Date of Graduation

Spring 2009


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Mark Givens


mysticism, transformation, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Paul

Subject Categories



My aim in this thesis is to understand the role of Jewish transformational mysticism in Paul's thought. Jewish transformational mysticism, which can be found in some of the Jewish apocalypses of the Second Temple period and in mystical texts of Late Antiquity, is an ancient phenomenon in which seekers of the divine speak of glorious metamorphoses upon encountering the celestial world. These mystics claim experiences of transformation of several types, including bodily, spiritual, mental, visual, or audible, and these experiences always come about in the present life. I argue that Paul the Apostle articulates his own brand of transformational mysticism in his letters in fitting with his Jewish mystical contemporaries. Whereas Paul adopts straightway many of the chief concerns of his mystical contemporaries, he also modifies them to fit his own rhetorical purposes. Paul is a missionary and a pastor and concerns himself with particular situations facing his beloved Christian congregations––congregations to whom he writes hortatory epistles addressing their needs and concerns. In 2 Corinthians, Paul defends his gospel mission and message against the assertion that his feeble appearance and failing body invalidate the grandiose claims of his life-giving gospel. He tells them that, while the outer body is dying, the inner person is becoming gloriously transformed in the presence of God. Similarly, in Philippians, Paul opposes a segment of critics who surmise that earthly regards––concerns of the flesh––are all that matter. To this congregation, which is struggling with the difficulties brought on by their faith, Paul describes believers as a transformed colony, one which has taken on the very substance of the heavenly realm. Jewish transformational mysticism thus holds a significant place in Paul's thought, as it shapes his understanding of the life of the believer and the mystical changes taking place on the interior even when exterior circumstances suggest otherwise.


© Tyson Lee Putthoff

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