Anti-Judaism in Christian scripture, Part Three: Professor Eisenman and “Paul the Jew”
By coincidence Dr. Eisenman published his latest article today, 'Sicarii Essenes', 'Those of the Circumcision,' and Qumran.
The two articles are very complimentary in describing Paul. Strongly recommend Dr. Eisenman's article. I can also recommend other works by this renown scholar on the subject of first century Judaism and the emergence of Christianity for interested readers
Paul’s identity is shrouded in mystery. And since identity impacts motivation, it is important to discuss Paul’s identity as “Jew” and how that might have impacted the religion he fathered. The following is excerpted from a paper Robert Eisenman, Dead Sea Scrolls expert and pre-eminent historian of first century Christianity. He delivered a paper to the Institute for Jewish-Christian Origins at California State University at Long Beach in Spring, 1966. The following quotes are drawn from that paper and reflect MY understanding of his thought which may, or not reflect his own.
Paul as Herodian: In his epistles Paul describes his family home as “Tarsus,” a town in today’s Turkey, and himself from the family line of “Herod the Great.“ Herod was an Idomean and was considered a non-Jew by the Pharisees, reviled by Jewish nationalists. Owing their privileges to pagan Rome they were identified with the oppressors, considered collaborators and traitors and often targeted for assassination by the nationalists. This represents an interesting parallel to Paul’s representing himself persecuting Christians in service of the Temple high priest.
In describing Paul Eisenman refers to,
“Paul’s Herodian connections [which] make the manner of his sudden appearances and disappearances, his various miraculous escapes, his early power in Jerusalem, his Roman citizenship, his easy relations with kings and governors, and the venue and terms of his primary missionary activities comprehensible in a manner no other reconstruction even approaches.”
The term “Pharisee” as appears in Josephus’ writings refers to persons and groups adhering to the Talmud, a religious identification. The term as applied to Josephus and Paul describes,
“self-professed “Pharisees”... identifiable because of an accommodating attitude towards foreign rule.”(emphasis added)
Paul describes himself a “Pharisee.” He never directly describes himself as “Herodian” but, as Dr. Eisenman noted above, evidence supports the connection. Paul is one of very few “Jews” to hold Roman citizenship. He has exceptional access to the seats of power extending from Judea to the emperor’s household in Rome:
“Paul’s Herodian links explain how such a comparatively young man could have wielded such powers when he first came to Jerusalem and how he could have been empowered by “the high priest” to search out “Christians” in areas even as far afield as “Damascus”… his easy entrance into Jerusalem ruling circles… [his salutation] in Rom 16:11 of his “kinsman Herodion…” It also very easily explains the matter of Paul’s Roman citizenship, which is such an important element in [his various] escapes.
“It is not very likely that Paul could have made the miraculous escapes he does without the involvement of some combination of these powerful Herodian/Roman forces… the attack on Paul in the Temple and his rescue by Roman soldiers witnessing these events from the Fortress of Antonia (Acts 21:3)… Without [Herodian] intervention Paul could never have enjoyed the comfortable protective custody he does in Caesarea and never been packed off in relative security to Rome.”
So, was Paul a Jew? Technically he may have been due to the genealogical link and the multiple marriages that line had with Jews over the years. As a “Jew” and “Herodian” he might also have experienced identity confusion, been torn between loyalties to Judea and Rome. And this could explain the “peculiar manner in which he chooses to exercise this Judaism” appearing in his epistles.
“It is hard to consider that a native-born Jew, comfortable in his identity, could have indulged in the kind of insults Paul gratuitously makes concerning circumcision, circumcisers, and those keeping dietary regulations, or adopted the curious approach towards the possibility of simultaneously being a Law-keeper to those who keep the Law and a Law-breaker to those who did not in order, as he puts it, “to win, not beat the air,” or that by avoiding circumcision, one could avoid the demands of the Law, which in some manner he saw as “a curse.”
“In our view, it is just these Herodian origins where Paul is concerned that explain his very peculiar view of Judaism, what we perceive to be his inferiority complex and defensiveness where Jews are concerned, his jealousy of Jews, in fact his anti-Semitism generally, and finally his extremely lax and, from the Jewish viewpoint, utterly unconscionable view of the Law.”
As regards the identity of Paul/Saul, Eisenman’s challenge is two-fold: Paul-as-Jew, and Paul-the-Herodian. It is Paul’s relationship to the Herodians that describes his Judaism as “religion” questionable; his anti-Jewish sentiments appearing in his epistles that calls his loyalty to Jewry as “nation” into question.
Secondary sources for Paul as Herodian
At the end of Romans 16:11
, Paul sends regards to his nephew, and to the family of “Narcissus:”
“Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet them of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.”
Herodion, or “Little Herod,” is assumed the son of Herod of Chalcis and his wife, Salome of the infamous “dance” and beheading of John the Baptist. And the identity of Narcissus is also interesting. As described by the American Tract Society Bible Dictionary (ATS) “Narcissus,” a Roman,
“many of whose household Paul salutes as Christians… two men of this name are mentioned in Roman histories of that time; one… a favorite of the emperor Claudius; the other, of Nero his successor.” (emphasis added)
This description of Narcissus is important for several reasons. For one it establishes a clear connection not only between Paul and the Herodians but also between Paul and the Roman aristocracy. In terms of history this was a time that the Judean insurrection against Roman rule was in full swing and Jewish fighters were daily crucified as “bandits” fighting Rome. For a “Jew” to be travelling freely across the Empire, to be comfortably socializing with the Roman aristocracy is noteworthy.
Accepting that Paul is a Herodian, what bearing does that have for his identity as “Jew”? Part of the controversy involves whether Herod the Great (Rome’s “King of the Jews”) was himself a “Jew.” Rome’s interest would have been in the loyalty, not religion of their surrogate. As king and inheritor of the Maccabean realm Herod chose for wife Marriame, a daughter of the displaced Maccabean line. Some years later, imagining a nationalist threat to replace him with one of his sons with Marriame he ordered she and their sons murdered.
As mentioned, Herod and his successors served at the pleasure of Rome. They collected taxes for the imperial treasury, maintained order and, as much as possible, calm in Judea. The Herodian line and the office of high priest were servants of Rome, lackeys in the eyes of most Jews. Whatever they may have considered themselves to be they did not represent Jewish life in Judea. Their lifestyle and allegiance was Hellenic, and this made them enemies and targets for assassination by Judean insurgents described by the gospels and Josephus as “Sicarii.”
According to Eisenman the issue of Paul’s Herodian identity is central to the origins and future of Christianity. Paul’s epistles represent serial contradictions regarding Jews and Judaism and Dr. Eisenman’s explanation provides both a credible description of the man behind those contradictions. It also opens a discussion of the purpose Paul’s emergent “messianic” movement served during this period of Jewish national crisis. But before describing that connection a prior question needs to be addressed: How did Paul the Herodian become involved with the Jerusalem leadership, a movement generally viewed as religion reformist but may, instead, have been political and insurrectionist?
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