Jerusalem conference

Eric Zuesse cettel at
Thu Aug 22 12:46:08 EDT 2002


Your question about the respective datings of Galatians and 1 Thessalonians
probes importantly the evolution in Paul's thinking.

The way I address this issue in the book I'm working on is that 1 Thes. was
probably written in the white heat of the clash that's recounted by Paul in
Gal. 2:11-21.

Since Paul's audience reading 1 Thes. consisted of a congregation that
contained few or no born Jews, but still these people had been sold by Paul
on joining a Jewish sect, Paul was free to portray Jews negatively (as in 1
Thes 2:15-16) but not yet to portray Judaism itself negatively, inasmuch as
Judaism is what he had sold them on entering.

Now, immediately after the event that's recounted in Gal. 2:11-21, Paul has
to begin to wean these people away from Judaism, by means of a brilliantly
calibrated process, in two parts, as follows:

The first part to explain here is 1 Thes. 4, which Paul opens by referring
favorably to the covenant that he had, until now, been selling to these
people (yet implicitly *lacking* the circumcision-requirement, Genesis
17:14, since that had always been the only one that would have blocked his
success as an evangelist). He says here that he had been telling his
"converts" to follow the Law not actually "in order to please God" (as in 1
Thes. 4:1) and so to win heavenly salvation in that way, but really in order
"to win the respect of non-believers" (as in 4:12).

Now that he has subtly set up that transition into his new gospel, he comes
in for the kill: 4:13-16 makes clear (4:15) "what we are teaching you now,"
which has nothing any longer to do with the Law: (4:16) "Those who have died
believing in Christ will rise to life first." He very carefully avoids
explicitly saying here whether non-Jesus-worshipping Jews "will rise to
life" at all, but he does leave open that possibility; Paul is not saying in
1 Thes. the same thing he does in his later letters such as in Romans 3:28
and Galatians 2:16, that a person is viewed favorably by God only through
faith and *not* through obeying the Law. 1 Thes. is too early for him to be
able to announce such a thing.

The second part of Paul's weaning process to remove his Thessalonian readers
from James and his followers (the organization that had been founded by the
historical Jesus) is Paul's attack against Jews in 1 Thes. 2:14-16--an
attack not against Judaism (such as Gal. 2:16, Philippians 3:8, etc.), but
instead against Jews themselves; an anti-Semitic rather than an anti-Jewish
(i.e., rather than an "anti-Judaic") passage. This is the first appearance
in history of the core of what we today think of as anti-Semitism: the
Deicide charge against a people who are condemned by God. Paul's followers
who wrote the four Gospels created their "Jesus" stories around that charge.
They could do so because they represented a later generation, whose readers
were no longer predominantly brought in as Jews, and whose readers had
little or no experience of the historical Jesus.

Consequently, what Paul had been selling his "converts" on for the first 17
years of his ministry was a sect of Judaism in which Genesis 17:14 had been
temporarily suspended  so that these Jewish newcomers would not have to
undergo circumcision. As soon as James decided, immediately after the
council in Jerusalem, that his prior forebearance on this was wrong, and
sent a delegation to Paul demanding circumcision (Gal. 2:11-14), Paul
started to work on his followers to separate them from James's organization
and bring them over imperceptibly (i.e., imperceptible to those followers)
into Paul's own entirely new, Christian, religion. Anti-Semitism preceded
anti-Judaism in this process, *because* what Paul had sold his "converts" on
was not Jews but (a sect of) Judaism.

Galatians was written slightly later than 1 Thes., and represents a further
evolution in this process: by now, Paul is telling his people no longer
merely that Christianity is better than Judaism, but that Christianity is
approved by God and that Judaism is not--that obedience to the Law won't
achieve a person's salvation at all. Furthermore, even though Galatians is
still too early to condemn James by name, it's more specific in this regard
than 1 Thes., where James is implicitly simply lumped in (2:14) with "the
Jews," who (2:16) "even tried to stop us from preaching to the Gentiles the
message that would bring them salvation." By the time of Galatians, Paul is
able to condemn a little more specifically the individuals who "preach to
you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you" (1:8-9),
implicitly accusing specifically that group of persons, and not all Jews, of
guilt in the Deicide (6:12), and saying that they should castrate themselves
(5:12). Yet even by this time, Paul is not free to condemn James by name.
The reason is that James was the leader of the organization into which Paul
had originally brought his "converts." Furthermore, under the circumstances,
James and his organization had by then become so dependent upon the
financial contributions from Paul's "converts" that James felt that he
couldn't announce publicly that Paul was expelled. James's organization was
in decline, and Paul's was rising, and James had grown to become dependent
upon Paul. Both men, in different ways, were now dependent upon each other,
even though they hated each other's guts. The big predicament for James was
that Jesus's followers were illiterate and poor, and were followers of a
peasant who had been executed by the Emperor for sedition. Their position
was extremely vulnerable. If James had pulled the plug on Paul, then his own
followers would have suffered intolerable poverty in addition to their Roman
ostracism. Their situation was an incredible tragedy.

By the time of the Gospel writers, it was possible to write James entirely
out of the apostles, and to refer to the apostle named "James" as having
been a different person, unrelated to Jesus. By that time, readers had no
way of knowing otherwise.

Eric Zuesse
cettel at

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