Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

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Ben C. Smith
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Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:19 am

Sometimes one sets out to demonstrate X but instead finds oneself tending to confirm not X.

I have tried before to convince myself that Paul is the one who introduced the concept of the crucifixion to an already existing Messiah myth/legend: in other words, that Paul's predecessors (Cephas, James, and others) believed in some sort of revelation of the Messiah, but not that the Messiah had been crucified or had risen from the dead.

Peter Kirby has flirted with this perspective, as well:
Peter Kirby wrote:
Sun Apr 23, 2017 7:19 am
Galatians 5:11
"But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed."

So a follower of Jesus Christ can accept circumcision, and then they do not need to believe in the offense of the cross. (This is interesting...)

The upshot here is that the opponents may not believe in the cross, but they do believe in Christ Jesus. The idea that the opponents may not believe in the cross lends new meaning to Galatians 3:1.

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?"

So it seems that there could be a disagreement regarding whether Jesus Christ was crucified. The common denominator and point of disagreement, on the other hand, appears to be Jesus Christ, what it takes to believe in him, whether his gospel is limited to Jews and the circumcised, whether Gentile converts need to become circumcised first, and whether Jews should be eating with Gentile converts who have not first become circumcised.
Recently I tackled this issue again, because I had read several passages in Galatians which I thought for a while I might be able to press logically in the direction of Paul claiming that belief in the cross is the exact equivalent of believing that gentiles should not have to undergo circumcision; therefore, whenever Paul noted that his rivals wanted to circumcise gentiles, he was simultaneously saying that they literally did not believe in the crucifixion, either, the connection between the crucifixion and uncircumcision being so logical, apparently, that not even they could escape it. In circumcising gentiles, they simply had to deny the cross, too.

But this effort has thus far failed on my part.

First, I have not been able to find any real precedent for Paul's tight connection between the crucifixion and uncircumcision. His own reasoning, while being clear enough to sketch out, is hardly a logical necessity, after all:

Galatians 6.15: 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

While the kind of Judaism that expected a national renewal at some point was generally all about the "not yet" of the situation ("next year in Jerusalem," and all that), Paul was convinced that at least part of the standard eschatological scenario was "already" extant in some sense. The creation was already in the process of being renewed, because a significant threshold in the prophetic timetable had already been crossed: the Messiah had already appeared (in whatever sense), had already died, and had already been resurrected as the first fruits of the general resurrection. For Paul, humanity was already at a point where it was time to live as if the age to come had already dawned, because it had. For Paul, this meant that gentiles no longer had to become Jews (by means of circumcision) in order to share in the blessings of the messianic era. He focused on the crucifixion in this connection (rather than, say, on the resurrection) probably because the crucifixion was a better symbol of something scandalous (like eschewing circumcision), because the crucifixion represented the full rejection of the way things had always been done "in the flesh" (and there is nothing more fleshly than circumcision), and because the crucifixion, as the end of the Messiah's life, was easy to view as the end of an era.

Paul's view that the dawning of the new age spelled the end of gentile circumcision was not necessarily the norm. I have been unable so far to find anything quite like it in the early going of the Christian era, except for Paul and his spiritual progeny. One can find exceptions being made for gentiles accepting the Jewish faith, but in those cases there does not seem to be any connection with the ending of one age and the beginning of another, much less with the crucifixion of the Messiah. There is this passage from Philo:

Philo, On the Migration of Abraham 16.92: 92 Nor does it follow, because the feast is the symbol of the joy of the soul and of its gratitude towards God, that we are to repudiate the assemblies ordained at the periodical seasons of the year; nor because the rite of circumcision is an emblem of the excision of pleasures and of all the passions, and of the destruction of that impious opinion, according to which the mind has imagined itself to be by itself competent to produce offspring, does it follow that we are to annul the law which has been enacted about circumcision. Since we shall neglect the laws about the due observance of the ceremonies in the temple, and numbers of others too, if we exclude all figurative interpretation and attend only to those things which are expressly ordained in plain words.

Is Philo arguing against real Jews who repudiated literal circumcision, or is this just a hypothetical? I am not sure. At any rate, there is again nothing here about a change of economy at the death of the Messiah or whatnot.

The long and short of it is that it seems quite possible that somebody could accept the crucifixion of the Messiah without simultaneously negating the circumcision of gentiles. The logical necessity which Paul himself saw may not have been the rule. Therefore, there is no argument to be made from a priori expectations, at least not that I can yet see.

Second, Paul seems to tell us explicitly what sets his gospel apart from the gospel preached by his rivals. He acknowledges that there are both similarities and difference:

Galatians 1.6-7a: 6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7a which is really not another....

Yet the only difference that Paul makes explicit is the approach to circumcision (in particular) or the Mosaic law (in general):

Galatians 3.2: 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Galatians 5.6: 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Galatians 6.12: 12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

In fact, the very content of his own gospel appears to be this approach to gentile salvation:

Galatians 3.8: 8 The scripture, foreknowing that God would justify the nations/gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations/gentiles will be blessed in you.”

If the differences between his own gospel and that of his rivals included the acceptance or rejection both of circumcision and of the crucifixion, why does Paul seem only to harp on the former? Why does he not make a point of the latter, as well?

Third, one obvious answer to that last question is that perhaps he does make a point of his rivals accepting or rejecting the crucifixion:

Galatians 3.1: 1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?

It is easy to read this verse's emphasis on the crucifixion precisely as a reminder that it did happen and must be reckoned with. Unfortunately, it is also easy to read this verse's emphasis on the crucifixion precisely as Paul's way of pointing out his own preferred corollaries to the fact of the Messiah having died. In other words, I might well throw the crucifixion in your face if I thought that you were rejecting it, sure. But I also might throw the crucifixion in your face if I thought that you were ignoring or overlooking its implications: "See, the flesh dies. Even the Messiah died. It was never meant to last forever. Circumcision is of the flesh; it, too, was meant to die." I find I cannot press this verse into the service I intended for it without additional support.

Another answer to that question (about him making a point of circumcision but not of crucifixion) is not quite so obvious, but perhaps it is because Paul thinks that not circumcising gentiles is more important than the crucifixion. This might seem weird from a modern Christian point of view, but Paul did, after all, regard God's promise of a blessing to the nations through Abraham as a foresummary of his own gospel. Also, perhaps the situation in Galatia itself had a lot more to do with circumcision than with crucifixion (as Galatians 6.12 seems to admit). The weirdness notwithstanding, I acknowledge that this is a possible answer; but it is only possible; I do not think it is intrinsically any more likely than the alternative, and so find myself unable to use it, again, without additional support. Galatians 3.1, at least for now, leans in neither direction for me; I think that either approach can explain it satisfactorily.

Fourth, and finally, there are the two passages that I thought for a while I might be able to turn into logical evidence that, for his opponents as well as for Paul himself, the crucifixion and the uncircumcision of gentiles stood or fell together:

Galatians 5.11: 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the scandal of the cross has been abolished.

Galatians 6.12: 12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

For Paul, certainly, crucifixion and gentile uncircumcision go together. But for his rivals? There is a difference between not accepting the cross and not accepting the scandal of the cross; there is a difference between not accepting the cross and not accepting being persecuted for the cross. Paul slips this mitigating factor in, and it may very well not be incidental; it may mean something.

One can be a hippie and, in somebody else's opinion, miss the point of being a hippie. Likewise, one may accept the crucifixion and, in Paul's opinion, miss the point of the crucifixion. Both of these verses are highly susceptible to this reading; moreover, the very fact that Paul worded them in this way may indicate that his rivals are, indeed, adherents to the crucifixion but not to Paul's own (scandalous) interpretation of it. In other words, given these two chances to tell us that his rivals rejected the crucifixion, Paul instead tells us that they avoid the scandal of or persecution for the crucifixion.

So I cannot as yet honestly suggest that Paul's rivals rejected the crucifixion. It really would have made some of my latest thoughts on early Christian origins easier if I could, but so be it. The traditional reading of Galatians, on this particular point, may indeed be the correct one: Paul and his rivals agreed on the historical or mythical basics behind the gospel, but disagreed on their implications for gentile circumcision. I believe Andrew Criddle has been saying something like this all along, and at this very moment, at least, I think he is probably right... unless somebody can persuade me otherwise.

Ben.

PS: This post is not in any way meant to distinguish between an historical and a mythical/legendary crucifixion. Nor is it meant to distinguish between a hanging post mortem and a live hanging unto death, both of which could apparently be described as a crucifixion:

Xenophon, Anabasis 3.1.17: 17 And yet if we submit and fall into the King's hands, what do we imagine our fate is to be? Even in the case of his own brother, and, yet more, when he was already dead [τεθνηκότος ἤδη], this man cut off his head and his hand and crucified them [ἀνεσταύρωσεν]; as for ourselves, then, who have no one to intercede for us, and who took the field against him with the intention of making him a slave rather than a king and of killing him if we could, what fate may we expect to suffer?

Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Wed Aug 07, 2019 11:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Giuseppe
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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Giuseppe » Wed Aug 07, 2019 9:19 am

It is never occurred in my mind that only Paul introduced the crucifixion and that the Pillars adored a not-crucified Christ. Possibly the only point that would support the view of Paul as first introducer of the crucifixion is the fact that in the book of Revelation (that is in my view a book written by the last followers of the Pillars and against the Pauline nicolaites) the only reference to a crucifixion is very probably an interpolation, while all the other evidence seems to point to an immolation as the type of death of Jesus.

Hence the my question: was the Book of Revelation written by the followers of the Pillars, when the Pillars preached the crucifixion too?
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Giuseppe » Wed Aug 07, 2019 9:28 am

I see that for two times you use the adjective "scandalous" in reference to the crucifixion for Paul:
adherents to the crucifixion but not to Paul's own (scandalous) interpretation of it
He focused on the crucifixion in this connection (rather than, say, on the resurrection) probably because the crucifixion was a better symbol of something scandalous (like eschewing circumcision), because the crucifixion represented the full rejection of the way things had always been done "in the flesh" (and there is nothing more fleshly than circumcision), and because the crucifixion, as the end of the Messiah's life, was easy to view as the end of an era.
But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that the crucifixion was scandalous for the not-Christians (Pagans and Jews). Where is the evidence that Paul introduced himself the mere possibility that for a Christian the crucifixion could be scandalous?

I don't find it.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:19 am

Giuseppe wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 9:28 am
I see that for two times you use the adjective "scandalous" in reference to the crucifixion for Paul:
adherents to the crucifixion but not to Paul's own (scandalous) interpretation of it
He focused on the crucifixion in this connection (rather than, say, on the resurrection) probably because the crucifixion was a better symbol of something scandalous (like eschewing circumcision), because the crucifixion represented the full rejection of the way things had always been done "in the flesh" (and there is nothing more fleshly than circumcision), and because the crucifixion, as the end of the Messiah's life, was easy to view as the end of an era.
But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that the crucifixion was scandalous for the not-Christians (Pagans and Jews). Where is the evidence that Paul introduced himself the mere possibility that for a Christian the crucifixion could be scandalous?

I don't find it.
"Scandalous," in this case, means "scandalous to Paul's rivals." And it has mainly/only to do with circumcision, not necessarily with the cross directly.
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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:23 am

The equation is explicit in Galatians 5.11 and 6.12:

Not circumcising gentiles = the scandal of the cross = persecution for the cross.
Circumcising gentiles = the scandal of the cross removed = no persecution for the cross.

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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Kapyong » Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:42 am

Gday Ben :)
Interesting analysis.

I note a little latter former glitch here :
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:19 am
If the differences between his own gospel and that of his rivals included the acceptance or rejection both of circumcision and of the crucifixion, why does Paul seem only to harp on the former? Why does he not make a point of the former, as well?
Kapyong

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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Aug 07, 2019 11:10 am

Fixed. Thanks.
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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by John2 » Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:40 pm

Ben wrote (in response to giuseppe):
"Scandalous," in this case, means "scandalous to Paul's rivals." And it has mainly/only to do with circumcision, not necessarily with the cross directly.

That's how it looks to me too. I think Jesus' crucifixion was "scandalous to Paul's rivals" only with respect to Paul's Torah-free interpretation of it. In other words, Paul is saying that if he was pro-Torah then his pro-Torah Jewish Christian rivals would have no reason to oppose him, but the fact that they did oppose him was proof (for Paul) that he wasn't pro-Torah.
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Re: Paul, his rivals, and the crucifixion.

Post by Giuseppe » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:12 pm

I agree with Ben's analysis buy with a clarification : the crucifixion was scandalous but not the preaching of the crucifixion.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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