The Epistle to the Galatians is the second book in a chronologically ordered New Testament. If you are still a Christian that reads the Bible in the traditional way, take a good look at the first chapters of Marcus Borg’s Evolution of the Word, which includes the New Testament in the order the books were written.
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Yeshua the anointed and god the father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, to the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from god our father and the lord Yeshua the anointed who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age…
My italicized words in Paul’s opening sentence to the Galatians evoke what I said about Paul last Friday in the context of how the Attis cult might have influenced the Semite Saul (a.k.a ‘Paul’) in his native town of Tarsus.
Many of those educated in the Christian faith are still unable to distinguish between the Christ of dogma and the Jesus of history. As we have already noted about the oldest New Testament books, in the genuine Pauline letters the details about the historical Jesus (in contrast to Paul’s mythical ‘Christ’) are surprisingly absent. But what is most conspicuous in an ordered reading of the New Testament is that, for example, Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
(1) does not mention the Empty Tomb,
(2) does not mention the Apparitions of the Risen Jesus,
(3) does not mention the Ascension of Jesus,
(4) does not mention Pentecost,
(5) does not hint any allusion toward the story we all heard as children: that, after the above extraordinary events, the Apostles were catapulted with such a fire of enthusiasm that they preached the gospel to the point of martyrdom.
Regarding (2), New Testament writers were not biographers as the word ‘biography’ is understood in our modern world. Paul would certainly mention Yeshua’s apparitions in later epistles when his Christology was more developed not from a historical, but from a theological point of view.
The following are my impressions of my most recent reading of the letter to the Galatians.
In the first seventeen verses it is surprising to learn that Paul says that his vocation to preach the word of the lord had begun before (!) his meeting with the apostles. Then, in Gal. 1: 18-19 Paul confesses that three years after his great religious conversion he finally decided to visit Peter and James, and that fourteen years later he visited the Jerusalem Church again, to inform them he would preach to the gentiles (Gal. chapter 2).
All of this smells that it was Paul’s zeal, not the true apostles, what ignited the movement that became known as Christianity.
Then I read in that same chapter 2 that Paul had an incident with Peter because Peter and the Jerusalem Church had not broken away from Jewish practices. I immediately realised that this story could be used as a powerful weapon against those who believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb, the Apparitions of the Risen Jesus, the Ascension and the spiritual fire of the Pentecost that, according to tradition—rather than the impression from a chronological reading of the NT—ignited Christianity.
We can imagine a Judaea in which all these Resurrection stories had really happened. How on earth those who received the tongues of fire on their heads to preach with euphoria the Good News could have regressed to the rancid practices of Judaism, something that can be surmised in this early Pauline epistle? We are talking about elemental Judaic stuff, such as circumcision and the diet prescribed by the Torah against which Paul preaches not only in Galatians but in other letters.
The Galatians letter does not reflect the theology of the Jewish Jerusalem Church. It reflects the incipient theology of the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’.
In the third chapter of Galatians Paul laid out the foundations of his new cult, rehabilitating man by ‘faith’ instead of the observance of Jewish law: observances that those who had really known Jesus were still practising. It is in that chapter that Paul pronounces his famous words, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Yeshua the anointed one’.
It is also interesting that in chapter 4 Paul mentions that god sent this Yeshua ‘born of a woman and subject to the law’—that is, Jesus was a Jew—‘to rescue those who were subject to the law’, that is to rescue the Jews. In that verse it is not implied that we gentiles would also be rescued in the original Yeshua cult. In that chapter Paul also scolds the Christian community that had not given up Jewish practises.
Again, that alone suggests that the legends of the Resurrection listed in the numbered paragraph above, or at least the thoroughgoing embellished stories as understood in later Christendom, had not yet emerged when the second book of the New Testament was written. Even in the postscript and farewell of his letter to the Galatians Paul continues to talk against circumcision repeatedly.
Certainly, reading the New Testament in the order the books were written and from a strictly rational viewpoint—i.e., with an exegetical eye to distinguish who might the ‘historical Jesus’ have been—make a fresh reading of the ‘book of books’.