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Whether the assertions in Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' are true or not, the book and film have the merit of focusing attention to the unknown origins of Christianity. The development of the Christ myth is related to man's urge to dramatize when dealing with spiritual realities. The human mind is given to project an unconscious archetypal image onto people or objects, creating mythical figures. An image of a godman, who redeems heroically the fragile fragmented man of his failures/sins and offers an escape, a ray of hope, holds sway over him.

Contents:
God's word?
Rocklike faith
Consequences of blind faith
A false God?
The Middle East, a hotbed of religious cults
Origins of the New Testament
Historicity of Jesus
Speculations about Jesus
The evolution of the New Testament
Inconsistencies
Gnostic origins
The impact of the failure of end of the world prophecies
The spread of Christianity. Hopes unfulfilled.
Conclusion
Links and literature

God's word ?


The following text is not meant to undermine Christian belief. That is to say if Christ is accepted as an ideal man or archetype to model our lives after and a source of inspiration. Everyone can benefit from the gospel of love. The first commandment to love God with all one's being is essential. So is the ode to unconditional love by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

However, following an idealized figure implies more often than not silencing the intellect, making way for a faithful but blind belief.
Even so, faith should be respected, unless it affects the well-being and even lives of other people.

In the case of Christianity the common fallacy that the bible represents the word of God has led to destruction of valuable historical records of early Christianity, persecution of heretics, Jews, homosexuals and witches. It has introduced weird distorted notions, not surprising for peoples of ancient times, but unfitting in our modern age with its unlimited access to knowledge.

The old and new testaments are a product of myths that originated in times that hardly anything about our physical world was known. The fearsome circumstances made people cling to godman-like figures. The Jews projected theirs onto one tribal God: Jahweh. Early Christians created Christ, who undertook to redeem the sins of mankind, or at least of those who placed trust in him.

Rocklike faith

On blind faith Eric Hoffer writes: "All active mass movements strive to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithfull and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it."

It is surprising that hundreds of millions of Christians follow blindly outdated biblical commandments. They are prepared to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for their belief. The only sacrifice they are not prepared to make is to use their common sense - their God-given intelligence - to spend a few hours, may be days, to investigate the roots of their faith.

In this respect they are not guided by their churches either. Details of how the bible came to us are hardly given by Church leaders. Amazing discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the lost gospel of Thomas, which may well be the oldest one we have, and which gives quite a different view of Jesus' sayings, are not being discussed.
Scholarship has already established centuries ago that it is untenable to maintain that the bible is the word of God. But their findings were hushed up by the churches which fear that it might undermine their sway over the minds of believers. A great deal of attention is paid to the translation of what is termed the original text. This has the appearance of a diversionary tactic to draw away attention from the fact that we have no original text but only poor copies of written traditions.

In 1985 a group of about seventy biblical scholars came together forming the Jesus seminar. They had two major objectives:
1) to find out what critical historiography can say about the historical Jesus.

Some of their findings were:

Their second object, to communicate responsibly the results of their scholarly work to the public, seems to have had little effect so far.

Consequences of blind faith

What has this dogmatism led to ?

A false God ?

Protestants take every word of the Bible as being the word of God (So do many Catholics, although putting more faith in church tradition). After all Paul writes that every scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16).

By so doing they degrade actually God to a wrathful figure - tentamount to blasphemy.

The Old Testament abounds with misrepresentations of God:

It entails forcing us to believe that God is sort of a satanical figure whose word is marked by inconsistencies, untruths and cruelties. No wonder that even in biblical times Gnostics considered Yahweh a false god.

The old Jewish scriptures have proven to be an exercise in fantasy. A group of archeologists led by Zev Herzog of the university of Tel Aviv stated in October 2003, after seventy years of research, that there is no historical evidence for the biblical stories. Moses and his people never came from Egypt. So he could not have received the ten commandments in the Sinaï desert either.

The Middle East, a hotbed of religious cults

Dionysus as a child
Dionysus as a child
If we wish to understand the process that led up to the fabrication of the New Testament some insight is necessary into the circumstances Middle Eastern people lived in the first century AD.

The realm of conquerer Alexander the Great had been divided up in parts. A Hellenistic worldview prevailed. It was an age of eclecticism in which different spiritual traditions met and melted. Jewish mystics of this period, such as Philo Judeas of Alexandria, were engaged in synthesizing Jewish and pagan (meaning: 'country') mythology.

Religion permeated society: government, family life, social life, entertainment, food, and customs. Rituals, festivals, pilgrimages were observed faithfully.
Illiteracy was prevalent. Only 5% of the population could read and write with fluency.

The story of Jesus arose amongst people suffering from oppression by the Roman rulers. There was a great search for a new encompassing belief that would lead people out of their frustrated circumstances. A variety of sects thrived in this region: Essenes; gnostic, hellenistic cults and mystery schools, which catered to escapist demands.

State of mind

Another aspect to take into account is that people had a peculiar state of mind that is quite difficult to comprehend for most of us nowadays. It was not considered extraordinary that people had auditory and visual hallucinations. People heard voices in their heads seemingly coming from gods or other entities. They even saw them. Statues erected for gods were brought to life as it were in ceremonies. Believers affixed papers to them begging for favours, or mercy.
(Jaynes has speculated that this was due to the frontal lobes not yet working well in unison in that stage of evolution of the brain.)

The roots of the New Testament

It is remarkable that the earliest Christian scriptures ascribed to Paul dealing with Jesus' life are so vague. Christ resembles more a heavenly figure than an actual person. No reference is made to his father Joseph, mother Mary, the circumstances of his birth, John the Baptist, the miracles, the sites of his ministry, his apocalyptic predictions, Judas the betrayer, or the circumstances of his death and resurrection. No mention that he ever preached, spoke in parables, appointed disciples and instructed them to carry his message to all nations, initialising the Christian faith.
With Paul ethical commandments issue from God, not from his supposed son. The few sayings attributed to Jesus are of a gnostic character.

In the few copies of copies of copies of the gospels of a much later date, that have come to us , we find a story composed of such ingedients as:

These godmen shared some of the following features :

For example the thousands of years old Sumerian myth, predating Christ by 2500 years, of the descent of goddess Innana, queen of Heaven, into the underworld. She dies during her journey and her dead body is left to rot on a stake. Yet she is miraculously brought to life again. Resurrected she rescues the souls of the peaceful dead from the underworld.

In 304 AD, just 17 years before Christianity became the state religion, a Persian saviour was declared "protector" of the Roman Empire. It was godman Mithras who was miraculously born on December 25th in the presence of three shepherds in a cave. His followers also celebrated a symbolic meal of bread and wine.

Early Church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus, were understandably disturbed by these similarities and resorted to desperate excuses to explain them, such as that they were the result of diabolical mimicry. They accused the devil of "plagiarism by anticipation", of deviously copying the true story of Jesus before it had actually happened in an attempt to mislead the flock!

The evidence from Paul's letters is that the congregations of the Christ were attractive associates and that their emerging mythology was found to be exciting. A spirited cult formed on the model of the mystery religions, complete with entrance baptisms, rites of recognition (the holy kiss), ritualized meals (the lord's supper), the notion of the spiritual presence of the lord, and the creation of liturgical materials such as acclamations, doxologies, confessions of faith, and Christ hymns." (Mack pp. 219-220)

Historicity of Jesus

As to the gospels, few Christians may be aware that we have hardly any historical record that Jesus ever lived! Traditional evidence, such as references to Jesus by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, called Testimonium Flavianum, have been shown to be later forgeries. Authors in the second and third centuries never mentioned these interpolated references to Jesus in his "Jewish War" writings.

We have the works of dozens of first century Roman authors who make no reference to Jesus Christ at all. The Elder Plinius, who states to have visited Palestina before the destruction of Jerusalem, does not mention anything about a Jesus or his Jerusalem community, nor do Persius, Martial, and Seneca (apart from an obvious forgery of a correspondence between Paul and Seneca).

Besides destruction of the oldest scriptures by Christians themselves, in the year 303 emperor Diocletian promulgated throughout the Roman world an edict commanding Christian churches to be overthrown and their scriptures burned. Eusebius related how he saw with his own eyes biblical scriptures being tossed on the fire in the market place.

The fact is that our Bible is mainly based on old Greek texts dating from the fourth century: the Codex Vaticanus and Sinaïticus. Moreover all documents found differ from each other, caused by mistakes, intentional alterations and additions by copyists to underpin their particular belief. In fact the Vaticanus already differs in around 3000 places from the Sinaïticus. One might consider the bible a kind of revisionist history.

The irony of it all is that we know more about the big bang, the origin of our universe some 13,7 billion years ago, than of the life of Jesus.

Early image of Jesus

No images of the crucified saviour are to be found dating from the first three centuries. Constantine saw Christ as a beautiful young man. There is an abundance of beardless Apollo-like youths in Roman dress representing the good shepherd.

As to Jesus, it is also surprising that amongst the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered in 1947, no scripture refers to the person who is supposed to have made such an impact on his fellowmen.

The only person we know of who first used the name of Jesus or the term Christ was Paul.

Christianity arose out of groups that anticipated the imminent arrival of the Messiah of Aaron and Israel. He would be descended from David, and make known Jahweh's plan for eternal life. He had the power to forgive sin and resurrect the dead. Believers obtained purification by the Holy spirit. Some communities believed that the last day was at hand, and with it a final battle between light and darkness. There would be a period of tribulation for the believers ending in eternal redemption.

One of the theories is that of the existence of a much earlier gnostic group, calling themselves "Christian", later known as Dositheans. This ancient sect was founded by Dositheus, said to be a disciple of John the Baptist. After the execution of the Baptist by Herod Antipas, Dositheus founded a group consisting of thirty disciples. Many, if not all, were said to be initiates of John and later of Jesus. The sect was founded in Samaria, where the Baptist was said to be buried.



Speculations about Jesus

Without any official record scholars have put forward the wildest speculations about Jesus' actual identity:

Or:

This is not the end of the list. Countless other theories have been put forward: a Zealot, collaborator with the Romans, nationalist revolutionary, or even guru, educated in Egypt/India, escaping to Kashmir after his apparent death.

The above speculations merely show that so little is known about Jesus that any wild assumption can be made on various more or less convincing grounds. Of John the Baptist more historical evidence exists, however no mention is made of his baptizing Jesus. There are still an estimated 20.000 followers of John the Baptist in Iraq: the Mandeans.

The evolution of the New Testament

It is agreed generally that the gospels were written down in Greek. They are thought to be composed layer after layer of a myth that grew in detail in the course of time. There were different schools of followers of the Way, as they called it. Each had its own version of the life of Jesus : Rev. Martin Luther King wrote more than fifty years ago on the similarity between the mystery religions and Christianity:(1) Both regard Sunday as a holy day. (2) December 25 came to be considered as the anniversary of the birth of Mithra and Christ also. (3) Baptism and a communion meal were important parts of the ritual of both groups. (4) The rebirth of converts was a fundamental idea in the two cults. (5) The struggle with evil and the eventual triumph of good were essential ideas in both religions. (6) In summary we may say that the belief in immortality, a mediator between god and man, the observance of certain sacramental rites, the rebirth of converts, and (in most cases) the support of high ethical ideas were common to Mithraism as well as Christianity. In fact, the comparison became so evident that many believed the Christian movement itself became a mystery cult.

Inconsistencies:

The adorned story of Jesus' life in the New Testament contains many inconsistencies, some of which might be ascribed to the poor historical knowledge of the later authors:

Circumstances of birth

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica : 'Christians count one hundred and thirty-three contrary opinions of different authorities concerning the year the Messiah appeared on earth.'

There is much doubt whether a city of Nazareth, Jesus' hometown, existed at that time. It is not mentioned in the letters of Paul, the Old Testament, the Talmud, by Josephus or anyone else. Though there may have been a hamlet of a few houses it was certainly not a town in Galilee as mentioned in in Matthews' gospel (2:23). The name Nazoraeans, a sect that preceded Jesus, may have been misinterpreted, as some of its members became followers of Jesus and were called Christians later. In order to fulfil an Old Testament prophecy, Bethlehem, where Jesus is supposed to have been born, may have been come up with.

Of a census ordered by Herod at that time forcing people to register at their home villages nothing is known either. Anyhow, Judea was not a Roman province at the time. Herod died ten years before the birth of Jesus. There is not any record of a child slaying in Bethlehem.
Luke contradicts Matthew and says that this registration was when Quirinius was governor of Syria, whereas he did not come to hold this position until ten years later.

Most scholars do not believe that the day of birth could have been on the 25th of December. The winter season in Palestine did not permit shepherds to sleep in the field (and did those shepherds not have to register in their hometowns for the census?)
It is at least suspicious that ancient godmen Horus, Mithra, Dionysus and Krishna were also born on December 25th.,

Jesus, the messiah? In the last verses of the Old Testament: Malachi 4:5, no mention is made of the coming of a messiah, unless Elijah is meant: Behold I will send you Eliyah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.. No mention whatsoever of the coming of the Son of God!

Miracles

There are no other independent attestations to Jesus' activities in Capernaum. Justus of Tiberius, the first century historian, actually resided in Capernaum. He makes no mention of Jesus, his followers, or any of the great amazing miracles being performed in his home town. Archaeological research has not discovered traces of a synagogue at Capernaum at the time either. There were stories of miracle workers circulating, mentioned by Josephus and others. Amongst them were John the Baptist, Theudas, and the Egyptian. Any of these could have provided the material for Mark to attribute to Jesus.

Paul does not allude to any miracles of Jesus either, even scoffs at the Jews for hankering after them in 1 Cor. 1:22 . They appear to be adaptions of similar stories in the Old Testament and elsewhere.