- (c. 10–c. 67)Christian evangelist. JESUS was born, lived and died an observant Jew in Judea. For a while, his followers remained one of many obscure Jewish sects. The architect of Christianity as a separate faith and church was another Jew, Saul of Tarsus, whose Greek name was Paul. At the beginning of the Christian era, before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the end of the Second Commonwealth, there was already a widespread Jewish Diaspora outside Judea, extending from the Jewish quarter of Rome to the well-developed Babylonian community living under Parthian rule. Most of these Jewish minorities lived in the eastern part of the Roman empire, in Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor. Their daily tongue was the colloquial Greek of the region, and their culture was strongly influenced by Hellenist ideas and philosophy. But they remained devout Jews, with their communal life centred on their own autonomous synagogues, and constant pilgrimages were made to the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the three main festivals.One of these scattered communities was that of Tarsus, the important Greek- Roman port city of Cilicia, in the bend of the Asia Minor coast, a little to the northwest of Antioch. Here Paul was born about the year 10. His father was a Pharisee and the young Paul had a sound Jewish education, as is borne out by the familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures shown in his writings. At the same time, he imbibed the Greek culture of his surroundings. His father had the coveted status of a Roman citizen, which extended to Paul as well - a fact which was to stand him in good stead in his later life.At the age of 18, he was sent to Jerusalem for further study, apparently with the object of becoming a rabbi. Here he stayed for some years living with an older sister. Although he was in Jerusalem during the last period of the life of Jesus, the two did not encounter each other. Paul was very hostile to the early Christian Jews in Jerusalem and approved of the execution by stoning of the deacon Stephen in the year 36. He undertook on behalf of the religious authorities in Jerusalem to go to Damascus and help round up the followers of Jesus among the Jewish community of that city. Before he reached it, he had a blinding vision and heard the voice of Jesus. As a result he was converted and baptized in Damascus by Ananias.In the years to come Paul’s growing influence was directed to breaking away from Judaism and propagating the new faith among the gentile peoples of the Roman empire. It was decided that pagans could become Christians without becoming Jews. The fount of religious authority became the life, death, resurrection and divinity of Christ the Redeemer and no longer the Law of Moses. (The word Christ is the Greek for Messiah, the ‘Anointed One’.) The distinctive Jewish laws and customs, such as circumcision and the dietary laws, were abandoned. The break was complete.In the next dozen years, Paul carried out tireless missionary journeys through the Roman provinces and cities in Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Dodecanese and Cyprus, writing a series of letters to his converts in different places. These journeys are described in the Acts. On returning to Jerusalem, he was accused of profaning the Temple and brought before the procurator, but successfully claimed his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the emperor. After a long and arduous journey including a shipwreck, he reached Rome in 61 and continued his missionary activities from there. Around 67, at a time when Emperor Nero was persecuting the Christians in Rome, Paul was arrested and probably executed. According to early accounts, Paul was physically most unimpressive, being short, bow-legged, blind in one eye, with a large red nose, and he may have been subject to epileptic fits; but he was undoubtedly a man of extraordinary energy and organizing ability, and irresistible conviction. In a brief twenty years he converted a minor Jewish sect into an international movement, the adherents of which outnumbered the Jews by the time he died. His impact on the future was immense.
Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. Joan Comay . 2012.
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