It is hard to imagine Christianity surviving and spreading on the basis of Jesus’ teaching alone. That’s why Paul boasts that everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. I wrote a generation ago that “It was Jesus’ death, not his life, that saved him from obscurity” (Jesus Outside the Gospels) but in fact it was Jesus’ death dehistoricized and religionized by Paul and the resurrection traditions that really did the trick.
Joseph Hoffmann has an interesting post up this morning that takes the “mythicists” to task titled “The Historically Inconvenient Jesus.” Broadly this term refers to those who deny that the Jesus behind the Gospels and Paul even existed as a historical figure. Given myth and tradition, and especially the “mythmaking” of Paul, one has to legitimately ask what might lie “behind” the stories and how can we reliably know anything about Yeshua bar Yehosef, the historical figure?
I have often said that Christians ended up putting Jesus in place of God, but perhaps more important, Paul is put before Jesus. It is Paul who ultimately “wins the day” in terms of how we think about practically everything “Christian.” True, the “Sermon on the Mount,” or something more academically esoteric such as the hypothetical “Q” source of Jesus’ teachings/saying, exist, but really they does not define the new religion or cult called Christianity as it moved into the wide Roman world. That achievement belongs to Paul. I argue in my new book, Paul and Jesus, for a “Christianity before Paul,” but clearly, as I explain, this is partly a deliberate choice of incongruent language on my part just to make the point that the Jesus movement lived and moved and had its being under the leadership of James, the brother of Jesus, along with Peter, and John decades before Paul began to play a more major role. After 70 CE this is very much a moot point, but in Paul’s own time he was a minor figure against the broader and thicker horizon of Jesus followers clustered in Jerusalem and Galilee waiting for the coming of the “Son of Man in the Clouds of Heaven,” a reference not so much to Jesus but to the consummation of the rule of the “beasts” of Gentile governments as imagined by Daniel. What they most expected to happen never came, and what they never dreamed of came about–as my teacher at Chicago, Norman Perrin, used to say. Rather than the “beast” of Rome being slain and the “people of the Most High” taking rule of the cosmos, Roman mightily triumphed and had its “Golden Imperial Age’ well into the 2nd century.