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'Paul and Jesus': How the Apostle Paul Transformed Christianity

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Deep into the editing process of my film, "A Polite Bribe," the story of how Paul became the Founder of Christianity, through his "Collection," James Tabor sent me his latest Book, "Paul and Jesus."

Tabor is Chair of the UNC Charlotte, Religious Studies department, and well known for books and documentaries on the archeology of Jesus, namely "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," with executive producer, James Cameron.

"Paul and Jesus" is a series of arguments offered as strong evidence to why Paul can rightly be called the "Founder of Christianity," something my seven years of research would have benefited from.

When I started work in 2005 on my own book (that became the film), only Gerd Ludemann confronted this topic head on with in his penetrating book "Paul, The Founder of Christianity" (2002).

There was also A.N. Wilson's "Paul The Mind of the Apostle" (1998) along with Hyam Maccoby's overstated "The Mythmaker, Paul and The Invention of Christianity," in 1987.

The "Paul as Founder" theme has existed since Marcion in the second century, if not earlier, but it was F.C. Baur's monumental work, "Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ" (1873), that exposed him as outsider.

"In the more liberal atmosphere of Pauline Christianity they thought the very ground of their existence would be cut from under them, if Judaism was no longer to have its absolute power."

Most modern scholars reject this position on "ecclesiastical" grounds claiming Paul -- though in conflict with others -- was only expanding Jesus' original message in an ongoing, revelatory progression.

N. T. Wright, Pauline Scholar and known apologist, suggests in his book "What Paul Really Said" (1997), "When Paul preached the gospel, he was consciously implementing the achievement of Jesus, not founding a separate religion."

A second group more open to the real differences between Jesus and Paul disagrees with the title "Founder" and substitutes labels as: "Second Founder," "Great Innovator" or "Greatest Apostle."

Tabor's "Paul and Jesus" will have none of that, challenging any "interim" positions to galvanize the otherwise fragmented ideas into an unabashed whole, placing Paul as the Founder.

He begins with two perspectives determined by what Germans call "Weltanschauung" (assumptions) and presents Paul's views on resurrection, kingdom, sacraments, apocalypse, rejection of Torah and conflict with fellow Apostles, as litmus tests for his break with Messianic roots.

As Baur did earlier, Tabor also exposes the wedge between Paul and the others of Jewish Christianity, as the proof of his unaccepted Gospel message, what the others found "utterly reprehensible."

Jewish understanding of General Resurrection was reinvented by Paul, due to his post Resurrection "appearances," those he later claimed to supersede or escape the original Apostles' "historical scrutiny."

He reminds the reader how our accepted Gospel accounts of Jesus Tomb followed Paul's Vision (Resurrection) in Corinthians 15, where he fixed himself in the lineage of Apostolic visitations.

And goes on to point out that though Gospels come first in the Bible, it is actually Paul's Christ that influenced the "anonymous productions of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John."

Paul is the "shadow behind all four of the Gospels" and the key light illuminating the Empty Tomb stories, a main source of revelation when there was no core understanding of Jesus.

Like Paul "the Founder," scholars also tend to shy away from referring to Paul as a "Second Christ" though Tabor makes clear that "Paul understood the mission of Christ" as a "two stage" plan.

Stage one fulfilled by Jesus, and continued by his brother James, "to the Jews," but "stage two had been laid at the feet of Paul," who said, "I bear on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17).

His cause, Tabor continues, is motivated by a "literal" belief in the coming of the end, resulting in a "heavenly Kingdom," and "mystical union" with Christ at "any moment."

This kingdom mystery, to be revealed, meant a new epoch for all mankind, and the end of loyalty to the Torah, claiming a "Jew without Christ" was not a "real Jew."

Across this divide stood Temple centered Apostles like James, Jesus' brother and Peter. Tabor adds, "Though Paul calls himself an Apostle there is no indication that the Jerusalem leadership had ever given him that status."

He concludes with Baur that the clashes with false brethren and pseudo apostles were Paul's "repudiation by the Jerusalem Apostles and his determination to operate in the future independently."

"Paul and Jesus" is overdue, and stands as one of the few books, willing to push back "assumptions" that only make for acceptable, academic parlance, and instead, makes for a rude entry.

Digging beneath the acceptable, scholars like Tabor, Ludemann and few others, break through assumptions -- even the sacred ones -- and give rise to new perspectives and stories.

When I completed my book "A Polite Bribe" (out November 2012) used as the basis for the documentary, it was impossible to find a scholar that would imply what Tabor makes explicit in His book.

As I gaze over from my own quest I see not only a fellow traveler, but also a kindred spirit, unafraid to explore the unfamiliar inlets or channels, and follow the current where it leads, regardless of cost.

Those who read Tabor's work with open assumptions will conclude that "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."

You can pre order 'Paul and Jesus,' Simon and Schuster or 'A Polite Bribe' through our website at www.apolitebribe.com.