Paul and those who Cast Knuckle-bones

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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robert j
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Paul and those who Cast Knuckle-bones

Post by robert j » Fri Aug 02, 2019 1:47 pm

Paul is hard to understand, the author of 2 Peter was right about that. And of course, Paul’s occasional letters are largely focused on a variety of ancillary issues that arose within each congregation. But I think Paul becomes easier to understand if, at least to begin with, one divorces the investigation completely from all the later NT texts and other Christian texts and legends —- legends and traditions that arose from the foundation of Pauline thought. Professor Burton Mack said it well when referring to the use of Paul’s “Christ myth” by the author of GMark ---

“Mark took the basic ideas from the Christ myth but dared to imagine how the crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ might look if played out as a historical event in Jerusalem … “

Who Wrote the New Testament, HarperCollins, New York, 1995, p. 152

The rest is history, or rather, became history.

I think Paul is best understood in the wider world of, as Heidi Wendt described it, entrepreneurial “freelance religious experts”. In the introduction of her Ph.D.dissertation, Wendt described the widespread phenomenon of activity in the ancient world that included exorcists, diviners, oracles, magicians, necromancers, mystery cultists, astrologers, Pythagoreans, promoters of esoteric wisdom, interpreters of sacred Jewish texts, and those who cast knuckle-bones. Wendt wrote that many of these used “signs and wonders” including speaking in tongues and prophesying (sound familiar?). Wendt included “the self-appointed apostle Paul” in her study, and chapter five of her dissertation is titled “Paul, A Rare Witness to the Religion of Freelance Experts”. 1/


The following is from the OP of another thread that I wrote some time ago (with a few edits) ---
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1387

Was Paul any different from the ranks of professional itinerant cynic-philosophers, faith-healers, magicians, astrologers, pneumatics, temple priestesses, charismatics, diviners, and readers of animal entrails that plied the streets of 1st C. Greco-Roman cities?

Well, if one is willing to accept Paul as a true believer, I suppose he could rise above many of those others --- certainly the readers of animal entrails --- but how far?

After all, Paul was a skilled interpreter of the sacred Jewish writings. But for those that do not accept the Judeo-Christian faith, realistically, he should not be given much more credibility and reverence than some of those others listed above that may also have truly believed in their trades --- some of those others also had traditions behind them. For many, gods and religions, like philosophies, are merely human constructs that come and go as cultures evolve.

Paul’s claim that “we are not like the many, peddling the word of God …" (2 Corinthians 2:17) was empty rhetoric as I have argued before. Paul clearly demonstrated an out-sized interest in monetary compensation and collections.

And Paul’s claims to speak for the heavens, to represent a heavenly Lord, were primarily based on passages he plucked from the Scriptures and molded to suit his needs.

Paul was not that much different from Juvenal’s caricature from the streets of Rome of a palsied Jewess that interpreted the scrolls of Jerusalem as a trusty go-between with the highest heaven --- and would tell of dreams for a mere small coin (The Ways of Women, Satire 6 —- about 100 CE).

Not that much different, that is, except for Paul’s business plan. Specifically, Paul’s self-patented idea that promised his Gentile followers --- without the need of circumcision --- full participation with the chosen people of the ancient God of Israel.

--- and Paul’s enterprise that evolved to include some junior partners, the writing of letters after his initial evangelizing efforts to keep his flocks in-line and to encourage compensation, and some of those partners saving his letters and following in his footsteps, and the author of GMark using Paul’s writings in his tale, and Marcionites, Valentinians, and other factions finding some useful material and using Paul’s letters to promote their own sects, and the emerging-catholics responding vehemently to counter the heresies and promoting their own tenets, and ….. Eusebius … Constantine … the Holy Roman Empire ...

robert j


1/ Heidi Wendt, At the Temple Gates: The Religion of Freelance Experts in Early Imperial Rome, Ph.D. Dissertation, Brown University, 2013.

note: Wendt has more recently published her work in a book --- At the Temple Gates: The Religion of Freelance Experts in the Roman Empire, 2016. I haven’t read the book, and only very recently skimmed portions of her dissertation. Despite having some similar ideas, I wrote the material in my earlier OP that is re-posted above long before reading any work by Wendt.


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GakuseiDon
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Re: Paul and those who Cast Knuckle-bones

Post by GakuseiDon » Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:47 pm

robert j wrote:
Fri Aug 02, 2019 1:47 pm
I think Paul is best understood in the wider world of, as Heidi Wendt described it, entrepreneurial “freelance religious experts”.
What a wonderful expression! Her use of "entrepreneurial religions" and "freelance religious experts" expresses perfectly the religious atmosphere of that period according to my "head canon". I think they were driven by a need to combat concerns about the influence of bad spirits of that time. As the Roman Empire expanded, people came into contact with ideas about gods and demons, spells and miracles. This led to financial opportunities for those knowledgeable about that world. Paul certainly seemed concerned about the money coming in. There are similar echoes found in the Third Great Awakening in the 19th C, which to me has many parallels with the First Century CE.
Thanks for the link. A fascinating read!
It is really important, in life, to concentrate our minds on our enthusiasms, not on our dislikes. -- Roger Pearse

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Jax
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Re: Paul and those who Cast Knuckle-bones

Post by Jax » Sun Aug 11, 2019 6:50 am

GakuseiDon wrote:
Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:47 pm
robert j wrote:
Fri Aug 02, 2019 1:47 pm
I think Paul is best understood in the wider world of, as Heidi Wendt described it, entrepreneurial “freelance religious experts”.
What a wonderful expression! Her use of "entrepreneurial religions" and "freelance religious experts" expresses perfectly the religious atmosphere of that period according to my "head canon". I think they were driven by a need to combat concerns about the influence of bad spirits of that time. As the Roman Empire expanded, people came into contact with ideas about gods and demons, spells and miracles. This led to financial opportunities for those knowledgeable about that world. Paul certainly seemed concerned about the money coming in. There are similar echoes found in the Third Great Awakening in the 19th C, which to me has many parallels with the First Century CE.
Thanks for the link. A fascinating read!
You're welcome. :) I found it very interesting myself. :thumbup:

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