jesus as a salvation for mankind, he accepts the Mosaic Law and strictly adheres to the commands and prohibitions as issued and prescribed to the Jews. By saying,-
‘I am a Pharisee born and bred’
This is like saying, ‘I am one of you. Help me.’ It further implies he strongly advocates and promotes Pharisee Judaism as someone well versed and trained in the field.
However, Paul had become a Christian twenty years earlier and his teachings were at a great variance with Pharisaic ideology. In short, Paul was lying. This act of deceit seems to have gone unnoticed as a means of freeing himself from being kept captive further or worse.
He desired Pharisee support and sympathy and appealed to their sense of spiritual brotherhood to save him. He must have had in mind the occasion when Gamaliel, a reputable Pharisee, had defended Peter some years earlier when the latter was himself on trial.
Knowing the Pharisees believed in resurrection, whilst the Sadducees didn’t, was also exploited as a way of diverging his own personal appearance at the trial to a question of religious persuasion.
In response, some Pharisees seem to speak positively of him which is what he was looking for and thinking he may be a recipient of divine wisdom. ‘Spirit’ or ‘Spirits’ in both the Old and New Testament often meant a Prophet of God and not a ghost or supernatural being. The Pharisees may have suspected he received revelation himself or was being instructed by an actual prophet.
It is unlikely events happened exactly as is described and a few more things materialised that day that have since been erased or not mentioned at all. Nonetheless it appears the case against him seemed to collapse and the Pharisees voted for his release and succeeded in his acquittal.
The High Priest, it seems quite likely, hated him even before the trial and had struck him, not necessarily because of the words Paul spoke, but for personal animosity and repugnance at his presence or his earlier defection to Judaism.
The entire episode shows Paul was showing one image of himself to some and a second, third or more to others where and when it suited him. It appears he knew what people wanted to hear, how to manipulate and exploit a situation and when to lie low and act with complete or partial subservience.
Had he divested his belief in Jesus as the risen saviour, the Pharisees would not have supported him and Paul would have remained a prisoner at the mercy of the High Priest and his henchmen. That could have been the end of his career and possibly his life as well.
The trial incident however, also shows some other aspects of the story of Paul and his missionary travels different to the richly presented picture of a persecuted preacher throughout Acts and in his own epistles.
The fact that he is supported by the Pharisees illustrated he was not actually known to all Jews, even to the point senior Pharisees in Jerusalem had never heard of him and were unfamiliar with his earlier career as a senior security official.
He was furthermore not seen as any kind of threat to Judaism in general, it was only the Nazarenes or the so-called Asian Jews who had severe doctrinal differences with him.
Lastly, there seems to be no ‘holy spirit’ to guide him. The High Priest orders him to be hit and yet the Holy Spirit fails to inform Paul who he is and not to speak ill of him. It is the High Priest’s personal attendants that tell Paul he is speaking profanely against the High Priest.
Sometime after Paul was acquitted and discharged from the court, Acts records an assassination attempt on him. Whilst the New Testament reveals ‘Jews’ as the plotters, it follows those involved were neither Nazarene Jews or even ordinary Jews at all, but most likely a select assembly of men sent by the High Priest or chief priests under him who desired to kill Paul.
The incident is written as follows-
“When day broke, ‘the Jews’ banded together and took an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty in this conspiracy. They came to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have bound ourselves by a solemn oath not to taste food until we have killed Paul.
It is now for you, acting with the Council, to apply to the Commandant to bring him down to you, on the pretext of a closer investigation of his case; and we have arranged to do away with him before he arrives.”
(Acts 23: 12-15)
Paul is known to have escaped. His nephew (his sister’s son) was the informant and persuaded the commandant to give him sentries for protection. Under armed guard, Paul left Jerusalem for Caesarea. How he obtained heavy Roman protection is a mystery, but it is likely he used his Roman citizenship to prevail on the commandant.
The High Priest however, pursued Paul there as well. A few days later, Paul was apprehended and brought before the governor of the city. Acts records the incident as follows-
“We have found this man to be a perfect pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even made an attempt to profane the temple; and then we arrested him.”
(Acts 24: 1-9)
The charges against Paul were political and not religious. He was a danger to Roman occupation. The statement also adds colour to one other issue; he wasn’t aware and seemed not to care about Paul’s actual religious base.
The Nazarenes were not led by him and the High Priest seemed unaware the Jerusalem Church was not interested in political leadership and in his view were just political nuisances.
The governor did not try Paul, or hand him over to the High Priest, but kept a close eye on him. This is likely to have been due to Paul’s Roman citizenship and it is thought, he was aware Paul possessed finance and some wealth which the governor hoped to have a slice of.
It is possible Paul did in fact give Governor Felix part of his wealth as a bribe and so was allowed to live unmolested in Caesarea until the governorship of Felix ended two years later. When the new governor, Festus, arrived, the High Priest renewed his demands and pressed them with vigour to the point Paul appealed to have a trial in Rome itself before Caesar as a Roman citizen, to which he was entitled to.
The appeal is granted and Paul travels to Rome. Here he is brought before King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice and he states his views so eloquently that the king is full of awe towards him and almost becomes a Christian himself.
Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I and had executed James, son of Zebedee. Herod Agrippa II therefore knew or must have known of some of the political aspects the Nazarenes.
After the trial in Rome, no one knows for sure. It’s likely he spent his last years there and died of ripe old age in Rome as a protected subject. Did he divulge his secrets to King Agrippa II about Christianity or did he give a garbled version of it or none at all.
Why did Paul come to Arabia?
In Islam, Arabia is the centre of the World, the seat of Allah’s Throne on Earth, the site of the Ka’aba, Masjid-e-Haram, the sacred city of Makkah and the position of prayer for all Muslims five times a day.
It is conceivable and understandable if a Muslim wished to travel to Arabia, perform Tawaf around the Ka’aba and pay homage to Allah. Arabs who worshipped idols and practiced other religions similarly had great respect for the holy precincts and held the area as divine as did many others including some atheists.
For Muslims, the Ka’aba was the first place of prayer, temple or Masjid the world had ever seen and the greatest house of worship in history as well as among the oldest to Non Muslim chroniclers. It has a significant spiritual standpoint when looked at from history and stood out as such to those who were aware of its existence.
Although now largely a desert environment from all sides, the land has not always been dry. Several centuries before human settlement; forests, vegetation and water were abundant as were many species of animals.
In history the Peninsula has been accorded several names, the most popular being Arabia, Arabia Felix, Arabia Petra and since 1932 Saudi Arabia.
Now we come to the puzzling account of Paul and his mysterious journey to the Arabian Peninsula. Why would Christianity’s greatest champion come to Saudi Arabia of all places?
At the time, Arabia was just desert. There were no magnificent cities, citadels or palaces to see, monumental architectural wonders of the age or an advanced civilisation in education, science, technology and development.
There are few surviving accounts of Paul in Arabia and even less for his exact reasons for coming here. However, before we examine his presence in the Holy Land, a more detailed historical look at the country to which Paul arrived is in order.
Most of what we now know as Saudi Arabia was under the Nabatean Empire. A kingdom founded by and named after the eldest of Hazrat Ismail’s thirteen children, Nabet two millennia before in 1900 BC. The empire had emerged as a powerful regional force soon after and annexed Palestine as one of their early triumphs.
Alexander, the Macedonian monarch of Greece, three centuries before Jesus Christ, had aspired to make Arabia his royal capital and conquest of conquests and arranged a fleet of warships to undertake a naval invasion, but passed away just days before his grandest venture yet.
His generals, after his death, expanded on his dreams by pushing forward with some of his ambitious schemes. One among them was Antigonus, his successor in Syria, who launched two separate invasions of Arabia, starting in 312 BC. He was decisively defeated in both by the Nabatean Empire.
In 24 BC, the Nabatean Empire, then still a thriving independent empire, allied with Rome and assisted General Gallus to subdue south Arabia in a common dispute and retained cordial relations thereafter.
Five years before Paul’s birth in 9 BC, the best and greatest of Nabatean rulers, King Aretas IV (Harithath) started his long and momentous reign. He would be recorded in history, not so much for his governance and conquests, but for his kindness to foreigners.
With his capital at Petra (now in Jordan), his empire extended from Damascus in the north to Al Hijr (also known as Mada’in Saleh) in northern Hejaz which includes the holy city of Makkah, the ablest and strongest of Nabatean monarchs, ruled until his death in 40 CE.
Damascus had fallen to him three years before his death, when the Roman Emperor, Caligula was forced to cede the city to him. It was also during his reign; Jesus was born, commissioned as an Apostle to the Jews and raised to the heavens by divine decree around 30 CE.
It was also during the reign of King Aretas IV; Paul grew to manhood, emigrated from his native city of Tarsus to Jerusalem as an adult and started his career in the High Priest’s service with high dreams as a promising youth.
Paul was in Jerusalem when Jesus proclaimed his message and was a functionary in the High Priest’s security administration, although how junior or senior he was, it is hard to say.
Paul is highly likely to have heard of the teachings and religious proclamations of Jesus as the latter travelled and preached across Galilee and Israel and even more so the hostile comments of Sadducee Jews and later pro-Roman observers to his crowd of listeners.
As the congregants and followers increased so must have the rumours and criticisms of the Messiah within the ranks of the Roman administrators as well, among them the High Priest, Paul’s immediate boss.
It is plausible to suggest Paul may have been present or was aware of the so-called trial of Jesus. What Paul thought or knew of Jesus then may never be known. Nevertheless, Paul’s first official appearance in history is recorded only after the crucifixion.
Paul is spoken of in the New Testament as requesting letters from the High Priest to bring men and women from the Nazarene Jewry to face God’s justice from Damascus to Jerusalem (Acts 9: 2).
As stated earlier, Paul as a Pharisee (if he actually was one) would never approach the High Priest, a political figure, to intervene in a religious dispute where he had no official or spiritual jurisdiction.
He was not a welcome figure in their assemblies nor was he ever invited to the synagogues as a special guest or speaker and accorded no respect or grand ovations as a pious Jew.
Secondly, Pharisees regarded the High Priest with scorn, ignorance, pity, distaste and revulsion. In short, the High Priest was seen as nothing short as corrupt, narrow minded, selfish and evil and worshipped only money, prestige and Rome.
He was the last person Pharisees approached for religious guidance, spiritual growth and even for political advice or assistance. If anything, they would seek to place him on trial for heresy and collaboration with Rome and sentence him to death.
He was a deeply hated, resented and highly despised figure to most Jews in Israel and the object of necessary suspicion but unwilling cooperation because of superior Roman occupation and overlordship.
It follows then Paul did not go before him as a Pharisee priest and Jewish observer of the law as he claims in his epistles. Paul went as someone who knew little to nothing about Judaism and was on friendly terms with the High Priest as a direct employee and agent of his private assembly.
Private individuals or men of wealth did not approach the High Priest, the government of the day or anyone else to seek permission to receive warrants for arresting people they didn’t like in the same way priests or the like weren’t entitled to that privilege either.
This was police work and under governmental authority of a foreign empire of occupation, not a liberty available to people both in general or otherwise. Paul as a Pharisee, if he was one, would be excluded from receiving letters on the grounds of suspicion as a Jewish (Pharisee) priest and on being an unknown and complete stranger to the High Priest.
What reasons did the High Priest have to trust Paul and enrobe him, not just with a letter, but letters to arrest a few people, as his personal representative on an illegal mission (without informing Rome as well, thus placing himself in greater personal danger for not conferring with his overlords) after one or more meetings?
The High Priest similarly held no license or priestly rank to legislate or implement religious codes of law as a layman to the synagogues and was above no Pharisee preacher or member due to his office.
The High Priest furthermore was not someone who could authorise others to function in roles relating to issues of religious importance. He could however achieve many and maybe all of these objectives as chief magistrate of Palestine appointed by Rome.
Damascus was not then part of the Roman Empire and fell out of the political jurisdiction, sphere of influence and immediate nominal sovereignty of the High Priest.
If Paul was authorised to travel to Damascus and arrest the Nazarenes, he was going on a secret clandestine mission without the knowledge and consent of the Nabatean kingdom, whose territory they planned to enter unlawfully.
The objective was extradition but through kidnapping and illegal entry into a foreign nation. A dangerous task with grave individual and collective consequences, for both Paul and the High Priest, if caught.
This was Paul’s first expedition to Arabia. The question then arises what were Nazarenes doing in Damascus in the first place?
Damascus was then a centre of refuge and exile for people escaping from Roman tyranny and included Jews. Jews in Damascus were of a variety and included Nazarenes, strict observers of the Mosaic Law and others. The Nabatean kingdom was sympathetic to the exiles who settled in their territory and treated them well.
The different types of Jews lived in harmony with each other and both hated the High Priest. Some of them may even have heard of Paul, the aggressive and belligerent commander-in-chief of the High Priest.
The empire remained in existence after King Aretas IV. The last Nabatean monarch, King Rabbil II, ruled from 70-106 CE when it finally came under Rome.