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.
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.
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It is surprising that hundreds of millions of Christians follow blindly outdated biblical commandments.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:
Jesus did not claim to be the messiah or to be divine.
Jesus did not demand that people believe in him or worship him.
Jesus did not intend to establish a church or found a new religion.
Jesus did not believe that his death would be a sacrifice for sins.
There is no historical evidence that Jesus had no human father.
There is no historical evidence that Jesus’ corpse came back to life.
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 ?
Burning of early Christian literature for not supporting trumped up dogma's. Original biblical (gnostic) texts which did not substantiate Christian sectarian viewpoints, have so thoroughly been destroyed in the early centuries after the death of Jesus that we have hardly any record left. Moreover the great library of Alexandria, said to have contained half a million volumes, was destroyed by Christian fanatics in 397 AD - one of the severest losses to history ever encountered.
Persecution of the Jews, who are supposed to have been responsible for the alleged crucifixion of Christ leading up to the holocaust, following Paulinian accusations: ...the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God's will and enemies of their fellow-men.... (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). After the reign of emperor Constantine it was considered a crime for a Christian to marry a Jew.
Persecution of homosexuals, mainly based on St. Paul's condemnation (although it has been speculated that he was a closet one himself. He never married, which was unusual at that time!). Homosexuals have been tortured, castrated and murdered throughout the ages, being condemned by God's supposed word. 'Homosexuals are filled with every kind of injustice, mischief, rapacity, and malice; they are one mass of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and malevolence .., etc. etc. (Romans 1:26-32). Whereas homosexuals are believed to have contributed as no other sex to the advancement of civilisation
Condoning of slavery on the basis of some biblical texts (Ephesians 6:5: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling....)
In Leviticus 25:44 Yahweh recommends buying slaves.
Subordination of women. (1 Corinthians 11:9 For neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.). But in fact until its 14th week all embryos are female. Only in a later stage the male characteritics develop.
Persecution of heretics, supposed witches and other lamentable members of the community who did not support church dogmatism. Eric Hoffer: "true believers of various hues ....view each other with mortal hatred and are ready to fly at each other's throat...". Heretics were tortured and slaughtered like cattle. Burning at the stake was justified by Matthew 3:10: ...every tree that fails to produce good food is cut down and thrown on the fire.
In 415 AD Hypathia, one of the last scholars to work in the famous library of Alexandria, was seized by Christians who scraped with shells the flesh from her bones and burnt the spillings!
In 1553 the Spanish physician Michael Servetus, who discovered the circulation of blood, was burned at the stake, by order of Calvin, for not believing in the trinity (albeit nowhere mentioned in the gospels).
Obstructing advancement of science and culture. Great men who made amazing discoveries in science and medicine which might have benefited mankind, were being persecuted and forbidden to make their findings known. Nature need not to be examined as all explanations could be found in the Bible. Inventions were often considered the work of the devil. Discoveries by Leonardo da Vinci remained unknown for centuries. The creativity and constructional skills in building the pyramids were not matched until the 18th century A.D. Philosopher Bruno was burnt at the stake, Galilei escaped it by lying. The theory of evolution was rejected as it contradicted the book of Genesis. Fossils were argued away as being satanical creatures from antedelluvian times.
Christianity has so held Western civilization in its grip from the Dark Ages onward, obstructing advancement of liberal thought.
Teachings of other religions were suppressed. Buddhism, preaching compassion, was practically unknown till the nineteenth century. (See the Oriental Renaissance).
Blocking development of understanding life based on latest insight and advances in science. In some universities in the Southern states of the USA the theory of evolution may still not be taught. Many of their students believe that the earth was created some six thousand years ago in spite of the huge body of evidence to the contrary.
Imposing backward biblical notions on themes that could better human living conditions such as birth control and euthanasia. Not to speak of instilling fears for blood and natural bodily outlets as masturbation.
Disrespect of living beings. Animals, are supposed to have been created to support men. They have been slaughtered as sacrifice to god Yahweh.
Instilling a perpetual fear of an imminent end of the world. All gospels, epistles of St. Paul and specifically the Apocalypse herald the endtime and the Coming of Christ. This mistaken belief has cost the lives of countless Christians up to this day (Crusades, Jonestown, Heaven's Gate).
Brainwashing its believers that salvation depends on accepting on faith its incredible myth.
Belief in original sin instilling a traumatising fear in Christians from childhood onwards. This concept was thought up to account for almighty God making man's life a hell at times. But factually man pays a price for having been evolved from the animal kingdom to his present status. He is the one species capable of self-reflection. Endowed with creative powers and a vision of the Divine, his mind is yet incapable of grasping the why of it all.
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:
In Genesis 18 Yahweh shows himself to Abraham as a human being who eats cakes with him and Sarah. In Exodus 33:10-11 Yahweh shows Himself as a pillar of cloud speaking face to face with Moses.
On the subject of murder: in Exodus 11 Yahweh kills all the firstborn in Egypt. In Ezekiel 9:6 he cries in Ezekiel's ears:...Slay utterly the old man, the young man and the maiden, and little children and women....(Ezekiel 9:6). In total it is estimated that the god of the Old Testament ordered the death of more than 600.000 enemies: men, women and children. A veritable holocaust!
It has been suggested that this weird obedience to a murderous God, as pictured in the Old Testament, is rooted in a suppressed attraction to murder and violence in believers themselves as a dark side behind their craving for heavenly love.
As to his followers he showed himself an evil father as well commanding sons who cursed their fathers be put to death (Exodus 21:17). A father who followed his commandments would surely be sentenced to lifetime imprisonment nowadays. In Lamentations 4:10 god shows his fierce anger by making women cook and eat their own children to still their hunger. And in Psalm 137 we read: Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock.
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
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:
A jewish teacher, rabbi, possibly named Yeshua (in greek Jesus), may have lived and formed a group of followers.
Stories invented to show that Jesus was the one amongst many, who met the fulfillment of Jewish expections of the coming of a messiah to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Stories of other saviour godmen from pagan mysteries, now attributed to Jesus, as well as religious speculations current at the time.
At the heart of the mysteries were myths concerning a dying and resurrecting godman, who was known by many different names. In Egypt he was Osiris, in Greece Dionysus, in Asia Minor Attis, in Syria Adonis, in Italy Bacchus, in Persia Mithras. Their worship was practised as early as the third century BC.
These godmen shared some of the following features :
They were the son of God. An ancient conception: every Pharaoh had to be the son of God and a human mother in order that he should be the Incarnate God, the Giver of Fertility to his country and people.
They were born of a virgin sometimes in a cave, an ancient symbol for the womb of Mother Earth.
They were born around the winter solstice December 25th or January 6th (the solstice changes in the course of thousands of years). So for Osiris it was January 6th.
Devotees might be born again through baptism (of water, air, earth, and fire).
The godman might bring health to the sick, exorcize demons, and raise the dead.
Godmen might have 12 disciples (for christians symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 signs of the Babylonian zodiac). Twelve is also a sacred geometric figure.
The godman might die a 'noble death' at the hand of a Tyrant.
Godmen came back, resurrected -- conquer death.
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 Sinaiticus. Until the 8th century the New Testament manuscripts were written on papyrus which deteriorates with age. 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 Sinaiticus. An estimated 400,000 variations among all the available manuscripts One might consider the NT a kind of revisionist history.
The irony of it all is that we seem to 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:
A gnostic Jewish teacher. A view supported by the Nag Hammadi find in 1945 of the gospel of St.Thomas, possibly the oldest gospel we possess.
Teacher of Righteousness, or Yieshu ha Notzri, who lived and practiced magic during the reign of Alexander Janneus, who ruled Palestine from 104 to 78 BC. Details of his life portrayed in the Talmud were excluded by the Christians from their version, but can be still found in the Jewish version. He was convicted of heresy and stoned to death. His body hung from a tree on the eve of passover, in 88 B.C.E.
Another view has it that Jesus was in fact Julius Ceasar. There was indeed such cult around the Roman dictator counting many devotees. The cult disappeared mysteriously when Christianity spread.
A barefooted Nabi, miracle worker from Galilee.
The neo-Pythagorean Apollonius of Tyana, who died in 98 AD. He performed miracles, healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. It was claimed that he rose from the dead, appeared to his followers and finally made a bodily ascent to heaven.
Dr E.Maes wonders whether our Jezus was the one mentioned by Flavius Josephus in his 'Jewish war' by the name of Jesus bar-Hanan. He appeared in Jerusalem in the mid-sixties of the first century and looked bewildered. He uttered fierce warnings. He was tortured by Roman procurator Albinus, yet continued to cry: 'Woe ye, woe ye, Jerusalem'. His prophecy came true during the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. He was killed himself, hit by a rock from a Roman catapult.
Maes wonders whether this was our Jesus, rescued from the cross by his brother James and nursed by him since.
The Son of God who was to die for the sins of mankind. Yet he never called himself so!
A drug addict. Jesus was crucified for providing ergot-bread directly to everyone for free, undermining the artificial scarcity of hallucinogens under the controlling power of the priests.
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 :
Oldest records of around the middle of the first century AD give only his sayings. The older the records, the less details we find of the actual life of Jesus. They were written down colored by the views of the earliest followers who had already soon split up in different schools, each of them having a different vision.
Quotations of Jesus' sayings by the apostolic fathers and apologists, in the first and second centuries. Yet, if the gospels as we know them were written in the 70s, 80s, or 90s of the first century, one wonders why there are so few quotations from them by early Christian writers? Only a handful, in fact, are quoted— fewer than ten sayings in the entire first century, until the Didache (teachings of the apostles) in about 105. And even in the Didache, there are only 24 fragmentary, very tiny, precursors. There is not any known written text from the first century to which Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, or Tertullian, referred. Other than Paul’s written references to six or seven (including Acts 20:35) sayings, only five of which appear in the later synoptic gospels, there is none. Some of these quoted sayings, purportedly from the first century, are unknown to us. About 185 AD Irenaeus makes the first mention of the four Gospels with the names of the alleged authors.
Document Q. Some scholars believe that an older document Q (from the german 'Quelle', meaning source) existed of which the authors of the synoptic gospels borrowed. Copies may have been destroyed by Christians in later centuries who found them undermining their belief. In this proto-gospel Jesus is not crucified and is not termed "Christ".
Paul's epistles are considered to be the oldest documents. In his letter to the Romans Paul lays down the foundations of Christianity. But remarkably he gives hardly any details about the life of Jesus. His Jesus is a heavenly figure, as he saw it in a revelation.
Embroidered versions. Plausible is that the present gospels are the product of layers of editing and embroidering. The gospel of Mark is generally considered to be the oldest. But in its original unadulterated form it is supposed to have been much and much smaller. Most of it was added at later times.
Anonymous authors. One must understand whilst studying ancient scriptures, that adhering faithfully to the facts was not considered an ethical command at the time. If it were to glorify a revered person any story might be attributed to him/her by an unnamed author. Hagiography was the rule. James Thomas remarks: It would be impossible to point to any epoch so loaded with literary fraud as the first centuries of our era. (p. 384).
Apostles were not the authors. No reputable theologian would nowadays maintain that the gospels were written by the apostles. No gospel bears their name. They were ascribed to Mark, Matthew, Lucas and John at a much later date. It could not have been the apostle John because he is said to have been put to death in Jerusalem, long before the gospel ascribed to him was written.
Pagan myths transposed to Jesus. In the creation of the Jesus myth all sorts of amazing stories, told about heathen gods, were used. Godman Dionysus was shown on a cross long before Jesus did. Worship of goddess Diana was transposed to Maria. Roman Christians referred to Christ as a sun god 'driving his chariot across the sky'. Yet, there is no myth that completely parallels that of Jesus.
From the Zoroastrians Christians borrowed the idea of existence of angels and were inspired by their tale: "A male child shall be born from a virgin and this child shall grow up to be a prophet. After he dies he will be resurrected and this will be the end of death among mankind."
Prophecies fulfilled. Events were fantasized to add respectibility and fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. The stature of Jesus was enhanced by introducting a questionable lineage of both Joseph and Maria to the house of David, in spite of the fact that Jesus was supposed to be of virgin birth.
The son of God. The stories told about godmen Osiris-Dionysus and Mithras may have been used. Of Dionysus it is told that he is the Son of God, who is born to a virgin on the 25th of December before three shepherds. He is a prophet who offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism. He is a wonderworker who raises the dead and miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony. He is God incarnate who dies at Easter, sometimes through crucifixion, but who resurrects on the third day. He is a savior who offers his followers redemption through partaking in a meal of bread and wine, symbolic of his body and blood.
Dissension amongst followers. In the course of the following centuries positions of followers hardened, dogmatizing caused splits and suppression/burning of texts that did not support belief. Those who had Gnostic leanings were excommunicated. When emperor Constantine (306-337) placed himself virtually at the head of the church many early (gnostic) texts were being banned from becoming part of the canon of scriptures composing the New Testament.
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.
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!
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.
Miraculous feeding The story of the multiplication of food had already been ascribed to prophet Elisha in II Kings 6.
Raising from the dead. In 1 Kings 17 Eliyah raises the only son of a widow from the dead. The incident is copied in Luke 7 when Jesus raises up the only son of a widow near the gate of the city of Nain. However, archeological research has shown that the city had no wall, nor gates.
In 1 Kings 13 king Jeroboam's hand dries up when he stretches it out to 'a man of God', but the latter restores it again. This miraculous healing of a withered hand is repeated in Matthew 12:13 by Jesus.
Stories attributed to other gods and revered persons:
The miracle of water turning into wine was once related to have taken place at the wedding of Dionysus and Ariadne.
Miraculously curing the sick and raising the dead was already ascribed to Asclepius.
Iamblichus claimed that Pythagoras performed innumerable miracles such as calming the waves of rivers and seas in order that his disciples might pass over them. He also helped them to a large catch of fish like Jesus did.
Appolonius of Tyana is said to have had the same powers. He brought back to life the daughter of a Roman consul in the way as Jesus did for the daughter of Jairus. Appolonius is also said to have performed the same miracle as the 'feeding of the five thousand'.
The story of Jesus exorcizing a man of 2000 demons casting them in a herd of pigs has a parallel in the rites of the mysteries at Eleusis. For purification some 2000 initiates bathed in the sea with young pigs. This ritual bathing banished all evil into the pigs, which were then sacrificed by chasing them over a crevice.
The Pentecostal miracle of speaking in tongues was reported centuries earlier. At Trophonius and Delos priestesses were heard uttering glossolalia. And that was certainly not the only instance in history of this phenomenon.
Egyptians waring crosses 1500 BC
Mel Gibson's film The Passion has brought this heinous tragedy to the fore. For what it is worth: The Koran (author: Allah) insists that Jesus was not crucified.
A number of scholars agree. If he were why did Paul, who wrote the earliest Christian scriptures, gave no details? The cross as a symbol was already known for centuries and so was the inhuman form of executing the death penalty by Roman soldiers, sometimes in great numbers at a time, using multiple crosses for lack of wooden beams.
Many of the details of Jesus supposed crucifixion given do not match our knowledge of the age.
Pilatos was not a governor afraid of crucifying a Jewish rebel. To the contrary he was dismissed by the emperor for his excessive ruthlessness towards the people in 36 AD.
There is no evidence of a Roman tradition of releasing a prisoner by the time of Easter and the Jewish law forbids the Sinedrius of arresting and executing people during Easter time.
Judas, was paid thirty silverlings for his betrayal of Jesus, to fulfill a prophecy of Jeremia, whereas in reality it was Zacharia who did so. Another misquotation from Jewish scriptures. Alas, silverlings were already out of circulation for three hundred years! Paul does not refer to Judas in his letters at all.
Elements of the crucifixion tale including Jesus' last words in Mark 15:34 were taken from Psalm 22 and other texts.
Resurrection. The oldest gospel of Mark does not even mention a resurrection at all, nor does Paul. The later the gospels the more details. Both crucifixion and resurrection were not prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus is supposed to have appeared to the twelve apostles, whereas there were only eleven left after the treason of Judas.
Gnostic teachings were secret and most were never committed to writing; what writings did exist were mostly destroyed by the Christian church. But the Nag Hammadi texts disclose a combination of Asian mysticism, magic, astrology, and Jewish Kabbalah in a Christian setting. Gnostics divided the world into opposing forces of good and evil, and they believed they had access to secret wisdom (gnosis is Greek for "knowledge").
"The belief has struck root that gnosticism is a departure of Christianity. In the newly discovered gospel of Thomas we find a different Jesus as presented us in the adulterated gospels. Speculation runs now that the Gnostics were the original Christians, just as they themselves claimed. They had synthesized Jewish and pagan mythology to produce the Jesus story and many other extraordinary Christian myths largely unknown today. The Roman Church was a later deviation, which misunderstood the Jesus story as history. It was, as the Gnostics said at the time, an imitation Church teaching, a superficial Christianity designed for the masses.
For the Gnostics, Christianity was about dying -- the idea of giving up your mortal body and awakening to your immortal essence as the Christ within - the One Consciousness of the Universe. This mystical enlightenment was not something that happened after death, but could happen here and now."(Freke & Gandy)
In the earliest Christian/Gnostic sects the following belief may have been subscribed to:
God is androgynus, being male as well as female.
Existence of angels, hierarchies and divine emanations.
The descent of the soul from heaven, its entrapment in an earthly body and subsequent reincarnations.
The existence of tyrannical angels or powers.
An infinite potential power residing within man.
The impact of the failure of end of the world prophecies
The prophecy of a coming end of the world made many converts. All gospel texts predict a Judgement Day in the lifetime of the first Christians:
Mark 13:30, 14:62; Matthew 10:23, 16:28 & 24:34:....you may know that the end is very near, at the very door. I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all.
Luke 9:27: ...there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God.
The same in Luke 21:32~36; 1 John 4:1; Acts 20:25~26; 1 Corinthians 7:29.
1 Corinthians 15:51~52: I will unfold a mystery: we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed in a flash, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trumpet call. More in: 1 Tessalonians 4:17; 1 Timothy 6:14; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:8; 1 Peter 1:10~13, 4:7.
1 Peter, 17; 1: The time has come for the judgement to begin; it is beginning with God's own household. See also: John 2:18, 28; Apocalyps 2:25, 3:11, 22:6~12.
The great blow to the early christian groups was when these predictions were not fulfilled. Instead of the Lord coming on the clouds, the sacred stronghold of the Jews, the temple-city of Jerusalem, was destroyed, thus crushing all expectations of God's Kingdom being established on earth.
When emperor Hadrian decided to build a new temple dedicated to the Roman
god Jupiter on the ruins of the Jewish Temple, a revolt under Simon Bar Kochba ensued lasting from 132 to 135 AD. He was claimed to be the Messiah - Bar Kochba means "Son of the Star" in Aramaic. The uprising was crushed and the Palestinian Jews were scattered. Yet Christianity managed to spread rapidly to Rome and elsewhere around the Mediterranean in Hellenistic orientated communities.
The spread of Chistianity
Constantine coin honoring sungod Apollo
The Mithraic sun cult was still holding sway over Christians in Rome in the first three centuries AD. In fact emperor Constantine never abandoned sun worship and kept the sun on his coins. He retained the title of Pontifex Maximus, high priest of the heathen state religion. The pagan festival of the birthday of the sun: Sol Invictus, on December 25th at the winter stolstice, was adopted as the birthday of Jesus.
The pagan custom was to cut green branches and hanging little lights on them. Our Christmas tree! At that occasion presents were given in the god's name.
The ancient sign of life, the ankh, known for thousands of years, was transformed into the Christian cross; the figure of Isis nursing her child Horus, Isis Lactans, became the figure of Virgin Mary with Jesus at her breast . The weekly day devoted to Sol, Sunday, replaced the Jewish sabbath on Saturday.
Existing devil-sacrifices were replaced by processions in a saint's honor, with an offering of oxen to the glory of God.
With the council of Nicea in 325 under emperor Constantine the Christian doctrine became crystalized. Gnostic and other deviant views were banned. Only the accepted canonical scriptures were tolerated, the other apocryphal works were destined to go into oblivion.
Newly conceived ideas of 'church' (ecclesia), 'faith' and 'religio', religious practices, structural organization with various ecclestical levels were introduced to make it an institution which could be manipulated by whatever state accepted its practice to keep their people under control.
After Constantine emperor Theodosus I made Christianity into a state religion in 392 AD. Pagan worship was banned thereafter and persecuted. Christians who did not agree with the Nicene
Creed were forcefully converted or slaughtered. In 401 AD Mary was declared to be the Virgin
Around the year 500 another surge of expectation of the end of the world roused the emotions. It would not be the only instance in the centuries to follow.
From the fifth century onward traces of paganism were erased radically. Existing customs were converted into Christian practices: worship of saints and martyrs, instead of the ancient gods, pilgrimages to their tombs, incense burning, exorcisms and prophecies, became part of Christian life.
Alas, the new religion brought no peace. Armies still fought wars. There was hardly any social reform. The distinction between classes only grew. So did inequality in distribution of wealth.
The Church acquired more and more possessions and grew to a powerful institution. Religious intolerance was greater than ever before.
It also became the first Middle Eastern independent systematical religious organisation. Centuries later it served to be an appealing model in the formation of that other great religion: Islam.
In spite of all mystification the great miracle remains that the figure of the personification of love and redemption comes shining through in the scriptures, incorporating the legacy of all the religious aspirations and mystical traditions of the peoples of the Middle East at that period of time. It contains powerful suggestions to release spiritual healing forces in true believers. Disbelievers suffer from the absence of those, unless they have found them somewhere else.
Whether Jesus ever existed or not does not take away the splendour of this archetypal divine figure endowed with unconditional love. It has inspired and moved people for centuries in spite of the fact that often churches have made a mockery and misrepresentation of the original message and used it to maintain existing social structures exploiting the life and freedom of its believers.
Maccoby, Hyam: The Mythmaker: Paul & the Invention of Christianity
Mack, Burton L.: The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy (2003)
Maes, Dr. E.: Een andere Jezus (2000)
McKinsey, C.D.: The encyclopedia of biblical errancy (1995)
Meeks, W.A.: In Search of the Early Christians (2002)
Murphy, Derek: Jesus, Potter, Harry Christ (2011)( The author gives a comprehensive review of all the cons and pros for the historicity of Jesus the Christ. He concludes that with the same argumentation one might as well 'prove' that the fictitious character Harry Potter actually lived on earth !)
Pagels, Elaine: The Gnostic Gospels (1979)
Price, Robert M.: The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (2005)
Raskin, J.: The evolution of Christs and chistianities (2006)
Smith W.C.: The meaning and end of religion (1962)
Thomas, J.: The first Christian Generation
Verhoeven, P. & Massotty, S.: Jesus of Nazareth (2010)
Wells, G.A: The Jesus Myth (1999)
Created: 1 December 2003. Latest revision 23 July 2017.