Saturday, 30 October 2010

The existence of other gods

Do the religions of the Bible recognise other gods, and do they truly worship a monotheistic god. 
It could be argued that the god of the Bible, God/Allah/Jehovah/Yahweh, is the only god. If so, then who is Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, and Satan, and the angels and especially the Archangels? Are they mere bystanders? The supporting cast, as it were?

We know that the Bible writers did believe that other gods exist:
Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness... 
Exodus 7:1 1 And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.
Exodus 20:3 You shall have no other gods before me.
Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
There’s no argument on that point, the god of the Bible makes it quite clear that other gods are not to be worshipped.

But what about the other beings, in heaven (where I am told God has his head offices), and sometimes working on earth to further his ends:
Genesis 3:24  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden  of Eden cherubim...
Genesis 16:7  The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert...
Genesis 19:1  The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening...
Deuteronomy 33:2  ...He came with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes.
Joshua 5:14 ...Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, What message does my Lord have for his servant?
Judges 2:1 The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt ...
1 Kings 19:5  ... All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat."
2 Kings 1:15  The angel of the LORD said to Elijah...
1 Chronicles 32:21 And the LORD sent an angel...
2 Sam 24:16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem...
Daniel 4:13  "In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven.
Jude 1:6 6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains...
They might argue that angels and Satan are not gods, and that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are all part of the “God” figure. The fact remains that the biblical religions believe in more than a single all-encompassing god figure and especially when you add all the saints into the mix as well. Roman Catholicism is definitely not a monotheistic religion, and since all western Christianity was formulated by the Roman Catholic Church in the first place, Christianity is not monotheistic.

And then there is Satan. What position does he actually fulfill, is he a god? If he is worshipped by Satanists, then Satanism is merely another form of biblical god-worship and he then becomes another ‘god’ of the Bible.

1 Chronicles 21:1  Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
Job 1:6  One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.
Job 2:3  Then the LORD said to Satan....
Zechariah 3:1  ... The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! ...
Matthew 4:1  Then Jesus was... tempted by the devil.
Luke 22:31  "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
Acts 5:3  Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to ...
2 Thessalonians 2:9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan ...
1 Timothy 1:20  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Whether you regard Satan, or the “devil” as a demon or a god, the fact remains that if you recognise him, and assign power over your ‘soul’ to him, you are not practicing monotheism.

Then there are the Archangels:
Luke 1:19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.
Luke 1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth
Jude 1:9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses...
Revelation 12:7-8 And there was war in heaven Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon ....
Are they greater than other angels? Apparently so. If that is the case, then there is even more validity to the argument that the religions of the Bible are inundated with beings to worship, from the head honcho, “God” through his son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (if you believe in those) to the archangels and the hosts of other angels and the devil. And even more of them if you count all the various saints.

As I read through the Bible, more incongruities in this supposed “God-inspired” work sprung out at me, such as who is the “Morning Star,” Lucifer (Satan) or Jesus?
Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! [how] art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 
Revelation 22:16 I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
Then there is the question of the “Order of Melchizedek,” an ancient order of priests, also adopted into the Bible, and possibly one of the gods worshipped before the monotheistic god of the people of Palestine was defined (note the word “Elohim” meaning “God” or “Gods” applied in this extract from the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Melchizedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchizedek will proclaim the "Day of Atonement" and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.
Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) 19 He blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 Worthy of praise is the Most High God, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. 
Psalms 110:4 The LORD has sworn And will not relent, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem [and] priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he returned from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,
And finally, to point out again that the god worshipped by the people of Canaan and the modern-day God of the New Testament, is not the same “God” although I’m told he is. The God of the Old Testament made himself known to his believers, he spoke to them personally, although there is confusion, he either did or he didn’t...or sometimes, only his “back parts.”
Genesis. 17:1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him...
Genesis. 18:1 Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre...
Exodus 6:2-3  :God spoke further to Moses and said to him...
Exodus 24:9-11 :Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10and they saw the God of Israel; ...
Exodus 33:11 And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, ...
Exodus 33:20 But He [God] said,  You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live ! 
Exodus 33:20-23 ... and thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not be seen. 
Numbers. 12:6-8 He said,  Hear now My words If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.  I shall speak with him in a dream. 7 Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; 8With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses ? 
Acts 7:2 And he [Stephen] said, 'Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran...' 
 John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time;...
 John 5:37 And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 
 John 6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, ...
1 Tim. 6:15-16 He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings ... whom no man has seen or can see...
Thus, it seems that even the Bible, the inerrant word of God is confused about the form that this god takes. He is sometimes a single, all-powerful god, but at others needs the assistance of angels. He has a nemesis who is sometimes worshipped by people who deny the head god and some alter-egos, Jesus and the Holy Ghost. There was also an ancient order of priests who bowed to a god, Melchizedek, and then there is the visibility problem. It seems that before Jesus, he was quite happy to appear to his chosen individuals but afterwards, not. This is not monotheism.

Monotheism, is, like the religion of Akhenaten, the worship of one single being, or thing, in the Egyptian king’s case, the sun-disc, perhaps with priests to intercede between the god and the people, and to explain his/her policies and requirements. Biblical religion is not this way, there are just too many heavenly characters involved and therefore, no matter how hard they argue, people who believe in any religion related to the Bible, in recognising all the characters in the heavenly pantheon, are not monotheists.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Inerrant word of God

In the next few posts, I’m going to talk about how people who believe in the Bible claim that it is the “inerrant word of God,” how it promotes high moral and family values and so on. 

While I don’t want to go into the specifics of the creation, having done that already, I want to know how believers reconcile inerrancy and two versions of the same story, especially in the creation.

Those of us who follow science documentaries and who read non-fiction are aware of both Georges LemaĆ®tre’s theory of the Big Bang theory and the Theory of Evolution. Creationists argue that they are “merely theories” and that “theories” are not the truth. Perhaps at the time that the word ‘theory’ was formulated, the word had the correct meaning and that the idea of every hare-brained thought that individuals come up with hadn’t yet achieved the status of ‘theory.’ A theory is not some silly nonsense thought up as an idea, it is a well-structured and well-thought-out conclusion arrived at after testing and retesting. An idea is thought up, on testing it becomes a hypothesis and then only after rigorous testing and peer-review, does it become a “theory.” Thus the two big theories that disprove the existence of God are not the mere thumb-sucking ideas of deluded individuals.

When God creates light in Genesis, within the same chapter, the writer contradicts himself:
Genesis 1 3-5 And God said, Let there be light and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.  
Genesis 1:16-17 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.    
When he creates animals and people, at least the writer starts a new chapter for the second version:
Genesis 1:25-26 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind and God saw that is was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness... 
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  
Genesis 2:18-19 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air... 
Genesis 2:21-22 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 
Wouldn’t it have made sense for the writers, or compilers of the books, to have checked that they were telling the same story, if they were planning to attempt to convince people that what they were writing was God-inspired?
But then, not only that, after having confused their followers about how the universe and animals and people arrived on the earth, they go further and make an attempt to explain something else, possibly the lengths of the lives they assign to their characters, or, possibly the presence of fossils:
Genesis 6:1-4 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them. That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they [were] fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] to them, the same [became] mighty men which [were] of old, men of renown.
Does this refer to actual giants, or are they metaphorical giants, great leaders of the people, which may be the explanation for the use of the word “renown?” 

Surely this first bit of writing which contradicts itself and, with the added fantasy of Adam and Eve and the talking snake, should cause modern people to seriously question whether they should believe anything else that the book says. 

I’m not going to repeat what I’ve already written in previous posts. This one is merely to introduce, not only the flaws in the Bible, but how, rather than promote morality and good values, the Bible undermines our natural drive towards morality and to treat ourselves and others well. 

Some of the subjects I’ll be dealing with are:
*Is Judeo-Christianity truly monotheistic?
*The visibility/invisibility of God
*Animals as inferior creations are yet able to communicate with humans
*The attitude towards nudity and sexuality
*Family values and

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Conversion of Constantine

In order to understand the significance of the ‘conversion’ it is necessary to understand a little about the history of the Roman Empire. 

In brief, the city of Rome was under the rule of kings long before it became a Republic and then an Empire. The tradition is that Rome was founded by Romulus. It came under the rule of kings (c 753BCE) and then when the last kings were ousted it became a republic, in 509 BCE. It was under the rule of the aristocratic classes called the “patricians” who were the oldest families and who controlled the Senate. Every January two new consuls became the most senior citizens, elected from the body of Senators.

Rome went through various civil upsets which led to it developing a civil organisation with representatives of the plebeians (the ordinary people) and as it had to defend itself from attacks by neighbours and other states, this civil organisation grew. Rome always denied that it fought wars of aggression. It claimed that all its wars were in order to protect its allies, and all the lands that it possessed and which became its provinces, were gained as a result of protective alliances. Of course this is not strictly true, the Romans were aggressive empire-builders.

During the first century BCE, one of Rome’s generals, Julius Caesar, driven by ambitions of monarchy, so it was said, brought his army across a small river, called the Rubicon. This was seen as an act of aggression because the generals were not allowed to bring their armies to Rome. A small act in the long history of the Republic but a major step towards what would eventually become the Roman Empire. His act set in motion a series of civil wars which led to his being murdered by the senators in the Senate on 15 March 44 BCE, and the eventual appointment of his adopted grandson, Octavian as “First Citizen” or Princeps, in 27 BCE, when his name was changed to “Augustus.”

In turn, Augustus adopted his wife’s son and he and the next emperors adopted other family members. Over time this evolved into a descendency from father to son until in the third century CE when the Empire became simply too large for one person to manage, and it was split into two with two emperors, one controlling the Eastern empire and the other the Western one. By the time Constantine became one of the junior emperors in 306, there were four of them.

Constantine, far from being driven by religious fervour, as it is taught, was an ambitious man who sought to be sole ruler of the Empire. The evidence for this is the fact that, rather than continue the tradition of Rome as the centre of the Roman Empire, he handed Rome and the control of religion over to the Bishop of Rome, and created a new capital for himself in the East and named it Constantinople.
There are two sources for Constantine’s conversion, both of them religious.

Eusebius of Caesarea 260 – c340 CE  acted as “adviser” to the emperor Constantine and claimed that he “knew the emperor personally”. In his Ecclesiastical History  he “gives an account” of the emperor’s conversion and “condemns deceased or dethroned enemies of the Church”.He describes how Constantine defeated Maxentius “as Moses himself and the ancient and godly race of the Hebrews” drove Pharaoh’s chariots into the sea. He claims that Constantine “entered Rome with hymns of triumph” after his victory and had “engraved in stone” the record of his success to the God of the Christians.

In his Life of Constantine he describes the ‘dream’ or ‘vision’ in which Christ himself appeared to Constantine; he goes on to describe how Constantine introduced his “symbol of the worst punishment imaginable” to the people as a symbol of God’s support for the believers in the doctrine of the followers of Jesus:

But at the time above specified, being struck with amazement at the extraordinary vision, and resolving to worship no other God save Him who had appeared to him, he sent for those who were acquainted with the mysteries of His doctrines, and enquired who that God was, and what was intended by the sign of the vision he had seen. They affirmed that He was God, the only begotten Son of the one and only God: that the sign which had appeared was the symbol of immortality, and the trophy of that victory over death which He had gained in time past when sojourning on earth. They taught him also the causes of His advent, and explained to him the true account of His incarnation. Thus he was instructed in these matters, and was impressed with wonder at the divine manifestation which had been presented to his sight. Comparing, therefore, the heavenly vision with the interpretation given, he found his judgment confirmed; and, in the persuasion that the knowledge of these things had been imparted to him by Divine teaching, he determined thenceforth to devote himself to the reading of the Inspired writings.

Of course this is nonsense. Constantine’s mother, Helena, was a Christian , so he was already familiar with the religion. He didn’t need all the “interpretation” as described by Eusebius. What Eusebius says further about Constantine’s religious zeal would therefore also be suspect. If he was going to convert to Christianity, he would already have been halfway there and he would have understood the supposed “sign.”

In The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XX, Edward Gibbon says: 
Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice; and the same motives of temporal advantage which might influence the public conduct and professions of Constantine would insensibly dispose his mind to embrace a religion so propitious to his fame and fortunes. His vanity was gratified by the flattering assurance that he had been chosen by Heaven to reign over the earth.

The success of Constantine against Maxentius and Licinius removed the two formidable competitors who still opposed the triumph of the second David…and [so that] the Christians might enjoy his precarious favour, they were exposed, with the rest of his subjects to the effects of his wanton and capricious cruelty.

Eusebius, in his Ecclestiastia calls Constantine:
...the best of kings... who took pity on the Christians and went to secure their liberty. He attacked three armies; then fought off the fourth and as Pharaoh’s army had, drowned them in the sea. Constantine entered Rome in triumph and was received as a liberator. He ordered a memorial and had it engraved that he had rescued Rome.

While Eusebius can be seen as wanting to further the interests of Christianity, what must not be ignored is that his writing does give evidence of both the religious climate of the time and the ‘fervour’ with which its believers wanted it to be universally accepted.

The second source is Lactantius (c250-320) of Africa. Lactantius served as tutor to Constans, son of Constantine. A pagan who converted to Christianity, he became a critic of paganism and a defender of the Faith. It is believed that his description of Constantine’s vision of Milvian Bridge is the first assertion that it was divine intervention that won him the Battle.

Constantine was directed in a dream to cause the heavenly sign to be delineated on the shields of his soldiers, and so to proceed to battle. He did as he had been commanded, and he marked on their shields the letter X, with a perpendicular line drawn through it and turned round thus at the top (P), being the cipher of CHRISTOS. Having this sign, his troops stood to arms. The enemies advanced, but without their emperor, and they crossed the bridge. The armies met, and fought with the utmost exertions of valour, and firmly maintained their ground. In the meantime a sedition arose at Rome, and Maxentius was reviled as one who had abandoned all concern for the safety of the commonweal; and suddenly, while he exhibited the Circensian games on the anniversary of his reign, the people cried with one voice, "Constantine cannot be overcome!"

Dismayed at this, Maxentius burst from the assembly, and having called some senators together, ordered the Sibylline books to be searched. In them it was found that:- "On the same day the enemy of the Romans should perish."

What do these works say about Constantine? Life of Constantine says:
He was without joy as long as Rome was afflicted by Maxentius. He asked for divine intervention was honoured the God of his father and while praying received the sign to see a cross of light above the son, In Hoc Signo Vinces (In this sign conquer). 

In On the Deaths of the Persecutors, Lactantius says Maxentius was waiting in Rome, having been warned of his death if he left; he allowed his army to conduct the war and they were winning, until Constantine set up his army near the Milvian Bridge, when he was encouraged to leave the city and to face Constantine; the bridge collapsed under him and he was drowned and Constantine was given the title Augustus. What these sources both say about Constantine seems to agree but then it would, because he was known to both of them personally and their employment depended on his goodwill. 

Edward Gibbon gives a logical analysis of the dream: 

Whilst his anxiety for the approaching day, which must decide the fate of the empire, was suspended by a short and interrupted slumber, the venerable form of Christ, and the well-known symbol of his religion, might forcibly offer themselves to the active fancy of a prince who reverenced the name, and had perhaps secretly implored the power, of the God of the Christians. As readily might a consummate statesman indulge himself in the use of one of those military stratagems, one of those pious frauds, which Philip and Sertorius had employed with such art and effect. 

He says further:
Eusebius contents himself with alleging a very singular testimony, that of the deceased Constantine, who, many years after the event, in the freedom of conversation, had related to him this extraordinary incident of his own life, and had attested the truth of it by a solemn oath.
and with the word “alleging” implies that Eusebius lied, [or perhaps embellished the truth].

On Lactantius... 
...The eloquent apologist seemed firmly to expect, and almost ventured to promise, that the establishment of Christianity would restore the innocence and felicity of the primitive age; that the worship of the true God would extinguish war and dissension among those who mutually considered themselves as the children of a common parent; that every impure desire, every angry or selfish passion, would be restrained by the knowledge of the Gospel; andthat the magistrates might sheath the sword of justice among a people who would be universally actuated by the sentiments of truth and piety, of equity and moderation, of harmony and universal love.
... and that they fed this vanity and their own ambition is indisputable.

Jacob Burkhart asserts that Constantine used either Christianity or Paganism to further his ambition and that Eusebius “has been proven guilty of so many distortions, dissimulations, and inventions that he has forfeited all claim to figures as a decisive source.” Age of Constantine the Great, page 293
He says that coins of Constantine bear emblems of all other gods but there is yet to be found with “unequivocal Christian emblems” and he doubts that Constantine actually fully converted to Christianity.
He says that Christianity merely became tolerated, that Constantine saw it a merely one of many religions and that:

Eusebius and those who copy him represent as taking place on the march against Maxentius must finally be eliminated from the pages of history.”
It has not even the value of a myth, indeed its not of popular origin, but was told to Eusebius by Constantine long afterwards and by Eusebius written up with intentionally vague bombast.

Was Constantine converted to Christianity by the vision of a cross, or a dream? (There are two versions of this, in good biblical tradition). I don’t think so. My opinion is that Constantine was an ambitious man. He wanted to be “king of the world” more than he wanted to get into heaven. He saw a way to unite the people behind him, so he took sides with the most influential people of the time, the Christians. He handed over the management of religious matters, which had until then been the purview of the Emperor, and placed it in the hands of the Bishop of Rome. He changed the day of worship to consolidate all the various forms of holy day worship prevailing to the one that suited his particular taste, the day of Sol Invictus:

The religion of Sol Invictus continued to be a cornerstone of the emperors until Theodosius I's decree on Feb 27, 390 that only Nicene Christianity was acceptable. Before his supposed conversion (some think Emperor Constantine never converted but that a Christian coup took advantage of his death), on his deathbed, even the young Constantine portrayed Sol Invictus on his official coinage. Constantine on Mar 7, 321 decreed SUNday (dies Solis) as the Roman day of rest [CJ3.12.2]:
“On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”

Christianity teaches that Constantine was converted to Christianity by a vision, that he chose the books of the New Testament at the Council of Nicaea, that he declared Sunday to be the day of worship in honour of the resurrection and that from this time on Christianity was the only religion tolerated by the Empire. All of this is nonsense:

Constantine was already aware of Christianity because of his mother.
Constantine did not have a vision (his biographers wrote to suit the church’s agenda).
Constantine declared Sunday as the day of worship, or rest, in honour of his own sun worship.

And finally, at the First Council of Nicaea, Constantine merely told the factions of Christianity to stop their fighting, and placed the management of Christianity in the hands of the Roman branch of the church under the auspices of the Bishop of Rome. That Constantine continued to worship Sol Invictus is indicative of exactly how little he cared about what people worshipped, and that his "conversion" was not complete, it also indicates that the God of  Christianity, far from taking him away from the worship of other gods, was just one more god that he added to the ones he already worshipped.

Theodosius, in 390, changed the religion of the Empire to Catholicism, it was not Constantine.
Does any of this matter? Yes, it does, because it indicates that Christianity was not one united religion under the idea of Jesus and the resurrection, until Constantine had had enough of the fighting and told them to make a decision about it. It is more an indication of the enormity of the disagreements between the various factions, than it is of a desire for religious unity, and was probably provoked by Constantine’s fear that disunity in the religion would create political disunity in the Empire, which could have caused him to lose his position as sole emperor, and converting to it, also meant that he could take on the soldiers who had previously followed other leaders.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Did Jesus exist?

This is a question that provokes more arguments and debates on the Internet than any other. Was there really a man, born of a virgin, worshipped by shepherds and eastern kings, threatened by Herod, evacuated to Egypt, who taught in the Temple when he was twelve years old? Was he baptised by his cousin John, tempted by Satan in the desert, and did he go about Palestine preaching until he was charged by the Sanhedrin and then given to the Romans to execute? Did he rise again after three days, and then after forty days of appearing to his followers, get taken up to heaven to sit on the side of God his father until some time in the future when he will return to earth to collect his followers?

That was the extent of my knowledge of Christianity until I’d read the New Testament for myself, and the unbelievability of the story was the reason that I too was among those who merely dismissed him as a “myth.” Various Christians and their churches have tried to convince me that the story is true, historically true, while other atheists have tried to convince me that it is all mythology, based on other pre-existing mythology. My love of history led me to investigate further and in the search, I concluded that there may have been more to the story than simple mythology.

My readers will already be aware that I regard everything up to the settlement of Jerusalem as repackaged mythology, because it is obvious that the story tellers of all the local mythologies borrowed each others’ stories. But what about this one? How much of it has truth, and how much of it reworked mythology?

And, what is the mythology that was possibly reworked? 

The myths are, among others, that of Krishna, from the Vedic hymns, which, it is thought, date back to around 1500 BCE. Stephen Knapp, who writes on Vedic Culture and Eastern Philosophy, quotes an article written by David Frawley, an American Hindu author. In the article, Frawley   introduces the influence of Christian thinking as follows, by pointing out that the Hindus are a far older culture, and that their philosophy would already have been known in Palestine, centuries before the purported birth of Jesus. The mythology of Krishna would already have been used, possibly the root of the Messiah prophecies. The point is that people were already aware of characters in stories who were born of virgins, worshipped by kings and so on, so the story wasn’t a new one.

One of the main ideas used to interpret - and generally devalue - the ancient history of India is the theory of the Aryan invasion. According to this account, India was invaded and conquered by nomadic light-skinned Indo-European tribes from Central Asia around 1500-100 BC, who overthrew an earlier and more advanced dark-skinned Dravidian civilization from which they took most of what later became Hindu culture. This so-called pre-Aryan civilization is said to be evidenced by the large urban ruins of what has been called the "Indus valley culture" (as most of its initial sites were on the Indus river). The war between the powers of light and darkness, a prevalent idea in ancient Aryan Vedic scriptures, was thus interpreted to refer to this war between light and dark- skinned peoples. The Aryan invasion theory thus turned the "Vedas", the original scriptures of ancient India and the Indo-Aryans, into little more than primitive poems of uncivilized plunderers.
This idea - totally foreign to the history of India, whether north or south - has become almost an unquestioned truth in the interpretation of ancient history. Today, after nearly all the reasons for its supposed validity have been refuted, even major Western scholars are at last beginning to call it in question.  (Source: Debunking Aryan invasion.)

Anthropologists have observed that the present population of Gujarat is composed of more or less the same ethnic groups as are noticed at Lothal in 2000 BC. Similarly, the present population of the Punjab is said to be ethnically the same as the population of Harappa and Rupar 4000 years ago. Linguistically the present day population of Gujarat and Punjab belongs to the Indo-Aryan language speaking group. The only inference that can be drawn from the anthropological and linguistic evidences adduced above is that the Harappan population in the Indus Valley and Gujarat in 2000 BC was composed of two or more groups, the more dominant among them having very close ethnic affinities with the present day Indo-Aryan speaking population of India...
In other words there is no racial evidence of any such Indo-Aryan invasion of India but only of a continuity of the same group of people who traditionally considered themselves to be Aryans.
There are many points in fact that prove the Vedic nature of the Indus Valley culture. Further excavation has shown that the great majority of the sites of the Indus Valley culture were east, not west of Indus. In fact, the largest concentration of sites appears in an area of Punjab and Rajasthan near the dry banks of ancient Saraswati and Drishadvati rivers. The Vedic culture was said to have been founded by the sage Manu between the banks of Saraswati and Drishadvati rivers. The Saraswati is lauded as the main river (naditama) in the 'Rig Veda' and is the most frequently mentioned in the text. It is said to be a great flood and to be wide, even endless in size. Saraswati is said to be "pure in course from the mountains to the sea". Hence the Vedic people were well acquainted with this river and regarded it as their immemorial homeland.

Jataka Stories which tell of the life of Buddha were written down in the Pali language around 400BCE. There are some similarities with the life of Jesus:

1. Born of royal descent, to a virgin and worshipped by kings at his birth.
2. Miracles at his birth.
3. Presented for baptism at the Temp
4. Taught in childhood. 
5. Thought to be divine
6. Proclaimed by a voice from heaven.
7. Tempted while fasting in the desert
8. Followed by disciples.
9. 30 years old when beginning ministry.
10. Formulated similar commandments.

And a whole lot more. The followers of the mythology “zeitgeist” firmly believe that Jesus was a character “created” fit the Christian philosophy, which they derived from local mythology, in much the same way as the stories of the Hebrew Bible were borrowed from the mythology of their neighbours. of course this is entirely possible, but for reasons which I state below, not probable. 

Then there is Horus, the god most closely linked to Jesus.

And Zoroaster and Mithras, whose birth date may have been the inspiration for the 25 December birth date for Jesus and many more. 

Rather than explore all the mythology and then analyse why it is, or isn’t, true, let’s rather follow the historical route. I would like to look at what the historical setting of Judah was at the time and what we know of both Judah and Jesus from extra-biblical history.

To start the search for a historical Jesus, let us look at the setting for the story. 
In Matthew 2:23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene." we learn that Jesus “came from Nazareth”  
Just as with his actual existence, there are now two camps about the actual existence of “Nazareth,”  with some people claiming it was “created by theology”  and others that it was already, if not a city, at least a settlement. 

Archaeological excavations carried out by the University of the Holy Land (UHL) with Stephen Pfann, President as a leading archaeologist. This land was shown to be quarried and farmed in the Late Hellenistic- Early Roman Period (2nd Century BC to 1st Century AD). The ancient agricultural features which were discovered include three watchtowers, a wine press, stone quarries, farm terraces and a spring-fed irrigation system carved from bedrock. The south facing hillside gave plenty of sun and drainage, with a high calcium soil which was ideal for growing grapes and making wine – a main industry of ancient Galilee. As one of the last surviving 1st Century farmlands of Nazareth, this ancient landscape carries significant historical, scientific, and religious meanings. Nazareth Village is committed to careful study and preservation of this land, increasingly threatened by modern development.

The problem is that modern skeptics are looking for a ‘city’ a major settlement of note. Why shouldn’t an itinerant teacher have come from a small wine-farming community, and, according to Cecil John Cadoux, Jesus was probably born at Nazareth and not at Bethlehem.

So, it seems that we have a place. A family from a small settlement outside of the major city of Jerusalem, acquired a male child.

Jesus Christ is Greek for “Joshua the Messiah,” and the word “messiah” comes from the Hebrew word “mashiah” meaning “one who is anointed,” that is, a messiah. Depending , then, upon what authority is used, Jesus was born between 7 and 4 B.C. either in Bethlehem or Nazareth during the reign of Herod the Great in Judea, and was crucified either in 30 or 33 A.D. Jews, God and History, Max I Dimont.

For everything about Jesus’ life, we have nothing except the New Testament to rely on. As I’ve already said, the Gospels were written long after Jesus’ death, and the epistles were written by people who didn’t know him. So we have really nothing except what can be deduced from the evidence of the people who worshipped him.

In his paper, Proving the Historic Jesus, Harry V Marting (1995) writes:

The writings in the New Testament were mostly from men of little literary learning, they were from long-time memories, and some were from hearsay. Biblical scholars have often pointed to so many glaring errors in the New Testament, conflicts in testimonies between those who knew Jesus. Many "books" or testimonies were omitted from the New Testament. The writers of these Testaments were less concerned with the historical accuracies of their words and more concerned with the spiritual meanings of Christ's teachings.

Then there are the extra-biblical  pieces of evidence:

Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 CE): “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.” What were the abominations? They refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods in general and the dead emperors in particular.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas (117-138 CE)"Because the Jews of Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from the city."
Flavius Josephus (37-97 CE):
"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous... he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders." (Arabic translation)
Pliny the Younger c112 CE:
"[The Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.”

Other writings of the first two centuries refer to the Christians and their beliefs and what they have written about Jesus. This of course does not verify that Jesus actually existed, but it does confirm that there were enough people involved in the belief system for it to be noticed.

There is more evidence for the way that Christianity was practiced in the culture of the period. This is a clear indication of what the message was all about. Also, logic tells me that in a climate of political upheaval, the preaching of a man already respected as a “rabbi” who was then charged with a crime against Rome and executed, is a very fair story upon which to create a mythology.

It is possible that a ‘rogue’ rabbi, i.e. someone who was fairly familiar with the religious law, upset the religious officials enough for them to kick him out of the synagogue. He probably went on the road preaching against the practices of the religious officials, and how their deviation from the law had caused them to become vassals of Rome, thereby gaining enough of a following for him to be noticed by the Roman authorities. They may have complained that he was stepping over the line to the High Priest, who told them that he wasn't one of theirs and to deal with it. They dealt with it, in the way they dealt with all seditionists, they hung him up. 

Ten years after Herod's death (4 BCE), Judea came under direct Roman administration. Growing anger against increased Roman suppression of Jewish life resulted in sporadic violence which escalated into a full-scale revolt in 66 CE. Superior Roman forces led by Titus were finally victorious, razing Jerusalem to the ground (70 CE).

I think that the light of the actual destruction of the Temple in 70 CE some people took the stories that were already circulating about “Joshua of Nazarene” and how he’d been killed by the Romans, who they really hated at this time; they added some mythology that was already familiar to make him “godlike” and created a new religion, which initially was merely another form of Judaism, but based on the mythology of the Messiah.

I therefore do not believe that the mythological Jesus of the New Testament, the Synoptic Jesus  existed, but I do believe that there was a real person upon whom the religion was built, and that what he said made enough sense for people to want to follow it.

In his book God is not Great,  Christopher Hitchens says it is exactly the confusion of the writing about Jesus and the forced attempts to prove his historicity and fulfillment of the prophecies that gives probability to the “historical” rabbi who became Jesus:

The best argument I know for the highly questionable existence of Jesus is this. His illiterate living disciples left us no record and in any event could not have been "Christians," since they were never to read those later books in which Christians must affirm belief, and in any case had no idea that anyone would ever found a church on their master's announcements. (There is scarcely a word in any of the later-assembled Gospels to suggest that Jesus wanted to be the founder of a church, either.) Notwithstanding all that, the jumbled "Old" Testament prophecies indicate that the Messiah will be born in the city of David, which seems indeed to have been Bethlehem. However, Jesus's parents were apparently from Nazareth and if they had a child he was most probably delivered in that town. Thus a huge amount of fabrication— concerning Augustus, Herod, and Quirinius—is involved in confecting the census tale and moving the nativity scene to Bethlehem (where, by the way, no "stable" is ever mentioned). But why do this at all, since a much easier fabrication would have had him born in Bethlehem in the first place, without any needless to-do? The very attempts to bend and stretch the story may be inverse proof that someone of later significance was indeed born, so that in retrospect, and to fulfill the prophecies, the evidence had to be massaged to some extent. (e-book p 80)

What were the first Christians like, as people? We are able discern the character and lifestyle of the people of any particular time, by looking at their artifacts and how they buried their dead. As we don’t really have artifacts that distinguish Christians from other people of the time, but we do have their burial ground. In the catacombs of Rome, there is evidence that the early religion was not based on the horror of the killing of Jesus and the resurrection, but rather on the message of brotherly love and peace. 

Christ is placed as the predominant character. What the Sacred Heart is for Catholics to-day, namely the symbol of Christ's love, the Good Shepherd was for the ancient Christians. It is the most frequently represented in the catacombs; we see it painted on ceilings amidst rich floral decorations, roughly engraved on the tomb-stones, moulded into relief on the sarcophagi or, at last, sculptured with Greek elegance in one of the most ancient Christian statues ever known (4th century, Vatican Museums).
The lamb on his shoulders, tightly held by the shepherd's hands, is the Christian.

Rather than the ornate, over-dressed, crucifix-bearing clergy of today, it seems that the Christians of the early period were simple people who believed a simple message, that they sought merely to be tolerated as all other religions were tolerated by the Romans. It is more than likely that the tradition of the Levites as priests being supported by their congregation sparked an idea of a priestly class among some more unscrupulous followers ambitious for positions in society that they weren't able to obtain through the Cursus Honorem.  They improved on the existing tradition of the priesthood of the existing deities and the rest followed, growing from the teachings of an ordinary man about brotherly love, to written works of miracles and horrific murder, some of which were most likely copied from mythology, not the least of which was the deification of him, in the way that the Romans deified their emperors. 

As the power of the clergy grew, with the numbers of followers, and as they became a nuisance in their refusal to pay homage to the religion of their Roman overlords, it was inevitable that there would be punishment for the refusal, which led to martyrdoms, sainthoods and even more mysticism, and the religion as we know it today was created.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Were David, and Solomon, real people?

Just like Jesus, there is much controversy about the actual existence of a historical David. But, very different from the life of Jesus, the Bible has a lot to say about the life of King David. The story is covered in most of the second part of the Old Testament, from 1 Samuel to 2 Chronicles, and it is said that if he did not actually author the Psalms, he had a hand in the compilation of them.

Extra-biblical evidence for the existence of David comes from a stele (a basalt inscription) written in Aramaic, discovered by Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran (1909-2008). A tel is a mound, an artificial mound, covering an ancient settlement.

The stele is damaged and therefore not completely legible but it speaks about victories over local neighbours including “Israel” and the “House of David.”

In The Bible Unearthed, (pages 128/9) Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman say: 
“biblical descriptions of Solomon clearly suggest that this was a portrayal of an idealized past, a glorious Golden Age...And the archaeological evidence in Jerusalem for the famous building projects of Solomon is nonexistent...Many scholars argue that remains from the Solomonic period in Jerusalem are missing because they were completely eradicated by the massive Herodian constructions on the Temple Mount in the Early Roman period. Moreover, the absence of outside references to David and Solomon in ancient inscriptions is completely understandable, since the era in which they were believed to have ruled (c1009-c930 BCE) was a period in which the great empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia were in decline.
Yet in the summer of 1993, at the biblical site of Tel Dan in northern Israel, a fragmentary artifact was discovered that would change forever the nature of the debate... there is hardly a question that it tells the story of the assault of Hazael, king of Damascus, on the northern kingdom of Israel around 835 BCE. This war took place in the era when Israel and Judah were separate kingdoms, and the outcome was bitter defeat for both.
The most important part of the inscription is Hazael’s boasting description of his enemies:
[I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned] their land into [desolation].

They go on to say: that the ruling house is mentioned, is evidence that David was not a literary invention. They also refer to the Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele), discovered in 1868, which now resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

"The skeptics' claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend. Last year the French scholar Andre Lemaire reported a related "House of David" discovery in Biblical Archaeology Review. His subject was the Mesha Stele (also known as the Moabite Stone), the most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Palestine. Found in 1868 at the ruins of biblical Dibon and later fractured, the basalt stone wound up in the Louvre, where Lemaire spent seven years studying it. His conclusion: the phrase "House of David" appears there as well. As with the Tel Dan fragment, this inscription comes from an enemy of Israel boasting of a victory--King Mesha of Moab, who figured in the Bible. Lemaire had to reconstruct a missing letter to decode the wording, but if he's right, there are now two 9th century references to David's dynasty."
- TIME Magazine                                
December 18, 1995 Volume 146, No. 25

However, what does appear to be a bit of literary exaggeration is the size of David’s Kingdom:

...Middle Bronze age, ...settlement in the highlands..there were very few permanent settlement sites in the south, most of them tiny, and there were a large number of pastoral groups, evidenced by their isolated cemeteries, not related to sedentary sites. The north was much more densely inhabited with settled farmers in much greater proportion than pastoralists. The major urban site in the south was...Jerusalem, which was heavily fortified..., joined by a secondary center, Hebron, which was also fortified....The fourteenth century BCE Tell-el-Amarna letters confirm the partition of the central hill country between two city-states, or actually early territorial states, Shechem and Jerusalem. A number of the letters refer by name to the rulers of these two city states --a king named Abdi-Heba who reigned in Jerusalem and a king named Labaya who reigned in Shechem--each of whom controlled territories of about a thousand square miles. Shechem and Jerusalem, Israel and Judah, were always distinct and competing territories. (The Bible Unearthed p155)

Thus it seems in the 14th century BCE, Jerusalem was not yet settled by the “Children of Israel” which fits in with the biblical story:

Despite Judah’s prominence in the Bible, however, there is o archaeological indication until the eighth century BCE that this small and rather isolated are, surrounded by arid steppe land on both east and south, possessed any particular importance..its population was meager; its towns--even Jerusalem--were small and few. It was Israel, not Judah, that initiated wars in the region. It was Israel, not Judah, that conducted wide-ranging diplomacy and trade. When the two kingdoms came into conflict, Judah was usually on the defensive, forced to call in neighboring powers to come to its aid. Until the late eighth century, there is no indication that Judah was anything more than a marginal factor in regional affairs...Judah seems to have been jut a rather small and isolated kingdom that, as the great conquering Assyrian king Sargon II derisively put it “lies far away.”(The Bible Unearthed p230)

It seems from the archaeology that it possibly existed, but that he was merely a minor king in a very small settlement and not the hero of these verses:

1 Chronicles 18:1 Now after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them, and took Gath and her towns out of the hand of the Philistines.  And he smote Moab; and the Moabites became David's servants, [and] brought gifts.  And David smote Hadarezer king of Zobah unto Hamath, as he went to stablish his dominion by the river Euphrates. And David took from him a thousand chariots, and seven thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen David also houghed all the chariot [horses], but reserved of them an hundred chariots.  And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadarezer king of Zobah, David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men.  Then David put [garrisons] in Syriadamascus; and the Syrians became David's servants, [and] brought gifts. Thus the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went.  

1 Chronicles 20:3 And he brought out the people that [were] in it, and cut [them] with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

Thus, it seems that everything written in the Old Testament about the people of the Bible is nothing more than mere exaggeration up to the actual existence of Jerusalem, before it became the capital of Judah. There was a group of people who had some sort of relationship with the herders who lived in the south, it is not until the emergence of David and Solomon (who were minor kings until Omri, who was a pagan, that the history of Judah really begins, therefore in summary:

Israel and Judah emerged from the indigenous Canaanite culture of the Late Bronze Age, and were based on villages that formed and grew in the southern Levant highlands (i.e., the region between the coastal plain and the Jordan Valley) between 1200 and 1000. Israel became an important local power in the 9th and 8th centuries before falling to the Assyrians in 722; the southern kingdom, Judah, enjoyed a period of prosperity as a client-state of the greater empires of the region before a revolt against Babylon led to its destruction in 586. Judean exiles returned from Babylon early in the following Persian period, inaugurating the formative period in the development of a distinctive Judahite identity in the province of Yehud, as Judah was now called. Yehud was absorbed into the subsequent Greek-ruled kingdoms which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. In the 2nd century BCE, the Judaeans revolted against Greek rule and created the Hasmonean kingdom, which became first a Roman client state and eventually passed under direct Roman rule. Source