J: Today I’d like to talk about the starting place for understanding the many differences between what I taught and what Paul taught.
A: Sounds good to me.
J: I’ve mentioned before that Paul and I had different motivations, different purposes behind our respective religious movements. One of the few things we had in common was a strong sense of conviction. Paul believed in his cause, and was willing to argue for it. I believed in my cause, and was willing to argue for it. We both had strong opinions. We just didn’t have the same opinions.
A: Part of Paul’s cause involved arguing against your cause.
J: Definitely. Paul rejected — even feared — my teachings on the nature of the Kingdom. He was sure my Kingdom teachings would lead to anarchy. Widespread civil and social disobedience. His fears were shared by others.
A: Why was he so afraid?
J: Well, Paul, like so many others then and now, had allowed his brain to become focussed — riveted — on the perfection of Divine Law. Of course, he thought it was Divine Law he was giving all his time, energy, and devotion to, but really it was human law, human authority. He didn’t see it this way, though. He convinced himself that he was doing the right thing in aggressively attacking me because he was protecting Divine Law. He believed that Divine Law justified — gave sanction to — his actions.
A: Where have I heard that before?
J: Rigid, perfectionistic thinking is a symptom of imbalance and dysfunction in the wiring of the biological brain. It’s common in bullies throughout the world.
A: Paul spends a lot of time in his letters telling the people of his churches that they don’t need to follow Jewish laws on food and circumcision. If he believed so much in the law, why was he dissing it? It doesn’t make sense.
J: It makes perfect sense if you understand that Paul wasn’t trying to protect the “praxis” laws of regular Jewish people — laws about “petty little daily practices,” as he saw them. To him these minor practices were nothing, they were of no consequence. He wasn’t interested in the small stuff, the things that matter to regular people on a day to day basis. He was after the big stuff. The End Point. The Omega. The be all and end all. He was after the Power.
A: What power?
J: The power that he and many others close to him believed was woven into the fabric of Creation. The power to command the universal Law of Cause and Effect.
A: That sounds seriously creepy. And not even very Jewish.
J: Well, as we’ve talked about, there were different schools of religious and philosophical thought that used the sacred Hebrew texts, and these schools fought fiercely among themselves. In the 1st century CE, there was no agreement on what it meant to be a pious Jew, just as today there’s no agreement on what it means to be a pious Christian. Most people forget that there was a civil war among Jews in Judea in the 60’s CE. Sure, the Romans came in eventually and torched everything in Jerusalem. But before the Romans sent in their troops, the Jews were doing a fine hatchet job on themselves. This mood of dissension among Jews was already brewing when I was teaching and healing in Galilee. It’s part of the reason I left my home in Philadelphia (modern day Amman) and went to Galilee. There was a measure of religious sanity that still existed there.
A: The Bible claims that Paul was a Pharisee.
J: In Philippians Chapter 3, Paul is very clever about the claims he makes for himself. He says that according to Jewish laws of bloodline, he’s a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Big deal. Lots of people could make that claim. He says that according to prevailing Jewish customs around religious authority, he’s a Pharisee — a sort of rabbi/lawyer/teacher who deserves to be treated with respect for his religious knowledge. Then comes the clincher: he says that according to “zeal” (zelos in Greek) he was an early persecutor of the church and according to “righteousness” he was blameless in his actions against the church. When Paul talks about “zeal” and “righteousness,” he isn’t talking about “beliefs” or “opinions.” He isn’t saying he was just really enthusiastic or really committed. He’s saying he had “the zeal” inside of him. He’s saying he had a piece of Divine Law inside of him, a spark of God inside of him that was guiding him, commanding his thoughts and actions. He’s saying he was a “vessel of humility” into which God had poured the divine substance called “zeal.” Zeal is a kind of love, therefore — a love for the Law. Devotion to the Law. Obedience to the Law. Adoration, even, of the Law. It sees the Law as a quasi-divine being. Sort of an embodiment of the Divine desire for orderliness in Creation. More than just a philosophical structure. An animated, conscious entity, if you will. Wisdom — Sophia — was also envisioned in this way as a semi-divine female being.
A: Plato talked about the Laws in this kind of weird anthropomorphic way.
J: Yes. And so did the Essenes. The Essenes were very much a fringe cult within Judaism. They had the most highly developed mystical rituals, the most “out there” beliefs about God and Creation and occult magic. They were also highly devout, highly wealthy, and highly powerful. They were a scary bunch. And Paul was greatly influenced by Essene teachings about God, the Spirit, the indwelling Temple, and occult ritual.
A: Would you say that Paul was an Essene? An accepted member of the yahad?
J: No. He wasn’t teaching pure Essene thought. But he was influenced by their thought. He also had strong links to another important school of thought that’s harder to track.* He blended ideas from Essene thought and Hellenistic thought to create his “new and improved” version of the Law of Cause and Effect. By the time he began his “mission to the Gentiles,” he was no longer interested in mainstream Judaism, with its focus on Mosaic Law. He’d “moved up” on the spiritual ladder of ascent, on that ever so narrow and hard-to-find ladder of spiritual hierarchy. He’d found an enticing and intoxicating blend of occult magic and hidden knowledge — the kind of hidden knowledge reserved only for a few select apostles. He was drunk on the idea that this new knowledge would lead him to power — power over evil entities.
A: What evil entities?
J: The corrupted versions of Law and Wisdom and Life — their “evil twins.”
A: Their evil twins? This is sounding like some of the “contemporary horror” dramas that are so incredibly popular in books and movies and TV shows these days.
J: Same old, same old. It’s just a dysfunctional, distorted version of the Law of Cause and Effect when taken to occult extremes. It goes like this: “Well, if there’s a Perfect Law, a semi-divine being who brings only virtue and righteousness to people of virtue, then, logically speaking, there must be an evil twin of Perfect Law — a powerful semi-divine being who sows vice and corruption in the world.” It’s a nice, neat, simple mathematical formula to explain why evil exists. Sons of Light versus Sons of Darkness, as the Essenes clearly formulated it. What could be easier to understand?
A: It’s so easy to see what you’re saying by looking at Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Romans is filled with paranoid, dualistic, judgmental thinking. Paul tells people in gory detail how they can fight the evils of Law, Sin, and Death, and overcome these evil cosmic forces through the power of Christ’s name.
J: Yes. For Paul, Mosaic Law had become the evil twin of the pure Essene Temple Law. Sin was the evil twin of Wisdom (implying by analogy to Wisdom’s femaleness that Sin was also female). And Death was the evil twin of Life. Paul called this evil trinity Law, Sin, and Death.
A: On my God. That makes a ridiculous amount of sense. It explains how Paul could go around telling people they wouldn’t die if they believed in Christ — a promise that soon proved to be a lie, because some of Paul’s followers had already died, and he had to answer for it in his letters.
J: It’s popular these days for theologians to make excuses for this kind of apocalyptic promise, excuses based on the naive assumption that people in the 1st century CE “just didn’t know any better” and “can’t be blamed for believing in salvation from death.” This, I’m sad to say, is hogwash. No balanced, mentally healthy individual is going to accept the idea that human beings can escape physical death and continue to live for centuries on Planet Earth the way their mystical forebears supposedly had (e.g. Methuselah). It’s just goofy. It’s what Paul promised his followers in the beginning of his mission, but it’s goofy. In his Letter to the Romans, he has to go through huge theological contortions to try to salvage people’s belief in him. It’s a pretty sad way to go, if you think about it.
A: Promises, promises.
J: You know what works best in the Gospel of Mark? The fact that there are no “Cause and Effect” promises. Everything’s messy. Everything’s unpredictable. Shit happens, but so what? It can’t take away your courage or your faith or your trust in God or your desire to help other people. Even shit can be turned into very useful fertilizer.
A: So your Kingdom is about turning shit into fertilizer, and Paul’s Temple is about the quest to stop shitting at all?
J: And you say I have a way with words.
* For more on Paul’s true motives and affiliations, please see “The Peace Sequence” (Jesus Redux 38).