M. Saban argues for an already well organized and fundamentally Pauline Christian church in the second century, one that was established in Greco-Roman society. Most of the converts were composed of former pagans. But at the same time the leaders could have been Jewish Christians. Many of the new Christians only wanted to admit within their communities the Jews who were "de-Judaized" and actually "Gentilized," those who completely departed from the observance of the law of Moses.
But it is also true that in a few communities of Jewish Christians the transfer from Judaism to "Christianity", or conversely, the return to normative Judaism, was common until the late fourth century, a time that fixed as a result of dogmatic decisions regarding the nature of the Messiah taken by the Council of Nicaea and later those of Ephesus and Chalcedon.
M. Saban correctly understands Paul on many points, in my opinion. Our views on the central problem of Pauline theology (namely the relationship of the Gentiles to the Mosaic Law) are actually pretty similar––and we have never discussed our views with one another. My book Guía para entender a Pablo de Tarso: Una interpretación del pensamiento paulino (tr. Guide to Understanding Paul of Tarsus: An Interpretation of Pauline Thought), published by Editorial Trotta here in Spain and Saban's are absolutely independent works. And in places, particularly with respect to Paul, they arrive at the same conclusion.
Here is one of Saban's conclusions: "Saulo de Tarso como judío nunca abandonó la circuncisión como rito de entrada al judaísmo. . . . Y si en la era mesiánica el funcionamiento de la Torá era espiritual y no formal, ¿para qué obedecer los ritos de la Torá si llegaba el final de la historia?" (tr. "Saul of Tarsus as a Jew never abandoned circumcision as a rite of passage into Judaism. . . . And if in the messianic era the function of the Torah was spiritual and not formal, why then obey the rites of the Torah if you had reached the end of history?") (p. 447). According to Saban, Paul was a Jewish mystic, although the first to understand that the Torah worked in a different way during the Messianic era. The "ceremonial" part of the Law (circumcision, ritual food purity) should be understood literally by those who were "genetically" Jews (Jews by nature) as it was a national legislation; but in a spiritual and mystical way by the Gentile Christians, which meant that they were not bound to observe that part of the Law to the letter, but spiritually. He concludes that such an interpretation was actually very Jewish in its background and not counterposed to a view held by a Pharisee.
I must confess, however, that out of this, in the background of Paul's interpretation, there is considerable diversity among Saban's view and my own in our respective hypothesis. According to Saban, Paul tried to solve the legal problem of the fearful of God within Israel. And he even suggests that Paul's doctrine came from the pearls of Diaspora Jews (and also Judeo-Christian's), who often laxly observed the Law. This view of the Law and Gentiles was justified, since it was sufficient to believe in the Messiah of Israel to keep observing not the law to the letter, but only the laws of Noah, which was the essence of the Law. Paul preached the "good news" (Gospel) and experienced a lot of a success because it met the needs of internationalization of Jewish monotheism sensed by Diaspora Jews.
This idea is embodied in an interesting statement of Saban, which is not usually seen in the usual books on Paul of Tarsus. Here is the quote: With respect to a national figure of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel,
"se tenía que perfilar entonces una imagen de un Jesús internacional como mesías al mismo tiempo de los judíos y de los gentiles. Y esto se lo debemos al judío Saulo de Tarso. Pero no pensemos que absolutamente todo se lo debemos al judío Pablo, sino que realmente lo que hizo el judío Saúl de Tarso fue captar la necesidad moral del mundo gentil, y la necesidad identitaria del judaísmo helenístico de la Diáspora” (tr. "an international image of Jesus as Messiah had to be drawn up, one that would be attractive to the Jews and the Gentiles at the same time. And this we owe to Saul of Tarsus, the Jew. But do not think that we owe absolutely everything to Paul the Jew. But what actually made the Jew Saul of Tarsus was to capture the moral necessity of the Gentile world, and identity need of Hellenistic Judaism of the Diaspora." (p. 77)As I say, Saban's perspective, one of a historian, is somewhat different from mine. Saban does not take into his consideration of Paul some of the theological background that I do in my study, which ought to weigh in on a study of Pauline thought of the theology of the restoration of Israel; compliance, finally, the desire expressed in the Shema (a prayer every Jew should pray three times a day, which begins: "Hear O Israel: Your God is one God") and the full realization, at least at the end of the times, of the third part of God's promise to Abraham, "I will make you a father of many nations" (Gen. 17:5).
Although Saban is familiar with this, certain considerations do not make their way into his book, such as the clear Pauline idea that the world was going to end during his lifetime, as he argued very clearly in 1 Thess. 4:17: "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." My position on the basis of Paul's thought is that this was a much more theological than legal mentality.
I think Saban tiptoes on these notions that I have listed and they should have had a greater presence in his book: an increased emphasis on Paul's desire that the Shema be fulfilled, the restoration of Israel, and the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that had three parts, not two. Likewise perhaps it should have emphasized––with the same ideas––Paul's theological point of view and not so much the legal view, even without denying it . . . of course.
I also think that in the apostle Paul there is hardly a direct political theology, since the end of the world was for him just around the corner. Because of that he probably had very few legal concerns. I must insist: I do not deny there were some . . . but they were very few in number. In contrast, Saban writes as follows:
"La teología paulina . . . es producto de una preocupación ‘judía’ de Pablo y no representa una teología tendiente a la conversión de los gentiles fuera del ámbito sinagogal. Lamentablemente la interpretación posterior del cristianismo es que la idea de Pablo fue la de expandir el mesianismo de modo público (como en Atenas); sin embargo, su preocupación teológica provenía de su estrategia para resolver el problema del status de los gentiles dentro de las sinagogas" (tr. "Pauline theology ... is the product of a 'Jewish' concern of Paul and does not represent a theology focused on the conversion of the Gentiles outside the synagogue area. Unfortunately, the subsequent interpretation of Christianity is that Paul's idea was to expand the messianism in a public manner (as in Athens); however, his theological concern stemmed from his strategy to solve the problem of the status of the Gentiles in the synagogues"). (p. 68)