Thursday, January 03, 2008

Mysteries of the Bible -- Paul the Apostle: Part 2

I recently watched the Biography Channel's program entitled, "Mysteries of the Bible: Paul the Apostle." It is part of a larger series, which can be purchased for 52.46 USD from Biogrpahy's online shop. Earlier today I posted about the first two segments of the show and now I will summarize the last three "Acts."

Act III, "The Mysteries of Tarsus," takes up the story of Paul after he has gone to Jerusalem and then on to Tarsus, his hometown, in Cicilia. As has been the case thus far, the program initially follows Acts and then compares Acts with Paul's letters, which confirm that he did indeed go to Cicilia and that he spent fourteen years there. Then a major question is posed: Were Paul's views shaped in Cicilia and how? It does seem that Paul's views were a little idiosyncratic, according to the program, because the believers in Jerusalem remained part of "Judaism" by upholding circumcision and the Law more generally while Paul's message was more universal, accepting everyone.

Wayne Meeks then tells the viewer about the city of Tarsus: it was a metropolitan port city in which many ideas were exchanged as often as goods. Of particular note is that Tarsus was known for "secret wisdom," as evidenced by the presence of the Mithras cult. A prayer to Mithras is then quoted for the viewer, presumably to show the similarity between the language of Paul and that of the cult: "Spirit of spirit, if it be your will, give me over to immortal birth so that I may be born again and the sacred spirit may breathe in me." Two divergent opinions are then revealed: Meeks does not think that the Mithras cult had that big of an influence on Paul but Rev. Robert Morris (click and scroll to the bottom for his bio), of Interweave, said that Paul's beliefs are "very, very friendly and compatible with the mystery cult language." Whatever the case, Paul's message was powerful and he "converted" many.

The fourth segment, entitled "New Clues, Ancient World," begins with a statement concerning Paul's motivation for his evangelistic efforts: he believed that Jesus was coming back during his own lifetime and that judgment would follow, thus he tried to "save" as many as he could. Morris claims that Paul went to cities because there were Jews in cities and Christianity was still viewed as being within Judaism. Paul seems to have greatly succeeded at gaining "converts" through his staunch determination.

However, some scholars are challenging Paul's tenacity as the reason for his success, including Susan Alcock, previously from the University of Michigan, now part of the faculty at Brown. She claims that by examining surface artifacts from the Roman Empire one can see that the countryside was being deserted as people migrated to the cities. Only one reason is given for this migration: imperial estates swallowing up the smaller farms and homes outside of the cities. Therefore, Paul's universal message, in which everyone was accepted, "must have touched many broken hearts."

The last act, Act V: "The Enigma of the End," deals with the uncertainty surrounding Paul's demise. After recapping the Acts account, several explanations are given concerning the silence of Acts with regard to Paul's death. Morris states that perhaps Acts was written as a trial brief for Paul to take to Rome with him and Meeks claims, instead, that the point of Acts was not to narrate Paul's life but to demonstrate the spread of the gospel, which the ending of Acts accomplishes.

A third option is also given, this time by Paul Maier of Western Michigan University. He points out that since one of the earliest Christian witnesses outside the Bible, Clement of Rome, indicated that Paul made it all the way to Spain, perhaps Paul was acquitted of his "crimes" and released. The program then continues with some speculative history: Since it is generally accepted that Paul was beheaded by Roman authorities, there has to be some reason for his second trial. This reason is found in the fire of 64 CE which for which Nero blamed the Christians. Many were tortured and killed at this time and Paul would have likely been among the first, since he was such an influential leader.

The program nears its end with the statement that within three hundred years of Paul's death his "fugitive faith" became the official religion of Rome. Thus, Paul stands as one of the most important people for the history of the Western world. Morris wraps up the show nicely:

Paul has a vision, that we're made in the image of God and that we can be that way with the help of God, with the help of the grace of God. That vision of human potential has been a recurrent inspiration to people all throughout Western history and is one of the great visions on the planet.

Mysteries of the Bible - Paul the Apostle: Part 1

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