I am pleased to publish this guest post by Platinum blog member Dan Kohanski, on an intriguing and important topic for understanding both the life (and writings) of Paul and the earliest history of the Christian movement.

As you know, Platinum level members get a several perks — I do a quarterly webinar with any of them who want to come (and provide a link to the recording afterward for those who can’t make it) and they are allowed to publish posts for other Platinums.  Every month or so, the members vote on one of the platinum posts to appear on the blog for everyone to see.  This one is the current winner!  If you are interested in participating at the Platinum level, check  it out:  Register – The Bart Ehrman Blog

And for now, check out Dan’s post.  He will be happy to respond to your comments.


(This article is based on research I’ve been doing for my new book, A God of Our Invention: How Religion Shaped the Western World, to be published in early 2023 by Apocryphile  Press.)[1]

The claim that opposition is persecution is one that occurs throughout the history of Christianity. The last of Matthew’s beatitudes promises that those “who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:10) will be rewarded in heaven. The First Letter of Peter reassures its readers that “if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed.” (1 Pet. 4:14) The oldest of these claims (in terms of when it was written down) is also the oldest known Christian document: Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul writes that the Jews “displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.” (1 Thess. 2:15-16) In a later letter, Paul complains (or boasts) about the natural disasters and official disciplines he has endured in his efforts to speak to the Gentiles. “Five times

I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked.” (2 Cor. 11:24-25)

We have only Paul’s version of what happened to him and why. There are no known writings about Jesus or his followers from the first decades after the crucifixion other than Paul’s letters. However, we do know enough about Roman and Jewish attitudes toward religion that we can construct an explanation of why, from their perspective, they felt it necessary to “hinder” Paul.

To start with, we need to understand how the Romans related to the gods. Their gods were not the source of laws and moral dictates, as they are in Judaism and Christianity. For that, Rome relied on philosophers, senators, and eventually emperors. In the Roman understanding of the world, the gods provided protection: they guaranteed Rome’s security, prosperity, and victory in war. In return for this, the gods expected to be honored and worshiped. This arrangement was known as the pax deorum, the peace of the gods. Disturbing the pax deorum might anger the gods into withdrawing their favor from Rome, and was therefore treason against the state.

Rome ruled a vast empire populated by many disparate peoples, each of whom had their own set of gods. It would have been impractical to force them all to the exclusive worship of the Roman gods, and in any case the Romans didn’t try. But they did expect everyone to add the gods of the Roman state to their pantheon and give them honor. This was not a problem for polytheists, but it was a problem for the Jews, who had a strict code against worshiping any god other than their own, Yahweh.

But Rome also honored antiquity in religion. On this basis, Rome granted the Jews—and only the Jews—an exemption from the requirement to honor the Roman gods. Josephus quotes several such orders given by Julius Caesar (Antiquities of the Jews 14.190–216), and also the decree of the Emperor Claudius:

It will therefore be fit to permit the Jews, who are in all the world under us, to keep their ancient customs without being hindered so to do. And I do charge them also to use this my kindness to them with moderation, and not to show a contempt of the superstitious observances of other nations, but to keep their own laws only. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 19.290)

While the Jews were permitted this exemption, no one else was. Nor could someone escape the pax deorum by becoming a Jew. Rome associated a person’s religion with their ethnicity; you were a worshiper of Isis, or Serapis, or Jupiter, or Yahweh, because your ancestors were. From this perspective, changing one’s religion was as impossible as changing one’s parents. A refusal to worship the gods of the state and one’s city was “conduct unbefitting a Roman” because it dishonored one’s family, in addition to being a “species of treason” against the state.[2] The historian Cassius Dio describes how, in 95 CE, the Emperor Domitian executed his cousin, a high official (consul), for “atheism, under which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned.” (Dio, Roman History 67.14)[3]

This was not in any way a prohibition against Jews mingling with non-Jews. Jews, especially those who held official posts, would attend ceremonies to honor the city and state gods, not as worshippers but out of courtesy (and probably self-protection). Gentiles attracted to various aspects of Jewish life frequented synagogues and dined with Jews in their homes. They were called “Godfearers” (theosebeis in Greek), and while they sometimes participated in aspects of Jewish worship, they almost never became full Jews—they probably even offered a libation to a statue of a local god on their way home from the local synagogue.[4]

Clearly Jews had no problem with what Gentiles believed. But Paul did. Paul and the other missionaries to the Greco–Roman world were on a mission to persuade their Gentile listeners to believe in Jesus and follow him, and to give up the worship of all other gods as the Jews had done. Paul instructed his readers that “what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons [i.e., lesser divine beings] and not to God. . . . You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.” (1 Cor. 10:20–21)

In doing this, Paul broke with Roman law and custom that expected everyone to worship the gods of their ancestors. He also threatened the pax deorum, the agreement that the gods would protect the cities and the empire in return for homage and sacrifice. He was, to put it plainly, encouraging imperial subjects to become atheists (in the Roman definition) and to commit treason. Gentiles were aware of this. According to Acts, two merchants whom Paul had discomfited accused him and Silas of “disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” (Acts 16:20–21)

From the Jewish perspective, Paul was preaching this treason while proclaiming himself a Jew, and, more importantly, using the synagogues to do so. The local authorities might not have cared if Paul spoke only to the Jews, who were already exempt from the pax deorum. But there were Gentiles in his synagogue audience—the Godfearers—and Paul knew it. “So Paul stood up [in the Antioch synagogue] and with a gesture began to speak. ‘You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen.’” (Acts 13:15–16) This violated Claudius’s decree and put the Jews at risk of persecution from Rome. Paula Fredriksen sums up the situation succinctly: “Alienating the gods put the city at risk. Alienating the city put the synagogue at risk.”[5]

Both Romans and Jews took action to keep this from happening. When Paul says he was beaten three times with the rod, he was describing a Roman discipline. The “forty lashes minus one” is specifically Jewish—with the interesting caveat that it can only be administered if the person being disciplined agrees to accept it. On the other hand, if he refuses, he is cast out of the community. Paul agreed to accept his lashes five times, which means he knew very well that his preaching to the Gentiles was getting the Jews in trouble with the authorities. Yet he kept on preaching anyway, and then claimed persecution when the Jews tried to protect themselves from his actions.


[1] This essay relies on the research and writing of a number of scholars, in particular Paula Fredriksen, and others named in the notes. Any errors or misrepresentations are, as always, mine alone.

[2] Fredriksen, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Judaism. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2010 (27).

[3] This may be the only documented execution in the first century for this type of treason; see Fredriksen, Paula, Augustine and the Jews 27, but see Goodman, Martin, Rome and Jerusalem. New York: Vintage Books, 2007 (445-46) for a different interpretation of Domitian’s action.

[4] Shaye Cohen goes into some detail about the “venerators of God” (his preferred translation of theosebeis), dividing them into seven categories. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000 (140-74).

[5] Fredriksen, Paula. When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2018 (151). Heemstra suggests the Jews probably realized the danger before the Romans did. Heemstra, Marius, The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of the Ways. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. 2010 (46).

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2022-10-31T09:59:45-04:00November 10th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

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  1. charrua November 10, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Paul not only claimed he was persecuted, he claimed that he was a former persecutor of christians.

    In the authentics letters he is sparse in details (1 Cor 15:9, Gal 1:13, Gal 1:23
    Phil 3:6) although he recognized he was not mild at all (particularly in Gal 1:13 “ I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it”)

    In the forged first epistle to Timothy he said he was “ a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim ).

    The greek word translated as “insolent opponent” in the ESV is υβριστην :

    “hybristḗs (a masculine noun derived from hybrízō) – properly, someone damaging others by lashing out with a nasty spirit. This kind of individual is insolent (delights in wrong-doing) – finding pleasure in hurting others”

    (taken from https://biblehub.com/greek/5197.htm)

    A very strong word … Did the forger have some oral traditions in relation to Paul’s behavior?

    • dankoh November 10, 2022 at 9:25 pm

      As you say, Timothy wasn’t written by Paul.

  2. charrua November 10, 2022 at 10:00 am

    But Acts is not sparse at all in details about Paul’s former behavior as a “persecutor”.

    “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22: 4-5)

    “ And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:11)

    The depiction in Acts is that of an active and organized persecution of christians by the Jews and not just isolated measures by local synagogues.

    My question to Daniel Kohanski is:

    Is there is any base to think that things happened as it is told in Acts?

    Or is it just all Luke’s invention?

    • dankoh November 10, 2022 at 9:26 pm

      Much of Acts is questionable, including these passages.

  3. tom.hennell November 10, 2022 at 8:15 pm

    Excellent post Daniel; and usefully pulls together a whole series of threads.

    You are probably already familiar with the rabbinic teaching on scourging with 39 lashes (which is arguably relevant to this issue, even though it was formulated a century or so later). The specific reference is at Mishnah Makkoth 3:15, and clarifies that severe synagogue discipline involved one of two punishments; scourging with 39 lashes, or ‘Extirpation’ (excommunication from the fellowship of the synagogue). These punishments were exclusive of one another; someone who had been excommunicated could not be scourged, someone who had been scourged was thereby restored to full fellowship and so escaped excommunication: “when he has been scourged then he is thy brother”.

    So, as you say, Paul’s acceptance of being scourged, rather than being excommunicated, demonstrates that he wanted to remain able to attend synagogue worship and participate in the local Jewish community. But it also shows that the disciplinary body of the synagogue accepted Paul as a fully observant Jew. If Paul, for instance, was known regularly to eat unclean foods at Gentile tables, then he would been excommunicated without being offered the alternative of scourging.

    • dankoh November 10, 2022 at 9:26 pm

      Good point, though I don’t know what violation of Jewish law would have led to a herem (excommunication) in those days. Still, Paul always claimed to be a fully observant Jew and no one disputed that.disabledupes{8f3eba0f86e863c372aaa5e171ee3b08}disabledupes

  4. fragmentp52 November 10, 2022 at 10:01 pm

    Great post Daniel. Thanks for that. I only discovered Paula Fredriksen in the last few months, from Derek Lambert’s Mythvision Podcast. She is very impressive.

  5. ChimpoChimperoo November 11, 2022 at 10:38 am

    While We’re on the subject of Paul in general, I am wondering if either Daniel or Dr. Ehrman have read the following book (a snippet from the review follows)
    How Jesus Became Christian Barrie Wilson:
    Barrie Wilson, professor of religious studies at Toronto’s York University, treads familiar ground already covered by Geza Vermes in Jesus the Jew and Amy-Jill Levine in The Misunderstood Jew, he provokes new thoughts about Jesus’ identity. Taking up where Robert Eisenman left off in James, the Brother of Jesus, Wilson calls his argument the Jesus Cover-Up Thesis and claims that the religion of Paul displaced the teachings of Jesus so that Paul’s preaching about a divine gentile Christ covered up the human Jewish Jesus. Wilson helpfully surveys the political, social and religious contexts of ancient Palestine, demonstrating that the religion of James, the brother of Jesus, was much closer to the religious practice of Jesus himself, but that the followers of Paul suppressed Jesus’ teachings in favor of their own leader.

    • dankoh November 11, 2022 at 8:45 pm

      I haven’t read it. Based just on your description, though, I don’t find the argument convincing. For one thing, Paul didn’t postulate a “divine gentile Christ” – his Christ was for the Jews and the Greeks together. It’s become the fashion to claim that Paul “invented” Christianity and that Jesus had very different ideas, but that’s speculation because we don’t know what went on in those first 20-odd years after the crucifixion. I will credit Paul with preserving Christianity by taking it into the Greek world, as otherwise it would not have survived the destruction of the church in Jerusalem, but even there I can’t say whether that was his idea or whether he was just better at it than others.

      • ChimpoChimperoo November 11, 2022 at 10:12 pm

        Hi Danko,

        In response to your reply, the reason I ask is that Dr. Robert Price seems to have some respect for some of the sources used by Wilson–such as Robert Eisenman. Price quotes Eisenman a number of times as a source for his research in such books as ‘Jesus Christ Superstition.’ That’s why I am waiting for a response from ‘Da’Man’ Namely BD Ehrman.
        BD Ehrman has said he respect ‘Bob’ Price as an equal in scholarship.

      • jhague November 13, 2022 at 8:26 pm

        I have read Barrie Wilson’s book. I believe what he is emphasizing is how different the Jesus of history as we understand him is to Paul’s Christ figure. Paul mentions barely anything (nothing?) of what Jesus said and relays only what he claims to have received from a cosmic Christ. Paul claims to clairvoyantly hear voices and receive visions and revelations. He had every opportunity to talk to James, Peter and John but he did not want any message from men, or from any human source, including those who had actually been with Jesus. Paul states that his message does not come from those who were with Jesus, whom Paul sarcastically calls the “so-called pillars of the church”–adding “what they are means nothing to me” (Galatians 2:6). I disagree with you that Paul’s Christ was for the Jews and the Greeks together. Paul’s Christ was only for his gentile audience.

        • dankoh November 14, 2022 at 12:10 am

          In Romans, Paul argues that God temporarily made the Jews stubborn in order to make time for the Gentiles to be saved. “A hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom. 11:25-26) His Jesus was for the Jews as well (Paul, after all, continued to call himself a Jew), but Paul saw his mission as focusing on the Gentiles. Though if Acts is to be believed on this point, he did stand up and say “You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen.” (Acts 13:16)

          • charrua November 14, 2022 at 9:44 am

            But glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. (Romans 2:10)

            For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:12-13)

            I agree that “Paul’s Christ was for the Jews and the Greeks together”.

            A bit out of context (but not so much), what is your opinion about 1 Thess 2:14-16 ?

          • dankoh November 14, 2022 at 10:38 am

            It may have been Paul in a fit of pique (he was certainly prone to those). Brenton Dickieson argues that Paul was writing in the Jewish argumentative mode; see his paper on academia.edu (warning: it’s a couple hundred pages).

          • jhague November 14, 2022 at 12:54 pm

            Paul only had complaints about the Jews and the Torah. In the minds of most Jews that came in contact with him, I would guess that they assumed Paul had renounced Judaism. Some Jews certainly accepted Jesus but Paul’s Christ was for pagan gentiles.

          • dankoh November 14, 2022 at 2:49 pm

            If Paul had renounced Judaism, or if the Jewish authorities thought he had, he could not have “five times received the forty stripes minus one.” (2 Cor. 11:24) That is a discipline that Jews can only administer to other Jews, and the recipient has to agree to accept it. (If he doesn’t, then he is excluded from the community.) From that testimony alone, Paul admits that he saw himself as a Jew among the Jews, and the Jews agreed.

          • jhague November 15, 2022 at 8:16 am

            You missed my point. Paul’s focus on gentiles and his negative attitude to Jews and the law had to made him appear very odd to practicing Jews. Regardless of what Paul says, as time went on, it is obvious from his letters that he pulled further away from Judaism. My guess is that if he did indeed receive the stripes, it was so that he could continue to attend the synagogue in order to meet God-fearer gentiles!

          • charrua November 17, 2022 at 11:49 am

            While I strongly agree that “Organized Jewish communities in the Greco-Roman world had synagogues where they would meet to socialize and often to pray long before the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE “ I have my doubts about how many Godfearers or converted gentiles attended there. So the explanation that Paul went there in order to “win” those gentiles does not convince me .
            Moreover Paul is explicitly in that “To the Jews I became as a Jew, IN ORDER TO WIN Jews.” (1 Cor 9:20 )
            So Paul did preach to Jews and he was probably flogged because of this preaching to Jews in their synagogues.

            But there was a major milestone in Paul’s life as an itinerant preacher that Acts avoids to mention and could explain why the Apostle to the gentiles preached to Jews.
            Addressing the Philippians Paul says:
            “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the BEGINNING of the gospel, when I left Macedonia …“
            What does he mean ?

          • dankoh November 17, 2022 at 1:25 pm

            You might start by reading Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness. He discusses at some length the presence and involvement of theosbeis – “Godfearing” (which he prefers to translate as “God-venerating”). He draws on Roman writers such as Tacitus as well as archeological findings and rabbinic discussions to show that there was considerable interaction between Jews and Gentiles in last years BCE and for several centuries CE. Cohen finds seven categories of such Gentiles ranging from the admirer to the full convert.

            It is highly unlikely, given the way Jews disputed constantly among themselves, that the Jewish authorities would have flogged Paul for offering a new variation of Judaism. Nor would the Roman authorities have cared what one Jew said to other Jews. Just because Paul chose to interpret it that way doesn’t make it so. Paul himself complains that that the Jews are “hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles” (1 Thess. 2:16).disabledupes{90a8601a9533811bcef2c0cc42c4039d}disabledupes

          • charrua November 17, 2022 at 11:55 am

            I Think there was something like a break up with the Antioch church that made him begin his own career , and he started from Macedonia near the end of the Greek speaking part of the empire, just as many years later he wanted to start all over again from Hispania , the western end of the entire empire. Then he left Macedonia for Acaya and so on…
            All Paul’s authentic letters were written AFTER this “BEGINNING of the gospel” when he founded the churches in Macedonia,Acaya,Asia and Galatia (I think this was the real order) , my sense is that in those provinces he preached exclusively to Gentiles and did not visit synagogues.
            I think the references to “win Jews” and the 39 lashes ( really five times? or is it just Paul’s boasting?) corresponds to the period before his “BEGINNING of the gospel” (Phil 4:15) from Macedonia, probably when he “went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia” (Gal 1:21).

          • charrua November 18, 2022 at 8:57 am

            I do not say nor I think there were no “godferares” at all , in fact Acts speaks about them (Acts 13:16 ; 13:26), what I do say is that “ I have my doubts about HOW MANY Godfearers or converted gentiles attended ” synagogues for Paul to preach there.

            About “It is highly unlikely …that the Jewish authorities would have flogged Paul for offering a new variation of Judaism” we have to consider Paul’s own words:
            “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers”(Gal 1:13-15)
            It is unlikely that Paul could have exaggerated in the way he “persecuted the church” (it is more likely that he exaggerated how much he was persecuted) and Paul’s own reasons for his former behavior is that he “was advancing in Judaism… so extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers”.

            So others did to Paul what Paul did to others.

          • dankoh November 18, 2022 at 11:03 am

            We have only Paul’s own word that he was an “authority.” By his own admission, he did as he pleased.

          • charrua November 18, 2022 at 1:05 pm

            Indeed, info about relationships between the very early church and Judaism is scarce.
            Paul words about how violently he persecuted the church as a former Jew and Josephus report in Antiquities 20.9.1 about how “Ananus …assembled the SANHEDRIN OF JUDGES, and brought before them the BROTHER OF JESUS, who was called CHRIST, whose name was JAMES, and some some of HIS COMPANIONS and when he had formed an accusation against them as BREAKERS OF THE LAW, he delivered them TO BE STONED.

          • dankoh November 18, 2022 at 2:17 pm

            Ananus had a personal grudge against James, took advantage of the temporary gap in Roman governors to go over him, and lost his post afterwards when the Jews complained to the new procurator about Ananus’s abuse of power.

          • charrua November 21, 2022 at 7:29 am

            Josephus does not inform about Ananus having a “personal grudge against James” and since James was stoned along with “ some of his companions” I think that the “grudge” if existed was not so “personal”.
            Moreover, what Josephus does inform us is that “Ananus …assembled the sanhedrin of judges” so we are not talking about Ananus vs James but about the sanhedrin of judges vs James & companions or in other words Highest authorities of Judaism vs Highest authorities of Jerusalem church.

  6. KingJohn November 11, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    Dr. Ehraman: Is there a way this BLOG is getting to prisoners’? In the USA, etc?

  7. balivi November 11, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    The Acts of the Apostles is not historically reliable. According to Acts, Paul goes from town to town in Greece and Asia Minor, visiting synagogues in particular and preaching his message.
    There is no reference to synagogues in the Pauline epistles. In fact, if one reads Paul’s epistles, one finds a gap: there are no synagogues. There are no synagogues. There is no mention of them in his writings, and no accusation of the murder of the Messiah. The fact is, there were no synagogues. At the time he wrote, there were indeed no synagogues there. In Greece, Asia Minor, we look in vain for the existence of synagogues before the second century BC. The reason for this is not very complicated and anyone can see it: the synagogue garden system and rabbinic Judaism only developed after the destruction of the Temple in AD. It was only until 70 AD, and then after the great diaspora, following the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD.
    Am I right Prof.?

    • dankoh November 11, 2022 at 7:19 pm

      Nope. Josephus mentions a letter from Lucius Antonius (c. 50 BCE) to the Jews of Sardis, noting among other things that they have “a place of their own” (meaning a place of assembly, or synagogue). (Ant. 14.235). Recent excavations at the synagogue in Delos confirm it was used as such at least as far back as 88 BCE. And so on.

      Organized Jewish communities in the Greco-Roman world had synagogues (“house of gathering” in Greek) where they would meet to socialize and often to pray long before the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE, and are a large part of the reason Judaism survived that destruction – there was now an alternative to the Temple. Later, the rabbis took advantage of this structure to cement their own authority.

  8. balivi November 12, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Ok, i, accept.
    But there is no reference to synagogues in the Pauline epistles. In fact, if one reads Paul’s epistles, one finds a gap: there are no synagogues. There are no synagogues.

    Can you point to the authentic Pauline letters with reference to synagogues?

    • dankoh November 12, 2022 at 10:48 am

      Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Also, Acts is not totally unreliable, just suspect.

      • balivi November 12, 2022 at 1:23 pm

        Ok! So you can’t show that Paul is referring to synagogues. Thank you! Goodbye!

  9. jhague November 13, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    In your title, you write “(Or Claimed He Was).” Is it your thought that Paul was likely not persecuted?

    • dankoh November 13, 2022 at 11:49 pm

      My thought is that whether something is persecution is often a question of perspective. From the perspective of the Jews, they were trying to protect their exemption from worship of the state gods. From the Roman perspective, they were trying to keep the gods from getting angry at them. From Paul’s perspective, both were trying to stop him from preaching the message of Jesus. I think it likely that he knew what was really bothering the Jews and the Romans, but chose to present their actions as persecution against his faith instead.

  10. Juannifer November 13, 2022 at 10:17 pm

    I was reading Acts recently and noticed in that Acts 9:7 contradicts Acts 22: 9
    Who ever is writing can’t seem to keep up with the vision of what happened with Paul’s encounter with Jesus. So it definitely is unreliable.

    • dankoh November 13, 2022 at 11:55 pm

      Acts needs to be read with a skeptical eye. It is undoubtedly slanted and some of it probably made up, but that doesn’t mean it must be entirely dismissed out of hand.

  11. ChimpoChimperoo November 14, 2022 at 1:21 am

    In response to jhague concerning Barrie Wilson’s book:
    Wilson emphasizes the difference between Paul and James indeed, and I can’t remember quite where I read it but in some non canonical early Christian writing (a letter of some sort I believe) it is stated that Paul and Peter (a member of the Jerusalem faction) actually came to blows.
    I hope if Dr. Bart reads this he can refresh my memory as to where this account of friction was referenced.

  12. charrua November 15, 2022 at 9:59 am

    It is true that there are no mentions to synagogues in Paul’s letters.

    Moreover , the few mentions about the former beliefs of the communities in his churches points to a gentile stock (1 Cor 12:2 ; Gal 6:12 ; 1 Thess 1:9).

    Also in Gal 1:16 Paul explicitly says that “[God] set me apart before I was born,and.. was pleased to reveal his Son to me, IN ORDER THAT I MIGHT PREACH HIM AMONG THE GENTILES”.

    Synagogues do not seem the most appropriate place to follow God’s orders about preaching Jesus among the Gentiles.

    On the other hand in 2 Cor. 11:24 Paul himself states that “Five times I have received.. the forty lashes minus one”, as Tom Hennel explains “ that severe synagogue discipline involved one of two punishments; scourging with 39 lashes, or ‘Extirpation’. “

    Also in 1 Cor 1:22-23 Pauls says that “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified , a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” and more important in 1 Cor 9:20 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, IN ORDER TO WIN Jews.”

    How can we reconcile all of this?

    • dankoh November 15, 2022 at 5:56 pm

      You can start by dropping the expectation that Paul was consistent. He wrote his known letters over a span of several years, and people do change the minds over that time. In addition, Paul wrote his letters to specific communities addressing specific concerns, and also reflecting his feelings and situation at the moment.

      Paul preached in many places, but he went to the synagogues because “Godfearing” Gentiles were to be found there, and he would have seen them as “half-converted” already since they were comfortable with some Jewish ideas, including one God and sin. That’s not to say synagogues were the only places Paul went to find Gentiles. And while he may have directed his major efforts at Gentiles, he certainly wouldn’t have turned down an opportunity to preach to the Jews as well. The division of labor between Paul/Barnabas and the other apostles was geographical as much as anything; Peter, etc. wanted to missionize in or close to Judaea, while Paul wanted to travel.

      • charrua November 16, 2022 at 2:58 pm

        Well, my expectations about Paul’s consistency are very (very) low.
        I think most that Paul says in Galatians first chapters is simply a lie (mainly that he and his companions were appointed to go to the Gentiles after a supposed meeting with James,Cephas and John in Jerusalem ).
        In fact I consider Paul was a “peddler of God’s word”, an expression that he uses to label his opponents in Corinth (2 Cor 2:17), he also speaks about “false apostles, deceitful workmen” (2 Cor 11:13).
        We don’t know what opinion about Paul had those accused by him but we do have the Didache (for me, the most important apocryphal early christian writing – although strongly interpolated ).
        The Didache speaks about apostles it considers to be FALSE PROPHETS:
        “Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord.
        He will remain one day, and if it be necessary, a second; but if he remains three days, he is a FALSE PROPHET.
        And let the apostle when departing take nothing but bread until he arrives at his resting-place; but if he asks for money, he is a FALSE PROPHET.”
        (Didache 11:4-6)

      • charrua November 16, 2022 at 3:05 pm

        Well, that was exactly Paul’s modus operandi, not only did he remain for well more than two days , when departing he asked for the “saints” to finance the next trip (Rom 15:24 ; 1 Cor 16:6 ; 2 Cor 1:16), an so with his collaborators (1 Cor 16:11) , not just a “bread ” for the journey.
        So I’m skeptical with almost all Paul says,although I believe him when he states that “ I persecuted the church of God violently ” (Gal 1:13 ) .I also believe Acts in that he “tried to make them blaspheme”(Acts 26:11), in fact it was realizing how much could endure the members of the brand new cult that he understood that it was far much better to profit from than persecute them.
        Paul’s business was so successful that even “some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists” (btw Jesus himself was not an itinerant Jewish exorcist?) began to use his fame for their own profits. How does Paul deal with the problem? He sent a bully to beat them up (and maybe something else because the seven sons ended up wounded and NAKED – Acts 19:13-16)

    • balivi November 16, 2022 at 3:30 pm

      Dear charrua!

      This is true, especially if Paul did not go to synagogue.
      Everything the prof says is based on the historically discredited ApCSel.
      Why would Paul have sought out Gentiles? Paul was seeking believers in Christ.

  13. EricBrown November 15, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    lashes – Jews
    rod beating – Romans
    shipwrecks/adrift at sea — ?

    Who is persecuting him in the last one?

  14. ChimpoChimperoo November 18, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    This is in response to charrua concerning persecution of Paul or lack there of. I wish I could remember the precise source for this, but I thought I read somewhere–probably a Roman source–that a letter from the philosopher Seneca to King Agrippa somewhere in the mid first century CE exists where in Seneca warns Agrippa about someone named Saul (possibly Paul?) who was traveling through such places as Antioch and Corinth causing disturbances with his own doctrine. Could this have been Paul and his new form of Judaism–or attacks against Judaism?

    Again, I wish Dr. Bart might comment on some of these posts, but he hasn’t since early in this topic.

    • charrua November 21, 2022 at 8:15 am

      Well, In one of Bart’s books (could it be “Forged”) there is a mention of forged letters from Paul to Seneca. I never heard about letters from Seneca to Agrippa about “someone named Saul”.
      Moreover, I don’t think Paul was so well known in his own time as to deserve a mention by Seneca (or anybody else, although I believe he achieved a certain local reputation in Ephesus ).
      The earliest no-christian reference to him I think is in Josephus Antiquities 18.3.5
      “There was a Jew, a wicked man in every way, who had been expelled from his country under accusation of breaking the laws and who feared being punished for it.
      He persuaded Fulvia, a woman of great dignity who had embraced the Jewish religion to send purple and gold to the temple in Jerusalem and when [he and his companions] got hold of the gifts they used them for themselves and spent the money, which was why they asked her for it in the first place.”
      Antiquities 18.3.3 is the famous Testimonium Flavianum , about why I think 18.3.5 is about Paul (and his collection) would take many (many) posts.

  15. Erland November 23, 2022 at 1:02 am

    But there were proselytes – pagans who became Jews with full rights. Did they break the Roman law then?

    • dankoh November 23, 2022 at 12:39 pm

      Yes, they did, but unless they were important people, the authorities tended to ignore them. The only case I’m aware of (which is not to say there weren’t others) was Domitian’s cousin, a consul, who was executed in the 80s for abandoning his ancestral faith by becoming a Jew. (Domitian executed a number of consuls, so this may have been a pretext.)disabledupes{1727396c6c67b5b87d6026b9a7e2942a}disabledupes

  16. jhague January 31, 2023 at 8:40 am

    “…Paul broke with Roman law and custom that expected everyone to worship the gods of their ancestors. He also threatened the pax deorum, the agreement that the gods would protect the cities and the empire in return for homage and sacrifice. He was, to put it plainly, encouraging imperial subjects to become atheists (in the Roman definition) and to commit treason. Gentiles were aware of this. ”

    Bart – What about Gentiles who fully converted to Judaism? It seems that they would under this Roman law of committing treason.

    • BDEhrman January 31, 2023 at 7:33 pm

      It’s hard to say. We don’t have that many known instances of Gentiles undertaking full conversion. That, of course, would have required male circumcision etc.

  17. jhague February 1, 2023 at 10:30 am

    My thought was that Paul knew that Gentiles would not accept his Christ message if they had to convert to Judaism. Paul claims he received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one and three times was beaten with rods. If this was due to Paul telling Gentiles that they had to stop worshipping the gods of the state and city because it was “conduct unbefitting a Roman” because it dishonored one’s family, in addition to being a “species of treason” against the state, then why wouldn’t Paul’s Gentile converts also be beaten with rods?
    And it seems if it was possible that Gentiles would be beaten with rods if they converted to Paul’s Christ movement and stopped worshipping their family gods, this would keep a lot of them from converting, right?
    (This is obviously not the case of what actually happened.)

    • BDEhrman February 4, 2023 at 2:24 pm

      It appears that troublemakers who are trying to convert people were treated differently from people who just quietly stopped worshipping the gods. Attendance wouldn’t have been taken. But it would be very interesting to know if threat of persecution prevernt people from converting. Unfortunately, we don’t have any records of this from early on, one way or the other.

  18. ChimpoChimperoo February 4, 2023 at 9:04 pm

    Hello Dr. Ehrman and others:
    You know this idea of conversion to Judaism to become a Christian VS worshiping the Jewish man made God always makes me laugh. With respect to all the other issues of keeping kosher, the Sabbath and so on, who knows, but the circumcision had to be relaxed or done away with. Yes, I can see it now: a group of Pagans being preached to by an early Christian. Pagan Leader: Ah, Rabbi, this Jesus sounds like a great and wise teacher. early Christian/Rabbi: yes but there is one thing you must now do: get circumcised. Pagan leader: You want me to have what done to my what? Early Christian/Rabbi: Yes without circumcision you have no part in the Kingdom! See that old fellow over there with the rusty knife and the dirty fingernails? Pagan Leader: You know Rabbi, I just remembered something; I got to go home and change the bathel on the spin dryer. (nah I guess they didn’t have spin dryers back then.) I know–maybe he’d say he had to go home and milk the goats.

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