For a while, I’ve been putting off writing this. However, instead of trying to make the perfect post, I’ve decided to make the minimal post necessary to explain the idea. The idea of making the perfect, long post is tantamount to attempting to control the outcome of the conversation, something that definitely isn’t going to happen anyway. I could instead just start it and hope that others generate ideas off it, perhaps better ones than I would have thought up alone.
Basically, it could be considered a spin on Doherty’s presentation, in two ways that make it significantly different.
(1) The “Middle Platonism” thought by Doherty to lurk in Paul’s writing is abandoned as an explanation of Paul. Instead, Paul does not have anything but a popular Jewish and/or Hellenistic conception of God, spirits, and the world. Paul’s beliefs about Jesus do not regard them as timeless and ideal but as occurring in time (even recently) and with a body, in places.
(2) Some bits of Paul’s writings are considered to be interpolated.
Let’s unpack this just a little.
(Nota bene: there could be many other differences with Doherty. This discussion focuses only on Paul.)
(1) No Middle Platonism in Paul
I haven’t found it anywhere in Paul’s letters.
Hebrews and Revelation are a different subject. Paul’s letters may represent a different viewpoint, even if Hebrews or Revelation evinced any kind of Platonic or Middle Platonic interpretation.
So, where would these things take place, if not in Judea and under Pilate?
The candidate that comes to my mind is ‘under the earth’: that Jesus descended under the earth and was crucified and buried by the demons there. Perhaps the reader has their own ideas or comments on the subject.
(2) Interpolations in Paul
There is this widespread agreement that allowing interpolations to creep in to the discussion of the texts that we’re looking at opens the floodgate to any number of different, contradictory interpretations that (perhaps) could not be refuted on objective grounds.
This is correct. And, yet, it doesn’t actually make it any less likely that there were interpolations. It just makes it very inconvenient for us, to the point of making us despair of having any firm conclusions.
At the same time, we may not have to despair. There may be some minimally-reasonable ways to consider parts of the letters interpolated. Not that everyone would agree (when does that happen?), but it would be something rather than nothing.
Famous examples that are candidates for interpolation include Romans 1:3 (and surrounding), Galatians 1:19 (and surrounding), and the phrase in Galatians 4:4.
The refutation will be that there is absolutely no case for interpolation in these instances, but at least we could argue about that instead of pounding our heads against the brick wall that is the implausible interpretation of these verses proposed by Doherty and those who have followed him.
These are two things that drastically change the conversation regarding the interpretation of Paul in this debate, yet almost nobody is talking about them. Almost everybody involved is talking about Doherty’s interpretation and those who followed it. I consider this to be a historical artifact of the course of the discussion in recent history. Some of the writers before Doherty proposed the interpolations that I propose here for consideration (or more), and even Doherty now seems to be on board for the phrase in Galatians 4:4. Many of the writers before Doherty mention nothing of Platonism.
It’s about time the discussion move on from a narrow focus on one particular attempt to explain these things (and the defense or refutation or that attempt), proceeding on to a slightly-more-objective consideration (if anyone wants to try, anyway) of the various possibilities here and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
I’ve written a bit more in this regard (and about Marcion’s Shorter Readings of Paul), if you want to read more and see that this need not just be an idle proposal. Of course, I’m not going to start throwing around the word “conclusive” anytime soon here. It’s an idea, a hypothesis. I’m (slightly) more hopeful that a “conclusive” case could be found for the historicity of Jesus and all of that, but I haven’t seen it either. Categorizing, understanding, and (if we can) conclusively refuting ideas like this one might put us on that path.
PS — There is also a current thread on the forum about this topic.