76) Paul Was Not A Christian

There was a significant difference between the converts to the recently resurrection Yeshua of Nazareth of the Jews.

The Roman centurion and his work crew at Jesus’ crucifixion could easily believe that Jesus King of the Jews had achieved immortality – i.e. godhood – after he died and his soul ascended into Heaven. This was, after all, a common occurrence among the pagan divine and semi-divine monarchies within the Roman Empire.

In Julius Caesar’s case, his devoted followers didn’t even wait for his apotheosis at death. During his lifetime, after emerging victorious from Rome’s Civil War of 49-45 BC, statues were set up to Caesar as “unconquered god. A special priest was ordained for him, which ranked Caesar not only as divine, but as an equal of Jupiter / Zeus / Satan and Mars / god of war. The living Caesar’s honors in Rome were already and unambiguously those of a full-blown god when he was assassinated by Republicans precisely for this power play.

A fervent popular cult to divus Julius followed…the Senate soon succumbed to Caesarian pressure and confirmed Caesar as a divus of the Roman state. Caesar’s young heir, his great-nephew Octavian, held ceremonial apotheosis / deification for his adoptive father…Provincial cult centres (caesarea) to the divus Julius were founded… The Imperial cult of ancient Rome…was rapidly established throughout the Empire and its provinces…A deceased emperor held worthy of the honor could be voted a state divinity (divus, plural divi) by the Senate... The granting of apotheosis…allowed living Emperors to associate themselves with a well-regarded lineage of Imperial divi…

The merging of religion and politics in Caesar’s imperial cult – religious worship of Caesar as the incarnation of his ancestor god by political subjects – was absolutely necessary to legitimize the elevation of his theocratic rule over a republican shell government.

When there were no naturally begotten sons to inherit the throne they were simply adopted per legal process,  including, as is still the same today, taking their adoptive family name. In their case, that was “Caesar”. 

With this background, we can now see how the Gentile converts from the multitude of nationalities within the Roman empire perceived themselves in a casual reading of the teachings of the apostles.

Those who allied themselves with the resurrected therefore deified Hero Savior of the Jews, by Roman convention renamed themselves as his sons, using their own empire-wide language for ease of communication among the polyglot nations.

  • “God…hath blessed us…unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:1-5)
  • “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…ye are…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people of God.” (I Peter 1:1-3, 2:9-10)

Other converts, who had always believed in multiple gods, didn’t accord this Jesus from Nazareth any special status at all.

The Roman concept of religion had never been that of an…exclusive obligatory moral loyalty to an unseen and highly spiritual Being. It made the relation between man and the gods entirely objective and unmystical. But it had recognized decent regard for the formulas of the community religion as a political duty of all good citizens…

The purely Roman system had no body of priests corresponding to the Aaronic priesthood among the Hebrews… Its religious officials were merely political functionaries of state…The pontifex maximus himself, recognized head of the religious system of Rome, was no more a cleric than…King George V in his official relation to the Church of England…

The Roman religion was simply a part of the political system of the state, and a nominal acceptance of it was expected of all citizens and subjects of the state, precisely as they were expected to accept obediently its political rule. Yet as an ordinary citizen nowadays may live quite comfortably and unsuspiciously without taking any active interest in politics, so a resident of the Roman realm might live under ordinary circumstances without having any special concern about its official religion…

a miscellaneous swarm of…strange cults from Egypt and the East…dwelt at Rome in amicable relations with her official religion…as variegated in source and character as her increasing polyglot population…there were a few occasions when the government laid a heavy hand upon an imported cult, prohibited its exercise in Rome, and even put to death or banished its adherents; but…In every case the religion was, or was believed to have been, made a cloak for definite offences against…law or social order…

The empire of Rome had grown by gradual accretions made to the territory of a single city-state. Her whole ideal was one of political consolidation centered about a governing power at Rome…needed only in the moral sphere of patriotism the reinforcement of a sentimental attachment…The worship of Augustus, or of Rome and Augustus, spread rapidly through all the fringe of provinces from Asia Minor to Spain…In succeeding reigns the Augustus of “Rome and Augustus” meant always the living Prince of the day….

the worship of the reigning Augustus was not so much a reverence of the living man as of his genius…a concept difficult for a modern to define or to understand…closely akin to his spirit…

The only sect in the Roman realm to which…this cult was a decidedly abhorrent thing was that of the Jews…Their national Jehovah was…the One and Only God. He demanded of Hebrews, as of their voluntary and complete adherents from other nationalities, an absolutely exclusive loyalty and devotion. The worship of any other god by his people was idolatry…the worst of sins. The first two of the Mosaic commandments expressed his injunction on this point with irrevocable decision. Evidently no orthodox Jew could join in emperor-worship, even when it was professedly regarded as a test of civic loyalty and not as resting on any theological beliefs. Apparently no other Roman citizens or subjects were in such a case. No other deity claimed the exclusive loyalty of his devotees…

The Jewish realm realm in that land was in the eye of Rome a foreign state, whose citizens might be tolerated as residents in any part of the Roman dominions…The Jews had a national religion, and, however absurd and debasing it might be, they might of course celebrate its rites freely.

Jews had…some special and perhaps unique privileges accorded them…In all strictness Jews who were Roman citizens…had lost all rights of citizenship in another state, and accordingly would not be entitled to share in these special privileges. But the Romans…made the adherence to the Jewish national religion the sole determining test of claim to such grants of privilege, at least in the case of Jews by blood…

The legal condition of the Jews, then, was distinctly favorable…in the Rome of the first century after Christ. It does not appear probable that the Jews made a very great number of proselytes in Rome…But they did attract attention… No doubt the voluntary social isolation and cliquiness of the Jews made them objects of dislike to the populace, with the lower orders of which they generally ranked; for none are more given than the common people to resenting the action of neighbors who “keep to themselves.” In the popular Roman mind the aspect of such privacy tended to breed suspicion of immoral practices. This popular disapprobation and suspicion was of course readily transferred to the Christians, who were naturally regarded as merely a sect of the Jews, from whom they sprang, and among whom they were chiefly recruited in the earlier years of their existence…

The Christians of course shared at first in the special political toleration accorded the Jews. But when the protests of both Jew and Christian had succeeded (probably about the time of Nero) in convincing the intelligent Roman that Christians were not of the Jewish faith, the new sectaries doubtless were judged to be not entitled to the privileged position of the Jews…

They had fallen into the general class of Roman citizens and subjects, and were theoretically held to all the duties of people of that status…The alleged crime was not concerned with the religious question intrinsically…it indicated a hostile attitude toward the government…

Only with the Roman political background in place can we can understand the details of Paul’s trials – in every sense of the word – under Roman judges, for the accusation of stirring revolt against Rome, with detailed transcripts reported in five chapters. That’s top heavy with significance. So once again, we need more than theologians spiritualizing the Bible, we need historians providing background to understand what was common knowledge at the time this account was written, about 60 A.D.

In any examination of a person by a lawyer, psychiatrist, psychologist, police detective, teacher, pastor, etc. knowing the background of all persons involved in the incident and the relationships influencing the individual’s answer to questions is essential. 

Except for the short period of the reign of Herod Agrippa I over all of Palestine from 41-44 C.E., Samaria and Judea fell under the authority of procurators appointed directly from Rome… Life for the Jews under the procurators was exceedingly difficult. For example, Pontius Pilate was described by Agrippa I as unbending and severe with the stubborn, and was accused of bribery, cruelty, and countless murders…

There thus emerged within Judaism groups of revolutionaries who looked back to the militaristic Maccabees and their zeal for the Law as great heroes. These “Zealots”…attempted to arouse the people to revolt… Self-styled prophets and messiahs appeared from time to time…

From Acts 21:26 – 26:32:

  1. And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple…And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them…and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done…1) commanded him to be carried into the castle [as a prisoner].But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew…I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people…I am verily a man which am a Jew…brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women…suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I…heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?…I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest…And he said unto me…I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live

  2. The chief captain 2) commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?…Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman…On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.

  3. And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?..But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided…there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them [this is not a euphemism], 3) commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle [to protect him]And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;  And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe [as a Roman citizen] unto Felix the governor.

  4. And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paulwe have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes…Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:

    • they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city:

    • Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.

    • But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, 

    • And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men. 

    • I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple Who ought to have been here before thee, and object, if they had ought against me. Or else let these same here say, if they have found any evil doing in me, while I stood before the council, 

    • Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day. 

    • And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter….And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

  5. “Now when [the Roman governor] Festus was come into the province…the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul…and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove.

  6. And after certain days king [of the Jews] Agrippa [II] and [his sister] Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus. And…Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by [the previous governor] Felix: About whom…the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him…Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive…when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth…specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.

King Agrippa II, who had been ruling Judea for about 5 years at the time of Paul’s examination, was very much the son of Agrippa I (ruled 41-44) who was “devout in his Judaism, which made him popular with his Jewish subjects.…This desire to please the Jewish people is also seen in his persecution of the early Christian leaders, as described in the book of Acts [where Agrippa I is called by one of his other names, Herod]…Agrippa was a skilled diplomat who knew how to appease both the Roman Emperor and the Jewish populace, staying in the good graces of both.”

King Agrippa II was likewise a skilled diplomat who benefited from good relations with three Roman emperors in succession, in part because he inherited his father’s goodwill with the restless Jewish populace. His Roman benefactors entrusted him with the supervision of the Temple in Jerusalem and the right to appoint the high priest. When the Jews revolted against Rome in 66, he personally went to hot spot Jerusalem to try to negotiate an end to the rebellion, and although his effort was in vain he was a big help to Vespasian when the inevitable war broke out, and during The Year of Four Emperors, as Vespasian clawed his way to the top. He had the means to do so because he had been granted rule [translate taxation] over so many territories during the previous reigns of Claudius and Nero that he was one of the most important rulers in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. In return for his support, Vespasian granted Agrippa even more territory.

Agrippa II was the most politically savvy player on stage. They didn’t have Twitter back then, but the bush telegraph would very effectively transmit every word back to Rome, especially to his rivals, in Rome’s toxic political environment.

Last but certainly not least, Luke includes Agrippa’s sister Berenice in the courtroom drama. Without saying a word, she is the star of the show, all eyes on her at center stage.

And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the dialogue!

Agrippa: (Bored, not even glancing his way, flicking his hand in the general direction of the accused) “Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.”

Paul: (A clumsy public speaker, in a social milieu that prizes public speaking as an art form on par with musical ability, causing his Roman audience to undoubtedly laugh in his face in derision, haltingly stumbling through the requisite preamble for which he has neither the nature nor habit to produce well. Compare his previous adversary Tertullus.)

“I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth…know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come…

And 30 seconds into his presentation Paul has totally lost his entire audience who couldn’t care less about archaic Jewish religious beliefs. Some of them have no doubt begun loudly booing and hissing and mocking and shouting “Away with him!”. Agrippa had undoubtedly never been paying any attention at all on this utterly and hatefully routine procession of Jewish sectarian squabbles. Like anyone else not harassing Paul, he is focused on his sister Berenice, and her diverting role in his life.

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Agrippa and Berenice’s childhood was filled with instability and they inherited the “bad blood” seen in all of Herod the Great’s (73—4 BC) descendants...Berenice and Agrippa lived together in Rome and soon it was rumored they were incestuous. Not much shocked the Romans, but this was prohibited in all the laws of the ancient world [other than the Egyptian royalty, which explains the reason it was taboo for everyone else – the consolidation of family traits for power, while running the risk of producing a murderous madman] …Agrippa’s contemporary, the Roman Juvenal (c. 55-130 AD) in his Satire 6, made open fun of Agrippa and Berenice… ”

So Paul suddenly goes on the attack.

Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?.

This is a rhetorical question. Obviously, Agrippa’s benefactors, the Caesars, were all believed to have become immortal after death. But with this concept Paul has seized Agrippa’s attention, as it invariably links to the growing Roman leadership’s conviction that the Gentile Messianic followers were, like the Zealots, plotting revolt against Caesar.

Can we not pick up the supremely political overtones of a gifted diplomat?

Then Paul plays on everyone’s fascination with the supernatural.

“At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven…I heard a voice speaking unto me…I am Jesus…I have appeared unto thee…

Interest rapidly fades into the Greek version of blah blah blah blah…

to make thee a minister [to] the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” 

When we place this statement in its  social setting, we realize that Paul just grossly insulted his entire Roman audience. The Romans had executed this Jesus as the leader of a revolution against Rome, they despised the Jewish population, which for the most part had been ground into abject poverty by Roman rule. The offer to grant an inheritance through an enslaved and impoverished Jew to a wealthy Roman ruler was utterly bizarre.

Now it’s the suave, debonair Agrippa who just got his thought processes derailed. With half a mind he was preparing a verdict of guilty of conspiracy against the Roman state and lets get some lunch, and then this? He was totally unprepared.

Festus, always on the lookout for self-preservation, proves by his interjection into Agrippa’s exclusive purview to speak, that Agrippa was struck with a rare instance of being tongue tied. When Festus breaks legal procedure by interrupted loudly that Paul is mad, he is providing Agrippa with the response he doesn’t have on the tip of his tongue. 

Given that his diagnosis was based on Paul’s “much learning”, and undoubtedly Paul was using his lengthy incarceration to obsessively- compulsively read the scriptures and Talmud we can conclude that Festus was diagnosing Bipolar disorder from signs of manic behavior.

Nicely done, Festus. He just handed both Paul and Agrippa an exemption from further pursuit of this case on the grounds of Not Guilty For Reason Of Insanity. Everyone is happy – Paul’s credibility in the religious community would be squashed, and Agrippa’s status in Roman society would be salvaged.

And salvaged it needed to be. We can be utterly certain that when Festus spoke up, that there was dead silence in the courtroom, all eyes riveted on Agrippa waiting for his response to being offered…

forgiveness of sins.

What a public slap in the face to Agrippa and his sister Berenice. It could only be their long acclimation to public slurs and insinuations, and their social training, like the Brits’ stiff upper lip, that kept them from betraying their anger at this insult. But make no mistake, the audience got it.

And Paul was burned right there. So, unlike incompetent Festus who would never amount to anything in public office, Agrippa smoldered in silence, patiently allowing Paul to continue in the certain knowledge that, given enough rope, this rash Paul would hang himself.

“Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed…the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.”

For once, Agrippa has something in common with these religious Jews. Highly intelligent, he files that thought away for later.

“I continue unto this day…saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come…

King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.

Way to go Paul! Put King Agrippa on the hot seat, in public. (Blue dress?) 1c3pfh

And everyone is stunned. What had begun as a dreadfully boring bureaucratic delay in enjoying the rest of the day made tolerable only by filling out the blah blah blah from the front of the room with satire from the back has become the most mesmerizing public spectacle since, well honestly, even overriding, the last show at the Colosseum, given how formulaic they had become. Only rarely did a really well-heeled financier stage more captivating shows than simple hunt and kill.

FOCUS! You don’t want to miss a single word that  hayseed and the highest-scoring gossip topic making the rounds on the social circuit. Everyone holds their breath and you can hear a pin drop.

This apparently inept bumbler, like the classic Columbo-type criminal investigator, has just trapped Agrippa. “Yes” appeases the Zealots among the Jews but earns outrage from the Romans battling these Zealots. “No” alienates the ultrasensitive Jews which worsens the difficult political position of the Romans who tactfully accepted every conquered nation’s gods. Either answer lands him in trouble.

But Agrippa got where he was by slipping out of multiple traps laid by rivals.

flat750x075f-pad750x1000f8f8f8Shakespeare’s “immortal” plays used clever repartee and oblique meanings as his protagonists parry. “I am sick” in love or of love? 

And so do the antagonists in Luke’s truly immortal and even more gripping account of court proceedings.

Agrippa recognizes that Paul has also just handed him his trump card. And suave, sophisticated, socially and politically brilliant Agrippa breaks the tension with a perfectly honed sarcastic response to Paul’s insults.

Agrippa: Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t have dreamed up a better one liner.

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You can’t possibly believe that anyone hearing Agrippa’s statement thought that he was seriously considering “repent, and be baptized, for the remission of sin” publicly, among individuals well acquainted with his illicit relationship to his sister. 

On the one hand the Romans  burst out in raucous laughter at Agrippa’s clever repartee. This will definitely make the rounds at the social gatherings in Judea and back to the gossip in Rome, with its accompanying positive publicity for Agrippa more than compensating for Agrippa’s humiliation from Paul’s outraging public condemnation.

And the cherry on top was that at the same time Agrippa just won the support of the Jewish religious rulers. They immediately perceive that Paul has just been thrown a baited hook with which to reel him in as a ringleader in one of the Zealot factions. These were revolting against, not only Rome, but the irreligious Jewish rulers who allied with Rome for their appointed positions. This Christ that Paul preached was an open challenge to the power of the established Jewish rulers through Caesar’s political hegemony.

But Paul doesn’t take the bait. 

“Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:16-20)

He doesn’t identify himself as a Christ-one, a rebel against Rome.

Even more skillfully than Agrippa he slips out of both adversaries’ grasp in one short sentence. 

“I wish you were as I” with the clear implication that:

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Paul / God had the last word.

“And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves…Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty [and we could have looked the other way while the Jews assassinated him] if he had not appealed unto Caesar.

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