Rewriting Christian origins is all the rage today. The apostle Paul, on anybodys account a pivotal figure in that history, naturally gets a lot of attention.
The latest entry into this "field" is in bookstores right now, masquerading as a book on angels. The Messengers, written by hypnotherapist Julia Ingram and ghostwriter G.W. Hardin, has been hyped in the Twin Cities on billboards featuring a beautiful, er, angel in what looks like silk bedsheets. (This is something of an improvement over the old get-up with the flaming sword.)
The book tells the tale of Nick Bunick, an Oregon businessman who discovers under hypnosis that he is the reincarnation of the apostle Paul. I am not making this up.
Neither are Nick or Julia, they insist. This isnt just a true story, they plead: Its the "gateway into our next millennium." The first half of the book breathlessly narrates how a host of angels have been waking Nick and his friends up at a quarter to five in the morning (angelophanies are not what they used to be) in order to push Nicks manuscript through publication.
Just what is the message compelling such early risings, you ask? Nick is to announcebrace yourselvesthat "major events" will take place before the year 2000. (All in all that seems a reasonably safe prediction.) These events do not include the end of the world; beyond that, Nicks angels dont want him to be more specific. The one point on which the angels harp is that they now want equal billing with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In place of the Christian Trinity, they have designed a four-pointed Christian pyramid (ooah).
Oh: The angels also want everyone to read Nicks manuscript, the transcripts from his hypnotherapy sessions with Julia.
AS A SCHOLAR who has studied the apostle Paul for years, I was flabbergasted to learn that he had not only been reincarnated, but was giving interviews. What could I learn from the transcripts?
Disappointingly little can be gleaned, as it turns out; nothing, really, that I couldnt have picked up from an evening with a decent Bible dictionary. Even that information was strangely garbled here. Apparently soul-migration has been murder on the apostles long-term memory.
"Saul" isnt sure how his family became Jewish, apparently having forgotten his lineage from the ancient tribe of Benjamin. He remembers being a Pharisee. He has nothing to say about the Torah, however, except that the kosher laws and circumcision have something to do with hygiene. Hes much more concerned to air his views on reincarnation. (Its not surprising, then, that the angels have directed him to one of Shirley MacLaines handlers. I insist I am not making this up.)
He remembers being a young man in Jerusalem, but has trouble focusing on its most significant featurethe temple built by Herod the Great and renowned as one of the wonders of the Roman world. "Saul" routinely refers to the "temples" and "churches" of the Jews. Two or three times he mentions having visited "Solomons Temple," a feat that would have required his transmigrating backward in time to the sixth century B.C.E., before the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and destroyed the first temple.
"Saul" is pretty fuzzy on "the Judaic religion" in general. People "cant practice Judaism" outside of Israel, he declares, apparently forgetting that he himself grew up in the Diaspora, as did the vast majority of his Jewish contemporaries.
There are some other memory gaps. "Saul" isnt really clear on why other people changed his name to "Paul." He speaks of one Herod where there were two, and confuses his Caesars, naming Claudius when he means Nero. Since Nero is usually credited with having Paul beheaded, this last error might be seen as a matter of repressed memory.
Though were told hes fluent in several languages, the apostle doesnt know what the Greek word apostolos means. Ironically, it means "messenger."
To be more than fair, "Paul" has other things on his mind. He is obsessed with spreading Yeshuas message, at once "so simple, yet so beautiful." Beyond some vague comments about the transmigration of souls and the "God within," that message involves such mind-dulling banalities as "Work with the system," "dont be critical of others," and "take responsibility for your actions."
"Paul" is concerned to set the record straight on matters the Christian New Testament has got all wrong. It turns out he was the closest of Yeshuas followers from the beginning. Yeshua himself is described as irresistibly charming, with light brown hair and gray-blue eyes, smiling and laughing constantly, even on his way to crucifixion. He talked constantly of happiness, inner peace, and finding the God within, but only "Paul" was sophisticated enough to fathom the depths of this profound teaching.
"Paul" has little to say about political realities under Roman rule. He remembers "no conflict" in Jerusalem during Pontius Pilates brutal rule, and no significant trouble in Rome under Claudius (who expelled the Jews from the city, according to Roman historians).
In contrast, the apostle is preoccupied with sex. He implies in the interviews that he has enjoyed a number of discreet sexual relationships with women, though he has never married. Other Christian leaders have not been so discreet, so "Paul" has decreed that only celibate men may be ordained. This is a real downer, so a few pages later he insists hes never said any such thing. "Paul" remains opposed to male homosexual behavior, not because it is condemned in Leviticus but because it represents an imperfect reincarnation of a soul into a body of the opposite gender.
THE READER IS WARNED early on to expect surprises. The biblical accounts of Paul are fundamentally flawed, so naturally they will bear little resemblance to the reincarnated "Paul" who emerges under hypnotherapy. More important, the message the apostle now wants to bring will only be intelligible to people with the right "spiritual DNA." Its clear enough that asking skeptical questions is an expression of the wrong spiritual DNA.
One of "Pauls" repeated grievances against Yeshuas other followers is that they required new converts to surrender their money and property to the community. Paul complains that these other apostles amassed a small fortune through religious coercion.
The Messengers retails at $20. (One might have thought the angels who managed the books publication could have subsidized the costs to get their message into more hands.) The cheaper paperback edition will not be available for a year. One can subscribe to Nick Bunicks newsletter on angels for another $20 contribution. Meanwhile, Nick is on a speaking tour, plugging the book at venues like the Minneapolis Convention Center. Attending a "Spiritual Symposium That Will Change Your Life" costs $25.
And the angels are talking TV. These "messengers" may not know much about the history of Judaism in the Roman period, but they run one hell of a marketing campaign.
NEIL ELLIOTT is a professor of New Testament at the College of St. Catherines. One of his claims to being an authority on the author of many epistles is that he lives in the town that bears the apostles name, St. Paul. (Thats in Minnesota, you know. Were not making this up.)
The Messengers: A True Story of Angelic Presence and the Return of the Age of Miracles. By Julia Ingram and G.W. Hardin. Infinity Publications, 1997. Available from Amazon.com