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29 August 2006 @ 01:56 pm
Was "Saint" Paul a Roman Agent?  
Joseph Atwill, in his book Caesar's Messiah, and David Icke, among others, believe that Paul was an agent of Imperial Rome in general and of the Roman Emperors in specific. Both state their belief that Paul was used, along with Josephus, to start a peaceful messianic movement to undermine the unrest and rebelliousness of Judea.

This makes so. much. sense.

Isn't Paul the guy who introduced stuff like predestination? And that God chooses our leaders? :tries to remember if it was sophomore (Gospels) or junior (Pauline Epistles) year when we covered that: :fails: (I had the same teacher both years)

But wouldn't that make perfect sense? Paul had been persecuting Christians most of his life. The decision to have a "conversion experience," and then subvert them from the inside by telling them that the rule of the Roman Empire was God's will? Makes perfect sense.

I just wish my mom was alive. She'd've loved this theory.

Of course, wherever she is now, she may well already know the answers. 8-)
Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on August 29th, 2006 07:56 pm (UTC)
Except it was the Church following Paul that created tremendous amounts of unrest in the Empire and experienced martyrdom after martyrdom for being subversive of order and the status quo. So if Paul was a spy who hoped to bend Christianity to the Empire's will, he was remarkably unsuccessful. (He was also imprisoned repeatedly for his ministry — how would that make sense if he were working for the Romans?)

It is important not to conflate the Paul of a handful of "texts of terror" with the entire Paul. He certainly has to be wrestled with, but I think discarding him is a mistake, and a misreading of the Pauline text. If we recognize that there is some tension in reading Paul, much of what he has to say is extremely useful.
Crossbow1crossbow1 on August 29th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC)
Except it was the Church following Paul that created tremendous amounts of unrest in the Empire and experienced martyrdom after martyrdom for being subversive of order and the status quo.

But that doesn't mean Paul wasn't a Roman agent - the had no way of knowing what would happen. Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega were installed by the U.S. and ended up being hostile to us.
Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on August 29th, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)
But that doesn't mean Paul wasn't a Roman agent - the had no way of knowing what would happen. Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega were installed by the U.S. and ended up being hostile to us.

Sure, but at some point doesn't this get a little implausible? Paul could be an agent of Galactic Overload Xenu, too, but I don't think that theory really does much for us. I'd rather take Paul at face value, recognizing that sometimes Paul is being bad, human Paul (and can be an asshole — like when he's telling women how to wear their hair), and sometimes, Paul is writing out of a deep experience of the Risen Christ, such as when he contrasts the ministry of condemnation and death with the ministry of righteousness (God making us righteous) in 2 Corinthians 3, or throughout much of the Book of Romans, which is amazing stuff.

I just don't get what the secret-agent theory really does for us, except to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can engage critically with Paul without dismissing him as a spy.
Crossbow1crossbow1 on August 29th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's implausible at all; things like that happen all the time. Governments ALWAYS have insiders in "rebel" groups. At my college, they actually had FBI agents posing as students. My best friend is a former arnarchist, and her group had police agents infiltrating all the time, or trying to. That would be doubly true in an occupied territory like Judea, in an era before wire tapping. Of course, that would be assuming that this alleged Jesus person actually had enough followers in his life time for the government to even notice them.
Sister Sword of Courteous Debate: peacepepperjackcandy on September 2nd, 2006 01:57 am (UTC)
The biggest problem is that we only have half of the conversation when Paul's concerned.

Most of the people I know who would normally disagree with stuff like 1 Corinthians 14:35-36 engage in a lot of extrapolation to explain what Paul probably really meant.

As a result, I've always felt that if it doesn't come from a Gospel, it's pretty much freely discountable.

And, yes, there are a lot of things in the Gospels that are difficult, like Luke 14:26.

Fortunately, I don't believe in a strictly literal interpretation, so I'm finding the Great Commandments to be enough challenge for one lifetime. 8-)
Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on September 2nd, 2006 07:18 am (UTC)
I have a hard time articulating my approach to Scripture, but I would just say we ought to go a little further than "freely discountable" when it comes to the Epistles. I mean, to me almost the entire Epistle of James comes straight from the mouth of God. Much of Romans is that way, too. I feel like they indicate how deeply James, Paul, and others were rooted in a prayerful relationship to the same God I strive to know. They certainly broaden and deepen the discourse of the Gospels in useful ways. (Of course, preserving a few of Mary Magdalene's letters would have been nice, considering her faith seemed to outshine just about every man's in the Gospels. The early church sucks on that count.)

On the other hand, yeah. We shouldn't have to engage in tortured, round-about arguments for why Paul's wrong (or doesn't really mean what he says, or whatever) in the passage you cite among others. I think everyone needs to go through a process of discernment with Scripture, but we needn't be apologetic when we come to understand that the Great Commandment trumps Paul when it comes to women in church leadership or GLBT acceptance. We have to follow the Spirit that Paul was following, not Paul himself. (Or John, or Luke, or ... you get the idea. :-))
Rose Rossroseross on August 29th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC)
Well, the Romans were a sophisticated, worldly culture who certainly knew how to play politics, so it doesn't seem impossible but Paul seems so avidly caught up in his beliefs, I've usually thought I disagreed with him but he meant well.

I did hear a Jewish scholar mention that the holy vision came just when Paul had been kicked out of Damascus and rebuked by the Hebrews who wanted the Christians to follow Hebrew law, just as all Jews must. He thought it was mighty coincidental it was right after that that Paul had a vision and started talkin' forming a new religion. I remember the scholar was particularly irked by Paul saying, "Love is the whole of the law" because that is definitely not the way the Jews see it.

I'm going to have to check out the book. While I'm sure it's the kind of theory that can never be definitively proved or disproved at this point, it does sound like an interesting take on the subject!
carrotblogcarrotblog on August 29th, 2006 09:23 pm (UTC)
"This makes so. much. sense."

You might need to read it again. Joseph Atwill's views are a set of conjectural beliefs. Atwill elevates 'political ideology' in order to undermine the authenticity of 'inner experience'.

One consequence of this attribution is that Paul's experience is not genuine: it is subordinate to his political ideology, and his political ideology remains the driving force for his actions. The confusion is bound to take place in a State where there is no division between religious and political state. Again, one premise deduced from Atwill's work is that Paul is in effect, a political revolutionary who has mastered the art of human persuasion through reason. Then his 'faith' counts for 'nothing'.

Unfortunately Atwill's work loses credibility when he makes gross assumptions: aligning the much respected historian Josephus as a pro-faction of the 'new testament' writers is hyperbolic fantasy. We see in Josephus, the origins of an unbiased historian. In Atwill, we see a modern conjecturist whose values are not, the excavation or the archaelogy of religious history; his values are rooted in the modern anachronistic determination of history through the contemporary political lens of his time and his will to charge history with speculative commentary instead of furthering scientific history. At best, such loosely framed conjectures purport a series of hypotheses, used with an anti-scholarly method of tacking on evidence to support his case where he sees fit, ignoring what does not (i.e inner grace).

Atwill's real difficulty is his failure to determine in what way Paul was a religious revolutionary, and not a political revolutionary, subverting religion to his mastery as a Roman pawn (and therefore spineless in his religious conviction). He plays with our modern sensibility to attribute everything to conspiracy theory instead of being the gentle neutral historian scientist that Josephus was, reporting events as they unfolded within the neutrality of his own cultural blindness.
Chasechasethecat on August 30th, 2006 05:43 am (UTC)
Erm. David Icke also believes that the world is controlled by a secret society of lizard people, or something. I know absolutely nothing about Paul, but David Icke is three different kinds of crazy.
aaron_d_w on August 30th, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting theory. However, there are several major problems with it, as well as some other inaccuracies in your post.

First, regarding predestination. It certainly was not introduced by Paul. The introduction of predestination is, at earliest, Augustine. Even then, the majority of the Roman Church (remember, the Roman Church is NOT the Roman Catholic Church, which is, in fact, Frankish) did not accept or believe in Augustinian doctrine. The rise of predestination was really more towards the time of Charlemagne when the Franks took over the Roman Church's Patriarchate of Rome. From this time forward, the doctrine of predestination came to dominate in Rome. Of course, one could make the argument that this belief (i.e. predestination) was very beneficial to Charlemagne and the Franks as they were the "chosen" people and the "heretical Greeks" (i.e. the Greek-speaking Roman Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire) were not, therefore, they should be killed.

Second, Paul was, as has been mentioned, imprisoned and beaten and killed for his faith. It would be hard to believe that a person would allow this to happen to himself (i.e. physical harm) in order to help the people harming him.

Third, the Roman Empire at the time of Paul and for centuries after, was certainly not kind to Christians, who were peaceful. Hardly the treatment you would expect from an Empire that supposedly used Paul to create a peaceful Jewish sect.
rebel_poet_1030rebel_poet_1030 on August 30th, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC)
Wow man. That's just crazy enough to be true!
Synaesthetic [Damage Control]mattpo on June 1st, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
I don't know as much about the details of paul, or the timeline for that matter, but this seems similar to how constantine took over christianity, re-writing it and "legalizing it" -institutionalizing it, liquidating the gnostic aspects and confusing the christian subfactions by flooding the population with these new indoctrinated "corporate" christians.