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:
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.Peter Kirby wrote: ↑Sun Apr 23, 2017 7:19 amGalatians 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.
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:
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:
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:
Yet the only difference that Paul makes explicit is the approach to circumcision (in particular) or the Mosaic law (in general):
In fact, the very content of his own gospel appears to be this approach to gentile salvation:
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:
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:
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.
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: