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on 4 July 2013
Ever since I first seriously read the New Testament I have had the feeling that there was a massive difference between the gospel that Jesus preached and the gospel that Paul preached. I eventually came to the personal conclusion that St Paul, having failed in his attempt to curb the spread of Christianity by force, became a fifth columnist within the nascent movement spreading spurious doctrines, which would cause disharmony, in an attempt to destroy it from within. This sounds like fantasy, so I kept the thought to myself. Now it seems that perhaps I was not so far off the mark as I thought, as James Tabor gives compelling evidence in this book, "Paul & Jesus", that Paul most certainly was at odds with the other apostles who had in fact known Jesus and knew what Jesus' gospel was. The amicable division of Paul to the Gentiles and the other apostles for the Jews is, according to Tabor, a complete fallacy and he convincingly shows that there was more than a little animosity between them, Paul even considering them "satanic". How Christianity would have developed without Paul's gospel, which was considered heretical by the Jerusalem apostles, is anybody's guess. If it had survived it would have certainly been more Jewish in outlook. This is a fascinating, well researched and convincing explanation of how Christianity as we know it today is wholly a product of Paul's gospel, which was quite different from the gospel preached by Jesus and the apostles who knew him. Christianity as we know it today is essentially a heresy !

If you are serious about knowing the truth behind Chrsitianity .... read this book !
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This is a scholarly look at the role of Paul in the formulation of Christianity, which he carried out in accordance with a vision that he had of Jesus, as his spirit talked to Paul with detailed instructions. The book holds back from any kind of critical perspective, emphasizing instead a factual description of what Paul did. While there are advantages to such an approach - it neither assumes a believer's perspective nor adopts an agnostic distance - in the end it is a frustrating and unsatisfying read because it raises (or more accurately avoids) the many questions that arise in the reader's mind. This is stimulating, but in my reading, it also comes off as disingenuous. I wanted more opinion, more interpretation, and a deeper explanation of what it meant.

Tabor essentially argues that Paul, who never met Jesus, is responsible for the transformation of what was a Jewish messianic movement into something very different for gentiles, i.e. a Graeco-Roman audience, as it came to be enshrined in the New Testament. "Christ", after all, is a Greek word (for "anointed") and Jesus was not referred to in this way until many decades after his death.

There are 6 ideas in the book: 1) Paul viewed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as a new step for humanity, into a spiritual realm of "life-giving spirit." 2) Jesus was part of a heavenly kingdom, a new kind of family into which the righteous could expect to ascend on their own death. 3) Paul established, through ritual, a symbolic union with Jesus, a mystical bond through the Eucharist, Baptism, etc. 4) Paul offered an apocalyptic vision that he believed was imminent and that he would witness; the material world in this view was ephemeral and about to dissolve. 5) Paul reformulated the Torah of Moses into a new set of norms with a very different emphasis (rejecting kosher dietary restrictions, ending the necessity of circumcision, and calling for a more prudish attitude to sex), all of which made the new religion much more acceptable to Roman subjects. 6) He fought and won a difficult political battle with James and the remaining apostles, who persisted in their vision of Jesus as an integral part or natural extension within traditional Judaism, in order to establish his vision of what Jesus wanted.

These ideas are clearly explained in the introduction. The rest of the book is a long, occasionally turgid, proof and elucidation of what Paul accomplished in the new faith and institutions that arose. It is very interesting but rather heavily academic in tone, sifting texts for clues whether or not they are in the canon. Along the way, there are very fundamental new concepts, and I wanted much, much more on them. By moving the realm of the heavenly kingdom away from earth and material life, he created a new space to aspire to, with new behavioral requirements. In addition, he championed a new kind of reading of the Bible and other holy works, looking for allegorical meaning rather than laws to be literally obeyed, such as those that appeared in the Torah of Moses. But these and other concepts are sprinkled abruptly through the book, perhaps because he was assuming knowledge far greater than mine - they were alien to me and deeply fascinating, but I will have to look elsewhere for more.

Finally, there is a lot that doesn't come through in the book. Most important, there is almost nothing concrete on Jesus himself - whether he was more like Aslan's Zealot or like the perfect holy man that Paul portrayed - and that was the principal reason for why I read the book. Furthermore, though Tabor alludes to certain philosophical problems, such as Paul's blatantly misogynistic attitudes (which of course were common at the time), he refuses to say anything about them beyond the merest mention. This would have required far more historical and ethical context than he wanted to enter. Indeed, the historical explanations were frustratingly superficial for me, a classics enthusiast and atheist who wants to understand more about Christianity as a human construct and mythology.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Paul's role in the transformation of Judaism into Christianity. However, if you are looking for a more philosophical and historical work, this will disappoint you. It is a good read, but is far too descriptive.
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on 8 October 2015
Although much of the explanation of Paul's doctrine is well done, there is far too much unwarranted assumptions about Christianity. We should be forewarned in the introduction of 'Vatican scientists' (surely an oxymoron) on the identifications of the bones of Paul in an early sacophagus. He swallows Mark's story of the honourable burial of jesus hook, line and sinker and also talks of Jesus 'taking over John's baptising movement'. But the earliest sources don't record Jesus as baptising ANYBODY! He accepts the three days or on the third day as literal (even if the both can't be right0 when most scholars accept the sympolic significance. He talks about 'Christians' in Rome before the time of Peter and Paul, surely an anachronism. The author is of course wed to his theory of 'the Jesus dynasty', which is hard to swallow.
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on 2 May 2016
As someone struggling with faith issues, I did not expect much from this book. Having read it, it puts Christianity (and Judaism) in a new light. The book refers to historical or quasi-historical texts but the bulk of the premises come from biblical sources.
Unlike many writers on the subject, the author does not take extreme views and balances his arguments whilst pointing out some fundamental truths that are not apparent to those studying or reading the New Testament The narrative mostly concurs with the rational views available on the internet and elsewhere, but it is hard to discern those views with so many extreme and non-evidenced stances available.
The author's conclusions about the origin of Christianity in all its forms, who Jesus was, and the implications for believers are well derived, logical but radical (for someone like me) and while I don't agree with all his premises and conclusions, his fundamental message is liberating and frightening at the same time.
If you are open-minded about Christianity, then this is a must-read, but be prepared to have fundamental tenets of your faith or religion challenged.
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on 15 July 2013
The supplier supplied this book quickly and at a good price. With regards to the contents its self if you have read the Jesus Dynasty there won’t be much additional information to glean from this book. The book is also somehow less well written than the Jesus dynasty, the vocabulary, assumptions and structure disappointed me.
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on 11 June 2016
If ever you wondered how Christianity was formed read this book , its not the Christianity that Jesus created .
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on 14 April 2015
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