Page 10




1. Clay & Skin

2. Gilgamesh

3. Acts of God

4. Genesis


5. Odysseus

6. Men like

7. Socrates

8. Alexander

9. Virgil

10. Paul


11. Krishna

12. Rama

13. Kalidasa

14. Buddha

15. Confucius

16. Lao Tse


17. Quran

18. Beowulf

19. Genji

20. Survival Itself


21. Dante 1

22. Dante 2

 23. Dante 3

 24. Chaucer

25. Journey to the West

26. New World

27. Indians

28. Don Quixote








            last of the heroes


1. Read the selectionns from The Book of Acts that appear on this web site.

2. Skim the page below, and then spend an hour with your World Literature Journal.

3. If you are enrolled in this course for college credit, go to the Angel web site, take the quiz for this lesson, and submit your World Literature Journal to Dr. G.

Jesus was a Jew, crucified by Roman overlords in Jerusalem for proclaiming himself king of Jews, so how did his worship arise among Greeks and Romans?

The Jesus question
"Who do people say that I am?" (Mark 8:27)

Rome built roads around the Mediterranean, but she paved the way for Christianity in another sense, too. Rome looted all of the old temples of the Greeks and then in 70 CE she also destroyed the Jerusalem temple, the one built more than 500 years before under the direction of Ezra at the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon.

To the plundered peoples of the world, this  cultural devastation begged to be explained in terms of divine anger on an international scale. What prophet could have foretold such desecration of the holy places? Could it have been Jesus? Some of Jesus' followers said that, like Jeremiah, Jesus had predicted the Jewish temple's destruction. Some claimed that Jesus was the only hero who really was coming back from the dead any more, after the Romans occupation. 

But who was this Jesus? Like Socrates he left no writings to speak directly for him. As Socrates' students imitated dead Socrates in different ways--some as skeptics, some as cynics, some as epicures, idealists or mystics across a broad range of interpretations--so early followers of Jesus produced various models of their leader. And at least as vigorously as Socratics disputed one another, Christian preachers from the beginning squared off over these different Jesuses. Hostility toward rival preachers shows up already in Paul (cir. 6 AD - cir 67 AD, see general bio on Paul see footnote 4 below.) Paul described those who disagreed with his views as "perverters of the gospel," "accursed by God," or worse (e.g., Galatians 1:7-8; Philippians 3:2-11). 

There are conflicting groups of followers, so which is the right one? Whose Socrates or whose Jesus, if any, is to be believed? When Jesus appears out of the water, is he spirit, man or both. Early Christians had different answers to this question.The Jesus problem is particularly thorny because Jesus had no Plato, Xenophon or other literate biographer among his immediate followers. Although Jesus died in about 30 AD, none of the New Testament gospels were composed until at least a generation later. The gospels according to Mark (cir. 65-70 AD), Matthew and Luke (both cir. 80-85 AD) and John (cir. 90-95 AD) all were written by people who knew Jesus imaginatively, through stories told about him. All other surviving written gospels (apocryphal texts that were excluded from the official canon of the New Testament) appear to have been written in the second century AD or even later. The epistles of Paul to various new Christian congregations in the old Hellenistic world were composed before the written gospels, but the earliest of these letters, 1 Thessalonians, is thought to date back only to 50 AD.  Paul never met Jesus, and he was very unimpressed with the teachings of Jesus' apostles Peter and James (the brother of Jesus), who he apparently did meet in person (see Galatians 1:15; 2:9-11).  The Jesus that Paul claimed to know was resurrected "Christ," who appeared to him in the sky one day.

So Jesus' story must have been entirely oral in the beginning, unless early written records were destroyed. The first Christians may have kept Jesus secret, since ancient cults often kept their gods' and heroes' mysteries to themselves, not to be revealed outside the cult. (If you wanted to know, then you had to join.) But maybe they did not preserve Jesus' story in writing for the benefit of future generations because there weren't going to be any future generations. If the world was about to end, almost any day; as many imagined, then it may have seemed pointless to write, even if any belivers knew how to write.  

Only at most ten or fifteen percent of the population of the Roman Empire could read, and far fewer could write, so popular cults at this time still had to be transmitted mostly by word of mouth. Yet oral Christian story-telling apparently did not rely upon music, verse, or other mnemonic devices to preserve the words from one telling to the next.  The Christian gospels are written in prose and show no evidence of having been adapted from verse. Early Christian hymns must have helped to unite the thoughts of believers, but these apparently were only short lyrics, not extended narratives that told Jesus' story or repeated his teachings in detail. Apparently these songs were intended for communal singing, as modern hymns are; they weren't professional recital texts, like songs of the Homeric rhapsodes. 

Rembrandt, Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel (1661), Louvre, Paris.The evidence, such as it is, suggests that, in the beginning, Jesus' story was transmitted by spiritual possession. Peter authorized preachers through a "laying on of hands" ceremony that possibly may have involved instruction of some kind [Acts 6:6 and 8:14], but followers could speak of Jesus even though they were not trained as preachers. Anyone could prophesy, provided only that he or she had been baptized. The spirit world was revealed through baptism. This event typically was imaged as "the Holy Spirit" descending upon the initiates, like a dove or a tongue of fire flying down to them through parted skies that opened the heavenly abode of God above. Linked to the source of inspiration in this way, baptized Christians were equipped to tell the good news. No doubt they learned from one another what good news ought to sound like, but they seem to have had significant freedom to improvise.

The mechanics of early Christian prophecy can be glimpsed in some of Paul's letters and in The Book of Acts, the earliest surviving history of the early Christians. All four New Testament gospels show it prominently too, in the baptism of Jesus by the prophet John the Baptizer, the point at which Jesus discovers his spirit (his "Father" in heaven) and therefore can separate from John and begin to prophesy on his own.

The account in Acts is particularly striking. The book begins with the appearance of Jesus to the apostles within a few weeks after the crucifixion. The risen master promises that they will be baptized in the Holy Spirit in a few days, and then they will be able to "witness" him to people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the farthest ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-8). The clear implication is that the apostles cannot "witness" Jesus from their existing personal knowledge about him or his former life. They can witness him only after the Holy Spirit has descended and possessed them, which first happened at Pentecost according to Acts 2:1-47. [More about Pentecost below.]  

The Holy Spirit received through baptism was a form of spiritual possession, like possession by the Muse in traditional Hellenic poetry, or inspiration by the Lord in traditional Hebrew prophecy, but more than a chosen few could receive it. Once the cult of Jesus began to grow, the Holy Spirit fostered spontaneous, ecstatic speaking in entire charismatic communities. All Christians could be prophets. All initiated members were authorized to speak by inspiration, and what they said about Jesus continued to expand and change long after Jesus' death, as modern historical studies of the surviving gospels have demonstrated. [See note 3 below.] The gospels were meant to express the Holy Spirit, not to report studiously researched facts about Jesus' biography, as modern Biblical scholars do. 

How did Christianity lose its original character as a cult of prophets? Eventually in the course of time, questions must have arisen from the proliferation of inconsistent and contradictory accounts of Jesus. What exactly was the truth? Who was Jesus, really? Shouldn't all believers agree on an answer? Shouldn't there be one unified cult?

By the second and third centuries, many Christians came to see the need to police the story-telling, the Holy Spirit notwithstanding. This attitude became dominant when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 312 AD. Church fathers took up arms against a variety of "heresies" (that is, views about God and Jesus differing from their own views), and for their followers they bound up the word of the Lord into a single authorized book in which only four gospels, letters of Paul and other miscellaneous writings were included. The papacy, the Nicene creed of Christian belief, and other institutions and standards of the church also came into being, and the original idea faded that all baptized Christians can prophesy through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Dogmatic priestly religion separated from popular prophetic art.


Image left: from the Arch of Titus in Rome, a scene depicts the Roman triumph of 70 CE displaying spoils taken from Ezra's temple in Jerusalem.




Jesus the Greek? Some historians have argued that Jesus was influenced by Cynic philosophy, since in many gospel stories Jesus has little use for worldly goods, work, marriage, or any kind of social status-seeking. (The Cynics were among the intellectual descendents of Socrates.) Jesus may have known Greek, since it was one of the languages spoken in Palestine in his day, and the Jewish scriptures commonly were read in Greek translation even by rabbis. The authorized Greek translation, known as the Septuagint, had been put together in the second century BC by Hebrew scholars at Ptolemy's Alexandria. (Recall Homer's codification at Alexandria.) 



  Image left: from a painting known as "The Calling of Apostles Peter and Andrew" by Duccio di Buoninsegna (cir. 1311), now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Jesus' disciples "were simple and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13).

































Image left: Christian artist Rembrandt depicts inspiration coming to Matthew for his gospel of Jesus. The spirit evidently moved Matthew to convert Jews to Christianity. Unlike other gospels, Matthew's story is designed to show that Jesus' life and death fulfill Jewish prophecies and parallel Exodus 1-20, the story of Moses as accepted by most Jews. 

























In early Christianity inspired words formed by the tongue were not premeditated in consciousness of the speaker and not necessarily understood by anybody after they had been voiced, a phenomenon sometimes known as "speaking in tongues." 

Jesus in Greek:
Paul's Hellenist Christ

Acts describes baptized Christians as "witnesses" to Jesus. Witnessing was made possible only through the Holy Spirit, which was received popularly in baptism (Acts 1:3). It was not recalling historical Jesus. It was testifying to his presence after his death. Sighting the resurrected Jesus was one form of witnessing, but unexplained events of various kinds could be taken for "signs" of Jesus' presence. When the sick unexpectedly recovered from illness, for example, Christian witnesses were quick to attribute the recoveries to the power of Jesus. Sometimes the apostles themselves were said to have performed miraculous healing "in the name of Jesus." So Peter is said to have cured a lame man (Acts 3:1) and also to have recovered a faithful woman named Tabitha from death (Acts 9:36). To accept such apparent miracles as true, and as signs of Jesus, was to witness Jesus. 

Large numbers of Greeks eventually became witnesses. These were the people of Hesiod and Homer, after all, and you will recall how these poets had described mysterious phenomena, including volcanoes and plagues, in terms of activities of Zeus, Apollo and other gods. Among Greeks, Jesus was another  explanation for cures and other marvels. Yet the likeness of Jesus to Zeus or Apollo probably would not have occurred to Peter or any of the apostles in Jerusalem, before the cult attempted to attract members from the Greco-Roman world of strange and foreign gods.


Michelangelo's Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Paul as Jewish Prophet
at the end of the world

Christian scriptures characterize Paul's life as a series of run ins with unenlightened Jewish establishment figures. Nevertheless, Paul never renounced his Jewish faith, and his broad mission was essentially Jewish, as a prophet of the Lord. Like earlier prophets, he impersonated "the word of the Lord," had visions, criticized those in authority as hypocrites, and tried to win true believers from the masses. He especially modeled himself after the ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah (cir. 760 - 690 BC). Isaiah's book was Paul's mentor; we can understand Paul's life and read his writings as attempts to fulfill Isaiah's prophecies. 

In Paul's time, Isaiah and the other canonical Hebrew prophets had an important practical advantage over Jesus. They were in the book. Paul couldn't know precisely what Jesus had said -- the gospels weren't written yet -- but he could read the Jewish scriptures and learn what the canonical prophets had said. Nobody said more than Isaiah about bringing worship of the Lord to foreign nations. 

Isaiah, depicted at Sainte Marie de Souillac, cir. 1125 AD.Isaiah had lived at a time when it looked as if the Jewish state would be wiped out by Assyrian invaders, so he had imagined that dark changes were afoot in the spirit world, and it was his line of work to see what they were. What he saw in his prophesying was the Last Judgment, a dreadful day, very soon to arrive, when the angry Lord would judge the entire world once and for all -- not only Israel and Judah (the two kingdoms of Jews in those days) but all nations. Regardless of national origin, people who did not worship the Lord would be consumed in unquenchable fire. It seemed to be happening already in Isaiah's time when Israel (the northern Jewish kingdom, later to be called Samaria) was being torched by Assyrians and ten of the twelve Jewish tribes were about to become lost:

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land is devoured in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. Isaiah 1:7

Only the Lord's faithful minority would escape the flames to come, but salvation at least would be global. All people of every nation would be saved who heard and followed the word of the Lord.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 
                                                                              Isaiah 2:2-4

Isaiah laid the groundwork for Jewish prophecy to expand outside of Palestine. It was a sensible plan, since it looked at the time as if the entire Jewish nation was about to be overthrown with survivors dispersed across the face of the earth. But as events turned out, Isaiah's prediction was premature. Jerusalem was spared when the Assyrian army was annihilated miraculously, or else it was bought off with an enormous ransom, including all of the gold in the Lord's temple--whichever version of the history you care to believe. [Note 3 of Lesson 3.

But sooner or later, of course, some invader eventually would topple Jerusalem, so that Isaiah's prophecies finally would come true. It happened about 135 years after Isaiah, in the time of Jeremiah (587 BC), when Jerusalem in fact fell to the Babylonians, and Jews indeed were forced into exile. [Recall Lesson 3.] Interest in Isaiah's predictions naturally revived at that time, and an unknown writer, known to us today as "Second Isaiah," began making revisions to Isaiah's old manuscript. These postscripts included references to events that had occurred after Isaiah's death, so that Isaiah's prophetic powers appear miraculous indeed to readers unaware of the book's reworking. [More on the revisions to the book of Isaiah in note 5 Journal 3.]

Isaiah's reputation for accurate prediction received a boost in the middle of the first century AD, when Paul and his fellow missionaries finally undertook the international missionary project that Isaiah had envisioned more than 600 years earlier. Paul's preaching career fulfilled the words of Isaiah by carrying "the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" to Hellenists in Asia Minor, mainland Greece and Macedonia. The primary message that Paul took to these foreigners was Isaiah's message, that the Last Judgment was at hand. This may have been Jesus' primary teaching also, but historically speaking it is difficult to be sure about that.

Rembrandt. The Apostle Paul. c. 1657. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USAWhat we see of the early Greek Christians, in glimpses provided in Paul's letters and in Luke's Hellenist Book of Acts, is believers behaving as if Isaiah's Last Judgment is about to happen, as if the world is coming to an end. Doomsday behaviors, such as abandonment of family, giving away of all personal possessions, and above all fanatical praising of Christ, might have been appropriate, if the Last Judgment in fact had been near. To nonbelievers, however, it looked as if Christians must be drunk or crazy. (See for example Acts 2:13 and 26:24.) The difference between the loonies and the scoffers was belief and non-belief about a prophecy. 

At least as he is presented in the gospels, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven surely would arrive within the disciples' own lifetimes (Mark 13:30; Luke 9:27). This was also Paul's urgent message, even though confusingly some of the disciples already had died. In hindsight, Paul's prophecy was almost as premature as Isaiah's, but some people clearly believed it, and clearly the lives of some believers were seriously disrupted as a result.

Paul's congregation in Thessaly wondered why some of the members were dying prior to Judgment Day? Hadn't they all been promised a view of the messiah coming in glory? Paul answered that the dead would be raised up to see the Last Judgment, and then the living would fly up to join them "in the air." All of this rapture surely would happen quite soon, during Paul's own lifetime [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. But later, the people of this same congregation had become hysterically dysfunctional, terrified that the end was at hand, and Paul had to write to them again to calm them down [2 Thessalonians 2:2]. 

The Thessalonians practiced communal sharing of food, but some of the zealous souls quit work and became demoralizing burdens on the producing members of the commune. Why toil if the end is so near? Other followers of Paul's completely lost interest in marriage, children and family life. On the other hand, some decided to indulge their senses with sexual excesses and other pleasures. Elsewhere, slaves ran away but then, when the world didn't end, realized that they were in deep trouble.

Obviously, many individuals didn't believe Paul's prophecies. And yet many did. At least one congregation supported Paul financially, and others may have, too. Several gave him donations to take back to the original commune of Jesus' followers in Jerusalem -- the poor "saints," as Paul called them when raising funds.  

Paul had no political or social authority whatsoever in communities where he preached doomsday. On the contrary, some people despised him as a Jew while others saw him as a turncoat from Jewish orthodoxy. Yet through prophecy alone -- his inspiring  words -- he converted Hellenists, even in such traditional Hellenic strongholds as Thessaly, Achaia, and Athens. [Thessaly was Achilles' homeland of Phthia; in Plato's dialogues this is also the place where Crito's friends could have harbored Socrates in exile, if only Socrates had agreed to go.] The success of Paul's mission is very remarkable, even if in the process Paul had to turn Jesus into Christ and dispute with Peter and James.

Central to Paul's presentation of himself to the Hellenes as an inspired preacher was his story that he had directly encountered Christ -- resurrected Christ, not the historical person Jesus. Paul refers to this supernatural episode no less than three times in his surviving letters, and Acts mentions it three other times (Acts 9:1-9, 22:3-16, and 26:9-18, Galatians 1:11-17 and 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:8-11). The incident had happened one day when Paul was traveling on the road to Damascus (in modern Syria, far from the Hellenic homelands). Suddenly there was Christ up in the air overhead, calling Paul by name and rebuking him for persecuting Christians. It knocked him down and temporarily blinded him. From this experience, Paul saw that the end was beginning! Jesus already had been raised and transformed in a mysterious new body. Everybody else surely would follow.

To believe Paul, similar sightings of risen Christ already had occurred to the first believers in Judea:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
And that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve [disciples]:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-10, emphasis added. See also Paul's idea of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:39.)

Paul witnessed Christ, as Peter and the others in Jerusalem had witnessed Christ. This was Paul's claim to direct inspiration, independent of the disciples who had known and worked with Jesus. It was the claim of a prophet to spiritual knowledge.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661), Rijksmuseum, AmsterdamBecause there is no evidence apart from Paul's testimonies and the brief descriptions in Acts, questions about what really happened to Paul on the road to Damascus can't be answered definitively. Paul's admirers and detractors reach different conclusions about it. But whatever actually took place, Paul became an opposite of his former self. He stopped persecuting followers of Jesus and devoted the rest of his life to founding Christian communities. This conversion became a model for transformation of the Hellenists that Paul hoped to convert. He was going to gain everlasting life through the Last Judgment, and they could be saved, too, through belief in his words.

Yet another Apostle Paul by Rembrandt.Why did so many Greeks believe Paul? Several suggestions have already been made on this page, but the question is not easily answered. It could have helped Paul considerably that Hellenic and Hebrew literature were full of deep-rooted parallels. Greeks who knew nothing of Isaiah or other Jewish doomsday prophets could have understood that Christ was a hero, and Paul was a prophetic medium who could invoke Christ, as he claimed had happened involuntarily on the road to Damascus. They could have accepted Paul's communion meal as a hero ritual that called up the spirit of dead Jesus and that saved them, too, either from death or in death. They could have seen Paul's Last Judgment, not as a restatement of Isaiah but as a culmination of Hellenic sacrifice when all of the heroes would arise from their graves to claim the gifts that were owed to them and to bless the faithful people who had made appropriate sacrifice offerings. Would Paul's arrival in town perhaps mean that he might make Christ appear? And if Christ appeared, would it be the end of the world?


Acts of the Apostles
reading The Book of Acts

Paul of Tarsus reconstucted bustActs was written in about 80-85 AD to tell about Paul's missionary work and related events in early Christian history, from the aftermath of Jesus' crucifixion (cir. 30 AD) until the time of Paul's journey to Rome (cir. 60 AD). This is an international story of the spread of the cult of Jesus to the Greco-Roman world, a Hellenist foundation myth for Christianity. As such, it serves a similar cultural purpose to the foundation literature concerning the origin of the Platonic Academy, Homeric Alexandria, Virgilian Rome, Muhammadan Mecca, the Hesiodic Helicon etc.

Acts is also a continuation of the gospel according to Luke, written by the same anonymous Greek author and for the same unknown audience. (It is addressed to one Theophilus, meaning "lover of God.") The two books are full of parallel episodes, and they may have become separated simply because the whole story originally was contained on two standard 32-foot scrolls. 

Luke is known by scholars as the gospel to the Gentiles, because of its Hellenist features. It substitutes Greek names for Hebrew and Aramaic names, it is interested in non-Jewish Christians and international salvation (2:30-32, 3:38, 4:16-30, 13:28-30, 14:15-24, 17:11-19, 24:47-48), and it demonstrates incomplete knowledge of Palestinian geography, history and customs. It is also Homeric in its omniscient point of view (recall the omniscience of Homer's Muse); God's plans are announced by angelic messengers, and many of the characters, even the shepherds tending their flocks by night on the night of Jesus' nativity, know in advance how the story will turn out (Luke 2:8; recall the present existence of "the" future in Homer).

According to Luke, as well as Paul, the future can be seen when one is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. To become Christian is to gain access to the spirit, which can provide the gift of prophecy, including the power to see the end of world which is coming soon. The inspired may see risen Jesus, as Paul and many others did, or they may see other "signs" that signify the approach of the Last Judgment. Christianity for Luke, as for Paul, is a cult of prophecy.

One of the striking episodes in Luke's gospel (not found in other gospels) occurs when Elizabeth, a wise woman pregnant with John the Baptizer, is visited by Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Elizabeth suddenly becomes prophetic, empowered by the Holy Spirit to say the first "Hail, Mary."

And it came to pass, that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spoke out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
                       Luke 1:41-45 (emphasis added)

John does not need to be born, let alone born-again, to see how things are going to be in the future. He can prophesy while he is still a fetus in the belly, at least when his mother is filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Prophecy is central to Luke's account. As the story unfolds it is almost as if Jesus' mother is John rather than Mary, and as if John's mother is Isaiah rather than Elizabeth. The biological mothers quickly disappear from the story, but John's life and teachings fulfill the words of Isaiah (Luke 3:1-6), and Jesus in turn lives out the predictions of John. Jesus' spiritual life comes into being only when John baptizes him.

Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

                           Luke 3:21-22 (emphasis added)

From this point Jesus' ministry begins. The implication is that even Jesus needed baptism under the direction of a prophet to gain access to the Holy Spirit and the gift of prophecy or awareness of the end times.

Medieval manuscript illustration of Pentecost.The transmission of the Holy Spirit by baptism is repeated in Acts, when dead Jesus promises his mute and amazed followers in Jerusalem: "John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:5). This dry baptism that inaugurates Christian preaching abroad occurs on Pentecost, when tongues of flame descend on each of the apostles, giving them the power to speak languages understood outside of Palestine. This event overcomes the linguistic damage done at the destruction of the Tower of Babel [recall lesson 4], and it makes possible the realization of Isaiah's multicultural vision that the word of the Lord should go forth into the world from Jerusalem.

Non-believers present at this Christian Pentecost think that the Christians are drunk, but Peter reminds them that it's only 9 a.m., and he launches into a sermon explaining that the Christians are acting as everybody is supposed to act when the last days have come, according to the prophet Joel:

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
      Your young men will see visions.
      Your old men will dream dreams.

Yes and on my servants and handmaidens in those days,
      I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the sky above,
      And signs on the earth beneath;
      Blood, and fire, and billows of smoke.
             Acts 2:17-19 (compare Joel 2:28)

In their babbling and prophesying, the apostles are making it appear to be the end of the world. Peter supplies the explanation, including discussion of the "signs" or miracles that Jesus worked during his time on earth and, most importantly, Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The apostles keep count on how many people are persuaded by their acts: from this episode they convinced about 3,000 to believe (Acts 2:41).

All of which brings us back to self-induction [from Lesson 3]. Acts is superbly named for English readers. The English verb "to act" means "to pretend" (for example, to act the part of Robin Hood) and "to seem" (to act like a jackass when one isn't a jackass, to act scared when actual fear may or may not be present) and also "to do" (to act on a request, to act as a peacemaker). The noun "act" similarly can refer to part of a play (Act 4 of Hamlet) or to any deed (an act of war, a harmless act), and there are instances when it's hard to say which "act" is intended (for example, a foolish act may refer to a playful act or to something much more serious). 

All of these acts can be found in the Book of Acts, depending on the reader's perception of the events that it describes. Looking at the Pentecost "miracle," for example, one easily might see a picture of social manipulation via managed illusion, as the apostles stage a public event to trick devout Jewish pilgrims into thinking that the end times have come. (Everybody's prophesying; ergo, according to scripture, the world must be coming to end.) That's a non-believer's perspective, which sees only the theatrical kind of acting. 

But look at this same Pentecost episode from a believer's point of view, and there are no apparent insincerities or histrionics. The apostles can be seen as honestly trying to save their fellows from a catastrophe that (they really think) is about to occur, so that a little dramatization is justified by the good intentions. If the apostles are convinced that the end already has begun, then they are acting appropriately, the way that the scriptures say people in fact will act when the end arrives. Perhaps they believe in the book to such an extent that they simply do what it says.

Still another way to view this Pentecost scene is to be agnostic about what the apostles' thoughts and motives because Luke describes only appearances: on the surface it looked as if people were prophesying, and it looked as if 3,000 spectators believed them. In this view, personal thoughts and motives might be beside the point because the Holy Spirit is in change of events. The apostles might not be self-directed; the spirit may have taken over. The Pentecost may be happening spontaneously, regardless of anybody's intentions, good or bad. This interpretation would illustrate prophetic self induction, described previously.

Facial composite
of  Paul created in 2008 by experts of the Lande-skriminalamt of North Rhine-Westphalia using historical sources, proposed by Düsseldorf historian Michael Hesemann

Michelangelo's image of the conversion of Paul.

Judeo-Christian timeline
for the preclassical and classical eras

1800 BCE? Abraham

1400 BCE? Moses

1200 BCE. Fall of Troy, Thebes, and pre-Hellenic cities. End of the Bronze Age.

950 BCE? Solomon constructs the first Jewish temple at Jerusalem.

753 BCE? Rome founded.

750 BCE? Conventional date for Homer. [But an original Homer or Trojan War writer probably flourished at about 1200 BC. ]

722 BCE. Isaiah. Assyrians conquer northern Jewish kingdom of Israel.

587 BCE. Jeremiah. Babylonians conquer southern Jewish kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. Solomon's Temple is destroyed, and Jews are taken in captivity to Babylon.

515 BCE. The Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt in the period of Ezra, after the Jewish exile in Babylon is ended by Cyrus the Great's  Persian conquest of the Babylonians. (Archaic Age temples are built in the Greek world by this time also.)

510 BCE. Beginning of Roman Republic (Etruscan or early Roman kings expelled).

399 BCE. Death of Socrates.

333-323 BCE. Conquests of Alexander the Great.

300-198 BCE. Palestine under the rule of the Hellenistic Ptolemies.

198-142 BCE. Palestine under the rule of Hellenistic Syrians.

142-37 BCE. Palestine briefly under independent Jewish rule of the Maccabees.

63 BCE. Conquest of Palestine by Rome under Pompey the Great.

44 BCE. Assassination of Julius Caesar in Rome.

40-4 BCE. Herod the Great  serves as King of Jews under the Romans.

31 BCE. Octavian defeats Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, ending the Hellenistic Age and leading in 34 BCE to the designation of Octavian as Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor. Augustus rules to 14 CE.

19 BCE. Death of the poet Virgil. His unfinished epic poem The Aeneid, the official foundation myth of Rome, is published posthumously.

4 BCE? Jesus born

CE 14-37. Tiberius (adopted son of Augustus) is second emperor of Rome.

CE. 18-36. Caiaphas, high priest in Jerusalem.

CE 25-36. Pilate, Roman Governor of Judea.

CE 30? Jesus crucified.

CE 33? Conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus.

CE 43. Roman conquest of Britain begins.

CE 46-57. Paul's missionary journeys in the old Hellenic world of Asia Minor and the Greek peninsula (epistles written cir. 50-60 AD).

CE 56-117. Life of Tacitus (major Roman historian).

CE 61. Queen Boudicca rebels against Rome and massacres Roman legions in Britain. 

CE 64. Rome burns, allegedly while the Emperor Nero sings of the burning of Troy. Christians had called for the burning of Rome, and Nero evidently blamed the Christians for starting the fire. According to second century Christian sources, which may or may not be reliable, Nero ordered a retaliation in which Peter and Paul were among those killed.

CE 65? Gospel according to Mark.

CE 66-70. Jewish revolt against Rome. Vespasian leads legions against the Jews in Judea. The Jewish leader Josephus surrenders to the Romans at Jotapata. The Roman army destroys the Second Temple in Jerusalem. (Josephus later became the foremost Jewish historian of antiquity).

CE 79. Mount Vesuvius erupts, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum.

CE 80. Roman Collosseum is completed.

CE 80-85? Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, and The Book of Acts written.

CE 90-95. Gospel according to John written.

CE 110-130? Gospels according to Peter and Thomas, and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas written probably at this time. (Other apocryphal gospels apparently were written still later than these.)

CE 187. Iranaeus, a Greek who became Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, writes Against Heresies, one of the main works marking the drive toward religious orthodoxy within Christianity. 

CE 312. Emperor Constantine the Great converts to Christianity, marking the beginning of Christianity's status as the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Persecutions of non-Christians in the Roman Empire begin. Standardized practices and beliefs are enforced.

CE 400. Augustine's Confessions written.

CE 410. Rome is sacked by Alaric, the first of the "barbarians" to pillage the city. Augustine begins The City of God to refute pagans who blame the fall of Rome on Christianity. The fall of Rome has usually been considered to be the event that ends the classical period and begins the Middle Ages in European history, but the eastern empire was not destroyed by the fall of Rome.

CE 529. Plato's Academy is destroyed by Christian Emperor Justinian, apparently to suppress non-Christian ideas.

CE 530s. Dark Age catastrope ends the classical period.

Lesson Summary: Paul and others translated Jewish prophecy into Hellenic terms. The cultural result was classical Christianity, expressed in the New Testament. The essence of this cult appears to have been prophecy through the Holy Spirit.

Suggested journal topics
and optional readings

1. How does Paul compare with other prophets--Hebrew, Hellenic, Roman, Muslim--studied in other lessons in our course? More info on Paul appears in note 4 below.

2. What do you think of Paul? Is Paul a persecuted martyr, a great defender of a true faith? Is he mentally ill, as the Roman Festus seems to claim in Acts? Or is Paul only a propaganda figure in a pseudo-history designed to elevate Jesus above Moses and the other prophets of Judaism? If your background is Christian, you may be inclined to believe the story in Acts that Paul was innocent of any wrongdoing, but that the Romans kept him in jail for long periods of time anyway to please the Jews, mobs of whom in almost every city wanted to kill Paul for his blasphemies. If your background is Jewish, however, you may find this story quite unbelievable. It's easy to speculate that the Romans jailed Paul because he broke the Roman law. Perhaps they jailed him for repeatedly harassing worshippers at synagogues, as some episodes in Acts suggest. Is there enough evidence to answer  questions of this kind? Is it important to answer these sorts of questions in order to understand or appreciate Paul's story?

3. The New Testament gospelsFor excellent general introductions to the New Testament, see Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday: New York, 1977) and Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press: New York 1977). 

Ehrman describes the general criteria used by modern historians to judge the credibility of various stories told about Jesus in Paul's letters, the scriptural gospels and other non-canonical gospels. The criteria include:

A. contextual credibility: any myth or tradition about Jesus that cannot be credibly fit into Jesus' own first century Palestinian context cannot be regarded as authentic.
B. independent attestation: any myth or tradition about Jesus that appears in multiple independent sources is more likely to be authentic than any myth or tradition that appears in only one source. Example: nearly all of the stories told about Jesus' birth lack independent attestation; the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke agree on very few points, except that Jesus' family was from the village of Nazareth but his birthplace was at Bethlehem. Even the genealogies back to King David's time are inconsistent. By contrast, Jesus' baptism by John the Baptizer is attested in all four canonical gospels, and so it is more likely to be authentic.
C. criterion of dissimilarity: any myth or tradition about Jesus that does not coincide with the vested interests of early Christians is likely to be authentic. Example: Jesus is rejected by his own family, synagogue and local community, and masses of people in Jerusalem call for his execution. Unflattering stories like these about Jesus probably would not have been invented by Christians to promote their cults. (Although another possible interpretation is that these are inauthentic stories devised to appeal to people with anti-Semitic biases.)
D. criterion of chronology: writings closer to the time of Jesus are more like to have a basis in fact than writings further from the time of Jesus. Example: Mark's early gospel is in general a better source than John's late gospel.

Based on these criteria, Ehrman makes the case that both the canonical and non-canonical gospels are filled with episodes of doubtful historical authenticity. This is not a criticism of anybody's personal belief in the scriptures or religious faith. It's simply a modern historian's view of what probably happened and what could have happened but is not so probable. The discipline of history nowadays is based on a scientific model so that it does not permit description of events in terms of spiritual or supernatural agencies.

4. Paul, general info: Paul (called Paul in Greek, Saul in Hebrew) lived among the Hellenists in Asia Minor, perhaps at Tarsus, just after the Romans had robbed the Greek temples, putting an end to the Hellenistic period, but he was a Jew of the Diaspora (the Jewish communities living outside of Palestine) who maintained connections in Jerusalem. Letters written under his name to various early Hellenist churches in the mid 1st century AD are preserved in the New Testament.

Modern scholars generally agree that at least seven of these letters are genuinely Paul's: 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon, and Romans. The authorship of two others is often debated: 2 Thessalonians and Colossians. It is frequently claimed that the four other Pauline letters in the New Testament are not Paul's: Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. But if any of these letters really is a forgery, it at least indicates that Paul was a well-known authority among Greek Christians, and it also underscores the importance of imitation in the social process of spreading the Jesus cults. People may have copied Paul, even to the point of passing off their own writing under his name. (In the ancient world, this kind of thing was fairly common: would-be poets who wanted attention wrote pieces as "Homer," would-be philosophers wrote as "Plato," and so on. In those days forgeries were hard to detect, and there were no copyright laws or author royalties to defend.)  

Paul probably "wrote" by dictating to professional scribes. The scribes may have taken liberties when writing down what Paul said to them, so that this method of composition partly would account for the differences in thought and style among the letters. However, the variations from letter to letter also suggest that Paul was practical, addressing his words to fit particular audiences on specific occasions. 

Paul's letters would have been read aloud to the assembled congregations to which they were addressed. In this sense Paul's style is oral--not that it is memorized like a Homeric song or hymn but that it is delivered in public like a dramatic script. The convention at the time was that writing made the writer personally present at the reading. When reading aloud, the reader would have tried to sound like the writer. So, Paul "visited" his missionary churches through readers of his dictated words; the readers played Paul, reading from a script prepared by scribes. 

If you read these letters, read them aloud, or try to imagine yourself reading them aloud in public, as a messenger to the intended congregations. 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians are good letters to start with.

How Christians should act is a central theme of Paul's letters. For example, Paul announced sexual and other behavioral restrictions on the Corinthians, apparently to clean up the public image of the group. Those who didn't act as Paul instructed would not be saved at the Last Judgment: 

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
                   1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Even though Christianity operates by models of action, not by rules of law, Christian preachers regularly describe the models in abstract terms: what's right to do, what's wrong to do. All violations of model behavior are correctable by abandoning the wrong acts and performing the right ones.  The wrong are forgiven.

Paul is also noted for having been a persecutor of Christians, prior to his "conversion" experience. Yet Paul never converted in the sense of dropping Judaism in favor of Christianity. He always thought of himself as a Jew, even after he assumed the view that Jesus was the son of the Lord. The first Christians in Palestine thought of themselves as Jews, not as members of a different religion. Relations between Christian-Jews and nonChristian-Jews apparently were strained from the beginning, but the schism apparently was not completed for several decades after the death of Jesus.

Paul's exact role in persecuting Christians, prior to his conversion, is unknown. It was unlawful for Jews in the Roman Empire of Paul's day to inflict corporal punishment for any spiritual offense. The stoning of Steven, for example, assuming that it happened as Acts says, would have been illegal. (Acts 7:59 claims that Paul was present at this event.) But local Roman administrators may have looked the other way when Jewish priests or aristocrats broke laws. Joining the lowly persecuted Christians may have been Paul's way of cleansing his feelings of guilt by becoming one of the victims (a truly Hellenic behavior!). Certainly he seems to have relished being imprisoned on a regular basis. Obedience to political laws appears to have little importance for him; obedience to the Christ model, even when it meant law-breaking, was paramount.

Paul found women very active in the early Greek churches, even as congregational leaders, possibly because priestesses had been common in the old Hellenic world, or because women were allowed to have money in Hellenist society (unlike many traditional societies at the time), or possibly because Jesus had cultivated women, along with sinners and other downtrodden and despised people, the "last" who soon would become "first" in the reversed social order of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul is sometimes accused of patriarchal leanings that eventually turned the church into an old boy's club, but these modern criticisms may not be completely fair. While Paul advised women to be silent in the assembly and to cover their heads, he also accepted women as church leaders, saints and fund raisers. 

For some further reading on Paul, see: R. Banks, Idea of a Community: The Early House Churches in Their Historical Setting (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980)(discusses Paul as a builder of communities); R. Jewett, A Chronology of Paul's Life (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979)(attempts to reconstruct Paul's life); A.J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1989)(comparing Paul to popular Stoic and Cynic traditions in classical philosophy); J.H. Neyrey, Paul In Other Words: A Cultural Reading of his Letters (Louisville: Westminster/Knox Press, 1990)(a reading in terms of cultural anthropology); S.K. Stowers, Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1986)(shows how the letters in the New Testament are influenced by classical rhetoric).

5. Paul and the mass. According to Acts, within a few months after Jesus' death, Peter and the disciples in Jerusalem withdrew from preaching into a life of prayer and meditation, but they hired Hellenist preachers -- that is, Hellenized Jews -- to support their commune through public preaching. All or most of the disciples probably were speakers of Aramaic, an ancient Persian language often regarded by anti-Persian biased Greeks as barbarian and corrupted with magical superstition, and so the services of Greek-speakers would have been needed to preach in the Greek-speaking world. Central aspects of Christianity, as it is known today, may have arisen only when Hellenists translated it. One change probably was the name of the religion. "Christ" is the word for ""the anointed one" in Greek. Although we can't say for sure, it seems very unlikely that anybody in Peter's commune in Jerusalem would have used this alien word. Perhaps, the original followers referred to Jesus as "Messiah," a roughly equivalent Hebrew term, but nobody knows because all of the earliest source literature is Greek.    

The Christian mass or Lord's Supper also bears an apparent Hellenic imprint. It is hardly the same as the Passover feast that Jesus, as a devout Jew, would have celebrated. Its central mystery is of the kind found in traditional Hellenic hero rites, in which the dead were made present to believers at communion meals. As the New Testament indicates, Peter and his Jewish-Christian followers would not eat with non-Jews. Jewish exclusivity in dining was a serious obstacle to Jesus-worship among Greeks, who traditionally met the spirits only at dinner. The cultural barrier may have come down only when Greeks began to give resurrection banquets for Jesus, along the recognizable lines of traditional Hellenic hero meals. 

Acts gives credit to Peter as the first Jew to dine with Near Eastern gentiles (see Acts 10:1 - 11:18.), but in one of his letters, Paul claims that he "received" the Lord's Supper from the Lord and "delivered" it to his congregation at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:23-30) -- language suggesting that the Christian communion meal was his invention. [See the full quotation from Paul, in the right hand column of this page.] In any case, in early Hellenism, sacrificers believed that they were eating their ancestors, who fertilized the soil which had fed the animals being sacrificed; hence the need to appease the "heroes" with offerings. Christians similarly ate the body of the dead Jesus, but they did not have to offer him libations of wine. They brought wine to the dinner, as usual, but then they drank all of it instead of "offering" any to the dead by pouring it out as libations on the earth for them.  Drinking "the blood of Christ" to the last drop in this way was regarded by many pagans as a practice fit for vampires or for impious drunkards who refused to part with any of their wine. 

Why did so many Hellenes choose to dine with Paul, in his somewhat strange banquet dedicated to the memory of a foreigner, instead of celebrating in a local graveyard of their own heroes, as prior generations had done for centuries? Paul would have had to explain to them that Christ was not in the soil, that Christ had risen up from the ground without any help from libations or other human offerings. He told them that they could share in his new kind of immortality. All who ate Christ, as Paul instructed, would live eternally. Eating Christ "unworthily," on the other hand, would cause sickness and death, as Paul claimed had happened whenever Christians died at Corinth. These ideas must have made the Lord's Supper very attractive. The dinner story of Christ had the power of entertainment, to relax the body and overcome worries about sickness and death. [Recall literature's power of entertainment to relieve stress and improve digestion from Lesson 4.]

Very mindful of differences between Hellenes and Jews, Paul  generally reconciled them in ways that were more Greek than Jewish. With regard to the Jewish practice of circumcision and observance of kosher dietetic laws, for example, Paul directed his gentile followers to disregard the Jewish practice. Gentile men must have been relieved(!), but these exemptions bothered all who thought that, to become an authentic Jesus follower, the obvious first step was conversion to Judaism and adherence to Jewish law. Paul eventually won this argument when the followers of his Christ outnumbered the followers of Peter's messiah, and political power shifted away from Jerusalem toward the new Greco-Roman majority. 

6. Early Christian economics in Acts & the first Hellenist preachers:  Acts gives us a fascinating sketch of early Christianity, though its reliability is hard to gauge because there simply aren't any other pictures to compare with it. The story was composed several generations after the events that it describes, and the story-teller Luke has decidedly Hellenist points of view that probably bias his presentation of Peter and his Jewish followers in Jerusalem and abroad.

As Acts begins with the disappearance of Jesus on his ascension into heaven, the big question is how the little commune of disciples and followers can continue without the leader. The apostles have given up their trades to follow Jesus, and their commune depends economically on donations of property from new converts. For the group to continue to gain converts, the Holy Spirit must turn the members into prophets directly, because Jesus has departed without baptizing his successors. 

In the beginning the commune consists of about 120 persons, perhaps an estimate that each of the twelve disciples was supported by ten converts at the conclusion of Jesus' ministry (Acts 1:12). The commune could not have been supported by taxes or tithing requirements like those of the Sadducees at the Jerusalem temple. Whatever their religious differences were, the serious conflict between the early Christian preachers and the temple priests must have had a practical economic basis, as both groups sought support from the same community of practicing Jews in Jerusalem.

Within a few years after the death of Jesus, the Sadducees brought a man named Stephen to trial for blasphemy. As Acts tells the story, Stephen told them at the trial that the Lord "does not dwell in temples made with hands" (meaning, the Jerusalem Temple) and that the Jewish priests had persecuted all of the Lord's prophets throughout Jewish history. Things apparently got out of hand at that point, and Stephen was taken out and promptly stoned to death. 

One consequence of this martyrdom is that Stephen's fellows (Acts calls them "Hellenists") fled in fear into the countryside where they had to earn their daily bread by preaching to strangers.

A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day [when Stephen was killed]. They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen, and lamented greatly over him. But Saul ravaged the assembly, entering into every house, and dragged both men and women off to prison. Therefore those who were scattered abroad went around preaching the word.
             Acts 8:1-4 (emphasis added)

Note here that the apostles themselves were not persecuted at the time of Stephen's death; the Sadducees already had decided to leave the apostles alone, according to Acts 5:33-40. It's the "Hellenists" who were driven out of the city at Stephen's death to become the first wave of international preachers of "Christianity." They were the troublemakers from the Sadducee point of view, evidently--or at least this is the story as Luke presents it. 

Who were these Hellenists? We might guess that they were some of the reformed Jews of their day, Jews who spoke Greek and adopted Greco-Roman lifestyles, so they could move in international circles, in contrast to other more conservative Jews who resisted Hellenization. To believe the story in Acts, infighting between these Hellenist Jews and the Sadducees (priests of the Jewish temple) drove the Hellenists to the apostles of Jesus within a year or two after Jesus' death. They turned to the apostles because the Sadducees would not make economic provision for their widows, the story says. (Why the Sadducees should have provided for these widows, the story doesn't say.) The apostles agreed to take the widows into their commune, on the slight condition that the Hellenists would contribute seven men who could preach. The deal was sealed with the laying on of hands (Acts 6:5).

Why weren't the apostles themselves going out to do the preaching? Why did they need the Hellenists to do the work? The original disciples appear to have withdrawn from preaching and communal duties to devote their life to prayer (Acts 6:2). Was their silence a tradeoff for peace with the Sadducees, as the Sadducees indeed had demanded (Acts 5:40)? In Acts, Peter's public preaching in Jerusalem seems to stop as soon as the Sadducees' have ordered him to be silent about Jesus, and no further "persecutions" of Peter and his people are mentioned until much later on. 

If the apostles had been censored effectively by the Sadducees, it probably would have been the apostles who approached the Hellenists, not the Hellenists who approached the apostles, to make a deal. If the apostles weren't preaching, they urgently would have needed people to support the commune in Jerusalem by preaching on their behalf. The alternatives would have been to disband the commune and go back to fishing or else to defy the powerful Pharisees and risk deadly persecution again.

The agreement between the apostles and the Hellenists must have had advantages for both sides. Presumably, the Hellenists could have supported their widows by preaching on their own. The fact that they agreed to preach for the apostles indicates that there must have been substantial economic value in Jesus' message (enough to share) and that the apostles controlled that value. These circumstances suggest that nobody at this early date officially could speak for Jesus unless the cult authorized the preacher by the laying on of hands.

The benefit of the deal for the apostles likely would have been economic support for the commune. It's hard to see in practical terms what else it could have been. In this view of the situation, while the disciples prayed at home, their contract preachers worked the crowds outside, taking up collections and receiving contributions whenever anybody renounced the world to follow Jesus. Converts were expected to sell their assets and contribute all of the proceeds to the common pool, retaining no money in their own names (Acts 4:32). Luke is brutally frank about the consequences of individuals gaining or keeping any private ownership of property. These acts deserved punishment by death, he clearly believes, at least in the case of Judas (Acts 1:16) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1). As in Homer, God takes care of the killings.

Perhaps the most interesting point about the Hellenists in Acts is that they started preaching for the commune AFTER Jesus already had lived and died, all of the apostles' reported sightings of the resurrected Jesus (except Paul's) already had occurred, the reported miracle of the Pentecost had taken place, and all of the conflicts between Peter and the Temple priests were over and done (including Peter's healing of the lame man and run-in with the temple officials, the apostles' imprisonment and escape from prison led by an angel). These are all of the primary "miracles" that come down to us through the tradition of the Greek preachers, including the gospels of the Greek New Testament and Acts itself. 

If Luke's account is correct, there seem to be two possibilities. The Hellenists could have received these stories about Jesus and his cult while being trained by the apostles to preach for the commune, or else the Hellenists invented the stories afterwards on directly receipt from the Holy Spirit. Which was it?  Did the apostles distort their accounts of past events, or did the Hellenists do so? Or did the miracles happen as Acts claims? How can we know? 

7. Nero sings of Troy? Anti-imperial Roman historian Tacitus, Annals of Rome, cir. 118 CE, recounts the great fire of 64 CE and other disasters (translation by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb):

A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire.

It had its beginning in that part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills, where, amid the shops containing inflammable wares, the conflagration both broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus. For here there were no houses fenced in by solid masonry, or temples surrounded by walls, or any other obstacle to interpose delay.

The blaze in its fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising to the hills, while it again devastated every place below them, it outstripped all preventive measures; so rapid was the mischief and so completely at its mercy the city, with those narrow winding passages and irregular streets, which characterized old Rome. Added to this were the wailings of terror-stricken women, the feebleness of age, the helpless inexperience of childhood, the crowds who sought to save themselves or others, dragging out the infirm or waiting for them, and by their hurry in the one case, by their delay in the other, aggravating the confusion. Often, while they looked behind them, they were intercepted by flames on their side or in their face. Or if they reached a refuge close at hand, when this too was seized by the fire, they found that, even places, which they had imagined to be remote, were involved in the same calamity. At last, doubting what they should avoid or whither betake themselves, they crowded the streets or flung themselves down in the fields, while some who had lost their all, even their very daily bread, and others out of love for their kinsfolk, whom they had been unable to rescue, perished, though escape was open to them. And no one dared to stop the mischief, because of incessant menaces from a number of persons who forbade the extinguishing of the flames, because again others openly hurled brands, and kept shouting that there was one who gave them authority, either seeking to plunder more freely, or obeying orders.

Nero at this time was at Antium, and did not return to Rome until the fire approached his house, which he had built to connect the palace with the gardens of Maecenas. It could not, however, be stopped from devouring the palace, the house, and everything around it. However, to relieve the people, driven out homeless as they were, he threw open to them the Campus Martius and the public buildings of Agrippa, and even his own gardens, and raised temporary structures to receive the destitute multitude. Supplies of food were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring towns, and the price of corn was reduced to three sesterces a peck. These acts, though popular, produced no effect, since a rumor had gone forth everywhere that, at the very time when the city was in flames, the emperor appeared on a private stage and sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with the calamities of antiquity.

At last, after five days, an end was put to the conflagration at the foot of the Esquiline hill, by the destruction of all buildings on a vast space, so that the violence of the fire was met by clear ground and an open sky. But before people had laid aside their fears, the flames returned, with no less fury this second time, and especially in the spacious districts of the city. Consequently, though there was less loss of life, the temples of the gods, and the porticoes which were devoted to enjoyment, fell in a yet more widespread ruin. And to this conflagration there attached the greater infamy because it broke out on the Aemilian property of Tigellinus, and it seemed that Nero was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling it by his name. Rome, indeed, is divided into fourteen districts, four of which remained uninjured, three were leveled to the ground, while in the other seven were left only a few shattered, half-burnt relics of houses.

It would not be easy to enter into a computation of the private mansions, the blocks of tenements, and of the temples, which were lost. Those with the oldest ceremonial, as that dedicated by Servius Tullius to Luna, the great altar and shrine raised by the Arcadian Evander to the visibly appearing Hercules, the temple of Jupiter the Stayer, which was vowed by Romulus, Numa's royal palace, and the sanctuary of Vesta, with the tutelary deities of the Roman people, were burnt. So too were the riches acquired by our many victories, various beauties of Greek art, then again the ancient and genuine historical monuments of men of genius, and, notwithstanding the striking splendor of the restored city, old men will remember many things which could not be replaced. Some persons observed that the beginning of this conflagration was on the 19th of July, the day on which the Senones captured and burned Rome. Others have pushed a curious inquiry so far as to reduce the interval between these two conflagrations into equal numbers of years, months, and days.

Nero meanwhile availed himself of his country's desolation, and erected a mansion in which the jewels and gold, long familiar objects, quite vulgarized by our extravagance, were not so marvelous as the fields and lakes, with woods on one side to resemble a wilderness, and, on the other, open spaces and extensive views. The directors and contrivers of the work were Severus and Celer, who had the genius and the audacity to attempt by art even what nature had refused, and to fool away an emperor's resources. They had actually undertaken to sink a navigable canal from the lake Avernus to the mouths of the Tiber along a barren shore or through the face of hills, where one meets with no moisture which could supply water, except the Pomptine marshes. The rest of the country is broken rock and perfectly dry. Even if it could be cut through, the labor would be intolerable, and there would be no adequate result. Nero, however, with his love of the impossible, endeavored to dig through the nearest hills to Avernus, and there still remain the traces of his disappointed hope.

Of Rome meanwhile, so much as was left unoccupied by his mansion, was not built up, as it had been after its burning by the Gauls, without any regularity or in any fashion, but with rows of streets according to measurement, with broad thoroughfares, with a restriction on the height of houses, with open spaces, and the further addition of colonnades, as a protection to the frontage of the blocks of tenements. These colonnades Nero promised to erect at his own expense, and to hand over the open spaces, when cleared of the debris, to the ground landlords. He also offered rewards proportioned to each person's position and property, and prescribed a period within which they were to obtain them on the completion of so many houses or blocks of building. He fixed on the marshes of Ostia for the reception of the rubbish, and arranged that the ships which had brought up corn by the Tiber, should sail down the river with cargoes of this rubbish. The buildings themselves, to a certain height, were to be solidly constructed, without wooden beams, of stone from Gabii or Alba, that material being impervious to fire. And to provide that the water which individual license had illegally appropriated, might flow in greater abundance in several places for the public use, officers were appointed, and everyone was to have in the open court the means of stopping a fire. Every building, too, was to be enclosed by its own proper wall, not by one common to others. These changes which were liked for their utility, also added beauty to the new city. Some, however, thought that its old arrangement had been more conducive to health, inasmuch as the narrow streets with the elevation of the roofs were not equally penetrated by the sun's heat, while now the open space, unsheltered by any shade, was scorched by a fiercer glow.

Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of burning the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

Meanwhile Italy was thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money. The provinces were ruined, as also the allied nations and the free states, as they were called. Even the gods fell victims to the plunder, for the temples in Rome were despoiled and the gold carried off, which, for a triumph or a vow, the Roman people in every age had consecrated in their prosperity or their alarm. Throughout Asia and Achaia not only votive gifts, but the images of deities were seized, Acratus and Secundus Carinas having been sent into those provinces. The first was a freedman ready for any wickedness; the latter, as far as speech went, was thoroughly trained in Greek learning, but he had not imbued his heart with sound principles.

Seneca, it was said, to avoid the obloquy of sacrilege, begged for the seclusion of a remote rural retreat, and, when it was refused, feigning ill health, as though he had a nervous ailment, would not quit his chamber. According to some writers, poison was prepared for him at Nero's command by his own freedman, whose name was Cleonicus. This Seneca avoided through the freedman's disclosure, or his own apprehension, while he used to support life on the very simple diet of wild fruits, with water from a running stream when thirst prompted.

During the same time some gladiators in the town of Praeneste, who attempted to break loose, were put down by a military guard stationed on the spot to watch them, and the people, ever desirous and yet fearful of change, began at once to talk of Spartacus, and of bygone calamities . . .  

8. Dehellenization. Christian scholars are pretty well aware of the intractable religious problems posed by the Greek Jesus of the New Testament.  Historical attempts to separate Hellenism and Christianity were addressed by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensberg on September 12, 2006:

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity – a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the program of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this program was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal’s distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue. I will not repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favor of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. The fundamental goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant’s "Critiques," but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature’s capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary enculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that enculturation, in order to enculturate it anew in their own particular milieus. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvelous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought – to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss." The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur – this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. "Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God," said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God . . . It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

9. The Bad Meal. Paul's idea that death will follow from eating "unworthily" may have been suggested by the Jewish story of the Passover, where an angel of death strikes all of those households in Egypt that fail to observe the Lord's detailed directions for the Passover meal (see Exodus chapter 12). But Paul's eating taboo may have owed something to Greek table manners, too. His dying Corinthians, who have angered the Lord by eating him improperly, are reminiscent of the rude suitors whose impious, disorderly banqueting on Odysseus' farm finally provokes the hero to kill them. Behind the suppertime slaughters in the Odyssey and the Passover story is the very ancient notion that a sacrificer who fails to honor a victim properly will in turn become a dishonored victim.

Why is it that Jewish, Christian and Islamic cults differ so much from one another in culinary matters? Why do sects within these cults so often define their differences in terms of eating?

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