Another Polite Bribe

Another Polite Bribe October 5, 2013

I had the chance to finish watching the documentary A Polite Bribe, which I blogged about briefly on a previous occasion, and so now want to say more about it.

I honestly cannot think of another single documentary film about the Bible which has such a wide array of the very best and best-known scholars from around the world in it. The movie would be worth watching just to hear those scholars speak, even if they only spoke in the proportion that is common in documentaries. But scholars speaking makes up the vast majority of the film’s verbal component. And in addition to hearing scholars speak clearly and compellingly about Paul, you’ll also get to hear Ben Witherington do an impression of a mafia godfather.

The film offers even more than that. It explores Paul’s entire life story, with nicely animated artistic depictions of scenes from his life and the world he inhabited. It places Paul’s emphases and actions against the background of his historical setting, such as the Caligula crisis, or the patronage system of reciprocity, or Greek thinking about the body and how it impacted the reaction to Paul’s talk about Jesus being raised from the dead.

As with any movie about Biblical matters, there are things that seemed puzzling or problematic. It sounded as though it was being assumed at one point that “Nazarene” was a particular type of temple servant, a claim that has no basis that I can think of. And there is information that is offered as though it is clearly evidenced – such as the way that the collection would have been transported to protect the money – which has no basis in the New Testament sources. It may be the most likely way he would have proceeded, based on sources from the ancient world about normative practices for transporting money. But it could have been indicated that it is a deduction based on such information, rather than something that we “know” Paul and his travel companions did.

But the movie also has some really intriguing scholarly proposals on how to understand some of the details in the New Testament, such as that James had Paul use the money from the offering he brought to pay the cost of purification for some individuals who had taken a nazirite vow. Did this represent a rejection of the offering by James? Or was this a way of “purifying” money that was thought to be tainted with impurity because of where it has come from? The movie also includes very useful comparisons – such as when John Dominic Crossan compares the accusation that Paul had brought a Gentile into the part of the temple where Gentiles were not allowed, to an accusation that someone had brought a non-Muslim to Mecca during the Hajj; or when Edgar Krentz compares the impact of the destruction of Jerusalem on Christianity to what the impact on Catholicism would be if an atomic bomb destroyed Vatican City.

The movie concludes with interesting questions, such as what Jesus would have had to say if he had lived to see what James and Paul did with the movement he started.

I highly recommend this film. Anyone, whether they be a scholar or just someone interested in the figure of Paul or the history of early Christianity, will find something in it that is interesting and thought-provoking.

The movie website has a free pdf ebook that you can download, which illustrates the contents of the film, including the art. The theatrical distribution is being done by TUGG and you can find more information on their website.

Once again, discussion of Paul’s offering to the Jerusalem church from the Gentile churches is also taking place in the blogosphere, in particular on the blog Paul and His Co-workers. There, Richard Fellows has posted a lengthy interaction with Robert Orlando, the filmmaker behind A Polite Bribe. And Robert Orlando has published an article about Alan Segal in The Huffington Post, while Larry Hurtado posted about Alan on his blog. The film is dedicated to his memory.


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  • Robert Orlando


    1) While, you are right, we cannot know for certain, there is sufficient background research for the nature of the gold collection and why Paul would have wanted or did indeed have armed guards.

    a) Jerome Murphy O’Connor in his Book “Paul His Story” pgs 208-209 suggests that Paul would have wanted armed guards but could not have afforded them, but rather used “absolute secrecy” which meant, sewing the gold into his (their) garments.

    b) I have copied a passage from my book A Polite Bribe: An Apostle’s Final Bid, which also offers more perspective and endnotes for the transportation of the gold and the presence of “armed guards.”

    “So the money had to be delivered by representatives…” “…it would be a
    heartwarming moment for the Apostle to the Gentiles, who had known only ethnic strife. It would be a moment he had hoped for, when men of all nations would come to honor the God of Israel at the House of Zion (Zechariah 8:20-23). Among Paul’s Gentile travelers were probably retired Roman soldiers from Macedonia and Philippi, men who could handle a sword.[i] He had two or three Gentile representatives from each region, equaling about twenty men. Each man was a symbol of his community in honor of the Mother Church. The cast of diverse travelers made it a proper collection that would do away with all doubt as to its legitimacy and clearly lay bare the good will of
    all these congregations. At least, that’s what Paul hoped.[ii]

    [i] Macedonians may have been chosen because of their previous military experience: see Hans Dieter Betz, 2nd Corinth, 8, 1985, 52.

    [ii] For more on Paul’s insistence on certain practices regarding money, see F.
    F. Bruce, 1999, 459. Also, see Francis Watson, 1986, 174-76 for Paul’s hopes and fears surrounding his collection.

    2) Also, I found a body of research from bible scholars and historians regarding this idea of James as a “Nazarene” and the role of the group in Jewish History. Here is a passage with citing from the APB book.

    ” James was a Nazarene, which meant he worked at the Temple, collected alms, and would have been extremely knowledgeable about Jewish laws and customs. James was called “James the Just,” or “James the Righteous,” which bespoke his standing in the community. He was known as a man of the Torah, of great prayer, the one with calloused “camel knees.”[i]

    [i] Jerome (342-420 CE), basing his knowledge on Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, and the Jewish historian Josephus, writes in his Lives of Illustrious Men that “[James] alone enjoyed the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since, indeed, he did not wear woolen, but only linen clothes, and went into the Temple alone and prayed on behalf of the people, so that his knees were reputed to have acquired the callousness of a camel’s knees,” and that after Jesus departed “was immediately appointed Bishop of Jerusalem by the Apostles.”Chapter 2.

    • That James was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, when he clearly wasn’t a high priest, is not at all plausible. And I suspect that the source(s) that you are drawing on may reflect some confusion between Nazarene and nazirite.

      • Robert Orlando


        Just as some more background…

        From Jewish Encyclopedia, a definition of “Nazarene” (the Nazarite vows originate from this very group).

        Sect of primitive Christianity; it appears to have embraced all those Christians who had been born Jews and who neither would nor could give up their Jewish mode of life. They were probably the descendants of the Judæo-Christians who had fled to Pella before Titus destroyed Jerusalem; afterward most of them, like the Essenes in former times, with whom they had some characteristics in common, lived in the waste lands around the Dead Sea, and hence remained out of touch with the rest of Christendom.

        For a long time they were regarded as irreproachable Christians, Epiphanius (“Hæres.” xxix.), who did not know much about them, being the first to class them among heretics. Why they are so classed is not clear, for they are reproached on the whole with nothing more than with Judaizing. As there were many Judaizing Christians at that time, the Nazarenes can not be clearly distinguished from the other sects. The well-known Bible translator Symmachus, for example, is described variously as a Judaizing Christian and as an Ebionite; while his followers, the Symmachians, are called also “Nazarenes” (Ambrosian, “Proem in Ep. ad Gal.,” quoted in Hilgenfeld, “Ketzergesch.” p. 441). It is especially difficult to distinguish the Nazarenes from the Ebionites. Jerome obtained the Gospel according to the Hebrews (which, at one time regarded as canonical, was later classed among the Apocrypha) directly from the Nazarenes, yet he ascribed it not only to them but also to the Ebionites (“Comm. in Matt.” xii. 13). This gospel was written in Aramaic, not in Hebrew, but it was read exclusively by those born as Jews. Jerome quotes also fragments from the Nazarenic exposition of the Prophets (e.g., of Isa. viii. 23 [in the LXX. ix. 1]). These are the only literary remains of the Nazarenes; the remnants of the Gospel according to the Hebrews have recently been collated by Preuschen in “Antilegomena” (pp. 3-8, Giessen, 1901).

        For a thorough reading of the significance and stature of James in the Jerusalem Temple Context, see Richard Baukham’s work here

        As for the Opposition from James, in the APB book I write…

        “Hans Betz in his commentary on Galatians offers this insight: “It
        is clear from other passages that James had a special position in primitive Christianity, which was expressed by his title ’the brother of the Lord.’ Apparently, he was not regarded as an ‘Apostle’ or as one of ’the Twelve.’ The question also arises, why does Paul mention the names of Cephas and James? He most likely does so because of the fact that the opposition derives its authority from these two men.”[i]

        [i] Betz, 1979, 79. Betz argues that opposition to Paul defines James in the traditions of the Jewish Christian communities “in Gal 2:11-14 and continues in the Jewish Christian groups of the second century.”

        As to James’ ability to freely enter the Holy of Holies, I did not use the Apocryphal writings frequently, which would have strongly supported my APB narrative!, but rather was “very selective” when I thought the Apocryphal writings concurred with the consensus of the scholars re: the more traditional biblical history. Yet, some of these passages remain hard to ignore.

        Here is another quote about James and his righteousness, even to the point of entering the Temple.

        “To James alone, it was allowed to enter once a year into the Holy of Holies [the innermost sanctum of the Temple], because he was a Nazirite and connected to the priesthood. Hence Mary was related in two ways to Elizabeth [John the Baptist’s mother] and James was a distinguished member of the priesthood, because the two tribes alone were linked to one another, the royal tribe to the priestly,” (Panarion of Epiphanius, 30).

        • You’ve been misinformed about the nazirite vow. It is found in Numbers 6 and is an ancient practice that has nothing to do with early Christianity, other than that in Acts we have mentions of people taking them. There were subsequently Christians who came to be known as “Nazarenes” but again, that is because of their connection with Jesus of Nazareth, and not because they were nazirites.

          Epiphanius’ statement simply illustrates that some Christians in later times were unaware of how things had worked when the temple stood. Even if James had been of priestly descent, unless he were the actual high priest, he would not have been permitted to enter the holy of holies.

          • Robert Orlando


            1. It is debatable where the source of the name originates from, but there is a body of research that suggests that it predates Jesus.

            a) From my research, the “Nazarenes” though, later associated with Jesus “from Nazareth,” and being eventually associated with “the Ebionites” in the 2nd century, had a history dating back to the Maccabean revolt. Sampson was a “Nazarene,” who took the “Nazarite Vow.” The term Nazarite vow comes from the group called “the Nazarenes or “Nazarites.”

            b) “The sources say Notzerim (also spelled Notzrim or Nozrim) is THE Hebrew word for the English word Nazarenes. They are one and the same. The Church Fathers called this heretical Jewish-Christian movement Nazarenes. The scholars debate whether the origin of the name applied to the Nazarene movement was from nazarite or the city of Nazareth.”

            2. The name means the same, Nazarene, A nazirite or nazarite, (inHebrew: נזיר, nazir), refers to a Jew who took the ascetic vow described in Bible verse |Numbers|6:1-21|HE. The term “nazirite” comes from theHebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”. This vow required the man or woman to:
            Abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, and according to some – alcohol and vinegar from alcohol
            Refrain from cutting the hair on one’s head
            Avoid corpses and graves, even those of family members, and any structure which contains such
            After following these requirements for a designated period of time (which would be specified in the individual’s vow, and not to be less than 30 days), the person would immerse in a Mikvah and make three offerings, a lamb as a burnt offering (olah), a ewe as a sin-offering(hatat), and a ram as a peace offering (shelamim), in addition to a basket of unleavened bread, grain offerings and drink offerings, which accompanied the peace offering.
            The nazirite is described as being “holy unto the LORD” (Bible verse |Numbers|6:8|HE), yet at the same time must bring a sin offering. This contradiction has led to divergent approaches to the nazirite in theTalmud, and later authorities.

            3. In my book, I show how the movement of the Nazarenes, or “Nazarites,” was historically rooted in the Maccabean revolution, how they are referred to as “The Poor (Gal 2:10?)” and how the group lived in Apocalyptic expectation. Here is one endnote.

            In the Hebrew Bible, a Nazirite
            (in Hebrew:
            נזיר, nazir), refers to one who voluntarily
            took a vow described in Numbers 6:1–21.
            The proper noun “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word nazir
            meaning “consecrated” or “separated”. Chilton, Bruce and Jacob Neusner. The brother of
            Jesus : James the Just and his mission. Louisville, Ky. Westminster John Knox
            Press, c2001, pgs 155-156. Also see Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 52 for
            more about the Nazarite sect. For discussion of the various meanings of “the
            poor” in Jerusalem, see Dieter Georgi, Remembering the Poor: The History of Paul’s
            Collection for Jerusalem
            (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992), 33-35 and Martin Dibelius, 1975, 39 (for
            poor as those deserving “divine favor”),
            39-45 (for discussion of James speaking “in behalf of the poor and
            against the rich”), and 43 (for “the poor’” as having “apocalyptic

            Perhaps one day, I can send the whole book? Or we can meet (screening?) and discuss in depth?

          • Some of that material in quotation marks is from an old anonymous Geocities site, which I see no good reason for you to trust as a reliable source of information. Nazirite and Nazarene are from different roots, despite the deceptive similarity in the English spellings. Zayin and tsade are often both transliterated with “z” in English, which creates confusion. And there is a third term, Nazorean, which complicates matters further. But it remains the case that there is no justification for running together a term referring to a type of vow which involved foregoing grape products and anything fermented, and a term related to the name of a village in Galilee.

            It would indeed be great to read your book – I’d be happy to blog about it! And hopefully someday we can meet and talk in person!

          • Robert Orlando

            Hello James! James Tabor also wrote on the subject of the Nazarenes and the origins of the group prior to Jesus at the link below.


          • I am not seeing in that post things that would support the way you were interpreting the term. Are you seeing something there that I am not?

          • Robert Orlando

            If I were guessing I would think the designation “Nazarene” was likely used by outsiders for the group, whereas the term Ebionite was more likely used within the group as a self-description. It seems significant that the Dead Sea community also used this term Ebionite or “Poor Ones” to refer to their own movement (CD 19:9; 1QSb 5:21). This movement, that Josephus and others label as Essene (possibly from ‘Ossim, meaning “Doers of Torah”), who wrote or collected the Dead Sea Scrolls, pioneered certain aspects of this “Way” over 150 years before the birth of Jesus (see my recent post, “What Kind of a Jew was Jesus?”here). They were a wilderness (out in the Arava, near the Dead Sea–based on Isaiah 40:3), baptizing (mikveh of repentance as entrance requirement into their fellowship), new covenant, messianic/apocalyptic group. They believed they were the final generation and would live to see the end and the coming of the Messiahs of Aaron and of Israel (the two anointed ones–priest and king). They saw themselves as the remnant core of God’s faithful people—preparing the Way for the return of YHVH’s Glory (Kavod) as set forth in Isaiah 40-66. They too referred to themselves as the Way, the Poor, the Saints, the New Covenanters, Children of Light, and so forth. Perhaps their most common designation was the Yachad–the brotherhood or community, and they referred to themselves as brother and sister. They were bitterly opposed to the corrupt Priests in Jerusalem, to the Herods, and even to the Pharisees whom they saw as compromising with that establishment to get power and influence from the Hellenistic/Roman powers. They had their own developedHalacha (interpretation of Torah), some aspects of which Jesus picks up (ideal of no divorce, not using oaths, etc.). They followed one they called the True Teacher (Teacher of Righteousness) whom most scholars believe lived in the 1st century BCE and was opposed and possibly killed by the Hasmonean King/Priests at the instigation of the Pharisees. John the Baptizer seems to arise out of this context and rekindle the apocalyptic fervor of the movement in the early decades of the first century CE. Jesus joined this movement and it remains our best insight into the conceptual world of an apocalyptic, messianic, movement of this period, akin to the Jesus movement.

          • But what in that seems to you to support the claim that Nazarene denoted a particular type of temple servant?

          • Robert Orlando

            Nazarenes or “Notzrim”

            a) Like Pharisaism they believed in a Messiah, resurrection, angels, spirits, HaSatan, and the supernatural.
            b) They attended synagogue, Temple, still took Nazarite vows with the sacrifices they entailed (sin and guilt offerings), kept the feasts
            c) They accepted the Torah and obeyed it. They also believed in the other books in the Tanach and the writings of the Brit Hadasha as they became available. (They knew their proper context, which often alludes us.)
            d) They accepted the customs of Judaism. By customs we mean the Greek word ethos and it relates to the laws of Moses (Acts 6:14, 21:21).
            e) They did not in all cases accept the traditions (Greek is paradoses) or Halacha as laid down by the Pharisees.
            f) They were evangelistic to both Jews and Gentiles (some sects of Pharisaism did the same).
            g) They believed that Yeshua was the Messiah, divine, and eternal.

            as for James…

            Ya’acov, Yeshua’s brother, was leader of the Nazarene sect and had been for probably 20 years or more. In 62 AD, according to Josephus, Ya’acov was arrested by the chief priest (a Sadducee) at a time that there was no Roman ruler in Jerusalem. The chief priest had him thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple and since that did not kill him, he was then clubbed to death. Ya’acov had been well respected by non-Yeshua believers. He spent much time at the Temple in prayer. When the new governor came to Jerusalem, Ya’acov’s death was protested. By whom? The Pharisees! Would they have done this if he wasn’t a part of Judaism and was part of a heretical new religion? Of course not! His death was a blow to the Nazarene community because he had been its leader for so long. He was replaced by a cousin of Yeshua’s-Shimon ben Clopha-who was chosen by the elders. Ben Clopha served for about 50 years. In the last 18 years until the Bar Kochba rebellion the Nazarenes had 13 different leaders (all Jewish). After bar Kochba Gentiles headed the believers in Yeshua in Jerusalem.

            I have also read that their role at the Temple in preparing for the coming Messiah “might” have been one of the reasons the collections needed to be handled by outsiders. In order that the work would be done unfettered by more domestic concerns. It’s only worth mentioning for me, because I think this plays so much into the backdrop of the relationship between James and Paul and also gives voice to why the collection would have been of so much influence and NOT simply a collection for poor people.