Did anyone exist in the first century? (part 2): Paul

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Kenneth Humphreys Is probably the major Paul Myther.I can't find out much about him, but he wrote a Jesus Myth book, The Christos Mythos. See a review by major historian James omerea. His anti-Paul arguments are laid out on a blog: A Fabricated Apostle: Two Different Pauls.

Humphreys has many argumens but I will deal with six, and to summarize them:

(1)Argument from silence on Paul's great acts

(2) Disparities between Epistles and Acts

(3)Conflicts between Paul's Roman citizenship and Jewishness

(4) Paul's conversion story is implausible.

(5)Supposedly parallel passages with Josephus.

(6)No evidence of Paul in Ephesus His First Argument is an Argument from Silence (OF COURSE). There's no record of Paul being assigned to enforce Jewish sanctions against heretics. Moreover, Paul was always meeting Kings and civic dignitaries yet there is no record of it in secular history. "The trail-blazing Christian missionary and apostle, St Paul, appears nowhere in the secular histories of his age (not in Tacitus, not in Pliny, not in Josephus, etc.) Though Paul, we are told, mingled in the company of provincial governors and had audiences before kings and emperors, no scribe thought it worthwhile to record these events."

Humphreys seems to assume that there's some archives to which we can go to look up all that happened in first century Palestine. There is no such place. They did not have a vast governmental achieve, if they did we don't have it now. We have little from the first century. The list of all first century writings that don't mention Jesus (excluding prolific Philo) is so small it's not much bigger than those that do. Any authority granted Paul if even written, would be so totally obscure it's silly to expect to have it.[1] As for meeting with important people a lot of that was due to Paul claiming rights of Roman citizenship when charged with crimes. There's nothing remarkable about that so no reason to expect to find the records. That's like saying "my son [the drug addict] is always talking to layers and judges so he's an important guy." Moreover, Stephan Neil points out that Luke gets the titles of all the functionaries correct in all the different regions.Neil thinks that one of the most impressive aspects of Luke as an historian is that he always gets the titles right. Many of the titles of local officials which Luke provides us with were not validated until modern times. "The writer of Acts knew the correct titles and used them with varying precision. In the words of Ramsey: 'the officials with whom Paul and his companions were brought into contact are those who would be there. Every person is found just where he ought to be; proconsuls in senatorial provinces, asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessolonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere.' The Most remarkable of these titles is Politarch the ruler of the city used in Acts 17:6...previously this word had been completely unknown except for this passage in Acts. It has now been found in 19 inscriptions dating from he second century..." Neil argues that titles are the hardest things to get right, modern French writers never get English titles right, and this is something that would easily and surely betray an anachronism (147)Historians of the modern day judge Luke a superb historian.This is good evidence that he did make the journey because getting such title's right is very hard to do.[2]It seems the author really was on the trip and thus it's not made up out of whole cloth. He probably knew Paul as well.

His second argumentis that the Pauline Epistles and the book of acts portray widely divergent views of Paul. Paul of the epistles is independent and confident, not intimidated by authority of the Apostles. He confronts Peter (Galatians); the Paul of Acts is cooperative, dedicated to the team, and willing to be commanded and led:

Now part of the brethren ("with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem" - 9.28), he is "managed" by the elders. Disciples "took him" from Damascus (9.25) and Barnabas "brought him" to the apostles (9.27). They "brought him" to Caesarea and then they "sent him" to Tarsus. Barnabas "brought" Paul back to Antioch (11.26) and then with him was "sent" to Jerusalem with famine relief (11.30) – (as it happens, a visit to Jerusalem completely unknown to Paul himself). Eventually the brethren "send" Paul on his first missionary journey (13.4). As a missionary, Paul is very much on the collective message:"And as they went through the cities they delivered them the decrees for to keep that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established." – Acts 16.4,5.

From Thessalonica, Paul is "sent away" to Berea by the brethren (17.10). He is also "sent away" by sea and "brought" to Athens (17.14,15). In Cenchrea, Paul even takes a Jewish vow and shaves his head! (18.18).
On this point there's an ironic but obvious counter. Humphrey's says of the Paul of Acts: "The closest Acts comes to bestowing the title [Apostle] is 14.14 where his name follows Barnabas and the plural is used." Then: "Full of his own importance, in all his letters Paul hammers home the point that he is an apostle and that his appointment comes directly from the divine." Do you see a relationship there? That is certainly not proof that he didn't exist. All it really proves is that once got out on his own he realized how they treated him and decided to do it this own way; more a proof of his historicity because it shows he was human. Moreover the fact of shaving his head means he was in conflict with them. He was commanded to do it, it was a PR move and Paul's own idea. My argument is not that here is no disparity but that Humphreys is making much more out of it than should be made. First you have the difference between Paul's account of himself (ok so he's not Mother Teresa--he has an ego)juxtaposed to Luke's understanding of him. In fact Luke's account might have been recorded and embellished from verbal recollections by a well meaning acolyte. Secondly you have to consider the tine and the on text. Luke is writing to put Paul's life in a light that would flatter him and promote unity, and he was writing in the 80s, 20 years after Paul's death. Paul was writing to churches ad hock about immediate problems confronting. Humprey's argues that Paul, in his letters, doesn't tell them about the things in the book of Acts. Yet he was not writing an auto biography. He also did not tell them about his mother, we can safely assume he had one. At worst all this proves is that the Greek physician was a spin doctor not that Paul did not exist.

In his third argument, implausible and contradictory aspects of Paul's story, Humphrey's real ignorance is showing. He thinks that if Paul was a hotshot student of the major rabbi, there would be some Jewish polemics about it. Then an even more egregious and telling display of how little he really knows: "How likely is it that Paul really studied under the Pharisaic grandee (Acts 22.3)? Paul clearly had difficulty with the Hebrew language: all his scriptural references are taken from the Greek translation of Jewish scripture, the Septuagint." He also compounds the ignorance by questioning if a Roman citizen could have any authority in Judaism and asserts nothing in the texts spell out official authority.

First, Paul's status as a hotshot student. No one ever really said, nor did Paul say, "I was the best student.." He said he learned from Gamaliel he did not say "I was the top student." He said "I was zealous" and he said kept the law he didn't say "I was brilliant I was the best." Of course there is also the possibility that such polemics did exist but are lost to posterity; I've already shown that we have little in the way of documents surviving that era. The Romans may well have destroyed any achieves they had in 70 or in 135. When they destroyed Jerusalem the second time they put Roman temples over Christian and Jewish holy sites such as the site of Jesus' tomb. hy would they not destroy archives?[3]

Secondly, the Septuagint gaff. It is common knowledge that the LXX (Septuagint) was the Bible of the early church. In fact the Jews were so angry that the Christians made so much of the Greek scripture and used it to link Jesus to Messiah that they commissioned a new Greek Translation in 100 AD. Why? Because Palestinian Jews spoke Greek. obviously Paul had no trouble with either language he used LXX because that was the favorite of the people.
This translation became very popular among Jews in the first two centuries before Christ because many Jews in those days did not understand Hebrew. Their ancestors had left Israel centuries before, and generation after generation gradually lost the ability to read the Scriptures in Hebrew.Many of the Jews in Jesus' day used the Septuagint as their Bible. Quite naturally, the early Christians also used the Septuagint in their meetings and for personal reading; and many of the New Testament apostles quoted it when they wrote the Gospels and Epistles in Greek. What is most fascinating is that the order of the books in the Septuagint is the same order in our Bibles today, and not like the Hebrew scrolls....

As for Roman citizenship in Judaism apparently he doesn't know, what anyone well versed in Paul should know, that the Jews of Asia minor did have Roman citizenship and they were full fledged Jews and had rabbis and everything (Tarsus, where Paul was from, is in Asia minor).[5] The fourth argument with which I will deal is argument from incredulity; has a lot of little parts, part of his spread on implausibility. The doubts the conversion story, saying if Paul was not convinced by Jesus' miracles why would the Damascus road experience.

Perhaps because it happened to him? Let's assume Paul saw Jesus from afar as a member of a huge crowd, a hostile spectator who never said one word tov Jesus. Probably didn't get close. For all we know he could have been back in Cilicia during Jesus ministry, but let's assume he was there. He's watching Jesus surrounded by hundreds, or thousands, of followers what's he going to do attack him? He was smart enough to know he wouldn't get very far. He was a scholar not a son of Hercules. Would he be convinced by Jesus? I imagine he would think of Jesus in the same way that Modern atheists think of faith healers. Having the experience himself could be transformative.

The fifth argument is not one argument but kind of argument he makes many times. He compares passages in Josephus to those in Acts to show that "this is where they got their ideas." This takes an absurd form even counting passages that have nothing more in common than the uses of two names that are the same: John and Silas. Josephus in his Life (auto biography) says (as Humphries summarizes) "Josephus was himself betrayed by 'John', chose an ally named 'Silas', and made a miraculous escape!" While in Acts (16:25-29) Paul sees some reason not to take John and does take Silas. Jo is betrayed by a John, and has an ally named Silas. In a second such example(also from Life but not cited so we don't know where Jo tells Jews not to force circumcision on some gentiles and Paul says the same thing in relation to Timothy.

This is typical of myther thinking (see part 1). Two stories share the same word so one must have copied the other or must be referring to the other. read the parallels see that the stories are not about the same things it's only veg references like negative about a John and Silas is a friend.[6]

The Sixth Argument no evidence of Paul in Ephesus. He argues that all the legends have John founding the church of Ephesus not Paul. Paul was supposed to have lived there for three years a d founded the church there.

Just left our one little thing, mythers have so thoroughly purged the Bible from their consciousness he doesn't even consider it to exist. So he doesn't dawn on them that the txt is an artifact itself, like pot shard. All he can see is the pastoral epistles not written by Paul. But they were written in Ephesus. So why are people in Ephesus trying to attribute works to Paul? Not just because he was important but, perhaps, because he was in Ephesus. Otherwise why attribute the work to someone who was never in that city. What's really odd is that suddenly we trust these legends. The Bible is rubbish and has no authenticity, full of mythys and copied after pagan religion but in this one area the Christian legends (they are really legends) are right that John started the church in Ephesus. Praise God, We found one historical church figure who actually existed! In reality of course we better reason to think Paul was there than was John. On the other hand there is no reason why they both could not have been there. The most up to date scholarship shows us that there ere many Christian communities in Ephesus. There was no on church community that was the true official church.[7] Some were gnostic some had nothing to do with each other. There could have been a core community started by Paul that eventually merged with the Johanine community, if John was even there. Another possibility is that is that Paul could still exist even if he never went to Ephesus.

Even if we accept his major thesis that Acts is a gloss on Paul for propagandistic purposes, that still doesn't prove there was no historical man who wrote Romans and was named Paul, and was from Tarsus. none of these arguments actually prove there was no Paul. The author of Acts could have propagandized weather Paul existed or not. Just for the record, I can accept that Luke did propagandize or spin or gloss to some extent, but Acts is too well verified by Sir William Ramsey not to be a valuable historical source. But that's another blog. I will do a part 3 giving positive reasons to believe that Paul existed. Remember Paul is a source for proving that Jesus existed. see Cadre blog pieces on historicity of Acts (Nov 4, 2007 by BK and one by me against Richard "Bayes Boy" Carrier's views im marfh of 14).


[1] E.M. Blaiklock, Jesus Christ: Man or Myth? Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984.

Non Christian writings of Roman empire (excluding Philo) that don't mention Jesus. This is all of them, the point being we don't have much first century stuff.

* An amateurish history of Rome by Vellius Paterculus, a retired army officer of Tiberius. It was published in 30 A.D., just when Jesus was getting started in His ministry.
* An inscription that mentions Pilate.
* Fables written by Phaedrus, a Macedonian freedman, in the 40s A.D.
* From the 50s and 60s A.D., Blaiklock tells us: "Bookends set a foot apart on this desk where I write would enclose the works from these significant years." Included are philosophical works and letters by Seneca; a poem by his nephew Lucan; a book on agriculture by Columella, a retired soldier; fragments of the novel Satyricon by Gaius Petronius; a few lines from a Roman satirist, Persius; Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis; fragments of a commentary on Cicero by Asconius Pedianus, and finally, a history of Alexander the Great by Quinus Curtius.

Of all these writers, only Seneca may have conceivably had reason to refer to Jesus. But considering his personal troubles with Nero, it is doubtful that he would have had the interest or the time to do any work on the subject.
* From the 70s and 80s A.D., we have some poems and epigrams by Martial, and works by Tacitus (a minor work on oratory) and Josephus (Against Apion, Wars of the Jews). None of these would have offered occasion to mention Jesus.
* From the 90s, we have a poetic work by Statius; twelve books by Quintillian on oratory; Tacitus' biography of his father-in-law Agricola, and his work on Germany. [Blaik.MM, 13-16]

"To this Meier adds [ibid., 23] that in general, knowledge of the vast majority of ancient peoples is "simply not accessible to us today by historical research and never will be." It is just as was said in his earlier comment on Alexander the Great: What we know of most ancient people as individuals could fit on just a few pieces of paper. Thus it is misguided for the skeptic to complain that we know so little about the historical Jesus, and have so little recorded about Him in ancient pagan sources. Compared to most ancient people, we know quite a lot about Jesus, and have quite a lot recorded about Him!"

So there just aren't that many overall sources to go by in the first palce. But why wouldn't more of Jesus' contempoaries write about him?

[2] Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament:1861-1961, London: Oxford University press, 1964,143.

[3]G.Cornfeld,Archaeology of The Bible: Book by Book, New York: Harper and Row, 1976, 271-2).

[4] John Barnett, "What Bible Did Jesus Use? "Jesus.org. on line resource URL: http://www.jesus.org/birth-of-jesus/genealogy-and-jewish-heritage/what-bible-did-jesus-use.html

[5] Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus From Paul To Ignatius,Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

article about Tarsus then and now, archeological excavations and pictures.

[6] compare the two passages
" But when John [of Gichala] was come to the city of Tiberias, he persuaded the men to revolt from their fidelity to me ...

A messenger had come to me from Silas, whom I had made governor of Tiberias ...

Upon the receipt of this letter of Silas, I took two hundred men along with me, and traveled all night ...
"But Paul thought not good to take John with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia ...
And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.– Acts 15.38,40
" And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them

" And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

We can see there is almost nothing parallel about these passages. The names are about all they have in common.

[7] Trebilco, op,cit., 2-4.


Joe Hinman said…
bog ablog a blublu

Joe Hinman said…
I concur. bravo!

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