I’ve already written about the schizophrenic divide between Paul and Jesus on matters of the religion. Today, I’d like to make note of another reason why Paul might not have known what Jesus said on these matters. Namely, because he might have been long dead before Jesus was born. What am I talking about?
First, let’s review the way the story is told today. Jesus is born around CE 1ish, lives to about CE 33ish and is executed. Christianity starts growing, Paul (then Saul) starts persecuting Christians. Paul then has a vision on the road to Damascus somewhere between 33 and 37 CE, converts to Christianity, and begins preaching that. In Damascus, as a new Christian, his life is threatened and he has to escape the city by being lowered outside the wall in a basket.
Cute, isn’t it. But that definitely is not what happened. Let’s start at the beginning, where all the confusion happens.
2 Corinthians, Chapter 11:32-33. “In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.”
Now, Paul doesn’t talk about contemporary politics very often, or nearly ever, which has made guessing the age of his writings to be a difficult endeavor. But here is one time he does, and we know a lot from what he says. 1) He was in Damascus, 2) A king named Aretas was on the throne and controlled Damascus, and 3) Because of his Christian faith, he had to flee.
Now, at the time Paul’s letters were discovered and being added to the bible, it was already “known” that Jesus dies around AD 33, so obviously Paul would have had to convert and escape Damascus after that. The obvious King would seem to be Aretas IV, who was King of the Nabataeans from 9 BC to 40 AD. So many Christians plugged Paul’s road to Damascus conversion at around 37 CE.
But it’s more complicated than that. King Aretas IV had a beef with one Herod Antipas, and therefore didn’t have any control of the city from around CE 33 or 34. So between the time of Jesus supposed dying until Paul escaping Damascus could only be about a year at most. In one year, Paul would have had to not only recognize a growing Christian community, but spend enough of his life’s work persecuting these Christians enough to gain a regional reputation, before being converted en route to Damascus and subsequently escaping. This is an extremely difficult timeline to swallow. But despite this impossible timeline, many churches decided that Paul must have converted in CE 33. It’s literally the only year that fits any part of the story.
But it still doesn’t fit. It’s bad enough that Christianity had to grow into a movement, be persecuted, and convert an infamous persecutor, Paul also makes other odd remarks throughout his writings making it even more suspicious. In Colossians 1:3-9, Paul learns of a Christian church in Colossae and writes to them. But the tone is different in more recent translations. In the King James book, Paul’s friend Epaphras learns of this church and reports to Paul, whom Paul mentions as such- “As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ.” But the New International version, it changes to You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf. The more recent (modern) translation implies that Epaphras was instrumental in establishing the church there, while the original translation had Paul surprised there was a Christian community at that location and is reaching out to them, referencing their friend (or slave?) that had visited there recently. Those are two very different things, and something that may be a clue.
And why does Paul talk about the church at Corinth like it’s been around for a long time? Supposedly, according to Acts, Paul founded the church there. But he specifically said he didn’t baptize them. And they’ve been around so long that they are embroiled in schisms of church leadership. For that matter, why does he spend pages and pages talking about who they should and shouldn’t be fucking? Wouldn’t he have established those rules when he “founded” the church a mere few years earlier, if that’s indeed what he did? This letter does not sound like a letter to a group that he founded, but rather to a group that was long established by the time he started his own ministry.
So what the hell is going on?
Well, if you accept as fact that Jesus was a real person, actually lived, and actually started a religion, then these things don’t make much sense. But an increasing number of scholars are starting to re-think this, and it is mostly based on something that nobody has done in church history for the last 2000 years- draw conclusions from the evidence. You see, as I’ve already eluded to, prior church leaders took the story on faith and tried to make the history fit what they believed. But by following the evidence instead, the story is unraveling like the testimony of a bad witness.
We already know that the gospels are not four independent witness accounts. They are pure propaganda, with Mark being the original (or the oldest we have), and the rest are just copies of Mark with embellishments. The first four books of the new testament are actually Mark with added stuff, Mark, Mark with added stuff, and Mark with a lot of added stuff. They were created toward the end of the first century to retro-fit prophesy, in order to benefit the Romans. This seems odd if Jesus were a real person, but makes sense if they merely reused a savior god myth and added him as an actual person into the story. It also explains why the authors couldn’t even get his birthday year correct. When written, the story was already ancient history.
We already know Paul never met Jesus. He specifically said so, and he also never talked to anyone that gave him information about Jesus. He wasn’t even slightly curious about what a real flesh and blood Jesus said or was like. This seems odd if he was talking to Jesus’ disciples, but then again we are assuming Jesus was real. If you hypothesize that there was a Jesus cult following a demigod, and the physical Jesus was retroactively written into the story over 50 years later (long after Paul and crew were deceased) then it makes sense.
When you remove the hard dates that we know are not real, then Paul’s timeline can be fit in a way that best explains his writing. He has to have enough time to know of Christianity, fight against it, get converted, and still escape Damascus while someone named Aretas was ruling the area. So when was Paul actually writing?
There are actually two options. One option holds that he was writing as early as CE 24. This gives him enough time to be in Damascus during the reign of Aretas IV.
But who is to say he wasn’t there during the reign of Aretas III? Sure, that would have Paul escaping Damascus before 62 BCE, but since we are tossing aside the artifical timeline anyway, let’s consider it. After all, early church historians like Epiphanius of Slamis pegged Jesus’ birth at about 100 BC, as does the Talmud. So why not?
Either way, Paul himself has managed to help us understand that the current history of Jesus was faked. Christianity existed as a rising savior cult in the region for a couple of hundred years, and Paul was one of the converts. He wrote extensively to propagate the cult. Decades, or maybe even a century later, the new propaganda story began to take shape that Jesus was an actual dude that was around Jerusalem in the early first century. So the writings of Paul were incorporated into the story, and a fake additional chapter (Acts) was created to make sense of Paul’s writing in light of the new story.
This explains how Paul managed to seemingly do so much in such a short time, because he didn’t actually have to. It explains why he is adamant that no human could possibly tell him about Jesus. It explains the only marker he gives us to date his exploits. It explains why he talks about churches (that he supposedly founded) as old, or surprised to learn of their existence.
Whether Jesus was “born” at the turn of the millennia or “born” in a Roman propaganda pamphlet 100 years later, it is likely that the earliest and greatest flag-bearer to this new religion was dead long before.
The Spartan Atheist