But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

-Matthew 11:16-17


Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.

-Luke 6:21

I am big; I am small; I contradict myself'

- Walt Whitman


Monday, August 16, 2010

Through the Galatians Darkly

I have long held that if the genuine Pauline epistles were all had to go by in assessing the early Christianity, some amazing things would probably be easily agreed to by most students of the first Jesus movements. For example, it seems clear not only that Paul was the only apostolic figure who preached the crucified Christ, but also that he believed Jesus to be Christ precisely because he was crucified. In other words, it seems that the Nazarene missions of James initially did not think of Jesus as Messiah at all, precisely because Christ crucified would have been an obstacle(σκανδαλον) to them, just as he was to the other Jews.'

Galatians is a case in point. Paul claimed that his was the only true gospel, and cursed those who preached to his flock something other than he did (Gal 1:7-8). That he meant specifically missions from Jerusalem in which Cephas figured prominently, of that there is little doubt. Mind you, there is a number of exegetical theories arguing that Paul opponents were really not Jerusalem missionaries but home-grown Judaizing Christians, spiritualists or gnostics, but most scholars would not be swayed by exegesis of stand-alone passages or verses, around which these theories seem to be spun (e.g. W.Luetgert, J. Munck, J.Tyson, W. Schmithals). But, to my mind, the text is emphatic that Paul’s rivals come from Jerusalem or rely on the authority of its assembly. Paul’s poetic association of Sarah and Isaac with Jerusalem above (4:26) cannot be meaningful if the missions from James’ earthly abode are not referenced by it. Similarly, in 5:10, the ‘whoever he (the malefactor) may be’ (οστις εαν η) , would have no impact if the judgment were not invoked for an individual or corporate authority.

But if Paul had a deep, unbridgeable difference with the Nazarenes, why would he insist on collecting money and goods for their saints around the Mediterranean ? There are two answers to that, I believe. The shorter one is, ‘Jesus Christ’, the longer ‘Paul’s psychology’. Let us look at Paul’s motives of going to Jerusalem in the first place, and the structure of the Jerusalem church as it is revealed to us by the epistle to the Galatians.

How many times was Paul in Jerusalem ?

Galatians records two visits of apostle Paul to Jerusalem. As I have hinted in the previous blog (Paul’s Conversion – 9/8/2010), the first journey in 1:18-24 looks doubtful. It appears that Tertullian, in Adversus Marcionem (5.3.1) had no knowledge of the first visit. He refered to Gal 2.1 saying [Paul] writes that after fourteen years he went up to Jerusalem, to seek the support of Peter and the rest of the apostles, to confer with them concerning the content of his gospel, for fear lest for all those years he had run, or was still running, in vain—meaning, if he was preaching the gospel in any form
inconsistent with theirs.
Similarly, Irenaeus alluded to the same verse in Adversus Haereses (3.13.3) without the adverb ‘again’. (This relies on H.Detering’s Latin text of Irenaeus, which misses ‘iterum’ in the verse. www.hermann-detering.de/DetGalExpl.pdf). In the case of Tertullian, the failure to cite the omission as an example of Marcion’s ‘mutilating’ the Pauline text is surprising, as he evidently knew a version of Galatians which contained 1:18-24 (1:21 possibly excepted) and quoted from it (ref. to 1:18, 1:24 in Prescription Against Heretics, XXIII.). Among the possible explanations, the one which would be fair to Tertullian is that The Prescription was written after a critique of Marcion (against the Chronology of bishop Kaye).

Apart from the likely textual witness, there is a truly mind-boggling failure of the NT exegesis to observe that Paul on his second visit has no reference to Cephas and James from the first visit. In Gal 2.2, Paul avers he went by revelation to lay his gospel privately (ιδιαν) before those who ‘seemed to be leaders’, or ‘those of repute’ (τοις δοκουσιν). But that does not make sense, does it ? Paul had a revelation, but could not connect it to Cephas and James, whom he ostensibly met eleven years prior, and who he then should know himself were the leaders of the church, i.e. the persons with whom to do business in Zion. Instead, Paul wrote this verse as though he anticipated the outcome of his visit (no doubt to fulfil the revelation), i.e. getting to talk to people who were going to be pointed to him as having some - undetermined - influence in the church. In other words, the fact that Paul had to rely on directions from casual informants to get to talk to James, Cephas and John, belies most decidedly any previous personal contact with the Jerusalem assembly.

Therefore, I discount the report of the first visit which appears motivated by a desire to show that Paul had a much earlier dealings with the church, made perhaps to harmonize his own writing with the legends of Paul in the Acts, where he is a frequent visitor to Jerusalem (chapters 9, 11 , 15, 18 ,21).

The tale of two James’es

Let us now turn our attention to the structure of the Jerusalem community as it is revealed through Paul’s writing. It is interesting that Paul was to meet James, the Lord’s brother, during his first journey to Jerusalem (Gal 1:19). I say that in consideration of the use of the title, which stands in sharp contrast to Paul describing seemingly the same person later as simply one of those who 'seemed to be pillars'. We do have Paul referring to brothers of the Lord elsewhere (1 Cr 9:5) so the appellation existed in his time. The question whether it meant a designation of kinship to the Nazarene Jesus, or whether it denoted some liturgical function, seems to be a rhetorical one, since one cannot presume the use of non-titular Lord to denote kinship to a human – now matter how venerable - among Jews who worshipped in the Temple. The term 'brothers of the Lord' appears to be a cultic designation, akin perhaps to les Templiers, the abbreviation of Les chevaliers du Temple, whose actual full title was Le pauvres chevaliers du Christ et du temple de Salomon à Jerusalem. In analogy, the brothers of the Lord, were likely a truncated familiar version of a title, nonetheless one of respect. One possible full title that comes to mind is οι αδελφοι εν τη διακονια του κυριου, brothers in the service of the Lord.

Irrespective of the authenticity of Gal 1:18-24, and the appellation in 1:19 belonging to him, James the Just was venerated by the community. One glimpse of the unparalleled respect he commanded as the leader of the Jerusalem community of saints is provided by the Gospel of Thomas :

Jesus said to them, "Wherever you are, you are to go to James the Righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth come into being." GoT(12)

This saying predates the death of James (62 CE) as the instruction would serve no purpose after he was gone. Other notable witness of James the Just, the cameo by Hegesippus in Eusebius’ Church History, also describes him is a saintly ascetic man who by all appearances was peerless. One could safely assume that a community which apprehended its leader on those terms would not likely proclaim him as a part of ‘collective leadership’ or tolerate the profaning of his name. This of course prefigures the assessment that James the Just was one of the ‘so-called pillars’ whom Paul met but who added ‘nothing’ to Paul’s stature as apostle. If that were true – i.e. if Paul went to Jerusalem by revelation and achieved what he sought to achieve, i.e. acceptance of himself as bona fide apostle by the highest authority in Jerusalem, why the bitter, disrespectful tone in Paul’s writing ? In the next verse after the identity of Paul’s interlocutors was revealed (2:10), they urged Paul and his co-workers ‘to remember the poor’, the very thing that was on Paul’s mind. Some exegets, notably J.D.G. Dunn, read the aorist active infinitive (ποιησαι) as indication that Paul has already delivered on this intent, however that instantly obscures the function of the pillars’ reminder. I would stand by the standard translation. Who are these poor ? I dare to presume that they are the ‘poor saints’ that Paul provisions in Rom 15:26. Herein, a big surprise !

In my reading of Galatians Paul went to Jerusalem for the first time after fourteen years from his conversion. The number of years coincides with the time of writing sections of 2 Corinthians, (2 Cr 12:2) which are overwhelmed by Paul’s concern for his apostolic status. It appears Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, and offer James the Just his material support for his recognition of him as fully approved apostle of the church. However, he did not make it past the initial screening, because his doctrine of the Law fulfilment in Jesus Christ was judged completely unacceptable (Gal 2:4-5). Paul was instead handled by the three pillars of the church material support (Cephas and the Zebedees), i.e. its missionaries, who themselves travelled and collected money for the poor saints. With them he would have made a deal for his mission to the Gentiles (which was perhaps not as exclusive as Paul made it sound). It appears that there was some promise (or belief of Paul that such promise was made) on behalf of the three, to intercede on behalf of Paul with the church leaders to grant him an audition. This is what I believe can be gleaned from Rom 15:31.

Very well then, when Gal 2:9-10 are cross-referenced with Rom 15:26, 28, 31, a very interesting picture emerges. One, the James of the pillars is not James the Just. Two, the ‘seeming pillars’ do not belong tp the Jerusalem saints. Paul speaks of the pillars (and the Judaizers, in general) in a disrespectful, off-handed manner (no doubt coloured by what happened later), which would hardly be possible to deploy in reference to James the Just. At the same time, he deems it important to record the request of his interlocutors for material support, which again Paul dismisses as superfluous because he himself intended to support the third party, identified as ‘οι πτωχοι’ in Galatians (2:10), and ‘οι πτωχοι των αγιων των εν Ιερουσαλημ’ in Romans (15:26). I much prefer the straightforward translation of the Romans’ double partitive by William Barlow in KJV (independently supported by Luther, Calvin and Blahoslav of the Czech Bible of Kralice) which renders the Greek as ‘poor saints (which are) at Jerusalem’.

At any rate, James, Cephas, and John asked Paul for the support of the saints, from which they are excluded by the context. In Paul’s letters the term saint denotes purity and freedom from sin. The Judaizers themselves do not keep the law – hence the charge of hypocrisy against Cephas and his mission at Antioch. But it is hardly credible that Paul meant to include James the Just himself was an impious law-breaker, who wanted to glory in the Galatians’ flesh. So, if Paul wanted to collect for James and his poor saints, it may be safely assumed they were not among those against whom he riles. Paul needed the acceptance of James the Just to silence his detractors, and as it is apparent from Galatians, the missions from Jerusalem formed a big part of that problem.

What is on the other side of the ledger ? Could James the Zebedee have been still around for Paul to meet ? I am frankly surprised at the degree of consensus that exists among NT scholars on the identity of James in 2:9, given that the only historical markers here come from the Acts in which the execution of James the Zebedee (12:1) precedes the ‘conference’ (15:4-29), the latter which does not track with Galatians at all. But in fact, there are echos of Gal 2 all over Acts 11, including Peter’s following orders from above to break kashrut, men coming from Jerusalem to Antioch, and Paul with Barnabas going to Jerusalem, though not with just a promise of aid but delivering it. The objection then has more to do with traditional beliefs of Paul connecting with the highest echelons of the Jerusalem hierarchy, than anything that could be described as historical evidence for it.

However in reality, not just Paul but the 'pillars' themselves did not figure as the church top leaders. Their being on top surely looks like a part of the myth of self-foundation of the Christian church in Jerusalem as proclaimed by the Acts. But as we shall see (in one of the future blogs) there is another, much more realistic scenario of the Jesus cult beginnings in Jerusalem. James the Just’s assembly acted as the shelter and protector for a variety of messianic and apocalyptic cults. Jesus’ entourage was adopted into the church and sent to proclaim Jesus as the prophet of last days. The pillars were Jesus missionaries of James. Similarly, there were disciples and missions of John the Baptists in the assembly and in the Diaspora. It is only later, after the first Jewish war, when Christianity consolidated outside of Palestine, that the church of James began to be portrayed exclusively as ‘Christian’ church, and James the Just as Jesus’ brother. Figures like Cephas and the Zebedees rose in prominence as chief figures of James’ assembly, eventually displacing him in importance as the gospels came to be written with the focus shifting exclusively on the Nazarene Jesus.

But Paul tells us something else: the pillars urged him to support the poor saints, a body of venerated church sages to which they evidently did not belong themselves. That Cephas, specifically, ranked much lower than James the Just is also apparent from the incident at Antioch. He ate with the Gentiles until certain men came ‘from James’. Then he quickly distanced himself. Cephas could be thought of as a high-ranking church dignitary, if he were not a member of mammalian species where males are organized in functional hierarchies. At issue here is his yielding to members who presumably were of lower ranking than he on fear that a faction within the church (the circumcision party) would have prevailed in a showdown before James. It is hard to grasp that Cephas, an established leader within the church and a former confidante of Jesus would have not have a standing that would protect him from petty tyrannies of subordinates. If the organization was built as a memorial cult of the Nazarene Jesus, and he was on record saying things like ‘nothing a man eats can defile him’ (Mk 7:15), Cephas would have been well within his rights to eat whatever he pleased, even before the Holy Spirit told him so on the roof of a house in Joffa. It appears then, that if Cephas changed his behaviour at a mere sight of men coming who had audience with James, then James was a highly dominant figure over him and an undisputed head of an assembly which was built on different values than Cephas was accustomed to. The incident is best explained by his conforming to expectations established wholly outside of his assigned competence. His craven retreat from the Gentile dining halls also explains why Paul did not have to bother to distinguish between James ‘the pillar’ (in 2:9), and James the Just (in 2:12). James the Just was a name that presumably needed no introduction in the circles that Paul moved. His authority was understood by all who had association with the sectaries.

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