I'm persuaded that Jesus did not exist. I already thought this was likely, but I regard it as well nigh proven by Richard Carrier's new book, which is the first ever peer-reviewed, university-press book to make the argument.
I did some work on the "Historical Paul" a couple of weeks ago. I'm persuaded by Tyson, among others, that
the orthodox Paul of the NT is a twisted figure of Catholic propaganda,
forced by the writer of Acts to submit to Peter and James - in
contradiction to the forthright, confident, fight-picking Paul of the
Epistles. This fabrication was carried out by Catholic
propagandists to appropriate him from the Marcionite "heretics", who were arguing that Paul had preserved the true gospel and defended its purity against the Jerusalem apostles who had failed to understand Jesus. You can read all about Marcion in chapter 2 of Tyson's book, which is online here. Marcion's particular take was that the God who sent Jesus was not Jehovah, God of the Jews, but a higher, more spiritual, "alien" god, whereas Jehovah, perhaps together with other deities, was a mere demon or angel, a "demiurge" who created and ruled the world of matter and flesh. He thought Paul had taught this, but that the Catholics had corrupted his Epistles to make them acknowledge Jehovah as God and Father.
But I also think Paul's Epistles had already been edited and
interpolated by earlier Catholics, so that although Marcion realised
this and accused the Catholic Church of Judaising them, he did not have access to original texts. Those hypothetical
originals are lost, but we can see from the texts themselves that
somebody has gone through them interpolating passages and verses that
contradict unorthodox messages. In the words of Roger Parvus, for any heterodox zig there has been added a corrective orthodox zag. So now on key points there are two
different messages in the same texts.
What I did was to go through
just Galatians and Romans to isolate what emerged as two separate schemes
of salvation: Paul's original soteriology of release from the Law of the
Torah, and the Proto-Catholic interpolation of substitutionary
fulfilment of the Law.
My table of results is here.
I would suggest that salvation by release from the Law through mystical participation in Jesus' death and resurrection is the original Pauline theology, whereas salvation by substitutionary fulfilment is the Proto-Catholic interpolation. Why is this likely to be so, rather than a combined two-part theory of salvation being authentic, as per Murray, who argues (or so I am informed) that substitutionary fulfilment is "accomplished" by Jesus' death on the cross and "achieved" by human beings when they participate in it through baptism and faith?
Firstly, the release soteriology is logically self-sufficient for salvation without the fulfilment element. If by participating in Jesus' death you have died once already, then you cannot be punished with the death that is due to sinners under the Law: you are free from the power of death and the Law. In other words, you are saved from death. What more is there, logically, to be "accomplished"? For the purpose of salvation from death, the Law, and the consequences of sinning against the Law, it matters not whether the Law be fulfilled, your punishment vicariously served out by Jesus, because it can no longer reach you anyway.
Secondly, Paul says clearly that salvation does not come through the Law: "if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law" and "if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression." Righteousness in God's eyes, the key to salvation, does not come by fulfilment of the Law, but rather by getting yourself into a situation where there is no Law, i.e. a release from it.
The logical separateness and self-sufficiency of the release soteriology points to the lack of necessity for God to be the one from whose Law and punishment your release and salvation are achieved. The Law and its punishments may just as easily be the instrument of demons as of God. I show in the third part of my findings how this makes sense in the light of the Epistles. What the Proto-Catholic Church found in the original Pauline Epistles that offended them, was that the Law was not divine but demonic.
In order to convince Pauline Christians that their texts had been corrupted by "heretics", Proto-Catholics would have added to the zigs of release soteriology the zags of fulfilment soteriology, thereby making God's salvation of humanity from demonic dominion through the sacrifice of his Son and Messiah into the vicarious satisfaction of his own divine justice against them. But in doing so, they produced near-contradictions. For now we read both that righteousness and salvation are not by the Law, and also that salvation was accomplished by Jesus fulfilling the Law. There is a sense in which the contradiction is not quite exact, since Proto-Catholics could read the expanded text as if fulfilment of the Law by Jesus moved salvation out from human fulfilment of the Law. It is difficult to prove my case outright, since alternative manuscript evidence has not been found. But since release soteriology has no need of fulfilment, since the contradiction is so nearly complete, and since my scenario fits with Marcion's allegation that the Epistles had been Judaised by the Catholic Church, the most likely scenario is Proto-Orthodox "correction" of the text.
However, I don't think Marcion was necessarily entirely right about Paul. Whereas Marcion thought the authentic Paul regarded Jehovah as a Law-giving demon and thus Jesus' god as a higher, alien God, I think the authentic Paul may have regarded Jehovah as the non-Law-giving God and lower demon powers as the Law-givers. In other words, that Marcion translated Paul's Jehovah down into demonhood, and imagined a higher God above him, whereas we should think of Jehovah restored to the highest divinity and put demons below him.
If my reconstruction seems plausible, you might be
ready to try swallowing the main course: i.e. that the real Paul was the
arch-heretic Simon Magus!