Roman culture was not based on a monotheistic god that Jewish people were used to; they had gods for all sorts of things.
Early on, not the first time we met Josephus, but after a bit, he said, ‘There is a festival coming up soon in one of the big temples right in the middle of Rome and I would like to invite you to be part of this festival?’
He was very smart, this man when I look back on it. He never told us, he always asked. He knew how to manipulate us and he knew how to work the audience, even if the audience was only the two of us.
Before we did this first service, Josephus suggested that we might gain better acceptance from the crowds if I changed my name from Saul to the Romanised version which was Paul. And since I wanted to be accepted and my message to be accepted, I went along with the idea. We didn’t see the manipulation that was going on. From then on, I was only known as Paul.
The temple service was one part of a big festival to the rain gods or some other gods, which went on for several days. We’d been told this was how it worked and where we fitted it in. So Omar and I practised because what we were going to do here, was different from our now-standard process. We included a bit about our background because we had to give some context as well as credibility.
The next thing we know, we were preaching – we were told to keep it fairly brief – in this huge temple with hundreds and hundreds of people. It wasn’t like a marketplace where you would expect interaction; here, they were all more respectful and listening.
Our delivery went well and we were well received and Josephus could see us and get feedback. He obviously liked what he heard because then we were encouraged to do more. After we’d been doing it for a month or two, he said would we start including Jesus’ name explaining who he was.
Well, okay, what the paymaster asks, you do. I didn’t have a problem with it; I was quite relieved because I was acknowledging the true source of this material. Not acknowledging Jesus’ name was not being dishonest because it didn’t make any sense here in Rome where it was out of context. But if we were being asked to say this is who he was and give what background we knew, well, that’s what we did.