The Dead Sea scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran are probably the best preserved document of pre-Christian ideology. They are from the Roman era, but they were never “edited” by the Roman empire. Both the writing style and the contents reflect the real thinking of the pre-Christian era. The date of the Dead Sea Scrolls has not been determined for sure yet. One theory has it that the Essenes who wrote it predate Jesus (they are not mentioned in the New Testament), and that therefore Jesus was just one of them. One theory is that they were written right after Jesus’ death and that they represent early Christian thinking (the Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament precisely because the New Testament is written by Essenes). In the latter case, James the Just would then be a protagonist of the story, whereas Jesus would be only a marginal figure, a sort of magician who happened to become famous.
But there is disagreement on when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. They deal at length with a good man and with an evil man who were fighting for control of the “movement”. If the Dead Sea Scrolls predate Jesus, then Jesus was the product of a culture that had been around for a while and we may never find out who the two protagonists were. If the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the early Christians, then a strong possibility is that James is the good man and Paul is the evil man (challenging James’ doctrine). But then the Dead Sea Scroll don’t talk of Jesus at all. Why wouldn’t a Christian text talk of Jesus at all?
Nag Hammadi and the gnostics
Nag Hammadi is the place in Egypt where a library of ancient scripts was found in the 1940s. It includes a number of Christian documents, known as the “gnostic” gospels. These gospels provide a glimpse of what Christianity may have been at the very beginning, before being contaminated by political power. For example, one gospel clearly states that it is the gospel of the “twin of Jesus” Judas. That gospel is completely different from the official gospels not only because it doesn’t chronicle miracles but because it depicts Jesus as a Buddhist-style cryptic wise man.
The gnostics (as well as the disposyni/desposini) disappeared after 381, when Theodosius made heresy a crime and (presumably) persecutions began against anybody who argued with the Roman dogma.
For a long time gnostics have been viewed as opposed to “Pauline Christianity”, Christianity as it is today. But now we know that the gnostics actually revered Paul and considered one of theirs. We also know that only seven of the 13 letters attributed to Paul are authentic and one can suspect that the other six were written to prove something that was not proven in the original seven.
(Some of the letters appear for the first time with Irenaeus, in 190, the same man who codified the official gospels and must have been to be fakes because not even the Christian historian Eusebius included them in his version of the bible). If one removes the fakes, the originals are strikingly similar to gnostic literature and not a single attack against the gnostics remains. So much so that early Roman letters (such as Clement’s and even Peter’s) accuse Paul of being a heretic. Commentators have long speculated that there may have been a rift between Paul and James.
Paul’s authentic letters talk of allegories (Galatians, 4/24) and symbols (Corinthians 10/6) as if to warn against a literal interpretation of the old testament, and depict a philosophy not too different by the Platonism preached by Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of Jesus). Could it this be the reason why he was so disliked by Peter and James and why he was so popular with Romans and Greeks?
One can toy with the idea that Paul was such an influential person from the very beginning of Christianity that he could not be dismissed by the Roman church. At the same time, Paul may have been the true founder of Christianity, but not what today we regard as Paul’s Christianity, rather just about the opposite: the gnostics may have been closer to Paul’s ideology. When the gnostics were persecuted, Paul’s ideology was simply “tweaked” with the fake letters so that it would support the Roman ideology. Thus Paul could be involuntarily be regarded as the founder of today’s Christianity when in fact he was preaching something else and had no idea future generations would distort his teachings.