The Human Truth Foundation

St Paul - History, Biblical Epistles, Gnosticism and Mithraism

By Vexen Crabtree 1999

#bible #christianity #epilepsy #gnosticism #mithraism #new_testament #paul

13 of the books of the Christian New Testament are the epistles (letters) of St. Paul, which form the oldest text in the New Testament1. Seven were probably written by Paul himself and six others have been written in his name by (anonymous) followers, some up to 80 years after his death. By the time the official Bible canon was produced, no-one knew that only some were genuine. The historical Paul probably did write 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and Romans. Letters forged in the name of Paul are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians.2,3,4,5. Paul was born in Tarsus as "Saul" and adopted the name of Paul after converting to what is now Christianity. He was an early leader of the growing Christian churches around the Roman Empire, and the writings of St. Paul are the earliest existing Christian writings known to historians. Despite this, Paul never met Jesus and appears to rely mostly on Greek myths and legends, many of which he copied, placing Jesus at the center of them instead of their original heroes.

1. The 13 Letters (Epistles) of Paul

1.1. Seven of Paul's Letters in the Bible are Probably Genuine, Six are Forged

Genuinely by Paul:2,3,4,5

Forged in the name of Paul:2,3,4,5

Virtually all scholars agree that seven of the Pauline letters are authentic: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. [...] The other six differ in significant ways from this core group of seven. ... 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus - are so much alike that most scholars are convinced that they were written by the same person. The other three are usually assigned to three different authors.

"Forged" by Bart Ehrman (2011)3

The later pseudonymous texts were more literalist and misogynistic than those genuinely by Paul.

We do not have the original of 1 Thessalonians (i.e., the text that Paul actually wrote) or of any other New Testament book. Nor do we have copies made directly from the originals, nor copies made from the copies of the originals, nor copies made from the copies of the copies. Our earliest "manuscripts" (hand-written copies) of Paul's letters date from around 200 CE, that is, nearly 150 years after he wrote them. [...] Indeed, it is not until the fourth century, nearly three hundred years after the New Testament was written, that we begin to get complete manuscripts

"Lost Christianities" by Bart Ehrman (2003)6

1.2. The Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus7

#bible #christianity #new_testament #paul

The three pastoral epistles (letters) of St Paul are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. Although they have been included in the New Testament canon since the 4th century, their authenticity has been heavily disputed. Scholars and Christian theologians are sure that all three are forgeries2,3,8,5,9, probably all forged by the same person3,8, a long time after St Paul's death10. The pastorals do not appear in the early collections of epistles of St Paul11 nor are they even mentioned until Irenaeus (~190CE)8 and Eusebius, the great Christian historian of the 4th century, still does not include 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus in his Bible8.

"1 Timothy - The 1st Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy" by Vexen Crabtree (2012)

The authentic (early) writings are gnostic, but as this early form of Christianity became unpopular amongst Trinitarians (i.e., the rising Cappadocian form of Christianity), 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus were written in the name of St Paul specifically to argue against gnostic ideas8.

For more, see:

1.3. The Forged Letters Were Not the Result of a Secretary Writing Them for Him12

Paul's use of a scribe - not a "secretary" - to write down what he spoke was well known amongst Christians. Epistles written in the name of Paul by others often ended in the same way, including Colossians 4:18: "The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen" - this is copying the way in which Paul would write a final sentence on his letters in his own large handwriting, in order to prove they were by him. The problem was that as so few people knew what his handwriting looked like, this technique was easy for the forgers to imitate.

Book CoverThere is no doubt that the apostle Paul used a secretary on occasion. One of this secretaries tells us that he has written the letter! In Romans 16:22 we read, 'I Tertius, the one who wrote this letter...' [and he] was the scribe who wrote what Paul told him to write. Paul also used a scribe for his letter to the Galatians, since at the very end he tells his readers, 'See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand' (6:11). Commentators are widely agreed that Paul had dictated the letter to a secretary, but here at the end he was writing the final bit himself. He used larger handwriting either because he wasn't as skilled at writing as the secretary, because he had problems with his eyesights and so wrote larger letters, or for some other reason. [...] Did the secretaries contribute to the contents of the letter? This is [easy] to say: Despite what scholars often claim, all of the evidence we have suggests that the answer is no.

"Forged" by Bart Ehrman (2011)13

Are the 'forged' letters best explained as the result of secretarial contribution?

In the ancient world, people often did dictate letters to secretaries. A problem exists in comparing Paul's letters to others of that era: most dictated letters were short - just one page long, or were stereotyped form-letters such as certificates. But Paul's writings are extensive essay-letters, treaties; long and complicated. Secretaries did not edit, correct and improve prose in the name of his employer at such great lengths. Well - some rare types of professional secretaries did - but in the ancient world, only the über-rich could afford such scribes and there is no evidence that anyone else used them. And by über-rich, we mean Emperors, Senators and their senior Generals, and even then, such occasions are rare and the individuals who ever used these services are very few in number. And those people did not have their secretaries co-author pieces for them. Paul, lumping his lot in with the unruly and anti-establishment Christians, did not have such professional secretaries available to him anyway, so, appealing to their existence does not explain why the letters forged in Paul's name have different writings styles to Paul. They were forgeries, not co-authored pieces.

"Forged" by Bart Ehrman (2011)14

2. How Saul of Tarsus Becomes St. Paul

2.1. The Conversion

Saul of Tarsus is the man we now call Paul. Saul was a Greek Jew, working for a Sadducee High Priest as a type of hired goon. Some say that he was likely a follower of Mithraism, which was a popular religion in the first century Roman Empire especially in Paul's home town of Tarsus. He was a powerful and outspoken critic of the troublesome sect of Jews that were led by the Rabbi Yeshua Nazaret. Acts 8:3 describes Saul ridiculing and arresting the followers of Yeshua. On the way to Jerusalem it was believed that Saul was going to continue to harass the followers of Yeshua. Instead, at about the age of 30, Paul revealed himself as a convert to the Jewish sect of Yeshua and changed his name to Paul.

Book CoverPaul was originally a Jewish Pharisee from outside Palestine, who had heard the Christian proclamation of Jesus, found it blasphemous, and worked to oppose it with all his heart and strength, one of the first the most forceful persecutors of the new faith (Gal. 1:13; cf. Acts 8:3). But Paul himself then had some kind of visionary experience of Jesus (Gal. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 15:8-11) and changed from being the Christian movement's chief adversary to being its chief advocate, transformed from persecutor to proclaimer.

"Lost Christianities" by Bart Ehrman (2003)15

Saul was convinced from his Mithraistic roots that the Christ would return within his lifetime. Possibly he felt much guilt for persecuting the Yeshua cult despite it being his job. Converting presented a personal chance of guilt abstention and controversial fame. He became the holy man he desired to be and was vindicated of all the wrong he had done in persecuting Yeshua: He declared himself born again and began actively preaching about Jesus the Christ. This guilt-complex explanation is not the only one presented by scholars, others have held that the mystical experience Saul had was the result of neurology:

2.2. Paul Never Met Jesus, and Was Converted by a Seizure16

Saint Paul certainly had an epileptoid, if not an epileptic seizure.

"The Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James (1902)17

St Paul never met Jesus - his only encounter was during a seizure in which he saw a vision of Jesus, as recorded in Acts 9:3-9. William James, the well-known psychologist and author on the history of religion, is convinced that St Paul's vision was caused solely by a seizure. His claim is scientifically likely and has been made by scientists and doctors many times in history18. The prominent book on brain neurology, Neuroscience19 states that people can have a once-in-a-life seizure that can include visual hallucinations and in the general (non-epileptic) population this occurs in 7 to 10 percent of all people's lives20.

So, Paul was never a first-hand witness of Jesus, and this was a hot topic of debate amongst early Christians, especially given that no-one seemed to have access to any of the disciples or knew anyone else who had directly known them. Pseudo-Clementines is one of the Christian texts that did not make it into the New Testament canon, and in it the argument is given by Peter, the apostle, that Paul's story does not make sense:

Can anyone be rendered fit for instruction through apparitions? And if you will say, 'It is possible,' then I ask, 'Why did our teacher abide and discourse a whole year to those who were awake?' And how are we to believe your word, when you tell us that He appeared to you? And how did He appear to you, when you entertain opinions contrary to His teaching? [...] For in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church, you now stand.

St Peter in the Pseudo-Clementines
In "Forged" by Bart Ehrman (2011)21

It is a very strong argument. Why was Jesus incarnated at all if it turns out that the good news can actually be delivered via a brief vision to a single person? Prof. Ehrman continues explains the line of thought given in Pseudo-Clementine:

Paul may have had a brief vision of Jesus. But Peter was with him for months - a year! - not asleep and dreaming, but awake, listening to his every word. And Jesus himself declared that it was Peter, not Paul, who was the 'Rock' on whom the church would be built. Paul is a late interloper whose authority rests on entirely dubious grounds. It is the teachings of Peter that are to be followed, not those of Paul.

Whether or not this is the view of the historical Peter is something we will probably never know. But it is certainly the view of Peter set forth in the forged writings known as the Pseudo-Clementines.'.

"Forged" by Bart Ehrman (2011)21

When the Pauline Christians formed the New Testament with the backing of the Roman State, they selected the Christian writings that most agreed with their beliefs, and as such, they decided not to include Pseudo-Clementine. It is easy to see why!

2.3. Saint Paul


In Damascus Saul preached his new belief but the locals forced him away. He arrived at Jerusalem but the original followers of Yeshua did not trust Saul, their old enemy. Paul left Jerusalem and went to his home town, Tarsus, in Cilicia/Cesarea, in an area now called Turkey.

Paul was the original preacher of "Jesus the Christ". Yeshua was not called "Jesus" (in Greek) nor "Christ" (another Greek idea) until Paul concluded that Yeshua was Christ. Paul combined his own beliefs with those of the Jewish followers of Yeshua, including many rituals and parts of the Mithraist religion. He confused the Hellenic Christ theme with the messiah of Judaism, and the result was the sacrificial nature of Christ that Christianity has.

Paul opposed Jewish tradition and preached a new covenant from God that included women and Gentiles (non-Jews). This allowed many new converts and followers to what became known as Pauline Christianity. He gained a new life of which he could be proud. However many of his attempts to preach his new way in the synagogues were rebuked and he spent more than one stretch in prison. He travelled throughout the Mediterranean bringing the Good News to the Gentiles. Paul died in about 64CE after a two year stretch in a prison in Rome.

3. Paul Combined the Greek Christ and the Hebrew Messiah

Some text taken from

Paul mistook the Jewish "Messiah" to mean the Hellenistic "Christ". This happened before anything was written down; it happened during Paul's conversations with people as he was working through what had happened. A messiah is a person who is a great leader who leads your people to freedom. The title was taken by Jews from Persian culture. A christ is a god-king who dies as an offering to some divine being as a sacrifice in return for prosperity, especially agricultural prosperity. Both are anointed with oil as a mystical, sexual rite.

Jesus didn't exist (Quoted in 1999, site is now down)

The pagan theme of Christ, as was a popular part of Roman mystery religions and folklore, was combined with the Hebrew Yeshua story by Paul and his subsequent followers. It was Mithraism that probably provided the greatest influence of all the mystery religions, as Tarsus was a heavily Mithraist place. Tarsus was a very old seaport, over 2000 years old, and Mithraism was popular there with shrines and imagery stretching as far West as the Danube river. Paul no doubt found a large audience there for his preaching of Jesus, the new Christ, and for the story of salvation, as Mithraism contained many compatible and defining features of his Christ theory. This is why Christianity came to have so many rituals and beliefs in common with Mithraism, even down to the same wording used in prayers.

Here are some older myths that were common which Paul would have known as a Roman:

4. Mithraism

#christianity #judaism #mithraism #roman_empire

Spirit of Spirit, if it be your will, give me over to immortal birth so that I may be born again - and the sacred spirit may breathe in me.

Prayer to Mithras

Mithraism is an ancient roman religion from the 1st century BCE22,23. It flourished in the first few centuries CE by which time it had many features in common with Christianity24 (as did multiple religions and cults of the era24,25,26) including the motif of a crucified-and-resurrected god-man who comes to bring salvation from sin, and the primacy of 12 followers27. Mithraism and Judaism merged and became the Christianity that we know today. Jesus, son of the Hebrew sky God, and Mithras, son of Ormuzd are both retellings of the same myth. The rituals of Christianity coincide with the earlier rituals of Mithraism, including the Eucharist and the Communion in great detail. The religious language used by Mithraism became the language used by Christians. The idea of a sacrificed saviour is Mithraist, so is the symbolism of bulls, rams, sheep, the blood of a transformed saviour washing away sins and granting eternal life, the 7 sacraments, the banishing of an evil host from heaven, apocalyptic end of time when God/Ormuzd sends the wicked to hell and establishes peace.28,29. The archaeological picture is clear that Mithraism and Christianity developed out of the same religious culture but each going in (slightly) different directions. Neither religion had a "starting point" defined by a single individual or founder in the first century, but they are continuums of developing belief from the 1st and 2nd century BCE.

St Paul is often called the first Christian and 13 books of the New Testament bear his name: he was born as Saul of Tarsus in Tarsus, a major centre of Mithraism and he bears much of the responsibility for moulding Mithraism into Christianity30. Later Roman Emperors, Mithraist then Christian, mixed the rituals and laws of both religions into one. Emperor Constantine established 25th of Dec, the birthdate of Mithras, to be the birthdate of Jesus too. The principal day of worship of the Jews, The Sabbath, was replaced by the Mithraistic Sun Day as the Christian holy day. The Catholic Church, based in Rome and founded on top of the most venerated Mithraist temple, wiped out all competing son-of-god religions within the Roman Empire, giving us modern literalist Christianity.

"Mithraism and Early Christianity" by Vexen Crabtree (2017)

Book CoverIt was in Tarsus that the Mysteries of Mithras had originated, so it would have been unthinkable that Paul would have been unaware of the remarkable similarities we have already explored between Christian doctrines and the teachings of Mithraism. [Footnote:] Tarsus was the capital of Cilicia, where, according to Plutarch [46-125CE], the Mithraic Mysteries were being practiced as early as 67BCE.

"The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (1999) [Book Review]30

5. Gnosticism

#christianity #gnosticism #gnostics #mithraism #religion

Gnosticism is an ancient religion stemming from the first century (approximately), and is an alternative messiah-religion that shares many features with Christianity. There were a huge number of Gnostic groups31,32, sharing a common set of core beliefs. An inferior angelic being created the Earth, and this being is a hindrance to spiritual development. Many Gnostic schools taught that the Hebrew Scriptures were the religious creation of this inferior god32. To trick this god out of power, a saviour was sent by the true god, and the sacrifice of this innocent man undermined the power of the old god, allowing the possibility for people to become saved and align themselves with the true god. Gnosticism was heavily attacked by the first Christian anti-heresy writers. Some authors such as Freke & Gandy (1999)33 argue that Christianity as we know it is a shallow version of Gnosticism which has mistaken symbolic stories for real ones33, whereas many academics find that the historical and archaeological evidence is unclear: Christianity and Gnosticism are related, but, and although we don't yet know which one came first, it seems that early Christianity was much more Gnostic than it is now, and perhaps the Gnostic/literalist divide simply didn't exist for the first two centuries of Christian history. By the 7th century, literalist Christians had overwhelmed Gnosticism and related forms of Christianity, leaving us with modern Trinitarian Christianity.

The Outer Mysteries comprised the publicly available information and constructed stories of the religion, whereas the Inner Mysteries were learned by initiates, and revealed that these stories were allegorical and symbolic creations that hold deeper spiritual meanings. Literalists were those who never learned the inner teachings. Unfortunately, the literalists formed Christianity as we know it today, as a religion that beliefs in the rebirth of their savior in an actual physical, real, literalist way.

Was Paul himself a gnostic and a teacher of the Jesus Mysteries, or was he a literalist? The scholars T. Freke & P. Gandy in The Jesus Mysteries33 compiled a large quantity of historical evidence that St. Paul was a Gnostic:

Paul writes of a 'Gnosis' which can be taught only to the 'fully initiated'. He offers a prayer 'that your love may more and more be bursting with Gnosis'. He writes of 'Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of Sophia and Gnosis' and of 'the Gnosis of God's Mystery'. Like a Gnostic initiate Paul claims: 'By revelation the Mystery was made known to me'. Like a Gnostic defending the secrecy of the Inner Mysteries he asserts that he has heard 'ineffable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter'. Like a Gnostic he puts the emphasis on understanding, not on dogma, writing, 'The letter kills, while the spirit gives life'. And like a Gnostic, he describes stories in the scriptures as 'allegories' and writes of 'events' and 'symbolic'.

"The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (1999) [Book Review]34

Yet Freke and Gandy conclude that he was actually neither a gnostic nor a literalist. A large chapter of their Jesus Mysteries hypothesis is dedicated to showing us the many ways in which early Christianity was a Mystery religion, which was later replaced by Christians who only interpreted its vegetation myths literally rather than spiritually. They conclude that although Paul's genuine teachings were gnostic, Paul was neither for or against Gnosticism, because literalist Christianity did not yet exist, so there was no "side" to be on.

Upon reflection we felt that to call Paul a Gnostic was, in a sense, misleading. The more we looked at the evidence we had uncovered, the more it seemed that to apply to the terms 'Gnostic' and 'Literalist' to the Christianity of the first century was actually meaningless. From Paul's letters it is clear that the Christian community of this period was deeply divided, yet this schism was not between Gnostics and Literalists, as was the case by the end of the second century. Paul is neither anti-Gnostic nor pro-Gnostic, because in his day the great schism between Gnostics and Literalists had yet to occur.

At the time of Paul, the strands of thought that would become Gnosticism and Literalism were harmoniously co-existing as the Inner and Outer teachings of the Jesus Mysteries. The theological battle that Paul is engaged in is between those initiates of the Jesus Mysteries who want to maintain a traditional and distinctively Jewish identity and those, like himself, who wish to make their new Mysteries completely 'modern' and cosmopolitan.

"The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (1999) [Book Review]35

That Christianity actually started out as a Roman Mystery Religion is not accepted even by many liberal Christians, but nonetheless the evidence is laid out comprehensively that Paul taught gnostic teachings, not because he was a "gnostic" as opposed to a "literalist", but because Christianity was inherently gnostic from its conception. It was another god-man religion like Mithraism, Osiris-Dionysis myths and other common religions of the time. Taking the bullet points from Freke and Gandy (p212-213), here is some of the simplified evidence that Paul taught the same things that the Mystery religions, because Paul was himself a gnostic, being an initiate of The Jesus Mysteries:

What does this mean? It means that the rebirth of Jesus was not thought of as a historical event. This explains why, for example, early Christians had no traditions on the birth of Jesus, nor did they know where he was buried, nor are there any mentions of a historical Jesus by historians. All the elements of the birth narrative that we know are false are easily explained by the fact that they were gnostic stories, designed to teach initiates greater truths than the mere literal value of the stories. All of this not only lends support to the suspected truth that Jesus did not exist, but the idea that Christianity as a literalist religion based on historical truth is a mistake.

6. Women are to Submit, to be Quiet, to Stay at Home

#bible #christianity #christianity_and_women #gender_equality #paul #women

The teachings of St. Paul are infamously misogynistic and have had an enduring effect on the status of women in the Western world.

For more, see:

7. The Rise of Pauline Christianity

Any original Jewish Christians were eventually completely replaced by Pauline Christians. According to the take on events in the Bible, the Apostles did not consider Paul to be a fellow apostle and didn't trust him, as he'd never actually met Jesus. Paul preached that converts didn't need to keep Old Testament Laws and that circumcision was a barrier to God. Paul's teachings, Greek to Greek, appealed to the masses of the Roman Empire and its neighbours, whereas Jewish Christianity dwindled in importance under the tide of followers of the easy Christianity preached by Paul.

The gnostic Mithraists and Jewish Ebionites formed the very first Christians of the first century, with practices and beliefs based respectively on Gnostic and Judaistic rituals, symbols and practices. Pauline Christians dispensed with the difficult Jewish laws and became popular amongst gentiles, soon out-numbering the Jewish Christians, causing them to be secluded and eventually suppressed. Increasing literalism amongst roman converts then led the Pauline Christians to become obsessed with enforcing their literal interpretation of Christianity's original stories, causing another huge rift with older gnostic-style Christians. With Roman power behind their press and with the favour of Emperors, the Pauline-Nicene Christians wiped out the gnostics, annihilated the Arians after long bloody campaigns, and murdered and burnt the Marcionites and many other small sects, to leave themselves as the sole Christians within the Roman Empire, free to edit their own books to 'prove' how all their predecessors had been wrong.

Basil of Cappadocian Caesarea (Basil the Great), his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus were the three Cappadocian scholars who promoted the Holy Spirit to the godhead to create a Trinity, which was codified strictly in to the Nicene Creed of 381, which went to careful lengths to disclaim against 'heresy'. Emperor Theodosius published a series of forceful edicts intolerant of all non-Nicene sects. This state of affairs persisted in the West for over a thousand years from the 5th century, causing mainstream Christianity to become completely ignorant of their own past.

"How Modern Christianity Began: The Cappadocian-Nicene-Pauline Roman Amalgamation: 3. Conclusions" by Vexen Crabtree (2008)

The page quoted above continues the story in detail.

8. A Few of Paul's Funky Laws

The "glad tidings" were followed closely by the absolutely worst tidings - those of St Paul.

"The AntiChrist" by Friedrich Nietzsche (1888) [Book Review]37

The list is annotated with a comment as to whether scholars think the epistle was a forgery or a legitimate letter.