AN ATHEISTIC BIBLE READING OF ACTS OF THE APOSTLES CHAPTER 13
Saul (still not yet re-named as Paul as the chapter starts), and his post-crucifixion Apostle friend, Barnabus, embarks on a systematic program of evangelism that eventually leads them to Cyprus.
At Paphos, they encounter a false messiah, calling himself Bar-Jesus. He is also known as Elymas The Sorcerer. Saul, no stranger to blindness, uses prayer to the supposedly real Jesus to strike the pretender blind. The event is witnessed by the deputy leader of the Cypriote people, who quickly converts to Christianity (having almost been taken in by Elymas.
At this stage, the name Paul is used more frequently than Saul, which is gradually phased out entirely. No reason is given for the change of identity for S/Paul, and it may have arisen from a misprint, though a section of the text where he consciously changes his name might have been lost in the mists of time.
Paul heads to Pamphyla. John and others head back to Jerusalem.
Paul heads to Antioch where he and his closest friends witness sermons in a Jewish synagogue. They are welcomed by the rabbis and even invited to address the congregations themselves.
Paul gives a potted history of the Old Testament and brings the stories up to the execution of Jesus, again involving him being nailed to a tree rather than a wooden cross (that was obviously once a tree).
Paul sets out to offend the Jews of Antioch by reminding that while King David was human, and not averse to sin, and crime, Jesus was divine and pure of heart.
When the Jews take umbrage with their beloved David being denounce as corrupted, Paul warns them not to resort to anger against him or other Christians. He tells them that valence from them against Christians will unleash God’s apocalyptic wrath and God will smite the former Chosen People with all manner of catastrophes.
Paul further upsets the Jews of Antioch by pointing out that Gentiles who have converted to Christianity are in many ways better people than the Jews. This is an incredibly anti-Semitic outburst, bravely presented in a crowded synagogue.
The Jews cast Paul and Barnabus out of their temple. The Apostles shake the dust of Antioch from their feet and move on, heading for Iconium.
The chapter shows Paul’s ruthlessness in crushing the opposition beliefs. His blinding of Bar-Jesus is quite brutal, and it is unclear if this is temporary (as Saul’s had been) or permanent. The miraculous attack shows Paul is powerful while Bar-jesus is powerless to counter the spell inflicted and therefore a phoney Messiah.
Paul’s conflict with the Jews of Antioch seems uncompromising and confrontational. He has a definite ‘you are for us or against us’ attitude here.