I finished Alan Segal’s Paul the Convert. Here are some items that interested me:
1. Segal maintains that Paul was an apostate because he did not feel bound by the ritual laws of the Torah, and perhaps also because he was affirming that Gentiles could enter God’s community without observing those laws. On account of Paul’s apostate status, he was endangered by the capital punishment that Judea could have had for apostates (but Segal does not know to what extent this was practiced), or, at the very least, by flogging.
2. Segal says that Paul’s Pharisaism was stricter in observance than was Diaspora Judaism, and also the Judaizers whom Paul criticizes in such books as Galatians. According to Segal, when Paul became a Christian who did not consistently observe the ritual laws of Judaism, he looked down on Judaizers for not keeping those laws “right”—-for not being as rigorous as he was when he was a Pharisee. That’s how Segal interprets Galatians 6:13, where Paul denies that the Judaizers even keep the law.
3. Segal says that Paul converted from Pharisaism to a Gentile-Christian community. I remember Terence Donaldson speculating that Hellenistic Christians had an outreach to the Gentiles, and that Paul was persecuting them on account of this, until he became a Christian and had his own mission. Would this be where the Gentile-Christian community that Paul joined came from: it was a congregation founded as a result of Hellenistic Christian missionary activity?
4. On page 274, Segal makes an interesting point about the locations of rabbinism and Christianity, and likely reasons for them: “Rabbinism…became most powerful in the smaller cities of the Galilee where Jesus preached, and Christianity spread most quickly in the large Hellenistic cities, where more anomalous and uprooted people were to be found. The social structure of the small cities and towns favored rabbinism.”
There is much to unpack from this, so I’ll hazard my guesses as to what some of the implications are. In Galilee, you had small cities, and that was a good place for rabbinism—-for the rabbis could govern there, people already recognized their authority, etc. It was like a small town and perhaps a rather homogenous comminity. Outsiders were tolerated, but not overly welcome. In the large cities, however, there were lonely, uprooted, and anomalous people who thirsted for community and a belief-system that could give them security and meaning, and a marginal movement like Christianity could provide them with that.
5. On page 331, Segal discusses the prominence of Mithraism in the Roman empire, especially among the Roman army. This stood out to me because, on page 136, Segal discusses the question of whether Paul was influenced by mystery cults, with their themes of symbolic death and rebirth, immortality, union with the divine, etc. Segal notes that the church fathers likened Christianity to a mystery cult, but he himself does not deem it necessary to posit a connection between Paul and such a cult, for union with the divine and death and rebirth were themes in the Hellenistic world and could have influenced the Hellenistic church that Paul joined. Segal refers to Ovid (first century B.C.E.-first century C.E.) and also later mystery cults, where initiates went through symbolic death and rebirth. Christian apologists argue that saying that Paul ripped off ideas from mystery cults is problematic, for the mystery cults came later, and there were differences between the mystery cults and Christianity. But why should we just assume that Christianity came up with concepts such as death and rebirth on its own? The ideas could have existed elsewhere when it was a young movement, and it could have drawn from its cultural surroundings—-even if the evidence we have for the existence of mystery cults post-dates Christianity, or Christianity departs from mystery religion in areas.