Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?

March 6, 2015
Posted in Blog
March 6, 2015 Editor

Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?

WN: This paper highlighted below answers in the negative the question posed in the title. It was written by Pamela Eisenbaum, Pauline scholar, practising Jew, feminist, and professor at a Christian seminary. She subsequently wrote Paul was not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle.

I delivered a sermon inspired by her, entitled “Paul the Radical” I began and ended the sermon thus:

Introduction A good friend and former elder in a conservative evangelical church recently recounted some of his spiritual journey. When he turned to the Apostle Paul, he said: “Paul, damn him!…”, and continued. In broad strokes, the Apostle Paul has been widely held to have been a profoundly social conservative, a misogynist, and an anti-Semite–or to have, with the Gospel of John, laid the groundwork for a pernicious anti-Semitism that has plagued Western history with the Holocaust its capstone.

While this is a common enough complaint about the Apostle, it is by no means the final word. If you were to visit “The Paul Page” on the Internet, you would find hundreds of essays and bibliographies listed, “dedicated”, the site is subtitled, to “the new perspective on Paul”. In broad strokes, “the new perspective” is an expression coined by New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn that has launched for three decades a new look at Paul with reference to his own Jewishness, and that of his fellow Jews, and more recently, with reference to Paul’s citizenship in the Roman Empire, backdrop to Christian missionary expansion in Paul’s lifetime.

Historian C. J. Cadoux, in an Epilogue to his huge study of the first three centuries of the Christian church (The Early Church and the World (1925 & 1955) ), says of the early church era:

… we certainly have a moral reformative movement on a scale and with a potency unparallelled at any other epoch before or since… the achievements of the early Church can defy comparison with those of any other moral or religious movement known to history (p. 611).

This movement had its primary champion in the Apostle Paul. Paul can be read – selectively – as anti-Jewish, as can the evangelists, certainly in particular in John’s Gospel. Paul can be read – selectively – as misogynist, as can Jesus. Paul can be read–selectively — as otherworldly and a-political, and therefore socially conservative, as can Jesus.

United Church minister Greta Vosper does read Jesus and Paul in the above way, as does atheism popularizer Richard Dawkins, and as do many others.

All I am suggesting this morning is another way to read Paul–and Jesus!–that is not anti-Jewish, anti-woman, and anti-progressive (to use an undefined, anachronistic term). It is a way in fact that points in the direction of the conclusions of C.J. Cadoux. I want to draw on several sources who read Paul positively in the context of various power arrangements in Paul’s time, and who read Paul as deconstructionist and vision builder in the context of Roman Empire.

Conclusion

If one wants to read the Apostle Paul negatively, accusing him of misogyny, anti-Semitism, and reprehensible social conservatism, one may. The burden of this brief presentation is that one need not. On the contrary, one may read Paul as a passionate radical committed to an egalitarian anti-imperial vision of humanity as one family in Christ. Paul’s towering radicalism was not only imbued with love (I Cor. 13), it was enormously revolutionary in impact in the context of Roman Empire.

“It is an irony of history”, claims Religious Studies professor James Williams, “that the very source that first disclosed the viewpoint and plight of the victim is pilloried in the name of various forms of [biblical] criticism… However, it is in the Western world that the affirmation of „otherness,” especially as known through the victim, has emerged. And its roots sink deeply into the Bible as transmitted in the Jewish and Christian traditions… the standpoint of the victim is [the West’s] unique and chief biblical inheritance. It can be appropriated creatively and ethically only if the inner dynamic of the biblical texts and traditions is understood and appreciated. The Bible is the first and main source for women’s rights, racial justice, and any kind of moral transformation. The Bible is also the only creative basis for interrogating the tradition and the biblical texts (“King as Servant, Sacrifice as Service: Gospel Transformations”, in Willard M. Swartley, ed., Violence Renounced: René Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking, Telford: Pandora Press U.S. , pp. 195 & 196).”

Many in similar vein suggest that Paul’s radicalism was unequalled in scope and achievement.

***

Like Western Christianity in general, Paul has since the Enlightenment been enormously scapegoated in the academy and beyond. Even a cursory read of Larry Siedentop’s book, Inventing the Individual, especially his chapter on Paul (scanned and underlined here), renders this obnoxious Paul-bashing habit rather inoperative: unless one is willing to put in a gargantuan amount of scholarship to demonstrate otherwise. If so, one will have to take on for starters two towering Pauline scholars:  James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright. Hint: you will not digest their material in a couple of one-evening sittings . . . And that is only for starters.

I suggest a tad vigorously that the onus is on the reader to prove the longstanding Enlightenment scapegoating number done on Paul is legitimate. If you succeed, please write me about it . . . I argue to the contrary in a related context, in “Christianity and the Subversion of Just About Everything“, reflecting on (mainly) Paul’s use of the Greek term enduo.

The above all apart from this: Paul was bar none one of the most courageous persons one can meet historically by any scale of measurement. And yet his life demonstrated repeated transcending of horrific “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” most of us would be hopelessly buried under . . .

Oh: And he is my lifelong hero! So please for my sake tread carefully.

An excerpt from Pamela Eisenbaum’s paper:

I have a passionate interest in the apostle Paul. Many people think this passion is unusual because I am a Jew not a Christian. What’s more, I like to think of myself as a feminist. What’s a nice Jewish feminist doing studying the apostle Paul? After all, from a Jewish perspective, Paul is a heretic who had a demented view of Judaism. From a feminist perspective, Paul is an ally of Christian conservatives who wish to keep women in a subordinate position to men.

Nevertheless, my interest derives naturally from my professional commitments. I am a Jewish New Testament scholar who teaches in a Christian seminary,. and, after some years of studying and teaching Paul, I have come to the conclusion that Paul was a committed, well-intentioned Jew, even if the subsequent uses of his teachings were abominable where Jews and women are concerned…

Please click on: Is Paul the Father of Misogyny and Antisemitism?

  1. [1]Please see also "Paul and Christian Social Responsibility", and my commentary. Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. Please see also “Paul and Christian Social Responsibility“, and my commentary.
  2. [2][The Iliff School of Theology, a seminary of the United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions. [The Iliff School of Theology, a seminary of the United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.
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