Jesus Christ underwent a remarkable evolution over 110 years, from 70CE to 180CE, beginning as a astrotheological cult’s esoteric, non-human warrior in the stars, and eventually transforming into an actual historical person, complete with a birth, life mission, martyrdom, and Resurrection.
One of the striking details one can’t help but ignore, and lends to the notion that “orthodox” Christianity is almost 100 years younger than what tradition states, is that external, secular, authentic, and easy-to-date evidence for Christianity is non-existent prior to about 112CE, when Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan about Christians in Northern Turkey.
Reducing historical likelihood is the fact that many biblical characters have similar dead ends; they don’t have a real historical analog – there’s no historical record of them. Joseph, Mary, Ananias, and scores of others fall into this category. As I mentioned in my first post about why I don’t think Jesus existed, it is unlikely that so many of these important people would have escaped the attention of…well, just about everyone.
Complicating this puzzle is the Apostle Paul – that former Christian persecutor-turned-cheerleader who saw a mystical vision of Jesus on his way to Damascus, Syria, went blind for 3 days, then emerged from his blindness with a Christian zeal unequaled by any of Christ’s followers.
Mainstream scholarship has quite a lot of (unfounded) confidence that Paul was traveling, writing, and proselytizing from the mid-30s until his death in the 60s.
This timeline has the same problem as the rest of Christianity, because there are no unambiguous traces of secular attention paid to Christianity prior to 112, and no real need for a Jewish messiah Godman before 70CE, because the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the primary mechanism for Jewish atonement, was still standing.
The closest we get to substantiated external evidence we have for a bubbling pre-Christianity in the first half of the 1st century is Philo of Alexandria, and his writings about the Logos, a Platonic concept that related to the earthly manifestation of god’s word…early Christian groups, notably the Sethians, were particularly interested in the Logos and other Platonic (and Pythagorean) concepts, such as the Nus, Chaos, and Material. The relationship between the some of the earliest Alexandrian Christians, a group referred to as the Sethians, and Philo of Alexandria is quite obvious. The common thread between the Sethians and Philo of Alexandria is their concern for Platonic ideals. There is clear Platonic influence manifested in both Philo’s work, as well as surviving Sethian texts; some Platonism managed to work its way into various places in the New Testament, notably the Gospel of John, which refers to the Logos (the Word).
Back to Paul, where are the churches Paul helped found? Why do none of Paul’s contemporaries mention him? Why is there no historical evidence of Paul, except perhaps a mention of Saul by Josephus? What about Paul’s progressive views about rejecting Mosaic law and Jewish rituals, such as circumcision? There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of Paul’s theology until the Marcionites around 120-140AD – nearly 100 years later! In a nutshell, external evidence of Paul is lacking.
I think Paul was either invented or heavily modified by the Marcionites in the 2nd century for the purpose of moving away from Jewish customs, perhaps in part because Christians faced less persecution as non-Jews than they did as Jews. From 66 to 136 (Jewish-Roman War, Bar Kokhba), Jews in the Roman empire, particularly in Jerusalem, faced increasing violence and persecution.
The Marcionite invention of Paul is evident in many of Paul’s “authentic” letters, particularly Galatians, where he describes a Jamesian influence hijacking his (and his predecessors’) religion by way of the corruption of Cephas. Reading Paul through a Marcionite lens makes it clear that, if Paul was real, his writings have been heavily modified by Marcion, particularly evident in the partly-authentic Ephesians 6:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places
Earlier in this text, it makes reference to “the devil.” If we consider that Marcion distinguished the Jewish God who made the Earth with the God who sent Jesus, then “the rulers” and “the powers” were really the archons who ruled over the Earth in the stars, particularly Ialdabaoth.
Marcion’s strain of Christianity received heavy pushback in subsequent decades from Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others who were less eager to abandon traditional Jewish customs, probably because it would mean losing the Jamesians – that is, those Jewish members who were open to an earthly Messiah depicted in the Gospels, particularly Matthew; the eventual synthesis that came out of this theological conflict led to the birth of Catholicism. Ireneaus and Tertullian labeled Marcion and his followers heretics; still, the gentile-friendly implementations of the Marcionites remain in Christianity, probably because it would have been impossible to disentangle Paul’s epistles from their orthodoxy, but probably also because Paul provided them the opportunity to keep people who were caught between the Marcionites and the Christians who were beginning to reject Marcion; the required synthesis to eliminate the heretical notions injected by the Marcionites might well have prompted Ireneaus (or one of his historicizing predecessors) to write the book of Acts, and what probably gave rise to the story of the evil magician, Simon Magus, in Acts 8, who tried to buy a seat at the apostles’ table, but was rebuked by John, the figurehead for the Johannines, and Cephas, the figurehead for the Syrian Christians, both of whom probably worked to invite the Jamesians into Christianity.
Here’s my point: What makes more sense?
- Paul existed in the 1st century and was a super-progressive, gentile friendly Jew/former-Christian persecutor
- Paul was invented or heavily modified by Marcion to be a perfect match to their theology
To me, it’s the latter.
So if Paul didn’t exist in the 1st century, or if he did exist, but his writings and theology were so heavily modified by later Christians, such as the Syrians and the Johannines, that it’s not recognizable anymore, then nothing he wrote, nor nothing that was written about him is reliable.