Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

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Schonfeld on Paul

Schonfeld came to believe Jesus was Messiah. However, he believed Paul was mentally ill and thought he himself was messiah before he had his Damascus experience. (I believe Paul had a huge self-image, which includes that Paul's own sufferings 'completed' the offering of Christ. But Schonfeld sees this as messianic delusions. See our webpage on "Did Paul have a huge self-image?")

Schonfeld's work was republished recently. It is entitled:

Hugh J. Schonfield, Proclaiming the Messiah: The Life and Letters of Paul of Tarsus, Envoy to the Nations. London: Open Gate Press, 1997.

And in Schonfield's personal opinion, Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah, a conviction Schonfield arrived at from within Judiasm which affiliation he retained thereafter, not from seeing himself as converting to becoming a 'Christian' in any traditional sense.

Robert Price summarizes Proclaiming the Messiah:

Surely the most striking of Schonfield's hypotheses is that Saul of Tarsus first considered himself to be God's Messiah, destined to bring the Light of Judaism to the Gentiles, and that his persecuting fury was ignited by the belief that the apostolic preaching of Jesus was a lie sent to deceive the unwary in the Last Days. Saul had arrived at his messianic consciousness through his precocious studies of the kabbalistic Lore of Creation (which was later to shape his Christology of Jesus as the cosmos-spanning heavenly Adam--see Schonfield's Those Incredible Christians, 1968). Like later kabbalists Abraham Abulafia and Sabbatai Sevi, whose studies had led them to the belief in their own messiahship, Saul decided he was the one. And like Sabbatai Sevi's enlightenment, this revelation was accompanied by a dose of mental aberration (and genuine psychic experience, according to Schonfield). Saul's literally insane fury against the young Jesus sect abated only when he had a second epiphany on the road to Damascus. He had to admit now that Jesus was the Messiah, not he, but then Saul adopted the next best role. He viewed himself as the living image of Christ on earth even as Christ had been the image of God. Specifically, Saul believed that he often acted as "channeler" for the voice and persona of the exalted Christ ("I say to you, not I, but the Lord..."). All this is only hinted at in Proclaiming the Messiah. One may pursue the matter in Schonfield's fascinating The Jew of Tarsus (An Unorthodox Portrait of Paul) (1946).

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Such a picture of Paul certainly comports with the virtually messianic colors in which Paul and his fans painted him, e.g., as tantamount to a second Moses (2 Corinthians 3:12-13), as completing the remainder of Christ's atonement (Colossians 1:24), of having been crucified for his disciples (1 Corinthians 1:13), even rising from the dead (in the Acts of Paul). Luke, too, is careful to parallel Paul's passion narrative with that of Jesus. Schonfield's picture of Paul as a runner-up messiah is not without history-of-religions parallels, such as the relationship of Jesus and John the Baptist, Simon Magus and Peter, the Bab and Baha'u’llah. I think especially of the case of Dr. David C. Kim, first president of the Unification Theological Seminary, who had first believed himself to be the Messiah until he met Sun Myung Moon and deferred to the latter's messiahship instead.

Schonfield's quasi-messianic Paul also brings to mind Walter Schmithals's sketch of the Gnostic apostolate appropriated by Paul and other early Christian missioners. Schmithals shows (The Office of Apostle in the Early Church) how the earliest apostles were Gnostic redeemer-mystagogues who preached the gospel of the Cosmic Christ whose light-sparks were scattered among the souls of the elect, to whom they preached. This Christ/Primal Man had never before been incarnated on earth--until now, in the form of the awakened apostolos and his converts, as they together realized their true identity. Schmithals suggested that Paul and others had taken over pretty much the same notion, only on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth, a recent historical figure. On Schonfield's reading, Paul's conception of his mission as an earthly manifestation of a heavenly Christ (albeit one who had lived on earth and returned to heaven) would provide a missing link helping to explain how Paul came to appropriate the Gnostic apostolate.

It is interesting to note how the Jewish Encyclopedia echoes many of Schonfeld's sentiments, and thus how close Jews would come to accepting Jesus / Yashua if it were not for Paul's identification with what today is called "Christianity." For example, in "Paul of Tarsus," Jewish Encyclopedia, we read:

Evidently Paul entertained long before his vision [outside Damascus] those notions of the Son of God which he afterward expressed; but the identification of his Gnostic Christ with the crucified Jesus of the church he had formerly antagonized was possibly the result of a mental paroxysm experienced in the form of visions.

Schonfeld in Those Incredible Christians also commented about Paul, saying that Paul's vision was a delusion. (I believe it was real, but not Jesus), Schonfeld wrote:

"For the Apostolic Church much that Paul taught was grievous error not at all in accord with the mind and message of the Messiah. The original Apostles could urge that the truth was known by them. But Paul had never companied with Jesus or heard what he said day after day, and Paul's visions were the delusions of this own misguided mind....
"It was not only the teaching and activities of Paul which made him obnoxious to the Christian leaders: but their awareness that he set his revelations above their authority and claimed an intimacy with the mind of Jesus, greater than that of those who had companied with him on earth and had been chosen by him.... It was an abomination, especially as his ideas were so contrary to what they knew of Jesus, that he should pose as the embodiment of the Messiah 's will.... Paul was seen as the demon-driven enemy of the Messiah.... For the legitimate Church, Paul was a dangerous and disruptive influence, bent on enlisting a large following among the Gentiles in order to provide himself with a numerical superiority with the support of which he could set at defiance the Elders at Jerusalem. Paul had been the enemy from the beginning, and because he failed in his former open hostility he had craftily insinuated himself into the fold to destroy it from within."

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