Ever since high school, I started to study Saint Paul very seriously. I grew up in a Catholic environment, and I remember that they focused heavily on the Gospels in religion class. Yet, there were rarely any readings at all of the Pauline letters, except in Mass (generally the second reading). So, I decided to read his letters, what we call now the corpus paulinum.
I went as far as to read a lot of scholarly work about him. Like in every professional level in any field, these were highly technical, and for any reader would be boring stuff to read. Yet, what excited me at the time is what these highly technical discussions implied. I’ve kept on reading about him for many years, and kept up to day with the most recent trends in Bible scholarship in general, and about St. Paul in particular.
I got to really admire who he was, and what he really did. Yet, when I discuss this subject with other people, invariably their response was: “I hate him!!!!” When I asked why, I got a variety of responses. From Christians themselves, other than hardcore fundamentalists, did not like Paul’s style of writing. He changed moods all the time. He could be happy at once, and then he would be extremely upset, then he would be crying. He seemed to be bipolar all over the place. Also both Christian and secular women didn’t appreciate being told to shut up during the assemblies, nor did they like his hardcore hatred of the Jews in the letters. Non-believers told me that they hate him because he sabotaged the early Church, and that he believed to be a superior Apostle than, let’s say, Saint Peter and Saint James. He even fought Saint Peter at Antioch. Also, they didn’t like the fact that his letters seem to promote slavery. Others, who read lots of sensationalist stuff, especially those coming from Robert Ambelain and Robert Eisenman, that Saint Paul was a professional liar: In reality he was a Herodian prince who wanted to marry the daughter of the High Priest and circumcised himself for that, but since he couldn’t, he made himself Christian, preaching against circumcision, sabotaging the original Apostles’ work, distorting Jesus’ message, burned the city of Rome in AD 64, and kept on doing his stuff until his death in AD 67. It seems that at every turn, Saint Paul was seen as the bad guy of the story. Even I found one website calls him the “most evil man in the first century”.
Yet, what the funny thing is that the portrait of St. Paul that has resulted from decades of serious Bible scholarship gives us a very different picture of the man. So, I decided to write a book about it. I have written seven chapters, and others are soon to follow. Yesterday, I decided to create its cover. I submit it to you so you can tell me what you think about it. Here it is:
This is the cover, if anyone has any suggestions about how to make the cover look better, I will appreciate it very much. The main picture of St. Paul in the center is a modified picture of the original painting by Rembrandt. For the background I used a real second century manuscript, in fact, the oldest fragment we have of 2 Corinthians. I added other elements of the cover, some I found online in the public domain or under a CC license, others I created myself. For those of you who are English-speakers, the title of the book reads: “Paul the Emissary: Hated and Misunderstood“.
Yes, the book is an attempt to correct a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings on St. Paul that have led a lot of people to hate him. Yet, this is not an orthodox book. It is not written to “defend the faith” so-to-speak. Rather, it is purely based on scholarly and historical work, adopting historiographical methodology. Quite often, believers will be surprised to find a different St. Paul than the one they learned throughout their lives. On the other hand, haters will be surprised too at a whole lot of evidence they did not take in consideration, and how they are seriously misled by their hatred. Obviously the fanatics sector of both sides of the spectrum will reject the book, however, I do appeal the more reasonable sectors of both sides to be open to learning something new.
Among the things I say in the book that will cause some discomfort to both sides are these:
- St. Paul never converted on “his way to Damascus”, rather, he had a revelatory experience in Damascus where he says the resurrected Jesus appeared to him. St. Paul lived in Damascus, not Jerusalem. He was not Gamaliel’s disciple, nor did he persecute Christians in Jerusalem. The Christians he persecuted were in Damascus.
- St. Paul was harsh only to Jews who tried to require him and his followers to follow the Torah, just as he was harsh to Gentiles who tried to impose them a polytheistic and pagan lifestyle. He was not anti-Semitic, and he always foresaw the salvation of his fellow Jews at the end of times, as Yahweh had promised.
- St. Paul never told women to shut up. In fact, it was totally inconceivable for him to tell them to shut up. He never showed an ounce of hatred towards women, and deeply encouraged their leadership. The myth that he was a misogynist is simply false.
- People’s picture of St. Paul being a misogynist is further undermined when he advised couples that, in matters regarding sex, their actions required mutual consent.
- St. Paul did not promote slavery. He was not exactly a slave-freedom fighter, though. He lived in an empire where 1/4 of the population were slaves. Yet, with the exception of being a slave of Christ, he was not too fond of the concept of slavery. In fact, he wrote an entire letter, included in our New Testaments, where he asked a slave owner to free a particular slave. For him, within the community of believers, God did not make a difference between a free man or woman and a slave..
- St. Paul is often accused of distorting the message of Christ. Yet, contrary to what people think, he quotes Jesus words explicitly and accurately. In fact, the earliest and most reliable accounts regarding Jesus that you will ever find in the New Testament, are in the Pauline letters. The Gospels were written later, five to six decades after Jesus, and one or two decades after St. Paul. Paul’s earliest letter was 1 Thessalonians, written in AD 50. The earliest Gospel we have is the Gospel of Mark, written within the period of AD 68-72.
- Despite the usual portrayal of St. Paul as being an antagonist of the Jerusalem leadership, and even when he strongly rejected some of its decisions, he showed a deep loyalty to the Jerusalem community … a loyalty that ultimately cost his life.
- Most people use the Acts of the Apostles as a reliable account of St. Paul’s life and actions. Yet, the Pauline letters are far more reliable in this aspect. Scholars have known for decades the total impossibility of a lot of events narrated by the Acts of the Apostles, including that Paul was sent from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians, to send them back to Jerusalem to be prosecuted and executed. Needless to say that the events of St. Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem to his house arrest in Rome, as told by Acts, is 95% unreliable.
- Scholars today don’t know about the authorship of most of the books of the New Testament except at least seven letters they are 99.9999% sure that St. Paul wrote them.
- In the New Testament, there are seven letters attributed to St. Paul that he didn’t write.
- The reason why St. Paul sounds so bipolar in his authentic letters is because originally, Paul wrote a series of letters depending on the situation: some he expressed happiness, others anger, others sadness. However, a later editor edited these letters mixing them up into the letters we have today. So, for instance, scholars today have known that 2 Corinthians was not originally one letter, but a mixing of what were originally four or five letters. The same thing happens with: 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Romans. Result? In some of the letters that we read today, St. Paul seems to suffer from mood swings.
These and much, much more are discussed in the book. I hope that people will like it. I don’t know if I’ll provide an English version of the book, but I most probably will.
Any thoughts about what I’ve said, feel free to share them with me. I need as much feedback as I can.
If you want a little preview of what I am writing, you can watch this video where Garry Wills exposes a lot of the things that I am going to discuss in my book. I also recommend his book What Paul Said, which is a very reader-friendly and you are not required a lot of scholarly knowledge to understand his basic points. I disagree with some of the content, but the subjects I disagree with are admittedly still being debated in scholarship. My book will have a more historical and more detailed analysis, but it will be a LOT easier read than Biblical scholarly works.