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The “Conversion” of Paul: 25 January

January 25, 2018

In the ecclesiastical calendar, today (25 January) is marked as the feast observing the “conversion” of Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a., Paul the apostle.  Quite how the day was chosen is unknown to me.    Whether it should be called a “conversion” is debated among scholars (did Paul change religions or simply realize in a traumatic experience that he was pursuing a misguided cause in “persecuting” the Jesus-movement?).  But the religious re-orientation signified was major and with profound and far-reaching results.

The books about Paul are legion and continue to pour forth from the presses.  Among the more recent and significant is the recent volume by Paula Fredriksen that I posted about last year herePaul, the Pagans’ Apostle (Yale University Press).

Last year on this date I posted about Paul, and I’ll simply point any interested readers to that posting here.

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  1. Gary permalink

    Hi Dr. Hurtado,

    A question on Paul: In First Corinthians 15 Paul says that Jesus “was buried”. The Greek word, translated into English as “buried”, is “THAPTO”. A Christian apologist I know states that this Greek word has only one meaning: “to bury with funeral rites, to bury with ritual”. It was never used to convey someone or something simply placing something in the ground and covering it up. (The dog BURIED the bone.)

    This Christian apologist says that this is a big deal because if Paul quoted an early Christian creed, possibly written within three years of Jesus’ death, that states that Jesus was given a burial with ritual (so a JEWISH burial), this would be good evidence against the claim that Jesus’ body was left on the cross to be picked apart by scavengers and then thrown into a pit and unceremoniously covered over with dirt.

    What do you think?

    • Paul’s statement that Jesus was “buried”, using the Greek verb “thapto” does designate a disposal of the corpse in a burial procedure and ceremony. That’s the use of the verb in the NT and more generally: See, e.g., Franco Montanari, The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, ed. Madeleine Goh and Chad Schroeder (Leiden: Brill, 2016). So far as Paul knew (and he had spent lengthy times with Jerusalem followers such as Kephas and James), Jesus received a burial.

  2. Nemo permalink

    Professor Hurtado,

    To a devout Jew like Paul, does the Jewish identity and religion mainly consist in the Law and the Temple priesthood? If so, how would he have responded to the destruction of the Temple, had he lived through it?

    • He probably would have lamented the destruction of the Temple.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        Did Paul and other Jewish Christians incorporate Jesus into their worship in the Temple? Or did they treat animal sacrifices as separate from Jesus-devotion? I wonder how they reconciled, for lack of a better word, the two devotion practices. For the second-temple Jews, was it lawful to conduct corporate worship outside the Temple?

      • The book of Acts, for example, portrays Jewish believers as still honoring and frequenting the temple and even Paul as offering sacrifice there. They apparently saw no necessary conflict with their devotion to Jesus. Worship (in the sense of prayer/praise, etc.) could be done anywhere. Sacrifice to YHWH, however, was to be done in the Jerusalem temple.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        If I understand your thesis correctly, the early Christians believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead and demanded that all worship of Him must be done “with reference to Jesus”. Does it include sacrifice in the Temple? If so, how? If not, why not?

        Your response triggered another question: The early Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper outside the Temple, does it mean they didn’t consider it a sacrifice to YHWH?

      • I don’t know what precise differences their faith in/about Jesus may have made to Jewish believers’ practice in Temple sacrifice. The texts don’t give those details. But I presume that they thought that a refusal to honor Jesus made the worship of the biblical God “ignorant” and less obedient to God.
        The “Lord’s Supper” seems initially to have been more a fellowship meal, signifying partnership with other believers “in the Lord Jesus”. It isn’t described as a sacrifice till much later.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        If the believers were required by God to honour Jesus as one who shares divine name and glory, you would expect that they were also instructed on how to honour Jesus, in the same way the Jews were given detailed written instructions on how to worship God, wouldn’t you? This seems to me a paradigm shift that causes no small cognitive dissonance, but I don’t find such in the N.T. writings — everyone, both Jewish believers and Pagan converts, seemed to know immediately how to honour Jesus. What am I missing?

        I think the Lord’s Supper began as a Passover meal, when the Jews ate the sacrificial lamb in Jerusalem, as a remembrance of God delivering them from slavery and establishing the covenant with them. If I interpret Paul’s meaning in 1 Cor. 11 correctly, Jesus redefined the Passover as a remembrance of his sacrifice and the new covenant. The Passover, which is not accessible to Gentiles, becomes the Lord’s Supper, which is accessible to all believers. But, judging by the way you describe it, I suspect all this is a matter of dispute among scholars?

      • Nemo: What you’re “missing” includes the fact that the earliest texts that we have are already some 20 yrs into the Jesus-movement “post-Easter”. So, any “cognitive dissonance” among first believers has long since settled into a set of traditions of faith and practice.
        And the ways that Jesus was reverenced, per these texts, is in line with the ways that God was reverenced.
        As to the “Lord’s Supper”, Jesus’ “last supper” was perhaps a Passover meal. But the meal in earliest Christian texts is a fellowship-of-believers meal. It didn’t replace Passover for Jewish believers. It was a new meal celebrative of believers’ new association.

  3. Dr. H.,
    Thanks for the reminder and the opportunity to go back and reread your previous post. I am frequently reminded by opportunities like this, that since we don’t live in a vacuum, something previously read can bring new understanding.


  4. Seems an uphill battle to empty “damascene” of its resonance by placing Conversion and Christianity in scare quotes.

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