Poor Jesus. It was bad enough the poor guy literally got crucified. Not a nice way to go. But then to get crucified all over again – every single day – by the very religion that claims Jesus as its… what? What does Christianity think of Jesus as? It’s “founder”? He did no such thing. The Apostle Paul founded the Christian faith. His name’s all over Christianity’s founding – literally. It’s on all the letters and epistles he sent to the various far flung Gentile communities in Asia Minor where Paul’s version of Jesus had gained purchase. Paul – everyone agrees – never met Jesus in the flesh. Sorry, but meeting Jesus “in the spirit” ain’t the same thing. What caused Saul of Tarsus to have that vision that turned him into Paul the Apostle as he headed to Damascus? Was it “divine inspiration”? What if it was dehydration instead? That’s a distinct possibility.
Whatever initially inspired Paul, when he arrived in Jerusalem, he didn’t find any fans. That’s because everyone there had actually known Jesus or heard him teach. Paul’s version of Jesus rang falsely in their ears because Paul’s version was entirely concocted inside Paul’s head. A sense of doom hung over Jerusalem at the time. Jesus wasn’t the only personality either claiming messiah-hood or having it thrust upon them. But none of the other messiah-wannabes had a Paul. They all stayed within the Jewish community, preaching entirely to Jews. Jesus similarly was born a Jew, preached only to Jews and died a Jew. Take Paul out of the Jesus equation and Christianity never happens.
What did Paul do that was entirely outside the box? He took his version of Jesus to the Gentiles. Genius move.
Consider: the Gentile world Paul took his re-imagined version of Jewish messiah mythology into was polytheistic. True fact: from the Roman polytheistic perspective, monotheists who believed in a god who wasn’t part of the Roman god universe, were atheists! Romans saw Jews a little differently though; Jews were a strange tribe with a strange god. So long as they kept that god to themselves, the Romans could pretty much tolerate the Jews (Christians, by contrast, were taught to spread the “good news” – pushing their monotheistic belief on others). But there came a point where the Romans lost patience with their Jewish subjects and attempted to obliterate them. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD – and sent the Jews off into the diaspora – they probably assumed that would be the end of Jews. How could a religion thrive without a temple at its center? That’s when something essential to and in Judaism switched. It stopped being a religion based solely on a dogmatic, local deity and became instead a religion based on an idea of what that deity wanted in a broad, thematic sense. In fact, that deity even spelled out ten commandments that, if adhered to, would bond the creator of the universe and a follower in a very personal way.
Jesus’s most radical idea wasn’t “Do unto others”. It was how he advocated that Jews relate to God – directly and without the temple or its priests, both of which, Jesus taught, were corrupt. That ultimately presented a problem to Paul (but only if we think being faithful to Jesus and Jesus’s message is a problem).
One of the reasons that Paul’s version of Jesus failed to catch hold in Jerusalem was that Paul had to keep to “the rules” and mythology that all the rest of the Jews knew. They weren’t interested in Paul’s tweaked version of Judaism – tweaked to accommodate Paul’s version of Jesus – because it wasn’t “Judaism” as they understood and practiced it. And they understood Jesus as a Jew who only ever wanted to be a Jew.
When Paul went out to the Gentile world, he went with a “product” the Gentile world knew nothing about. Paul kept some parts of the Jewish messiah mythology and invented others. Who in the Gentile world was going to contradict him? No one! When Paul bent Jesus’s life story so as to connect Jesus to the line of King David, he wasn’t doing it according to info he’d learned about Jesus from Ancestry.com. He was making it up.
For further context, polytheistic gods weren’t that much different from humans. They mated with humans all the time. Produced offspring in the stories. Mostly though, the gods led their lives and we humans led ours. The gods didn’t see human beings as any sort of “personal project”. Monotheism changed that completely.
The whole basis for monotheism is the relationship between a human – Abraham – and the deity Yahweh. For the record, “God” is not God’s name. “God” is what Yahweh does for a living. “Yahweh” is the name of the god who promised Abraham a country and a nation of people to populate it. Outside the Jewish religion, gods didn’t make promises like that to humans.
What Paul took from Jesus was the idea that Yahweh wanted to do something for individual humans that Roman gods couldn’t do: give them immortality. That, in a nutshell, is Paul’s sales pitch: if you follow Jesus in the exact, prescribed, dogmatic way he (or his church) tells you to, just like Jesus did, you-the-follower can beat death and live forever, surrounded by your loved ones, in a magical place called “heaven”.
Jesus’s radical idea was “forget the institution”. Paul’s idea synthesized into the institution itself.
The Catholic Church that eventually formed would have horrified Jesus had he ever encountered it. Perversely, had Jesus had the misfortune to return to earth in Spain in 1478 – the Jew he always was – he would have been tortured and executed – for being a Jew.
How (in “God’s” name) did a message about finding inner peace with oneself, other people and the universe become a rational for extreme cruelty? And hate? And violence?
Institutions like churches are “funny” things. The one Paul started is especially funny that way.
Would actual Jesus be down with Inquisitions? With pogroms? With antisemitism?
Would he see guys like Kenneth Copeland or Joel O’Steen or the Prosperity Gospel or churches in general as being like him or preaching his message? Do you think Jesus would want his name associated with any of that mishegos? Being a clever, Jewish guy – and knowing a few very good Jewish lawyers – Jesus would do absolutely do unto others here. I bet if he behaved like the scumbags claiming to follow Jesus, he’d understand if they tried to sue him for defamation; he’d deserve it! And, so, Jesus would absolutely not just “do” unto them but “sue unto them”.
And, boy, would Jesus win that case.
Think of what that Jesus would do with all that money…