About Sha'ul of Tarsus
Saint Paul the Apostle (c5 - c57) was an early Christian missionary.
Family and Ancestry
Paul's parents and ancestors are not named in any contemporary source. By his own account, Paul was born a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin in the city of Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, and grew up in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3; Philippians 3:5-6). Paul identified himself as an orthodox Jewish Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, who was born a citizen of Rome (Acts 23:6, 26:5; Galatians 1:15).
According to St. Jerome (347-420), there was a tradition among Christians in the Holy Land that Paul's parents were immigrants to Tarsus from the Judean city of Gischala:
"They say that the parents of the apostle Paul were from Gischala, a region of Judea and that, when the whole province was devastated by the hand of Rome and the Jews scattered throughout the world, they were moved to Tarsus a town of Cilicia; the boy Paul inherited the lot of his parents" (St. Jerome, Commentary on Philemon, vs. 23-24).
St. Jerome repeats essentially the same information in Famous Men. However, here Jerome contradicts Paul's own statement that he was born in Tarsus:
"Paul, an apostle, previously called Saul, was not one of the Twelve Apostles. He was of the tribe of Benjamin and of the town of Gischala in Judea. When the town was captured by the Romans, he migrated with his parents to Tarsus in Cilicia."
According the Ebionites, an early Jewish Christian sect, Paul's parents were Gentiles, who had not been converted to Judaism. Epiphanius (4th century), writing about the Ebionites, says,
"They declare that he [Paul] was a Greek . . . . He went up to Jerusalem, they say, and when he had spent some time there, he was seized with a passion to marry the daughter of the priest. For this reason he became a poselyte and was circumcised. Then, when he failed to get the girl, he flew into a rage an wrote against circumcision and against the Sabbath and the Law" (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.16, 6-9).
This passage is problematic because Epiphanius was hostile to the Ebionites, and the Ebionites were hostile to Paul. Moreover, scholars disagree about whether the Ebionites represented a genuine pre-Pauline tradition, or whether they were re-Judaizers.
Maccoby suggests Paul's parents might have been semi-converts ("God-fearers"), a common status among pagans who admired Judaism but were unwilling to undergo circumcision to convert (Maccoby, 96).
Paul claimed to be a member of the Tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5). Some historians argue that Paul cannot have been a Benjaminite because Jews at this period, except for the Levites, had lost their separate tribal identities. Accordingly, Paul's claim must have been either a bluff or a claim made by an ethnic group that separately claimed descent from Benjamin. Robert Eisenman suggests Paul might have been a member of the Herodian dynasty (see below), whose Edomite descent might have caused them to claim descent from the Tribe of Benjamin. Other scholars suggest that Paul was a Benjaminite only in the sense that he had the same name as Israel's first king, a Benjaminite (1 Samuel 9:1-31:13). Despite these arguments, it does not seem to have been impossible to make such a claim in Paul's time: Rabbi Hillel the Elder in the generation before Paul is also said to have been a Benjaminite (Genesis Rabbah 33:3).
Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37, 21:39, 22:25-28, cf. Acts 25:10ff.) from birth (Acts 22:28).
Paul's sister and her son, both unnamed, apparently lived in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16). Paul had kinsmen Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7) and Herodian (Romans 16:11-12), also Lucius and Jason and Sosipater (Romans 16:21).
A literal reading of Romans 16:13 suggests that Paul and Rufus Pudens were brothers ("Greet Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine."). Nevertheless, Christian tradition has regarded the phrasing as a rhetorical flourish. That is, Pudens' mother was someone Paul regarded with affection as though she were his own mother. The first suggestion that the two men were literally brothers appears to have been Richard Williams Morgan in 1861 (Morgan, 127).
Biblical scholar Robert Eisenman has suggested that Paul might have been the same person as Saulos, mentioned by the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus (Josephus, The Jewish War 2.418, 556–58, and The Antiquities, 20.214). In this reconstruction, Paul's unnamed nephew (Acts 23:16) was Julius Archelaus, son of Paul's supposed sister Cypros and her husband Temple Treasurer Alexas Helcias. Paul's greeting to those in household of Aristobulus (Romans 16:10) would have been to the family of Aristobulus of Chalcis, husband of the infamous Salome, and later king of Chalcis and Armenia Minor. Paul's greeting to his "kinsman Herodian" (little Herod) (Romans 16:11) would have been to Aristobulus' son Herod of Chalcis. (James the Brother of Jesus; The New Testament Code; Wikipedia)
There is no proof that Paul ever married, but he was probably a widower. He says that he is single (“I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.” 1 Corinthians 7:8). He argues that men like him have the right to marry (“Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” 1 Corinthians 9:5), but says he has not taken advantage of it (“I have used none of these things”1 Corinthians 9:15). However, Paul was proud of having been a strict Pharisee (Philippians 3:5; cf. Acts 22:3), and he says he was “extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Galatians 1:14) and "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Philippians 3:6). Marriage was the norm for Pharisees, and it was required for rabbis. It is very likely Paul would have followed Pharisaical custom.
Paul claimed to have been a student of the great rabbinic scholar Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39; 22:3). The claim is controversial. First, his use of rabbinic styles of reasoning, such as qal va-homer and midrash, are amateurish. Secondly, he uses "the rhetorical style of the Hellenistic preachers of popular Stoicism, not the terse logic of the rabbis." Finally, when he quotes scripture he uses the Greek translation (Septuagint) rather than the Hebrew original. (Maccoby, 62-71)
Takes the Name Paul
Like many Jews of his time, he had two names, religious (Sha'ul) and secular (Paulus). There is some question about when he adopted the name Paul. He might have chosen the name Paulus to honor his first convert, Lucius Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, "a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:7).
"But some think he was never called Paul till now that he was instrumental in the conversion of Sergius Paulus to the faith of Christ, and that he took the name Paulus as a memorial of this victory obtained by the gospel of Christ, as among the Romans he that had conquered a country took his denomination from it, as Germanicus, Britannicus, Africanus; or rather, Sergius Paulus himself gave him the name Paulus in token of his favour and respect to him, as Vespasian gave his name Flavius to Josephus the Jew." (Matthew Henry's Commentary).
However, it is possible that Paulus was his family's Roman name. Paul was a Roman citizen from birth (Acts 22:28). It was customary for provincial families to take their Roman name from the name of their patrons when they acquired citizenship. Paul's family might therefore have had a connection with the family of Sergius Paulus even before Sergius Paulus' conversion. (cf. Maccoby, 161-63, arguing that Paul purchased his citizenship immediately before his arrest in Jerusalem.)
According to Clement, 3rd bishop of Rome, " St. Paul came to Britain and preached in the extremity of the West" (citation needed).
Apollonius of Tyana
It has been suggested that Paul of Tarsus was the same person as Apollonius of Tyana, a pagan philosopher. The idea has received no academic support. The primary source for the life of Apollonius is the 3rd century Life of Apollonius of Tyana written by Flavius Philostratus for empress Julia Domna. The parallels with Paul are said to be striking. The two men lived about the same time. Paul was born in Tarsus. Apollonius studied in Tarsus. Both were itinerant preachers. Both were religious reformers. Both renounced wealth, and preached a life of abstinence. Both men traveled around the Mediterranean, visiting Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus. Both founded a religious community at Corinth. Both had a companion and secretary Damis (Apollonius) or Demas (Paul), as well as companions or associates named Titus, Demetrius, and Stephanus. Both were ship wrecked. Both were condemned by a Roman emperor and imprisoned, but miraculously escaped. The list is extensive.
Alternatively, Apollonius is sometimes said to have been identical with Paul's associate Apollos: "a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught diligently" (Acts 24:26). Paul mentioned "our brother Apollos" and commended him to the brethren (1 Corinthians 16:12). Paul also praised him, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Scholarly opinion favors the idea that Apollonius was "pagan counterblast to the gospel of Galilee, representing a Greek savior as an alternative to the Semitic one." (W. B. Wallace, "The Apollonius of Philostratus" in Westminster Review, July-Dec. 1902).
- Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1997).
- Robert Eisenman, The New Testament Code: The Cup of the Lord, the Damascus Covenant, and the Blood of Christ (2006).
- Robert Eisenman, "Paul as Herodian", Journal of Higher Criticism 3/1 (Spring, 1996), 110-122.
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible - New Testament (repr. Hendrickson Pub, 2008).
- Josephus, The Jewish War.
- Josephus, The Antiquities.
- Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (Barnes & Noble, 1986).
- Rev. Richard Williams Morgan, St. Paul in Britain: Or, The Origin of British as Opposed to Papal Christianity (J. H. & Jas. Parker, 1861).
- "Robert Eisenman" at en.wikipedia.org, visited Mar. 20, 2013.