Paul, Christ, Islam

A Reading Odyssey

NOTE: After I posted this 'odyssey' I received an email from Eric Zuesse suggesting I re-read his footnote 82, on pages 343 and 344 of his Christ's Ventriloquists, because it describes some of the material I found myself reading over the course of this reading-odyssey. I will reproduce that footnote, in part, below.

After reading, commenting on, and posting a page about Eric Zeusse's new book, Christ's Ventriloquists, The Event that Created Christianity (Delphinium, 2012), I went back to pursuing my longest-standing line of historical interest, mystic revelation.

Reading my first book on this topic abruptly pulled me, after two unanticipated turns, right back into a totally unanticipated revisiting of some material related to Zuesse's book.

I started to read, and did read, The Mystical Marriage, Symbol and Meaning of the Human Experience, by Gerhard Wehr, translated by Jill Sutcliffe, (Crucible 1990). I reveled in Wehr's review of every Western historical manifestation of the human desire to link up with the Divine that I had read about before, but was jarred into an awareness of lacking knowledge when I read this on page 69 after Wehr cites a mystical expression of the union of the Divine with the human expressed in erotic terms:

Similar examples of God's companionship and longing for God can be found in other religions, for example mystical Islam. . . . [my emphases, this derailed me]

It was natural and unavoidable that the image of human love and marriage should appear to the mystic as the best of parallels for the 'fulfillment of his life,' for the surrender of his soul, first to the call and finally to the embrace of total love. . . .

It also penetrates to the innermost, most intensive form of experience of the soul in union with God. Unreserved loving dedication, the spiritual intimacy of which cannot be disturbed by anything external or earthly, could not be expressed in any other words than those of the erotic --- however great the ascetic disposition of some Christian mystics in particular cases. . . .

So, I was derailed. I quickly finished Wehr's book, and may, or may not, say more about it some other time, but hurried to read a used copy I had just picked up of Mystical Islam, An Introduction to Sufism, by Julian Baldick (I.B. Tauris, 1989).

I went to this book to read more about the use of the language of the erotic to express the experience of unity with God in that mystical tradition. But wait! Expressions of the experience of unity with God was an offense punishable by death, as Baldick illustrated with the fate of the Sufi martyr Hallay whose story is told on pages 46-48, whose two lines of ecstasy-dictated prose became famous:

I saw my Love with the eye of my heart,

And He said, 'Who are you?' I said, 'You!'

There are other individual mystics who speak of love, and Baldick describes them on pages 57-69. In this list we find someone speaking of love but counseling celibacy in marriage and forbidding men to look at and keep company with youths (male) (page 64), and we also find someone who is a misogynist and writes love poetry to boys (page 68; but also see page 20 for a suggestion of a pre-Islamic basis for this focus on “beardless boys” as the embodiment of “Absolute Beauty in human form.”). But I did not achieve my objective of finding any ecstatic love poetry in this book (one poem by Rumi gets close on pages 90-91, but I like the Rumi poems I cite on this website from other sources much better). Baldick wrote a scholarly treatise on the history of Sufism, not a Sufistic romance.

BUT WAIT, I was derailed once more! I was severely distracted by the content of pages 18 and 19, which turned me right back to Zuesse's book on the role of Paul in creating the religion now known as Christianity:

A much more promising perspective, not only for studying the roots of Sufism, but for finding the origins of Islam itself, is provided by 'Jewish Christianity.' This term is also riddled with difficulties. Here it will be used in the sense of observing the Jewish law while recognizing Jesus as the Christ. Such a combination brings with it a number of practices and beliefs, resulting from its own internal logic, and also false accusations from outsiders that more practices and beliefs existed. Scholars have argued that a wide range of early 'Jewish-Christian' opinions and observances were misleadingly attributed to one particular sect, the Ebionites, whose name means 'the poor.'

This designation is highly relevant to the subject of mysticism in early Islam. 'A poor man' is the literal and original meaning of the words which have passed into the English language as 'fakir' and 'dervish' . . . . These words acquired the connotations of 'a man of the spiritual life' or a 'mystic.' . . .

Reliable evidence shows that the Jewish Christians of the first few centuries CE (if not the Ebionites themselves) adopted a number of positions later taken over by Islam; retaining Jewish law in religious matters, and thus insisting on circumcision and rejecting Saint Paul; believing that Jesus was the Messiah, but just as a man, not as the Son of God; seeing Adam as a prophet; insisting on ablutions before worship and after sexual intercourse; and, in their later development, rejecting sexual continence and insisting on marriage. Some of them lived in the north of the Arab world, in Syria, before the Muslim conquest. It seems probable that they had a great influence at an early stage of Islam's development. Even if this is not the case, it would appear from early on the Muslims adopted their main pattern of belief and practice.

These statements sent me away from Baldick's book to one of my old favorites on the subject of Jewish Christianity: A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea, Volume One: The Theology of Jewish Christianity, By Jean Danielou, Translated and edited by John A. Baker, (Darton, Longman & Todd/The Westminster Press, 1964).

Danielou says essentially what Baldick says (maybe Baldick based his prose on Danielou?) on his pages 55-56 where he describes the Ebionites:

The first group to be discussed is the sect of the Ebionites. The name is not derived from a man named Ebion as Epiphanius believed, but from the Hebrew ebyon meaning' poor'. The group is mentioned by Irenaeus . . . and by Origen . . . . It consisted of Jews who rallied to Christ but saw in Him only the greatest of the prophets and not the Son of God. This is the position of the Moslems today, and it is possible that they came into contact with Ebionites in Transjordan.

Did Ebionites, fiercely persecuted as they were, actually thrive into the 7th century? Danielou suggests they were part of the flood of people coming from Jerusalem at the time of its destruction, and that they fled into the Transjordan where they were encountered in the 4th century. This is three centuries later. But why not?

But what makes the Ebionites directly of interest to me, as corroborating the theme developed from a forensic reading of Paul's own letters by Zuesse in his Christ's Ventriloquists book, is Danielou's pages 59-60 where he describes some beliefs attributed to the Ebionites::

The Preaching of Peter includes in the first place Peter’s Epistle to James. Peter explains to James that he is sending him an exposition of his doctrine to be used in the training of' those who wish to take up the work of teaching in order to ensure the orthodoxy of their ideas. For, he says, 'Some from among the Gentiles have rejected my teaching which is in accordance with the Law, and attached themselves to certain lawless and trifling doctrines of the man who is my enemy' (II). Peter thus emphasises that his teaching is faithful to the Jewish Law. The 'enemy' designates Paul, who was regarded as responsible for the rejection of the observance of the Jewish Law. It may be remembered that Irenaeus and Epiphanius spoke of this rejection of Paul as one of the characteristics of Ebionism.

Danielou makes clear that the Ebionites were just one of several splinter sects to survive the destruction of Jerusalem by fleeing east across the Jordan River. But he also links them with what I have always thought to be the best literature describing Jewish Christian beliefs and practices, the Clementine Recognitions and Homilies: (continuing on page 60:)

As regards that part of the material which may properly be called the Preaching, this is distributed among the various sermons of Peter which fill the Homilies and the Recognitions. It would have been a problem to reconstruct the plan of them had not Peter, in chapter 75 of Book III, having decided to send James the summary of his teaching just mentioned, given a table of contents! Thus, while distributing the earlier composition throughout the whole of his work, the author has taken care to leave us a guide by means of which it can be restored.

So as not to take Danielou and Baldick as the only sources on this possible explanation for the Muslim view of Christ, I consulted one other source:

A New Introduction to Islam, by Daniel W. Brown (Second Edition, Wiley Blackwell, 2009). Brown says on his pages 76-77:

Jesus in the Qur’an

The fact is that the Qur’an has an astonishingly thorough Christology . . . . Muslims, of course, are not astonished because presumably God should be expected to know all that can be known about Jesus. But scholars or students who are concerned to match text with context should be startled. Jesus is a dominant prophetic figure in the Qur’an and arguably its most fully developed character. We learn about his miraculous virgin birth, about miracles he performed as a child, about his disciples. We also have somewhat mysterious accounts. One of these seems to be connected with the Last Supper, another seems to deny the Crucifixion. Jesus is given standard Christological titles: Ruh Allah, the Spirit of God, and Kalam Allah, a Word from God. Yet against this apparent exaltation of Jesus, the Qur’an repeatedly and emphatically denies that Jesus is the Son of God and insists that he is a messenger – a remarkable messenger, perhaps, but only a messenger.

In this tendency to exalt Jesus while keeping his feet firmly planted on earth, the Qur’an shows a remarkable affinity with certain non-orthodox varieties of Christianity. We have already seen that the broad themes of Qur’anic Christology were anticipated by Manichaeism. Like the Qur’an, Mani taught that the human Jesus was only a prophet, and that he did not, in fact, die on the cross. But perhaps the more direct resemblance is to a form of Jewish Christianity. This is not to suggest there is a direct genetic relationship between any of these groups and Islam. But it seems reasonable to suggest that they show the effects of the same milieu – that the environment which produced the Manichaean and Jewish-Christian Christologies was a religious and intellectual environment very similar to that in which the Qur’an was formed. Perhaps that environment was seventh century Arabia, but if so Christianity in its many varieties must have penetrated the peninsula far more thoroughly than anyone has convincingly shown. Moreover, Muslim tradition must for some reason have chosen to suppress knowledge of such penetration. It seems much more likely that the context for the formation of the Qur’an is not Arabia, but farther north, and not before the conquests, but after.

Brown continues this argument about the location and time of the origin of the Qur’an. Brown follows the progress of Jewish Christianity at the time of interest to the origins of Islam with the Manichaeans residing in the “Byzantine territory” and the Nestorian church being strong in Persia. He identifies the Elkesaites as an Iranian Jewish-Christian sect. (See his page 37.) Hence his point, made later, that the Qur’an was probably influenced by what was learned in those territories, north of Arabia, after the conquest.

So, three experts have suggested a connection was made in the Transjordan.  On the contrary, as a non-expert I personally have no problem imagining this connection occurring somewhere in Arabia. Perhaps two trading caravans met there, one with Muhammed and/or a close associate, another with a Jewish-Christian believing clan, and after days of trading they have common meals in their tents and trade insights into their beliefs into the evenings. It is interesting that the Jewish-Christians were actively doing missionary work, the Jews were not.

My point is that you can learn about a religion from any well informed believer, anywhere. You do not have to travel to that believer’s home town to learn from him [‘her’ in this context seems unlikely]. My point in mentioning this factoid is that the spread of Islam around the world was largely accomplished by traders with missionary zeal, another thing Islam has in common with the ancient Jewish Christians they probably met somewhere either in Arabia or further north.

I suppose that having no problem imagining such a source for Jewish Christian ideas in the Qur’an makes me an outcast from the club Brown describes as . . . “scholars or students who are concerned to match text with context.”

So be it.

But there is more. This next item unintentionally supports Zuesse's thesis of Paul having invented, made up, the Christianity we now know.

That next item is John Dominic Crossan's The Birth of Christianity, Discovering what Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (HarperSanFranciso, 1998).

I was taken by this profound statement concerning Paul on page xxi (Crossan had this as an unbroken paragraph, but I am breaking out his factors into separated statements for emphasis and clarity):

I include Paul not in the birth of Christianity but rather in its growth and development. That is neither a deliberate insult nor a calculated disparagement. My decision is based on four factors, of which the last is the crucial one.

First, I do not think that Paul was as important theologically or historically in the first Christian century as he was in the sixteenth Christian century, and that later importance often blocks our ability to assess his original significance.

Second, we tend to move much too swiftly from the historical Jesus in the 20s (where we have no contemporary texts) to the historical Paul in the 50s (where we do have contemporary texts. What happened in the 30s? What do we imagine happened in the 30s?

Third, I sense profoundly different results between those who start with Paul and then go back (or refuse to go back) to the historical Jesus, and those who start with Jesus and then go on (or refuse to go on) to Paul. I put it as a challenge: If you begin with Paul, you will interpret Jesus incorrectly; if you begin with Jesus, you will interpret Paul differently.

The reason for that belief lies in my fourth (and most basic) point, which I write in dialogue with the fascinating and provocative work of Daniel Boynarin, as summarized in the above epigraph to this section.

So what was the “dialogue” at the beginning of Crossan's section on “Dualism and Inconsistency”? It was these words from Paul in Galatians 3:28 and 1 Cor. 12:13:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. . . . In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Followed, in dialogue, with these words from Boyarin's book Carnal Israel, page 10:

Some Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile) could declare that there is no Greek or Jew, no male and female. No rabbinic Jew could do so, because people are bodies, not spirits, and precisely bodies are marked as male or female, and also marked, through bodily practices and techniques such as circumcision and food taboos, as Jew or Greek as well.

Crossan takes several pages to make the rather important point that this attitude to defining who you are by your inner self or spirit was a Hellenistic, meaning Platonic, philosophical borrowing.  Hellenic influence was around in certain circles at this time.

Crossan cites Paul's contemporary, Josephus, as having a similar belief. This idea modified from Plato was introduced into Christianity by Paul decades after Jesus' death. It was NOT an accepted idea among Christ or his family or his closest followers. Hence the warning is reiterated on page xxvii:

Start with Paul and you will see Jesus incorrectly; start with Jesus and you will see Paul differently.

That is what Zuesse's book illustrates. Like Boyarin, Zuesse places a bound on what Jews of Jesus' time believed, including Jesus, and then shows that what Paul taught could not possible have either occurred to Jesus' closest circle nor have been acceptable to them. Instead, what the Jewish Christians believed was much closer to what Christianity probably would have become, had there been no Paul.

But let's get totally ironic now and look at a book that is wonderfully self-contradictory thanks to its editors, not its authors. The book is Volume VI of Early Christianity and Judaism, edited with introductions by Everett Ferguson (Garland Publishing, 1993). The chapter of interest is this one: J. Munck on “Jewish Christianity in Post-Apostolic Times.” Munck asks, and answers three questions (page 111):

  1. Did primitive Jewish Christianity survive the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70?
  2. Do the Pseudo-Clementine writings [my note: these are writings under the name of Clement, bishop of Alexandria, but not written by him, they are instances of “pious fraud” just as are many New Testament writings] contain a reliable account of Jewish Christianity?
  3. Can we get back to primitive Jewish Christianity by way of the so-called Jewish- Christian gospels?

I haven't the energy to re-create all of Munck's finely made points. His answer is a qualified “no” to all three questions. Although Jewish-Christians are found in the area around Pella where they were said to have escaped to centuries later, they are an evolved form of that religion and not a reliable proof of their escape in A.D. 70.

The Pseudo-Clementine writings associated with the Ebionites, a Jewish Christian sect, reflect an evolved and minor sect within a larger cluster of sects and do not provide a reliable reference to primitive Jewish-Christian beliefs. Finally, the so-called Jewish-Christian apocryphal gospels are similarly unreliable, hence Jewish Christianity has to be reconstructed from the New Testament, which means Paul's writings, and so we are back to facing the fundamental problem that Crossan wrote about, and that is the use of a source written in the 50s and later to reconstruct beliefs in the 30s and 40s.

Needless to say I found Munck's article to be unenlightening and rather argumentative from a predetermined point of view and so narrowly focused on that view as to deserve the label pedantic.

BUT what was delicious and ironic is what the editor appended to Munck's chapter (which was taken from a lecture he gave in 1959, it was not written for the purpose of being collected into this book). What the editor inserted was a discussion of “Ebionite Christianity” (it starts on page 125). The editor inserted material from a book review done by T.W. Manson, and Professor Manson approved this rework of his original work, which involved condensing the main points of the work on Ebionites by H.J. Schoeps. The editor translated this piece, Manson approved it, but the byline at its end on page 130 is H.J. Schoeps (one of whose books we will look at after this).

Look at this declarative sentence at the very outset of this article inserted after Munck's piece:

DEFINITE authorities, the pseudo-Clementine romance (consisting of Homilies and Recognitions), Symmachus' translation of the Bible, remains of apocryphal gospels, patristic and rabbinic information, disclose to us the theology of the Jewish-Christian communities of the middle and later part of the second century. Jewish Christianity obviously took many forms and varied in different districts. But the sources mentioned are attached, almost without exception, to groups in Coele-Syria or Transjordan, composed of the descendents of the first Christians who left Jerusalem and probably also of others who moved from Palestine shortly before A.D. 70 and round A.D. 135. In this way information and traditions have been preserved, which go back to the middle of the first century and reveal the opposition of their fathers at Jerusalem to St. Paul and the growing Gentile-Christian church. This opposition, mirrored in the oldest strata of the pseudo-Clementine Romance, had practical importance for these groups, because their fathers' arguments could also be applied for their own defense against Marcion and the Christian “gnosis.”

Is this fantastic or what? In one paragraph he takes Munck's three questions, to which Munck answered “no” three times, and simply says “yes”—and it is in the same book! I love it!

I want to use a book by Schoeps to dig into Ebionite beliefs some more, but for now these paraphrased and extracted points will do:

  1. Ebionites saw in Jesus a man who was a “true prophet” like Moses. He uniquely fulfilled the law, as a human being, and through his baptism was consecrated as the Messiah. They expected his return in angelic form “on the clouds of heaven” . . . “for the last judgement upon the living and the dead.” (page 126) “Thus for the Ebionites conversion to Christ and conversion to the holy God and to the Jewish law . . . are one and the same.” (page 127)
  2. This position is behind their hostility to the teachings of Paul. The apostleship was restricted to those who knew the earthly Jesus and learned from him. Paul's vision was illegitimate. (page 127)
  3. The law was cleaned up of aspects that did not come from God by Jesus, who did away with the animal sacrifices as having been inserted by men and not coming from God. Jesus' baptism was the water that put out the fire of sacrifice. (page 128) He enjoined his followers to strictly follow the rest of the law. (page 129) This view of sacrifice as a man-inserted practice in an otherwise God-dictated law also put them at great odds with Paul, who taught (a) that Jesus' bloody sacrifice satisfied the law, and (b) that faith saved, not works such as keeping the law. Paul was guilty of a great blasphemy in both instances and was not a follower of the Christ they believed in.

At the end, on page 130, Schoeps (that is the name on the byline, as noted), suggests that the Ebionite point of view regarding Christ's nature as a human, as a “true prophet” and as a Messiah, was taken into Islam. We are now familiar with that idea.

The book we will consult next, and last, is this one: Jewish Christianity, Factional Disputes in the Early Church by Hans-Joachim Schoeps, translated by Douglas R.A. Hare (Fortress Press, 1964).

On the topic of the usefulness of Jewish-Christian gospels, this is a part of what Schoeps has to say (page 14):

Modern research has differentiated between an Aramaic Gospel of the Nazoreans and a Greek Gospel of the Ebionites. Both originated in the second half of the second century, are inclined to paraphrase like the Targums, and are greatly dependent upon the canonical Matthew, which probably derived from Jewish Christian circles in the Great Church. The tendency of these gospels to conflate different logia is striking. As far as the few extant fragments permit conjecture, one may assume it is a matter of different editions of the same work, that is, of various stages in the literary history of the Matthew-tradition. This tradition is known to Irenaeus and Hegesippus, but also even to Origen, Eusebius, and Epiphanius. . . . In any event, specific tendencies of heretical Ebionitism ( vegetarianism, hostility toward the sacrificial cult, opposition to Paul, etc.) are reflected in these fragments. . . .

Heretical” is in the context of the second century, of course, and deals with the fact that the Great Church based on Paul's version of Christianity is now working hard at becoming the dominant version of Christianity.

Perhaps the Ebionites were reflecting the Jesus from before the time of the Pauline reinterpretation? Perhaps there was actually a tradition-string that tied it back to that Jesus?

On page 15, Schoeps notes that he attempted to elucidate the beliefs of the Ebionites through reading:

The Greek version of the Old Testament prepared during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180) by Symmachus, who according to patristic testimony belonged to the Ebionite faith . . . . Since Symmachus was a polished translator and stylist, his influence extended beyond the Ebionite circle to Jerome's Latin vulgate.

On that same page Schoeps also describes the usefulness of the so called pseudo-Clementine literature:

For the reconstruction of Jewish Christian doctrinal ideas and historical views, the Pseudo-Clementine novel represents our most important source. The literary situation, however, is exceedingly complex. The so-called Pseudo-Clementine writings originated in the third or fourth century. The Homilies and Recognitions, two post-Nicene recensions of an earlier work which, regrettably, has been lost, permit us to detect the remains of one or more Ebionite sources which have been reworked in this novel. Bishop Epiphanius . . . is an important witness in support of the view that the original Clementine writings, now no longer extant, are to be associated with the Ebionites.

All of that said, however, Schoeps next spends pages going into the details of why this is such a complex set of documents to draw defensible Ebionite beliefs from. He cites another researcher in a footnote on page 17 saying that the original, lost work is probably from a Jewish Christian writing in Syria about A.D. 260, the person who wrote the Homilies using this original work was probably an Arian [follower of Arius] working about A.D. 330, and the person writing the Recognitions (my personal favorite) may have been orthodox (a member of the “Great Church” and not an Ebionite, but faithful to what he was working with to a great extent) writing about 360 A.D.

I want to skip ahead now and just mention a New Testament mystery apparently solved by the Recognitions. On page 46, Schoeps describes a 6-year missing period in the version of Paul's life in the canonical Acts, and how the alternative chronology in the Recognitions pretty well solves this mystery. Cool.

Pages 47 through 55 are dedicated to the Ebionite argument against Paul's being an apostle, in a nutshell the argument is that to be an apostle one has to have been called by Jesus to be with him during his ministry. At best, being called after the resurrection makes you a witness to the resurrection (page 48). But this is the more important point Schoeps makes, in my view and his, from his page 55 (representing here the Ebionite point of view):

Of more decisive importance, however, is the claim of the original apostles that there was no other gospel than the one which Jesus' disciples had learned from Jesus himself. One could see that Paul was a false apostle simply by the fact that he did not teach and expound the discourses of Christ; his thought was the very opposite of Jesus' teaching. Thus it is stated in Recognitions 2.55: “Whoever does not learn the law from teachers but instead regards himself as a teacher and scorns the instructions of the disciples of Jesus is bound to involve himself in absurdities against God.” For this reason Peter, whose apostolic office was founded upon the Lord's promise (Matt. 16:17 f.), also attacked Paul and exposed him in this debate as the antikeimenos, the great adversary.

Since Paul was viewed at least by the descendents of the early Judaists as the adversary, as the echthros  (“enemy”), indeed, even as the Antichrist (Rec. 3.61), it is probable that he was so regarded by the early Judaists themselves. . . .

The next discussion in this book that caught my eye concerned the Ebionite view of the law of Moses. They believed Matthew's gospel at 5:18 which says that heaven and earth will pass away before this law does. But they also believed that the cultic, sacrificial aspects of the law were done away by Christ. This is simply an assumption made, not ever defended, in Ebionite writings, which causes Schoeps to turn to and endorse the view of a fellow researcher named Lohmeyer (pages 82- 83):

Ernst Lohmeyer has suggested that the tradition concerning Jesus which lay before Matthew and Mark (not Luke) was strictly anti-cultic, “on account of which we never read in the gospel any observation to the effect that the same law which one reveres and observes as the will of God also contains the cultic regulations which one repudiates.” Accordingly, one must consider the possibility that in this respect the Ebionites were actually orthodox pupils of Jesus who rejected the sacrificial cult so emphatically because their master had already done so. Lohmeyer thought that there was a firm connection between Jesus' struggle against the cult and the attitude of the first Christians.

Whether or not one agrees with Lohmeyer, the Ebionites' appeal to Jesus on the question of sacrifices may have had some basis in fact. In any event, the reason the Ebionites were bound to reject emphatically the Pauline soteriology, which conceived of Jesus' death as a bloody, atoning sacrifice, becomes even clearer. In their view Christianity had been freed from the Jewish sacrificial worship not through the universally efficacious sacrifice of the Son of God, as the church which followed Paul believed, but rather through the water of baptism whereby Jesus had extinguished the fire of the sacrificial cult.

Schoeps notes on pages 83-84 that the Ebionites did defend this stance against the cult on that basis of “almost-modern Pentateuchal criticism.” They point out, Schoeps says that the law was received verbally and written down after Moses' death “by someone.” It was lost and five-hundred years later was “rediscovered” during Josiah's reform described in Deuteronomy. Then after yet another 500 years it perished in a fire during the time of Nebuchadnezzar and was reconstructed by Ezra. The suggestion is that over time “it became more and more falsified.” The thousand years from Moses to Ezra matches what modern research suggests. Cool.

There is much more to this book by Schoeps, but the above extracts represent my main points of interest in this present context.

And just what was that context again? As stated at the start of this odyssey, and after several detours, I found myself re-aligned through my readings to go back to some of my favorite sources on Jewish Christianity to see if they, coming from a completely different point of view, could agree that Jewish Christians saw Paul the way that Zuesse sees him: as a false apostle that hijacked Jesus and created a new religion that, in turn, made war on their Jewish Christian detractors.

One source I consulted made an argument for the New Testament being our only reliable source for understanding the earliest form of Christianity, but that source was contradicted by the editor of the volume in which his opinion appeared!

All the other sources consulted essentially either back up or at least do not disagree with Zuesse's assertions regarding the earliest Christians' attitude toward Paul. These other sources are based in broader historical studies. Zuesse made a forensic study of the letters of Paul, using his own words as testimony, and very little external information, to come to the same conclusions.

As a large aside, I was also always curious why the Moslems believe Christ to have been a great prophet, but vehemently rejected the notions of his Godhood and blood-sacrifice. It appears that their formative contacts with Christians were with the remnants of Jewish Christian communities, in Arabia or in the territories to the north where it is known there were such communities for hundreds of years.

If Zuesse is correct, and I believe he is, then there is a very large likelihood that the Islamic tradition of Jesus is closer to reflecting the historical reality of Jesus than is the normative (=Pauline) Christian tradition's reflection of Jesus. Now there is a radical thought!

Now for a more personal historical note: in my days as a believing Mormon I was enthralled with the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, I thought if the Mormons would de-emphasize the Pauline aspects of their religion, which created problems, they would come even closer to re-creating the earliest Christianity that they presume to have restored.

The Mormon answer to the bothersome: “by grace are ye saved thought faith” became through a very astute revelation in the Book of Mormon:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23).

That is perfectly both Jewish and Jewish Christian!  Great!

But rather than align their new religion with the Jewish Christian beliefs of old, Mormon apologists instead spent thousands of pages in books assuring all in and out of the faith that they believe every word in the New Testament. They were anxious to show the world that they were fellow Christians, and even Biblical fundamentalists.

Please don't get the idea that I thought Jewish-Christianity would be the perfect religion for me just because I am a vegetarian like they were, and I am as abhorred as they were by the idea of (ritually or otherwise) slaughtering animals.  They in turn were abhorred at what they seemed to feel was another Pauline heresy: allowing females to speak as prophets!  Hey, is that misogyne attitude also something they traced back to Jesus?  Of course later editors and church leaders tied to put a stop to that nonsense in practice, and as a help to doing that apparently edited some of Paul's letters to put women back into their places. The Divine Order of Patriarchy was restored.  Priesthood is male because God is male: end of all argument, etc.

All of this reading continues to convince me that every revealed religion is man  made, even if it is very old and has millions or billions of adherents, and even if its founder heard the voices of, or even saw, angels or Gods. I do not contest the reality of their perceived foundational revelatory experiences, I just do not believe that their claim to having had such an experience compels me  to believe in all they then say afterward.

That goes for you too, Paul.

As promised at the start, here is part of footnote 82, from pages 343 and 344 of Eric Zuesse's Christ's Ventriloquists:

The footnote expands on this statement in the text on page 343:

Paul's assertions alleging himself to be a follower of Jesus (such as his repeated statements that he was an "apostle" of Jesus), are taken at face-value by virtually all scholars,82 . . . .

82The two exceptions are Hyam Maccoby’s 1986 The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, and Robert Eisenman’s 1998 James the Brother of Jesus. Both works are rejected by scholars, because both works rely primarily upon sources which were written hundreds of years after Jesus’s death, and hundreds of years after Paul’s authentic letters (which are dated c. 20-30 years after Jesus’s death). . . .

The precursor to those two works was Cardinal Jean Daniélou’s 1967 “Une vision nouvelle des origins chrétiennes: le judéo-christianisme,” in his Études 327: 595-608, which was likewise based upon late sources. Daniélou’s article remains cited today primarily second-hand through its influence upon the French Muslim, Maurice Bucaille, who quoted it extensively in the 9th chapter of his 1976 La Bible, le Coran, et la Science, arguing that the Quran is superior to the Bible.

The precursor to those works was F.C. Baur’s 1845 Paul. Baur’s view became popularized at the beginning of the 20th Century by William Wrede, who famously called Paul “the second founder of Christianity.” However, this isn’t quite the view that Maccoby and Eisenman propound: both of those writers hold that Paul was the actual founder of Christianity, and that Jesus was not a founder of Christianity at all.

Matti Myllykoski, in his “James the Just in History and Tradition ... (Part I),” (in Currents in Biblical Research, 2006) traced the start of this line of research further back, all the way to what he described as the “masterpiece” Nazarenus, by John Toland, in 1718.

In other words, my reading-odyssey just barely scratched the surface of what is available.  

Zuesse's book argues strongly throughout his book, and again on page 343, that Paul broke with the Jewish followers of Jesus and created a new religion.  One that the direct followers of Jesus, who were Jews just as Jesus was a Jew, found repugnant.  

Jesus was reinterpreted by Paul, Paul taught his new religion as if it had in turn been taught him by the resurrected Jesus.  

He never knew the living Jesus, and as the descendents of the earliest Jewish Christians pointed out, had he been taught by Jesus, or by those who were Jesus' true apostles who had been taught by the living Jesus, he would not have taught

. . . absurdities against God. (See above for reference.)

Hence, as Zuesse's book title puts it: Paul became one of Christ's ventriloquists.  

As Crossan has written (see above):

Start with Paul

and you will see Jesus incorrectly;. . . .

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