Apostle Paul's Missionary Journey

The Problem of Paul Introduction

Excerpt from: The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby

As a Talmudic scholar, I have found that knowledge of the Talmud and other rabbinical works has opened up the meaning of many puzzling passages in the New Testament. In my earlier book on Jesus, Revolution in Judaea, I showed how, in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus speaks and acts as a Pharisee, though the Gospel editors have attempted to conceal this by representing him as opposing Pharisaism even when his sayings were most in accordance with Pharisee teaching.

In the present book, I have used the rabbinical evidence to establish an opposite contention: that Paul, whom the New Testament wishes to portray as having been a trained Pharisee, never was one. The consequences of this for the understanding of early Christianity are immense.

In addition to the rabbinical writings, I have made great use of the ancient historians, especially Josephus, Epiphanius and Eusebius. Their statements must be weighed in relation to their particular interests and bias; but when such bias has been identified and discounted, there remains a residue of valuable information. Exactly the same applies to the New Testament itself. Its information is often distorted by the bias of the author or editor, but a knowledge of the nature of this bias makes possible the emergence of the true shape of events.

For an explanation of my stance in relation to the various schools of New Testament interpretation of modern times, the reader is referred to the Note on Method, p. 206.

In using the Epistles as evidence of Paul's life, views and 'mythology', I have confined myself to those Epistles which are accepted by the great majority of New Testament scholars as the genuine work of Paul. Disputed Epistles, such as Colossians, however pertinent to my argument, have been ignored.

When quoting from the New Testament, I have usually used the New English Bible version, but, from time to time, I have used the Authorized Version or the Revised Version, when I thought them preferable in faithfulness to the original.

While the New English Bible is in general more intelligible to modern readers than the older versions, its concern for modern English idiom sometimes obscures important features of the original Greek; and its readiness to paraphrase sometimes allows the translator's presuppositions to color his translation. I have pointed out several examples of this in the text.

In considering the background of Paul, I have returned to one of the earliest accounts of Paul in existence, that given by the Ebionites, as reported by Epiphanius. This account has been neglected by scholars for quite inadequate and tendentious reasons. Robert Graves and Joshua Podro in The Nazarene Gospel Restored did take the Ebionite account seriously; but, though they made some cogent remarks about it, their treatment of the matter was brief. I hope that the present book will do more to alter the prevailing dismissive attitude towards the evidence of this fascinating and important ancient community.