16 - Paul Roman Agent or Informer?

With this grand design in mind, it is worth looking again at the confused and sketchy description of the events that occur towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul, it will be remembered, after a prolonged evangelistic mission abroad, has again been summoned to Jerusalem by James arid the irate hierarchy. Sensing trouble, his immediate supporters exhort him repeatedly, at each stage of his itinerary, not to go; but Paul, never a man to shrink from a confrontation, remains deaf to their appeals.


Meeting with James and other members of the community's leadership, he is again castigated for laxity in his observation of the Law. Acts does not record Paul's response to these charges, but it would appear, from what follows, that he perjures himself, denying the accusations against him, which his own letters reveal to have been justified


In other words, he recognizes the magnitude of his offence; and however fierce his integrity, however fanatic his loyalty to 'his' version of Jesus, he acknowledges that some sort of compromise is, this time, necessary. Thus, when asked to purify himself for seven days and thereby demonstrate the unjustness of the allegations against him, he readily consents to do so.


Eisenman suggests that James may have been aware of the true situation and that Paul may well have been 'set up'. Had he refused the ritual of purification, he would have declared himself openly in defiance of the Law. By acceding to the ritual, he became, even more than before, the 'Liar' of the 'Habakkuk Commentary'. Whatever the course of action he chose, he would have damned himself- which may have been precisely what James intended.2

In any case, and despite his exculpatory self-purification, Paul continues to inspire enmity in those 'zealous for the Law' - who, a few days later, attack him in the Temple.

'This', they proclaim, 'is the man who preaches to everyone everywhere... against the Law' (Acts 21:28).

The ensuing riot is no minor disturbance:

This roused the whole city: people came running from all sides; they seized Paul and dragged him
out of the Temple, and the gates were closed behind them. They would have killed him if a report
had not reached the tribune of the cohort that there was rioting all over Jerusalem. (Acts 21:30-31)

The cohort is called out - no fewer than six hundred men -and Paul, in the nick of time, is rescued, presumably to prevent civil upheaval on an even greater scale. Why else would the cohort bother to save the life of one heterodox Jew who'd incurred the wrath of his fellows? The sheer scale of the tumult attests to the kind of currency, influence and power the so-called 'early Church' must have exercised in Jerusalem at the time - among Jews!


Clearly, we are dealing with a movement within Judaism itself, which commands loyalty from much of the city's populace.

Having rescued him from the incensed mob, the Romans arrest Paul - who, before he is marched off to prison, asks permission to make a self-exonerating speech. Inexplicably, the Romans acquiesce to his request, even though the speech serves only to further inflame the mob. Paul is then carried off for torture and interrogation. As was asked previously, interrogation about what? Why torture and interrogate a man who has offended his co-religionists on fine points of orthodoxy and ritual observance?


There is only one explanation for the Romans taking such an interest - that Paul is suspected of being privy to information of a political and/or military nature.

The only serious political and/or military adversaries confronting the Romans were the adherents of the nationalistic movement - the 'Zealots' of popular tradition. And Paul, the evangelist of the 'early Church', was under threat from those 'zealous for the Law' forty or more of them in number - who were plotting to kill him, vowing not to eat or drink until they had done so.


Saved from this fate by his hitherto unmentioned nephew, he is bundled, under escort, out of Jerusalem to Caesarea, where he invokes his right as a Roman citizen to make a personal appeal to the emperor. While in Caesarea, he hobnobs in congenial and intimate fashion with the Roman procurator, Antonius Felix. Eisenman has emphasized that he is also intimate with the procurator's brother-in-law, Herod Agrippa II, and with the king's sister - later the mistress of Titus, the Roman commander who will destroy Jerusalem and eventually become emperor.3

These are not the only suspicious elements looming in the background of Paul's biography. From the very beginning, his apparent wealth, his Roman citizenship and his easy familiarity with the presiding establishment have differentiated him from his fellows and from other members of the 'early Church'. Obviously, he has influential connections with the ruling elite.


How else could so young a man have become the high priest's hatchet man?


In his letter to the Romans (16:11), moreover, he speaks of a companion strikingly named 'Herodion' - a name obviously associated with the reigning dynasty, and most unlikely for a fellow evangelist. And Acts 13:1 refers to one of Paul's companions in Antioch as 'Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch'.


Here, again, there is evidence of high-level aristocratic affiliation.4

Startling though the suggestion may be, it does seem at least possible that Paul was some species of Roman 'agent'. Eisenman was led to this conclusion by the scrolls themselves, then found the references in the New Testament to support it. And indeed, if one combines and superimposes the materials found at Qumran with those in Acts, together with obscure references in Paul's letters, such a conclusion becomes a distinct possibility. But there is another possibility as well, possibly no less startling.


Those last muddled and enigmatic events in Jerusalem, the nick-of-time intervention of the Romans, Paul's heavily escorted departure from the city, his sojourn in luxury at Caesarea, his mysterious and utter disappearance from the stage of history - these things find a curious echo in our own era. One is reminded of beneficiaries of the 'Witness Protection Program' in the States. One is also reminded of the so-called 'supergrass phenomenon' in Northern Ireland. In both cases, a member of an illicit organization - dedicated to organized crime or to paramilitary terrorism - is 'turned' by the authorities.


He consents to give evidence and testify, in exchange for immunity, protection, relocation and money.

  • Like Paul, he would incur the vengeful wrath of his colleagues.

  • Like Paul, he would be placed under seemingly disproportionate military and/or police protection.

  • Like Paul, he would be smuggled out under escort.

Having co-operated with the authorities, he would then be given a 'new identity' and, together with his family, resettled somewhere theoretically out of reach of his vindictive comrades. So far as the world at large was concerned, he would, like Paul, disappear.

Does Paul, then, belong in the company of history's 'secret agents'? Of history's informers and 'supergrasses'?


These are some of the questions generated by Robert Eisenman's research. But in any case, Paul's arrival on the scene set a train of events in motion that was to prove irreversible. What began as a localized movement within the framework of existing Judaism, its influence extending no further than the Holy Land, was transformed into something of a scale and magnitude that no one at the time can have foreseen.


The movement entrusted to the 'early Church' and the Qumran community was effectively hijacked and converted into something that could no longer accommodate its progenitors. There emerged a skein of thought which, heretical at its inception, was to evolve in the course of the next two centuries into an entirely new religion. What had been heresy within the framework of Judaism was now to become the orthodoxy of Christianity.


Few accidents of history can have had more far-reaching consequences.


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