The Quest for the Historical Paul

James Tabor considers Biblical and external accounts of the apostle

This article was originally published in November 2012 on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author. Visit Taborblog or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor.


What can we reliably know about Paul and how can we know it? As is the case with Jesus, this is not an easy question. Historians have been involved in what has been called the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” for the past one hundred and seventy-five years, evaluating and sifting through our sources, trying to determine what we can reliably say about him.[i] As it happens, the quest for the historical Paul began almost simultaneously, inaugurated by the German scholar Ferdinand Christian Baur.[ii] Baur put his finger squarely on the problem: There are four different “Pauls” in the New Testament, not one, and each is quite distinct from the others. New Testament scholars today are generally agreed on this point.[iii]

Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860)

Thirteen of the New Testament’s twenty-seven documents are letters with Paul’s name as the author, and a fourteenth, the book of Acts, is mainly devoted to the story of Paul’s life and career—making up over half the total text.[iv] The problem is, these fourteen texts fall into four distinct chronological tiers, giving us our four “Pauls”:

1) Authentic or Early Paul: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon (50s-60s A.D.)

2) Disputed Paul or Deutero-Pauline: 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians (80-100 A.D.)

3) PseudoPaul or the Pastorals: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (80-100 A.D.)

4) Tendentious or Legendary Paul: Acts of the Apostles (90-130 A.D.)

Though scholars differ as to what historical use one might properly make of tiers 2, 3, or 4, there is almost universal agreement that a proper historical study of Paul should begin with the seven genuine letters, restricting one’s analysis to what is most certainly coming from Paul’s own hand. This approach might sound restrictive but it is really the only proper way to begin. The Deutero-Pauline letters, and the Pastorals reflect a vocabulary, a development of ideas, and a social setting that belong to a later time.[v] We are not getting Paul as he was, but Paul’s name used to lend authority to the ideas of later authors who intend for readers to believe they come from Paul. In modern parlance we call such writings forgeries, but a more polite academic term is pseudonymous, meaning “falsely named.”

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Those more inclined to view this activity in a positive light point to a group of followers of Paul, some decades after his death, who wanted to honor him by continuing his legacy and using his name to defend views with which they assumed he would have surely agreed. A less charitable judgment is that these letters represent an attempt to deceive gullible readers by authors intent on passing on their own views as having the authority of Paul. Either way, this enterprise of writing letters in Paul’s name has been enormously influential, since Paul became such a towering figure of authority in the church.

The Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) are not included in our earliest extant collection of Paul’s letters, the so-called Chester Beatty papyrus, that dates to the third century A.D.[vi] Paul’s apocalyptic urgency, so dominant in the earlier letters, is almost wholly absent in these later writings. Among the Deutero-Pauline tier, 2 Thessalonians was specifically written to calm those who were claiming that the day of judgment was imminent—the very thing Paul constantly proclaimed (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

In tiers 2 and 3 the domestic roles of husbands, wives, children, widows, masters, and slaves are specified with a level of detail uncharacteristic of Paul’s ad hoc instructions in his earlier letters (Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1; 1 Timothy 5:1-16). Specific rules are set down for the qualifications and appointment of bishops and deacons in each congregation (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). There is a strong emphasis on following tradition, respecting the governmental authorities, handling wealth, and maintaining a respectable social order (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6-15; 1 Timothy 2: 1-4; 5:17-19; 6:6-10; Titus 3:1). The Pastorals, in particular, are essentially manuals for church officers, intended to enforce order and uniformity.

Some have argued that the passing of time and the changing of circumstances might account for the differences, but detailed studies of the commonly used vocabulary in Paul’s undisputed letters, in contrast to the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral letters, has settled the question for most scholars. I will make little use of these later documents in trying to reconstruct the “historical Paul.”

The book of Acts, tier 4, presents a special problem in that it offers fascinating biographical background on Paul not found in his genuine letters as well as complete itineraries of his travels. The problem, as I mentioned in the Introduction, is with its harmonizing theological agenda that stresses the cozy relationship Paul had with the Jerusalem leaders of the church and its over-idealized heroic portrait of Paul. Many historians are agreed that it merits the label “Use Sparingly with Extreme Caution.” As a general working method I have adopted the following three principles:

  1. Never accept anything in Acts over Paul’s own account in his seven genuine letters.
  2. Cautiously consider Acts if it agrees with Paul and one can detect no obvious biases.
  3. Consider the independent data Acts provides of interest but not of interpretive historical use.

This latter principle would include biographical information, the three accounts of Paul’s conversion that the author provides, the various speeches of Paul, his itinerary, and other such details.[vii]

Before applying these principles here is a skeletal outline of Paul’s basic biographical data drawn only from his genuine letters that gives us a solid place to begin. Here is what we most surely know:

• Paul calls himself a Hebrew or Israelite, stating that he was born a Jew and circumcised on the eighth day, of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5-6; 2 Corinthians 11:22).

• He was once a member of the sect of the Pharisees. He advanced in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries, being extremely zealous for the traditions of his Jewish faith (Philippians 3:5; Galatians 1:14).

• He zealously persecuted the Jesus movement (Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 15:9).

• Sometime around A.D. 37 Paul had a visionary experience he describes as “seeing” Jesus and received from him his Gospel message as well as his call to be an apostle to the non-Jewish world (1 Corinthians 9:2; Galatians 1:11-2:2).

• He made only three trips to Jerusalem in the period covered by his genuine letters; one three years after his apostolic call when he met Peter and James but none of the other apostles (around A.D. 40); the second fourteen years after his call (A.D. 50) when he appeared formally before the entire Jerusalem leadership to account for his mission and Gospel message to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-10), and a third where he was apparently arrested and sent under guard to Rome around A.D. 56 (Romans 15:25-29).

• Paul claimed to experience many revelations from Jesus, including direct voice communications, as well as an extraordinary “ascent” into the highest level of heaven, entering Paradise, where he saw and heard “things unutterable” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

• He had some type of physical disability that he was convinced had been sent by Satan to afflict him, but allowed by Christ, so he would not be overly proud of his extraordinary revelations (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

• He claimed to have worked miraculous signs, wonders, and mighty works that verified his status as an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12).

• He was unmarried, at least during his career as an apostle (1 Corinthians 7:8, 15; 9:5; Philippians 3:8).[viii]

• He experienced numerous occasions of physical persecution and deprivation including beatings, being stoned and left for dead, and shipwrecked (1 Corinthians 3:11-12; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

• He worked as a manual laborer to support himself on his travels (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 9:6, 12, 15).

• He was imprisoned, probably in Rome, in the early 60s A.D. and refers to the possibility that he would be executed (Philippians 1:1-26).

This is certainly not all we would want but it is all we have, and considering that we have not a single line written by Jesus or any of his Twelve apostles, having seven of Paul’s genuine letters is a poverty of riches.[ix]

The book of Acts provides the following independent biographical information not found in the seven genuine letters:

• Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul and he was born in Tarsus, a city in the Roman province of Cilicia, in southern Asia Minor or present-day Turkey (Acts 9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3)

• He came from a family of Pharisees and was educated in Jerusalem under the most famous Rabbi of the time, Gamaliel. He also had a sister and a nephew that lived in Jerusalem in the 60s A.D. (Acts 22:3; 23:16)

• He was born a Roman citizen, which means his father also was a Roman citizen. (Acts 16:37; 22:27-28; 23:27)

• He had some official status as a witness consenting to the death of Stephen, the first member of the Jesus movement executed after Jesus (Acts 7:54-8:1). He received an official commission from the high priest in Jerusalem to travel to Damascus in Syria to arrest, imprison, and even have executed any members of the Jesus movement who had fled the city under persecution. It was on the road to Damascus that he had his dramatic heavenly vision of Jesus, who commissioned him as the apostle to the Gentiles. (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-11; 26:12-18).

• He worked by trade as a “tentmaker,” though the Greek word used probably refers a “leather worker” (Acts 18:3).

So what should we make of this material from the book of Acts?

That Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul we have no reason to doubt, or that he was from Tarsus in Cilicia, though he never mentions this in his letters. Paul says he is of the tribe of Benjamin, and Saul, the first king of Israel, was also a Benjaminite, so one could see why a Jewish family would choose this particular name for a favored son (1 Samuel 9:21). Since Paul reports that he regularly did manual labor to support himself, and Jewish sons were normally taught some trade to supplement their studies, it is possible he was trained as a leather-worker. There is an early rabbinic saying that “He who does not teach his son a trade teaches him banditry.”[x]

Whether Paul was born in Tarsus one has to doubt since Jerome, the fourth century Christian writer, knew a different tradition. He says that Paul’s parents were from Gischala, in Galilee, a Jewish town about twenty-five miles north of Nazareth, and that Paul was born there.[xi] According to Jerome, when revolts broke out throughout Galilee following the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C., Paul and his parents were rounded up and sent to Tarsus in Cilicia as part of a massive exile of the Jewish population by the Romans to rid the area of further potential trouble. Since Jerome certainly knew Paul’s claim, according to the book of Acts, to have been born in Tarsus, it is very unlikely he would have contradicted that source without good evidence. Jerome’s account also provides us with the only indication we have as to Paul’s approximate age. Like Jesus, he would have had to have been born before 4 B.C., though how many years earlier we cannot say. This fits rather nicely with Paul’s statement in one of his last letters to a Christian named Philemon, written around A.D. 60, where he refers to himself as a “old man” (Greek presbytes), a word that implies someone who is in his 60s.[xii]

Jerome’s account casts serious doubt on the claim in Acts that Paul was born a Roman citizen. We have to question whether a native Galilean family, exiled from Gischala as a result of anti-Roman uprisings in the area, would have had Roman citizenship. We know that Gischala was a hotbed of revolutionary activity and John of Gischala was one of the most prominent leaders in the first Judean Revolt against Rome (A.D. 66-70).[xiii] Paul also says that he was “beaten three times with rods” (2 Corinthians 11:25). This is a punishment administered by the Romans and was forbidden to one who had citizenship.[xiv] The earliest document we have from Paul is his letter 1 Thessalonians. It is intensely apocalyptic, with its entire orientation on preparing his group for the imminent arrival of Jesus in the clouds of heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-5, 23). One might imagine Paul the former Pharisee with no apocalyptic orientation whatsoever, but it is entirely possible, if Jerome is correct about his parents being exiled from Galilee in an effort to pacify the area, that Paul’s apocalyptic orientation was one he derived from his family and upbringing. Luke-Acts tends to mute any emphasis on an imminent arrival of the end and he characteristically tones down the apocalyptic themes of Mark, his main narrative source for his Gospel.[xv]

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Acts is quite keen on emphasizing Paul’s friendly relations with Roman officials as well as the protection they regularly offered Paul from his Jewish enemies, so claiming that Paul was a Roman citizen, and putting his birth in a Roman Senatorial province like Cilicia, serves the author’s purposes.

Acts’s claim that Paul grew up in Jerusalem and was a personal student of the famous rabbi Gamaliel is also highly suspect. The book of Acts has an earlier scene, when the apostles Peter and John are arrested by the Jewish authorities who are threatening to have them killed, in which Gamaliel stands up in the Sanhedrin court and speaks in their behalf, recommending their release (Acts 5:33-39). The story is surely fictitious and is part of the author’s attempt to indicate to his Roman audience that reasonable minded Jews, like noble Roman officials, did not condemn the Christians. It is likely that the author of Acts, in making Paul an honored student of Gamaliel, the most revered Pharisee of the day, is wanting to further advance this perspective. Throughout his account he constantly characterizes the Jewish enemies of Paul as irrational and rabid, in contrast to those “good” Jews who are calm, reasonable, and respond favorably to Paul (Acts 13:45; 18:12; 23:12).

Whether Paul even lived in Jerusalem before his visionary encounter with Christ could be questioned. In Acts it is a given, but Paul never indicates in any of his letters that Jerusalem was his home as a young man. He does mention twice a connection with Damascus, the capital of the Roman province of Syria (2 Corinthians 11:32; Galatians 1:17). Whether he was in Damacus, which is 150 miles northwest of Jerusalem, in pursuit of Jesus’ followers, or for other reasons, we have no sure way of knowing. The account in Acts of Paul’s conversion, repeated three times, that has Paul sent as an authorized delegate of the High Priest in Jerusalem to arrest Christians in Damascus, has so colored our assumptions about Paul that it is hard to focus on what we find in his letters.

Paul connection to Jerusalem, or the lack thereof, has much to do with the oft-discussed question of whether Paul would have ever seen or heard Jesus, or could he have been a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion in A.D. 30. Since he never mentions seeing Jesus in any of his letters, and one would expect that had he been an eyewitness to the events of that Passover week he surely would have drawn upon such a vivid experience, this argues against the idea that he was a Jerusalem resident at that time.

Likewise, Paul’s high placed connections to the Jewish priestly class in Jerusalem we can neither confirm nor deny. All he tells us is that he zealously persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it (Galatians 1:12). Some translations have used the English word “violently,” but this is misleading and serves to reinforce the account in Acts that Paul was delivering people over to execution. The Greek word Paul uses (huperbole) means “excessively” or zealously. We take Paul’s word that he identified himself as a Pharisee, but there is nothing in his letters to indicate the kind of prominent connections that the author of Acts gives him.

Outside the New Testament

Our earliest physical description of Paul comes from a late second-century Christian writing The Acts of Paul and Thecla. It is a wildly embellished and legendary account of Paul’s travels, his wondrously miraculous feats, and his formidable influence in persuading others to believe in Christ. The story centers on the beautiful and wealthy virgin Thecla, a girl so thoroughly mesmerized by Paul’s preaching that she broke off her engagement to follow Paul and experienced many adventures. As Paul is first introduced one of his disciples sees him coming down the road:

And he saw Paul coming, a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel.[xvi]

We have no reason to believe this account is based on any historical recollection since the Acts of Paul as a whole shows no trace of earlier sources or historical reference points. The somewhat unflattering portrait most likely stemmed from allusions in Paul’s letters to his “bodily presence” being unimpressive and the subject of scorn, whereas his followers received him as an angel (2 Corinthians 10:10; Galatians 4:13-14).

It might come as a surprise, but outside our New Testament records we have very little additional historical information about Paul other than the valuable tradition that Jerome preserves for us that he was born in the Galilee. The early Christian writers of the second century (usually referred to as the “Apostolic Fathers”) mention his name less than a dozen times, holding him up as an example of heroic faith, but nothing of historical interest is related by any of them. For example, Ignatius, the early second century bishop of Antioch writes:

For neither I nor anyone like me can keep pace with the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who, when he was among you in the presence of the men of that time, accurately and reliably taught the word concerning the truth.[xvii]

Some of the second and third century Christian writers know the tradition that both Peter and Paul ended up in Rome and were martyred during the reign of the emperor Nero—Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified.[xviii] The apocryphal Acts of Peter, an extravagantly legendary account dating to the third or fourth century A.D., explains that Peter insisted on being crucified upside-down so as to show his unworthiness to die in the same manner as Jesus.[xix]

Ironically it seems that we moderns, using our tools of critical historical research, are in a better position than the Christians of the second and third centuries to recover a more authentic Paul.


Dr. James Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada and Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, Mt Zion and, along with Rami Arav, he has been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot including the controversial “Jesus tomb.” Tabor’s latest book is Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books and projects at



[i] The Quest was given both its history and its name by Albert Schweiter, whose groundbreaking book, published in 1906 with the nondescript German title, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (from Reimarus to Wrede), was given the more provocative title in English, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, translated by William Montgomery (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1910).

[ii] The beginning of the modern Jesus Quest is usually dated to around 1835 with the publication of David Strauss’s Life of Jesus. The full German title of Strauss’s work, Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (Tübingen: 1835-1836) was published in English as The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (3 vols., London, 1846), translated by George Eliot, the penname of British novelist Mary Ann Evans. Baur’s major work, Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi, sein Leben und Wirken, seine Briefe und seine Lehre (Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works, His Letters and His Teaching) was published in1845. Strauss was a student of Baur at the University of Tübingen.

[iii] Most recently, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon (New York: HarperOne, 2009). A more conservative, but nonetheless critical treatment relying more on the letters of Paul than the book of Acts is that of Jerome Murphy-O’Conner, Paul: A Critical Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[iv] An English copy of the New Testament, Revised Standard Version, with text only and no notes or references, runs 284 pages total. The thirteen letters attributed to Paul, plus the book of Acts, add up to 109 pages of the total—just over one-third.

[v] See Bart Ehrman’s summary analysis “In the Wake of the Apostle: The Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Epistles,” in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 272-394.

[vi] “Chester Beatty Papyri” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 901-903.

[vii] Not only was the composition of such speeches common in Greek literary histories, it was expected. Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian war, says that he composed speeches according to “what was called for in each situation” ( 1. 22. 2). Josephus, a contemporary of the author of Acts, is a prime example; see Henry Cadbury, The Making of Luke-Acts (New York: Macmillan Company, 1927), and Arthur J. Droge and James D. Tabor, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom Among Christians and Jews in Antiquity (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), pp. 53-112.

[viii] It is possible that Paul was once married since he says he advanced within Judaism beyond his peers. Jewish men his age would normally marry; not to marry would be considered abnormal. In his letters he speaks of the “loss of all things” and also refers to a situation where an “unbelieving wife” might leave one who has joined his movement, so it is possible he is alluding to his own personal situation since he says the brother or sister, so abandoned, should not feel obligated to heed Jesus’ teaching that there can be no divorce for any cause (Philippians 3:7; 1 Corinthians 7:12-16).

[ix] The letter of James and Jude might be exceptions though many scholars question if these two brothers of Jesus were part of the Twelve and others questions the authenticity of the letters themselves. Few scholars consider the letters of 1 and 2 Peter as written by Peter. 1 Peter, in particular, is surprisingly “Pauline” in tone and content and fits nothing we know of Peter based on more reliable sources—including Paul’s genuine letters. The letters of John are not from John the fisherman, one of the Twelve, but from a later John, sometimes referred to as “John the Elder,” who lived in Asia Minor (see Eusebius, Church History 3.39.4-7).

[x] Pirke Avot 2. 3.

[xi] Jerome, De Virus Illustribus (PL 23, 646).

[xii] See Jerome Murphy-O’Conner, Paul: A Critical Life, pp. 1-5. The translation “ambassador,” found in the Revised Standard Version, is conjectural, with no manuscript support. It assumes the misspelling of the Greek word “ambassador” (presbeutes), as “elder” (presbytes), but “elder” is the reading in all our manuscripts. The New Revised Standard Version and New Jerusalem Bible correctly have “elder.”

[xiii] Josephus, Jewish War 7. 263-265. Josephus mentions John of Gischala often in his history of the revolt.

[xiv] See Digest 48. 6-7, a compendium of Roman law in The Digest of Justinian, ed. T. Mommsen, translated by A. Watson (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985).

[xv] A comparison of Mark 13, sometimes called the “Synoptic Apocalypse,” or the “Little Apocalypse,” with Luke 21, which is the author’s rewriting of Mark, one sees how the “end of the age” is indefinitely extended and no longer tied to the Jewish-Roman war of A.D. 66-74.

[xvi] Translation by Wilhelm Schneemelcher in Edgar Hennecke’s New Testament Apocrypha, edited by William Schneemelcher, translated by R. McL. Wilson, volume 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965), pp. 353.

[xvii] Ignatius, Philippians 3:2.

[xviii] See Eusebius, Church History 2. 14. 5-6 and 3.1.2, who says he is relying on Origen, an early third century Christian theologian.

[xix] An expanded legendary account is found in the apocryphal Acts of Peter 37-38.

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52 Responses

  1. Joel says:

    Through the account of Paul I’m more interested on Saul change to Paul accepting Jesus sometime in his life with a complete U turn of faith even though he might or more probable not see the messiah ever. The same way like us we did not saw the messiah walking on earth but indeed we believed it might not as strong as Paul. But this is a good reason to believed Paul preaching a great example of Paul’s faith perfect fit for us as a Christian.

  2. Ginger Abney says:

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding what Nicholas is saying, but II Peter 1:19-21, it states, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts. KNOWING THIS FIRST, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time BY THE WILL OF MAN: BUT HOLY MEN OF GOD SPAKE AS THEY WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.” II Timothy 3:16-17, “ALL SCRIPTURE is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” I don’t understand what you are saying about the Apostle Paul or what proof you require on his behalf.

  3. Nicholas Piccini says:

    Dear Sir,

    I’m a simple man who spends his time on my hands and knees and my heart and soul belong to God and I am an affirmed Beliver in Jesus Christ. As a simple man logic tells me that my belief in Jesus Christ must first come from those who give testimonial evidence that they were there and they saw with your own eyes and heard with their own ears and witnessed the things professed about Jesus miracles signs wonders the dead brought back to life and Jesus himself crucified and resurrected. Based on their testimony as eyewitnesses I except along with confirmation through the old testament prophecy.
    That being said I know very clearly what Matthew and John gave testimony and I understand this is not hearsay another words they did not just hear it from someone else. I have often wondered why men coupled together here say with eyewitness testimony and give it equal status as being a source for truth. I recognize Jesus clearly stated all things where established by the testimony of two or more and he referenced himself his works the profits and God as being testimonies to him. I have been very surprised by how much conflict I find when I get to Paul’s writings or those associated with Paul. The most distinct thing that I have noticed is Paul claims his own apostleship. I have tried to find justification for this but in my view everything seems to point away from it. I have very good reason for saying this as first and foremost there are no testimonies to support his claim. This goes right back to the Jewish lawn and establishing the fax and it is the law that God gave so it made sense that Jesus would have referenced it stating what gave him authenticity as the son of God. To me everything has to work systematically and in harmony from Old Testemant to New for it to be true. If something breaks with that Harmony has conflict with what is already been given then I reject it. Jesus stated we should test out every expression keep what is True and throw away what is not. Until someone can explain to me where the 13th kingdom which Paul is to rule over or where the 13th thrown Paul is to sit on comes from? I am prone to reject his writings as belonging to Jesus. Not to mention if you step back from analyzing his writings the simple overview demonstrates nothing but conflict existing within his churches he demonstrated qualities such as covetousness for his disciples and pride bordering arrogance against those that didn’t agree with him. He states plainly he would be all things to all people and do anything to make a convert. Can anyone demonstrate to me where Jesus exemplified this approach ? Jesus states you will know my disciples by their love which is simply because they have his spirit living in them and God is love so that’s what it produces. Again I’m only an ignorant man quite simple minded compared to the formal education of the scholars and authors of all the various writings that exist. But I firmly believe that all truth comes from the hand of God not the mouths of men. Again call me generically claim signs and wonders but we are told cleaning in Matthew in John’s Gospel‘s of the miracles that Jesus performed. Jesus stated that those who would receive his spirit would do those things and more. Again I ask where is the evidence that Paul performed any miracles signs or wonders? Instead all I see in here or doctrinal teachings from him or arguments against whoever disagrees with him which according to the writings were even Barnabas and Peter himself the rock in which God was going to build his church. Again just self elevation by Paul not a lick of evidence for any of it. I may just be an ignorant man but I’m gonna stay focused on God and Christ in bank my eternity on them and not be swayed as this world has to follow Paul.

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  5. Neil says:

    The apostle Paul preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified in other words Paul preached The Cross. Paul preached belief in The death burial and resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ with no law attached to your belief. Paul preached belief in the death burial and resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ for salvation plus nothing else. The religious church hates this just as Satan hates this. Religion says we have to work for our salvation while true Christianity being born again beliefs in The grace of God while trusting in Jesus FINISHED work on the cross. What could we do to possibly add to The finished work of Christ on the cross to gain salvation. Be obedient the word of God and belief.

  6. Woodrow Nichols says:

    Oh, yes, as to the family of Jesus, there were two Josephs, but the one from Nathan was the true father because of the curse of Jeremiah, like in the case in Isaiah where Isaiah’s son is adopted by Ahaz because of the curse of leprosy running in his family.

  7. Woodrow Nichols says:

    How about Peter making a deal with Gamaliel about getting rid of the Hellenists like Stephen through Gamaliel’s attack dog, Saul, while Peter takes care of Ananias and Sapphira. It’s all there in the book of Acts. The Cult of Peter and later James was a communist soviet making Peter a role model for Stalin in future days.

    Woodrow Nichols

  8. SocraticGadfly says:

    Tabor himself has to be taken with a grain of salt at times, believing in Eisenman/Da Vinci Code ideas of an earthly Davidic dynasty under Jesus and heirs.

  9. Taylor Broussard says:

    Why is a 4th century writer jerome more credible than luke? Jerome seems like a big part of you skepticism.

  10. Dan says:

    Thanks for an enjoyable read and for laying out the scholarly model of Paul. I asked myself as I read, What is truth? Is it to be found in the model proposed by the 18th century German and English scholars? Or is Jerome’s story more credible than the Acts of the Apostles? Did you think to establish Jerome’s credibility simply by citing a story he supposedly told? Maybe he was a liar? How do you and I know? Or passing along what he had heard without checking or verifying his sources? How do you and I know for sure? He is, after all, some 300 years removed from the actual events and I don’t know his scholarly discipline and integrity. Have you seen the original sources for yourself? No? Or perhaps he was actually saying something different than what you cited so you could support your thesis? Did the transmission and translation of his works and your interpretation accurately reproduce his thinking and intent? I have no idea concerning the verity of your sources. At this point your brief recounting of Jerome’s recounting counts actually for very little. Certainly not nearly enough to convince me to trash Acts. Further, this physical scientist is leery of what you claim because your 18th century model is a most egregious example of circular (or “begging the question”) reasoning. The premises are actually the conclusions, and the data are censored and pruned to ensure the conclusion and assure your pre-existing beliefs. Not good enough for me. On the basis of fallacious logic and unverifiable evidence, I reject your argument. Where is the truth of Paul and how shall I know it?

  11. suzannem17 says:

    I just happened upon this fascinating blog and read all of it, finishing just now. It was fascinating to me because it mentions so many of the points I have pondered for most of my life. I have a question: Have any of you read a book by Flavio Barbiero titled, if memory serves me, The Moses Conspiracy? It has a great deal to say about Flavius Josephus and the establishment of Christianity at Rome with a large number of the members of the priestly families of the Sanhedrin heavily involved. If there is any truth to it, this book exposes the ultimate conspiracy at the founding of Christian Europe. Connections with the Paul problem are evident.

  12. jamesm368 says:

    If we believe any of the cannon of scripture is a lie, then it is all a lie. If the scripture is a lie, then either God is a liar or does not exist, and my faith is in vain. I REFUSE TO BELIEVE THAT THE SCRIPTURE IN IT’S ENTIRETY IS THE INSPIRED WORD OF THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE “GOD”.

  13. Bill says:

    Wow! So where are all you people going to go when you ‘die’? Is the Bible the truth or a lie? Is Jesus the Son of God or not? Or is he a liar? Or are all of you going to argue what is true based on your ‘research’ and apparent point of view you want to emphasize? May the ‘God’ that you discuss, ‘if’ He is ‘God’ open your hearts and minds to what is true rather than disputing between one another what the ‘truth’ is because if none of you can agree on whether Jesus, Paul etc., said what they said then you might as well just keep walking in your own ‘truth’ and die in your sins because do deny the scriptures through intellectualism is to do so. So much time spend on trying to prove ‘historically’ what is true and what is not true well ignoring the actual history of the Bible. Problem is, everyone of you, including me are going to die and your intellectual discussions here won’t ‘save’ you, only Christ will, so talk all you want, but in the end all this talk will end and you will either be in heaven or hell depending on what you ‘believed in scripture’ not discussed here on this web page…but then again, you probably have questions about heaven and hell, judgment and sin…wouldn’t surprise me…meanwhile I’ll just simply believe that the Bible is God’s Word…all of it and leave the intellectual discussions to those who feel they know better.

  14. gary says:

    In which work of ancient literature do we first find this expression: “…kick against the goads”? If you said the Bible, in which Jesus appears to Paul on the Damascus Road, you would be wrong.

    This expression was first used in a book of Greek mythology, “The Bacchae”, written by Euripides in circa 450 BC. The expression occurred in a fictional conversation between the god/man, Dionysus, and the king of Thebes, his persecutor.

    Isn’t it odd that Jesus would borrow an expression from Greek mythology in his appearance to the self-proclaimed “Thirteenth Apostle”?

  15. Gene R. Conradi says:

    11 In the first century, many, including some who claimed to be Christians, showed a lack of humility and were stumbled by what the apostle Paul revealed to them about God’s purpose. Paul became “an apostle to the nations,” but it was not because of his nationality, education, age, or long record of fine works. (Romans 11:13) Often, fleshly-minded individuals view these as the factors that determine whom Jehovah should use as his instrument. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 3:1; Colossians 2:18) However, Paul was Jehovah’s choice, in harmony with His loving-kindness and righteous purpose. (1 Corinthians 15:8-10) Those whom Paul described as “superfine apostles,” as well as other opposers, refused to accept Paul and his reasoning from the Scriptures. Their lack of humility hindered them from gaining knowledge and understanding of the glorious way Jehovah works out his purpose. May we never underestimate or prejudge those whom Jehovah chooses to use to accomplish his will.—2 Corinthians 11:4-6.

  16. Kurt says:

    “Bearing Thorough Witness” About God’s Kingdom”
    Like Paul and Barnabas, may we always remember that our responsibility is to preach the good news. The decision to accept or reject the message rests squarely with our listeners. If those to whom we preach seem unresponsive, we can take a lesson from the first-century disciples. By appreciating the truth and allowing ourselves to be led by holy spirit, we too can be joyful, even in the face of opposition.—Gal. 5:18, 22.
    “Go . . . and Make Disciples” “To the Most Distant Part of the Earth”

  17. Ryan McGinnis says:

    Reading through this, it is clear that Saul (his Hebrew name) would appear as an hypocrite on many factors, UNLESS, there are TWO distinctive people (entirely separate) writing of two very separate accounts. Paulos was a Roman citizen, which was authorized by Rome to kill Yahshua’s disciples, and STOP the oncoming rebellion, which this Paulos WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO LEARN UNDER THE JEWS OF THE SANHEDRIN, as Jews regarded Gentiles (Romans) as dogs. This Paulos had a ‘conversion,’ for which he turned against Rome, and interacted many tiimes with the apostles (see Acts), who also was a witness of Stephens death.

    Then we have Saul who was an Israelite (Benjamite) who studied under Gamliel, who only met the apostles James and Peter thrice, and was shipwrecked on an island where his story ends.

    The former was belligerent with Peter, while the latter defended Peter (Kepha). The former taught Gentiles to forsake the ‘traditional teachings of the Jews (Law),’ where the Latter advocated the ‘Law, the prophets, and Yahshua as the Cornerstone.’ Saul wrote the letter to the Hebrews, explaining the importance of the ‘symbolism found within the law, and the ceremonial practices, and the striving of perfection,’ where Paulos outright rejects perfection, claiming that the law is not of necessity among the Gentiles.’

    IMHO, this clearly is two separate persons writing two very different accounts, as Saul preached and warned AGAINST hypocrisy (preaching one thing while doing another), where Paulos did no such thing, but appears to contradict the teachings of Yahshua.

  18. gary says:

    And his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples but they are all afraid of him for they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea and set him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:25-30)

    And (Ananias) . . .said, The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; and you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name. When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me. And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in very synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 22:14-21)

    But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and I still was not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. (Galatians 1:15-23)

    My conclusion: Paul either had a very poor memory, was mentally ill, or lied about what he did in the weeks, months, and first few years after his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. Yet, Christians base their belief in the Resurrection, the pinnacle event of their faith, on this man’s testimony, which in his own words, was a “heavenly vision” of a talking, bright light…along with the writings of four anonymous first century authors, writing decades after the alleged event, in a foreign language, in far away foreign lands, for purposes we do not and will never know.

    That isn’t evidence, folks. That is speculation, superstition, and fantasy.

  19. Steve Misosky says:

    Here’s my reason for investigating the historicity of Paul. Paul, according to the Bible, was taught by Gamaliel who was a leader of the Sanhedrin located in Jerusalem. He lived during the three years of Jesus’s mission. He was devout in the traditions of his religion and would surely have at least been in Jerusalem for the feasts. Is it possible for him to have not seen or heard anything about Jesus, who was causing an uproar due to his miracles, confrontation with the money changers in the temple, debating the Jewish elders, etc.? This just doesn’t seem very likely. Yet, ‘Paul’ sites nothing. So what does this mean? I don’t know yet, but it is important due to the differences in the message of ‘Paul’ in contrast to the rest of the New Testament.

  20. Joshua Zambrano says:

    Bunch of garbage. There is no tangible reason given in the article whatsoever for why this bizarre division into four groups is used, it’s just the same tired attempt used in the Documentary Hypothesis. And as pointed out excellently by ABR’s Duane Garrett:

    “According to the theory, the redactors simply conflated the texts at hand by the ‘scissors-and-paste’ method of cutting up each document and then joining the whole into a continuous narrative. No true analogy to this somewhat bizarre editorial procedure is available.”

  21. Jim Ballew says:

    How inane. When one writes “it is very unlikely he (Jerome) would have contradicted that source without good evidence” I’m not sure how any serious scholar can read suggest that ANYTHING in this article can be taken seriously. The subjective “very unlikely” isn’t even the worst.

    Dr. Tabor concludes Paul clearly fictionalized an account of studying under Gamaliel saying “The story is surely fictitious and is part of the author’s attempt to indicate to his Roman audience that reasonable minded Jews, like noble Roman officials, did not condemn the Christians”

    Really? It is “surely” fictitious? But then this author cites Ignatious saying: Paul, who, when he was among you in the presence of the men of that time, accurately and reliably taught the word concerning the truth.[xvii]

    So Ignatious testifies that Paul “ACCURATELY AND RELIABLY taught the word concerning TRUTH” – but Paul (or his deceiving followers) are lying?

    Which is it?

    Here’s an idea. Actually LIKE the subject matter you are opining on and follow the instruction of the scripture on how to perceive it’s meaning. As in 1 Corinthians 2:9-11.

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  25. Can we believe St. Paul? - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, God, Universe, Science, Spirituality, Faith, Evidence - Page 13 - City-Data Forum says:

    […] quite distinct from the others. New Testament scholars today are generally agreed on this point. SOURCE It appears that Christianity was developed by a group project that came to be called Paul. […]

  26. Jim says:

    you say””Gamaliel stands up in the Sanhedrin court and speaks in their behalf, recommending their release (Acts 5:33-39). The story is SURELY fictitious and is part of the author’s attempt to indicate to his Roman audience that reasonable minded Jews””

    SURELY? Imagine that…a physic..a prophet, or better.

    This is pride dressed up as Scholarship. There is only one purpose of statements like these. I am all knowing—look at me. Its an incredibly powerful thing to pronounce a 2000 year old writing surely made up from your little desk. But then if you didnt..none of your unbeliever elite would pay any attention to you. When you receive your accolades and pay have been paid in full.

    yours surely,
    an ignorant fool who thinks pretending to know what happened 2000 years ago while eating pizza is a fools errand. After all, we dont even know for sure the events surrounding The Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations even tough they are a stones throw away in history. But you somehow know thousand of years before with perfect clarity. Its laughable.

  27. The Quest for the Historical Paul - Biblical Archeology says:

    […] From The Quest for the Historical Paul – Biblical Archaeology Society. […]

  28. Nicholas J Petty says:

    Saul the Pervert, the first False Messiah. He was was never a Pharisee or taught by Gamaliel, nor was he an Apostle. He never knew Yeshua bar Yosef, and never tried to even learn the least bit about him. He cared not about the person Yeshua or his life. He cared only about his resurrected and glorious Jesus Christ, and his own glory as well. He was a man out to make a name for himself .

    • Paul calls himself a Hebrew or Israelite, stating that he was born a Jew and circumcised on the eighth day, of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5-6; 2 Corinthians 11:22) …….. It is easy to claim to be a Hebrew or an Israelite before and audience of Gentiles, but he never makes this claim before James and the Apostles in Jerusalem does he ??

    • He claims he was once a member of the sect of the Pharisees, and advanced in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries …….. If he was so advanced in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries, then his name would have been well known, yet no where in the Synoptic Gospels do we hear of him. We hear nothing of him in any of the Jewish writings either. He was an associate of the High Priest and worked for and with him persecuting the followers of Yeshua, yet the Pharisee’s (as Saul claims to be) and the Sadducee’s (the Priestly class) were enemies, agreeing on nothing.

    Saul (Paul) makes many claims:

    • Sometime around A.D. 37 Paul [claims to have] had a visionary experience he describes as “seeing” Jesus and received from him his Gospel message as well as his call to be an apostle to the non-Jewish world (1 Corinthians 9:2; Galatians 1:11-2:2) ……. IF he had a visionary experience, who he “saw” was Lucifer, not Yeshua. Lucifer is a Fallen Angel yes, but an Angel none the less. He can appear to anyone, and in any form he so chooses. He is the Great Deceiver and the Lord of Lies. It is also made perfectly clear that the only Apostle to the Gentiles was Kepha (Peter).

    • Paul claimed to experience many revelations from Jesus, including direct voice communications, as well as an extraordinary “ascent” into the highest level of heaven, entering Paradise, where he saw and heard “things unutterable” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) ……. Yes, he “claimed to”, and who but him could verify it ? Of course he heard “things unutterable” when he ascended into the highest level of heaven, entering Paradise. How wonderfully convenient for him, he couldn’t tell anyone what he saw and heard because they were “unutterable.” If he had told anyone, those things would have been as false as his entire story was !!

    • He claimed to have worked miraculous signs, wonders, and mighty works that verified his status as an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12) ……. Once again ” he claims” but where is the verification for these ? And he might as well “verify his status as an Apostle” because no one else did !! The only claim to be an Apostle came from him. James and the Apostle’s in Jerusalem never said he was, and they were the Leaders of the movement !!

    I did this, I did that, I saw this, I saw that, I heard this, I heard that, I am this, I am that. Two hundred times or more you hear in his writings the word “I”, well when you are egotistical and wanting to make a name for yourself, “I” comes in handy !!

    Romans 16:25 ..Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began ……. “MY Gospel”, yes it most certainly was, as it was no one else’s let alone Yeshua’s !! … “revelation of the mystery”, only pagan religions had “revelations of the mysteries’, and those things “kept secret since the world began.” Yeshua never taught mysteries, he taught the Word of G-D, he taught the Torah !!!

    Dr, Tabor wishes to throw doubt on the Epistle’s of James and Jude because “many scholars question if these two brothers of Jesus were part of the Twelve and others questions the authenticity of the letters themselves” ……. Yet neither James or Jude ever claimed to be among the Twelve. The Twelve were the Disciples of Yeshua that we all know. James and Jude are two of Yeshua’s brothers. Upon the death of Yeshua, who had been proclaimed and anointed King of the Jews, the Royal mantle fell upon his next oldest brother Ya’akov (James). This is why he became the acknowledged head of the Jerusalem “Church”, ie: “The Way”, as the followers of Yeshua became known. And every one of them followed the Hebraic religion, which was what Yeshua taught the return to, from Judaism.

    Judaism and the Hebraic religion are two different things. Judaism follows the writing in the Babylonian Talmuds, the Torah takes second place after them. The Hebraic religion is based entirely on the Torah, and the Torah alone. The Pharisee’s were followers of Judaism (Jewish religion), and their teachings were based on the Babylonian Talmuds. This is why you find Yeshua vehemently opposed to the Pharisee’s and their teachings.

    If you do not believe me on this, then check it out. The leading Rabbi’s have stated it plain and simple, “The Jewish religion is not the same religion as that of the Israelites “

  29. Rose Stauros says:

    The appendix says Herod the Great dies in 4 BCE. This dating relies 100% on dating derived from the works of Josephus. Yet Josephus put the death of John the Baptist about 35 CE while the book says Jesus died 5 years before in 30 CE. The book seems to be cherry picking facts from Josephus that fit the theory and ignoring other facts.

    We know from the Deeds of the Divine Augustus (written by Augustus himself) that the only lustrum or census decreed by Augustus were in 28 BCE, 8 BCE and 14 CE. We even know the exact populations.

    According to Luke’s gospel Jesus was born in a year of a census decreed by Augustus. If Herod the Great were still alive as in Matthews gospel, then the only possible year would be 8 BCE making Jesus about 38 or 39 in 30 CE. However according to Josephus there was also a tax revolt when Cyrenius was the governor of Syria about 6 CE, yet there was no census decreed by Augustus that year.

    Luke 2
    1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
    2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

    The books appendix says Paul was on trial about 50 CE, yet Cureanus was the procurator of Judea in 50 CE (Antiq, XX, 5, 3). Festus succeeded Felix about 57 or 58 CE.

    Acts 24:27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

    (this was 57/58 CE according to Antiq, XX, 8, 9)
    ” Now when Porcius Festus was sent as successor to Felix by Nero,”

    Nero wasn’t emperor in 50 CE.

    Still like the book, but wonder why Josephus is critical for some timeline reconciliation and completely ignored for other?

  30. Rose Stauros says:

    The book arrived and I read the 20 page introduction. I mostly agree with the idea that Paul started Christianity and everything else followed.

    I question the dating of Jesus crucifixion in the first paragraph of the intro. For one thing John the Baptist was killed by Herod Antipas about 35 CE according to Josephus (Vitellius, Aretas and the death of Tiberus). Antiquities XVIII, 5, 2&3.

    Luke gives the 15th year of Tiberius (about 28 or 29 CE) as the appearance of John the Baptist. Yet it was much later when John is in prison that Jesus was baptized according to Luke’s account. Apparently this is a 5 or 6 year span historically.

    Luke 3
    20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

    21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,

    22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

    23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

    Note Joseph the “son of Heli” in Luke 3:23
    Heli is the identical Greek word used for God, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

  31. Rose Stauros says:

    Shalom Everybody,
    I’m hoping, “Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity” arrives today. One area I’m interested in is the transition of Saul to Paul in the book of Acts mirrors historical events, except the mirror is distorted. Who was Barjesus (son of Jesus)? Who was Sergius Paulus and why did Saul seemingly take his name (Paul)?

    Acts 13
    6 And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:
    7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
    8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.
    9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him.

    Marcus Antonius Pallas a freedman (1-63 CE) was the older brother of Felix who was the procurator of Judea and his name is mentioned by Josephus in the same paragraph as the Greek epistle that inflamed the Jews and started the war. Pallas was also on trial and killed by Nero about 63 CE. Here again the book of Acts is a distorted mirror of the works of Josephus.

    “Nero dismissed Pallas from service, tired of having to deal with any allies of Agrippina. He further accused Pallas of conspiring to overthrow him and place Faustus Sulla, the husband of Claudius’ daughter Claudia Antonia, on the throne.”

    KIn some instances the people and places match, but the names differ. In other instances the names match but the people differ as here;

    Acts 26:32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.

    After reading, “You are a Priest Forever”, by Eric F. Mason, the book of Hebrews would sure fulfill the criteria for being the Greek epistle that inflamed the Jews (although Mason may not agree). The letters considered authentic from Paul would have been from a different source, which would explain all the different authorships for the other letters.


  32. D. C. Smith says:

    I agree with Hyam Macoby that Paul was no Pharisee, but a Hellenized Herodian with family ties to Herod the Great. He also did more to hurt the Jesus Movement after his conversion than he ever did beforehand. What he wrought bears little resemblance to the Galilean rabbi or his message.


  33. The Quest for the Historical Paul – Biblical Archaeology Society | says:

    […] Recommended Article FROM… […]

  34. Dallas says:

    It seems odd that so much stress is given to Paul’s supposedly being a Pharisee, as when he was persecuting the Jesus movement, he was acting on behalf of the High Priest. The high priestly caste was mostly Sadducee in orientation. They also co-operated with the Romans, which makes sense of Paul’s persecution of the Jesus followers, who were anti-Roman.

    Only the canonical NT’s desperate stress on trying to put the Romans in a very good light and demonize Jews obscures this.

  35. Allan Richardson says:

    Scholars have noted that the “tier 2” letters of Paul, along with Hebrews which does NOT claim Pauline authorship, differ from the tier 1 letters in style of writing, theology (cf. 2 Thess. view of the Return with the tier 1 letters), and in referring to later forms of organization that would have just been forming when the tier 1 letters were written. As for the objection that someone would remember in enough detail what was said two generations ago to dispute a newly “discovered” letter, that might not be the case if there was over a century of time involved, as scholars have indicated was probably true in some cases.

    If there had not been a systematic process of documented record keeping from the time of Lincoln, for example, as was the case in New Testament times (outside of the Roman government, that is), one could write an “authentic” letter by Lincoln, or by Jefferson Davis, saying almost anything and not be challenged. In fact, even WITH the documented history we have, there are SOME people who would have Washington and Jefferson intending to set up a Puritan style theocracy, and they ARE saying so among some circles. So a similar amount of distortion at a time when record keeping by the general population was extremely haphazard is not so unreasonable.

  36. D. C. Smith says:

    I admire your brass, Rose, but we really don’t know everything about anything, and there’s a big difference between what most folks think they know, scholars included, and what they claim to know.


  37. Rose Stauros says:

    I ordered, “Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity” because I like James Tabor’s writing style.

    The Book Description on Amazon says, “Historians know almost nothing about the two decades following the crucifixion of Jesus”.

    What don’t we know about Jerusalem and Galilee from Herod the Great through the Emperor Titus? It seems we know about everything historically that was happening in that period from Josephus. The problem is that we can’t find exact references to the gospel stories.

  38. D. C. Smith says:

    Of all the responses listed here, most of which are worth reading, 10 is far and away the best. Thanks Clif, and congratulations to James Tabor for doing justice to Paul. So far, the only criticism I have is with the title. How could the creator of Christianity be the one who “transformed” it? A better word would be “sabotaged.”

    D.C. Smith

  39. Rose Stauros says:

    Clif >> It is also interesting that many modern scholars have often disputed the history of Josephus only later to find that his accounts were documented by archaeology

    The same is true for Irenaeus, many scholars discredited his descriptions of the Gnostic texts, until the Nag Hammadi was found and proved Irenaeus very accurate. I think we have to consider eye-witness accounts of Josephus as the most reliable historical data we have. Not only because places like the Herodium were discovered based on his descriptions, but also the people, places, and dates he lays down align with all the other historians.

    The big question is why Paul never mentions the resurrection of Jesus, or the Virgin birth or Mary the mother of Jesus? Not even at his trial. Why would anybody in Jerusalem doubt Paul if the events in Matthew 27:51-53 had occurred and were witnessed by many?

    If we consider Josephus as the primary historical source, then the gospel stories of Jesus, his birth, crucifixion and resurrection were all developed after Josephus published his histories (90 CE or so). This is in harmony with historical data as the earliest known fragment from the New Testament is dated to about 125 CE.

    The crucifixion of three men is described in Life, 75. Here two die, but the third was brought back by a Physician. In this scene Joseph of Arimathaea is Josephus. Evan Powell points out in his book, “The Myth of the Lost Gospel”, that the two so called ‘robbers’ crucified with Jesus were most likely a pair of his disciples based on the actual gospel text.

    “75. . . . . . . And when I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealins, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp, as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.”

    Someone sat down and wrote the Gospel of John (chapters 1-20) using the works of Josephus as their framework long after Paul’s missions. Mark’s gospel then copied the crucifixion and resurrection story, and convolutes the story of John the Baptist, Herod and Herodias.

    This seems to be the most likely historical scenario as it harmonizes the Bible and history very well, although it goes against tradition.

  40. Clif Payne says:

    I find it interesting that almost no scholar mentions the historic references in Eusebius. According to which Paul was married but did not take his wife on his journeys with him. It is also interesting that many modern scholars have often disputed the history of Josephus only later to find that his accounts were documented by archaeology. Everyone has a bias and that includes scholars. No one is totally objective apart from their inner belief systems and as such we should all be taken with the admonition of Paul “that we all know in part.” Even though we may often irritate one another we should none the less be respectful of our differing opinions and endeavor to understand the information we have in our search for truth.

  41. Rose Stauros says:

    I think the works of Josephus are very close to actual historical events. Here’s how see the best harmony between recorded history and the New Testament. I think Paul’s letters were the origin of Christianity, the gospels stories, Acts and many of the general epistles were much later. Consider the following when building the timeline.

    1) Paul was given the Eucharist directly from the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
    2) Paul never mentions the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he only mentions the resurrection separately and as an expected ancestral event like the regeneration of the 12 tribes.
    3) Paul never mentions the birth of Jesus or the Virgin Mary.
    4) Paul never mentions the resurrection of the dead that occurred when Jesus gave up the ghost (Matthew 27:52,53) He certainly could have used these arguments while on trial, yet he didn’t know. 😉
    5) Paul is a freeman in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:22)

    Historical letters of Paul

    Here we have the freeman Pallas who was the brother of Festus (Acts 24, 25, 26) gets permissiojn from Nero to have a scribe write epistles in Greek to Jews that inflamed them and started the Jewish war (according to Josephus). However you look at this it’s also the start of Christianity. It looks like Nero actually and unwittingly started Christianity about 57 or 58 CE, then some 5 years {or so) later turned on Christians.

    Antiquities XX, 8, 9
    Now when Porcius Festus was sent as successor to Felix by Nero, the principal of the Jewish inhabitants of Cesarea went up to Rome to accuse Felix; and he had certainly been brought to punishment, unless Nero had yielded to the importunate solicitations of his brother Pallas, who was at that time had in the greatest honor by him. Two of the principal Syrians in Cesarea persuaded Burrhus, who was Nero’s tutor, and secretary for his Greek epistles, by giving him a great sum of money, to disannul that equality of the Jewish privileges of citizens which they hitherto enjoyed. So Burrhus, by his solicitations, obtained leave of the emperor that an epistle should be written to that purpose. This epistle became the occasion of the following miseries that befell our nation; for when the Jews of Cesarea were informed of the contents of this epistle to the Syrians, they were more disorderly than before, till a war was kindled.

    Historical book of Acts

    Bart Ehrman says the book of Acts purports to tell historical facts, but presents made up stories instead. He gives many examples of the differences between the letters of Paul and the book of Acts.

    Josephus writes in his autobiography, “Life”, that while governor of Galilee (about 61-63 CE) there were two men, one named Jesus the other named Justus who controlled Tiberius and according to Josephus they were bad leaders. Josephus claims Justus wrote a false history of the events and waited 20 years until after Titus and Vespasian were dead to publish it. This is also the time most say the book of Acts was published (85 CE)

    Life, 65 ….But perhaps thou wilt say, thou hast written of what was done against the people of Jerusalem exactly. But how should that be? for neither wast thou concerned in that war, nor hast thou read the commentaries of Caesar; of which we have evident proof, because thou hast contradicted those commentaries of Caesar in thy history. But if thou art so hardy as to affirm, that thou hast written that history better than all the rest, why didst thou not publish thy history while the emperors Vespasian and Titus, the generals in that war, as well as king Agrippa and his family, who were men very well skilled in the learning of the Greeks, were all alive? for thou hast had it written these twenty years, and then mightest thou have had the testimony of thy accuracy. But now when these men are no longer with us, and thou thinkest thou canst not be contradicted, thou venturest to publish it.

    if thou art so hardy as to affirm, that thou hast written that history better than all the rest, why didst thou not publish

  42. J.A. Thomas says:

    I haven’t read Dr. Tabor’s newly released book, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me assume this blog piece contains his entire argument. However, I see a number of assumptions that give me pause.

    Dr. Tabor states that “as a general working method [he has] adopted the following three principles [with regard to the book of Acts]:

    1. Never accept anything in Acts over Paul’s own account in his seven genuine letters.
    2. Cautiously consider Acts if it agrees with Paul and one can detect no obvious biases.
    3.. Consider the independent data Acts provides of interest but not of interpretive historical use.

    This seems a reasonable and responsible approach for an historian. So my question is this: Does Dr. Tabor apply these same three criteria with equal rigour to the Gospel of Luke? The Gospel of Luke was, after all, written by the same author as the book of Acts. It demonstrates many alterations of historical and theological content in comparison with the earlier Gospel of Mark.

    As well, to assert that Jerome knew a different tradition of Paul is not much of a claim. As Dr. Tabor knows, there was a large body of literature to help “fill in the gaps” of early Christian figures. If Jerome had endorsed the Infancy Narrative of Thomas, would Dr. Tabor consider this colourful tale a valid historical source, too?

    Is it possible at this point for any researcher to state (albeit with a modifying footnote) that “we have not a single line written by Jesus or any of his Twelve apostles”? This is a statement of belief, not a statement of fact.

    Paul does a fine job in his widely-accepted Tier 1 letters of revealing the the theology of his Christ Movement. The points of contrast between Paul’s theology and Mark’s theology are easily studied.

    If I had gone door to door in the recent election and claimed to be canvassing for Barack Obama, but I endorsed only Tea Party platforms, would it be fair for others to call me a genuine follower of Barack Obama despite my repeated use of his name? (Or the other way around, if you prefer, with me canvassing for Mitt Romney but touting only Obama’s policies.)

    Whichever way you slice it, Paul was a very successful figure (in this I agree with Dr. Tabor), but he was no follower of the man named Jesus.

    For Paul to be a follower of Jesus, there would have to be some major points of agreement in theological doctrine. There are not — not, at least, in comparison with the Gospel of Mark, which was written after Paul’s letters and arguably in response to Paul’s early letters.

    Paul’s theology shows several points of similarity with sectarian books written by members of the yahad (some of whose members left behind the scrolls found at Qumran, eg. Charter of a Jewish Sectarian Association). This in itself isn’t a new or original point, but it’s important to note that the theology in Mark does not show similar resemblance to sectarian Jewish texts. Why not? Why does the Gospel of Mark make radically different claims about God and Jesus? Even if one dismisses this Gospel as “the odd man out” in an otherwise “coherent” belief system (perhaps Mark is the crazy one?), it cannot be ignored.

    An exhaustive analysis of these points would fill a whole book, I suspect, but it would be helpful to begin with the known texts as they actually exist instead of the way we’d like them to be. Paul and Jesus weren’t on the same theological page. If they had been, there would have no reason for the author of Luke/Acts to write his long and reverent two-part ode to Paul.

  43. Chavoux says:

    James, how can you make a historical assessment on Paul when you exclude a priori half the letters claimed to be written by Paul (and accepted as such by the congregations/persons who first received them)? How can you claim Luke’s “Acts of the apostles” to be of equal historical value as “The Acts of Paul” or “The Acts of Peter”? “Legendary” Paul? It seems to me that most of the “differences” between “authentic” and “unauthentic” (Disputed/Pseudo) Paul are the result of either incomplete accounts of events (both in Acts and in the letters) or of Paul correcting a misunderstanding of one of his earlier letters in a later letter (e.g. 1 & 2 Corinthians on how to treat a sinner in the congregation – both actually accepted as authentic! – and 1 & 2 Thessalonians on escatology). What “methods any historian uses” convinced you that group 1 was actually the authentic Paul and not group 2? Maybe group 1 should be the disputed Paul and group 2 is the authentic Paul? How do you know? On what evidence do you base your claims? E.g. “Pastoral” Paul (from the internal evidence of the letters themselves) are written to individuals, well-known to Paul, tasked with the job to establish congregations. Is there any reason that they would use the same vocabulary and have the same atmosphere as letters written to be written read in public in a congregation – even if written by the same person? Moreover, the situation of a specific congregation (and Paul’s own age and situation) should surely play a role in the tenor of any letter written by him? There is little doubt that there were pseudonymous “letters by apostle so-and-so” and we know a number of them. But in most, the difference between what is found in them and what is found in the New Testament books is large enough that even a non-historian can spot the difference. The matter of authenticity was important enough to the early church that they took care not accept these fakes into their group of sacred writings. And there was enough of a living tradition that any congregation would know that a letter claimed to have been written to them after Paul was already dead was a fake. I.e.: “I grew up in the congregation of the Thessalonians and our grandfathers never received a second letter from Paul!”

  44. Saludovencedores says:

    I just love how contemporary scholars decide which historically attested facts are fiction, or those “we have no reason to believe”. It’s great to be able to finally clear up these misunderstandings.

  45. James D. Tabor says:

    Ouch Robert…seems a bit nasty, and also presumptive. I use the same methods any historian uses. Do you think ALL historical work on our sources is done by liberal godless atheists who want to just tear down a religion? After all, if I am right, then we would not be tearing down Paul so much as freeing him from later traditions done in his name, so that would be a service right?

  46. James D. Tabor says:

    Caleb, not at all, though your sarcasm here is witty! I think you miss the point. It is not a matter of taking Jerome over Acts but that Jerome, who surely knows Acts and believes it is inspired would not have reported the Galilee tradition unless it was very weighty. Also, historians do not deal operate with any view of texts that are “inspired.” It would make no sense. Each religion and traditions has its scriptures, even within Christianity, which has Western, Easter, Ethiopian, Armenian, canons–all different. What we have are historical sources and they are all given a level playing field, none put above another by a religious assumption. This is history, not theology. Notice, the Quest for the HISTORICAL Paul. Since Paul’s letters and Acts do not agree, as my article clearly shows, there is no reason to bring in which is “inspired” and which is not. As for Luke “widely considered to be inspired,” I have to ask–by whom? Most critically trained scholars, in and out of the church, would not take the N.T. in a fundamentalist way.

  47. Robert says:

    What a lousy attempt to tear down a religon….how many people got stoned to death for not keeping the law? Thousands? Mililons? The Torah is full of crimes punishable by death by stoning…

    As far as I’m concerned Tabor does not like Christianity or religon…typical for a college professor since most are liberal godless atheists to start with…no disrepect meant..

  48. Caleb says:

    So he takes Jerome’s account over Luke’s. Sure, that makes sense, since Luke is widely considered to be inspired and Jerome is not.

  49. Allan Richardson says:

    I have been wondering for years why Paul paints the Pharisaic tradition as teaching that God demands ABSOLUTE perfection in following Torah, the alternative being ABSOLUTE damnation. Historical evidence shows that Judaism has never had such a narrow, extreme viewpoint; only those with a totally WICKED attitude are condemned, while God smiles on those who earnestly ATTEMPT to honor God’s teaching. Of course, in classical Pharisaic, or Rabbinical, Judaism, those who achieve greater righteousness are HONORED more than the ordinarily observant Jew, but there is no record of anyone OTHER than Paul teaching that Judaism, before Jesus, condemned anyone for less than perfect observance of either moral or ceremonial teachings. Indeed, the greatest figures in the Hebrew Bible had not only lapses in faith (e.g. Moses tapping the rock rather than commanding it to produce water), but moral lapses (e.g. David and Bathsheba, Solomon and his many foreign wives), that deprived them of the HIGHEST glory they could have achieved.

    Bishop Spong speculated that the reason Paul taught that no amount of conscious moral observance would relieve divine condemnation is that he PERSONALLY felt that way, due to his latent homosexual feelings; making him feel condemned in his very nature. Thus, in Bishop Spong’s thought, Paul was relieved to believe in Jesus as the solution to his personal moral dilemma. Whether this is the case or not, it seems that Paul believed he had SOME kind of extreme moral failing that could not be atoned by any amount of “works of the Law” (Torah observance).

    Given that some reasonable Gospel interpretations, as well as Jewish traditions, assume that humanity is already in God’s grace, except when deliberately rebelling against God, but that relationship can be IMPROVED by following enlightened spiritual teachings such as those of Jesus (the apocryphal teachings of Jesus would then refer to the condemnation of SOCIETY because of the PREVALENCE of rebellion against God, among those who had AUTHORITY over society, to be avenged by God). It would be ironic if the classical view of Jesus resulted from the personal lack of self-esteem in its greatest first century missionary.

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