Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fifteen books ~ #9 ~ The Mythmaker

Continuing my series on "fifteen books that will always stick with me," #9 in alphabetical order is

The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity ~ by Hyam Maccoby, 1986.

I read this book a decade or so ago, and it made me take another look at Paul. Writings attributed to Paul and about Paul take up about half of the New Testament, the Christian Bible, but I was one of those who had pretty much given up trying to defend Paul. Even after reading What Paul Really Said about Women by John Temple Bristow, which exonerated Paul by examining the biblical text more closely. There seemed to be too many problems with Paul. When I ran across The Mythmaker, I had to re-examine my thinking.

Who was the founder of Christianity? Most would say Jesus, of course, but Maccoby says Jesus was no more the founder of Christianity than the historical Hamlet was the author of Hamlet. Even though Paul never met Jesus face to face, Maccoby says he "invented" Christianity, adding elements of Judaism, Gnosticism, and pagan mystery cults to the story of Jesus's crucifixion.
"...the dominant outlook and shaping perspective of the Gospels is that of Paul, for the simple reason that it was the Paulinist view of what Jesus' sojourn on Earth had been about that was triumphant in the Church as it developed in history. Rival interpretations, which at one time had been orthodox, opposed to Paul's very individual views, now became heretical and were crowded out of the final version of the writings adopted by the Pauline Church as the inspired canon of the New Testament" (p. 4).
This short summary doesn't do the book justice, but here's my point: I was fascinated by the ideas in this book and have continued to read about Paul because of it. This week I read The First Paul by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, which I will review next. The scholarship in The Mythmaker may be dated (as Crossan said when I asked him today at a lecture in Chattanooga), but it piqued my interest in reading the scholarly works of people like Borg and Crossan, who is also co-author of In Search of Paul: How Jesus's Apostle Opposed Rome's Empire with God's Kingdom.

For the interest in Paul that it generated in my thinking, I give The Mythmaker a rating of 8 out of 10.

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