Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Midweek Musing: What if Paul wrote to Jerusalem?

In December, I took part in a fun evening of presentations of supposed lost letters from St Paul. The five letters were subjected to voting from the audience to determine which among them was the real deal. Mine received the fewest votes, but don't let that put you off: plenty of people did express appreciation for its creativity and innovation. Perhaps it was a bit too clever. I had a lot of fun composing it, so as I commence a semester tutoring in a course on Paul and his letters, I share it with you now. First, the introductory story as to the letter's discovery, and then the short letter from Paul to Jerusalem. It will, I hope, provoke your own pondering on what Paul might have written to the church in Jerusalem before that fateful visit.




The manuscript I have been analysing is in pristine condition. However, it is not a first century manuscript. And the language, though somewhat foreign to an audience today, is not Greek – not to me, at least.


What we have here is a letter from 16th century Warwickshire, England, from a Catholic in hiding to his sister, containing his translation of a first century manuscript which he claims to have found with relics from an ancestor’s haul during a trip to the Holy Land. What this priest claims to have translated is a letter from the apostle Paul.

Evidently this Catholic in hiding had trained as a priest, but when slinking into the older, darker crannies of the family manor, came across relics and papers long forgotten. The circumstances of the ancestor’s journey into the Holy Land are unclear, but it seems there may have been a pair of brothers who participated in the crusades, only one of whom returned. Examination of several homes in Warwickshire, close to Stratford-Upon-Avon, has uncovered one particular family – who choose to remain anonymous at this stage – with stories and evidence of adventurous ancient ancestors and persecuted priestly predecessors during the first Elizabeth’s reign.

The letter in which the translation appears describes this priest’s delight at putting his Cambridge training to good use, and the assistance in rendering a polished translation that he received from a friend, a schoolmate from his Stratford days, staying with the family for a while.

But we are here to examine the Pauline letter, so I will not bore you with those superfluous details. Instead, I commend it to you as a faithful translation of the words of an apostle to first century Gentiles: the letter from Paul to Jerusalem.


Very small fragments remain of an epistle from Paul to the church in Jerusalem. The fragments have been preserved with a fuller manuscript of a translation that, by language and carbon dating, appears to have been made in the late 16th century in England; whether by scholars later in involved in the King James Version of the Bible, or some other writer is yet to be determined.


The Second Letter of Paul to Jerusalem

Paul, servant of our Lord, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, separated unto the Gospel of God,

unto the church of Christ which is at Jerusalem, to them that are sanctified in the Holy Spirit, called to be saints;
Grace and peace to you, from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I thank my God for you, who art faithful unto our Lord Jesus, which is known throughout the whole world.

As you will, I trust, have heard by this time in my previous epistle, I have long yearned to be in your company once more, to be filled with the fellowship of brethren in Christ.

Circumstance demands a further brief epistle, for I have been delayed and will not be with you when I did anticipate. Our ship has run itself aground in a most impatient sea, that did roar and stir us from our sleep before putting us down upon some rocks. With fortune, we were not, ourselves, met with damage irreparable – not one among our number bore the mark of drowning and all are well enough. The upshot of our accident is that we are delayed for I know not how long. While I am in this port, however, I encounter daily the simple folk of this small, forgotten island, and find myself intrigued by their veneration of angels and other heavenly beings.

We have listened in wonder to their garbled insistence that it was spirits that hath caused the storm. It is their firm-held opinion that two angels forge a war of jealousy, and never meet on hill, in dale, forest or mead, or on the beached margent of the sea to dance their ringlets to the whistling wind, but with brawls disturb the others’ sport; the winds, as in revenge, then suck up from the sea contagious fogs; and even seasons, yeah the spring, the summer, chiding autumn, angry winter, change their wonted liveries so none can tell them from each other; such progeny of evils come, so say these island dwellers, from this foul dissension betwixt the heavenly beings!

If it were not for the contribution to the saints that I do hold in my protection, and the urgency I now feel, being at last upon my way, to deliver said offering unto its destination, I might feel myself compelled to stay a while among these folk, and proclaim the gospel among them, for surely they have heard it not.

However, it hath pleased them verily, the churches of Christ in Macedonia and Achaia to share with the poor among the saints residing in Jerusalem.

I appeal to you, my brethren, to humbly receive this gift when I at last deliver it unto you; with joy and thanksgiving for the love which hath inspired such generosity.

I will admit some sensation of anxiety as I prepared to make my journey unto Jerusalem, which abateth not, but rather grows, with this delay. The shadows here, the imagined dreamings of these unlearned folk, seem to offend; my slumber is weak and my hands are idle, though some assistance I could surely render to the repairing of the boat.

Great have been our differences, a seeming chasm betwixt your understanding of the gospel and mine own as pertains to its revelation unto the Gentiles. I have prayed with much fervour for the healing of the breach in our relationship, and am impatient to meet with you again, that we might give to each other our hands so we may be friends, to make amends unto each other. God will have mercy upon us all, for we are kindred, one in the self same Spirit of God.

Surely it is of God and through God, and to God, that all things hath being: to God be glory for ever. Amen.

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