Writing for the pope: 11-20-09
November 20, 2009
Several years ago I did a longish piece for The Kansas City Star about the fascinating and important work on the Apostle Paul being done by scholar and author Mark D. Nanos, who teaches at Rockhurst University.
Mark is one of the rare Jewish scholars whose work focuses on the towering New Testament figure of Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul.
Recently he was given the honor of being asked to contribute an essay on Paul and Judaism for a special book created specifically for Pope Benedict XVI. It's called the Codex Pauli, and has just been published. It contains quite a number of essays on Paul from various experts. Mark's essay, found on pages 54-55, is one of the few written in English.
Mark has posted a copy of this essay on his own Web site. To read it, click here.
One of the major points that Mark has been making in academic circles with his work is that Paul has often been misunderstood. Paul did not create Christianity, as is often said. Rather, Paul always saw himself as a Torah-observant Jew. He became, however, convinced that the long-awaited Jewish messiah had come in Jesus of Nazareth and his task was to preach this word to the gentiles.
But when Paul was traveling and preaching and writing many of the texts that now make up the New Testament, there was no Christianity, Mark would say. There was, rather, a Jesus movement within the Judaisms (plural) of the day. Only later -- sometimes and in some places much later -- did what we now know as Christianity formally separate itself from Judaism.
Paul often has been used as a warrant for theological anti-Judaism (see my essay on that subject under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page), but Mark insists that this is a gross misuse of Paul.
Have a look at his new for-the-pope essay and see if you can get a better grasp of this new perspective on Paul.
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BUT WHAT ARE YOU FOR?
Atheist groups in Northern Ireland have stirred up controversy by posting provocative billboards. I find it sad when people choose to define themselves almost exclusively by what they're against or by what they don't believe rather than by what they're for and what they do believe. Another example was the recent list of "blasphemy" awards given out by the Center for Inquiry. That strikes me as remarkably sophomoric. I think it makes much more sense to seek to understand people of different beliefs than to mock them.
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NOTE: I recently blocked a commenter who had spread untrue information about me on another site, including that The Kansas City Star "canned" me. (How do you can someone who is retired?) People who defame me in that way are not welcome to comment here. The blocked person -- or his/her representative -- then tried to post a note here yesterday containing this despicable threat and false allegation: "The word is, you are getting paid by the Freethinking crowd and there has to be something to that. The word will spread, Bill. Your abyssmal (sic) hypocrisy will be exposed." If any of you sees such lies posted elsewhere, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know. The only money I get from doing this blog comes from Google ads, and so far that's proved to be just slightly more than the annual cost of renting Typepad space. I do this blog because I want to do it and because I believe it's a public service. No one pays me anything, and I deeply resent my character being impugned in this way. Bill.