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    Was Paul Jewish? – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. How Jewish was the Christian saint, Paul?

    Depiction of Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482

    A. Before answering this question we have to say something about Jesus. It is erroneous to believe that Jesus was a Christian and intended to start a new religion. Jesus was a Jew, and it was as a Jew that he lived and died.

    The religion of Jesus was Judaism though he felt that the God of Judaism had revealed a secret to him concerning the way to understand Jewishness. Jesus had his secret and his interpretation of Judaism, and believed that he was working in and for Judaism. The religion of Jesus was not Christianity though Christianity developed into the religion about Jesus.

    Our question is the extent to which Paul, whose original name was Saul, was responsible for constructing the religion about Jesus.

    Did Paul, like Jesus, regard himself as a Jew within Judaism? The answer is yes – and no. Paul was inconsistent. He said he was a Jew “of the stock of Israel”, “of the seed of Abraham”, had been circumcised, observed Jewish practices, was a Pharisee and had persecuted the Jesus movement. But he came to believe that the Jews and Judaism were in error and the law of Moses was a source of bondage.

    Paul seems to vary his message depending on the audience. The definitive picture he presents is hostile to rabbinic Judaism. He encourages gentiles to follow Jesus and is ambivalent as to whether they should come to the Jesus-religion through Judaism or without it.

    He turned from persecuting Christians to becoming their champion. He appears more of a Christian than Jesus was.

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