THREE ESSAYS ON THE MEANING OF LIFE
ESSAY 1: AN EXAMINATION OF THE HOUSE OF GOD
“At least two-thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity: idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political ideas.”
- Aldous Huxley
This is the first of three essays which will explore for any ultimate purpose there may be to our existence – which purpose may allow our lives to have special meaning. This essay will examine the House of God because it claims to have knowledge of life’s ultimate purpose and special meaning.
Our working definitions are: “special” meaning – any meaning that all our lives have above and beyond the individual, personal meanings which most of us construct; “ultimate” purpose – any purpose all our lives have above and beyond the ultimately futile survival purposes of our mortal animal bodies.
The House of God claims to have knowledge of life’ meaningful purpose through its knowledge of the creator God who designed and created this world. Such knowledge, it claims, was received through said God’s earthly messengers, prophets, and priests – and was then recorded in a “B” Book – the Holy Bible.
However, as noted in the Introduction, many in the educated world (the West especially) find both the House of God’s meaning/purpose of life, and its God, to be incredible. So incredible that a growing majority have turned away, not only from said House, but from a belief that there is any God – or any higher “A” Agency than blind physics. Further, along with a disbelief in any God, most have come to disbelieve that life has any ultimate purpose or special meaning at all – concluding that if we need purpose and meaning in our lives, then we must find/construct our own. But, as also noted in the Introduction, too many are having a struggle with that – and as a result, finding themselves floundering in a sea of meaninglessness – many in danger of drowning.
So this first essay, on its mission to explore for any ultimate purpose and special meaning in our lives, will examine the House of God for any “T” Truths it may have. Our working definition for Truth being: that which is true for everybody all the time – cf. our personal “t” truths (which may or may not be the Truth).
But some would ask:
ISN’T IT PRESUMPTUOUS TO EXAMINE GOD?
We are not aiming to examine God here, but religion. Many equate religion with God, but this is a category error – religion is of man, not God. We will examine religion’s Gods/gods(?) – this is not a search for proof of the existence of any God, or the nature of any such. That may happen in Essay 3? – where we plan to venture “Along the Road to Truth”? I use the plural “we” because I imagine this to be an expedition accompanied by others – please email me with your own discoveries.
This essay will concentrate on the Christian House of God, being the one with which I am most familiar, but much of what applies to the Christian House of God applies to all religions – especially those based upon the Abrahamic God and a “B” Book – supposedly written and/or inspired by “Him”.
But some would say that because our House of God does much good, it should be left alone.
THE HOUSE OF GOD DOES MUCH GOOD
True – our House of God has done, and still does, much good for us as individuals and for our societies. Given that this is to be, necessarily, a critical examination, in all fairness we should firstly consider the undeniably good things that our House of God does.
THE GOOD THINGS DONE BY THE HOUSE OF GOD
The Christian House of God observably does crucial charity work for the poor (e.g. Anglicare, St. Vincent’s Society, Salvation Army, etc.); hospitals and clinics for the sick (especially in poverty-stricken third world countries); hospices for the terminally ill; nursing and retirement homes; general social work for those in need. It also provides: community hubs and meeting places; fellowship; ceremonies to mark our rites of passage; moral commandments and ethical standards essential for any successful society. While many of these roles are increasingly being taken over by secular institutions (like various United Nation Agencies, Federal and State Governments, Municipal Councils, community neighbourhood centres, private charities, service clubs) and wealthy individual philanthropists – the House of God continues to play a sizeable and significant role.
Also the Christian House of God has been a civilising influence over the centuries. For example, Christianity had a de-brutalising, civilising influence on Rome and its empire (consider all the coliseums throughout the Mediterranean that were shut down after Christianity became established as State religion). Consider also the similar civilising and de-brutalising effect conversion to Christianity had on the various invading tribes which subsequently overthrew Rome and overran Europe (e.g. the Goths, Vandals, Franks, and especially the conversion of the Vikings, whose destabilising and brutal raids into many countries only ceased after they were Christianised).
Further, general education owes a debt to the House of God, which originally founded most of Europe’s leading universities (Oxford, Cambridge, etc.). The House of God also played the major role in the preservation of our books of ancient learning – philosophy, politics, laws, science, mathematics – such learning being preserved in monasteries during our frequent times of warfare (in an interesting twist, the Islamic House of God preserved much of the philosophic works of the ancient Greeks, later reintroducing them into the Christian world which had largely lost them).
The liberal secularism and individual freedoms which we in the West presently value, owe a large debt to Christianity. Our present liberal secularism, with its tenets of equality; law before might; fair wages; fundamental human rights – which tenets are at the core of Western identity (and of Western hegemony) – developed from Christian ideals. The gradual emergence of Christianity into power, for example, spelt the eventual demise of slavery (which was previously common throughout the entire Mediterranean world – during the Greek “golden age” of philosophy slavery was accepted, slaves being regarded as “living tools” – Aristotle). The Christian message was of universal human equality: all were seen as “equal in the eyes of God”.
An excellent book on the subject of the emergence of liberal secularism in the West is: “Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism” by Oxford scholar Larry Siedentop:
“…the liberal secular world we live in – and for the most part endorse – is a world shaped by Christian beliefs.” (Prologue).
As well as the above larger societal roles, the House of God has often played valuable personal roles. For example:
· Providing many with the existential comforts of meaning and purpose.
· Comfort for those approaching death.
· Strength during bereavements and sickness.
· Helping people in our gaols – not only providing comfort but turning many from recidivism to crime.
· Combatting mental health issues like depression (often through the sense of belonging and acceptance which flows from the fellowship of a congregation).
All up, the Christian House of God, as well as being foundational to our successful Western society, is good for us personally – making those who reside in the House of God happier and healthier. Greg Sheridan, in his book “God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times” (2018) quotes from several studies and concludes:
“Honest sociologists acknowledge how much people benefit from the religious approach to life…There are almost countless studies showing that religious people are happier than non-religious people.” (P. 28)
So, why not just leave the House of God alone to do the good things it undoubtedly does?
SHOULDN’T THE HOUSE OF GOD BE ABOVE CRITICAL EXAMINATION BECAUSE OF ALL THE GOOD IT DOES?
Firstly, the House of God needs examination because, people, especially in the educated West, are leaving it in droves. If we wish the House of God to continue in its good roles for human society, we need to examine it to find out why people are leaving. If this exodus continues, the Christian House will not have the resources to continue to do many of the good it has done in the past.
Secondly, although the Christian House of God has many good people and has done much good for our society, Huxley’s opening quote about the “miseries” which have sprung from religion is true – all our Houses of God have a history of evil people and evil deeds. Such evils, of course, are related to the above point concerning falling attendances at the House of God – one of the main reasons why attendances are falling is that people are doubting the existence of any God who would allow such evil in “His” name – and are also doubting any ultimate purpose and special meaning to our existence because of such evil.
First point first. Because some in the House of God challenge that numbers are dropping, we will examine that assertion.
ARE ATTENDANCES DECLINING IN THE HOUSE OF GOD?
Over the last, say 100 years, while populations have been rising, attendances at the House of God have observably been falling in the West – evidenced by the number of churches that have been abandoned or turned into homes and restaurants – and by the increasing number of secular weddings we see being celebrated in parklands; the funerals being conducted in funeral parlours or community halls; christenings celebrated at backyard barbeques. The House of God is observably not attracting people, at best – repelling them, at worst.
Wishfully, religions try to minimise any talk of huge decline in attendance – usually mentioning the high number of people who claim a religion in government censuses. But such census data don’t show the full extent of House of God abandonment – when asked to fill out a census form most people put down the religion of their family/ancestors in the appropriate box. But what’s the actual participation rate of such folk? The evidence is pretty stark – in the 2011 Australian Government census 61% of people who said they had a religion, claimed to be Christian, but only 8% of those attended church services (how regularly being not reliably known). Compare that with the 1901 census which had 96% of the population identifying themselves as Christian – with half of those attending church. Whereas 22% of people in the 2011 Government census were brave enough to admit having no religion, in the 2016 census the figure went up to 30%. Some wishful religious souls say that the trend away from the House of God is reversing in the younger generations. However, a joint study by Monash University, Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association in 2006 found that while 48% of Generation Y identify themselves as Christian, just 19% of those claimed to be actively involved in a church (attending services at least once a month) – which means that just 9% of generation Y are active (if they are telling the truth). In the 2016 Government census, 39% of young people (18-34) were game enough to say they had no religion – compared to the 30% average of all ages.
The House of God also conducts their own surveys (for example, the National Church Life Survey – conducted every 5 years). The 2006 National Church Life Survey (an Australian survey – but a typical Western society) showed a decrease in attendances: Roman Catholic numbers were down 13%; Anglican down 2%; Uniting down 13%; Lutheran down 8%. After the 2011 Survey the House of God was slow to give out attendance percentages – only being prepared to state:
“…we don’t know actually. We don’t have any results on numerical growth or decline at this stage. There are signs overseas that perhaps plateau has taken place.”
Dr. Ruth Powell (Professor Australian Catholic University) – ABC Radio National interview 28/11/2012.
But have attendances “plateaued” – or, more truly, bottomed? And “overseas”, usually means sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, South America – where the general spread of education (especially science) is most often less than that in the West. Getting more up-to-date figures out of the House of God is difficult – indicating that the news is not good for them? If we go again to 2016 Australian Government Census figures we find that, while only 30% of Australians were game to say they had no religion, 75% of marriages were secular – meaning that really the “no religion” category was closer to 70% than 30%. Even 60% of funerals were civil ceremonies – “even” because most present funerals are, obviously, for the older generations who say they are more religious (generally because they are “having a little bit each-way” – being closer to the “great unknown”). Such figures are objective percentages, which are more telling – along with the fact that more Churches are being sold than built – at the same time that the Australian population is expanding. Only Muslim mosques are being built in any numbers in the West – in pace with the expanding immigrant population. As to what will happen to Muslim attendances with the improved educational opportunities they are now getting, we will have to wait and see.
As above, one reason that attendances at the House of God are dropping is the evil that has been/still is being committed by said House. What are these evils?
EVILS COMMITTED BY THE HOUSE OF GOD
All Houses of God have committed evil (and still do). The Christian House of God which we are concentrating on, for example, has been responsible for evils such as:
· The Inquisitions.
· Wholescale extermination of dissenting groups (the Cathars, for example).
· Various bloody Crusades.
· Bloody inter-denominational conflicts (between Catholics and Protestants, for example).
· Evils which, while not directly committed by our House of God, had Christian religious roots (various pogroms against the Jews in many countries, and the Holocaust during World War 2).
· Barbarities associated with various Christian missionary activities (supporting the Spanish Conquistadors’ conquest of South America, for example).
· Sex crimes (like paedophilia) committed by officers of the House of God (and the subsequent lies told against the victims by the religious hierarchies in order to protect said Houses’ power).
Basically, we need to examine how a House, formed in the name of Jesus Christ, could do such deeds – that were the very antithesis of the man.
So, all the above are the main reasons why I presume to critically examine the House of God and its alleged Truths. But before I launch into this task I think it is important to nail my colours to the mast, because the whiff of Huxley’s “proselytizing zeal” (from the opening quote) will always hang around those who venture onto the storm-tossed waters of religion.
ANY PROSELYTIZING ZEAL?
Do I have any proselytising zeal? I say not, I definitely try not, I certainly hope not – but as leader of an expedition which will examine the House of God, the House of Disbelief, and explore along the Road to Truth, I should supply some personal background.
My family was basically agnostic. I had an orthodox, but low-key Christian education at an Anglican boys school. However, what little orthodox Christian faith that was successfully instilled in me at that school was demolished at Sydney University during the sixties (along with a fair bit of my liver!?). Whilst I presently have no belief in any theology, I have – in the course of living 70+ years – occasionally experienced the spiritual, the numinous, the feeling/knowledge that there is a part of me which is usually called “self/soul/spirit”. Not to get lost in semantics, but that part of me which is not of atoms, that part of me which experiences being “lifted”, “moved” (by the experience of beauty, for example). Such numinous, spiritual moments in life have allowed me to experience/know – rather than believe – that there is some sort of a Divine, a “G” God if you like (again call such what you will, but something grand/Divine beyond the human-like “g” gods of human religions). Such has left me with an intellectual inclination conviction that there most likely is a meaningful purpose to life – without any intellectual idea/knowledge of what it may be.
To nail it down a bit tighter, do I have a philosophical position – am I a card-carrying deist; pantheist; agnostic; materialist; post-modernist; nihilist; existentialist; New Ageist; whateverist?
ANY PHILOSOPHICAL IDEOLOGY?
While everybody who gets out of bed in the morning is a philosopher, I like to think that I have not started out on this exploration for Truths as a card-carrying member of any philosophical ideology. Some “isms” have appealed to me, but I find it hard to completely subscribe to any. Agnosticism, for example, comes close but doesn’t totally suit me because although I am agnostic about the nature of any God/Absolute (bound to be ineffable to us creatures born and experienced only of this relative reality) I still feel that there is something worthy of the name “G” God. Deism (a God evidenced by the apparent design in the universe – but a non-interfering one – as evidenced by all the evil in our world) has some appeal to me. But Pantheism does also (maybe “in the beginning” a God/Energy became the matter of our universe rather than created it – meaning God is the universe?) And, while I admire Jesus and can see the “T” Truth of his humanist precepts (that a successful life depends on us loving, forgiving, and doing unto others) you could not call me a Christian because, so far (i.e. at this point in my life and at the start of my examination of the House of God) I’m not sure about the Bible being the “word of God”, nor can I swallow the religious doctrines which were concocted about Jesus after his death – which digestion is necessary before you can call yourself a Christian. However, as I have heard plenty of others say: “while I am not religious, I like to think that I am a spiritual person”. I say this because I find my self (as opposed to my body) frequently seeking and being “moved” by spiritual experiences such as: the appreciation of beauty in all its forms (natural and human made); being moved by certain human behaviours (like bravery, generosity, achievement against the odds). And I also admit to being a hedonist – enjoying all the sensory delights of physical existence.
If you insist on a label, you could put all the bits together that presently apply to me and maybe call me a hedonistic-deo-pantheo-spirituo-humanist? But whatever philosophical label best fits me now, I like to think that I have an open mind and reserve the right to change my philosophical and/or religious position at any time as we progress in these essays (hopefully towards some “T” Truths?).
How about any agenda I might have in examining the House of God?
Do I have some hidden agenda, perhaps? Like Voltaire, maybe I want to convince others to fear God in order to keep them law-abiding?: “I don’t believe in God, but I hope my valet does so he won’t steal my spoons”. Or maybe there are some agenda unconsciously hidden from myself? I deny it, but who knows what will come out during this exploration for Truth? Because “the Truth will out” – as the saying goes.
As for open agenda, I do admit to a loathing of religious fundamentalism (but only equalled by my loathing of atheist/materialist fundamentalism). Religious fundamentalists hate – they kill men, women, and children – in the name of a god. Muslim religious fundamentalists still kill “infidels” today to ingratiate themselves with their god – just as Jewish religious fundamentalists have done in the past (if the Bible is to be believed). Christians fundamentalists have also waded in blood in the past – as they presently urge their god to do so again (read the “End of Days” series of books – which glory in the suffering which is soon to come for those who don’t believe as they do).
But, not all religious people are fundamentalist, and I am expecting to find “T” Truths in our examination of the House of God. To sum up the agenda issue, I can honestly say that this particular essay examining the House of God, while necessarily a critical examination, is not motivated by any desire to damage. These essays are primarily a hunt for Truths, and I would be entirely happy if we found Truths which strengthened all Houses of God – increasing their attendances and funds – thus their ability to continue all the good things they have done/still do for humanity as considered above. They remain well set up for such a task – with their in-place organised charities, existing hospitals and aged-care homes, beautiful cathedrals in all the best sites. But with diminishing attendances and thus diminishing cash resources, for how long can they continue their good roles? Not much longer unless they can find some vital “T” Truths which humanity can recognise as such and increase their support.
Maybe such Truths will be new, or maybe they are currently hidden in full view? Let’s have a look.
ESSAY1 – AN EXAMINATION OF THE HOUSE OF GOD
We will specifically explore/examine the Christian House of God because it is the House of God with which I am most familiar, however I suspect that much of what is discovered here will be applicable to all Houses of God founded on a Book (a “B” Book because written/inspired by God). And it must also be remembered that the god in the Christian Bible is the same Abrahamic god of two other leading religions of humanity: Judaism and Islam.
So, what exactly is the Christian “House of God”?
An “H” House, is much like an “h” house – it has purpose, design, and fabric. So what are these of the House of God?
The purpose of anything is what it does. Some religious folk would say that what the House of God does is please God. You will have to ask God about that. To us lesser beings, it is observable that all Houses of God have a similar purpose – they are houses of worship – places where people worship a supposed “G” God, an “H” Higher “A” Agency who created the universe and who retains power over it. And what is the purpose of that worship? Worship is praise and flattery in the form of songs and prayers – whose purpose is supplication.
“Supplicate” according to my dictionary is 1. Verb: to pray to God; 2. to ask humbly and earnestly for something.
For “something” – like what? Something like protection from evil – moral, natural, and supernatural. “Moral” evil being the evils men do (e.g. murder, mayhem, wars etc.); “natural” evil being the disasters of an uncaring, natural world (e.g. earthquakes, droughts, floods etc.); “supernatural” being the evils which can be visited on us after death (e.g. hell). As well as a supplication for protection from something evil, worship is also a supplication for something good (e.g. good health, winning the lottery, a good harvest, and – ultimately – eternity in heaven).
So, as we have seen above, while Houses of God do offer some personal and social benefits (fellowship, sense of purpose, charity, etc.) to their congregations, the bottom-line purpose of the House of God is control and power over the vagaries of life (and death) by getting an all-powerful God onto your side through worship. Such, of course, is based on the premises that: 1.) said Higher Agency wants/needs to be worshipped and therefore will react favourably to it; 2.) such Higher Agency can affect the vagaries of the natural world and/or the actions of other humans in your favour.
Another observable purpose of all Houses of God is to provide the officers thereof with a living, and power, and status. Some officers respect the power given to them and earn their wages and status by doing much good for the societies they live in; some abuse their power by sexually predating on their flock; some have been, and/or are, murderers who get members of their congregations to kill those non-believing infidels who stand in the road of their religion’s hegemony (and thus the priest’s personal status and power).
What was the design when building the Christian House of God?
History tells us that after the death of Jesus, a Jewish sect who followed his teachings emerged from Judaism. This sect believed that Jesus had been the Jewish Messiah, who was to reappear after his death – to liberate the Jews from their Roman oppressors. The design of this Jewish sect was to get God’s chosen tribe ready for this second coming of Jesus the Messiah. Nothing happened concerning this coming – in fact the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed yet again and the number of members of this Jewish Jesus Movement fell away. However, Jesus’ teachings had been spread widely by some of his followers – to a broader audience across the Easter Mediterranean region – and the design of the House which grew to encompass these followers was different. Instead of being exclusively Jewish, this Jesus sect opened itself up to all-comers – becoming, in time, an inclusive Mediterranean-wide religion.
New doctrines were developed to allow the Jesus sect to compete with the numerous, already existing, Mediterranean religions. The most attractive doctrines were the doctrines of eternal bodily life after death, and the equality of all in the eyes of God (there was a large slave population in the Mediterranean world and an equally large underclass). Such, and other important doctrines – for example the Divinity of Jesus (Trinity); redemption from sins (Salvation) – and the inspiringly brave deaths of many early Christians in the coliseums (and streets) of the Roman Empire eventually won the numbers game for Christianity, as it now came to be called. Eventually, after about three centuries, Emperor Constantine recognised Christianity’s potential – and he oversaw its design as a cohesive religion – for a much grander purpose: the official religion of the Roman Empire.
In this way the original, humble, Jewish Jesus movement – a design-less band of loving, sharing, brothers and sisters whom Jesus had personally inspired – became/was supplanted by the Christian House of God; its design now gradually becoming akin to that of a big business.
The fabric of the Christian House of God is both spiritual and physical. Its spiritual fabric includes walls of fellowship it provides to its inhabitants; a sheltering roof of the charity it provides to its local society and to wider world; its furnishings being the inspirational moral teachings of Jesus (e.g. of the primacy of love, forgiveness, and doing unto others). The physical fabric of the House of God includes its architecture, art, and music – both worldly and spiritual in its beauty. Few would argue that such fabric of the House of God is good for our societies and an ornament to our lives. However, the Biblical foundational fabric of this House of God is questionable – for most – anecdotally, the Bible’s incredibility, and the evils within it, being the main reasons given by those who won’t go near said House (or who have left).
We will test this assertion of incredibility and evil when we examine the Bible in a moment. For here, there is no doubt that the foundations of the Christian House of God are the words of this Book – the Bible. Ask any Christian about proof of the existence of their God, or about the existence and/or nature of life’s special meaning/purpose – and he/she will eventually refer to the Bible (or to some religious saint/guru/academic who based his beliefs on Biblical “proofs”).
THE BIBLE – WHY IS IT THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE HOUSE OF GOD
The Christian House of God rests on Biblical foundations because when it was compiled, centuries after Jesus’ death, it was claimed by early church fathers to be written by/inspired by God – therefore an unquestionable “B” Book – the “Holy” Bible”. When the Christian House of God came into power it was protected from critical examination with a death penalty (painful as possible – usually torture and burning at the stake). While the Christian House of God no longer kills people, the ancient claim of the Bible’s Divine authorship is still maintained by many today:
“...the Bible is authoritative because of its divine authorship... items of theological belief must have either explicit or implicit support, or be dismissed.”
“Systematic Theology – A Pentecostal Perspective”, P. 42 (Ed. Stanley Horton, 1994)
But surely only Pentecostal-type fundamentalists believe the Bible to be literally the word of God? Not so, even mainstream Christianity holds that the Bible is the word of God. The Oath of Conformity required of every candidate for ordination in the Episcopal-Anglican Church in the USA is:
“I do believe the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation.”
Quoted from, “The Sins of Scripture”, John Shelby Spong, P. 16.
So, if we are to examine the House of God we need to start with the Bible – because it is such a crucial part of the fabric of the House of God – its very foundations. If your foundations are shot, anything you build upon those foundations will eventually crumble.
Many, however, assert that the Bible is above such examination.
EXEMPT FROM REASON?
The Bible is held by the House of God to be above the tools of philosophical examination: reason and logic. The assertion is that the Bible has been delivered/written by Holy revelation – thus it cannot be successfully examined because exempt from reason:
“Reason is a good servant of the revelation of God, but it is not a good master over that revelation. … human reason that denies divine revelation has always come under the influence of sin and Satan ever since Adam’s fall.”
– Stanley Horton, Op cit. P. 45.
So, fear is the footing under the Biblical foundations of the Christian House of God, not reason. You must not use your reason on the Bible because thereby you risk coming to deny that the Bible resembles Divine revelation – if so, you must have “come under the influence of sin and Satan” (and you know what happens to you). Using such fear tactics – of coming under the sway of an entirely hypothesised “Devil/Satan” – to dissuade the use of our God-given reason is another “why” so many people have left the House of God: you have to hang your brain on a peg by the door.
But we must be fearless if we are to examine the House of God for the Truth – of any credible purpose and meaning to our life/existence. Again, “T” Truth being that which is true for everybody, all the time – as opposed to the vested interest “t” truths of our House of God’s officers, upon which truths their power and status rest. We must ignore the implied threats of the defenders of the faith, and start our exploration of the House of God by examining the foundation stone upon which it rests – the Bible.
So, here goes.
THE HOLY BIBLE
(I will be using the New International, the New Revised Standard, and the King James versions of the Bible – just a few of the many versions of “the word of God”!?).
We will start our examination “in the beginning” – the Old Testament.
Why? Whilst the Old Testament remains the Jewish Bible – surely no Christians believe in it any more after Jesus brought his new message as recorded in the New Testament?
Many Christians still do – some even revere it. Christian journalist, Greg Sheridan describes it as:
“…almost peerless literature…a work of Jewish genius…full of wisdom and kindness and love…great moral beauty and poetry”
“God Is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times” 2018, Pp. 151-155.)
For Sheridan, who acknowledges the gradual emptying of his House of God, the answer to refilling it lies in more Bible – not less – including the Old Testament:
“…the Old Testament is a journey not only through history but of discovery of God and of his gradual self-disclosure. It is one of the most prodigious and bountiful resources of Western civilisation and of all human civilisation. Its lessons are inexhaustible and its influence has been overwhelmingly for the good.” (ibid. P. 167)
So, while some modern members of the House of God claim not to put much weight on the Old Testament anymore, it is evident some educated and influential members still think that it contains Truth – so we need to examine it in our search for Truth, purpose and meaning. Also need to examine the Old Testament because the knee bone of the Christian doctrines flowing from the New Testament are connected to the thighbone of the Old Testament stories. For example, the key Christian New Testamentary doctrines, of our need for salvation and atonement, are based on our supposed original sin as derived from the Old Testament.
And there are examples of the New Testament being written with one eye on the Old Testament.
THE DEPENDENCY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT UPON THE OLD?
Some people like to think that the New and Old Testaments are independent documents and thus the Old Testament can serve to confirm the New. But the Jewish people who wrote the “Christian” New Testament were very familiar with the Jewish Old Testament – such was not “old” to them, but very much current Scripture. Much of the New Testament story of Jesus was originally written (and rewritten during House building times), in such a way as to make the Old Testament prophecies seem to be fulfilled in him – in order to proselytise Jesus’ own people – the Jews. As we will see when we examine the New Testament, Jesus, himself, saw his mission as being to his own people – and the Jewish Gospellers tied him to the Old Testament in order to authorise him in this task. As a result, much of the reliability of the New Testament is based on the reliability of the Old. Christopher Hitchens describes the process of authenticating Jesus through Old Testament prophecy thus:
“…if you pick up any of the four Gospels and read them at random, it will not be long before you learn that such and such an act or saying, attributed to Jesus, was done so that an ancient prophecy should come true. (Speaking of the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, riding astride donkey, Matthew says in his chapter 21, verse 4, ‘All of this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet...’). If it should seem odd that an action should be deliberately performed in order that a foretelling should be vindicated, that is because it is odd. And it is necessarily odd because, just like the Old Testament, the “New” one is also a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events, and full of improvised events to make things come out right.”
C. Hitchens, “God is Not Great” (Pp. 109-110)
While Hitchens is one of the leading zealots of another fundamentalism (the “H” House of Disbelief – which we will examine next in Essay 2) he does makes a valid point. For us, our examination of the Biblical foundations of the House of God – for Truth – must start with the Old Testament because, observably, much of the reliability of the New rests on the reliability of the Old.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
FROM VERBAL TRADITION TO THE WORD OF GOD?
What Christians call the “Old Testament” is the written religious scriptures of the Hebrews – an ancient grouping of Semitic tribes from in and around the area we now call the Middle East. These writings are the Hebrews’ pre-scientific attempts to explain how the physical world came to exist, and a record of their place in it (pretty central). It is a written record of events and imaginings previously held in a verbal tradition which, when written down, came to be asserted as holy – the word of God. In the words of John Rogerson :
“Somehow, writings as disparate as laws, popular stories, dynastic annals, proverbs, laments, love stories and psalms came to be regarded as scripture.”
(P. xiii Oxford History of the Bible)
But do the words of the Old Testament actually resemble the words that any real “G” God would say/write – or even inspire? We’ll see in a moment, but first, it must be stated that this is to be a literal examination of the Bible.
WHY A LITERAL EXAMINATION OF THE BIBLE?
When many assert that the Old Testament is mainly metaphor and allegory, why are we examining its literal words? Firstly because many also believe it is literally true. Secondly, it is mainly apologists who use the idea that much is metaphor and allegory – to explain away much that does not resemble the word of any real “G” God. Thirdly, there are many differing interpretations of what the Bible’s words are seen as metaphors and allegories for – which means we are getting further away from “the word of God” – towards the words of interpreters (as can be seen in the history of Christianity, some interpreters have used the Old Testament as justification for evil acts). For Sheridan: “The Bible, like all religious texts, requires interpretation, authoritative interpretation.” Which for him: “…this interpretation comes from the Catholic Church itself.” (Op. cit. P. 151)
Many, from other denominations, would disagree with him. We are hunting for “T” Truths here – in a supposedly Divinely-inspired “B” Book, not trying to determine which interpretations are Divinely inspired – all of which are also from theologians with vested interest (jobs, power, status) in convincing us that the Bible is “Holy” and their interpretation of it are the “T” Truth. So we really need to look at the literal words and decide for ourselves the meaning and the Truth of them. That said, during our exploration of the Biblical foundations of the House of God, we will always be on the lookout for any expert and neutral (i.e. non-proselytising, non-denominational, non-theistic, and non-atheistic) Bible scholarship to help us – especially to see into any opaque, seeming metaphors and allegories, for deeper Truths.
So, let’s go.
The first five Books in the Old Testament: Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy; are also known as the Pentateuch. They form the Torah – the “law”, “teaching”, “way” of the ancient Jewish people. They contain creation stories, early history, and outline the laws which are said to form the basis of a special covenant between the Jewish people and their god.
The first of these Books, Genesis, contains an explanation for how everything came to exist. According to Genesis, everything in the universe was created by God in six days, who then needed a rest on the seventh. God created light and dark, night and day, sky and earth, the seas and the fishes, the dry land and the vegetation, the sun by day and the stars at night, the birds and the bees, cattle and creeping things. In short – everything.
Then God created humankind to have dominion over all: “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (1:27) and sent them forth to multiply – to “fill the earth and subdue it”. Earth was placed at the centre of the Universe – the sun and planets revolved around it.
Our physical science tell us that this is not the Truth. While our sciences don’t have a full understanding of “why there is something rather than nothing” (as we will see in Essay 2) on the observable evidence they are correct – beyond reasonable doubt – that this creation story is a myth. But for beauty and inventiveness, Genesis is definitely on a par with many other creation myths – like the Australian Aborigines’ myth of the “Rainbow Serpent”, for example.
TWO DIFFERENT ACCOUNTS OF THE CREATION
So, an obvious myth which no amount of “interpretation” could make to be the Truth. Page 1 and already there is trouble with the Bible being the infallible word of God.
And it also disagrees with itself – having two differing versions of the creation. In the first version men and women were made at the same time by God on the sixth day; but the second version says woman was made after man – when God realised man needed a companion (made out of one of his ribs, plucked from him when he was asleep!). It is not possible for both accounts to be true, so one account is definitely an untruth?
If there is definitely an untruth here, then where else?
Apart from our modern sciences, Galileo proved beyond reasonable doubt that both versions of the beginning in Genesis are wrong. Galileo successfully challenged the Bible’s Earth-centric account with his objective findings from the developing sciences of astronomy and cosmology. For this he was repaid by the House of God with imprisonment. But, eventually, the House of God had to admit that the Bible was wrong – although it took 400 years – when Galileo’s excommunication was annulled by the Vatican, well into the 20th century.
So, if the Vatican says the Bible can be wrong – it’s official. And we are left knowing either the Bible is not the word of God, or that God can make mistakes.
But mistakes in the Bible don’t stop with its cosmology.
as cosmological misinformation, Genesis is all at sea with its biology. It
tells us the sea-creatures and birds were created on day five, and the animals
of the Earth (including man and woman) and plants – on day six. Again science
tells us this is not the Truth. Biology has discovered that life evolved over
many millions of years into the multifarious forms we now take. Yes – “we” – it
can be demonstrated empirically that humans are related to plants and animals
through our shared
HERE – WHERE
Those who believe the Bible to be the word of God have to ask themselves how could God get it so wrong? Even those who see it as not literally the word of God, but just inspired by God – must still ask: why would God inspire mistakes? Again, the biggest problem (and the reason why the Vatican took so long to forgive Galileo) is – if the Bible is wrong here, is it wrong in other places?
THE FUNDAMENTALIST APPROACH
Fundamentalists nip this sort of dangerous problem in the bud by convincing themselves that the Bible is literally true/correct – holding the Earth to be only about 6000 years old (calculated by Archbishop James Ussher in 1650 added up all the genealogical “begetting’s” in Genesis and coming up with the figure of the world’s beginning – 23rd October 4004 B.C.!) Now you can forgive Ussher because science was in its infancy then, but what can we say of the ignorance of people today who still believe that this is the real age of the Universe? And it is not a matter of fundamentalists “t” truths versus scientific “t” truths (they commonly ask scientists: “how do you know – were you there!?) We know that biology is correct because it works – we prove it right by successfully using the products of its “T” Truth every day. Even fundamentalists use the products of the Truth of biology every day – in their successful use of medicine. They also daily use the products of other physical sciences’ Truths (cars, phones, TV’s, etc.) – which sciences back up biology. You can’t deny the Truths of science on the one hand, while constantly and successfully using them on the other.
Beyond reasonable doubt the author of the Bible’s creation stories was ignorant of cosmological and biological Truths. The creation stories are just that – “stories” – myths, “t” truths as understood and written by pre-scientific man, not the “T” Truth written by God.
SHOULD BE READ AS METAPHOR AND ALLEGORY?
Sophisticated residents of the House of God read the words of the Bible (especially the Old Testament) as metaphor and allegory for deeper meanings than the literal. However, as already considered, key doctrine of the present, “modern” House of God rests all the way down – even onto the veracity of the primitive Garden of Eden story – original sin (allegorised by Adam and Eve defying god and consuming fruit from the tree of knowledge). And Original Sin is the cornerstone of Paul’s (the father of the modern Christian House of God) beliefs and doctrines about Jesus dying to wash away our sins – his death being our Salvation from humanity’s original sin. A belief in such original sin allows the modern Roman Catholic church to maintain that even babies are born into sin – and are therefore in need of salvation – this represents a literal belief in a mythical “sin”
KNOWLEDGE VS. FAITH
The Serpent’s tree story is also seen as another allegory for something deeper. The tree was called “the tree of knowledge” and Adam and Eve’s action of eating its fruit was a metaphor for choosing knowledge over faith – reality over the “received” word (Logos over Mythos?). Now this still remains a big sin as far as the House of God is concerned; valuing knowledge over faith – seeking for the “T” Truth over the House of God’s “t” truth (a big sin because such is surely the beginning of the end for the present House of God). The Enlightenment, when it flowered many years later, was basically that – humankind choosing knowledge over blind faith – the beginning of the end of religion’s power over Western civilisation.
Next in Genesis we have Noah’s Ark, a flood story taken from earlier civilisations – some tablets discovered in the ancient city of Nineveh substantially predated the Hebrew story and depicted a similar flood (known as the Epic of Gilgamesh). Archaeologist, Rd. Irving Finkel has also translated another cuneiform tablet describing a flood written 1500 years before the Old Testament story (“The Ark Before Noah”, 2013). But the scribe who wrote the Hebrew version in the Bible made it sound as if the flood was a Hebrew phenomenon – only eight worthy Hebrews survived the flood (Noah and his three sons and all their wives). The Bible tells the story this way:
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of humans was great on the earth, and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
So the blessed “Lord” accordingly decided to drown the whole evil lot (excepting Noah and his family) – including all the innocent animals on the Earth – keeping just two of every species to start again with. If you add up the biblical cubits the Ark was about the size of a supertanker, and made entirely of wood (pre Iron Age – no nails invented yet). But it would actually have needed to be about the size of the Grand Canyon to fit in two of each of the millions of animals and insects in the world, along with enough food to last for 140 days (100 days afloat after the 40 days of rain). Two of everything: birds and bats, hippos and horses, beetles and butterflies, lions and lizards – every living thing; including those unique to continents, islands and lands which were then unknown to people in the Middle East: Australia, the Americas, the islands of the Pacific – and all before the days of ocean-going ships to retrieve two of each of them for Noah’s Ark. And how about the myriad plant species of the world – how did they survive 140 days under salty water?
No need to go on and on, indeed, why mention it at all because no one with a brain believes this stuff anymore, right? Well I recently had a scary conversation with four young, local, evangelicals (believing the Bible to be the word of God) who had just graduated from a secular university – and they believed all of the Bible to be true. By way of explaining how Noah was able to cover the world to get two of every animal before ocean-going ships were available, they assured me “the world was much smaller then” – their very words!? Fundamentalists have an answer for everything (their favourite argument-stopper if you disagree with them is to say to you: “How do you know, were you there?”) The fear of the murderous Old Testament god who (they believe) was prepared to drown just about every innocent, living thing must have done strange things to their brains. And there are many of them out there – in America fundamentalists have created a multi-million dollar Bible theme park, including a section devoted to the Noah story – showing even dinosaurs going up the plank two-by-two into the Ark! It would be a laughing matter if it was not so tragic – these people control great wealth and political power in America and creationism is being taught on an equal footing with evolutionary science in certain schools in the USA as a “competing theory”. Some leading American politicians are creationists.
But perhaps the worst thing to come out of the fundamentalists’ belief that the Bible is God’s word, is the support the Noah story gives to slavery.
SLAVERY IS FINE BY GOD
Noah’s three sons were Shem, Japheth, and Ham. The Bible tells us that Noah became drunk on the wine he made from his own vineyard and lay down naked in his stupor. His son, Ham saw him naked (which was a sin, apparently) and when Noah found this out upon reviving, he cursed Ham’s son, Canaan:
“‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers’. He also said, ‘Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.’ ” (9:25-26)
Apart from the illogic of cursing the son of the offender, rather than the offender himself, many Bible-believers have seen this passage as a metaphor for God’s approval of slavery and the inferiority of negroes in general (particularly slaves in the South of pre-civil war USA and pre-apartheid South Africa – even calling them “sons of Ham”).
THE PROBLEM WITH METAPHORICAL READINGS OF THE BIBLE
The above is a good example of what we considered, above – the problem with seeing the Bible’s words as metaphors or allegories for “deeper” meanings rather than as meant to be literally true – you can decipher the Bible’s apparent metaphors/allegories as approval for your personal ideas/needs/evils.
The Bible tells us that Noah died at 950 years of age! I wonder what that was a metaphor for?
THE COVENANT WITH ABRAM
Genesis is also a statement about monotheism. In a time and place of the world where there were many gods, in charge of various parts of our environment (the sun, the moon, the sea, etc.) and of our various endeavours (wars, agriculture, etc.) Genesis plants the idea that there is only one god – a “G” God. In return for their exclusive worship, the monotheistic god which the Hebrews invented, makes a covenant with them and grants them a homeland, Canaan (which just happened to belong to someone else at the time):
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great...” (Genesis, 12:1-2)
This covenant was used as Divine imprimatur for the slaughter of the original inhabitants of Canaan – which is detailed approvingly and in all its bloody glory in the Bible. Such covenant still forms the title deeds to the Holy Land, to this day.
The Bible also tells us Abram had a son with Sarah when he was 100 years old, and more with other women – and he went on to live to be 175 years old! Fact or fiction? The Abram story cannot be dismissed by those who choose to just believe in the New Testament – because the New Testament authorises Jesus by tracing him to Abram (Matthew, 1:1-17) – as we shall see later.
SODOM & GOMORRAH
But wait, there’s more – in Genesis we have also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is the authority many modern churchmen (many with secular university degrees) use to condemn homosexuals – and ban them from holding office in their House of God. While these modern, educated churchmen mostly profess not to believe the creation and flood stories, they must think that parts of Genesis are written by God.
ARE YOU FINDING GOD OR YOUR SELF?
Which parts look Divine to you?
Which parts do you wish were true?
We need to ask: have I found God in the Old Testament – or my self (two words)?
Exodus is the next Book of the Old Testament. Here we move to Egypt, and the scene of Hebrew captivity. We encounter Moses in the bulrushes; miraculous plagues killing the Hebrews’ enemies; murderous angels killing all non-Jewish first-borns in a Passover; the release of the Hebrews; a change of mind by the Pharaoh; pursuit and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. The Hebrew tribes are then led by Moses across the desert to Mt. Sinai, where Moses’ god announces that he is going to appear on the mountain. But Moses first has to consecrate the people by getting them to wash their clothes. So:
“He consecrated the people and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, ‘Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.’ ” (Exodus 19:14-15)
“Do not go near a woman”? Dirty things these women! Is this likely to be the word of God? Further, not only are women dirty, but if Moses “said to the people” – “do not go near a woman” – were these women not even regarded as people?
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Moses then gets the Ten Commandments from his god on Mt. Sinai. These commandments certainly are the spine of any “civilising” influence that the Old Testament may have had on Western humanity (the civilising influence as claimed by O.T. apologists like Greg Sheridan – whose gushing apologetics we considered earlier). Similar codes of behaviour existed in other successful societies.
However, as we have seen, the chosen people of God were to break these commandments many times (e.g. murder, stealing, rape) – not only with their god’s approval – but even with “his” participation. Another thing to notice is that the commandments do not proscribe other things which we, today, consider heinous crimes:
“Then there is the very salient question of what the commandments do not say. Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide?”
“God is Not Great”, Christopher Hitchens, P. 100
While the pages of Hitchens’ book are somewhat spittle-flecked (he being stridently atheist – and often as fundamentalist as the religions he criticises) he does have a good point. Further, the Old Testament not only turns a blind eye to evils like slavery, Moses is even given other ordinances by the Hebrew god to regulate the slave-trade – for instance, regulations about selling your daughter into slavery:
“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed.” (21:7,8)
Some O.T. apologists, here, like to read “slavery” as a metaphor for servitude – just getting his daughter a “job”? I don’t think so – the Bible is straightforward in its approval of slavery. Further, not only is slavery OK, but beating your slave is alright too – with a couple of humane (?) provisos:
“ ‘When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives for a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.’ ” (21:20-21)
So, straight from the “word of God” – no metaphors – we get:
· slavery is OK;
· it is OK to beat them savagely with a rod;
· but not so savagely that they die straight away (but if they survive “a day or two” before dying – it’s fine);
· a slave is your property.
What type of person would regard this as the word of God?
Again, if it’s not God’s word here – where else?
Moses also gets social and religious laws and ordinances from his brutal “g” god which cement revenge into place (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). And laws which determine sexual relations, altars, festivals, blood sacrifices, tabernacles, Sabbaths. And this strange little bit:
“ ‘If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat will not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.’ ” (21:28)
Can you imagine the senseless and prolonged cruelty involved in stoning a bull to death? Bear in mind these are quotes of “G” God’s actual words – not allegories or metaphors for something else – literally the underpinnings of a covenant between man and God. This pitiless “g” god of the Old Testament also decrees:
21:4 It is permissible to keep wife and children of servants because such children are just the same as the natural increase of cattle.
21:17 Children who curse father or mother shall be put to death.
22:18 We should kill witches – “Do not allow a sorceress to live” (paving the way for Salem).
Is this your “Lord thy God” – or just the murderous “g” god of some desert tribes?
KILLING YOUR BROTHER, FRIEND, AND NEIGHBOUR IS OK
And while Moses was away receiving his commandments and ordinances, the Hebrew tribes waiting behind got impatient and made themselves a golden calf to worship. God was so jealous of the fact the Hebrews were worshipping another god, that he got Moses to assemble the sons of Levi and say to them:
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, ‘You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers and he has blessed you today.’ ” (32:27)
Let’s see if we have this right – Moses, fresh from receiving the ten commandments – surely the most important of which is “Thou Shalt Not Kill” – sets about killing 3,000 of his own people at the behest of god who is jealous of a golden calf? “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says … each killing his brother and friend and neighbour”? God not only urges the Levi tribe to kill their fellow Hebrews, but then makes the murderers “blessed” because of their ability to commit pitiless atrocities against their fellows.
However, just a little after the above divinely-authorised bloody fratricide we get this:
“…a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..” (34: 6-7)
But not forgiving of the transgression and/or sin of worshipping a metal calf?
A CONTRADICTORY GOD
There is no doubt the Bible is contradictory – holding God to be “merciful and slow to anger” – soon after showing him to be merciless and quick to anger. The Hebrew House of God’s officers (prophets, priests, etc.) who wrote this stuff (much later) created a god perfect to protect their own jobs and status – a “carrot and stick” god: the carrot of a god “abounding in steadfast love…merciful; gracious; forgiving” – but holding a bloody stick over his people, ready to kill them if they strayed from worshipping him.
Is that too cynical?
You must decide about the O.T. God – “g” god or “G” God – for your self (two words).
We will check out, later, what happened to Jesus when he tried to combat the high priests’ power-through-fear tactics with his insistence on the primacy of love.
Let’s look further for God and Truth in the next book of Old Testament.
Here we find laws and rules on such things as offerings, sacrifices, priests, clean and unclean food, skin diseases, mildew, unlawful sex, capital punishment. We learn here God will like us more if we kill animals and burn them on an altar as sacrifices to him.
Animal sacrifices – seems to sum up the sort of god we are dealing with here – a primitive tribal god?
The sort that regards menstruating women as unclean (12:2) – and also unclean after child birth – especially if she gives birth to a daughter (twice as unclean as giving birth to a son!):
“A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean seven days...If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean.” (12:2&5)
The Old Testament god is also sexist.
And Leviticus has more from this god on the slave trade:
“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.” (25:44-46).
Don’t know what all the fuss about slavery is – God says it’s OK!? (But not Jewish slaves – is this the beginnings of Jewish exclusivity which has caused them so much trouble over the centuries?)
And what’s this bit about humans being votive offerings to God – human sacrifice?
“Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be redeemed…no human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death.” (27:28-29)
“Devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal”…“human beings who have been devoted to destruction”? What’s all that a metaphor for?
More wanderings for god’s chosen in the deserts of Sinai. A census of men old enough to be soldiers – totalling 603,550 – and organising them for the god-sanctioned murder and destruction of the Canaanites.
The Old Testament god also orders that anyone who has been unfortunate enough to contract leprosy, “have a discharge”, or has been in contact with a corpse – shall be kicked out of the camp and abandoned.
And god hands down more sexist laws: (5:11-31) – A man can test (?!) a wife just because he suspects she may have been with another man – but the other man does not get tested – and no provision to “test” a husband if the wife suspects him.
And more urging to fear the O.T. god – and of assertions of that god’s murderous jealousy:
“The Lord your God you shall fear…because the Lord your God… is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth. ” (6:13-15)
A Sabbath-breaker is stoned to death with god’s approval (15:32). Then he approves the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites:
“The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns.” (21:3)
CAN A TRUE GOD BE PAROCHIAL?
If the Bible does not lie then the Canaanites were slaughtered wholesale – subject to mass murder/ethnic cleansing. Is this OK because done by the O.T. god’s chosen tribe to outsiders?
If the Bible is the Truth, then its god surely can’t be the one, true “G” God of all the Universe – such a true God would not be so parochial: just a god of the twelve tribes – every other person suitable for slavery and ethnic cleansing?
Or it’s all untrue.
What then of the O.T.’s claim of Divine authorship?
And more Divine jealousy and violence – after some Israelites bowed to the god Baal:
“The Lord said to Moses, Take all the chiefs of the people and impale them in the sun before the Lord…” (25:4)
“Impale them in the sun”!? You get to see why people say they believe in this god – their brains have been turned to mush by fear. This god also approves of infanticide, abduction, and rape:
[Of the Midanites] “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man.” (31:15)
“Save for yourself every girl who has not slept with a man”? Moslem terrorists at least have to wait for heaven to get their virgins! If this is not Divinely-sanctioned infanticide, rape and sexual slavery, what is it? You can see where ISIS got their ideas from!
Members of this expedition for Truth have to continually ask: is this Biblical god my God? And: does the Bible reveal anything about “G” God – or just about the people whose god this is?
Maybe a real “G” God will reveal himself soon? Let’s try the next book:
More divinely-sanctioned ethnic cleansing and plunder as all the men, women and children of Heshbon are slaughtered:
“...the Lord our God gave him over to us; and we struck him down, along with his offspring and people. At that time we captured all his towns, and in each town we utterly destroyed men, women and children. We left not a single survivor. Only the livestock we kept as spoil for ourselves, as well as the plunder of the towns we had captured.” (2:34)
Infanticide, murder, looting – metaphor, allegory, or lies?
And at Bashan more of the same:
“...in each city utterly destroying men, women and children.” (3:6)
“Men, women and children” – hear the word of your Lord!?
In return for meeting this O.T. god’s need for their worship, the Hebrew tribes were given all the innocent people in the “land of milk and honey” to slaughter or sexually enslave. A good land with fine cities built by its present owners and flourishing with the produce of their labours:
“...a land with fine large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, cisterns you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (6:10-11)
However, so long as the Hebrews kept their side of the covenant to praise a needy god, he continued to help them kill and enslave these innocent industrious people:
“...he clears away many nations before you – the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you – and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them.” (7:1)
A JEALOUS GOD
“...because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God.” (6:15)
Who requires the demolition of other religions:
“Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:2-6)
“…chosen you out of all the peoples on earth”? Must be nice to be “his treasured possession”?
RAPE AND PILLAGE IS FINE
Rape, murder, enslave, abduct, plunder – fill your boots – you are the chosen:
“...then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labour.” But if they resist slavery “...you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you.” (20:11-14)
“…take as your booty the women, the children…enjoy the spoil of your enemies”? Reading this stuff, one gets to doubt the motives of fundamentalists who believe it – maybe they are not really scared – just nasty?
“…you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them all – the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jedusites – just as the Lord your God has commanded.” (20:17-18).
A Holocaust; ethnic cleansing – what to call this!? Allegory for something else, perhaps?
BREAKING THE NECK OF HEIFERS AS ATONEMENT
The Bible also prescribes the breaking of the neck of a heifer belonging to the nearest village as atonement for any unsolved murder in the area (21:3). If all this is not the actual “word of God”, it’s just got to be Divine inspiration – surely?
And, according to this god, murder is suitable punishment for rebellious sons (were there ever any other sort?):
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother … his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of the town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town will stone him to death.” (21:18-21)
NON-VIRGINAL BRIDES SHOULD BE STONED TO DEATH
Brides who are found not to be virgins shall also be stoned to death:
“If...evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death.” (22:20)
What happens to the man who took her virginity? He has to pay 50 shekels – even if he rapes her (22:28). Men are only punished by death if they take another mans’ fiancé or wife – i.e. if they shamed another man.
AND GOD IS WORRIED ABOUT WORSHIPPERS WITH CRUSHED NUTS?
How about this bit – anyone wounded in the genitals should not worship God :
“No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.” (23:1)
Struth! I’d be wearing a cricket box – minimum.
TORAH – GOD’S TRUTH OR THE PRIESTS’ TRUTH?
Deuteronomy is the last of the books of the Torah. All up, do the words of the Torah appear to be the Divine “T” Truth – the true words of “G” God – or the “t” truth of the medicine men/priests/prophets of some pre-scientific, semi-nomadic tribesmen? Is theirs a “g” god – just a brutal carrot-and-stick tool to govern tough people out of a hard land during a brutal time – or truly “G” God?
Think – as revealed by the Bible so far – God is:
· parochial: making a covenant with just one group of tribes;
· brutal: endorsing killing (even of children), enslavement, and rape;
· primitive: pleased by the sacrificing of animals to him;
· sexist: holding women to be unclean;
· jealous: slaughtering even his own chosen people if they made a statue to worship;
· vengeful: casting people into hell forever as punishment;
· mindless: drowning almost the entire animal and human population of the world in a great flood?
Again – will your choice about such define God – or your self?
And what has the Torah to say about any Truth, meaning, purpose of our life?
TRUTH, MEANING, PURPOSE?
Must all the Bible’s incredible parochialising of the meaning of life establish that there can be no special meaning?
No, of course not – but just as the Bible’s very human god gets us no closer to any real God (rather further away?) – its parochial meaning of life gets us no closer to the Truth of any meaning and purpose, either. Remember, for our expedition,“T” Truth is that which is true for everybody, all the time – not just for one group of people.
WERE THE JEWS SUCH A BRUTAL PEOPLE?
As depicted in the Torah, the Jews were a brutal people – is this the Truth?
To be fair to the ancient Hebrews, taking other peoples’ land was not unique to them, tribal movement and expansion was a common feature of the age, among/between all human civilisations/settlements. And archaeology reveals that much of the above, supposedly god-sanctioned slaughter and cruelty, did not actually happen and/or was on a much smaller scale. As we will see later, much of the epic Hebrew victories in battle were invented by their priests to make the Jewish people feel better about themselves during their frequent times of defeat and subjugation at the hands of others (Babylonians, Alexander’s Greeks, Seleucids, Romans – and various other neighbours). Much of the Torah is designed to be a lesson about the benefits of following the priest’s god – and much of the last parts of the Old Testament is, as we shall see, a lesson what happens when you turn your back on the priests’ and their god.
We now arrive at a section of the Old Testament which is allegedly historical.
In the Book of Joshua there is more slaughtering of those who already lived in the land promised to the Hebrews by their god. This about the slaughter of the innocents in Jericho (after its walls had been made to miraculously fall down by the blowing of seven trumpets for seven days by seven priests):
“They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle sheep and donkeys.” (6:21)
What “devotion”! That must have pleased the “Lord” – who, we are told by the House of God, actually made and loves every man, woman, child – and donkey slaughtered by the invaders!?
But Jericho was just a warm up, they “devoted” plenty more ethnic cleansing to the Lord. All the men, women, and children of Ai were murdered – then their city was looted. Joshua did not stop:
“…until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua.” (8:26-27).
God was not only pleased with Joshua’s murderous ways in the land of “milk and honey” (more like blood and guts) but he also lent him a hand – the O.T. alleges that he stopped the sun from going down for a day so that Joshua could see better to slaughter more of the people at Gibeon – or what was left of them after that god had slaughtered most of them previously himself with hailstones.
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.” (10:12-13)
It is interesting to note that this particular story in the Bible was used to refute Galileo’s discoveries that the Earth was not the centre of the universe – and that the sun did not circle the Earth. The reasoning of the House of God was that if the Bible said God stopped the sun’s passage around the Earth for Joshua to get in a bit of extra slaughtering, then this was proof that the sun must pass around the Earth and not vice versa. To say otherwise was to question the truth of the Bible – upon which the power of the House of God officers rested. Galileo was excommunicated and was lucky to escape with his life. As already discussed, 400 or so years later the House of God reversed his excommunication – thus admitting that the O.T. is not the “T” Truth.
Then, for good measure, everyone in Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Hazor is murdered (10:28)
By now you would think that this blood-crazed “Lord” would have been satisfied? But no, when “He” has Joshua take the land of northern Canaan from its rightful owners He has a nice finishing touch when He orders the defeated people’s horses to be ham-strung:
“ And the Lord handed them over to Israel, who attacked them…They struck them down, until they had left no one remaining. And Joshua did to them as the Lord commanded him; he hamstrung their horses, and burned their chariots with fire.” (11:8 & 9)
Now all you animal-lovers who believe in this god, do you have any idea what panic and pain those horses suffered, and for how long, after being left lying on the ground ham-strung? (Something about: “Inasmuch as you do it unto one of these, the least of my creatures, you do it unto me” – comes to mind).
Seen your God yet? Maybe in the next Book?
More fighting, slaughtering, and a nice bit of thumb- and toe-lopping of the Canaanites by God’s chosen people (1:6).
But then Joshua dies and, while his generation knew what their god had done for his chosen people, the next generation in their ignorance began to worship other gods – like Baal – and “the anger of the Lord was kindled against them”. As a result the Midianites prevailed over the Israelites, God saying it was because they had “given reverence to the god of the Amorites”. But Gideon emerges as a mighty warrior and routs the countless Midianites with only 300 men (because god is now back on his side). Gideon eventually dies and the Israelites relapse into their unfaithful ways once more to worship other gods. So, in retribution we get more Divine pay-back in the form of domination by their enemies – the Philistines this time.
You’d think they’d learn?
Then along comes Sampson – who is victorious against the Philistines (with god on his side). Then Delilah cuts off his hair which is the source of his strength and the Philistines gouge his eyes out – but Samson brings down the house with a final command performance of his strength.
And so on it goes – ending with a charming tale of an internal conflict within the Israelite tribes which is settled by killing men, women, and children of a town called Jabesh-gilead. The virgins of Jabesh-gilead were harvested and given to the men of the Benjamin tribe of Israel to settle the strife. Bit like the Isis terrorists in the present day – is there nothing new under the sun?
All up, Judges is a long warning to the Israelites not to abandon their god (and his priests). The take-home message is that winning against the odds is only possible if the priests’ god is on your side – and woe betide you if you cast shy glances at the gods of others (what would happen to the jobs and status of the Israelite priests?)
A gentle story of the love of a daughter-in-law (Ruth) for her mother-in-law (Naomi). And a story also of how hard life was for the people of Old Testament Judah. But this story turns out well – the loyal but virtually destitute Ruth, who scrapes a living by picking up grains left behind by the reapers, marries the boss (Boaz) and has a son called Obed. Naomi joins the family to look after Obed – who becomes the father of Jesse, the father of David – who became King David.
The story of the prophet Samuel and the kings Saul and David. At first Israel’s enemies, the Philistines are victorious – killing 30,000 of God’s chosen – even the Ark of the god of Israel was captured. But possessing said Ark made the Philistines break out in a plague of tumours, so they returned it – along with five gold tumours(?) and five gold mice as a “guilt offering”. (6:3).
So the moral is, don’t go over to the priests’ rival gods (Baal and Astarte) stick with the needy and jealous one that the priests can control with the praise “he” needs. Samuel was only able to lead his people to rout the Philistines and take back all the land that the Israelites had lost by returning to said god.
They then asked their Lord for a king to rule over them – like everyone else had. Saul, son of Kish was duly chosen by Samuel and anointed as king of the Israelites. And the obligatory slaughter goes on – first the Ammonites then the resurgent Philistines, then:
“The Almighty says … ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites … Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (15:2-3).
This time even the camels get the chop! And Samuel mutilates Agag, the Amalekites king. Then we get the story of David and Goliath – one just about all of us know:
“Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah” (17:12) [who took on Goliath, the Philistine’s, challenge of single combat, and] “…David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him” (17:50).
But there is a strange reprise of this single combat in the next Book, 2 Samuel.
David is made king of Judah (2:4). Then the northern kingdom of Israel elected him as king also – and he reigned over the now united kingdoms from Jerusalem for 33 years (5:1-5). To maintain this united kingdom, meant continual war with the Philistines and more God-approved gore – and, again more hamstringing of horses for the Lord (8:4).
We also learn also that polygamy is fine with God – this to King David from the very mouth of God:
“I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom” (12:8).
And Abraham, Jacob, and Solomon were all polygamists with God’s approval. Of course, women were not allowed to have more than one husband – just got to love this god – guys.
More battles and bloodbaths – including this interesting reprise of the story of the slaying of a Philistine giant called Goliath in single combat:
“Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” (21:19)
Just like David, the son of Jesse, who in 1 Samuel (17:50), slew a giant called Goliath whose: “...shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam” 1 Samuel (17:7)?
Confused? I am.
But at least the bloodlust of the Lord is constant – we get a nice bit of impaling before the Lord to expiate some of Saul’s “bloodguilt” for killing Gibeonites. Seven men were chosen to be given:
“…into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they impaled them on the mountain before the Lord. The seven of them perished together.” (21:9-10)
Is this your “Lord” – who likes a little impaling before him now and then?
Later, David conducts a census of his soldiers (it took 9 months and 20 days to ascertain that there were 800,000 soldiers in Israel and 500,000 in Judah). Strangely, this was a great sin:
“David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people…I am in great distress; let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great…” (24:10&14).
The “Lord” then showed his great mercy:
“So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning and seventy thousand people died…” (24:15)
So, to show mercy on David for his “sin?” of conducting a census the Bible’s god kills 70,000 innocent people? Yup – surely that’s just got to be the Truth – that has to be the real God because it is in the Book written/inspired by God!?
On the death of David, Solomon become king. Solomon, famous for his wisdom, becomes a power in the land and he amasses great wealth – building a temple in Jerusalem – an earthly home for his god. This magnificent temple took eleven years to erect, but the more magnificent house he built for himself took thirteen years – both houses were built with slave labour (again, slavery is fine with this god). Upon completion of the Jewish temple Solomon installed the ark of the covenant (containing the two stone tablets of the covenant Moses received from God) and declared:
“I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” (1 Kings 8:13)
The Bible quotes God, Himself, – who says:
“I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (9:3)
Wrong again, Solomon’s “forever” and his god’s “for all time” didn’t last long – this exalted Temple of an exalted god (the Biblical god’s only home on Earth) was to be desecrated three times (including two total demolitions).
We also learn that Solomon was a polygamist on a grand scale :”Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines.” (1 Kings 11:3). Solomon fell out of favour with God – not because his polygamy was wrong – but because some of his wives were “foreign women” (11:1) who “will surely incline your heart to follow their gods.” (11:2). We have a god who would permit polygamy and concubineage on a grand scale, but was petty, jealous – pathetically concerned only about losing to other gods any of that worship to which he was addicted.
Solomon ruled for forty years surrounded by his wealth and concubines, but all good things come to an end and he died. Then Israel and Judah part ways, and a succession of separate kings and some smaller city-kingdoms follow – which spend a lot of time struggling against each other. One of them, Ahab (of Samaria) marries Jezebel, who converts him to that old competitor to Yahweh – Baal (you’d think they would have learned by now!). Ahab and his wife Jezebel were one of the more unpleasant power couples in the Bible. Jezebel, in particular, is a nasty piece of work, who sets about murdering the “prophets of the Lord” (18:4) and organises to have Naboth, an innocent vigneron, accused of cursing God and thus stoned to death by God’s vigilantes – just so that she could get his vineyard for her husband (21:13-14).
But one of Jewry’s most exulted prophets, Elijah, comes on the scene – and he defeats the priests of Baal in a challenge of their god against his. The people abandon Baal (again!) and Elijah slaughters the 450 prophets of Baal in a wadi. Jezebel is not pleased and chases Elijah who proves elusive (with the help of his Lord). Ahab is killed in battle. I’m not sure what happened to Jezebel but Elijah had said that “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel” (21:23). I’m sure they got indigestion.
Here the descendants of Ahab get slaughtered too, and the priests and any worshippers of Baal – their temple is then turned into a Latrine. This Book of the Old Testament records the numerous kings of Israel and Judah who succeeded Solomon (Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehoash, et al.) and the continual strife among their peoples.
Then they are all invaded by the Assyrians under their king Shalmaneser – and many were carted off into captivity in Assyria. Again, this occurred not because the Assyrian gods were stronger/better but, because of the same old reason:
“This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt… They had worshipped other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.” (17:7-8)
King Shalmaneser of Assyria resettled Israel with some of his other people from his empire. But, in time, Hezekiah became king of Judah and restored the Hebrew’s god into his rightful place and they prospered. But then King Sennacherib invaded Judah and Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord was looted and stripped of its gold and silver to buy him off. But Hezekiah stayed faithful to his god and eventually “the angel of the Lord set out and killed one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians” (19:35) and Sennacherib left to face a grisly fate back home.
Then the Babylonians started sniffing around Jerusalem and King Hezekiah proudly, but foolishly, shows them all his accumulated wealth. Sure enough, the Babylonians return and take Jerusalem – box and dice. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took King Jeroiachin of Judah and all his officials captive (he even took his mum), then desecrated the Jewish god’s temple:
“He carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house…He carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths; no one remained, except the poorest people in the land.” (24:13-14)
The Bible says that they were able to do this, not because the Babylonian god was stronger than the Hebrews’ god but because, yet again, the Jewish people had shown themselves to be unworthy of their all-mighty god. This time it was payback for King Manasseh of Judah (another slow learner – and son of Hephzibah) having worshipped Baal (what was it about that god which was so irresistible?). The almighty Lord of the Jews said:
“ ‘Because King Manessah of Judah has committed these abominations…and has caused Judah also to sin with his idols; therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such evil that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle... I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.’ ” (21:11-13)
After his initial sacking of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar returned to finish off the job some years later – carting off anything remaining which was worthwhile, including any useful people – this time also totally destroying the Jewish god’s temple.
2 Kings is yet another chapter in what became the long saga of the “chosen people’s” continual defeat by their various neighbours – and more of the building of the apologetics industry by the high priests, necessary to continually explain how God’s chosen people could be so easily defeated. And there are many more defeats to come – some of which occurred after the Old Testament (Alexander’s Greeks, the Seleucids, and twice by Rome – culminating in the second and final Roman demolition of the temple and the diaspora of the people.)
The priests were successful in keeping their power over the people through fear – of their frightful god – who continually turned against his chosen people at the first sign of unfaithfulness. The only explanation for any defeat must have been because they had disappointed their omnipotent god:
“Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed [and also because his son, King Jehoiachin] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.” (2 Kings 24:3 & 9)
CHRONICLES 1 & 2
Chronicles 1 & 2 is firstly an extensive genealogy of Israel from Adam to the return of the exiles from Babylon, then it is a rewriting of much of the history chronicled in Kings 1 & 2. It ends with King Cyrus of Persia liberating the hapless Israelites. But, according to the Jewish priests, it wasn’t the might of the Persians (and their different god) who liberated them – but their own god:
“...in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken to Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia.” (2 Chronicles 36:22)
More of what we have already noted – the Old Testament is one long saga of the priests and prophets (who wrote most of this stuff) striving to keep the god (that they invented) ascendant – and their jobs. Whether the descendants of the Hebrew slaves are gloriously slaughtering the original inhabitants of the holy land, or being defeated themselves, it is all ordained by the priests’ indomitable god Yahweh. The priests/prophets argument always being: although being beaten, occupied, or sent into captivity – numerous times – it was always their own fault for not worshipping their omnipotent (therefore undefeatable) god properly. In this way, said priests could keep their position of power over Yahweh’s “chosen” people and continue to live on the fat of the land (all animal sacrifices had to be of the very best animals).
We will see much more of this plastering-up of the Israelite’s god.
The Book of Ezra describes the release of the Jewish people from their long captivity in Babylon after the Persians had conquered the Babylonians. Again, the story sold by the priests/prophets is that the rescue of the Jewish people (by the soldiers of another god) was really a victory by their own all-powerful god – who ordered the Persians to release them. Why said god and/or his powerful angels needed the Persians as rescuers, rather than and just overpowering the Babylonians himself, is a mystery.
The Persians tasked the Jews with returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding their Temple – and returned to them what remained of the Temple treasures previously looted by Nebuchadnezzar. Persian king Artaxerxes appointed Ezra (scribe, priest, and scholar) to put the House of Israel back together.
RESTORING FAITH IN A DEFEATED GOD
Ezra’s main concerns were to try and restore some faith in the god, who had yet again ostensibly (but not actually) failed the Jews, and to restore the purity of the bloodlines of god’s chosen people. To restore the peoples’ faith in their failed god, Ezra resorted to the usual priestly standby – guilt – keep the chosen people blaming themselves for their defeats, rather than blaming the priests for having sold them a pup:
“From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities, we our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of our lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case.” (9:7)
In other words, the Jewish god didn’t fail them, they had been purposely “handed over” by him. For this they should feel “deep in guilt” – not Yahweh. The great Jewish guilt trip is well and truly set in place (but they never learn and their greatest defeat at the hands of the Romans awaits). To hear the priests and prophets tell it, the omnipotent Jewish god had allowed his temple in Jerusalem to be desecrated then destroyed; his chosen people to be conquered and imprisoned for generations – just to teach them a lesson. The priests of this god dodge a bullet again with their power and status intact – the poor Jewish people are even made to feel guilty that “our priests have been handed over”.
RESTORING THE PURITY OF THE JEWISH LINE
Ezra sets about vigorously trying to repurify the Jewish bloodlines which had been watered down in captivity by intermarriage with neighbouring non-Jews:
“The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Amonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands...” (9:1-2).
Can’t have that “holy seed” planted in the wrong beds, can we? But Ezra was right onto it:
“Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from foreign wives.” (10:10-11)
“…and so increased the guilt of Israel.” And so: yet more “guilt” is heaped on the Jewish ordinary folk – the guilt of watering down Jewish blood. Thus it was that the elements, which became to define and bedevil the Jewish experience into the future were put in place in their scriptures: not only their perpetual guilt (of doubting the truth of their priests’ perpetually unsuccessful god), but their notions of separatedness and exclusivity above all non-Jews. Such has brought them much hatred from the unclean others “with their abominations” among whom they often had to dwell in the future (especially after the Diaspora). Nothing excuses the persecutions these notions were to bring upon the Jewish people over the coming centuries, but they do explain some of it – as does, of course, the antisemitism flowing from the supposed responsibility for killing Jesus (“supposed” because it was not the will of the Jewish people but, as we shall see, again about retaining priestly power – which Jesus threatened).
Nehemiah is then sent by the Persian King to help rebuild Jerusalem and its walls. Many exiles from Babylon returned and others who could prove their ancestral descent from Israel and Judah to the satisfaction of the priests. Their numbers came to 42,360 not counting their male and female slaves (7,337). The priests organised a promissory note with their god, which was written down and signed:
“Now therefore, our God – the great and mighty and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love – do not treat lightly all the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings, our officials, our priests, our prophets, our ancestors, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria to today. You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly; our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them...” (9:32-34)
This is getting tiresome, but we must get through it – more guilt: “we have acted wickedly”. Again – it’s the peoples’ fault (although the priests did cop a serve this time) – and the O.T. god is still “the great and mighty and awesome God” and “our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them”.
Lots were cast as to who out of the prescribed 1/10th should live in the city of Jerusalem – the rest to live in the other towns. Their religion, laws, Sabbath, temple rules, etc. were restored; foreigners were excluded from the Temple; and mixed marriages were forbidden. Got to hold those who are unclean at bay.
This is the story of the king of the Persians and Medes, King Ahasuerus, and how he divorced his wife, Vashti, because she disobeyed his summons. After the divorce, virgins were brought from all over the land and a type of beauty pageant was carried out in Susa – where all the contestants are beautied up (“let their cosmetic treatments be given them” 2:3) to find “Miss Persia” for the king. The winner was a Jewish exile called Esther – who happened to be the cousin of Mordecai. Esther and Mordecai found favour with the king and both were able to save their fellow exiled Jews from a plot against them. In reprisal the Jews of Susa killed 500 of their enemies in the citadel and 300 in the streets of Susa and 75,000 throughout the countryside.
The Jewish festival of Purim was instigated in thanks for the slaughter, and it continues today.
Now we come to the story of Job.
At the start of the Book of Job we see an argument between God and Satan. Basically, Satan argues that there are no good people – everybody can be reduced to evil through circumstance (in this case, the ultimate evil of cursing God). God makes a wager with Satan that there lives a good man – and puts Job forward as such.
Satan accepts God’s wager and sets forth to inflict Job with evil circumstances – firstly by taking away his considerable fortune, then by killing all those he held most dear. But Job refused to curse God:
“…the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. (1:21-22)
Satan then sets about inflicting Job with personal harm in the shape of sickness and sores. But Job stays true to his god:
“Shall we not receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (2:10).
Then friends of Job come and try to console him and a long discussion occurs between them on the nature of true goodness and the problem of evil.
In Job, the shape that the problem of evil takes is in the form of the perennial conundrum: if there is an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God, why do bad things happen to good people (and good things to bad people). When faced with this conundrum many have lost faith in the idea of God and/or any belief in special meaning and purpose in life. Darwin, himself, lost the last of his own (originally strong) religious beliefs after his young daughter died (at first, when he discovered natural selection, he believed that he had found “God’s method” – we will examine more of this in Essay 2).
But Job stayed true – despite being the archetypal case of good person inflicted with (much) evil. However, he actually comes to admit that he was not naturally good, but only “good” out of fear. He had been good to his slaves, and not denied the poor, widows, orphans, and the cold and hungry – because :
“I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendour I could not do such things” (31:23).
Here, the Bible opens up another couple of important questions – about the “goodness” of religious people; and the nature of true goodness:
1. Are religious people good – or are they, like Job, only apparently “good” – being, rather, more truly fearful of being bad in the sight of a vengeful, punishing God (shown by the Bible to be ever willing to turn against his people for even slight misdemeanours)?
2. What is real and/or better: religious “goodness” (out of fear) – or being naturally good (good without having religion and its fear of God)?
Surely, a person who does not believe in God but still is, and does, good, is the only one who is truly good? If life is a test (of your soul) as religion says it is – doesn’t religion only serve to get in the road of any such true test of your goodness by encouraging us to be good through fear of its god?
The House of God usually answers that their god cannot be fooled because he knows the secrets of your soul. Well, why go through the whole charade of life, then – if God just knows whether you are worthy of heaven or hell (which religion sees as the purpose of life)? As we shall see when we come to examine the New Testament, Paul considers the idea of true goodness and concludes that faith (believing incredible doctrine out of fear) is better than good deeds. This leads to the consideration: who is such faith better for – us (through the growth of our self/soul that living an authentic life – i.e. without fear – might allow) or is faith better for religions’ officers (for whom faith in the incredible keeps us under their control)? More of Paul later when we examine the New Testament.
Back to Job – who apologises for his outburst, then praises his god again – thereby allowing God to win his opening wager against Satan (that not everybody can be reduced by misfortune to curse “Him”). For his undying devotion to God in the face of misfortune Job gets all his previous good fortune returned and multiplied (what of his poor family who died to test him?) All an allegory, I guess?
So, what of the “T” Truth have we learned from Job?
Basically it’s one long lesson in the power of the Abrahamic god over us – and in the possibility that God could inflict good or ill on anyone, no matter how good they have been – in order to test them. In other words, when evil befalls good people, it doesn’t mean that there is no God – but that they are being tested: “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” etc.
The House of God’s purpose of life is derived from parts of the Bible like this – life is a test – of you (mainly of your belief in religion’s all-powerful god). Everybody, even the good, powerful, and righteous (like Job) are pawns of the Abrahamic god – we are all here on Earth to always believe in him and to praise him – how we go with that determines our eternal reward or punishment. Follow the god of the priests who wrote this stuff and you will get rewarded, doubt said god and you will suffer – so far, the constant refrain in the Bible.
Is this your meaning/purpose of life?
Now we arrive at the section of the Old Testament, which turns the necessary praise of the priests’ needy god into an art form.
The Psalms of the Old Testament are the same psalms as found in the “modern” Church of God psalter and in the present “Book of Common Prayer” – illustrating more of the importance of the Old Testament to the present Christian Church – and why we have to examine the Old Testament to properly examine the Christian House of God.
The Psalms resemble, variously, songs, poems and/or prayers – ranging over various themes: deliverance from enemies, thanksgiving, praise, flattery, longing, denunciation, vengeance, comfort, judgment, punishment, woe, and elation (usually at an imagined, eventual and bloody, victory over Israel’s foes). The Psalms also pray for deliverance from enemies and from the travails of life; they praise a needy god who seems insatiable for worship; they express frustration at defeat; and expectation of eventual triumph over enemies. Largely the frustrated supplications to their god of a supposedly divinely-favoured people who are actually constantly at the mercy of their stronger neighbours who frequently defeat them.
There are occasional songs of joy and thanksgiving but most psalms express anger, despair, sadness, doubt, guilt, and pleas for Divine intervention and deliverance. Many of the psalms and songs were written during the time of the Jew’s captivity in Babylon representing the supplications of the defeated and powerless – whose only comfort was calling their god’s wrath down upon their enemies’ heads (and relishing the imagined bloody slaughter of them).
Here a nice one:
“But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
The hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
so that you may bathe your feet in their blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe’. “
THE NEW TESTAMENT GOSPELS LIFT SOME WORDS FROM PSALMS
Some say the Old Testament is verified as God’s word because it predicts the very words and actions that Jesus later actually said and did. For example, at Psalm 22 we find the words that Mark and Matthew say Jesus spoke on the cross – and predict the very actions of his executioners:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
…a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and feet
…They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.”
Psalm 22: (1-18)
Does this psalm truly predict the fate of Jesus and what he was to say, or did Mark and Matthew, who undoubtedly would have known the Old Testament well (it was not “old” to them, but very much current) take these words from Psalm 22 when writing about Jesus’ death, later? And Luke and John impute different words to Jesus on the cross. We will examine the motives behind the writing of the Gospels soon, here suffice it to say that the Gospels were written well after Jesus’ death, at a time during which Jesus’ followers were struggling for the hearts and minds of the people – initially for Jewish hearts and minds, and later for the Gentiles’. The majority of Jews did not credit Jesus as anyone special at all, and Scriptural authority (finding authority for Jesus in the Jewish “Old Testament” Scriptures) was crucial if the Jesus Movement was going to succeed proselytising their fellow Jews. As a result, the early Gospels appear to have been written with one eye on the Old Testament, while the later Gospels also cast their net wider to the Gentiles in the Mediterranean world in general. We will examine the evidence of this later, when we explore the New Testament.
Although the Psalms appear to be basically one long exercise in inveigling God, there is some beauty:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion,
There on the poplars
we hung our harps …
But the usual Old Testament revenge, blood, guts and hate is never far away:
“O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us –
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.”
(Psalm 137: 8-9)
A good passage to read to the kiddies at Sunday School perhaps? Happiness is dashing out the brains of babies against rocks – that’s just got to be “God’s word”, surely?
And now for some wisdom?
There is wisdom in the maxims that make up Proverbs:
“Happy are those who find wisdom,
And those who get understanding,
For her income is better than silver,
And her revenue is better than gold.” (3:13-14)
If we followed the wise maxims of Solomon (and others) in Proverbs the world would surely be a better place?
“A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (15:1-2)
“Make no friends with those given to anger,
And do not associate with hotheads,
Or you may learn their ways
And entangle yourself in a snare.” (22:24-25)
And, amongst the wisdom, there is the usual use of fear as a proselytising tool – even lauded as the beginning of knowledge and wisdom:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7)
But, in my experience, the mental funk that fear produces is generally the end of knowledge and wisdom. Fear of a brutal god is why fundamentalists believe in Adam and Eve; that the world is only 6000 years old; in Noah and his impossible Ark; that God is a jealous, awful, man/being who approves of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and animal sacrifice.
Now we encounter ancient existentialism – meaninglessness rules OK? :
“ ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
says the Teacher.
‘ Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.’ ” (1:2)
According to this prophet, wisdom is meaningless, pleasure is meaningless, toil is meaningless; all and any aspect of life – such as wealth, position, professional success, and pleasure – are futile because we must die in the end.
I guess we all have days like that, but luckily very few of us get into print. However, Ecclesiastes manages to find some beautiful words about the human condition – words which still strike a chord with us today :
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh …” (3:1-4)
Turn, turn, turn.
The author of Ecclesiastes says there is no afterlife in heaven or hell. In disagreement with other Books in the Bible we have this:
“All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad…The same destiny overtakes all…the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten.” (9:2-5 New International Version)
However, the Bible, God’s word, contradicts itself. Isaiah says:
“But your dead will live; their bodies will rise…the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isaiah 26:19 N.I.V.)
And Daniel has:
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (12: 2 N.I.V.)
Thus, either 1.) God didn’t write or infallibly inspire the Bible; or 2.) God can make mistakes – either way, the Bible is not the “T” Truth “every dot and iota”.
However, there is some great writing in the Old Testament – this bit of Ecclesiastes, admired by another great writer, George Orwell:
“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the skilful; but time and chance happen to them all.” (9:11).
Great writing, but is it Divine Truth? Is all success (in whatever form you measure it) just the product of “chance” over time? Chance happens to all, but not success. Life can be unfair, but over time endeavour observably beats chance.
On the question of the meaning of life, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes that meaning can only be found in the fearing his primitive god:
“Life has no meaning but to Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13-14)
Capital “F” Fear of God is a constant refrain in the Old Testament – the “stick” in the carrot and stick method of crowd control – the tried and true method of most religions. Religion is observably not a search for “T” Truth but the constant bolstering of “t” truths which work in the having and holding of priestly power.
THE SONG OF SOLOMON
Some olden day pop songs about love and sex? :
“Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread abroad.
Let my lover come into this garden
And taste its choice fruits.” (4:16)
“How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
O love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
And your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruit.’ ” (7:6-8)
But enough of that mushy stuff – time for a good, stiff dose of the prophets.
Isaiah is a major Jewish prophet. The Prophets of the Old Testament were people supposedly favoured by God to receive revelations and visions directly from him. So what Divine “T” Truths has Isaiah received from God to be shared with us?
Apparently God is sexist:
“The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit.” (4:4)
“The Lord said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet; the Lord will afflict with scabs the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.” (3-16,17)
How could this crappy sexism – “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion” and “the Lord will lay bare their secret parts” – be the word of God, or inspired by God? Again, we have to ask our selves two questions: 1.) what sort of person could write this – and 2.) what sort of person could believe it to be the word or inspiration of God?
Apologists might say that this isn’t sexist – just the product of a patriarchal society and the general culture of the Middle East. Precisely my point – the Bible is not the word of any “G” God, but a product of its people, time, and place – written by the ruling males of the era from their limited understanding of the universe and of what any real God should be like. Could any true “G” God write this stuff; could any true God be a male, and/or sexist – as ignorant of women as Genesis showed he was ignorant of the universe and the beginnings of life within it?
THE VIRGIN WILL BE WITH CHILD?
Evangelicals make much of Isaiah’s prophecy:
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [meaning ‘God with us’].” (7:14 New International Version).
Evangelicals take two things from this passage: 1.) they feel it proves their beliefs that Jesus was virgin-born of God; and 2.) that the birth of Jesus proves Isaiah correct (and therefore the whole Old Testament must be the Truth).
However, the most accurate translation of the Bible into English (The Revised Standard Version) does not use the word “virgin”, but the words “young woman”. Anyway, Isaiah’s prophecy is about the birth of a child long before Jesus’ time (during the time of King Ahaz) – which child’s birth will be a sign that Ahaz’s land will be desolated by the king of Assyria before said child, born of a young woman, will reach maturity. We will see, when we examine the New Testament Gospels that Matthew tries to tie Jesus to this prediction by Isaiah (1:22-23) as a way to proselytise Jesus to the Jews – i.e. by trying to link him to the Jewish Old Testament scriptures.
The Book of Isaiah covers quite a long time span – about 300 years – so some of his “prophecies” are actually retrospective. The period of Isaiah extends beyond the Assyrian defeat of the Jews to cover another one: the Babylonian captivity. We see in Isaiah the constant vulnerability of Judah and Israel to their more powerful neighbours – even their supposedly omnipotent god, Yahweh, could not stop the Babylonians also sacking Jerusalem – this time even Yahweh’s temple was destroyed. Again, the Truth and authority of Yahweh’s priests was looking extremely tenuous, the temple, in Jewish tradition, was the one and only earthly home of the one and only god. How could such a place – so holy of God – be destroyed so easily by nonbelievers in Yahweh?
Isaiah tells the story that their god was still omnipotent: he actually allowed the Babylonians to conquer his chosen people in order to teach them a lesson for turning to other gods – and it was actually Yahweh who rescued his people, using the Persians under Cyrus as his instrument – which infidel king now became Yahweh’s “anointed”:
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him...I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” (45:1-3)
Again, to hear the Jewish priests/prophets tell it, it was not the Persians (and Zoroaster, their god, demonstrably stronger than Yahweh) who beat the Babylonians (and their obviously stronger-than-Yahweh god – Marduk) but good old Yahweh himself. All this through the intercession of his faithful priests (who need to be kept). If the people stayed faithful to the priest’s god Jerusalem would be restored and Israel would be inviolable:
“For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord…” (51:3)
“Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for the uncircumcised and the unclean
shall enter you no more.” (52:1)
Isaiah was wrong, the uncircumcised were to enter and despoil Jerusalem and her god’s holy temple, many more times in the centuries to come (Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Crusaders, Turks etc.). The Israeli “chosen people” must have continually got their worship wrong?
Isaiah talks of his god’s plans for a coming human holocaust many times (13: 5-12; 34 – 35; 41: 11-17). But the Book of Isaiah also manages a heavenly vision of a peaceful kingdom to come:
“The Wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the
the calf and the lion and the fatling
and a little child shall lead them.” (11:6)
A lovely image – but we still await the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of such a peaceful kingdom.
Jeremiah is yet another one of the string of prophets who try to keep the people faithful to their constantly failing god. Jeremiah’s god is the familiar one of all the prophets: very human – jealous, angry, and petulant. Jealous because the Jews have worshipped Baal and other gods; angry that they had indulged in idolatry; who petulantly refuses to defend the Jewish people against their enemies – petulant even to the point that he joins with the enemy to fight against his own chosen people:
“I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and mighty arm, in anger, in fury, and mighty wrath.” (21:5)
Jeremiah’s is yet another way of explaining how the chosen people of God came to be defeated – their god’s “mighty arm” was against them – he not only stood by while they suffered three bloody defeats at the hands of the Babylonians, but even aided these children of another god to kill his people. He then watched as the cream of Jerusalem was taken into captivity and even cut his nose off to spite his face by allowing his temple to be demolished. All to teach his people a lesson?
Yahweh was also capricious – after using Babylon to punish his own people, he then punished Babylon for punishing them.
THE BIBLE – SOME HISTORY, LOTS OF MYTH
That Jerusalem was defeated three times by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (in 597, 587, and 581 B.C.) and that most of its useful people were taken into captivity, is an historical “T” Truth – as is the fact that they were rescued by the intervention of the Persians about 60 years later. In this way the Old Testament has some Truth in it, but is Jeremiah’s very human (jealous, angry, petulant, furious and capricious) god of the Jewish priests likely to be the true “G” God?
Are there any Truths in the Old Testament prophecies?
TRUTHS IN OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES?
The prophets make hundreds of prophecies, some were bound to be right (any major ones escape me) however they made many obvious howlers. Jeremiah, for example, was good at prophesising the obvious (the clear and present danger the Jews were in) but not so good at the future.
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” (23:5-6)
This prophecy was wrong. As we have seen, what was actually “surely coming” to the “righteous Branch” after release from Babylon was continual domination, conquest and invasion – and an eventual wholescale Diaspora of Yahweh’s chosen people from the “promised land” – and almost two millennia of persecution stretching to the 20th century. Humiliation after humiliation for the chosen of Yahweh – just how many times did their god have to teach his poor people a lesson – has there ever been a more persecuted people on Earth than the Jewish tribes?
Of course, fundamentalists will just answer: he only said that “The days are surely coming” – he didn’t mention when. Modern Zionists feel sure that the above prophecy will be brought about by occupying all the West Bank of Israel to the River Jordan – a task they are presently setting about.
Well named. This is a description of Jerusalem as she lay devastated after the Babylonian attacks. As we have seen, Nebuchadnezzar had conquered and sacked Jerusalem – taking the royal family, the aristocracy, the military, the smiths and the skilled artisans to exile in Babylon. Lamentations tells of the suffering of the people who remained after the elite and artisan classes had been carted off – the sacked city wide open to jackals, bandits, thieves and vagabonds. It is grim stuff, ending with a sad little prayer to their god for restoration:
“Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days?
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
renew our days of old –
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure.”
Your heart goes out to them, how could you not have pity on these people? If I was their omnipotent god, I would have restored them. But, as we have seen, they had to wait for the Persian followers of another god to rescue them. While the Bible tells us that Yahweh helped his people in the slaughter and rape of the innocents who originally occupied the land of milk and honey – man, woman, child, donkey, horse and camel – he couldn’t protect them when they came up against real opposition.
The high priests and prophets of Yahweh, of course, keep on insisting that it was more a case of “wouldn’t”, rather than “couldn’t – and the main task of their “visions” and “prophecies” was to show how you could be, at one and the same time, at the mercy and whim of your neighbours but still retain your superiority and status as the chosen people of the one true God (and how the priests could also retain their status).
The next to try out such a tortured rationale was Ezekiel.
It was easy to be a prophet in the pre-scientific days of yore – all it took was the claim of a “revelation” – a personal visit from God. Such revelations usually came at a time of crisis. In Ezekiel’s case he was suffering the twin crises of personal exile and his peoples’ loss of faith in Yahweh (and, most likely, their loss of faith in himself as a priest of that god). The way it is described in the Bible, it seems as if Ezekiel had something of a nervous breakdown? The Old Testament says he exhibited strange behaviours – lying on one side for 390 days and then the other for 40; he was struck dumb; he walked around Babylon with packed bags – and he was hit by what seems to be acute anxiety, described as suffering from excessive trembling, and restlessness.
Whatever the true nature of what he suffered, Ezekiel definitely was angst-ridden – and suffered the classical existential doubts: maybe God didn’t exist; maybe life had no meaning or purpose? Definitely, by being carted off into captivity, the Jewish people would have been demoralised, suffering loss of status in their own eyes – and those same eyes would have turned towards religious officers like Ezekiel for an explanation. He would have been seen as a failed priest – or a priest of a failed god – maybe even a fake? It would be inevitable that the defeated and depressed people of Israel would be inclined to worship the god Marduk of the stronger Babylonians and nature gods like Baal.
To counter this, Ezekiel began to report elaborate, bizarre visions and messages sent to him by his god. Yet again, as with the other prophets, these reported visions took all the heat off Yahweh and put the blame (and guilt) on the people: either they had not worshipped Yahweh properly, and/or had turned to the gods of their more successful neighbours.
“Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not followed my statutes and kept my ordinances, but have acted according to the ordinances of the nations that are all around you; therefore thus says the Lord God: I, I myself am coming against you; I will execute judgements among you in the sight of the nations. And because of your abominations, I will do to you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. Surely, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat your parents; I will execute judgements on you, and any who survive I will scatter to every wind.” (5:7-10)
What a bastard of a god the Jewish priests cooked up in their desperation to keep power – a god who would make Jewish parents “eat their children!?” Again, nothing like a good bracing dose of the fear of a brutal god to keep the flock in line! The present-day evangelical leaders of the Christian House of God are still using the same tactics as the Old Testament prophets to retain their own power – no wonder they want us to believe in the Old Testament – and no wonder the pews are still emptying?
As another tactic, one of Ezekiel’s visions was of a city called Yahweh Sham – with a temple at its centre and surrounded by Eden-like concentric circles. The holiness of the land was diluted the further one got from the holy nucleus. Karen Armstrong, scholar of religion, summarises Ezekiel’s vision:
“The first circle surrounding the city was the home of the king and priests, the sacred personnel. The next zone, for the tribes of Israel, was a little less holy. But beyond the reach of holiness, outside the land, was the world of the goyim, the foreign nations…Yahweh was with his people, even in exile; they must live as though they were still living beside the temple, separate from the goyim. They must not fraternize or assimilate, but gather in spirit around Yahweh. Even though they were peripheral people in Babylonia, they were closer to the centre than their idolatrous neighbours, who were scarcely on the map.”
“The Great Transformation”, Karen Armstrong (Pp175-6)
Neat idea! Even though they were captives, the Jewish people were still superior to the goyim – and the priests (like Ezekiel) were of the inner elite – above reproach, “the sacred personnel”.
According to academic biblical scholarship (as opposed to vested interest religious “scholarship”) the Jewish Bible (Christian Old Testament) began to take shape as a book during the Babylonian captivity – some of it most likely written and/or edited there – Job, Leviticus, Numbers, Psalms – and influenced by the experience: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:8-9). The Old Testament took a long time to evolve – like the New Testament (as we shall see) there was much writing, re-writing and editing by man before it was declared set-in-cement as a “B” Book – the word of God.
To finish off, Ezekiel had some more sexist ravings – disguised as the very words of God:
“Again the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanliness in my sight.’ ” (36:16-17).
Again, surely that’s the word of God?
Daniel offers yet more of the same. Judah only fell to the Babylonians because the Jewish god allowed it:
“The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of the Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.” (Daniel 1:2).
Yet again, the same old story – the omnipotent Yahweh had only allowed his people to be conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in order to teach them a lesson:
“All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. So the curse and the oath written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out upon us.” (9:11)
In the Book of Daniel we get stories of surviving fiery furnaces and lion’s dens. We also get the usual story that tries to cover up the priests’ embarrassment of being rescued by the goyim, non-followers of Yahweh – it was not the Zoroaster-worshipping Persians who rescued the Israelites, but it was actually Yahweh who brought the Babylonian kingdom to an end and gave it unto the Medes and Persians:
“God has numbered the days of your kingdom [Babylonian] and brought it to an end…your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (5:26 & 28)
Like the prophets before him, much of Daniel is largely another attempt to make the people keep faith with a failed god – and an attempt to retain the status of the prophets and priests. His methods are familiar – 1.) declare the Jewish god is still great; 2.) blame the people; 3.) it only happened because they went against their priests/prophets:
“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants, the prophets, who spoke in your name...” (9:4-6)
Daniel had the necessary vivid dreams as evidence – of beasts and warrior kings (which could represent anything you need). Daniel is a convoluted and rich resource for religious officers and fundamentalists. The interpreting of Daniel has kept them occupied for many centuries digging for “proof” of doctrines upon which the House of God is built. For example the doctrine of an end of times “Rapture” – wherein the worthy dead (all of whose names are written in a book) rise up to heaven “and everlasting life” (no matter how long dead) while the unworthy suffer “shame and everlasting contempt”. This dream of Daniel forms the core promise of the Christian House of God – bodily resurrection – an important recruitment tool over the years:
“There shall be a time of anguish, such has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (12:1-2)
Again, the classic carrot and stick method – what’s it to be guys – everlasting life or everlasting shame and contempt?
And again – it’s your free choice as to whether the Bible is “the inerrant word of God” (as some evangelicals phrase it) – and, like all your choices, it will define you.
The following chapter headings of Hosea (as per the Revised Standard Version of the Bible) pretty much summarise the message of all the prophets:
2: Israel’s Infidelity, Punishment, and Redemption
4: God Accuses Israel of Idolatry
5: Impending Judgement on Israel and Judah
6: A Call to Repentance
8: Israel’s Apostasy
9: Punishment for Israel’s Sin
10: Israel’s Sin and Captivity
11: God’s Compassion Despite Israel’s Ingratitude
13: Relentless Judgement on Israel
14: A Plea for Repentance and Forgiveness.
And Hosea offers the same old carrot:
“I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily…” (14:4-5)
While wielding the same old stick:
“Samaria [original capital of the northern kingdom which was called Israel] shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.´(13:16)
God-like, surely! As the refrain of that song goes: “Hear the word of your Lord” ?
MORE PROPHETS OF DOOM
The remaining prophets are: Joel; Amos; Obadiah; Jonah (and the whale); Micah; Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Haggai; Zechariah. Largely a gloomy lot, but you could understand why – writing mainly in times of great insecurity and hardship, following defeat and captivity – and after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (remember, the only Jewish temple – their god’s only “home on Earth”).
These were perilous times to be a priest and/or prophet of a failed god. But despite being failures, the priests and prophets knew how to keep their jobs and status – and how to prevent the people from following another god (something that the earlier writings of the Old Testament had shown them always likely to do). The above prophets illustrate the process employed, mainly:
1.) blaming the people of Jerusalem for their defeat and imprisonment because they turned from Yahweh ( “It has not trusted in the Lord, it has not drawn near to its God” Zephaniah 3:2);
2.) keeping the people in fear of a violent, jealous god (“Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and by him the rocks are broken in pieces.” Nahum 1:6);
3.) of devising lots of stories of the future murderous and pitiless revenge the people would enjoy if they stayed loyal to Yahweh (again from Hosea: “their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open”);
4.) telling stories of the future glory of the Jewish faithful:
“And among the nations the remnant of Jacob,
surrounded by many peoples,
shall be like a lion among the animals of the forest,
like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
and tears to pieces, with no one to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
and all your enemies shall be cut off.” (Micah 5:8-9)
While the early stories in the Old Testament Scriptures were a litany of Jewish power and god-ordained slaughter and domination of the original inhabitants of the “promised land”, the later stories were a product of the many Jewish defeats. The last Book in the (Protestant version) of the Old Testament, Malachi, manages to intertwine fear, loyalty to Yahweh, revenge, and joy of victory skilfully:
Malachi quotes the Lord Almighty:
“ ‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming which will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing on its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (4:1-3)
So, here endeth the lesson – on a cheering note of vengeance. Disappointingly, for those thirsting for revenge, no promises of pregnant women being ripped open this time – or babies’ brains dashed out – but, according to Malachi, Yahweh will eventually be triumphant and his faithful chosen people will be leaping like released calves and trampling down their enemies. However, Malachi was wrong – as we have considered, it was the people of Yahweh who were to be “trampled down” in the future – by the Greeks, Romans, Saracens, European Crusaders, and Turks. But their continually wrong prophets and priests kept the Jewish people under control with their promises of eventual revenge and triumph – then along came a different Jew with a new message (of forgiveness rather than revenge) and a new God (of love rather than slaughter). We will see how he fared at the hands of the High Priests of Yahweh in a moment – but first, the Old Testament only ends here for Protestants, others believe God wrote more yet.
THE APOCRYPHAL/DEUTEROCANONICAL BOOKS
These books number 18 in total – from Tobit, to 4 Maccabees – none of which are recognised as the word of God by Protestants. The 12 Books from Tobit to 2 Maccabees are included in Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox Bibles. The 4 Books from 1 Esdras to 3 Maccabees are included in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Bibles (and in the appendix to the Latin Vulgate). 2 Esdras is included only in the Slavonic Bible (and the Vulgate appendix). 4 Maccabees only appears in the appendix to the Greek Bible.
So those who agree that God wrote the Bible disagree over how much of it God actually wrote! I’m technically a Protestant so I can dodge reading the Apocrypha – phew!
But wait – others think there’s still more!
There were some writings recognised as Divine by the early Christian House of God fathers, before the closing of the Old Testament canons. This from Professor J.R. Porter:
”Before the canons were finalised, several of the works in The Lost Bible would probably have been widely accepted as authoritative ... With the closing of the canons, other writings inevitably became “lost” from the Bibles of Judaism and the mainstream Church.”
“The Lost Bible”, J. R. Porter – P. 6
These writings include: Joseph and Aseneth; Macabees 3 & 4; Pseudo-Phocylides; Pseudo-Philo; the Book[s] of: Enoch, Jubilees, Baruch; the Testament[s] of: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Asher, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issacher, Joseph, and Solomon; the Apocalypse[s] of: Abraham, Elijah, Zephaniah; The lives of the Prophets; the History of the Rechabites; the Visions of Ezra – and more.
What all this tells us, our examination of the Bible for “T” Truth, is that man not only: 1.) wrote the Old Testament, but 2.) selected its contents as well. Many writings by prophets etc. did not make it into the Bible. In short, those who ask us to believe that the writing of the Bible was inspired, are asking us to believe that the selection process was inspired as well.
So, we are at the end of what Christians call the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. What has our exploration for Truth, purpose, and meaning found, so far?
THE OLD TESTAMENT – A CONCLUSION
Before we move into any conclusions about the Old Testament, we need to consider whether our reading of it has been too literal? Many would say that you can’t read the Bible this way.
Most apologists for the Bible (especially for the Old Testament) say that a more sophisticated reading is needed because its Truths are not overt – much of it is comprised of clever metaphors and/or allegories with hidden meanings. Origen, one of the fathers of the Christian House of God, saw it like this:
“The Scriptures were composed through the spirit of God, and have a meaning which is obvious, and another which is hidden from most readers. For the contents of the Scriptures are the outward forms of certain mysteries, and the reflection of divine things…the whole law is spiritual, but the inspired meaning is not recognised by all – only by those who are gifted with the grace of the Holy Spirit in the word of wisdom and knowledge.”
Origen quoted from “The History of Christianity”, Tim Dowley – P. 72
There are three big problems with that idea: 1.) there are many conflicting ideas held by the supposedly “gifted” as to what the real “inspired meaning…which is hidden from most readers” actually is; 2.) such conflicted meanings have allowed evil people to find Divine authority to justify evil behaviour; 3.) the orthodox House of God, to this day, is built on the Bible being literally true – called the “Holy” Bible because it is the “word of God” – every “dot and iota”.
Others have said that a literal reading and examination of the Bible is crass, missing its richness and its greatest purpose: to enlighten the lives of those who read it deeply – and thereby inspire the great human artistic achievements: art, music, architecture – even drive human civilisation in general:
“It is also an incomparably rich collection of writings, brought together by Providence to form a single whole, which both reflects and enlightens each life that reads in it deeply. It is the text of all texts, the book which underlies almost all the great works of Western literature…Without a knowledge of it, the great portion of Western architecture is incomprehensible. It is the key which unlocks the work of nearly all the great painters, from Giotto to Blake. It is the libretto of Bach and Haydn and Beethoven.”
“The Book of the People”, A. N. Wilson, Pp. 191-2
We recognised at the beginning of this examination of the House of God that much of its worldly fabric (art, architecture, music) is beautiful – possibly inspired and definitely inspirational. But this essay is a work of philosophy looking for the Truth in what is a “H” House of words – the Truth of any special meaning and ultimate purpose to our existence – and, to that end, we need to examine other of its fabric – the very foundations/words upon which it is built – the Bible. We need to examine the “T” Truth of the Bible, not the personal “t” truths/hopes/wishes of others as expressed in their interpretations of words that are overtly nasty and often demonstrably wrong – which they excuse as metaphors or allegories because upsetting to their religion. The House of God claims the Bible to be literally true, its words those of an inerrant God – we need to examine that claim.
So, the question for us now, here, at this point in our examination of the House of God’s Biblical foundations, is: have we found that the Old Testament is literally the Truth – as the House of God claims?
WORD OF GOD?
Ultimately, life asks you to decide this question for your self (two words – we are due to explore more of the “self” in Essay 3). But, for here, for me – the answer to the above question rests in the answer to another one: would an omniscient, infallible God write or inspire: incorrect science, fictitious history, inveigling praise and worship to himself, and failed prophecy?
Modern science has proven the Bible’s science to be wrong – beyond reasonable doubt. It is demonstrable that the sun does not revolve around the Earth and that our rocky planet, and the life on it, is way older than the Biblical 6,000-7,000 years. Our physical sciences (in the shape of physics, astronomy, cosmology, chemistry, geology, and biology) have discovered many of the physical Truths of our universe. We know such are “T” Truths (remember our working definition of Truth is “that which is true for everybody, all the time”) because we use those scientific Truths successfully, every day. Even Old Testament-believing fundamentalists have phones, TV’s, computers, cars, fly in planes, and use medicine – you cannot retain much credibility if you use science successfully, on the one hand, and deny that science knows the Truth of the physical world, on the other hand.
Jewish archaeologists have found Old Testament history to be inaccurate. Israel Finkelstein (director of the Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University) and Neil Asher Silberman (director of historical interpretation for the Ename Centre of Public Archaeology in Belgium and writer of several books, including “Christianity, Judaism, and the War for the Dead Sea Scrolls” and “Digging for God and Country”) have this to say about archaeology conducted by them in the holy lands:
“Its finds have revolutionised the study of early Israel and have cast serious doubt on the historical basis of such famous biblical stories as the wanderings of the patriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt and conquest of Canaan, and the glorious empire of David and Solomon.”
- “The Bible Unearthed”, Finkelstein and Silberman (2001), P.3
“Much of what is commonly taken for granted as accurate history – the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and even the saga of the glorious united monarchy of David and Solomon – are, rather, the creative expressions of a powerful religious reform movement that flourished in the kingdom of Judah in the Late Iron Age.”
- Finkelstein & Silberman (ibid. P. 23)
In a later work, Finkelstein and Silberman describe the story of David and Solomon as:
“…interesting and worthy of study, but certainly not to be taken as literal, credible records of events…many of the famous episodes in the biblical story of David and Solomon are fictions, historically questionable, or highly exaggerated.”
“David and Solomon” (2006), (P. 21)
Other Jewish archaeologists agree – Z’ev Herzog, professor of archaeology in Tel Aviv, has this to say on the matter:
“…key parts of the Bible – the foundation stone of Western civilisation – the underpinnings of today’s Israeli state – are, in historical terms, bunk.”
- Quoted in The Spectator, November,1999.
The Spectator newspaper summarises Herzog thus: “David and Solomon [were] ‘at most’ the leaders of a small tribal fiefdom, and [Herzog] claims that the Jews did not embrace monotheism with Moses on Mt. Sinai” – an episode he says probably never happened – “but did so, hundreds of years later, when their monarchy was in decline.”
So, Old Testament’s history, according to Jewish, Israeli, academic archaeology, does not resemble the Truth (the word of an infallible God) – rather such history is archeologically demonstrable to be the product of humans. Humans with religious and political agenda rather than Truth.
But there is also, of course, such a thing as theological/evangelical archaeology – sponsored by the House of God, and which strives to prove every word of the Bible as God’s Truth. Such archaeology has uncovered evidence that some ancient places mentioned in the Bible actually existed (maybe Hazor, Gezer, Meggido) and that David existed (a reference to the “House of David” was found at Tel Dan) – but there is nothing to suggest that any of the numerous, significant (for doctrine) stories in the Old Testament about what happened in such places and/or the importance of such people has been established as “T” Truth. One has to ask, do evangelical Bible-believers want to find any Truth about any God, or do they just want to convert people to their god/truth? – as if Truth was a game which could be “won” for your side by numbers of adherents. It should always be remembered that religion is firstly dependant on numbers – holding and/or increasing congregations by proselytising and protecting held beliefs – not a search for any “T” Truths that there may be.
INVEIGLING PRAISE AND WORSHIP TO HIMSELF?
As well as incorrect science and unreliable and/or untrue history, the Old Testament contains inveigling songs, poems and prayers. Some of these are beautiful and moving, to the point of being spiritual, but most often they have Darwinian motives – trying to influence a vain god for survival purposes: not only day-to-day bodily survival, but even eternal survival into the next world. All up, the Old Testament prayers and worshipful songs etc. depict God as a jealous, needy, humanoid deity who can be influenced by meeting his very human needs for praise and worship.
Those who consider that the Bible is God’s word “every dot and iota” – need to ask themselves: would God write these prayers, songs, and poems to himself? No, of course not. These are obviously a record of us humans trying to ingratiate ourselves to a god – usually to get something for ourselves.
Despite all the Old Testament prophets’ prophesies of future Jewish glory, there has never been a more persecuted people than the Jews. Originally enslaved by the Egyptians, Moses led them out of captivity and into the way of righteous monotheism. The reward for being faithful to Moses’ god was the “promised land” of milk and honey – where, with their god’s help, they mercilessly raped, enslaved, and slaughtered the original inhabitants: man, woman, child, horse, camel, and donkey. But it all went pear-shaped later, when they had it all taken away from them by the Assyrians, then they were defeated and packed off into exile by the Babylonians – only to be rescued by the intervention of the “goyim” Persians. Following this they were subjugated by Alexander’s Greeks, the Hasmonean Seleucids, then colonised by the Romans. The Jerusalem temple – their “one true” and indomitable god’s only house on Earth – was destroyed twice in all this, and was later overbuilt by another religion (the Muslim Dome on the Rock) after another defeat (by the Saracens). Then Jerusalem was conquered and its people brutalised by the Christian crusaders, then invaded by the Ottomans. Throughout all this many/most Jews were dispersed from their “promised land” in a Diaspora to settle throughout the world where they suffered numerous other persecutions and pogroms over the centuries – culminating in the Nazi Holocaust – surely the most heinous crime ever inflicted on any people. Let’s face it, their god (Yahweh) was a dud, but throughout all this the priests of their House of God kept their own jobs (and status) by blaming the people for all their defeats (usually because they had turned away from Yahweh). The Old Testament is a litany of the priests holding onto power by continually telling the people that they were god’s chosen and prophesying eventual greatness (and bloody revenge for all their defeats) – if they only would return to correct worship of the priests’ god (instead of the peskily-recurring gods of those who successfully oppressed them – like Baal).
All up, while there is a little beauty, some spirituality, an occasional reference to love in it – the Old Testament contains more in the way of the above incorrect science, invented history, inveigling worship, and failed prophecy. What chance is there that such incorrectness would be written and/or inspired by a “G” God – and, it must be asked, what chance is there that the Abrahamic god which we see in the Old Testament could be the real God of the Universe?
THE REAL GOD OF THE UNIVERSE?
Would a real God who made the Universe be parochial – having one chosen people whom he aided and abetted in the murderous ethnic cleansing of another people’s land; would a real God be pro-slavery – approving the taking of non-Jewish neighbours as slaves; cruel – allowing the beating of slaves (so long as they could recover in three days!); filicidal – approving the stoning of rebellious sons and daughters; cantankerous – quick to anger and slow to forgive; capricious – helping the enemy to beat his own tribe then revengefully crushing that enemy for doing so; vindictive – allowing the slaughter and enslavement of his own chosen people allegedly because their faith wavered; jealous – of the gods of the neighbouring people; sexist – regarding women as unclean?
Nope, not much sign of “D” Divinity there!? Possibly your god, but not the God of the universe. So, if the Old Testament was not likely to have been written by any God, from whence did it come?
WHENCE THE OLD TESTAMENT?
The Old Testament did not descend from heaven, carved in stone. It was carried originally for many years in the oral tradition before it was written down and assembled as Scripture. Over the years the written texts were subject to constant discussion and change.
”Although these texts were revered, they had not yet become ‘scripture’. People felt free to alter older writings and there was no canon of prescribed sacred books.”
“On the Bible”, Karen Armstrong (Pp. 24-25)
The Old Testament has many writing styles and is, obviously, a compilation of the writings of many men (none by woman – quickly apparent from reading it). A compilation which, according to the Oxford History of the Bible, “somehow came to be regarded as scripture.” Biblical scholars have defined much changing, embellishment and editing in the Old Testament:
“Israelites developed their saga, changed it, embroidered it, added to it, reinterpreted it, and made it speak to the particular circumstances of the time…During the fifth and fourth centuries [B.C.] the Bible was compiled by editors.”
“The Great Transformation”, Karen Armstrong (Pp. 39 & 248)
All the evidence points to the Old Testament having been written by man and constantly edited and changed to suit the Jews’ changing situation (much of it written during the Babylonian captivity – when the priests had much explaining to do to Yahweh’s supposed chosen – if the priests were to keep their jobs and status).
So, at this point in the Bible, where does all of the above leave our exploration for any special meaning and ultimate purpose to our existence (and/or for any “G” God)?
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT MEANING, PURPOSE, THE EXISTENCE OF GOD?
For most in the educated West, the fallibility of Old Testament history, its incorrect scientific “facts”, its murderous “D” Divinity, and the paucity of its idea of the meaning and purpose of life (a one-off test for eternal heaven or hell) – leaves them disbelieving, not only in the existence of any God, but that there could be any special meaning and/or ultimate purpose to life, at all.
But such is hardly a rational position. Discovering that what some ancient priestly classes promoted as the “T” Truth, is actually just their personal “t” truths which they devised to serve their own vested interests of power and status – establishes nothing about the existence, or not, of any real “G” God – nor does it establish anything, one way or another, about the existence of any real special meaning/purpose. To find that a religious Book is not always the Truth, that its god is seldom “D” Divine, that its meaning and purpose of life are incredible – is only to find that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to a credible belief in the existence of any God or special meaning and purpose.
THE NATURE OF GOD?
The nature of the god of the Old Testament is looking rather ordinary (as above: parochial, murderous, pro-slavery, callous, filicidal, cantankerous, capricious, vindictive, jealous, and sexist.) But some try to concentrate on the alleged positives of its god – arguing that the Old Testament shows us a “G” God – of love.
Glimmers of a god of love do exist, but you need a strong torch and a cut lunch to find him – and, even then, there is a spike in his tail:
“a God…abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and fourth generation.”
Exodus (34:6, 7).
In other words, god loves you – but stuff up and he knows where you live, and where your kids (and their kids, and their kids…) go to school!
THIS IS NOT A CONCLUSION ABOUT THE JEWISH RELIGION
While the Christian “Old” Testament is the current Jewish Bible, this is a conclusion about the Old Testament, and should not be taken as a conclusion about the Jewish religion. There are other books (e.g. the Talmud) and much other “Rabbinic” written and oral traditions (e.g. Mishnah, Midrash, Kabbalah) upon which current Jewish beliefs are also based. The same could be said about the Christian religion, of course – and we will examine something of the contributions of the Christian House of God “fathers” after we have finished examining the Christian Bible.
NOW TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
But now we come to the New Testament. For Christians, this is definitely the Truth – and the most important part of the Bible. While they may grant that the Old Testament has some apparent untruths (perhaps metaphors and analogies which had deep meanings accessible only by faith, not intellect) the New Testament is obviously the Truth – revealed in the story of Jesus Christ as written in the Gospels, Letters, Acts and the prophecy of Revelations – all truly the word of God: the Gospel “T” Truth.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house shall be filled.”
- Luke (14:23)
The New Testament is primarily the story of Jesus of Nazareth – a man who literally went “out into the roads and lanes” and preached so that his “house” of God should be filled. But Jesus’ own house of God rejected him, and killed him. However, another house of God came to be built in his name, which house did “compel people to come in, so that my house shall be filled” – which house became the largest and most powerful House of God in the world.
And why is this, once dominant, House of God – built in his name – now steadily emptying?
To answer these questions we need to consider: who was Jesus; what was his message; did it contain “T” Truth?
Because Jesus left us nothing in his own writing, we have to rely on the words of others to determine what we can know, intellectually, of the real, historical Jesus and his real message. What we choose to believe, spiritually, about Jesus and his message is up to our selves (two words).
What sources do we have for knowing the intellectual “T” Truth of Jesus?
There are no, irrefutably original sources for knowing, intellectually, the “T” Truth of Jesus.
I, myself, believe that the Letter of James may have been written by the James who was Jesus’ brother. We will explore the reasons for my belief when we examine the Letters, later. Some believe that the letters written by Peter were from the Peter who was Jesus’ chief disciple. Some believe that the Gospels were written by Jesus’ disciples/apostles. But all of the above beliefs are refuted by some, and on rational grounds.
One thing we can know for sure, is that most of what was written about Jesus was carried in the verbal tradition for some years before being written down. This was because Jesus was either illiterate, chose not to write, or none of his writings survived. Another factor was that many of those who personally knew Jesus believed that he was soon to reappear – along with the imminent coming of God (oft preached by Jesus) – there was no need to write anything down. By the time his followers came to realise that Jesus was not coming back, several years had passed.
Because of this, for the Truth of Jesus and his message, we have to rely on the memory, honesty, and motives of some of his followers: the Gospel and Letter writers of the New Testament. This body of work forms the only substantial record of what Jesus said and did because he made only a small blip on the radar of secular history: just a few lines by the Roman historians Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, and a few by the Jewish historian Josephus (which latter, as we shall see below, may well have been doctored by religious scribes?).
From such “source” material, and from personal inspiration, the fathers of the Christian religion built a House of God – walls made out of the many volumes of their own writings establishing doctrines built upon the foundation that was the Bible – comprised of the Gospels and Letters which they selected as having authority (after considerable argument).
In the last century or so, a huge amount of Biblical scholarship has become available – some being the honest attempts of academic, neutral scholars to know Jesus intellectually but, just as often, a vested-interest attempt by religious “scholars” to justify and fortify the House of God which had been built upon Jesus (“vested interest” because they rely upon said House for their living, status, etc.)
These essays are our own exploration for Truth – we are going to make our own minds up. But to do that, from time to time we will need to refer to, and consider, the knowledge of the above Biblical scholars. In an effort not to get side-tracked by “scholars” who represent various vested interests (both theistic and atheistic) we will rely on neutral scholars. Evangelical scholars who staff religious institutions like Bible colleges, seminaries, religious universities, etc., start from the position of believing the Bible to be the true word of God – their motives being concerned with the recruiting and teaching of cohorts. We will be just as careful not to be side-tracked by “scholars” who are equally fundamentalist members of the House of Disbelief (plenty of those too). Members of the House of Disbelief often seem to have as much of a vested interest in proselytising their disbelief, as do the members of the House of God in proselytising their beliefs – as if our truth can be established as the Truth by recruiting greater numbers. We will examine the “H” House of “D” Disbelief in Essay 2.
Basically, all we can know, intellectually, about Jesus is in the Bible, so to New Testament it is. Firstly, the Gospels – “T” Truth or “t” truth – fact or faith?
The dates I use for the writing of the Gospels are those agreed to by consensus, neutral Bible scholarship as close approximations (particularly the scholarship of the many member “Jesus Seminar”) – more about them, below. Again – by using neutral scholarship we seek the real Jesus, the Jesus of history, not the Jesus of theism – nor the Jesus of atheism. This (hopefully) objective approach is still no guarantee that we will find him.
We will examine the Gospels in the order which such objective Bible scholarship says they were written: Mark, Matthew, Luke and John – not the order they appear in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) – so we can see how the story of Jesus changes with the passage of time.
MARK (Circa 70 A.D.)
Mark, according to neutral Bible scholars, is the earliest written Gospel in the New Testament – written about 35 years after Jesus’ execution – and about 15 years before Matthew’s Gospel.
MARK TRIES TO AUTHORISE JESUS THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES
Mark was a Jewish Gospeller, trying to alert his fellow Jews to Jesus’ essentially Jewish mission and message. Mark, first thing in his Gospel (1:2-3), tries to authorise Jesus as the Jewish Messiah (an important Jewish figure foretold by the Old Testament prophets) by quoting the Old Testament figures Malachi and Isaiah – implying that these prophets were foretelling Jesus:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ [Malachi 3:1] a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’ [from Isaiah 40:3] ”.
In this way Mark locates Jesus firmly within the Jewish Scriptures in order to proselytise him to his largely Jewish audience as their long-awaited Messiah.
But what was Jesus’ idea about this – did he think he was the Messiah?
DID JESUS SEE HIMSELF AS THE MESSIAH?
In Mark’s Gospel, being the Messiah does not seem to be Jesus’ idea about himself – rather he has a simple message: to spread the good news among his Jewish fellows of the imminent coming of God – and that they should repent so as to be ready:
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.’” (1:14-15)
Mark spends no time nor wastes any ink on Jesus’ birth narrative, nor his genealogy (descended from David, etc.). Later Gospels seem to have developed these narratives to establish Jesus more strongly as the Messiah, only begotten Son of God, or whatever doctrine they (or the faction they represented) wanted to push.
DIFFERENT “FACTS” BETWEEN GOSPELS
Mark’s Gospel does not have certain stories which appear in later Gospels – e.g.:
· Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (just saying: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.”) [1:9].
· The virgin-birth story.
· The attempt to trace Joseph’s ancestors back to Abraham through David.
· Herod’s census and Jesus’ family’s flight into Egypt.
· Mention the Magi, kings of the Orient, angels, shepherds, frankincense etc.
These stories seem to be further embellishment by later Gospellers to enhance Marks’ Messiah claims about Jesus – in order to more strongly proselytise the Jews. For example, the Jewish Scriptures said that the Messiah had to be: descended from David; born in Bethlehem; and come out of Egypt.
Instead of too many Messianic or Son of God claims about Jesus, Mark, in his Gospel moves quickly into Jesus’ work in Galilee – mainly preaching the good news of God’s imminent coming and doing miracle cures. In his telling of Jesus’ ministry, as well as those above, Mark has some other “facts” which are different to those of the other Gospellers. For example: his list of disciples is different; he does not have Peter walking on water as a test of faith as Matthew does; he agrees with Matthew and Luke on the Transfiguration of Jesus before Moses and Elijah (important Jewish figures and an attempt to proselytise fellow Jews), but John misses it (seemingly being more concerned with Gentile converts).
THE IMMINENT COMING OF GOD?
Mark, in agreeance with the other Gospellers, records Jesus’ mistaken belief about the imminent coming of God – within the generation of his present audience. Mark tells us Jesus said:
“ ‘I tell you this: there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God already come into power.’ ” (9:1)
So, two thousand years later, the “kingdom of God” is remarkable by its absence, and of evangelicals (Gospel believers/preachers) the question is begged: who made the mistake – Jesus, the Gospellers, or God (who, according to evangelicals, wrote/inspired the Gospel)? As we shall see, later apologists for the Bible have tried to explain away God’s non-return (or convince us that he has returned.)
JESUS’ MISSION ONLY FOR THE JEWS?
According to Mark, Jesus felt he was only on a mission to his own Jewish people, the children of God. According to the Bible, Jesus even likened non-Jews to dogs:
“The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’ ” (7:26-27)
So, according to “the word of God”, Jesus saw his fellow Jews as “the children” – the rest being “their dogs”. Mark’s Jesus did eventually cure the Gentile woman’s daughter, but only because she gave such a quick-witted answer:
“ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go, the demon has left your daughter.’ ” (Mark 7:28-29)
“For such a reply” – not because Mark’s Jesus loved Gentiles equally? If that woman had not been so sharp-witted, and/or had she chided Jesus’ assessment of Gentiles as dogs, would Mark’s Jesus still have cured her daughter? Whatever the answer to that one, it makes you wonder why evangelical, Gentile Christians hang so tightly to the Bible as “God’s Truth” when the Bible’s Jesus (and or God) regarded Gentiles as dogs?
And there is more “Divine” bad-mouthing about Gentiles, later in the Bible – as we shall see.
Mark recounts many miracles performed by Jesus – he fed a multitude of thousands with a few loaves and fishes on two occasions; raised people from the dead; walked on water (and other nature-defying miracles); cast out demons from a human into pigs – which then drowned (so much for God/Jesus caring equally for even the least of his creatures – from another part of the Bible: “inasmuch as ye do it unto one of these the least of my creatures, ye do it unto me”?).
A PROPHET SHALL BE WITHOUT HONOUR IN HIS OWN TOWN?
Jesus was without honour in his own home-town of Nazareth – where he was known as just a carpenter. His family even came to take him home because the neighbours had told them Jesus had gone potty.
“When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’.” (3:21)
This is not likely to have been made up by Mark because such would have no proselytising use. Make of that story, what you will.
In places other than his home town we are told that Jesus was constantly mobbed by crowds pleading for one of his miracle cures.
Mark portrays Jesus as petulant: withering a fig tree for not producing fruit on demand:
“ ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’ ” (11:14)
– even (uniquely to the other Gospels) making his story an even greater indictment of Jesus’ apparent petulance – by telling us:
“for it was not the season for figs.” (11:13)
Either the Bible is wrong, or Jesus was less than Divine – why would anyone kill a tree for not producing fruit – out of season? Obviously Mark was telling a porky – just to impress readers about Jesus’ power over nature. It’s the same old question to ask of anyone who regards the Bible as “T” Truth – if porkies here, porkies where else?
However, Mark does allow us glimpses of a man of great wisdom. For example, when questioned by the priests about his non-observance of Jewish food laws, Jesus replies:
“ ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside of a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile…whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile since it enters, not the heart but the stomach…It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…’ ” (7:14-15 & 18-21).
Mark has other examples of Jesus’ wisdom – when questioned why he dwelt with sinners, Jesus answers:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (2:17).
And when questioned about why he and his disciples worked on the Sabbath:
“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (2:27).
And about how to achieve success from prayer:
“I tell you then, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” (11:24).
About the evil that is often required to amass wealth:
“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?” (8:36)
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (10:25)
When asked if the Jews should pay taxes to Rome:
“They brought a coin to him and he said, ‘Whose head is this?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s’. Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ ” (12:16).
A PRETERNATURAL WISDOM?
There is wisdom here which shines out – a separate wisdom, brighter than Mark, himself, seems capable of – judging by the bulk of his Gospel. And a wisdom greater than Jesus’ disciples (who often come across as a little dense). The wisdom quoted above seems to have another voice – a preternatural wisdom which could compel people to follow its speaker? A wisdom which still resonates with us 2,000 years later – all from such a short period of ministry.
Jesus not only attacks his religion’s beliefs (like: food laws; the Sabbath; mixing with the unclean) but he also bravely serves it up to his religions’ powerful officers:
“He said to them,
‘Isaiah prophesised rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honours me with their lips, But their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, Teaching human precepts as doctrines.” You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!’ ” (Mark 7:6-9)
“ ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ ” (12:38-40)
To make matters worse, Jesus then cleansed the Jerusalem Temple:
“…and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple. And he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not let anyone carry anything through the temple.” (11:15-16).
As he did so, Mark has Jesus quote from the Jewish Old Testament: “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?” (Jeremiah 7:11). Jesus’ days were numbered – the high priests had him firmly in their sights now.
A NEW AND RADICAL VOICE
All up, Mark’s Jesus was a new voice, a new man, preternaturally wise, spiritual rather than religious – and radical. He was also an angry man: angry at the failings of his religion, especially its officers – and a brave man: he knew the dangers of his various challenges to entrenched authority.
JESUS’ PRIMACY OF LOVE
Mark’s Jesus was also a man of love:
“…love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. ” (12:30-32)
Mark and Matthew’s stories of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are different to Luke’s (the other synoptic Gospel). Mark and Matthew both have Jesus cry out in his anger and his pain:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” (Mark 15:34; Matt 27:46).
Luke has Jesus saying “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Mark and Matthew’s final words of Jesus, on the other hand, are very angry and human – and seem to indicate some dismay as it finally dawned on him he was about to die? After all, Jesus expected the coming of God to be imminent – maybe he even thought his actions may precipitate it? But the veracity of Mark’s words are doubtful, because they are taken from the Old Testament (Psalm 22:1) and, as we have seen, the earlier Gospels of Mark and Matthew frequently locate Jesus in the Old Testament – in an apparent attempt to authorise him in the eyes of their fellow Jews.
Mark’s resurrection story is brief. According to him – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his dead body and found the door open and his body gone. A young man dressed in a white robe (an angel?) told them “He has been raised.” (16:6) and that Jesus will see the disciples in Galilee (as he had previously told them at Mark 8:31) – end of story!
But that is only according to the New International Version of the Bible – which version tells us: “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.”). The King James version of the Bible has verses 9-20 with no comment. However, the New Revised Standard Version of the Gospel according to Mark, offers us two different endings: a short one of one more unnumbered, unique verse, and a longer one of the 12 extra verses (9-20) – but makes no comment as to which ending is “God’s word”.
Which is the “T” Truth?
The longer ending has some extra information about appearances of Jesus (to Mary Magdalene and some to his disciples) and a record of Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Such longer version seems very much to be a later add-on designed to get converts to the Gentile Christian House of God (as it became)? This part of the add-on seems to support such a conclusion:
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” (16:15-16).
The “whole creation” – i.e. this was not just aimed at Jesus’ fellow Jews as the rest of Mark seems to have been. As we shall see, the later Gospels elaborated on the resurrection part of Jesus’ story, and the concept of being “saved” – both the hope of resurrection and the concept of salvation from Jesus’ death being vital to the successful construction of the new religion which came to be built upon Jesus.
MATTHEW (circa 85 AD)
As already mentioned, although the Gospel of Matthew is the first Gospel to appear in the New Testament, it is thought by neutral Bible scholars not to be the first written – being placed about 15 years after Mark. Said scholars have calculated that it incorporates about 90% of the Gospel of Mark.
Matthew is very keen to establish Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the first two chapters being devoted to this end. Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus in an effort to trace him back to King David – from whom the Jewish Scriptures say the Messiah must be descended.
Matthew says Jesus was “the son of David, the son of Abraham” and then proceeds to trace Joseph’s (Jesus’ father) bloodline all the way back to Abraham. Only Matthew and Luke among the Gospellers attempt this, but they disagree with each other on how to achieve it. Matthew has a different number of generations from Abraham to Joseph than Luke (42 cf. 54) and has different ancestors.
Luke (3:23-38) also differs from Matthew in that he goes beyond Abraham in order to trace Joseph all the way to Adam – then on to God! We are assessing the Bible as a source of “T” Truth, so we have to ask ourselves: how can the Bible disagree with itself – both Gospels are meant to be “the word of God”?
An even more bothersome question here is: why is Joseph’s lineage important at all – because he was, supposedly, not related to Jesus? Matthew tells us Mary was pregnant before she married Joseph: “before their marriage she found that she was with child by the Holy Spirit.” (1:18) If Mary was not impregnated by Joseph, how could Jesus be established as “the son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1) – through Joseph?
THE VIRGIN BIRTH STORY
The virgin birth story is also not to be found in the earlier Gospel of Mark – only found in Matthew and Luke. Such story was probably an attempt to authorise Jesus to the Jewish audience by locating him firmly in the Jewish Scriptures:
“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (from Isaiah 7:14)
But there is disagreement over the word “virgin” – the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translating the word in Isaiah as “young woman” – rather than virgin. The virgin birth story is also handy in later attempts to sell the Divinity of Jesus story (as we shall see in the last Gospel, John).
OTHER UNIQUE STORIES IN MATTHEW
Matthew tells other new stories connecting Jesus to the Old Testament – for example: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; the Magi; Evil King Herod and the slaughter of the innocents; Jesus’ family’s flight to Egypt. Let’s have a look at these differences.
For Jesus to be accepted as the Jewish Messiah, he had to be born in Bethlehem in accord with the Scriptures (Micah 5:2) – and Matthew fixes this by simply stating: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem” (2:1). He thereby disagrees with Mark, who, as we have previously seen, told us that Jesus actually came from Nazareth: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” (Mark 1:9). As for the 3rd Gospel, Luke, as we shall see, says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but has a lengthy and unique story as to how this came about (because a census was called and people had to return to the home town of their ancestors). John ignores the whole birth story.
THE MAGI, EVIL HEROD, SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENTS, FLIGHT TO EGYPT?
These unique stories about the Magi, evil King Herod, the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, and the flight of Jesus’ family into Egypt, are designed to cement Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. The latter story about fleeing into Egypt allows Matthew’s Jesus to fulfil another Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). Matthew makes a bigger effort to authorise Jesus among Jerusalem’s Jews from the Old Testament than the other Gospellers (my quick review counts 20 direct Old Testament quotes/references in Matthew as compared with Mark’s 10, Luke’s 8, and John’s 5). This was probably because, when the Gospel of Matthew was being written (about 15 years after Mark), the Jews had largely rejected Jesus and the Jewish faction of Jesus’ followers would have needed to stress Jesus’ Scriptural authorisation to convert and/or retain Jewish membership. Also, the Jewish Temple had been demolished by the Romans (70AD) and the Jews could perhaps have been more receptive to the newer Jesus story – their old god having failed them yet again? Matthew certainly pitches Jesus as the warrior/saviour that the Messiah was meant to be – having him (again uniquely) say:
“ ‘You must not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. After all I have come to pit a man against his father, a daughter against her mother … a person’s enemies are members of the same household.’ ” (Matthew, 10:34).
Although Matthew tried to sell Jesus to the Jews of Jerusalem as the Old Testament warrior/Messiah, did Jesus see himself as such? This is a much more difficult question. The above, militant, unforgiving words that Matthew has Jesus utter are also taken from Jewish Old Testament scripture (Micah, 7:5-6). The forgiving, “peace on earth” Jesus that most present-day Christians like to think of as the real Jesus is, instead, here depicted by Matthew as violent – not come to bring peace, but with a sword – the keenly anticipated Jewish warrior king/Messiah of the Old Testament come to free the Jews from their Roman oppressors? We will hunt for what Jesus thought about himself, for the real historical Jesus, below, after we have read everything written about him in the New Testament. For here, we just need to note that the above quoted words from Micah implying that Jesus saw himself as the Jewish Messiah were unique to Matthew and, again, we are left grasping for the Truth.
RIDING INTO JERUSALEM
Further into his Gospel, in another attempt to fulfil Old Testament Messianic prophecy, Matthew (following Mark this time) recounts the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on an ass. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus was aware of this prophecy and simply fulfilled it by following it:
“Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me’…This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’.” (Matthew 21:2-5)
This story, if true, tells of a attempt by Jesus and his disciples to make Jewish Scriptural prophecy come true. Does such a deliberate attempt to make prophecy come true, serve as a fulfilment of prophecy? More of that, below.
JESUS NOT INTERESTED IN THE GENTILES ?
Matthew, like Mark, tells us Jesus did not have a very high opinion of the Gentiles:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ Or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things...” (6:31-32).
And Matthew’s Jesus also sees his mission as being only for the Jews. To a Gentile woman who had asked Jesus for help Matthew has Jesus saying this:
“I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24)
And, like Mark, Mathew also has Jesus describing non-Jews as “dogs”:
“It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (15:26)
Matthew’s Jesus ranks Gentiles very poorly – as low as tax collectors:
“...if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (18:17)
At least he didn’t liken them to hedge fund managers.
WHAT DID JESUS REALLY THINK/SAY?
Did Jesus really think he was only here for his fellow Jews, and that Gentiles were the equivalent of “dogs”? Mark had a similar anti-gentile outlook. Either both Mark and Matthew made this up, or Jesus is not the man the Gentile Christian Church fathers wished he was? Either way, the Bible is not good foundational material for the Gentile Christian House of God.
More embellishment to proselytise Matthew’s fellow Jews? Or was Jesus only interested in the Jews, at best – truly anti-gentilic, at worst?
MATTHEW’S SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Matthew also goes to some lengths to proselytise a Jewish audience in his uniquely recorded “Sermon on the Mount”. According to Matthew, Jesus states that he had not come to abolish the Jewish religion, but to fulfil it:
“ ‘Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to complete’ ” (5:17)
Biblical scholar Barrie Wilson (Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies, York University, Toronto) sees this passage as vital to an understanding of Matthew’s emphasis of the Jewishness of Jesus to counter Paul’s teaching which had moved away from the Jews to proselytise a wider, more receptive Gentile audience:
“This is a crucial passage for understanding [that] Matthew’s Jesus did not believe in the abolition of Torah. This passage was aimed squarely at the heart of Paul’s teaching, which had denied the validity of Jewish law”.
Barrie Wilson, “How Jesus Became Christian. (P. 151).
In seeking the Truth, it is important to remember that the Gospel of Matthew (like all the Gospels), whilst appearing in the Bible before Paul’s letters, was actually written after them. We will see later when we come to examine Paul and Acts that factions developed among Jesus’ followers some time after his death – and which faction a Gospeller belonged to seems to have affected what he wrote in his Gospel. And Matthew was a Gospeller of what Professor Wilson calls the “Jesus Movement” (one of whose leaders was originally Jesus’ brother, James – and also Peter, Jesus’ main disciple) – a Jewish sect whose primary interest was proselytising Jesus’ message to his fellow Jews in Jerusalem (which was basically, that it was time to repent of all the corruption in religion because the coming of God was nigh).
On the other hand, Paul, as we shall see from his writings seems to have been aiming at the Gentiles and the wider Mediterranean world – which faction Professor Wilson calls the “Christ Movement”. I think Wilson is on the right track because, as we see when we come to examine Paul’s letters, he does try to de-emphasise the Jewish laws of the Torah (e.g. bothersome dietary laws and circumcision). The later Gospellers (Luke and especially John) seem to have been influenced by Paul’s faction because they write much for a wider, East Mediterranean audience.
Anyhow, for whatever reason, Matthew’s Jesus is anchored most securely to the Old Testament – indulging in plenty of Old Testament hell-casting – and for minor “sins” we have all committed:
“…‘if he sneers at him [his brother] he will have to answer for it in the fires of hell’ ” (5:22).
“ ‘If a man looks at a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ ” (5:28)
Are these the real words of Jesus – a man who lived and worked among prostitutes and other undesirables – and who, in Luke, tells the bandit hanging on a cross beside him at Golgotha that they will meet shortly in paradise (even though said bandit has committed far worse sins than sneering and lusting)? And who among us hasn’t occasionally sneered at someone – or lusted a little? According to Matthew we’re headed to hell for these paltry offences – from the same mouth that, supposedly, later in the Bible says: “Father forgive them” as they hammered the nails into him, and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”?
WHOLE TOWNS CAST INTO HELL
Not only does Matthew have Jesus casting people into hell for sneering and lusting but he has Jesus warning that whole towns will be cast into hell merely for not receiving the disciples’ teachings :
“ ‘…on the day of judgement it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town’ .” (10:15).
Bethsaida (11:21) and Capernaum (11:23) were both damned to hell for not listening. But is not receiving the word of some unknown disciples such a huge crime – considering that prophets were plentiful in the holy land in those days, surely you could hardly blame people for not taking to new prophets straight away? Are these words of ready condemnation likely to be the real words of Jesus, or embellishments by Matthew?
BUT A GLIMPSE OF SOMETHING NEW?
And yet, and yet – amongst all Matthew’s rabid proselytizing and Old Testament hell and damnation – we are allowed sometimes a glimpse of something new. From the Beatitudes of Jesus (unique to Matthew):
“ ‘Blessed are the meek...
‘Blessed are the merciful...
‘Blessed are the pure in heart...
‘Blessed are the peacemakers...’ ” (5:5-9)
NEW, RADICAL MESSAGES
And consider this, which swims against the usual Old Testament current – Jesus offering us a distinctly new understanding of what it could mean to be human – a challenge to love not only your family and friends, but also your enemies:
“You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors … your heavenly Father who makes his sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the honest and the dishonest. If you love only those who love you what reward can you expect?…if you greet only your brothers what is there extraordinary about that?’ ” (5:44-48)
These are, surely, some of the greatest words in the Bible? The basis of Christian pacifism – words which are the key to the survival of humanity as a species? Whether Jesus said these words, or not – they are the “T” Truth (again: that which is true for everybody, all the time).
And this from Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and, tooth for tooth’ [Exodus 21:24 & Lev. 24:20 & Deut. 19:21]. But I tell you, ‘Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If a man slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left.” (Matthew 5:39)./
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (5:43)
Jesus was more like Socrates than Son of Yahweh? Consider this from Socrates:
“We ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him.”
– Socrates; (from Plato, Crito 47e, Jowett translation).
JESUS CONTRADICTED THE SCRIPTURES
Jesus here was dangerously contradicting the Old Testament scriptures – “dangerously” because these were not “Old” to Jesus’ audience, but very much current Scriptures – and protected with full force by the religious police. And he contradicted them in other places as well – here similar to Mark (concerning dietary laws):
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (15:11);
And (concerning the observance of the Sabbath):
“For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath”. (12:8).
Contradicting the Scriptures was a serious offence, and would have been one of the main reasons why Jesus was killed by those whose power and status lay in scriptural authority – its officers, the high priests.
Again, Jesus, whoever he was, was different, new, radical – his ideas and teachings over a relatively short period of time, ended up moving the world – whereas the old, violent, Old Testament prophets were two-a-penny and took their Jewish people to defeat after defeat and an eventual Diaspora.
While versions of the Golden Rule existed previously in Judaism, Jesus’ version differed crucially – emphasising doing unto others what you would like to have done for you – rather than refraining from doing what you wouldn’t like (as it is expressed in the Old Testament).
A RAISING OF CONSCIOUSNESS?
So Matthew’s Jesus, occasionally, makes an appeal to us for a raising of consciousness – instead of trying to proselytise people through the fear of the violent Old Testament god. He appeals to us to raise above what is just (Darwinian) genetic self-interest (“...if you greet only your brothers what is extraordinary about that?”) towards universal love for all (“...love your enemies and pray for your persecutors”). A move away from a Darwinian “altruism” which sees us just looking after our gene-carrying kin towards a universal altruism:
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you...” (7:12)
JESUS WAS SPIRITUAL, NOT RELIGIOUS
While there is no doubting Jesus’ spirituality, the above is evidence that he was antitheist – rather than atheist. We have already seen evidence of this in Mark, and Matthew gives us this about the hypocrisy of the priests righteousness and that they value religion above Truth/God:
“Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them…whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues…whenever you pray do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues...” (6: 2-5)
Matthew also records this attack by Jesus on the hypocrisy of the priests (similar to Mark’s record):
“So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesised rightly about you…” (15: 6-7).
Jesus then goes on to tell us to keep our prayers simple, rather than showy and full of “empty phrases” – and then delivers us the magnificently succinct Lord’s Prayer.
CONFUSION ABOUT JESUS
However, all up, Matthew still leaves us confused about the real Jesus – portraying him, as we saw earlier, as an unforgiving Old Testament warrior – come with a sword; intent on setting families against themselves; damning whole villages to hell for not listening to his disciples – and now as a new voice advocating not only forgiving, but loving, our enemies? Before we heard that new voice of love, forgiveness, and doing unto others, Matthew’s Jesus had threatened us with hell four times and mentions the devil at least five. Even after his kindly words of love and forgiveness, Jesus threatens to cast humanity into fire and brimstone for eternity (8:12, 10:15, 10:28, 11:23, 13:42&50, 18:8-9) for paltry offences.
And Matthew also ascribes to the strange and wilful petulance of Jesus that we previously saw in Mark:
“Next morning on his way to the city he felt hungry; and seeing a fig tree at the roadside he went up to it, but found nothing on it but leaves. He said to the tree, ‘You shall never bear fruit any more!’; and the tree withered away at once.” ( Matthew 21:18-20).
True or not? Would the loving Jesus that we are allowed to we meet in other places make one of his last acts on Earth a wilful act against an innocent tree – an act more akin to the petulance of the son of Zeus rather than the son of the supposedly benevolent Christian God?
And, shortly after that act of great petulance and ignorance, we go back to words of great understanding, compassion and wisdom:
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (25:40 – King James Version).
Here Matthew has Jesus not only extending compassion and understanding to the least of society, but also regarding them as part of the Divine (“…ye have done it unto me”). These great words by Matthew form the basis of Christian charity, just as his earlier great words at 5:44-48 form the basis of Christian pacifism. And, again, any greatness of the Bible rests in such words – and, again – they are the “T” Truth whether Jesus said them or not. The survival of humanity as a species may rest on us finally hearing them – clearly – free of the interference that is the incredible doctrine which was heaped on Jesus after his death, during the House of God building process.
Such swinging between words of love/forgiveness/compassion and those of fear/punishment in the Bible is, of course, the old carrot and stick method so beloved of the all-too-human officers of all Houses of God – dangle the carrot of love/heaven with one hand but wield the stick of fear/hell in the other.
HIDING JESUS’ LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL
As a result, Jesus’ New Testamentary light of loving, forgiving, and doing unto all others (not just your family and group members) – gets hidden under the same old, Old Testamentary religious bushel.
So, that’s our challenge: what is the Truth of Jesus – who was he – was he just another Old Testament-style prophet, or was he a new voice who risked, and lost, his life by challenging his own violent religion to bring us a new message? Was Jesus a new man who was not afraid to contradict the out of date Scriptures; the new voice of compassion audible in the Beatitudes; the messenger with the revolutionary new understanding of forgiveness for your enemies that we see at 5:39-48 (and will see in Luke 6:29); bringer of the golden rule which could save us all (“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you...” 7:12) – or was he the old blood and guts Messiah: ‘You must not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword’ ”? We will hunt for the real Jesus further, below, after we have finished reading everything said about him in the Bible.
AND A MYSTERY
There are some mysterious bits which intrigue? Matthew has Jesus saying:
“‘Ever since the coming of John the Baptist the kingdom of Heaven has been subjected to violence and violent men are seizing it.’ ” (11:12)
Violent men taking over heaven? How did they get in to Heaven when entire towns and cities are being thrown into hell just for not listening to disciples? Maybe this is a shot at Paul and/or the Gentile-oriented Christ Movement he put in place? We must always keep in mind that, although the Gospels appear in the Bible before Paul’s Letters, they were written well after them (according to neutral Biblical scholarship) – and after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Jewish Temple by the Romans (which means Jesus’ “prediction” of the destruction of this Temple was made after the fact of its occurrence by the Gospellers who allege Jesus said it).
GOD’S WORD IS WRONG?
In Matthew we also find Jesus’ mistaken belief about the imminence of the coming of God to reign over Earth:
“ ‘I tell you this; there are some standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ ” (16:28)
“ ‘I tell you this; the present generation will live to see it all.’ ” (24:34)
We find this mistake throughout the Gospels – a “mistake” because this predicted event of the coming of God has obviously not taken place. Jesus may not have said these words but any mistake in the Bible, whether truly said by Jesus or not, is a problem for the argument that the Bible is the infallible word of an omniscient God.
God’s non-imminence is usually answered with arguments like: God’s kingdom has already arrived, ushered in when Jesus died for us – and similar such apologetics – but I think that the millions who have been killed and tortured by religion since then would have surely doubted that God’s kingdom had arrived? The fathers of the House of God which eventually came to be formed in Jesus’ name became experts in apologetics and exegesis – the arts of explaining away problems in a religion and the Book it is based on.
THE EXECUTION OF JESUS
Mathew has a different description of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate to the other Gospellers. Matthew has the crowd call for Jesus’ execution, but Pilate could find no case against Jesus and washes his hands of the matter. Matthew then says Pilate hands Jesus over to the crowd in order to avoid trouble – and:
“Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ ” (27:25)
This is a very anti-Semitic piece of writing – one that has been at the root of much Christian persecution of the Jews over the centuries. But did Matthew really write this – or was it the result of subsequent religious editing? Matthew is of the Jewish “Jesus Movement” faction, rather than Paul’s more Gentile-oriented “Christ Movement” – we need to consider, would Matthew be likely to condemn his own people? Maybe this was an addition made later when the Christian religion was becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire – with the purpose of shifting the blame for Jesus’ death from the Roman State to the Jews?
We will discuss more of religious editing later and the whole process of making Christianity the official religion of State – but, for here, we need to ask: is this anti-Semitism likely to be the word of any “G” God?
Again, not likely.
THE DEATH OF JESUS
In his narrative of the death of Jesus on the cross, Matthew has a unique and amazing story of people rising from their graves – a startling event not recounted in the other Gospels:
“There was an earthquake, the rocks split and the graves opened, and many people arose from sleep; and coming out of their graves after his resurrection they entered the Holy City, where many saw them.” (27:52)
Hardly a small, inconsequential happening! An event which, if it did happen, would surely have been sufficient to convert Jerusalem to Christianity – on the spot – to a man? Matthew doesn’t say what happened to these early-risers – did they die again, or are they still alive and wandering around today? Beyond reasonable doubt, more invention in what is meant to be God’s word.
Matthew’s account of the important happenings at Gethsemane, the crucifixion, the events at the tomb, and the reappearance of Jesus to his followers – also differ in the other Gospels.
So, how are we to know what actually happened – the “T” Truth – by reading the Bible? The New Testament so far is frequently contradictory, inconsistent – again, hardly what you would expect of the inerrant word of God. If God wrote, or inspired, the Bible you could expect the Gospels to agree on facts – after all, “He” wrote the other Gospels as well? This confusion in the Bible is what has enabled Christianity to find authority for anything over the years – slaughtering entire cities (Crusades), burning people at the stake, Inquisitions, interdenominational wars etc., etc.
But the hint of a special man has started to emerge. Let’s look further for this man in the other Gospels.
Now for Luke’s version of the Gospel Truth.
LUKE (Circa 90 A.D.)
At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke admits that there were many previous Gospels written: “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” (Luke 1:1). Why so many? Obviously there was some disagreement as to what was “an orderly account” among the various gospellers (there were many more than the four selected for the Bible when it was eventually put together as a “B” Book). And Luke must have felt that Matthew and Mark didn’t have it quite right? Definitely he could not have believed that the earlier Gospels were written by God – a god-fearing man like Luke (as we shall soon see him to be) would not have dared to correct God.
Luke begins his Gospel, uniquely, with the story of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke then, like Matthew, but unlike Mark and John (who both state that Jesus came from Nazareth/Galilee) ties Jesus to Bethlehem in order to fulfil the Old Testament prophecy of Micah (5:2) – which states that the Messiah has to come from Bethlehem. However, Luke’s explanation of how Jesus’ came to be born in Bethlehem is different to Matthew’s.
DIFFERENT BETHLEHEM STORIES
Matthew, as we have seen, simply states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (2:1) – whereas, in Luke’s story, Mary (pregnant with Jesus) accompanies Joseph to Bethlehem because of a taxation census initiated during Roman Emperor Augustus’s reign. Luke’s unique story was that Joseph had to be counted at Bethlehem because his ancestors allegedly came from there. It is an illogical story – imagine the chaos if everyone returned to the area their ancestors originated from, centuries ago – rather than be counted where they were born and/or presently lived!
DIFFERENT BIRTH STORIES
The two Gospellers who spend any time on Jesus’ birth story, Luke and Matthew, can’t agree on the circumstances. Luke has a unique story of some shepherds being told about the birth of Jesus by angels – who, now enlightened about Jesus being the Messiah, trot off to tell Mary. Also in contrast to Matthew, Luke has no slaughter of the innocents, or flight to Egypt – his Jesus is just taken off to be circumcised, to “purify” him (why does the son of God, indeed God himself, need purification?). Two turtle doves were then killed and offered to God (here we are, in the “New” Testament, and we are still dealing with a primitive god who needs blood-sacrifice?)
Luke, like Matthew, pushes Messianic doctrine about Jesus, but they have wildly different version of the “facts” of the matter. Luke has a different genealogy of Joseph from Matthew and even manages to trace Joseph all the way back to God – via Adam! Science has shown us Adam to be mythical, so how much for the Truth of Luke’s genealogy? But, again, the whole exercise of tracing Joseph’s bloodline is totally futile because Jesus was virgin-born and not related to Joseph by blood. In Luke’s version, an angel visited Mary and told her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Luke 1:35) meaning that Jesus was not of Joseph’s blood – and therefore not related to David or Abraham (or Adam and God!) through him. Bit of a waste of time really.
Luke has other stories that are uniquely his – such as the townsfolk of Nazareth wanting to throw Jesus from the cliff. And Luke’s list of disciples is unique – disagreeing with Matthew – who differs with Mark. Luke also has a different slant from Mark and Matthew about the anointing of Jesus’ feet by the “sinful” woman (Mark and Matthew have the anointing take place at the house of Simon the leper just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, whereas Luke has the incident take place at the house of an unnamed Pharisee at a much earlier time during Jesus’ ministry). And the lesson to be taken from the anointing in Luke is also different to the lesson drawn in Matthew and Mark. Luke has Jesus teaching:
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
As we will see, John has the story different again – and the lesson different as well. Again, the constant question we must ask about the Gospels is: whose “t” truth – Mark’s, Matthews’, Luke’s, or John’s – which one is the “T” Truth? And, again, how can all the disagreements (some small, but some large) of the New Testament be “the word of God”?
BUT SOME AGREEMENTS TOO
While there is much disagreement and contradiction in “God’s” word as represented in the Gospels, there are some broad areas of agreement. For example, Jesus’ teachings about loving (here even your enemies); turning the other cheek; treating others as you would like them to treat you. Luke has Jesus put it this way:
“But I say unto you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)
These are great words and the basis for the greatness that is in Christianity (and any claim of greatness that the Bible may have): Love; Forgive; Do (unto others) – Jesus’ own Trinity. How much greater is this Trinity (which fits on one line) than the later doctrinal Trinity of St. Augustine which took him 14 volumes to contrive.
And the next verse is the basis for Christian agape love (open to all – not just those who love you):
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (6:32)
Again, whether Jesus said all the above words or not – they are the “T” Truth – which humanity needs to hear if we have any ambition to survive as a species (but first, many layers of crappy theistic overburden may have to be removed).
GOSPELLERS AGREE ON JESUS’ RADICAL IDEAS BEST
Maybe, because the Gospellers do manage to agree more on the radical ideas credited to Jesus (certainly radical in a brutal, revengeful, “eye for an eye” world) these are the real teachings of Jesus? Maybe this is the “T” Truth which will set us free?
BUT AGREEMENT ALSO ON JESUS’ MISTAKES
The Gospellers also agree on Jesus’ mistaken belief in the imminence of the coming of God. In Luke’s telling, Jesus said:
“ ‘And I tell you this: there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God.’ ” (9:27)
“ ‘Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near’ “ (10:11)
Luke was written about 90 AD – well after the lifetime of “those standing here” – and you could be sure that the non-occurrence of the promised coming of God would have been thrown back into the faces of the Jesus movement many times by their opponents and sceptics. A counter for God’s non-appearance would have been sorely needed by Luke’s time – and he supplied it:
“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or, ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is within you.” (17:20-21)
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN?
So the coming of God is within – therefore not visible even to “careful observation”? True, it certainly would not have been very observable “within” the religious officers of the House of God who were burning people at the stake, torturing others in Holy Inquisitions, or murdering innocents in Crusades and inter-denominational wars in the centuries which followed. All of these things and more were done during the supposed “kingdom of God” by the House of God – often to its own members. Even today, not many of our evangelicals seem to have received the kingdom of God “within” their own souls – full of hate as they are: gleefully ranting about the imminent coming of the wrath of the murderous Old Testament god (read their corny “end of days” books, full of blood-lust – which top of their best-sellers of all time lists).
AND AGREEMENT ON A VIOLENT JESUS
Luke agrees with the other synoptic Gospels about Jesus’ supposed intolerance, violent anger and ability to hate:- Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum are condemned to hell by Jesus for the “crime” of not taking to the disciples’ preaching (during a period in history when there were many wandering preachers):
“ ‘Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! … And you Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.’ “(Luke 10:13-15).
These words are, supposedly, from the same man who urged non-judgement (“Do not judge…do not condemn – 6:37) and, later, urged forgiveness for the men who were hammering nails into his body (23:34). Are these truly Jesus’ words or is Luke indulging in the usual carrot and stick scaremongering to keep the congregation in line? It may be called the “New” Testament but the god it depicts is the same old violent man created in the Old Testament to keep the congregation coming (and paying).
SOME “T” TRUTHS
But Luke records some of Jesus’ preternatural wisdom:
“Give and it will be given to you…” (6:38)
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (6:41)
“For each tree is known by its fruit...” (6:44)
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions…” (12:15)
“When you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case.” (12:58)
“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (20:25)
UNIQUE LUCAN PARABLES
While Luke has stories not dissimilar to the previous Gospels – for example, Jesus’ miracle cures, he tells many which are unique – like the Good Samaritan. Another unique Lucan story is that of the “great dinner”, which seems to be of Luke’s own invention (rather than the supposed “words of God”) – devised by Luke to target a wider, non-Jewish audience:
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent for his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses…Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame…so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner’.” (14:16-24)
The Jesus of the earlier Gospels had only come for the chosen, Jewish people – whereas the Jesus of the later Gospel according to Luke was angry to have been spurned by his own people and now throws the doors open to anybody. We will see more of this deliberate pursuit of a wider power-base by the Christian Movement in Acts – a Book also attributed to the hand of Luke.
ANOTHER 70 DISCIPLES?
Luke, in another unique story, has Jesus appointing another seventy disciples (10:1) who went out to the people in order to preach and cure them of demons in his name – a fact unknown to Matthew and Mark. While the New Revised Standard Version and the King James’ version of the Bible have seventy, the New International Version has seventy-two.
POWER OVER THE NATURAL LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE
Luke tells us stories about Jesus’ ability to change the natural laws of the universe – some similar to the other Gospels, and some unique to Luke. Luke’s Jesus turns five loaves and two fishes into a massive amount of food (enough to feed 5000, with twelve baskets left over); and cures lepers, the paralytic, the withered, and the demonic. Luke’s Jesus doesn’t walk on water, as in the other Gospels, but does calm a storm.
SLAUGHTER OF SWINE
Luke repeats Mark’s story of Jesus transferring demons from a man into a herd of swine – who then rush off and drown themselves in the sea (8:32). But later in his Gospel Luke tells us that God treasures all of his creatures – even the smallest :
“ ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.’ ” (Luke 12:6)
Why would God, who cares for even the smallest of his creatures, drown a herd of swine in the sea for no other purpose than to execute a flamboyant gesture? Is this Biblical god, truly God? Is it possible to find “G” God in the Bible – or do we only find our self in the “g” god we find?
JESUS ACCURATELY FORETELLS?
According to Luke, Jesus accurately foretells his own death and resurrection (18:31) – and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (21:5-6 & 21:20-24). Given that Luke was written about 90 AD, these were prophecies after the facts.
JESUS TEMPTS FATE
Jesus cleansed the Temple of all those who were trading in it – quoting Jeremiah (7:11):
“Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling there; and he said, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer”; but you have made it a den of robbers.’ ” (19:45-46)
And guaranteed his fate by denouncing the religious scribes.
JESUS’ TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION
Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate also differs from all the other Gospellers – Luke has Jesus examined before both Pilate and Herod. In Luke’s version of “God’s Truth” Pilate cannot find any fault with Jesus so he sends him on to Herod to be judged. Herod couldn’t find any fault either and sends him back to Pilate.
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is also different: Jesus tells one of the criminals executed with him that he would be with him that day in Paradise, and Luke has the soldiers offer the sour wine to Jesus rather than having a bystander offer it. Luke alone records Jesus’ famous words as they nail him to the cross :
“ ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ ” (23:34)
These words are magnificent words of forgiveness – that a man could extend forgiveness even to those who are torturing him to death is an ultimate Christian example for the rest of us to follow – if true. But, probably, Luke has yet again invented these words in his striving to make Jesus out to be more Divine than human in order to support emerging Trinitarian doctrine around Jesus at his time of writing – Jesus being seen as “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” – these men didn’t “know what they are doing” (i.e. killing God).
While all versions of the Bibles that I am using (King James’; New Standard Revised; New International Versions) have the above words, two of those (NRSV & NIV) both state that earlier manuscripts don’t have these words.
MORE DIVINING OF JESUS
Luke also records Jesus’ final words on the cross differently from the very human, despairing words recorded in the earlier Gospels, Matthew and Mark. Rather than have Jesus crying out in his anger and his pain: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Luke, instead, has Jesus saying:
“ ‘ Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ ” (23:46)
A much more Divine death than the angry, human end of the earlier-written Gospels. Again this looks for all the world like more Lucan embellishment in the service of evolving, House of God-building, doctrine of the “D” Divining of Jesus. By the time Luke was writing a lot of questions and criticisms must have arisen about the Jesus story from members of competing religions and/or potential converts, alike – e.g. how were humans able to kill God? Doctrine had to be contrived to cope with this key question, and a convoluted “Salvation” doctrine was developed – which basically says that Jesus/God was only able to be killed by mere mortals because he agreed to it – he could have called down a “host of angels” down on the heads of the executioners if he had wanted. To answer the next obvious question “So why did he agree?” – we get: that humanity, by brutally killing Jesus, was somehow saved – Yahweh so loved humanity that he gave his only son to us – to be killed!!!?
SAVED BY KILLING JESUS?
So, in the convolutions of evolving Salvation Doctrine, Jesus’ voluntary death saved us from our original sin – of being human. I’m not sure how that works, personally – I would have thought that killing a person of love and wisdom, as the real Jesus seems to have been, would have been yet another black mark against humanity?
More truly, humanity seemed to love Jesus (by all accounts he attracted quite a crowd in a short time on the road). The killing of Jesus was really another black mark against religion.
JESUS’ DEATH – A SIN OF RELIGION?
Even through the fog of the Gospels’ proselytising it seems pretty obvious what happened to Jesus. In all the Gospels, Jesus’ execution was on the warrant of the officers of his own religion who felt their power was threatened by him – his execution was forced on the reluctant Roman governor by the high priests – to protect their own power and status from his new ideas (“you have heard it said…but I say unto you…”). Jesus was also keen to clean up the corruption and greed which had enveloped the running of the temple in Jerusalem – to get it (and his fellow Jews) ready for the imminent coming of God. The Temple was, according to Jewish belief, God’s only home on Earth – there were no other temples anywhere – only synagogues.
AN ORIGINAL SIN – BASED ON AN ORIGINAL MYTH
The salvation of humanity by Jesus’ crucifixion, is an explanation which has been continually trotted out by the House of God over the years, in an attempt to turn a defeat (the high priests’ being able to kill Jesus – the son of God – at their whim) into a victory for humankind. As above, by agreeing to be killed, Jesus saved us from our original sin – but the fact that our original “sin” is derived from the Old Testament myth of Adam & Eve (i.e. it is not true) – doesn’t seem to matter.
Again, the New and Old Testaments are irretrievably intertwined – they sink or swim together – you can’t just believe the New Testament.
Luke describes the resurrection of Jesus differently to the other Gospels. Luke has it this way:
· two angels at the empty tomb instead of one;
· Joanna instead of Mark’s Salome at the tomb with the two Marys;
· several other nameless women from Galilee present at the tomb – compared to Mark’s just three and Matthew’s two.
· eleven disciples’ meeting with Jesus in Jerusalem instead of Galilee.
These are probably minor in terms of the Jesus story, but they are points of fact – their importance being: if the Gospels can’t agree on the facts, how can the Bible be God’s word, or be inspired by God to be wrong? And, again, if the Bible can be wrong here in facts – where else is the Bible wrong?
LUKE’S UNIQUE ATTEMPT TO BREATHE LIFE INTO THE MESSIANIC STORY
But there is a more striking point of difference in Luke’s resurrection story – it concerns his unique tale of Jesus appearing to two of his followers on a journey to Emmaus. By the time Luke was written, the claim that Jesus was the Messiah was looking very shaky. Jesus had been executed by the Romans, he had not liberated the Jews from their oppressors at this time (the Romans) – as was expected of the Messiah according to the Jewish Scriptures. Quite the reverse, by the time Luke came to be written the Jewish position since the time that Jesus was born had worsened, they had suffered another defeat by Rome and had to witness the second destruction of their god’s temple – and had been largely kicked out of their “promised land” – the beginnings of the Jewish Diaspora. So in the story about Jesus’ appearance on the journey to Emmaus, Luke makes an attempt to keep the Messianic claim about Jesus alive (to those Jews in the Diaspora), describing how Jesus’ two followers did not recognise the resurrected Jesus while they moaned to him that they had lost their Messiah: “our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” (24: 20-21).
Luke then has Jesus, from his own lips, reveal the doctrine which the inchoate House of God had developed to answer this particular problem about how Jesus was so easily dispatched:
“ ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in the scriptures.” (24: 25-26).
Luke does not spell out Jesus’ proofs from the Old Testament as to why it was “necessary that the Messiah should suffer”, but the point is established – when facts on the ground and the ensuing doubt swamps your beliefs – have faith.
Faith is much more important to all Houses of God than finding Truth. There are some very big factual holes in the Bible which can only be plugged by faith – mythos over logos is the way – best to overlook all the confusion and disagreement and just have faith that all of the Bible is true, God’s word. But “best” for whom – humanity, or for the maintenance of the power of the officers of the House of God?
Our expedition is for Truth, not faith, and now we will look for Truth in the Gospel of John.
JOHN (Circa 90+ A.D.)
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels – so-called because, although disagreeing with each other in certain places, they tell a largely similar story of Jesus in a similar, historical way. John’s Gospel is different – telling the story of Jesus more from a theological angle than historical. John’s particular theological angle on Jesus was to further the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity. To that end, John starts his Gospel with a prologue on the Logos (Word) – which he equates with God – and, in turn, with Jesus:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (1:1&14)
John is different to the synoptic Gospels which we have already examined, especially in his attempts to establish Jesus’ “D” Divinity. This from Bible scholar, Professor Bart Ehrman:
“I simply couldn’t believe how different John was. In every respect. In John we are dealing not just with a different author, but with an entirely different world…There are bald statements that equate Jesus with God and say that he was a pre-existent divine being who came into the world.”
“How Jesus Became God”, Bart D. Ehrman, P. 270
THE DIVINING OF JESUS
As we have noticed in the Gospels we have already examined, the Gospellers closest to Jesus in terms of time, Mark and Matthew, were mainly concerned with the proselytising of Jews – their Gospels frequently quote Jesus as stating, or implying, that his fellow Jews were his main concern (and even record him as being disparaging of Gentiles). But, the Jews had mainly resisted Jesus’ message and the later Gospellers, Luke and John, were directed more at the wider, Gentile, Mediterranean world. For them, while Jewish members of the Christ Movement were still seen as important – the task of recruiting Gentiles meant that Jesus had to be presented differently – his “D” Divinity (and his resurrection) became more important than presenting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. As above, this was because there were a plethora of Greek and Roman gods for the Christ Movement to compete with, many of which gods were human/Divine in nature (even the Roman Emperors came to be seen as both human and Divine). John’s later Gospel thus strives to enshrine Jesus as God incarnate – which doctrine became the centrepiece of the Christianising of Jesus movement – a movement in the process of becoming an “H” House: the Christian House of God.
John even puts his claim of Divinity into Jesus’ own mouth – in the “I am’s” (unique to John):
“ ‘I am the bread of life… (6:48)
‘I am the light… (8:12)
‘I am not of this world… (8:21)
‘Before Abraham was, I am.’ ” (8:58)
And in other places:
“ ‘The Father and I are one’ ” (10:30).
Even having Jesus claiming to be God’s Son in the third person:
“ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ ” (3:16).
Apart from his Divining of Jesus, John differs from the synoptic Gospels in other respects.
NO BIRTH STORIES
Unlike the earlier, more Jewish-oriented Gospels John has none of their stories about Jesus’ birth – for example he has no genealogy of Jesus, Bethlehem birth, nor returning from Egypt stories. These stories were thought necessary by the earlier Gospellers to establish Jesus as the Jewish Messiah – each story fulfilling something of what was written about the coming of the Messiah in the Jewish Scriptures (specifically that he should be descended from David, born in Bethlehem, and emerge from Egypt). Instead John openly states that Jesus came from Nazareth, and he records the scorn that this caused among the Jews of Jesus’ time:
“ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.” (John 1:46)
“How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family, and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” (7:41-42).
“Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (8:52)
So, for John, making Jesus out to be the Messiah was not so important – he had bigger fish to fry – in the Divining of Jesus.
And John has some other things significantly different to Mark, Matthew, and Luke.
OMISSIONS, ADDITIONS, DIFFERENCES WITH THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
John tells no stories about Jesus’ virgin birth; his baptism by John the Baptist; the calling of the twelve disciples; the transfiguration; the last supper – and his Jesus also tells no parables, nor conducts any exorcisms. But John adds some unique stories of his own: Jesus turning water into wine; the resurrection of Lazarus; washing the feet of his disciples; having a disciple called Nathaniel; multiple visits to Jerusalem; the man born blind; the Doubting Thomas episode; the stoning of the adulteress.
He does have some stories similar to the synoptic Gospels, but told differently: instructing the disciples where to set their nets for a bumper haul (occurring after Jesus’ death and resurrection whereas in Luke it is very early in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples); the anointing of Jesus is performed by Mary, one of Lazarus’ sisters (not by the sinful woman depicted in the other Gospels); Jesus’ trial (John makes no mention of Herod being involved as Luke does); the Garden of Gethsemane story (no existential agonies); Jesus’ crucifixion (John has Jesus treated differently by the soldiers – making him carry his own cross, and stabbing Jesus with a spear on the cross).
John also has the unique story of Jesus’ mysterious “favourite” disciple – supposedly one whom Jesus especially loved. Hanging on the cross, Jesus urges his mother to join up with this favourite – as mother and son!?:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son. Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26)
The favourite is not only unique to John, but is an extraordinary, story – one of an easy physical familiarity and a special relationship that this favourite has with Jesus:
“One of the disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him…” (John 13:23)
The other disciples remarked on this special, loving relationship:
“Peter looked round, and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following…Peter asked, ‘Lord, what will happen to him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is it to you?’ ” (21:22-23).
John then writes: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them…” (John 21:24). Whoever wrote the Gospel of John was trying to give the impression that it was authored by the John who was one Jesus’ disciples – a first-hand eye witness account by a trusted, close disciple. Or maybe the story was added by later religious editors to make it seem so?
John certainly saw himself as something special – early in his Gospel, he describes himself as “sent from God”:
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” (1:6-7)
As well as differences and additions, John also has some outright disagreements with the synoptic gospels.
Some of the disagreements are: John has Jesus’ ministry lasting about 3 years (the passage of 3 Passovers) whereas the synoptics imply about one year; John has Jesus cleansing the Jerusalem Temple at the beginning of his ministry rather than at the end; John has Jesus’ arrest as the result of raising Lazarus, not as a consequence of his cleansing the Temple; John has the Pharisees as partially sympathetic to Jesus (particularly Nicodemus); John disagrees with the other Gospellers about Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane – and his final words on the cross.
GOD’S WORD AND/OR WRITTEN BY JESUS’ DISCIPLES?
The more Gospels we read, the more omissions, additions, differences, disagreements about Jesus’ words and deeds we find (and we are just examining the Gospels which made it into the final, canonical Bible). How could there be so many contradictions if the fundamentalist evangelicals’ claims are correct – that the selected Gospels are “God’s word” – written by Jesus’ disciples?
Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book on the Gospel of John: “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” (2013) – the product of his intensive 5 year study of it – concludes that Jesus’ disciple, John Zebedee, was not the author of this fourth Gospel, but, rather, it was the product a Johannine community, and written over a period of several years, with more than one writer/editor. Spong also doubts the historical accuracy of its words and deeds of Jesus.
THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY – A DISTINCT JESUS MOVEMENT WITHIN THE JEWISH DIASPORA
According to the dating by neutral Biblical scholarship, John’s community would have been part of the Jewish Diaspora, located somewhere outside of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Romans in 70A.D. John’s Gospel records that his particular Jesus-following community was still part of the Jewish synagogue congregation, but they had to keep their beliefs about Jesus themselves – that he was the Messiah, for example (and especially that he was God incarnate):
“…they were afraid of the Jews [the Pharisees]; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” (9:22)
“But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” (12:42)
This tension between orthodox Jewish belief and the beliefs of Jesus’ divinity held by John’s Christianising community led eventually to antisemitism.
This, supposedly from Jesus himself:
“Jesus said to them [“the Jews” – see 8:31], ‘if God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here…Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.’ ” (8:39-44)
Because of this antagonism (resulting from the kick-back by orthodox Jews of the Diaspora – mainly against the perceived heretical doctrine of Jesus’ Divinity) the convinced followers of Jesus turned their proselytising sights on Gentiles who were much more receptive. In fact, to succeed in proselytising Jesus to them, he had to be more than the Jewish Messiah – he had to be Divine to compete with the many divinities already on offer in the wider Eastern Mediterranean world. That plus the attractive doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection were the main reasons for Christianity’s initial successes. We will see what turned such initial success into worldwide domination later.
JESUS’ SUFFERING AND DEATH ALSO DIFFERENT
Later, at the Garden of Gethsemane scene, John differs from the other Gospels by changing some of the very human words full of fear and despair given to Jesus by Matthew and Mark into something a bit more Divine and God-like – for example, John has Jesus say (after Peter has struck one of the party come to arrest Jesus with his sword):
“ ‘Put your sword back in its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ ” (John 18:11).
Much different to the earlier Gospels, which portray a more human Jesus, agonising over his fate (“ ‘My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.’ ” (Matt., 26:39); “…he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” (Mark 14:35).
John also changes Jesus’ final words on the cross – unlike the human, angry accusation (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) recorded in Matthew and Mark. John has much more Divine final words for Jesus:
“ ‘It is finished’. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (19:30)
DID JESUS REGARD HIMSELF AS DIVINE?
The process of making Jesus out to be “D” Divine may have reached its apogee in John, but it was a process which had its beginnings in the second Gospel to be written (Matthew) with his virgin birth story – which served to separate Jesus from the rest of humanity. Luke also has the virgin birth story, but a different version. However, the first Gospel to be written, Mark, has no mention of virgin birth at all. Leading Biblical scholar, Professor Bart Ehrman has this to say:
“If your only Gospel was Mark – and in the early church, for some Christians it was the only Gospel – you would have no idea that Jesus’ birth was unusual in any way, that his mother was a virgin, or that he existed before appearing on earth.”
“Jesus, Interrupted”, Bart D. Ehrman, P.74
Which leads us to wonder what Jesus, himself thought about the matter of his “D” Divinity? Personally, I think he would have been horrified. Jesus prayed fervently to an agency higher than himself – and preached frequently that God was soon coming down to Earth (“within the lifetime of some of you who are present”) – not that God was delivered to Earth in himself. And he died in the earliest and Jewish Gospel of Mark calling out to God: “My God, my God – why hast thou forsaken me?” (15:34)
We will look for the real Jesus later, when we have finished reading all that was written about him in the Bible. For here, we need to consider the another important doctrine which John pushed because more relevant to the wider Gentile world than Messianic doctrine had been: the doctrine of eternal life – for all followers of Jesus – not just for the Jewish “chosen people” who followed Moses’ Laws found in the Scriptures.
John gives Jesus these words:
“ ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.’ ” (10:28)
“Eternal life”, not just for his fellow Jews (the bulk of whom aren’t really listening) – but for anyone who will listen:
“ ‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.’ ” (10:15-16)
THE IMMINENT COMING OF GOD REPLACED
John’s version of Jesus replaces the earlier Gospels’ version of Jesus’ main teaching (of the imminent coming of God to Earth) with God’s kingdom actually being in heaven – not on Earth. Why? Well, for starters the kingdom of God coming down to Earth was a no-show. Professor Bart Ehrman puts it well:
“By the time John was written, probably from 90 to 95 C.E., that earlier generation had died out and most if not all the disciples were already dead. That is, they died before the coming of the kingdom. What does one do with the teaching about an eternal kingdom here on earth when it never comes? One reinterprets the teaching...No longer is the kingdom coming to earth. The kingdom is in heaven.”
Bart D. Ehrman, Op. cit., P. 81.
Which means that humans, instead of waiting for God to appear on Earth (making it into heaven), had to achieve heaven for themselves.
How to get there?
JOHN STRESSES THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
John takes great pains to stress the importance of faith. By the time he was writing (about 90-95 AD according to neutral Bible scholarship) there would have been a distinct need for faith because Jesus’ oft made predictions in the earlier Gospels of the imminent coming of God had not happened – nor had the variously predicted end-of-times apocalypses. In fact the reverse had happed – both Jerusalem and its Temple had been flattened in 70 A.D. – without any apocalyptic coming of God. Neither had Paul’s prediction of the second coming of Jesus come about (we shall examine Paul’s Letters next) – and the natives were getting restless.
The greater merit of having faith than believing as a result of physical evidence, is most likely the reason why John made up his unique Doubting Thomas story:
“ ‘Have you believed because you have seen me! Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ ” (John, 20:29)
The Christian ideal then became to have a belief rooted in faith, rather than in physical evidence – a very important idea for any House which had failed to deliver on its promises – if it hoped to retain any power over its congregation. This from Bible scholar, Geza Vermes, on the subject of the importance of faith at the time of John’s writing:
“...in John faith is the key word...Faith in the divine sonship of Jesus, in his mission to the world by the Father and his intention to lift the believers to a heavenly home, is the essential summing-up of the Johannine religion.”
“Christian Beginnings”, Geza Vermes – P.132.
Another doctrine which needed faith to swallow it was the doctrine of Salvation.
Another important doctrine for the wider world was Salvationist Doctrine – basically that all our sins (who hasn’t got a few?) are saved by Jesus – we are not condemned to hell for our sins – but saved by the life (and death) of Jesus. John puts Salvationist doctrine into Jesus’ mouth (again in the third person):
“ ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him.’ ” (John 3:17)
“ ‘I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world’ ” (John 12:47)
Salvation doctrine was developed to explain away the fact of Jesus’ execution – how could the son of God, even God himself – be executed as easily as a common criminal? Many hours were spent, and candles burned, while convoluted salvationist doctrines were thought up to explain this one away – basically God intended all along that Jesus should be killed (sacrificed) for us – and Jesus agreed to it.
In actual fact, Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans was instigated by his own religion – to maintain the powers of the high priests. But, for John, and others of the developing Christology, Jesus’ willing sacrifice was designed to save us from our Original Sin (another doctrine).
Trinity doctrine (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) was another important doctrine being developed to solve difficult questions. If intellectual gymnastics was an Olympic sport, the doctrine-developing fathers of the House of God would have had drawers full of gold medals (Augustine is said to have written fourteen volumes just on the Trinity). It takes a lot of doctrinal cement to hold together a House founded on a defeat (the execution of Jesus) and two mistaken beliefs (Jesus’ mistaken belief in the imminent coming of God, and Paul’s mistake of the imminent resurrection of Jesus). Faith was crucial for doctrinal cement to set, and the further we moved away from the inspiration that was Jesus’ actual life, the more crucial it became.
A LIGHT UNDER THE OBSCURING BUSHELS
But despite all the bushels of convoluted and obscuring doctrine, which were piled upon the real Jesus for House building purposes, there is still something of Jesus’ light – something of his unique “T” Truth still visible – something which makes Jesus stand out from all the other Biblical prophets and preachers who preceded and succeeded him – something which explains why we are still talking about him today, long after all the others have been long forgotten. And John does occasionally manage to record a little of such.
For example, John manages to include something of the primacy of love – Jesus’ his own commandment:
“ ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ “(13:34)
And something of Jesus’ preternatural wisdom:
“ ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ ” (8:31-32)
Perhaps Jesus’ “T” Truth is the primacy of love – over the primacy of faith in incredible doctrine – and to understand this could free us from religion? We will consider this further.
JOHN – THE RELIGION OF JESUS – OR A RELIGION ON JESUS?
All up, John’s religion was based on developing the belief that Jesus was the only way to get to God:
“ ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.’ ”(14:6-7)
Was this the religion of Jesus – did he really say and/or believe this? Or is this the religion built on Jesus?
WHO WAS JOHN?
Evangelical fundamentalists believe all the Gospels were written by Jesus’ disciples – the author of this particular Gospel being John, son of Zebedee. But independent Bible scholars have this to say about the authorship of John:
“The Gospel of John was allegedly written by John, son of Zebedee, one of the inner group of disciples. According to legend, John lived to a ripe old age in Ephesus, where he composed the Gospel, three letters, and possibly the book of Revelation. The legend is highly improbable...It [the Gospel] exhibits evidence of having of having gone through several editions. Many scholars therefore conclude that John is the product of a “school” which may have indeed have been formed by John of legend.”
“The Five Gospels”, Funk, Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar – P. 543.
All up, it seems that John, whoever he was, was building a religion about Jesus: Jesus was “S” Son/God; and “No one comes to the Father except through me”. John was not trying to determine the “T” Truth of Jesus – what was Jesus’ own message – the religion of Jesus.
With the fourth, and last Gospel, here endeth the Gospels as a whole. So, how many “T” Truths are buried beneath their bushels of obvious “t” truths? We know that there must be plenty of small “t” truths within the Gospels because there are plenty of contradictions – which can’t all be “T” Truths. So, in an effort to sort the oats from the goats we need to consider the Gospels as a whole.
THE GOSPELS AS A WHOLE – A CONCLUSION
Looking back over the Gospels, you can see the progression/evolution of the Jesus story as time passed after his death – from the emphasis on proselytising the Jewish population with Messianic doctrine in the earlier Gospels of Mark and Matthew, to the growing “D” Divining of Jesus in the later Gospels of Luke then, especially, John.
The Gospels were essentially the belated attempt of Jesus’ followers – both in Jewish congregations scattered after the destruction of Jerusalem, and in increasingly Gentile congregations – to get to grips with who Jesus was, and the true significance of his message. “Belated” because the Gospels only came to be written when it became obvious that Jesus’ promise of the imminent coming of God was not going to happen – nor was Paul’s promise of the second coming of Jesus. Much of the doctrinal development, concerning Jesus, which we see in the Gospels are an attempt to explain away these non-events – and an attempt to compete against the numerous religions (most with semi human/Divine gods) of the wider Eastern Mediterranean world in which Jesus’ followers now found themselves after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.
WRITTEN BY JESUS’ DISCIPLES?
Reading the Gospels, one thing stands out – they were written by educated men. In short, they were not written by Jesus, nor by any of his disciples – who were uneducated men from a rustic backwater of the Roman Empire. And, according to neutral Biblical scholarship, they were written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersal of much of its educated population (70 A.D.) – which means they were written in foreign lands, in different cultural contexts, by people who spoke a different language to the rustic, Aramaic of Jesus and his disciples. In short, they are nowhere near being the intimate, firsthand account of Jesus’ words and deeds written by his disciples – an idea beloved of fundamentalist evangelicals (who believe that the words of the Bible are God’s Truth, written by God through “his” inspiration of the disciples).
WRITTEN AND/OR INSPIRED BY GOD?
An examination of the New Testament Gospels reveals their mistakes, disagreements, and contradictions – further indication that they were not written/inspired by an infallible God. But examination also reveals that the Gospels were inspired – by a special man (Jesus) – but written by fallible men with differing ideas about who Jesus was, what he did, and what he said. We observed that this was caused by the Gospels being the products of the two main factions which emerged among Jesus’ original followers over the time after his death (which followers fell variously along the Jewish/Gentile spectrum). The main motives for writing the Gospels seems to have been authorising the different (and evolving) beliefs about Jesus of these factions – rather than trying to get the Truth of Jesus right.
DISAGREEMENTS AND CONTRADICTIONS
It is readily observable to an honest reading (i.e. non-vested interest) that the Gospels disagree with each other in several places – in major and minor ways. In attempting to understand how this disagreement came about, it is important to remember that the Gospels (circa 70 – 95 AD) were written after Paul’s letters (circa 50 – 70 AD). We will examine Paul’s letters shortly, but here it is sufficient to note that Paul was a zealous doctrinaire who had ideas about Jesus which differed from the original Jesus Movement (led by Jesus’ brother, James, and by Jesus’ chief disciple, Peter). It seems to be these differing ideas that were the main drivers of the many disagreements and contradictions we found between the four Gospels.
Evangelistic fundamentalists dispute this, seeing the four Gospels as four corroborating sources.
Evangelistic Christians have to believe in the inerrancy of all the Gospels and therefore have to deny any major disagreements among them – holding them to be four corroborative primary sources, all written by Jesus’ disciples – i.e. by first-hand, and intimate, eye-witnesses. However, neutral examination of them does not reveal them as resembling four corroborative sources about Jesus.
Is this the “T” Truth or just my “t” truth? What do others think? This from Barrie Wilson – Professor, Humanities and Religious Studies, York University Toronto:
“We should not imagine that gospels represent independent sources. They are the creations of independent communities. Just as the Christ Movement [Paul’s faction] created their own, the Jesus Movement [the faction led by James, Jesus’ brother], and Gnostics fashioned theirs… later Christians supplement Paul’s letters with various gospels that were being written by the Christifying segment of the early church. These include gospels like Luke and John…The Jesus Movement people and Ebionites used a version of the Gospel of Matthew. But they shunned the virgin birth story and rejected Paul’s letters and such Christified gospels as Luke and John. Similarly the Gnostics preferred their own material including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of the Saviour, the Apocryphon of John.”
“How Jesus Became Christian”, Barrie Wilson (Pp. 148-9)
Our examination’s conclusion (that the Gospels were pushing different barrows, rather than corroborating one another) is confirmed by Wilson – and borne out by the obvious contradictions within the Gospels. We saw that the first two Gospels (Mark and Matthew), although they disagreed over the “facts”, continually located Jesus in the Jewish Scriptures. We also saw that the next Gospel (Luke), while careful not to alienate the Jewish followers, mainly targeted the Gentile audience and supported Paul’s doctrines – which, as we will see from his letters, were aimed at the Christifying of Jesus. The last Gospel (John) was a clear proclamation of the divinity of Jesus – the doctrinal foundation stone of the House of God to come:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh.” (John 1:1&14).
An objective reading of the Gospels shows a process of evolution of the Jesus story, a process of “H” House building – not by Jesus, but after him, sometimes, obscuringly – on top of him. The Gospels describe several, and different, Jesus’s: a warrior – or a peace-bringer; a forgiver of enemies – or a destroyer of towns who did not listen to him; a tolerant man – or someone who would wither a fig tree just because it did not bear him figs out of season. These glaring contradictions about Jesus were a result of the Church-building which came after Jesus – rather than his own personal inconsistencies. The end result being that the Christian House of God, having been founded on the Gospels, is not built on the rock of the real, historical Jesus – but on the shifting sands of various factional Jesus’s. The evolving church created the Gospels and the Jesus within; Jesus did not create the Gospels or the House of God built thereon.
“… these influential documents [the Gospels] are the church’s creation…”
Wilson, ibid. (P.149)
Later, as well as the above factional disputes of an evolving House of God, we will consider some other factors which created and/or changed the Bible that we now have in our hands – factors like: choosing which of the many Gospels that were written about Jesus (there were many more than four) should be in the Bible; deciding the correct translation from the original language(s) the Gospels were written in; the effects of religious editing to bolster doctrines and denominations; and the inaccurate process of making copies by hand (before the printing press) – all of which make our task of discovering the real Jesus and considering if he had any Truths for us, more difficult.
All up, the Gospels demonstrate the process of building a new religion upon Jesus, doctrine by doctrine, over time – rather than being a true record of the religion of Jesus. However, all that said, there are some magnificent words in the Gospels – that are “T” Truths which humanity needs to hear if we hope to survive as a species – whoever wrote and/or inspired them. Among them I would list:
· “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36)
· “…love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater... ” (Mark 12:31)
· “ ‘Blessed are the meek...Blessed are the merciful...Blessed are the pure in heart...Blessed are the peacemakers...’ ” (Matthew 5:5-9)
· “You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
· “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)
· “If a man slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left.” (Matthew 5:39)
· “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you...” (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31)
· “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40 – King James Version).
· “But I say unto you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.” (Luke 6:27-29)
· “ ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ “(John 13:34-35)
· “But Jesus said, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ ” (Matthew 19:14 – KJV)
These are “T” Truths – veins of gold – running through the doctrinal overburden in the Bible. Truths, whether Jesus was virgin born, a miracle worker, the Messiah, the Trinity, the only begotten Son of God, God himself, or not. Truths, whoever wrote them.
Further, Truths whether Jesus said them or not – Truths which humanity needs to recognise as such if we have any ambitions to survive as a species.
These Truths represent any claim to greatness that the Bible can have. The shame of the Bible is that these “T” Truths (remember, our running definition of which is: that which is true for everybody, all the time) have been obscured by so many House of God building “t” truths.
THE REAL HISTORICAL JESUS?
We will attempt to approach the real, historical Jesus, later, when we have examined everything written about him – but whoever Jesus was, nothing changes the fact that his inspiration of others through his life, his short ministry, and his brave death – make him the single most important person who ever lived. Whether God inspired the Bible or not, Jesus certainly did.
We now arrive at the Bible story of what happened after the death of Jesus as recorded in Acts – the missions of firstly, Peter, then increasingly, Paul. It is the story of the slow but sure construction of the Christian House of God.
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES (Circa 80-90 AD)
Acts is the story of Jesus’ followers as they struggle on, after his death, to continue his teachings in the teeth of (often violent) opposition from the orthodox Jewish House of God, and in competition against the other, multifarious religions of the Mediterranean world. It is the story, especially, of Paul – who broke away from the Jewish-oriented Jesus sect to create an increasingly Gentile-oriented sect targeting a wide audience – a sect that eventually evolved into the Judeo/Christian House of God.
WHO WROTE ACTS?
This book of the Bible is thought by most scholars to have been written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke. Both open by being addressed to a character called Theophilus, but within Acts there is a transition from referring to Paul’s entourage as “they” to “we” the two times that a character called Timothy enters the story (16:1-6 & 20:5). Maybe there was more than one author? Acts also disagrees with Luke on a couple of issues, for example, about the length of time Jesus spends with the disciples after his resurrection – 40 days (Acts, 1:3) cf. Luke’s 1-2 days. Luke also has the disciples leaving Jerusalem in the company of Jesus to walk to Bethany (where he leaves them) whereas, in Acts, Jesus orders the disciples to remain in Jerusalem “to wait for the promise of the Father...not many days from now.” (1:4-5). Although the Bible has a habit of stating facts differently within its pages, if Acts was written by the author of Luke, then you would think it would agree with that Gospel? Again, maybe Acts is the product of more than one hand?
The “Word of God” in Acts also disagrees with the “Word of God” in the Gospels about the fate of Judas. In Acts, Judas falls and his guts spill out on the “plot of land [bought] with the price of his villainy.” (1:18), in the Gospels Judas hangs himself – Divine, or Divinely-inspired, the Bible yet again disagrees with itself.
PRACTISED WHAT THEY PREACHED
Jesus’ remaining eleven disciples replace Judas with Matthias and continue on converting their fellow Jews. Peter took a leading role and did many miracles. In Acts, the early Christians practiced as well as preached Jesus’ teachings – they were apparently genuine communists – sharing everything:
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44 – and 4:32-35)
The early followers of Jesus tried gamely to proselytise their fellow Jews, but it was dangerous work in the face of the vested interest of the Sadducee chief priests, who saw their power challenged by the followers of Jesus – just as Jesus himself had challenged them. And, just as Jesus had lost his life by challenging religious vested interest, so did his apostles – Stephen, was stoned to death (7:59) and James gets his head chopped off (12:2). Jesus’ apostles were brave, like him.
But, according to Acts, resisting Christian conversion could be dangerous too – as Herod found out when he was struck down by an angel of the Lord and “was eaten up with worms and died.” (12:23). And Ananias and his wife drop dead just for not giving the Church all their money (5:1-6 & 7-10) – that should have increased the takings from the next Sunday’s collection plate?
So the Bible continues on with its usual tangle of fact and fantasy.
Acts tells us that a man named Saul was a member of the party who stoned Stephen to death. This Saul was an enthusiastic persecutor of Jesus’ followers but, as he was on his way to Damascus after stoning Stephen (perhaps to do more dirty deeds?) Saul had an epiphany. Jesus appeared to him in a vision and Saul was struck blind for three days – after which his sight was restored and he was converted to Jesus:
“ …the Lord said…he [Saul] is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and Kings and before the people of Israel.” Acts (9:15)
After this amazing turnaround Saul became commissioned in the Holy Spirit at Antioch and went out preaching in Jesus’ name. The next we hear of him, his name has changed to Paul. Paul is zealous, and quickly becomes the leading architect in the construction of what was to become the Christian House of God.
BRANCHED OUT TO GENTILES
Although Paul tends to take centre stage, Peter still has an important role – and a vital change in direction happens for the Jesus movement when Peter has a vision of a sail-cloth filled with various different animals lowered from heaven (10:15-16). He took this to mean that all people were acceptable to God, and that Jews could now mix with unclean and uncircumcised types in order to convert them (10:28). While the Gospels said that Jesus saw his mission as only to the Jews, Acts sees things more broadly:
“This means that God has granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles also.” (Acts,11:18).
Peter’s vision was, literally, a God-send for the Jesus sect – enabling it to transform from being a minor sect of Judaism into the world religion it eventually became. Not only were the Gentiles a much softer target audience than violent Jewish zealots and orthodox Jews controlled by the Sadducees – there was more of them – a whole world full!
Peter and Paul apparently had been given by God a Jesus-like control over the natural world, and they did several miracles. Peter heals many people and brings Tabitha back to life (9:40); Paul heals diseases and expels bad spirits merely by touching a handkerchief or apron (19:11). Talking in tongues was also all the go amongst the early Christians (Acts, 2:4-12) – they saw it as a sign that they were in the “last days” (2:16). Fundamental Christians are still talking in tongues but the last days have dragged out to over 2,000 years and counting.
PAUL TO THE FORE
We don’t hear much more about Peter after chapter 12 and Acts now emphasises Paul’s role. Paul voyages around Asia Minor and Greece “H” House-building among the Jews and Gentiles alike. Acts recounts fascinating tales of Paul debating with Epicurean and stoic philosophers in Athens and converting followers of Jupiter and Diana in the Aegean area. In Ephesus, Paul even gets into trouble with capitalism – being accused of decreasing the amount of tourism to pagan shrines – thereby reducing the lucrative business of selling statuettes of the multifarious gods (19:21-41). Having only one god, and being against the making of graven images Judeo/Christianity was definitely bad for business.
“Christianity”, as it was becoming, was still part of (a sect) of the Jewish religion and Paul uses the network of Jewish synagogues throughout the eastern Mediterranean area as a base from which to preach, often stirring up antagonism and trouble amongst his fellow Jews and ending up in jail. Stories of miracles and escaping from jails with Divine help abound. But Paul, when violently rejected by his fellow Jews, turns to the Gentiles for converts – more eager customers for his best-selling item – resurrection to eternal life:
“Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” (13:46)
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen.” ( Acts 28:28).
But Paul still targets his fellow Jews for conversion, and this was eventually his undoing. He is arrested in Jerusalem by the Romans to protect him from the Jewish chief priests who organise riots against him (just as they did against Jesus), and even hit-squads to kill him. The officers of a religion will protect their own power, to the death – usually someone else’s. The venal interests which are vested in all religions (status, power, money) are what really killed Jesus (rather than the “Jews” or the Romans) – and were now out to kill Paul.
SENT TO ROME
Paul is able to avoid local religious judgement, and immediate execution, because he is a Roman citizen. Paul is sent as a prisoner in chains via a hazardous boat trip to Rome for judgement. While in Rome Paul tries to convert Roman Jews to the Jesus sect, but news of his alleged blasphemies against Judaism have spread:
“ ‘…with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.’ ” (Acts 28:22)
Paul’s story ends in Rome, where he spends two years “boldly and without hindrance” preaching to all who listen. Acts does not record his fate, but legend has it that he was eventually dispatched by the Romans. Whether or not Paul had any Divine insights and/or inspiration, he was definitely brave and persistent.
ACTS – A CONCLUSION
How much “T” Truth is there in the Book of Acts? Professor Wilson is dubious:
“…the Book of Acts is invented history. We know that the Book of Acts represents an unreliable source for information about Paul. Acts contradicts what we know of Paul from his own writings.”
“What we have in Christianity today is Paulinity. It is the religion envisaged and vigorously promoted by Paul and given a respectable history by the Book of Acts.”
(Op. cit. Pp. 145 & 149)
Wilson sees Paul as a “Jewish dropout” but some could accuse Wilson of having a partial view (himself being a convert to Judaism from Christianity). We will examine Paul more closely when we come to his Letters, but what we can know for sure is that a Jewish sect, driven by Paul’s zealotry, grew into the Judeo-Christian religion that became the official religion of the Roman Empire (we will see more of that process later). The bravery of Jesus’ early followers as told in Acts is also indubitable because real, impartial history attests to the bravery of early Christians in the various coliseums of the Empire for well over two centuries – in the period before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
As Jesus had shown, it was not a safe world in which to challenge orthodoxy – whether that of the Jewish religion, or that of the Roman Empire.
An interesting point to consider here is, how much “T” Truth there is in Act’s tale of Paul’s special relationship with God – especially his Divine epiphany? Something definitely unnatural happened to Saul/Paul – a man just does not turn around so completely, in the course of a couple of days going from the prosecutor of a sect to a promoter of it – from the safety and prestige of an officer of an entrenched religion to the uncertain life as the main man of a minor sect dangerously competing with it? Paul was beaten and imprisoned many times for his new belief – and apparently, was eventually executed in Rome because of it. However, because of the unreliability of the Bible as history, whether Paul was truly on God’s mission and/or had revelations or not, has to be a personal decision for our selves. But, one thing is for sure, his zealous, doctrinal, “H” House building is the start of the process of clouding the true Jesus of history.
FACTIONALISING AROUND PAUL
Definitely, in Acts we clearly see that differences arose between the more Jewish faction that was closest to Jesus personally (led by Jesus’ own brother, James, and by his closest disciple, Peter) and the faction growing around Paul (who was led by his own personal epiphany and zealotry). It was felt by the Jewish faction in Jerusalem that Paul was leading Jesus’ Jewish followers astray by being more inclusive towards non-Jewish Gentiles in not insisting on the strict following of Jewish Law, as spelled out in the Old Testament scriptures (circumcision of adult converts was a ticklish!? issue). When Paul visited Jerusalem he was accused of leading those of the Jewish-oriented faction away from their religion:
“You see brother, how many thousands of believers [of Jesus] there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law [Torah]. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” (Acts, 21:20-21).
Again, we must remember that the Gospels were written after Paul, and the differences we found in them seem to have been driven by the growing struggle between Jesus’ followers for authority. Eventually these differences would widen, with the Christ Movement of Paul going on to play a major role on the world stage while the Jewish, Jesus Movement of James, devolved into the quiet little sect of the Ebionites – which eventually died out.
It is time now to examine Paul’s letters to his growing band of followers – the core of Paul’s influence on the construction of the Judeo/Christian House of God.
THE LETTERS OF PAUL
(Circa 50-63 AD – dates as per “Bible Study Tools” & “Blue Letter Bible” websites)
The Letters are examined in biblical order rather than date order.
PAUL TO THE ROMANS:
Paul, like a couple of the Gospellers, starts by trying to establish Jesus as of the blood of David – essential if Jesus is to be accepted as the Messiah by the Jews:
“…on the human level he was born of David’s stock” (1:3).
Paul here is actually acknowledging that a human: Joseph (who the Bible alleges was descended from David) conceived Jesus. This creates bit of a problem for the Divinity of Jesus doctrine. Mary was supposed to have been “visited” by an angel but Paul acknowledges that “on the human level” Jesus was born of human “stock”. So Jesus had a human level (i.e. body) – which was able to be killed, but a spirit which was not – but don’t we all? The Trinity doctrine needs a bit more work – which it got from the fathers of the Christian House of God, later – in spades.
Paul then goes on to (unintentionally) make a pretty good argument against religion: those who have no religion, but are good out of their own hearts, he declares, are more truly good than religious people (who have been “good” in life out of fear for the awful god of the Scriptures?) A touch of Job here?
“When Gentiles who do not possess the law [the Jewish law of Moses] carry out its precepts by the light of nature, then, although they have no law, they are their own law, for they display the effect of the law inscribed on their hearts. Their conscience is called as witness, and their own thoughts argue the case on either side, against them or even for them, on the day when God judges the secrets of human hearts … So my gospel declares. ” (2:14-16)
If non-religious people are good, it must be because they are good – the doubt must always linger that religious people (who fear God) are not revealing any “secrets of human hearts” – not being driven by their innate goodness but by fear? Life has to be about revealing the “secrets of human hearts” if you believe it is about judgement – surely God wants the real heart exposed for judgement – not the false heart which is only “good” through fear of “Him” (as Job admits to being his own case in the Old Testament).
BUILDING SALVATIONIST DOCTRINE
The early Christians were faced with the fact that Jesus was executed – which must have looked very much like a defeat to the man in the street, and proof that Jesus was not anyone special. Facts that you could be sure would have been pointed out to the early followers of Jesus many times – both by critics and potential converts: “Where is your man now, why did God not save him?” So Paul tries to answer this by developing convoluted Salvationist doctrine – Jesus’ execution was not a defeat, but the saving of us:
“…but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s own proof of his love towards us. And so, since we have now been justified by Christ’s sacrificial death, we shall all the more certainly be saved through him from final retribution.” (5:8-10)
In this way Paul tries to paint Jesus’ brutal execution as not a defeat but somehow part of God’s plan – indeed, proof of God’s “love towards us”. Paul pushes such Salvationist doctrine by assertion alone – asserting that we have been somehow “justified” by Jesus’ execution and shall “be saved through him from final retribution” – whereas, above, he at least used logic: those who do good without any fear of God have shown themselves to be truly good.
You could imagine that the early fathers of the Christian House of God would have been then been asked: “what exactly did good people have to be ‘saved’ from?” To answer this, a universal sin in which we were all complicit had to be found. The Old Testament to the rescue – our universal ancestor Adam ate fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Brilliant – we all have an unavoidable, original sin by being human – including the pure of heart. Everybody was caught up in this religious gossamer, everybody needs cleansing through baptism, to be born again – to have our original sin washed away by the power of Jesus (claimed to be within the control of the “Christian” Church) – even, as St. Augustine of Hippo later assured us, babies!
A DIVINE PLAN?
Was Jesus’ death a part of a Divine plan, proof of God’s “love towards us”. Does this make sense to you? Bishop Spong says it all:
“To speak of a Father God so enraged by human evil that he requires propitiation for our sins that we cannot pay and thus demands the death of the divine-human son as a guilt offering is a ludicrous idea to our century. The sacrificial concept that focuses on the saving blood of Jesus that somehow washes me clean, so popular in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, is by and large repugnant to us today.”
Spong, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”, P.234
Surely no one today believes a doctrine based on the mythical actions of a man who never existed? But, sadly, as Spong says, it still remains “so popular in evangelical and fundamentalist circles”. Original sin is the reason why the Old Testament must remain an integral part of the House of God’s foundations.
BUT THEN WHO KILLED JESUS AND WHY?
Jesus’ death was not a “Jewish” sin – as anti-Semites claim – Jesus was a Jew. Nor was it a particular sin of the Romans – one point the Gospels do agree on was that Pilate tried to avoid killing Jesus because he seemed to be an innocent man. But the crowd whipped up by the officers of religion demanded that Jesus should die.
If the Gospels are to be believed, Jesus was killed by religion. Is this fair?
Jesus clearly challenged the power of the Sadducee priests. He contradicted them with some of his statements (“You have heard it said…but I say unto you…”). He thought his message of love and forgiveness of enemies should prevail when it clashed with the Old Testament laws governing revenge (we should turn the other cheek rather than exacting ‘an eye for an eye’); he thought the scriptural dietary laws unimportant (“it is not what goes into your mouth which defiles you but what comes out of it”); he stopped the Scripturally-sanctioned stoning of an adulteress (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone”); he thought work more important than keeping the Sabbath holy; he evicted the money-changers in the Temple – and more. And he was beginning to draw a crowd. Jesus’ days were numbered.
Religion killed Jesus, and “we have now been justified by Christ’s sacrificial death” in Paul’s letter is just more religion – a religion that went on to kill millions in an effort to enforce this and other of Paul’s doctrines.
But Paul feels he is onto a good thing and hammers on about our sinfulness – using words from Psalms:
“Jews and Greeks alike are under the power of sin. This has scriptural warrant:
‘There is no just man not one;
No one who understands, no one who seeks God.
All have swerved aside, all alike have become debased;
There is no one to show kindness; no, not one.’ ” (3:9-12)
The New Testament can’t be removed from the Old Testament, as some people within the House of God try – large amounts of the New’s ideas and doctrines are based upon it – in this case the bare assertion of some ancient, inveigling praise-singer (Psalms 14:1-3) that we are all “debased” and none of us “show kindness”.
And Paul delves into the Old Testament again to contrive more doctrine based on a non-existent man in a non-existent place who committed an imaginary sin:
“It was through one man that sin entered the world, and through sin death.” (5:12) “…Adam’s wrongdoing. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many” (5:15) … “For as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners” (5:19)
The foundation stones of the House of God that Paul built are untrue. And we need to ask: is this House of God Jesus’, or is it Paul’s – is it a Christian House of God – or Pauline?
Paul knows how to swing the stick of fear, but also how to dangle the carrot of eventual reward:
“For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendour, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us. For the created universe waits with eager anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.” (8:18)
And love finally gets a mention in Paul’s epistle:
“Love in all sincerity, loathing evil and clinging to the good. Let love for our brotherhood breed warmth of mutual affection. Give pride of place to one another in esteem.” (12:9-10)
But Paul doesn’t quite get it – does he?:
“But there is another text: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; by doing this you will heap live coals on his head.’ ” (12:20).
Instead of the words of Jesus, Paul prefers to dip again into the Old Testament – do good to your enemy because it will piss him off (“heap live coals on his head” – Proverbs 25:21)!? Compare this with Christ’s idea of actually loving your enemy (“You have heard it said you should love your friends and hate your enemy – but I say to you, love even your enemy”) ! Jesus was beyond Paul’s ability to grasp – a cut above the ordinary cloth that Paul was plainly made of.
But, occasionally Paul seems to get it – as the following quote shows. If only the Pauline House of God was built on these words as a foundation instead of the rest of his doctrine, humanity would not have witnessed the Houses’ appalling history of violence, torture and murder – nor its present demise into an increasingly deluded rump of fear-driven evangelicals and fundamentalists:
“Leave no claim outstanding except that of mutual love. He who loves his neighbour has satisfied every claim of the law. For the commandments, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet’, and any other commandment there may be, are all summed up in one rule, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love cannot wrong a neighbour; therefore the whole law is summed up in love.” (13:8-10)
Bravo Paul – what more is there to say “the whole law is summed up in love” – he finally gets Jesus’ message.
But is this message is too simple to build a House on? Paul and the other House of God fathers obviously thought so – carrot is fine, but people are evil so we need plenty of stick – carrot and stick, carrot and stick – can’t have a “H” House just built on love and forgiveness, can we? In the case of the Christian House of God the stick is provided by the brutal, awful, fearsome god of the Old Testament, and the ravings of Revelations in the New Testament (as we shall see when we come to examine that Book). But what a House it could have been if just founded on Jesus’ “Love, Forgive, Do unto others” – a spiritual House rather than the Darwinian House it now is based on power, money, and our animal survival fears.
FIRST LETTER OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS
It didn’t take long for the followers of Jesus to devolve into factions after his death:
“I appeal to you my brothers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: agree among yourselves, and avoid divisions. … I have been told, my brothers, by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you.” (1:10&12). “Can you not see that while there is jealousy and strife among you, you are living on the purely human level of your lower nature? When one says, ‘I am Paul’s man’ and another, ‘I am for Apollos’, are you not all too human?” (3:3-4)
Divisions are apparently appearing in the House of God that Paul was building. Divisions were always a feature of the Christian House of God (and other Houses of God likewise) becoming, in time varying theological denominations – and responsible for much bloodshed. There is no greater hate than that reserved for someone who won’t agree with your religious beliefs (it’s marvellous what you can get out of Jesus’ basic message that: “thou shalt love one another; turn the other cheek; do unto others”?) But Christian denominations were in the future, the fights between Jesus’ followers at this stage were limited to less weighty concerns such as circumcision.
Paul then indulges in an amazing bit of holier than thou:
“For my part, if I am called to account by you or by any human court of judgement, it does not matter to me in the least. Why, I do not even pass judgement on myself, for I have nothing on my conscience.” (4:3-4)
What a wonderful thing a name change is – Paul has obviously forgotten about the persecution and stoning of Jesus’ followers which he was involved in when his name was Saul?
Paul was also sexist.
“It is a good thing for a man to have nothing to do with women.” (7:1).
“…while every man has Christ for his Head, woman’s head is man, as Christ’s head is God. … A man has no need to cover his head, because man is the image of God, and the mirror of his glory, whereas woman reflects the glory of man. For man did not originally spring from woman, but woman was made out of man; and man was not created for woman’s sake, but woman for the sake of man; and therefore it is woman’s duty to have a sign of authority on her head.” (11:3&7-10)
Now that’s just got to be the “word of God”, hasn’t it? But Paul knew no better – he was brought up on the sexist Old Testament scriptures, written by men – but surely, no modern, educated man would use Genesis to justify his sexism today? Unfortunately incorrect – many evangelical and orthodox Christians do believe in the Old Testament – as the constant fracas about female priests and Bishops in modern, mainstream Churches has shown.
And sexism was not just a passing phase for Paul, he is quite obsessed with it :
“As in all congregations of God’s people, women should not address the meeting. They have no licence to speak … If there is something they want to know, they can ask their own husbands at home. It is a shocking thing that a woman should address the congregation.” (14:34&35)
“Shocking”? Paul, a pillar of the House of God, is both zealous and full of errant nonsense – Jesus himself had close female associates – and it was only the women who remained with him when he was executed after all the men had denied him and/or fled.
The inferiority of women is just more Pauline doctrine based on the “authority” of Old Testament myths – but we, examining the House of God, have to ask: what is the soundness of any House based on such doctrine?
Paul then goes on to extol the virtues of celibacy:
“To the unmarried and to widows I say this: it is a good thing if they stay as I am myself; but if they cannot control themselves, they should marry.” (7:8-9)
“The unmarried man cares for the Lord’s business; his aim is to please the Lord. But the married man cares for worldly things; his aim is to please his wife; and he has a divided mind.” (7:32-34)
Paul seems to be encouraging extinction for his inchoate movement by telling them it was preferable not to breed – but he was also making Jesus’ mistake of believing that the Kingdom of God was nigh :
“What I mean, my friends, is this. The time we live in will not last long.” (7:29)
Two thousand years later we must ask who was wrong – Jesus, the Bible, Paul – or all three? Bit of a dilemma for those who believe the Bible is the word of God, or inspired by “Him”?
SEXUALITY – A VEIN OF
We then see in this letter Paul beginning to mine the rich vein of guilt buried in humanity’s natural sexuality – a vein of guilt (gilt?) that the House of God would turn into a river of gold over the years:
“Do you not know that your bodies are limbs and organs of Christ? Shall I then take from Christ his bodily parts and make them over to a harlot? … Shun fornication. Every other sin that a man can commit is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a shrine of the indwelling holy spirit …You do not belong to yourself; you were bought at a price. Then honour God in your body.” (6:15&18-20).
The high priests killed Jesus to preserve their ancient ideas about God – and also their power. But, for Paul, that killing of Jesus means that “You do not belong to yourself, you were bought at a price.”? We are now bought slaves who must do what our priests tells us? We know into what sort of behaviours that lead us (think Crusades) and the priests (think paedophilia).
Paul then alleges he was celibate, and sowed the seeds of much human misunderstanding and misery from the pouch of his own obsession. But he admits that we will just have to take his word that celibacy is preferable:
“On the question of celibacy, I have no instructions from the Lord, but I give my judgement as one by God’s mercy is fit to be trusted.” (7:25).
So Paul admits to making stuff up, but sees himself as one of God’s chosen and “fit to be trusted”?
Paul again manages to get away from his misogynistic obsessions and consider love :
“Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs; nor does gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.” (13:4-7).
Bravo Paul – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 is surely one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible? A passage which seems to be omnipresent in wedding ceremonies – religious and secular.
And Paul also shows himself capable of wisdom – this about the dichotomy of the human condition – spiritual and animal at once:
“Sown as an animal body it is raised a spiritual body. If there is such a thing as an animal body, there is also a spiritual body.” (15:44).
We will examine the human condition for any such duality in Essay 3.
SURVIVAL OF THE ANIMAL BODY
But Paul is not spiritual himself – the main driver of his faith is his hope for bodily survival – Darwinian, rather than spiritual:
“If Christ was not raised, then our gospel is null and void. …For if the dead are not raised, it follows that Christ was not raised; and if Christ was not raised, your faith has nothing in it.” (15:13&16-17)
Paul’s words need no interpretation: “our gospel is null and void” … “your faith has nothing in it”. Nothing! – how about Jesus’ message that we should Love one another, Forgive even our enemies, and Do unto others – Jesus’ own “Trinity”? Paul’s faith in the Truth of Jesus is based entirely on the fate of Jesus’ body – if Jesus’ body wasn’t transported physically to heaven, then Paul’s type of religious faith had “nothing in it”. Is Paul right, is the Truth of Jesus’ story just about the physical survival of the body – the rest “null and void” if Jesus’ physical body was not raised?
Paul here illustrates clearly the difference between the “baby” of Jesus’ spiritual message of love, forgiveness, doing unto others – and the bathwater of religions’ ultimately Darwinian motive of animal survival – the survival of our animal bodies over death. It’s clear that the hope of animal survival was the foundation of Christian beliefs in Paul’s day – as it is the main reason for occupying the House of God for most, now.
Here we get more convoluted doctrine:
“Christ was innocent of sin, and yet for our sake God made him one with the sinfulness of men, so that in him we might be made one with the goodness of God himself.” (5:21)
And, for those of us who found Paul’s doctrine woolly-headed nonsense, Paul had this to say:
“And if indeed our gospel be found veiled, the only people who find it so are those on the way to perdition.” (4:3)
Who is going to own up to any confusion and/or doubts after that?
But Paul did endure much for his beliefs :
“Five times the Jews have given me the thirty-nine strokes; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked, and for twenty-four hours I was adrift on the open sea.” (11:24-26)
PAUL WAS BRAVE?
Paul was undoubtedly brave – unless he was making it all up? That is the problem with the Bible, what to believe? However Paul’s travels and travails have a certain ring of historicity about them and, on the balance of probabilities, it seems to be largely true that Paul was persecuted for his beliefs. His zeal and fervour to convert may have led to dud doctrine to build a House of Truth on, but it does seem that he was brave.
But he was also exceeding vain and self-promoting:
In no respect did I fall short of these superlative apostles, even if I am a nobody. The marks of a true apostle were there in the work I did among you, which called for such constant fortitude, and was attended by signs, marvels, and miracles.” (12:11-12)
It seems that Paul was a little miffed at being seen as lesser than the apostles – certainly, whatever virtues he might have had, modesty was not among them.
And he was sarcastic:
“Is there anything in which you were treated worse than the other congregations – except this, that I never sponged upon you? How unfair of me! I crave forgiveness.” (12:13)
This about his mystic powers and heavenly visions:
“I am obliged to boast. It does no good; but I shall go on to tell of visions and revelations granted by the Lord.”
And his visions of being:
“caught up as far as the third heaven … caught up into paradise”.
And he was granted special revelations – of:
“words so secret that human lips may not repeat them.” (All 12:1-5)
So, was Paul genuinely spiritual, did he have genuine out-of-body experiences (more about such phenomena in Essay 3) – or was he just desperately trying to enhance his status? What we can know about Paul from his letters is that he was brave but also vain, jealous, zealous, and boastful – considering this (and considering the crimes against Jesus’ early followers Paul perpetrated when he was known as Saul) was Paul someone who should be allowed to create the doctrines of any sound House of God?
We see signs in this epistle that the Christian ministry was beginning to turn to the Gentiles rather than concentrating on converting the Jews, who were proving to be a hard, and dangerous, nut to try and crack (Paul’s brave persistence in trying to convert his fellow Jews to Jesus’ new message saw him frequently beaten and imprisoned). In his letter to the Galatians, we see plenty of the bitchy in-fighting between Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus which was a feature of early Christianity – and over such spiritually immaterial things as circumcision.
“You who want to be justified by the law [Torah law] have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything.” (5:4&6).
LOVE VS. TORAH
From Paul’s letters, this divide between the Jewish, Torah-observant followers of Jesus and the Gentiles was clearly evident. While Paul was still targeting the Jews for conversion to his new faith in Jesus, he was less focussed on his fellow Jews meeting Torah requirements, than he was on them hearing Jesus’ message of the primacy of love:
“…the only thing that counts is faith working through love” – and: “For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ” (5:6 & 5:14).
Paul then writes one of the most famous sentences in the Bible:
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (6:7)
That quote being from the more poetic version from the King James Bible. That we will reap as we have sown, as we will see in Essay 3, is also confirmed by evidence from other sources.
And Paul writes more about Jesus’ message of the primacy of love for our fellows and doing good deeds unto them:
“So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (6:10)
But, while Paul can talk Jesus’ talk, he struggles to walk his walk:
“I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (5:12).
Slip of the tongue (or circumcision knife)?
THE BEGINNINGS OF ANTI-SEMITISM
But something more sinister starts to emerge in Paul’s letters:
“…all those who want to make a fair outward and bodily show who are trying to force circumcision upon you; their sole object is to escape persecution for the cross of Christ.” (6:12)
Pardon, “…persecution for the cross of Christ.”? Earlier in this letter Paul had also spoken of “the offence of the cross” (5:11). Are we starting to see the beginnings of Christian anti-Semitism which ended up in the Holocaust? Again, it should never be forgotten that Jesus was a Jew, he was popular amongst “the Jews” – he was killed by his religion’s officers because his attempts to reform it threatened their power.
THE PROBLEMS OF INFIGHTING
Paul foresaw the problem of infighting between the emerging Gentile and Jewish factions:
“But if you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction.” (5:15)
However, “fighting one another” was to be a perpetual feature of the “H” House that Paul was building – constant and bloody wars between “Christian” denominations (think Catholics vs. Protestants) and fights over interpretations of the Bible (think the fate of the Cathars) were to mark the future of the House of God that Paul was building. And most of the fighting was over convoluted and incredible doctrine – none of which came from Jesus’ basically simple, but vital, message of: Love (one another – even your enemies); Forgive (those who trespass against us); Do (as you would others do unto you).
Paul did have an understanding of the importance of human unity:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28).
Magnificent. If humanity is to survive we must come to understand our unity in this immense and uncaring physical universe – only we, our selves (not our bodies), are nonphysical and thus can be caring – blind nature cannot.
But, again, the problem with the Bible is its inconsistencies and contradictions – did Paul and/or Jesus actually say this? For example: “no longer male and female”? (Paul is frequently sexist); “no longer Jew or Greek”? (the Gospellers write of Jesus calling Gentiles “dogs” and “swine” and equating them with Roman tax collectors).
THE TRUTH OF THE BIBLE?
Again, as always, the “T” Truth is in the Bible, but it’s up to us to find it – the only Truth we are guaranteed to find is the Truth of our selves (two words) – we invariably find that in the things we find to be True.
The future of Christianity was bloodied by the various doctrinaire zealots who succeeded Paul in the future House of God – men who were prepared to stone, torture, and burn at the stake people to protect the doctrine that Paul and other House of God fathers developed. It’s impossible to know whether Paul would have approved of that – even though he did start out on such a hateful path when he was Saul.
Although Jesus was only concerned with preaching to the Jews, Paul had more luck with the Gentiles around the eastern Mediterranean world. Paul concocted doctrine to suit the market:
“Gentiles and Jews, he has made the two one, and in his own body of flesh and blood has broken down the enmity. … This was his purpose, to reconcile the two in a single body to God through the cross, on which he killed the enmity.” (2:14&16)
So the enmity between Jews and Gentiles was finished because religion had Jesus killed on a Roman cross? Incorrect, unfortunately – the worst enmity was yet to come – centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust.
And Paul’s sexism is relentless :
“Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord; for the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ also is the head of the church. Christ is, indeed, the Saviour of the body; but just as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be to their husbands in everything.” (5:22-24)
Again, we must ask, is this the word of God, or even inspired by “Him”?
More about the circumcision controversy.
More about the foul cravings of the body :
“Then put to death those parts of you which belong to the earth – fornication, indecency, lust, foul cravings …” (3:5)
More about women’s secondary role :
“Wives be subject to your husbands ; that is your Christian duty.” (3:18)
More about giving the Divine imprimatur to slavery :
“Slaves, give entire obedience to your earthly masters, not merely with an outward show of service, to curry favour with men, but with single-mindedness, out of reverence for the Lord.” (3:22)
No wonder Constantine favoured the Christian Church as a tool of State – nothing about the evils of slavery, but very big on obedience to temporal masters. Once again, are the contents of the New Testament resembling the word of any “G” God?
Paul says he does not try to “curry favour with men”, nor seek honour:
“ We do not curry favour with men; we seek only the favour of God … We have never sought honour from men, from you or from anyone else.” (1:4&6)
But he has overlooked his own attempts to do just that in a previous letter (2 Corinthians:12) – where he had tried to elevate himself to Apostle status by claiming Divine visions and revelations. All religions are concerned with power and status and Paul sought “honour from men” along with the best.
In this letter, Paul still expected the imminent coming of the Lord (Jesus):
“For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.” (4:17).
PAUL PROVEN WRONG IN HIS BELIEFS
“...we who are alive, who are left...” – Paul obviously did not believe that he would die before the second coming of Jesus (the Parousia).
But he did die before Jesus’ second coming – as did everybody he wrote to about this. The point here is that, if Paul’s belief about this pivotal aspect of the House of God he was building was proven wrong – what reliance should we place of his other beliefs?
In this letter, Paul firstly consigns Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan for the heinous crime of blasphemy.
Then he sets about putting those pesky women back in their place (again) using myths (Adam and Eve) about the beginning of humanity as authority:
“A woman must be a learner, listening quietly and with due submission. I do not permit a woman to be a teacher, nor must woman domineer over man; she should be quiet. For Adam was created first, and Eve afterwards; and it was not Adam who was deceived; it was woman who, yielding to deception, fell into sin. Yet she will be saved through motherhood – if only women continue in faith, love and holiness, with a sober mind.” (2:11-15).
So, men were the most important because we were created first – only to be led astray by those easily-deceived women! Yep, sounds like the words of God alright! No wonder most of the Christian churches are still rejecting women as priests. But Paul has it on good authority – the Jewish creation myths. Such is the quality of Paul’s doctrines – upon which much of the Christian House of God is founded.
And slavery is still OK:
“All who wear the yoke of slavery must count their own masters worthy of all respect.” (6:1)
Again, it is easy to see why the Romans eventually chose Christianity as state religion – many of its doctrines were good for maintaining social order.
2 TIMOTHY, TITUS, PHILEMON
More of the same – and nothing that could pass for the inerrant word of God except for this interesting bit :
“All the more reason why you should pull them up sharply, so that they may come to a sane belief, instead of lending their ears to Jewish myths and commandments of merely human origin, the work of men who turn their backs upon the truth.” (Titus 1:13-14)
“Jewish myths”? – rich from somebody like Paul who relied heavily on the Jewish myths to construct his own “commandments of merely human origin” – like the inferiority of women, and his doctrine of original sin – both based the Jewish myths of Adam and Eve in Genesis.
Here ends the letters ascribed to Paul in the Bible. While there is some dispute about whether Paul actually wrote them all, the matter remains unresolved (possibly unresolvable?). This is an examination of the Bible, so we will consider them as a Pauline whole, as the Bible says they are.
PAULINE LETTERS SUMMARY
We will try to uncover the real Jesus after the Letters but, from our exploration of the Bible so far, Jesus didn’t truly seem to spout the foundational doctrines upon which the religion named after him was built: the “Christian” House of God. Those doctrines – like Original Sin and Salvation (for us through Jesus’ execution), for example, seem to be more truly Paul’s – making the residents of this House more truly “Paulinians”, than Christians. One wonders how different the history of this House of God could have been if it were built on Jesus’ simple injunctions to: “Love One Another; Forgive your enemies; Do Unto Others” – and some of the Beatitudes, like: “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” – rather than Paul’s zealous misogyny, celibacy, anti-Semitism and incredible, convoluted doctrines. Such incredibility and certain observable incorrectness – like: bodily resurrection for the faithful, and the imminent second coming of Jesus – have turned many away from the Christian Church who were originally attracted by Jesus’ simple (and equally observable) Truths: Love, Forgive, Do (unto others) – which fit on one line.
PAUL’S LETTERS ARE EVIDENCE FOR THE NEED FOR GOSPEL WRITING
As the actual words of Jesus began to recede further into the ether after his death, there came to be more and more room for opinion and dispute among Jesus’ followers – the Book of Acts and the Letters of Paul illustrate this process quite clearly. As we have just seen, many of Paul’s words in his letters were concerned with settling disputes among Jesus’ followers. All of this indicated, as the hopes of Jesus second coming receded, the need that there was to write down authoritative accounts of Jesus’ words – Gospels – recording forever Jesus’ words and actions: the “Gospel Truth”. However, many Gospels came to be written by Jesus’ followers (many more than the four which eventually came to be included in the New Testament when it was assembled centuries later) with many different ideas of what Jesus said and did – even between the four selected (as our examination of the Gospels noted).
All up, the letters of Paul (who, himself, didn’t personally know Jesus) to our examination don’t seem to be Divinely written either – revealing more about Paul than Jesus. You can see why the Jesus movement, led by people who knew Jesus personally (like his own brother James, and Peter his chief disciple) were in dispute with Paul. So, even after reading Paul’s letters which were closer in time to Jesus than the Gospels, the question still remains: what did Jesus really say – how do we get to his real message through the fog of factionalising? I like the approach of Bible scholar Geza Vermes on this point :
“Look for what Jesus himself taught instead of being satisfied with what has been taught about him.”
“The Authentic Gospel of Jesus”, p. 417
WHAT JESUS HIMSELF TAUGHT?
I will try to hunt more for what Jesus really taught, in a moment – but for here, in this summary of Paul’s letters, suffice it to say that Paul only occasionally seems to find the compassion, spirituality, and wisdom which set Jesus apart from his fellow prophets (e.g. the primacy of love in Romans 13:8-10 & 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). His difference proven by the fact that we are still talking about him today. Jesus seems to have been trying to bring to us a new understanding of how to live best, seemingly trying to lure his fellow Jews out of the fixed ideas of their House of God – while Paul was just constructing another House out of more fixed ideas (doctrines). A House which, as we know from our privileged position in history, grew to be much like the old one that killed Jesus. Paul seems to be a good example of what Vermes was talking about, above – an example of “what has been taught about him [Jesus]”, rather than seeking the Truth of Jesus – “what Jesus himself taught”.
As we have noted, the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above, has been read at many a marriage ceremony – but most commonly heard, these days, in parks and gardens – rather than Houses of God. The question the House of God needs to ask itself is: “why?” (let those who have eyes – see).
PAUL’S HOUSE OF GOD WAS LARGELY A GOOD PLACE
While, as we have seen, there was sexism, approval of slavery, and anti-Semitism in Paul’s letters, in the main, Paul’s early church was largely a good place. For example it was inclusive of anyone (not just the chosen people); encouraged charity for the needy; encouraged its members to be law-abiding. And Paul was a great organiser, appointing bishops, priests, deacons and deaconesses to look after the congregations he founded throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. It was mainly later, when his movement came into power as the official House of God of the Roman Empire (a process we will examine, below) that evil flowed. Eventually power corrupts, and when the House of God came to power, such power (and the effort to retain it) was the source of the Holy Inquisition, inter-denominational bloodshed, religious wars, the Crusades, the evils in the name of missionary work, witch burnings, and numerous other evils.
WHICH LETTERS DID PAUL ACTUALLY WRITE?
But, in assessing Paul, we must ask: do we know the real Paul? The usual problem concerning Biblical authorial unreliability that we found in the Gospels also surrounds Paul’s letters. There is much debate in biblical scholarship as to which letters were actually written by Paul. This from biblical scholar, Margaret Davies :
“Most scholars agree that the following epistles are authentically Pauline: Romans 1 and 2, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. … The majority of scholars now regard 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus as pseudonymous … but they disagree about the possible authenticity of the other epistles attributed to Paul in the New Testament.”
From “The Oxford History of the Bible” (Ed. John Rogerson. Pp.52-53)
As we have already discussed, the matter is probably unresolvable. But whoever we attribute the Biblical Letters to, we can still examine them for Truth.
Now for the remaining Biblical letters.
THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
The writer of this letter is obviously of the Jewish religion and is writing to some of the Jewish members of the early Christian movement. This letter is concerned, firstly, to establish Jesus as unique – the Son of God:
“For God never said to any angel, ‘Thou art my Son; today I have begotten thee.’ ” (1:5)
And to explain how Jesus’ execution was in fact a victory, not the defeat it must have seemed to be to many:
“…crowned now with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that, by God’s gracious will, in tasting death he should stand for us all.” (2:9)
Is this the Truth or just more convoluted doctrine-building by assertion? Jesus was easily overpowered and executed like a criminal – but this was not a defeat – Jesus chose to die and God allowed it (…“by God’s gracious will”). And, somehow, this meant that Jesus died for us all? Or was Jesus killed by the Sadducees so that they could maintain their power? We must decide for our selves.
NOT TRYING TO CREATE A NEW RELIGION OF CHRISTIANITY
This letter writer is not trying to create any new religion – “Christianity” – he stresses the importance of being Jewish.
“It is not angels that he takes to himself but the sons of Abraham” (2:16) “the religion we profess” (3:1)
God only “takes to himself” the sons of Abraham – the religion of the letter writer and the audience – Jews are still God’s chosen people. The writer then ties Jesus securely to the Jewish Old Testament scriptures:
“Our Lord is sprung from Judah” (7:14) “in the succession of Melchizedek” (7:17)
Or is the letter writer only getting his Jewish audience on side by establishing Jesus’ Jewish credentials to them – before he delivers his real message – that it is time for a change because the old covenant the Jews thought they had with God was not working for them?
FOLLOWING THE OLD RULES BROUGHT NO JOY TO THE HEBREWS
The author then is brave enough to suggest something that most other observers of the Jewish condition must have noticed – that following their old god and his rules had brought no joy to the Hebrews. As we previously noted in our examination of the Old Testament – the Jews, despite being the only God’s chosen people, had been defeated and sometimes taken into captivity by every neighbouring or passing group of non-Yahweh-believers/worshippers.
The letter-writer puts Jesus forward as “a better hope” – better than the old “Law”/scriptures – which “are cancelled”:
“The earlier rules are cancelled as impotent and useless since the Law brought nothing to perfection; and a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (7:18-19)
The writer works up the continual doctrine that Jesus’ execution should not be represented as a defeat, but a victory – in fact their salvation – doctrinal “consecration”:
“…it is by the will of God that we have been consecrated, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” (10:10)
And he makes the same old mistake we find in many places in the Bible:
“ For ‘soon, very soon’ in the words of Scripture, he who is to come will come; he will not delay ” (10:38).
Then the writer dishes out the essential dose of fear :
“It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (10:31)
A terrible God indeed – one who would sanction the brutal killing of animals :
“If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” (12:20)
Your God? The question we must continually ask our selves as we read the Bible – most have answered with their feet.
Many scholars accept that this letter was written by James, the brother of Jesus. For reasons given below, I think that is so.
After Jesus’ death, his brother James became one of the leaders of the Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem – until he too was murdered by the Sadducee officers of the Jewish religion in 62 AD. As mentioned earlier, James’ group has been called by some scholars the Jesus Movement which was primarily concerned with proselytising Jesus’ message to the Jews – whereas Paul’s faction (called the Christ Movement) found a more receptive audience in the wider Mediterranean world of mainly Gentiles.
The letter-writing James, like Jesus, is mainly interested in the Jewish population:
“Greetings to the Twelve Tribes dispersed throughout the world.” (1:1)
Has Jesus’ wisdom:
“…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.” (1:19)
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress…” (1:27)
Espouses the primacy of love:
“…the sovereign law laid down in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ ” (2:8).
And stresses the importance of doing, not just hearing:
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers… be not hearers who forget, but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.” (1:22-25)
And not just faith:
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (2:17)
Be slow to anger; charitable to the disadvantaged; Love; be doers of good works; faith on its own “is dead” – simple non-doctrinal messages. This may be the closest the Bible manages to get to the real Jesus? There is no doctrine in James’ letter, just as there seems to be none in those words most likely to have been Jesus’ own (we will list them later when we summarise Jesus) – this is one of the main reasons I think that this letter writer is the James that was Jesus’ brother. And no one would have better known the real Jesus of history; none would have been a closer witness to the real actions of Jesus; nor such a first-hand recipient of Jesus’ real words and ideas – than James.
Those who were much further from the real Jesus (especially the fathers of the Christian House of God) tried to “magnify” his importance by constructing doctrines – as we have seen: bodily resurrection; salvation; original sin; the Divinity of Jesus; the Trinity – in order to sell Jesus to the wider world. Charity, love, doing good deeds, forgiveness – Jesus’ key messages – were not enough?
And James has some more messages.
James, like Jesus, is bit of a class warrior – he doesn’t hold out much hope for the rich :
“Next a word to you who have great possessions: Weep and wail over the miserable fate descending on you… You have lived on earth in wanton luxury, fattening yourselves like cattle – and the day for slaughter has come.” (5:1&5)
Many of today’s modern evangelicals (believers in the inerrancy of the Bible) have worked up their own doctrines about wealth being OK – one in USA even asks parishioners who drive old cars to park them behind the Church! I wonder how they talk around James’ fairly clear statement about the rich have fattened themselves for slaughter?
JAMES MAKES THE SAME MISTAKE AS JESUS
And, like Jesus, James was wrong about the imminence of the “coming of the Lord”:
“…be patient and stout hearted, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (5:8)
Throughout James’ letter there is not a word of doctrine construction, no claims about Jesus being the Messiah, the Trinity, dying for our salvation – just preaching to his fellow Jews to love, and do good deeds – much as Jesus did – before others built an “H” House upon him. James’ short letter seems to tell us more about the real Jesus of history than all the florid doctrinising of the founding fathers of the House of God?
Peter claims to be Peter, “apostle of Jesus Christ” – presumably Jesus’ right hand man of Gospel fame? Peter writes to his fellow Jews of the Diaspora in the Black Sea area. To them he espouses the doctrine of consecration by Jesus’ death:
“...consecrated with the sprinkled blood of Jesus Christ.” (1:2).
Jesus’ bodily resurrection gives hope for life after death:
“...gave us new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3) ;
And Peter argues the preciousness of faith :
“...more precious than perishable gold is faith which has stood the test.” (1:7)
SLAVES SHOULD BEHAVE
Slaves are encouraged to suffer their lot without demur – just as Jesus suffered unjustly:
“Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh...If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is there in doing that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (2:18)
Not the first place in the Bible where slaves are urged to behave themselves – again, easy to see why Christianity was eventually favoured as State religion?
JUDGEMENT IS NIGH
And, like all the others, Peter continually makes the mistake about the imminence of the end of the world, the second coming, and judgement:
“…in this last period of time” (1:20); “The end of all things is upon us” (4:7) – and: “The time has come for the judgement to begin” (4:17).
But Peter also believed in Noah’s ark and that we are all descended from its eight human inhabitants :
“…and in the ark a few persons, eight in all, were brought to safety through the water.” (3:20).
In subscribing to the old creation myths, Peter showed that he was just floundering along with the usual incorrect human myths of the day. There is some excuse for the pre-scientific beliefs of Peter, but a lot of modern evangelists believe in Noah even after all the irrefutable scientific evidence to the contrary – just because it is in the Bible. Even recently, some gullible character built a wooden ark to Biblical dimensions to “prove” it (however it wouldn’t accommodate two of every currently existing animal – let alone enough food and water to sustain them for 100 days).
Is this the real Peter – leading disciple of Jesus? You will have to decide for your self.
Some Bible scholars feel that this is not Peter, the disciple and eyewitness of Jesus – despite the opening claim of the letter to be so:
”...we had been eyewitness of his majesty...when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” (1:16&17-18)
Whoever the author was, he asserts that this witnessing fulfils a prophecy of the Old Testament:
“So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.” (1:19)
And that all Old Testament “prophecy of scripture” was inspired by God, rather than by humans:
“...you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (1:20-21)
The author of this letter latches onto that old money-spinner for the House of God – lust :
“Above all he will punish those who follow their abominable lusts … These men are like brute beasts, born in the course of nature to be caught and killed.” (2:10&12).
Peter, or pseudo-Peter, also addresses his congregation’s rumblings about the fact that the second coming has not arrived as imminently as promised:
“...in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’...But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day... “But the Day of the Lord will come; it will come, unexpected as a thief.” (3:3-4&8&10).
All up, “Peter’s” contribution is mainly to keep us apprehensive about the imminent coming of the Lord, and guilty about the “abominable lusts” all us “brute beasts” have. In such a state of shame about being human, and apprehension of the punishment to come, we are easy meat for a developing religion which can sell us salvation from our “original sin” – of having an animal body.
But that’s just my opinion, and Peter has this to say about anyone (like me?) denying the developing “Christian” Orthodoxy – as interpreted and expressed by himself and by Paul:
“So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (3:15-16).
The authenticity of “The Second Letter of Paul” was still being disputed among the Church fathers in the 4th century before it was finally accepted as canonical with the other contents of the Bible in 382 AD. We can know what the consensus of the Christian Church fathers was, but what life asks of you is what you accept as Divine Truth – the word of God – in the Bible.
1, 2 & 3 JOHN
These letters, the Gospel of John, and Revelations are thought by some to be written by the same John.
In epistle 1 of John we see the beginning of the doctrine of confession:
“If we confess our sins, he is just, and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrong” (1:9)
But John, like the rest, is mistaken:
“My children, this is the last hour!” (2:18).
Not a very reliable lot, are they?
That this was the “last hour” was evidenced to John’s mind by the ever-growing number of antichrists bobbing up. The antichrists were any members of the Christian movement who were not following doctrine – anybody who does not agree with your assertions is an antichrist – by assertion!
For John, some of us are children of the devil, and some are God’s children:
“…the man who sins is a child of the devil,” (3:8)
“A child of God does not commit sin, because the divine seed remains in him; he cannot be a sinner because he is God’s child.” (3:9)
But we all sin – all born sinners according to the doctrine of Original Sin. So, according to John’s doctrine we not the children of God but the children of Satan?
John does eventually get around to love.
“Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God. For God is love” (4:8-9)
Imagine for a moment, a House founded solely on the last sentence: “For God is love” – instead of the brutal butcher found throughout the Bible?
John also informs us:
“But if a man says, ‘I love God’, while hating his brother, he is a liar; for those who do not love a brother and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (4:20)
Fair enough statement – the “T” Truth, even – you can’t say you love God if you hate your brother who is of God (as we all are – read Essay 3). But John stumbles over deciding who, exactly, is our “brother”. Are all our fellow humans our brothers, John? – unfortunately not, according to John it is only those who believe in the same religious doctrine that he does:
“We know that we are of God’s family, while the whole godless world lies in the power of the evil one.” (5:19)
The letters of John end with an allusion to the schisms one Diotrephes was causing amongst the local congregation with falsehoods – and commends one called Demetrius who “…has the truth itself” (3John12).
Jude opens his letter in much the same way that James did: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ…” (James: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”). Jude then announces that he is “brother of James”. If true, Jude is likely the brother of Jesus? However Jude gives us no great insights into the Truth of Jesus.
Jude’s letter is concerned with the defence of the faith which he feels is in danger:
“…and appeal to you to join the struggle in defence of the faith…It is in danger from certain persons who have wormed their way in” (Jude 3-4).
Jude is concerned with the licentiousness of the “certain persons”:
“They are a set of grumblers and malcontents…these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones… They follow their lusts.” (Jude 4, 8, &16).
Proof to Jude that the end is fast approaching :
“In the final age there will be men who pour scorn on religion, and follow their own godless lusts.” (Jude 18)
Jude turns hate into an art form, setting new standards in hating by suggesting even that clothing might be a suitable candidate for it :
“…hate the very clothing that is contaminated with sensuality.” (Jude 23)
God didn’t have much else to say through Jude.
Here endeth the Letters. Considered as a whole, what do they have to tell us?
THE LETTERS AS A WHOLE
The Letters are the correspondence between the scattered flock of the embryonic Christian House of God and some of its leaders – like Paul. In most of the letters (especially Pauls’) we can clearly see the beginnings of doctrine building – devised to answer questions about Jesus, like: who was Jesus? (Trinitarian doctrine); why was he important to us? (Resurrection doctrine); why did God allow his only begotten son to be killed? (Salvation doctrine); salvation from what? (Original Sin doctrine). The letters stress the importance of faith – especially when addressing the doubts that were arising within the Christian flock when certain promises were not delivered – like why had the promised second coming of Jesus not occurred? (answer: have faith, it would be discrete, coming when you least expect it – like “a thief in the night”).
James’ letter, however, is an exception to all the doctrine/excuse making. James, most likely the brother of Jesus, has a message similar to Jesus’ – he:
· Is chiefly interested in his fellow Jews, rather the wider Gentile world.
· Does not engage in doctrine-building.
· Shows wisdom.
· Delivers messages which are similar to Jesus’: the importance of charity; the importance of doing good deeds for others; the emptiness of faith without doing good; the dangers (for our souls) inherent in striving for riches; the blessedness of peacemakers; the imminent coming of God.
James’ main concern was passing on Jesus’ ideas about how to best live – whereas the other letter-writers, especially Paul, are mostly concerned with proselytising through contrived doctrines – to firstly form, then reinforce a new religion.
JESUS AND THE TRUTH?
These three essays are seeking the “T” Truths of the human condition, and what such have to say about any special meaning and ultimate purpose to our existence. This particular essay examines the House of God and its foundational Book, the Bible, for Truth – and we seem to have found some – in some of the words and deeds which it credits to Jesus.
At this point of our examination, we have examined all that it contains of Jesus’ words and deeds (only Revelations remains) – so here might be a good place to try and hunt for the real Jesus: who was he; what did he really say; what did he really do; what did he really believe – as opposed to what seems, often, to have been written over the top of him by others who didn’t necessarily have the “T” Truth as their first objective (rather the proselytization and doctrinisation of House building)?
THE HUNT FOR THE
Residents of the House of Disbelief to be examined in Essay 2 would ask: “why bother?” – for them, the Jesus story is just another religious story, made up to exploit our human existential fears and wishes. But there is definitely something unique about Jesus – why are we still fascinated, after all these years, about the story of a nobody: not a great political leader like Pericles, not a great general like Alexander, nor a great philosopher like Plato but an illiterate carpenter, emerged from the rustic back blocks of a minor country in the Roman Empire, who after a very short period of time spent living with, and preaching to, the lowest of society – was easily and summarily executed by the authorities (almost un-noted by the historians of Rome).
It also needs to be remembered that Jesus was one of many preachers/faith healers wandering the dusty by-ways of his part of the world during this period (about 31-33 A.D.). Religious scholar, Professor Reza Aslan tells us:
“The itinerant preacher wandering from village to village clamouring about the end of the world, a band of ragged followers trailing behind, was a common sight in Jesus’ time – so common, in fact, that it had become a kind of caricature among the Roman elite.”
“Zealot: The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth”, Reza Aslan, P. xxiii
And many such preachers were executed, just as Jesus was, by the Romans (Aslan lists 10). So what was different about Jesus – why are we still talking about him after all these years? Not did people continue to talk about him, but history was divided into B.C. and A.D. – before and after his existence? But, further, the religion formed in his memory, not only changed the calendar, but came to change the world.
Whatever you personally believe about Jesus: virgin-born; God; the Jewish Messiah – or just a charismatic preacher and healer – he observably had/was something very special. To see what it was – we need to look without the rose-coloured blinkers of religious faith/hope.
Firstly, let’s try and determine what Jesus thought about himself.
WHO/WHAT DID JESUS THINK ABOUT HIMSELF?
What did Jesus believe about himself? For example, did he consider himself to be the Messiah; virgin born; “the only begotten son of God” – even God “H” Himself? And what did he see as his mission?
Unfortunately we can never know any of this for sure because Jesus was either illiterate (most likely) or chose not to write anything down – meaning all we can know about him comes from what others wrote about him. And 99% of our source material about Jesus comes from the Bible – which book, our examination of it found, rather than being a “B” Book written/inspired by God – was a book written by Gospellers with varying ideas about Jesus, driven by their various motives. In the time scale over which the sources (the New Testament Gospels, Acts, and Letters) were written, our examination showed that it is possible to see the Jesus story changing, such that the more Gentile, Divine, Mediterranean Jesus in the later Gospels is different to the Jewish Jesus of the earlier ones. Not only is the Jesus in the Bible frequently “different” but, also frequently, contradictory. However, spurred on by the Gospel of Thomas: “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find.” (2:1) we will seek until we find him.
THE HISTORICAL JESUS Vs. THE BIBLICAL JESUS
Many have sought the real Jesus of history. However, as we found, Jesus only showed up as a few small blips on the radar of conventional history: a small mention in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities (which seems as if it may have been subject to religious editing?), a smaller (uncomplimentary) one about his followers in Tacitus’ Annals (15.44), and a mention by Pliny the Younger mentioning his arrest and execution. Leaving us with the New Testament as basically all the source material we have of Jesus’ words and deeds. Some would say Jesus is mentioned in the Old Testament, but our examination revealed that some of the New Testament was purposely written in such a way as to imply that some Old Testament prophecies were referring to Jesus – that he was actually fulfilling them (lending credence to the Old Testament, in turn). For example: Jesus was proselytised to the Jews as being the Jewish Messiah from the Old Testament, and to accord with this prophecy much of his life story was written by the Gospellers to suit – saying he was descended from David, born in Bethlehem, came out of Egypt – all of which the Jewish Scriptures said the Messiah should. But the Gospels which attempt to establish these stories about Jesus contradict each other, leaving us suspicious that they were concocted stories to meet Old Testament prophesies in an attempt to authorise Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
While evangelicals and fundamentalists consider all the Bible to be “God’s Truth” because it is written/inspired by God, our exploration found the New Testament (like the Old Testament) showed scant evidence of Divine authorship. In the case of the New Testament, this is mainly because of all the above contradictions and disagreements between Gospels. And there were also many disagreements amongst the early House of God fathers – this from Professor Bart Ehrman, originally a staunch evangelical Bible-believer, but now a leading neutral Bible scholar:
“One of the most fascinating features of early Christianity is that so many different Christian teachers and Christian groups were saying so many contrary things. It is not just that they said different things. They often said just the opposite things...Not only did those on every side in all of these debates think that they were right and that their opponents were wrong; they also maintained in all sincerity and honesty that their views were the ones taught by Jesus and his apostles.”
“FORGED: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are”, Bart D. Ehrman (2011) P. 218.
Evangelicals, if they want us to believe that all the words of the Gospels are the Truth, have to be able to answer the question of why, having written/inspired the first Gospel to be written, would God write or inspire later differing Gospels? Luke actually states that, before him: “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account” but, nevertheless, he decides that yet another account was needed – “so that you may know the truth” (Luke 1:1-4). So Luke implies that the earlier Gospels were not the Truth – in other words, one “word of God” is saying that other “words of God” in the other Gospels are not the Truth.
A JESUS TO SUIT ANY IDEA
The end result of all the differences in the Bible is that you can find a Jesus to support any argument:
– A Jesus who was only concerned for the people of Israel; or a Jesus who cared about wider humanity.
– A Jesus who ranted about hell for the smallest misdemeanours; or a Jesus whose message of forgiveness extended to the soldiers hammering nails into him.
– A Jesus who condemned to hell whole towns for not receiving his disciples’ preaching straight away; or a Jesus who said even the criminal hanging on the cross next to him would be with him in heaven.
– A warrior Jesus who came with a sword; or a peacemaker who advocated loving not just your friends and family (anyone can do that) but loving and doing good deeds for your enemies.
– A man of tolerance who would rescue an adulteress from stoning; or an intolerant man who would wither a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season.
Such Biblical contradictions as these (and others) led to many different ideas about Jesus amongst his followers. And geographical isolation and ethnical diversity also meant that diverse communities tended to develop their own ideas and sects – hence the need for Paul’s letters to keep them in line. Ideas different to orthodoxy came to be called heresies and Irenaeus (Against the Heretics) lists 24 heretical sects; Hippolytus managed 50 of them. Only when Christianity was instituted as State religion were the varying ideas about Jesus sorted into a religious orthodoxy which was useable/workable as a tool of State.
So, finding “T” Truth was not the first concern while the Christian House of God was being established, rather it was orthodoxy – and ideas about Jesus outside of useful orthodoxy were recognised as dangerous to centralised Church power, labelled “heresies” and crushed – often physically. Those who were no more heretical than Jesus was towards the orthodoxy of his own Jewish religion, often met fates more murderous and grisly than his own – especially after Christianity was established. The first recorded heretic to be executed by Christianity was an Iberian “heretic” called Priscillian in 384 AD. There were thousands more to come – murdered, often tortured to death – in the name of a man whose main messages were love, forgiveness, and doing unto others. These and other evils, perpetrated over the years in the name of God, were (and remain) the greatest spur for the emergence of an opposing “H” House: the House of Disbelief – another orthodoxy which we will examine in the next essay.
But we will forge on to see if we can find the real Jesus over the many obstacles there are.
OBSTACLES BETWEEN US AND THE TRUTH OF JESUS
These obstacles, if not absolute barriers, are definitely filters between the real Jesus and us. Let’s list the form that these “filters” take – perhaps if we can more clearly recognise them, we may be able to remove them, or at least make allowances for them and get a more accurate view of the real Jesus of history rather than all the various Jesus’s of faith which have led to all the various House of God denominations (often warring) – and led also to the construction of the House of Disbelief.