Here’s a great blog post by Larry Hurtado, engaging in discussion with Paula Fredricksen about the nature of the persecution of Jesus-believers by Paul prior to his Damascus road experience, and the nature of his own persecution once he himself became a believer.
Fredricksen’s article is in an (expensive!) edited book: Paula Fredriksen, “How Later Contexts Affect Pauline Content, or: Retrospect Is the Mother of Anachronism,” in Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: How to Write Their History, eds. Peter J. Tomson and Joshua Schwartz (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 17-51.
In nuce, Hurtado argues that Fredricksen is right that Paul’s own persecutions, notably the 39 lashes (2 Cor 11:24), resulted from Paul requiring new followers of Jesus from a pagan background to denounce and give up worship of the Roman gods. This led to the Jewish synagogues disciplining Paul, because they were concerned that Paul’’s self-identification as a Jew would lead to attacks on the Jewish communities (which were widely regarded with suspicion because of their ‘atheism’—i.e. refusal to believe in the Roman gods, and belief in only YHWH, the God of Israel).
However, Hurtado disagrees with Fredricksen over the nature of Paul’s persecutions of the believers before he himself became a Jesus-believer. Here’s Hurtado’s summary of her view:
she hypothesizes that within a very short time after Jesus’ crucifixion, the young Jesus-movement spread to Damascus, and there began to recruit converts from local “god-fearer” pagans who had already begun to associate themselves with the synagogue(s) there. As “god-fearers” (she contends), they hadn’t been expected by the Jewish community to forsake their traditional gods. But, she further hypothesizes, from this early point the Jesus-movement required this of their pagan converts. This (she further proposes) would have created tensions with the larger pagan public of Damascus, and so Paul the devout Pharisee involved himself in helping to take punitive measures against Jewish Jesus-followers. This was to discourage them from requiring pagan converts to abstain from worshipping the gods, thereby to avoid trouble for the local Jewish community.
Hurtado thinks (and I’m inclined to agree) that this gives insufficient weight to the regard for Jesus the new (ex-pagan) believers had. You’ll need to read his argument to see him masterfully develop this point, but it’s worth it!
Thanks to Larry for another excellent piece!