Was Paul the first Christian?
I used to get annoyed by books that called Paul the first Christian (as if Christianity did not originate in Jesus' mission! You got it - I am a traditional kind of guy). Now I also get annoyed for a different reason. Now I get (mildly) annoyed because I don't think that Paul was a Christian at all.
OK - I don't mind calling Paul a Christian if I am allowed to define the term BUT I think that the word is so loaded with associations that we are probably wiser to avoid calling Paul (or any Jesus-believers in the first generation) 'Christians'. Anachronism is almost unavoidable. And the idea of Paul as a convert from Judaism to Christianity bears almost zero relation to how Paul would have conceived of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
So I was thrilled to see a new book by the Jewish NT scholar Pamela Eisenbaum entitled Paul Was Not a Christian. I bought it because the title was so perfect!
Well - I am half way through and so far it is great. I don't agree with all her judgements (e.g. I think that the Paul is Acts is closer to the historical Paul than she suspects [and I think that the Paul of Acts was no Christian convert either]) but I wholeheartedly agree with her basic thesis: Paul did not convert from Judaism to Christianity.
Eisenbaum has a good discussion of how Paul incresingly became understood as a convert to Christianity (indeed as the convert par excellence). Augustine and Luther play key 'baddie' roles here. She also has some excellent material introducing relevant aspects of Second Temple Judaism as the background against which to interpret Paul.
So - I'm looking forward to some Christmas reading. Groovy baby!