Who was Paul really?

I have been making quite a bit of good progress on

The Gnostic New Age

book.  I just finished chapter 4 on the Gospel of John and the letters of John called "The Dark Cosmos."  It was thrilling to write this chapter and finally get down my reading of the Fourth Gospel and its Gnostic predisposition.  Yes.  I really find in the fabric of that text Gnostic spirituality merging with Jewish scriptures and nascent Christianity. It is not just later Gnostic interpretation imposed on an orthodox gospel.  It is there in the soul of the Gospel.

My next chapter is on Paul, so I am now immersed in Pauline literature and just got the chance to read James Tabor's newest book on the subject,

Paul and Jesus

.  The Paul that Tabor speaks about (and his relationship to the Jerusalem church and other apostles) dovetails nicely with the ways that I have come to understand Paul over the years.

I remember as a young woman really disliking Paul.  What I didn't know then is that what I disliked was not Paul but Luther's Paul.  That is when I discovered Paul the mystic.  I read Albert Schweitzer's book and then Alan Segal's book, both on Paul the mystic.  Suddenly Paul made sense to me.  But he wasn't anyone that contemporary Christians could relate to.  What he was saying was way out there.  Undomesticated.  Wild.  He was a visionary who realized union with Christ whom he saw as the manifestation of God.  He developed rituals that helped democratize this experience so that all converts could similarly be united.

One of the features that I really like about Tabor's book is that he starts from the position that Paul was a mystic.  Tabor then breaks down Paul's message into five understandable chunks.  This makes Paul the mystic more accessible rather than wild.  Tabor's book is written around these chunks:

  • The resurrection body is a new spiritual body that believers attain.
  • Baptism gives the believer the Christ/Holy Spirit with unites with his/her own spirit and makes him/her a child of God, part of a new genus of Spirit-beings who will inherit God's Kingdom.
  • The believer achieves a mystical union with Christ due to this Spirit infusion, a gradual process that is transformative involving also the sacred meal where Christ is taken within as food.
  • The world is in the last throes of its existence, and life would soon be transformed. 
  • Paul turned his back on the Torah and abandoned Judaism, replacing it with the new Torah of Christ.

Of course as I am thinking about Paul the mystic, I am also wondering about Paul the Gnostic.  Have we worked so hard over the centuries to domesticate Paul that we have lost touch with his Gnostic aspects too, like with the Fourth Gospel?  Anyway, these are my thoughts right now as I am in the reading and thinking phases of writing this chapter.