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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Based on Richard Carrier's Recommendation: A New Book on the Afterlife -- Some thoughts on Paul's place in early Christianity

Based on the recommendation of Richard Carrier, I have begun reading Alan Segal’s Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion. Segal is a highly respected Jewish scholar. I have read, and benefited from, his book on Paul. There are a number of interesting insights and conclusions in Life after Death, but I wanted to start with a quick blog on a section about Paul that stood out to me. In one paragraph, Segal lends his considerable expertise in Jewish history to weigh in again two propositions that skeptics often argue: 1) Paul was unaware of any traditions about Jesus; and 2) Paul was not really a Pharisee:

Although he may have considered the actual words of Jesus part of an oral tradition, he quotes them only where a Pharisee would need to rely on exact formulations: for deciding legal issues. When dealing with apothegms and other traditions, Paul shows us the same willingness to paraphrase and even to encode for memory that a Pharisee might have utilized in learning Rabbinc tradition. In short, Paul is surprisingly free of the religious thought and structures of the Gospels and, what is even more intresting, the Gospels (which are later than his writings) are surprisingly independent of Pauline thought. Considering the effect that we now automatically ascribe to Paul’s career, this is a very important observation. It shows us that he was not nearly as influential in the first century as he appears to be now. This will give pause to all those who think that Paul invented Christianity. He did not.

Segal, Life after Death, page 400.

I hope to blog some more about this book as I delve deeper into it.

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