He began to preach his new Christianity at Damascus about the year 51, and found out that the world was not prepared for his ideas.
Today we continue Christianity Appears
with a selection from The Origin of Christianity, and a Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles by Isaac M. Wise published in 1868. The selections are presented in a series of installments for 5 minute daily reading.
Previously in Christianity Appears.
Rabbinical mystics, like modern trance-speakers, gave vivid descriptions of the interior splendor and grand sceneries of heaven and of the conversations of angels. One of those descriptions is preserved in Pirke Rabbi Eliezer, and others in various fragments of the Talmud.
Among those particularly noticed in the Talmud as having been in heaven or paradise there is also Acher, or Paul, who states so himself in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians (xii.). That passage gave rise to the story of Jesus appearing in person to Paul, just as the rabbinical mystics claimed to have had frequent intercourse with the prophet Elijah, who had been transported alive to heaven.
So Paul passed the transition from the law school of the Pharisees to the new school of mystics. In this state of trance he discovered that central figure of the Cabalistic speculation, the Metathron, the co-regent of the Almighty; or, as he otherwise was called, the Synadelphos, the confrere of the Deity, or Suriel, the “Prince of the Countenance,” whom the Cabalists imagined to be the chief marshal or chief scribe in heaven; who was once on earth, as Enoch or as Elijah, and was advanced to that high position in heaven.
It is the Demiurge, the highest magistrate in heaven, whom the gnostic Valentine calls a godlike angel, and of whom the rabbis said, “His name is like unto the name of his Master.”
This central figure, blended with the messianic speculations of that age, with the doctrines of Peter and the nascent Church, combined in Paul’s mind to one mystic conception of the “Son of God,” intelligible to pagan ears. So he went forth and proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God. In substance, the expression is about the same as Metathron and Synadelphos, and the office which Paul ascribed to Jesus is precisely of the same nature with that which the Cabalists ascribed to the angel who was the Saar Haolom, the prince or ruler of this world, who stands before God, or also sits before him, as Paul’s Jesus stands before God or sits at his right hand. It is precisely the same in both systems, the names only are changed; so that it is difficult to decide whether Paul was or the rabbis were the authors of the metathronic speculations, especially as these two angels only have Greek names, while all others are Hebrew or Chaldean, and later Cabalists frequently put down Joshua or Jesus in the place of Metathron.
Those who believe that Acher’s dualism of the Deity was the Persian Ormuzd and Ahriman, hence a good and an evil principle, and that Metathron never was an evil demon, are as decidedly mistaken as those who believe that Paul had more than one God. Paul’s Son of God and Acher’s Metathron are the same central figure before the throne of God, and the two authors are identical.
In that world of secret thoughts Paul discovered the harmonization of discordant speculations and the remedy for all existing evils. “The world must be regenerated by a new religion,” was his great ideal. The ancient religions and the philosophies have produced the corruption which rages universally. They must be swept away. Society must be reconstructed on a new basis, and this basis is in the theology and ethics of Israel, separated and liberated from their climatical and national limitations, their peculiar Jewish garb. There was no hope left of saving the Jewish nationality and political organization from the hands of omnipotent Rome, which swallowed and neutralized kingdoms and nations with wonderful ease; nor was there any particular necessity for it if society at large was reconstructed on the new basis. The object of Jesus was to reconstruct the kingdom of heaven in Israel, and he was crucified. All Israel had the same object in view, and stood at the brink of dissolution. If the basis and principles of the kingdom of heaven became the postulate of society at large, Jesus is resurrected in the world, and Israel is saved, was Paul’s main idea.
The Pharisean rabbis hoped that this would come to pass at some future day, when, they maintained, all sacrifices and all laws would be abolished, and all the nations of the earth would be one family, with one God and one moral law. Paul seized upon the idea, and added to it the simple dogma of Peter, “The Messiah has come.” That hoped-for future is now. God’s promise to Abraham, “And there shall be blessed by thee, and by thy seed, all the families of the earth,” is to be fulfilled at once. So he came forth from his mystical paradise an apostle of Jesus and a new redeemer of Israel. He argued exactly as the Pharisean doctors did who maintained that the Messiah would come when all mankind should be guilty or all righteous. In the estimation of Paul, at that particular time all mankind was corrupt and demoralized, and so that was the time for the Messiah to make his appearance.
He went to work at once. He began to preach his new Christianity at Damascus about the year 51, and found out that the world was not prepared for his ideas. He had a narrow escape at Damascus, where the governor and soldiers pursued him. Like the spies at Jericho, he was let down in a basket over the city walls and made his escape. So he narrates the story. The author of the Acts, true to his hostility to the Jews, of course brings them in as the persecutors. But Paul, in general, never speaks otherwise than with the highest regard and love of his kinsmen and his brothers according to the flesh.
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