Paul, Not Such a Bad Jew After All?

My friend Judith Shulevitz, now writing for Tablet (like everyone else, apparently -- it's the happening place, Semitically-speaking), has a great piece on Paul revisionism. Judith's new book, "The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time" will be out in March; I just got the galleys and I'm looking forward to reading it, if only I could find a day in the week when I'm not suffocatingly busy.

In any case, read the whole piece on Paul; it's fascinating:

Paul is supposed to be the genius who overcame Jewish particularism and invented religious universalism, but the new Paul didn't do that. He didn't believe that the Jewish God stopped being Jewish. Nor did he think Jesus superseded God's covenant with his chosen people. What Jesus mainly did was die for the goyim: "What Torah does for Jews, Jesus does for gentiles," writes Eisenbaum.
So what are we, as Jews, to make of the Jewish Paul? I instinctively agree that he must have seen himself as a Jew. It belies everything we know about human nature to imagine Paul converting from highly educated Greco-Roman Jew to anti-Jewish Christian who rants about Jewish law like someone encountering it for the first time. But do we have to let him off the hook for anti-Semitism? Was he a Jew whose message was distorted, presumably by the Gospel writers and early church fathers, or was he a demagogue who hurled distortable insults with reprehensible abandon? This is a question that won't be answered easily. Paul was a difficult writer and a non-systematic thinker, dashing off letters in response to crises in his congregations rather than laying out his ideas in expository fashion. Whether you're seen as critiquing lovingly from the inside or attacking coldly from the outside depends a lot on your tone, and even the best scholars of first-century Greek don't agree about Paul's tone.