by (((Marcus Eli Ravage)))
Perhaps the bitterest foe of the sectaries was one Saul, a maker of tents. A native of Tarsus and thus a man of some education in Greek culture, he despised the new teachings for their unworldliness and their remoteness from life. A patriotic Jew, he dreaded their effect on the national cause. A traveled man, versed in several languages, he was ideally suited for the task of going about among the scattered Jewish communities to counteract the spread of their socialistic pacifistic doctrines. The leaders in Jerusalem appointed him chief persecutor to the Ebionim.
He was on his way to Damascus one day to arrest a group of the sectaries when a novel idea came to him. In the quaint phrase of the Book of Acts he saw a vision. He saw as a matter of fact, two.
He perceived, to begin with, how utterly hopeless were the chances of little Judea winning out in an armed conflict against the greatest military power in the world. Second, and more important, it came to him that the vagabond creed which he had been repressing might be forged into an irresistible weapon against the formidable foe.
Pacifism, non-resistance, resignation, love, were dangerous teachings at home. Spread among the enemy’s legions, they might break down their discipline and thus yet bring victory to Jerusalem. Saul, in a word, was probably the first man to see the possibilities of conducting war by propaganda.
He journeyed on to Damascus, and there to the amazement alike of his friends and of those he had gone to suppress, he announced his conversion to the faith and applied for admission to the brotherhood.
On his return to Jerusalem he laid his new strategy before the startled Elders of Zion. After much debate and searching of souls, it was adopted. More resistance was offered by the leaders of the Ebionim of the capital. They were mistrustful of his motives, and they feared that his proposal to strip the faith of its ancient Jewish observances and practices so as to make it acceptable to Gentiles would fill the fraternity with alien half-converts, and dilute its strength. But in the end he won them over, too. And so Saul, the fiercest persecutor of Jesus’ followers, became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. And so, incidentally, began the spread into the pagan lands of the West, an entirely new Oriental religion.
Unfortunately for Paul’s plan, the new strategy worked much too well. His revamped and rather alluring theology made converts faster than he had dared hope, or than he even wished. His idea, it should be kept in mind, was at this stage purely defensive. He had as yet no thought of evangelizing the world; he only hoped to discourage the enemy. With that accomplished, and the Roman garrisons out of Palestine, he was prepared to call a truce.
But the slaves and oppressed of the Empire, the wretched conscripts, and the starving proletariat of the capital itself, found as much solace in the adapted Pauline version of the creed as the poor Jews before them had found in the original teachings of their crucified master. The result of this unforeseen success was to open the enemy’s eyes to what was going on.
Disturbing reports of insubordination among the troops began pouring into Rome from the army chiefs in Palestine and elsewhere. Instead of giving the imperial authorities pause, the new tactics only stiffened their determination. Rome swooped down upon Jerusalem with fire and sword, and after a fierce siege which lasted four years, she destroyed the nest of the agitation (70 a.d.). At least she thought she had destroyed it.
The historians of the time leave us in no doubt as to the aims of Rome. They tell us that Nero sent Vespasian and his son Titus with definite and explicit orders to annihilate Palestine and Christianity together. To the Romans, Christianity meant nothing more than Judaism militant, anyhow, an interpretation which does not seem far from the facts. As to Nero’s wish, he had at least half of it realized for him. Palestine was so thoroughly annihilated that it has remained a political ruin to this day. But Christianity was not so easily destroyed.
Indeed, it was only after the fall of Jerusalem that Paul’s program developed to the full. Hitherto, as I have said, his tactic had been merely to frighten off the conqueror, in the manner of Moses plaguing the Pharaohs. He had gone along cautiously and hesitantly, taking care not to arouse the powerful foe. He was willing to dangle his novel weapon before the foe’s nose, and let him feel its edge, but he shrank from thrusting it in full force.
Now that the worst had happened and Judea had nothing further to lose, he flung scruples to the wind and carried the war into the enemy’s country. The goal now was nothing less than to humble Rome as she had humbled Jerusalem, to wipe her off the map as she had wiped out Judea.