Paul is the protagonist of my novel, which is to say, he is the main character. He is neither hero nor villain but thoroughly human with flaws and foibles like the rest of us. He fights externally with James and the Jerusalem establishment and internally with his own perceived sinfulness. He can rise to the heroic in his defense of the outsider as a child of God, but he also descends to the despotic in cursing those who disagree with “his gospel”.
In the past couple of days, I have come across a pair of blog posts that touch upon themes raised in the novel. Gavin at Otagosh blog writes the following:
The Paul of Galatians famously comes across as an egotistical ranter. He simply doesn’t handle theological diversity well! It’s his way or the highway, no matter that senior figures in the early Christian movement (Peter, James) have quite a different take on things than he does.
Is Paul defending the “gospel of Christ”? We’ve got to concede that if he was, his opponents (fellow Christians) thought they were doing that too. No, he’s defending the gospel of Paul: “the gospel that was proclaimed by me.” Go through just chapter one of Galatians and notice all the ‘me’ and ‘I’ statements. It’s an eye-opening exercise.
Galatians is about a territorial dispute, and Paul is marking his territory. So does he mean to lay down a curse or not? It seems a no-brainer. It doesn’t much matter whether you want to understand accursed as hell-bound or excommunicated, it amounts to the same thing.
Here is a list of derogatory names used by Paul in his writings to label his enemies: “peddlers of God’s word”, “false apostles”, “deceitful workers”, “false brothers”, “dogs”, and “evil workers”. The victims of Pauline name-calling were not pagans, emperor worshipers, or mystery cultists; they were fellow followers of the man from Nazareth whose sin was disagreement with Paul’s interpretation of the Christ.
The second blog post was entitled, Who was Yeshua bar Maryam? The blogger, who goes by the name of Mothermary44, raises the question of the historical Jesus and wonders whether Pauline speculation set the Christian course away from the historical Jesus toward a mythical, divine “God in a man-suit”.
Paul knew virtually nothing about Yeshua bar Maryam, the real-life wandering teacher, healer, and sage, when he began proclaiming the gospel. The real, historical man simply wasn’t important to Paul — not compared to the divine being whose glory had stricken him blind. (Acts 9)
All my life, I wondered why the pre-resurrection Jesus — humble, loving, forgiving, funny, “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34) — was so different from the humorless and judgmental post-resurrection Jesus Christ, Only-Begotten Son of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, God in a man-suit. Finally, it came to me: the difference was Paul of Tarsus. Who knew nothing about the real Yeshua bar Maryam when he began proclaiming the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.
The novel is not quite so “in your face”, but portrays the ongoing struggle between James and Paul on several levels including James’ charge,
Who do you think you are, coming here with your Greek tongue, claiming to be a Pharisee, claiming to be a follower of my brother? You weren’t there!
You never heard him speak, you never mingled with the crowds, and you didn’t witness the stinking Romans murder him on the cross.
You’re like an uninvited stranger at a burial boasting that you knew the dead man well. How dare you share my grief! How dare you!
My novel tracks my own wonderings about Paul’s Damascus road experience and about the boundary-breaking apostle to the Gentiles who graced us with stirring words of inclusion—“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”—but whose pride also resulted in hyperbole and condemnation of his fellows.
For good and ill, Paul’s legacy continues in the church of the 21st century.