[HJMatMeth] Re: Persecuting what?
- Let me begin by focusing on Paul and Damascus, Stevan. I am impressed by the
fact that Acts and Paul both mention Damascus, but I do not accept as
historical Luke's claim that Paul was on a mission from the Jerusalem
authorities to persecute Christians in Damascus. I find that much more
likely as Luke's theological geography in which everything goes out from
Jerusalem until, at the end of the Acts, Rome takes over as the center of
Christianity (for Luke). The way I read Paul's almost off-hand mention of
Damascus in Gal 1:17 is that he was living there at the time. I understand
his mention of himself as persecutor in Gal 1:13 & Phil 3:6 as follows. He
probably had an official function within Damascus synagogue(s) in terms of
general discipline for the Jewish community. The big question then becomes
this for me: What were some Christian Jews saying/doing that was so
offensive that the synagogue(s) would approve Paul's persecution? I am not
imagining by that term any lethal possibilities, but punishments could
extend from the use of flogging if one wished to stay within the community
or excommunication by being cast outside (I would consider that a quite
devastating punishment within its ancient cultural milieu). It does not seem
to me that claims for Jesus' messiahship would be adequate to create such
"persecutions." In fact, the only thing I can imagine that would have
brought down such punishments on Christian Jews was the claim that, since we
are now in the apocalyptic consummation, God is bringing in the Gentiles
into fellowship with us Jews and not demanding circumcision from their males
and probably not any other purity considerations either. (It might even have
involved, although this is much more speculative, a calendrical change of
the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.) I am, however, much more confident of
that first reason for persecution than of the second. What happened to Paul
in his "conversion" was that he turned from persecuting Christian Jews for
Gentile-as-Gentile inclusion, not just into letting them alone, or becoming
a Christian Jew, or becoming a Christian Jew with a mission to his fellow
Jews, but becoming, precisely, the apostle of the Gentiles. He was, in other
words, as he saw it, called by God to do exactly what he had been
All of that concerns Damascus alone. You mentioned "Paul's persecution of
the Christian Churches of God in Judea down to Damascus." I do not see the
independent sources saying that or at least saying it as clearly as they do
about Damascus persecution (Acts: Paul and Stephen? historical?). Paul
mentions, in Gal 1:22 that he was "not known by sight to the churches of
Christ in Judea," but then in 1 Thess 2:14 he mentions that those churches
had been persecuted. I always thought that had something to do with the
persecutions that we know about only from Acts concerning, for example,
Stephen, James, or Peter. In any case, those latter two individuals fit well
into the situation under Herod Agrippa I in the early 40s. But I do not see
Paul involved here (unless, as mentioned, with Stepen?). You may be seeing
something that I do not, but in general, I don't find any claims that are
convincing enough to think of Paul persecuting "in Judea down to Damascus."
>From: "stevan davies" <sdavies@...>
>Subject: [HJMatMeth] Persecuting what?
>Date: Thu, Mar 2, 2000, 1:24 PM
> Thank you and Jeff for arranging and carrying through this seminar.
> I'd like to close by asking you what it was that Paul was persecuting.
> Paul and Luke, who are generally considered independent sources,
> report Paul's persecution of the Christian Churches of God in Judea
> down to Damascus. This persecution took place within a few years
> of Jesus' death and according to Luke explicitly and Paul implicitly
> was carried out with authority from high Judean officials. I assume
> that these reports are true and am very curious as to what you think
> he was persecuting both in sociological terms (what were these
> churches of God in Judea?) and content terms (what did they do
> that would justify legal sanctions by Judean officials)?
> Stevan Davies
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