The Paul Dynasty
by James Tabor
In my book, The Jesus Dynasty, the center and focus of my understanding of the historical Jesus is that he thought himself to be heir to the royal throne of David, the Messiah, and from a Roman viewpoint the “King of the Jews.” The latter was a title Herod and his son Antipas coveted, valued, and feared, since the family had married into “royal” Hashmonean connections but could make no claim for Davidic ancestry. Josephus and Eusebius (following his source Hegesippus), tell us that the emperors Vespasian, Domitian, and Trajan, following the Revolt in Judea, were on the hunt for descendants of David. They were considered threats to Roman stability, given their potential for Messianic claims.
Ironically, Paul is our earliest literary source to Jesus’ Davidic bloodline. He epitomizes his message about Jesus in his letter to followers at Rome with the formula:
“. . . the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4).
For Paul, there was indeed, a “Jesus Dynasty,” but its significance ended with the death of Jesus. It was a royalty “according to the flesh,” and thus of little significance in Paul’s thinking. As such Jesus’ brother James, who also was of the royal line of David mean little to Paul. Paul believed that Jesus as a “flesh and blood” human being, was transformed into a life-giving spirit, that is, a “glorified Son of God” by his resurrection from the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45).
The physical or “earthly” line of David was made completely obsolete and irrelevant, and the kingdom of God no longer had to do with realizing the “will of God, on earth as in heaven” in this present political and social world. Indeed, the “form of this world” was passing away, and even marriage and sexual identity was fast becoming obsolete, and all dealings with this world, whether social or economic, were fading away (1 Corinthians 7:31)
Paul was, however, quite interested in another Dynasty, and a different kind of “kingdom of God,” one totally outside the realm of “flesh and blood.” He believed that followers of Jesus were infused or “begotten” as “sons of God” through the Holy Spirit, and thus became brothers of Jesus, part of the heavenly “royal family,” and destined to reign as crowed kings, sitting on thrones in the future Kingdom of God. In fact, Paul even tells his socially disenfranchised followers at Corinth that they were destined to “judge the world” and “rule over angels” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3, cf. 4:8).
In Paul’s view the union between the Lord Jesus and the group, i.e., the “many children of God,” was not merely a metaphor for conversion. It was every bit as real as the sexual union of a man and a woman, resulting in a child. Paul quotes the book of Genesis to illustrate how one “joined to the Lord” becomes one Spirit with him, just as the case of a male and female: “as it is written, the two become one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:16-17).
For Paul none of this is metaphorical or symbolic. It was absolutely real and literal. According to Paul, being “saved,” is becoming part of a new genus within a new creation–siblings of the glorified Christ and part of God’s heavenly family. Paul expected the imminent appearance of Jesus “in the clouds of heaven,” at which moment the children of this new family, whether living or dead, would rise up into the air, through the clouds, and into the heavens. This new royal family will experience an instantaneous transformation and enthronement mirroring the heavenly glory that Jesus himself received. They will no longer be “flesh and blood,” or “dust of the earth,” but glorified spirit beings, exalted above all creation, ruling over the entire cosmos under God and their “older brother” Christ, the “firstborn” of many brothers/children (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-56).
I call this the “Paul Dynasty,” not because it literally has to do with Paul’s lineage–though he does metaphorically tell his followers that he has “become their father” through inducting them into this cosmic process (1 Corinthians 4:15). Rather, it is Paul’s idea of an alternative “Jesus Dynasty” in which everything “physical,” “earthly,” and historical is transferred to the heavenly realms above and beyond. The same language originally used in a Jewish Messianic context, such as “king” “son of God,” “throne” “rule” or “kingdom,” is appropriated and transformed. It is removed from its historical, social, political, and economic contexts and implications. There is no “fixing of the world,” but a resignation that the “Creation,” is hopelessly flawed and doomed, happily to soon pass away. It is a view almost wholly dependent on an imminent apocalyptic “end” to history, since people are asked to buy out of, or otherwise postpone, their stake in life itself on planet earth. Slaves can stay slaves, single folk need not marry or reproduce, evil doers can be tolerated for the short time they have left, and creative production of all kind is a vain effort, since “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
The “Paul Dynasty” casts off the original messianic vision of the Hebrew prophets, that God’s will would be realized “on earth as it is in heaven,” and that peace, justice, and righteousness would spread to all nations through the example of a Servant people (Isaiah 2, 11). In leaving that biblical Project of “fixing the world” behind it offers “faith” in a sudden heavenly rescue from the clouds as an alternative. This is part and parcel of the despair that begins to characterize the forms of Hellenistic “dualism” that were so pervasive in late Roman antiquity, see my recent posts here and here.
My forthcoming book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Paul Transformed Christianity, explores this and other related themes, and I try to show how this central insight of Paul was primary, whereas his notions about “justification by faith” or “freedom from the Law,” were subsidiary to it. As Schweitzer demonstrated so clearly in his masterpiece, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, the concept of “being in Christ” and cosmic salvation was at the core of both his mission and his message. 
- November, 2012 release date but it can be pre-ordered now through Amazon or Barnes & Noble at a great low price. [↩]
- For further reading see the on-line articles “Resurrection and Immortality: Paul & Poimandres,” in Christian Teachings: Studies in Honor of Lemoine G. Lewis, edited by Everett Ferguson (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1981), pp. 72-91; “Death as Life and Life as Death: Revisiting Rohde,” in Reading Religions in the Ancient World, essays presented to Robert McQueen Grant on his 90th Birthday, eds. David E. Aune and Robin Darling Young (Supplements to Novum Testamentum 125; Leiden: E. J. Brill: 2007): 27-38. [↩]