Paul Was Not a Chris­t­ian: The Orig­i­nal Mes­sage of a Mis­un­der­stood Apostle

Pamela Eisen­baum
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

Pro­fes­sor Eisen­baum offers the gen­er­al read­er the most real­is­tic first-cen­tu­ry por­tray­al of the apos­tle Paul ever writ­ten. Tra­di­tion­al­ly pre­sent­ed by Chris­tians as the cham­pi­on of a new and bet­ter reli­gion than Judaism, and in turn car­i­ca­tured by Jews as a dan­ger­ous apos­tate who either did not under­stand Judaism or pur­pose­ful­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed it, Paul remains a sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure in mod­ern dis­course, and a stum­bling block in efforts to pro­mote mutu­al respect and trust. But both of these rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Paul are not like­ly his­tor­i­cal­ly. Final­ly there is a book for the non-spe­cial­ist that chal­lenges this over­whelm­ing consensus. 

Accord­ing to Eisen­baum, although Paul believed in Jesus Christ, this did not rep­re­sent for him and his ini­tial dis­ci­ples the found­ing or build­ing of a new reli­gion, even if that even­tu­al­ly result­ed in lat­er gen­er­a­tions. Rather, Paul was a reformer work­ing with­in Judaism under the con­vic­tion that a new stage of devel­op­ment had begun, one in which Israel would bring the mes­sage of her God to the peo­ple of the nations. 

Many inter­est­ing and use­ful insights emerge from read­ing Paul, not anachro­nis­ti­cal­ly through the lens of lat­er devel­op­ments, but first of all as a Jew in the Gre­co-Roman world of the mid-first cen­tu­ry, with all of its socio-polit­i­cal and reli­gious dynam­ics. That Paul pro­vides one of the only extant first­hand Jew­ish wit­ness­es to inter-Jew­ish as well as Jewish/​pagan ten­sions of the decades just before the Judean revolt that pre­cip­i­tat­ed the destruc­tion of the tem­ple in 70 CE. In addi­tion, Eisen­baum puts that Paul into dia­logue with the pre­vail­ing por­tray­als of Paul, so that the read­er can under­stand the ten­sion that emerges from the con­trast­ing con­struc­tions of him and his teachings.

Mark D. Nanos, Ph.D., Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas, is the author of Mys­tery­of Romans, win­ner of the 1996 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, Charles H. Revson­Award in Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian Relations.

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