The Art of Enticement

The lightning-rods salesman, dressed in storm-colored clothes jangling and clanking with his peculiar bag of rods approached the two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, laying on the front lawn:

“Halloway. Nightshade. No money, you say?”

The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.

“Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash, roast pork and cinders! Grab!”

The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move. But Will caught the iron and gasped.

“Boy, it’s heavy! And funny-looking. Never seen a lightning-rod like this. Look, Jim!”

And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow. But Will was staring beyond the man now.

“Which,” he said. “Which house will it strike?”

“Which? Hold on. Wait.” The salesman searched deep in their faces. Some folks draw lightning, suck it like cats suck babies’ breath. Some folks’ polarities are negative, some positive. Some glow in the dark. Some snuff out. You now, the two… I–“

“What makes you so sure lightning will strike anywhere around here?” said Jim suddenly, his eyes bright.

Fury-Halloway-Nightshade

The salesman almost flinched. “Why, I got a nose, an eye, an ear. Both those houses, their timbers! Listen!”

They listened. Maybe their houses leaned under the cool afternoon wind. Maybe not.

“Lightning needs channels, like rivers, to run in. One of those attics is a dry river bottom, itching to let lightning pour through! Tonight!”

“Tonight?” Jim sat up happily.

“No ordinary storm!” said the salesman. Tom Fury tells you. Fury, ain’t that a fine name for one who sells lightning-rods? Did I take the name? No! Did the name fire me to my occupations? Yes! Grown up, I saw cloudy fires jumping the world, making men hop and hide. Thought: I’ll chart hurricanes, map storms, then run ahead shaking my iron cudgels, my miraculous defenders, in my fists! I’ve shielded and made snug-safe one hundred thousand, count ’em, God-fearing homes. So when I tell you, boys, you’re in dire need, listen! Climb that roof, nail this rod high, ground it in the good earth before nightfall!”
Ray Bradbury from his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

There are a few different motifs and themes in this classic Bradbury novel, but the one I want to touch on here is belief, the psychological power and influence of what a group’s ideology can accomplish, for better or worse, when the right components are all in play.

The characters in Something Wicked This Way Comes are amazed and puzzled by “Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show,” a strange carnival that has unexpectedly arrived in their small town. Word soon spreads that because it caters to people’s deepest desires and fears, it is viewed by the town as evil. Yet, Mr. Dark claims they did not arrive unannounced, or unwelcomed. Indeed, the people of the town invited them, ah, wanted them:

Mr. Dark:  “Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well. To stuff ourselves on other people’s torments. And butter our plain bread with delicious pain … Funerals, marriages, lost loves, lonely beds that is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet. We can smell the young ulcerating to be men a thousand miles off. And hear a middle-aged fool like yourself groaning with midnight despairs from halfway round the world.”

The good people of Green Town handed over the power and will for Mr. Dark’s visit. Whether taught, or inherited, or both, they had long believed their lives were incomplete, intolerable, in the balance, and in grave danger. It wasn’t until Will Halloway’s father, Charles Halloway, embraced his age, occupation as a janitor, the paradox of life and death, and his gifted humanity that any “power” the Pandemonium Shadow Show could have wielded was gone, like a mist in the wind.

david-green-hobby-lobby

NeoConservative & owner Steve Green

When a story is told well, as was Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, mountains can be moved and lives changed forever. Whether that canard is true or not often makes little difference. And when a captivating story is well performed, immersing its audience with spectacular effects, marketing tools, and endless millions of dollars, the spellbinding dopamine avalanche is near impossible to stop. Or can it?

With all the same dramatic components and controversy in play with the creation, development, and intent, the recent opening of the Museum of the Bible is no different.

“At the center of this [drama] is the word “non-sectarian,” which the Museum of the Bible uses often in its messaging. The term has a long history in the evangelist community dating back to the early 19th century. As Steven K. Green (no relation), the director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University College, explains, for the faith tradition, the concept is rooted in the belief that there are fundamentals of the Bible that are non-disputable and non-debatable. “It’s hard for you to realize it is representing a particular perspective,” says Green of the often well-meaning evangelical Protestants who clashed with Catholics firm in their own religious tradition in the 1800s.”

Museum-of-the-Bible

The museum opened its doors to the public today. Here is one article from Smithsonian.com magazine which elaborates on the museum’s promises, its biased funding, and the far-reaching controversy over its artifacts and narrative-slant all wrapped in an enticing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

I’m very curious to read what all of you have to say about “The Greatest Show Ever Told” and whether museum visitors are well-versed, or should be, in the much broader less known (untold?) stories, artifacts, and narratives of the Bible. What are your thoughts?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Origins and Orthodoxy

The six of us were all sitting around the kitchen table discussing time-travel and the effects of gravity on time itself. A good friend of the family repeated once again what she had stated earlier, “It is all merely philosophy and theory.” The word speculation would probably have been another word she would have approved and used. My political and respectful(?) response was “But how will we learn and know if we don’t GET OUT THERE and collect the actual data?” She agreed.

You see, our sweet good friend comes from a long maternal ancestral line of Protestant evangelical fundamental Christian indoctrination. She has not known any other lifestyle or worldview her entire life of 32-years. Because of this and also where I currently reside — the Hill Country towns of central Texas and nearer a few of my extended family — I am confronted daily or weekly with this religious mindset and way of life which they automatically assume to be true and right from generations after generations, after generations. I ask… should we not get out there, explore, examine, scrutinize, and always ask the hardest questions in order to arrive at the most plausible truths? I think so.

From 1983 to 2002 “getting out there” was exactly what I set out to do regarding a real God, the Christian bible, then the Hebrew bible, and more recently the Quran. This post and some of my other related blog-posts are what I discovered over those 19-years and counting. This post is another condensed study and research from those years based on 20 scholars listed in this supporting Bibliography Library-Page, as well as my personal experiences with fundamental Christian evangelists, extended family, apologists and one particular Hindi futeboller from Kashmir, India. My purpose for writing another post about biblical fundamentalism, particularly Christian, is simple. Share with the public and anyone interested just how few questions are asked about the roots of earliest Christianity under the contextual dominance of the early through late epochs of the Imperial Roman Empire. It is safe to assume that mainstream Christianity, if not church leadership too, are naïve of their own faith’s history and origins.
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* * * * * * * * * *
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The Nature of God?

How does a person learn who God is, what She/He/It is like, and how do we know it is truly God and not some imposter or auditory or visual hallucination? This question of course presupposes that a God exists in the first place. Ignoring this a priori step in the process of logic and reasoning would be a serious mistake. However, for the sake of time and subject matter, I will not go into the existence or non-existence of God. For a plethora of reasons much of the world believes God or a Supreme Being exists anyway.

Therefore, assuming a God(s) does exist, how can we know this God? Morgan Freeman’s recent National Geographic mini-series The Story of God was pretty well received by audiences and critics as Freeman and his team traveled the world gathering various cultural perspectives of God. I Google-searched the question “How can we know God?” and it returned these first 10 resources, out of about 483,000,000 results:

“How to Know God Personally —

What does it take to begin a relationship with God? Devote yourself to unselfish religious deeds? Become a better person so that God will accept you?

You may be surprised that none of those things will work. But God has made it very clear in the Bible how we can know Him.

The following principles will explain how you can personally begin a relationship with God, right now, through Jesus Christ…”

(from the Campus Crusade for Christ International website)

From the Joyce Meyer Ministries website “Everyday Answers”…

“There was a time in my life when I struggled with all types of fears and insecurities, constantly worried about the future, my job, my ministry, and my family. Needless to say, I wasn’t really enjoying my life!

However, over time, the Lord helped me to change… and He helped me understand an important key to truly enjoying life. It all begins with what the apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:10… something I believe we should all pray regularly…

“[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him…understanding the wonders of His person more strongly and more clearly]…” (AMP).”

From the Got Questions Ministries website

“How can I get to know God better?” —

Answer: Everyone knows that God exists. “God has made it plain” that He is real, “for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). Some try to suppress the knowledge of God; most try to add to it. The Christian has a deep desire to know God better (Psalm 25:4). — by J.I. Packer

(the next 7 paragraphs reference the Christian bible 13-times)

From the In Touch Ministries website

“Getting To Know God” —

Did you know God wants to show you more of Himself every day? Does your time with the Lord revitalize you, or does it feel more like a ritualistic experience? In Hosea 6:6, God is clear: “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

(the next 6 directives reference the Christian bible 3-times)

From the Every Student website

“What does it take to begin a relationship with God? —

Wait for lightning to strike? Devote yourself to unselfish religious deeds? Become a better person so that God will accept you? NONE of these. God has made it very clear in the Bible how we can know Him. This will explain how you can personally begin a relationship with God, right now…”

(the rest of the page references the Christian bible 16-times)

And jumping to the 10th result on the Harvest Ministries website

“Know God —

You were created to know God in a personal way—to have a relationship with Him, through His Son, Jesus Christ. How do you start a relationship with God?”

(the following 4 step procedure references the Christian bible in every step)

peggy-and-godNoticing the pattern? The bible, the bible, the bible, and repeatedly the bible apparently has all the answers to knowing God. There doesn’t seem to be any tangible physical meeting of God where you actually see God, or hear Her/His/Its voice, you cannot call God up for an interview, nor is there a global standard of where to find God or how to find God’s collective global nature from any of these websites… except, in the Bible.

This has been my own experience when asking faith-followers these questions about God. In other words, the more people asked, there seems to be more than just one simple version of God! Hmmm. Maybe what should be asked is what “version” of God is most popular in the world?

According to www.Adherents.com and other sources, the world’s largest religion by population is Christianity (2.1 billion), followed by Islam (1.5 billion), then the Non-religious or unaffiliated (1.1 billion), Hinduism (900 million), Chinese Traditional (394 million), and Buddhism at 376 million respectively. As a result of popularity then, let’s look more closely at the Christian version of knowing God. How can it be done?
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Divine Revelation?

Throughout the lore and archaeological evidence of humans, when a divine spirit or Supreme Beings disclosed themselves to people, or something about existence, or about the world, in theological terms that is often defined as revelation. Because video and audio technology did not exist 50,000 years ago when forms of verbal human language began, and institutionalized morality only began long after around 10,200 BCE in the Neolithic Period, we cannot know the types of divine revelations that took place. Prior to the start of human writing (cuneiform) 5,000 years ago or around 3,000 BCE, there was still no video or audio technology available to literally record gods or God. Only rituals, song and dance, and oral traditions passed to descendants in various chiefdoms and tribes in ancient Egypt, Sumeria, and Mesopotamia were the way to know about God or gods.

Kesh-temple-hymn-tablet

Kesh Temple Hymn tablet

Today, one of the oldest known religious texts is the Kesh Temple Hymn from ancient Sumer which dates to around 2,600 BCE. Yet, other than Sumerian admonishments the hymn offers only glimpses and inference into their gods. The other oldest religious text — the Egyptian Pyramid Texts — was carved into the walls of the pyramids at Saqqarah and date to around ca. 2400–2300 BCE. However, these Egyptian texts do not reveal any specific ways to know the gods other than again by inference.

As a result of very very ancient oral traditions or storytelling, and very ancient cuneiform inferences, both from an area of the ancient world covering over 1.5 million sq. miles, how then do Christians today really know God? Are all of them experts in palaeography and epigraphy and their interpretations? Of course not. Do they speak regularly with those deceased Neolithic Sumerian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian storytellers, or ancient Hebrew, Arabian, or Greek orators? Of course not. It would be wise, therefore, to better understand what exactly it is and why Christians place so much unquestioning faith and belief in 1) a religion based on ancient storytelling, 2) widespread fluid (imprecise) cuneiform art, 3) a couple or three very small Hebrew tribes from the ancient Middle East, and followed by 4) more letters and stories about a man’s life and teachings recorded 60 to 110 years AFTER the actual events occurred in the 2nd century CE.

Fertile Crescent

The Fertile Crescent

Yet, despite this precarious framework of revelation, a great number of evangelical fundamental Christians would disagree with my above assessment. Why?
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Special Communion

They disagree because they and apparently 2.1 billion in the world proclaim that God CAN be known. They disagree because God has made Herself/Himself/Itself available to be communed with through two or more methods. If anyone can list and explain more than these two methods, please feel free to share in the comments below! Nevertheless, take a large enough sample of those 2.1 billion Christ-believers — similar to hearing a complete sentence on the trading-floor of the New York Stock Exchange during heavy screaming — and one can start to narrow the methods down. I will borrow from Theopedia.com to explain…

  • General Communion/Revelation – “Also known as Universal revelation, general revelation deals with how God can be understood through his creation. More specifically, this can be manifest in physical nature, human nature, and history.
  • Special Communion/Revelation – “is distinguished from general revelation in that it is direct revelation from God. Examples include God’s direct speech to various people (e.g., prophets; cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21), the incarnation (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2), and the Bible. Such revelation is sufficient to communicate the gospel, unlike general revelation, and thus salvation is possible only through special revelation.

Is General Communion/Revelation adequate to authenticate evidence of a God as Christians claim from Romans 1:19-20? The controversy over this religious tenet versus human reasoning (science?) started way before 2nd century CE Christianity and as early as the 7th century BCE in Mesopotamia by Assyrian and Babylonian astronomers.

Total-lunar-eclipse-moonThe lethal controversy was over the purpose or reason for lunar eclipses. The Assyrian-Babylonian priests believed that lunar eclipses were evil omens and vindictive restlessness of the gods directed against their kings. However, due to hundreds of centuries of recorded astronomical data, by the 1st century BCE Babylonian astronomers knew an upcoming lunar eclipse would happen on May 28th, 585 BCE at sunset. In fact, their mathematical calculations were accurate within a couple of minutes! The astronomers had calculated the 18 year and 11.3 day (223 synodic month) interval between lunar eclipses. This suggested that the eclipses had a natural (scientific) cause. If lunar eclipses were predictable, then the Babylonians could appoint a temporary king (likely through coercion) who would accept the horrible wrath of the gods, thus saving the real king from a death-omen.

The most famous controversy of church tenets versus human reasoning and mathematics was between Galileo Galilei (1564-1642 CE) and the second organized Christian church, the Roman Catholic Church. As most already know, Galileo was tried and convicted as a heretic by the church for his correct Heliocentric system of our solar system. It made no difference though, God’s Holy Church and Testaments infalleably ruled. It wasn’t until over 350 years after Galileo’s death that the church addressed their ‘mishap‘:

“… Pope John Paul II gave an address on behalf of the Catholic Church in which he admitted that errors had been made by the theological advisors in the case of Galileo. He declared the Galileo case closed, but he did not admit that the Church was wrong to convict Galileo on a charge of heresy …”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, October 1992

Therefore, given that the physical world has not and cannot be wholly described at a moment in time as monistic evidence, or substance monism/Neoplatonism, for evidence of God — i.e. one creation by one source during the sixth day of creation while new species are being discovered and others going extinct every decade or century — this leaves us with only Special Communion/Revelation to know God.

As stated by Theopedia and most Christian-believers, Special Communion/Revelation is their firm foundation for knowing and experiencing the Judeo-Christian God. This communion has three components:

  1. Direct speech – through past and present prophets carried by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
  2. The Incarnation – through the birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  3. Holy Bible – a communal collection of ancient writings breathed by God which comprise the sixty-six books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

For the sake of my reader’s time and mine, I will make brief comments on the first two special-revelation components which I hope will cause anyone to examine or reexamine their dubious implications. Following those comments we will finally delve into the origins and developments of the Christian Bible.

joshua-jerichoDirect speech
By popular definition prophets hear or sense the voice of God directly then obey. Innumerable documented examples reside both in ancient and modern history. About 1,550 BCE the prophet Joshua was told by God to go conquer the land and people across the Jordan River (Joshua 1:1-6), killing all the men, women, and children (Joshua 6:21). After Jericho was razed, on the further commands of God Joshua then razed the town of Ai, killing 12,000 men and women (Joshua 8:24-28). Genocide is not the only command by God either, mass suicide is also spoken by God to the more faithful zealous followers. At the fortress of Masada in 73 CE led by the apocalyptic prophet Eleazar ben Yair, though details are debateable, 960 Jewish revolutionaries committed suicide/murder for their God rather than endure enslavement by Rome.

Jones-Koresh

Jones (left) and Koresh

In modern history three iconic prophets also followed God’s direct speech for mass suicide of all their most faithful zealous followers. They do not need any elaboration here. They were Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana (Nov. 1978) of 918 followersnearly 300 were childrenMarshall Applewhite in Rancho Santa Fe, CA (March 1997) convincing 39 followers, and David Koresh in Waco, TX (April 1993) leading 85 followers — 22 of them children/teenagers — to their mass suicide/incineration.

In a 2007 co-authored article by Erich Follath (diplomatic journalist), Manfred Müller, Ulrich Schwarz (theologian), and Stefan Simons (Spiegel Online correspondent) entitled Following Divine Orders which focuses on the Age Old irresistible appeal of religiosity for fanatics, or rather those who are not moderate or “luke warm” about their beliefs:

“According to the three Abrahamic faiths, God only revealed the truth about Himself, humankind and the world to their respective religion; it is therefore recorded separately in their holy scriptures: the Hebrew Bible (the Torah, or Old Testament to Christians), the Christian New Testament and the Islamic Koran.

These [bibles] contain countless contradictions. Both the Koran and the Bible’s Old and New Testaments bear witness to a good and merciful God. They urge humans to live in peace and harmony. This is reflected most clearly in the instruction attributed to Jesus in the Hebrew Bible: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.

But these messages of brotherhood clash with sentiments that condone intolerance and violence: “For I came to set a son against his father, a daughter against her mother …“; “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me“; “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” The prophet Mohammed also delivered harsh threats from Allah: “Fear the fire prepared for the infidels.

Throughout history, the Abrahamic religions’ claim of absolute authority has exerted an irresistible appeal on fanatics, encouraging them to impose their own faith on nonbelievers and dissidents alike – if need be by using fire and the sword. To this day, nearly all religions supply the kindling that fuels wars and acts of persecution, sparks torture and murder, and inflames ethnic hatred. Examples abound: the bloody wars between Hindus and Muslims in India, or the enmity between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.

For centuries, it seemed that the Abrahamic religions had come to terms with – and discarded – extremism. In the case of Christianity, this dates back to the Enlightenment, when the symbiosis between church and state collapsed and a new system of ethics emerged – one that was independent of faith in God and derived solely from social consensus.”

Those above examples of ancient and modern direct divine revelation seriously beg the questions What exactly is the Holy Spirit and how is it (a prophet) accurately tested for authenticity? Anyone who wishes to answer these questions, good luck! I do NOT envy you. There are as many various definitions of the Holy Spirit/False Prophet debate by Christians as there are species and sub-species in the animal kingdom! It is truly unimaginable. Suffice it to say here that almost all Christ-believers, scholars and laypersons alike, ultimately and exclusively refer to their Bibles for definitive Holy Spirit or non-Holy Spirit answers. Naturally, that only leads to more questions. Therefore, “direct speech” is not a religious consensus to really knowing God.

Greek-soccer-fans

Greek soccer fans

It is worth mentioning, the fields of psychology, neurology, and sociology have many theoretical studies associating heightened religious behaviour due to Temporal lobe epilepsy and minor forms of schizophrenia, and sociologists have found that social God-constructs can persuade individuals into states of euphoria because of large numbers of people acting together in a strongly shared belief — crowd psychology. Huge sporting events are good examples of this phenomena. Extreme isolation can have similar effects of hyper-religiosity and paranormal hallucinations, sometimes negative.

The Incarnation
In theological terms, this is simply God in and as Jesus Christ; both God and man simultaneously. The first grave problem with this Christian doctrine is that it is based upon only “Christian-biased” historical sources and traditions riddled with inconsistencies. In other words, who and what Jesus of Nazareth was historically between 6-4 BCE and 30-36 CE, the generally agreed upon lifespan, cannot be verified with absolute certainty outside of the Christian Synoptic Gospels. Many Christian apologists vehemently claim that writings by Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus are non-Christian evidence for the historicity of Jesus. F. Josephus, however, was not completely unbiased about the new Jesus-Movement called The Way by Judean-Christians; he too was involved in 1st century CE Jewish Messianism as a Pharisee. Pliny and Tacitus were indeed Roman and non-Christian, but their very brief mentions are about Christians as a whole, rather than a biography about a specific person named Jesus.

Therefore, the best that Christian-believers can hope for regarding an actual verifiable incarnation of God through Jesus of Nazareth is by Christian scribes and followers 30-90 years after his death based on oral-storytelling traditions. That is the closest that honest scholarship can provide at this time, and beyond that is a question of individual faith within crowd psychology. This now leaves us only with the Bible… what the doctrines of Direct speech and The Incarnation frequently must reference anyway.
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The Canonical Bible

Many modern Christians are unaware of the origins, early development, and the 2nd and 3rd century CE controversies surrounding the final compilation of their Bibles. Some believers might even think their bible suddenly dropped out of heaven long long ago after God finished writing the 66 books, never thinking to ask “Why just 66 books? Why not 40 or 10 simple books?” And honestly, orthodoxed American society today, including many Christians, know very little of the ancient world of Jesus, the Levant, and the Fertile Crescent.

First_century_Iudaea_province

click here to enlarge

The birthplace of Jesus was Judea, the Jewish province ruled by Rome. Divided by intense religious factionalism, the people of Judea, as well as Galilee, Idumea, Nabatea, and Perea were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Messiah and God’s salvation. First century CE Romans would have encountered a large mix of traditions and philosophies in this world. The Hebrews had for many centuries suffered foreign invasions and been harshly buffeted by powerful external cultural forces. The most potent of these was Alexander the Great’s Greek civilization supported by several centuries of Hellenistic overlords in Egypt and Syria.

The Jews in these regions were divided over subjects ranging from the legitimacy of the priesthood to the acceptance of certain books into the Hebrew Canon. The Essenes rejected the priesthood entirely. Samaritans formulated their own unique doctrines. Various cadres of Jewish zealots pledged themselves to the expulsion of the Romans. Sadducees made up their prestige with the aristocratic clans making up the priesthood in Jerusalem and exclusive supervision of the Temple. They rejected the books of the Prophets and Writings and also became more ingratiated with Herod and Roman governors who eventually granted them local rule in the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees were more progressive than the Sadducees in that they not only accepted those books, but also believed in angels, demons, resurrection, and — like the Essenes and other groups — passionately in the coming of the Messiah, e.g. the Apostle Paul. The Pharisees also had grown a body of unrecorded commentary on Hebrew Scriptures and rulings by Jewish sages. This was intended to help Jews adapt the ancient Law of Moses to the circumstances of their own time.

Essentially, roots of the Christian New Testament began during this period of great Jewish disunity, alienation, isolation, and confusion before anything Christian was written down. Once Christ-followers began recording an anthology or testaments of Jesus’ parables, prophetic and wisdom teachings, and exhortations — by around 150 CE (over a century after Jesus’ death) — there was no less than 42 testaments or gospels for Christian teachings which were freely circulating as opposed to just 27-books in today’s New Testament. The formulation of the Hebrew Bible, i.e. the Old Testament, went through similar reconfigurations between 500 BCE and 70 CE, i.e. approximately 600 years!

Naturally, all this diversity and variety of who and what the Nazarene was caused more confusing fractures among outlying Christians and Judean-Christians for centuries! It is like trying to answer What is an American?” today in one single description from 324+ million citizens. To learn more about the various origins of Nazarene-Nasorean-Nasara, go here to my bibliography subpage: The Nasara Party.

map_Roman-Empire_14-117CE

1st & 2nd century Roman Empire

Authoritative or Not Authoritative? 
For over three and a half centuries (between 337 and 389 years!) after Jesus’ death, there existed no standardized written collection about Jesus’ ministry or precisely what he did or taught. Everything known about him (and not known) was by word-of-mouth across 2,000 sq. miles. What is more dubious and astounding is that what little there was written down about Jesus’ message was by a foreigner, a Hellenistic Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus who had never once met Jesus in the flesh, in person. No surprise, after Saul’s ‘paranormal conversion‘ to “The Way” on the road to Damascus, he fell into serious conflict with the Council of Jerusalem headed by Jesus’s next-in-line brother James, Peter, Cornelius, and other Judean-Christian leaders who had personally known Jesus quite well compared to Saul. Yet, today Pauline-Christianity (aka Saul) predominates the New Testament, seminaries, and modern churches. James Tabor, professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, writes about this heavy influence from a near total stranger to the Jerusalem leaders… and their and Jesus’ Neo-Jewish teachings. Tabor states:

The fundamental doctrinal tenets of Christianity, namely that Christ is God “born in the flesh,” that his sacrificial death atones for the sins of humankind, and that his resurrection from the dead guarantees eternal life to all who believe, can be traced back to Paul — not to Jesus…

In contrast, the original Christianity before Paul is somewhat difficult to find in the New Testament, since Paul’s 13 letters predominate and Paul heavily influences even our four Gospels. Fortunately, in the letter of James, attributed to the brother of Jesus, as well as in a collection of the sayings of Jesus now embedded in the Gospel of Luke (the source scholars call Q), we can still get a glimpse of the original teachings of Jesus…

What we have preserved in this precious document is a reflection of the original apocalyptic proclamation of Jesus: the “Gospel of the kingdom of God” with its political and social implications.
Christianity Before Paul, The Huffington Post, November 2012 cited Aug. 16, 2016 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-d-tabor/christianity-before-paul_b_2200409.html

With this and other additional alternative extant evidence, one has to ask “What formula was used some 300-years later to configure and reconfigure the vast oral and written testaments/gospels of Jesus?” Hitherto is a list of the most significant testaments/gospels about Jesus of/the Nazareth/Nazarene out of approx. 130 known writings not present in the New Testament today:

Non-Canonical Writings (Incomplete)

For a more complete list of the many known writings of Jesus and his earliest followers, go to the NNU Wesley Center’s page of Non-Canonical Literature.

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Apostolic Fathers and the Canon Formula

Signs that much of these various Jesus-literatures had been accepted as authoritative by church leaders and early Christian congregations as early as the 1st and 2nd centuries CE appear in the letters of the Apostolic Fathers. During these centuries of the new upcoming churches, no official creed or universally accepted liturgy existed. In the following paragraphs, notice the similarities from the first churches to modern-day Christian churches.

The biggest and most heated controversy was a newer version of an old Jewish sectarian problem:  Are the Hebrew Laws, Prophets, and Writings above, below, or void in light of Paul’s Hellenistic teachings — deeds or faith? Another ongoing spinoff debate was the Gnostic challenge:  There are two dualistic worlds and two Gods, and there was no Incarnation, explained as follows:

  • The World of Darkness was created by an inferior God, the Hebrew God, and so the Hebrew scriptures were rejected or severely de-emphasized.
  • Material aspects of this Dark World, including the human body, were burdens that humanity was forced to endure by the Hebrew God.
  • The World of Light and Knowledge was ruled by a Supreme Being. Salvation was possible only through gnosis of this divine world and the Supreme Being’s mysteries, but salvation was available only to some, not all. Some Gnostics had a three-tiered class system too.
  • There was No Incarnation because he was not the Son of the inferior Hebrew God, nor did he become a man, suffer human pain, or die on a cross. Resurrection was merely a spiritual linking of the soul with the World of Light and had nothing to do with a human body.

Because Pauline Orthodoxy had the support of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, and their power and influences of those churches and bishops, by the 4th century CE the Gnostics would quickly be labelled heretics and harshly hunted down and most all their holy literature burned. With the four strongest episcopal sees in the Roman Empire, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Hermas, and their colleagues along with their heavy power and influence… the weaker episcopal sees around the Empire and the remaining Jewish-Christians in and around Jerusalem simply could not stand up to the might of Hellenistic Constantinian Rome.
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Victors and Emperors Always Make the “Authoritative” Laws and Histories

Walter Benjamin posited that “History is written by the victors.” Historical records of major social, national, economic, ethnic, or religious upheavals and cleansings bear this philosophy out to some/large degrees. And so with his maternal-influenced-miracle-based sanction of the “official” Christianity, Emperor Constantine not only led the Roman Empire, but was also Head (Pope?) of the Church. He called for unity as a whole within the Church and agreement on its scriptures. Easier said than done inside one of history’s largest empires.

There were no less than seven failed attempts to form an official universal Bible. On the eighth failed attempt by Eusebius of Caesarea at the request of Emperor Constantine, Eusebius’ rejection of the popular Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Matthias; the Acts of Andrew, of Paul and of John; the Shepard of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas; the Didache, 1 and 2 Clement; and the Apocalypse of Peter… got his configuration rejected (see Table of Canonical Debate below). His reasons for classifying certain texts as questionable or spurious had revealed the basic formula for inclusion. Probably more important for him was a writing’s perceived apostolic authorship, though its antiquity and orthodoxy were also of significant consequence. Study closely the following table…

Table Canonical Debate

Athanasius of Alexandria wrote his Easter letter to the churches and monasteries in his diocese identifying the books they were to include in the testaments. Athanasius was one of the more flamboyant patriarchs. He was exiled from his pentarchy five times leading back to the Council of Nicaea due to his unyielding defense and decisions to compromise with other Roman patriarchs (which at times included Eusebius) over controversial points of Christian doctrine. His canon had been later confirmed by the church in Rome in 405 CE, in 393 at Hippo Regius in North Africa, and in Carthage twice, in 397 and then again after the growing Gnostic churches in 419 CE in reaction to the intensifying debate regarding James, Jude, and Hebrews. The Syrians used the Diatessaron as their canon for another 50-years. The Ethiopian church continues to this day to recognize a book of Clement and several other non-canonical books of liturgy. Though the various pentarchy churches had made ground toward unity, it is important to know they were never in absolute agreement on the New Testament canon and Christian doctrines.

Notice from the above Table how even the seven Patriarchs, who were themselves understudies to the Apostolic Fathers, after 300 years still did NOT completely agree on what God’s Son, the Messiah, and the new and old messages was suppose to mean to all people. Yet Constantine, his bishops, and propraetors had to have orthodoxy — a long standing Greco-Roman political tradition.

It wasn’t until around 400-419 CE and centuries of compromise and more compromise that the final configuration of the Christian New Testament was officially closed — closed by the declaration of the Emperor, put into law, and enforced by the torches and swords of his Roman Legions. For a God who is proclaimed as omnipotent, omniscient, and infallible, and whose traits are “proven” in the special revelations of the Canonical Bible, raises the glaring question:

Why was there three centuries of confusion, fracturing, and compromise among its early most prolific theologians… and even still to this day!?

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For Jews and Christians alike, study of the Scriptures has often been an end to itself — a simple act of devotion — rather than an exercise in absolute truth. These peaceful moderates likely realize today that human interpretation, interpolation, and orthodoxy (individual or group) cannot create an inerrant testimony of the nature of a God, nor of the full nature and teachings of a Jew named Jesus based from ancient oral traditions and differing literature spread over multiple centuries… or from differing regional cultures over 2,000 sq. miles. From an early date, believers then also began to scrutinize the Bible for what it had to say to their own generation and community along with their prolific leaders. Exegesis back then was done for purposes of preaching, pastoral care, formulating codes of behavior, and finding answers to theological and ethical questions not explicitly addressed by the texts.

As it happens today, inevitably back in Antiquity, disagreements arose — over importance of texts, their relative authority to the community, how to account for known inconsistencies and contradictions, and how to explain confusing biblical stories. Like our dear family friend in the kitchen at the beginning, both sides of the debates were probably saying to each other, “Your posture is all merely philosophy and theory.” But orthodoxy nonetheless developed, often based on a pseudo-definite set of human-like rules or patterns regarding multiple meanings and levels of meaning. To imagine there to be just one universal way, one universal lifestyle, one universal truth (e.g. John 14:6), one universal orthodoxy extracted from these millenia of “divine revelations” then and now… is not only an attempt to force a square peg into a round hole, but it is a blatant denial and/or ignorance of historical facts, wide-ranging scholarly critical thinking, reasoning, and probability, and/or a lack of deeper persistent curiosity.
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Or it could be only tunnel-vision “faith.” Right? (wink)

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

Blog-posts for additional information:

Constantine: Christianity’s True Catalyst/Christ
The Suffering Messiah That Wasn’t Jesus
Correcting the Gospels of Jesus
Masada, Texas: How Egos and History Repeat
The “Holy” River

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Constantine: Christianity’s True Catalyst/Christ

The time is 283 CE and Roman Emperor Carus, having defeated the Germanic tribes in Gaul (France & Germany) and the Sarmatians (southern Russia & Ukraine) turns his legions eastward to meet the constant and growing threat of the Persian Empire.  Emperor Carus’ predecessors had seen Rome’s borders crumbling under constant invasion from barbarian forces, while Rome’s corrupt politicians ate away at the empire’s civil infrastructure.  Upon his departure Marcus Numerius Carus left his eldest son Carinus in Rome to manage the western part of the empire, while taking his next son Numerian with him to the east.  A few months later Emperor Carus dies, marking the end of a barely whole and united Rome for more than half a century.  From a social and political standpoint, Rome needed an enormous MIRACLE to have any hope of returning to her former power and glory.  Enter Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus.

Emperor Constantine I

Since 286 CE there were no less than nine power-hungry men vying for the Roman throne, including Constantine.  The empire was already split in half and always on the brink of further fragmentation.  Assassinations of emperor’s were practically a yearly event or threat.  In the West, Constantine commanded the largest Roman army successfully keeping the barbarian hordes in check.  His next adversary was his old nemesis in the eastern empire, Galerius.  The doubts and questions of Constantine’s noble legitimacy to rule haunted him all of his military-political career, fueled by Galerius and other ambitious royalty.  As a result, Constantine had to repeatedly ride the coat-tails of his father to secure his climb towards Caesar Augustus, the official title of Emperor.  Once his father was deceased, Constantine’s future was anything but certain…unless he captured the hearts of the masses.

Taking a brief step back in time to early 2nd century CE and the Roman province of Bithynia in modern-day Turkey, how did a small floundering Jewish reform movement turn into one of the world’s largest religions today?  The simple answer:  Four historical events and Constantine’s recognition of the greatest political opportunity.

The first event is Pliny the Younger being appointed new governor of Bithynia by Emperor Trajan.  While they are cleaning up the mismanagement of funds, Pliny is presented with a nagging yet intriguing civil problem.  His guards bring to him a ragged non-violent group of Jesus-followers who irritate their neighbors.  Their complaint to Pliny is that the Roman temples are empty because these Christians refuse to pay homage to the gods or to the emperor.  By law this belligerence makes it a criminal matter.  Pliny is in an unheard of quandary so he writes about it to Emperor Trajan in Rome.  In his letter he writes that after his interrogation, “I discovered nothing more than an innocuous superstition.  They take an oath, but not an oath to do anything bad, rather an oath only to be good. Not to defraud people. Not to do anything evil.”  For Pliny’s complete letter to Trajan about this matter, click here.  How Emperor Trajan and Pliny handle this civil problem is critical because it will set a precedent in the future for the rest of the empire.  Trajan recognizes this and so commands Pliny, “Sounds suitable to me, but don’t go out looking for these Christians, and if you get some anonymous charges against people don’t take that too seriously. We don’t want to set any bad precedents here.”  At this period in the Roman empire “Christian” problems are isolated and insignificant.  The provincial governors treat them as the typical squabbling among Jews about their one God; imperial law does not restrict or condemn the plethora of religions and their sub-sets within her vast borders.  However, for the sake of civil peace, governors must punish them as criminals, some to be executed as examples, when the belligerence reaches large numbers.  What is critical to recognize here is what Pliny stated indirectly to Trajan: these “Christians” serve a sort of social welfare system for their own that the Roman treasury and soldiers would otherwise have to resolve.

The second historical event is the increasing number of martyrs from the new reformed Jewish faith turned Greek by public orators such as Saul of Tarsus, aka the Apostle Paul, and their Gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) followers.  For centuries Judaism is itself a sectarian religion of many off-shoots.  Saul’s version follows this historical tradition.  Constantine, finding himself very much the new reformer, needs only to look back about 60 years to Emperor Decius’ failed solution and those emperors who followed him to realize that persecuting and making martyrs of  popular religious and civil groups backfires.  History has shown time and time again that when you have a crumbling and corrupt system of rule, those citizens without basic needs and rights WILL rise up and revolt against those rulers and aristocracy with power and wealth!  The Principate Era of the Roman Empire (44 BCE – 305 CE) was no different.

There are too many martyrs around the world in history to name them all.  Yet a perfect example of this is our own Martin Luther King, Jr., during our 1960’s civil-rights movement.  Ironically, what has now happened to the name and image of Reverend King since his death?  Martyrdom is one of the surest ways to inject anti-establishment courage into the masses.  The important point to remember here is that leading up to Constantine’s rise to power, there had been no sure method to lower the civil unrest, the constant battering on all frontiers by invading armies, spiraling inflation, and internal governmental instability from Rome down to all the distant provinces…except perhaps one.

The third event becomes Constantine’s imperial endorsement of the new faith as Rome’s official religion.  What the average proclaimed Christian today does not know about their own faith is the widely variant stories and teachings of their own martyr Jesus of Nazareth.  Surprisingly or not, during the lives of the first  twelve followers to the next generations, the meanings and purpose of Jesus’ teachings were hotly debated!  Twenty or thirty years after Paul’s death, pockets of early Christians — primarily throughout North Africa and southern Palestine — had a vastly different version of Jesus-reforms than what Christians to the north in modern-day Turkey taught about their Saviour’s message.  By the time Constantine is near a position to seize complete control of both the Western Empire and Eastern Empire, Christians are fighting other Christians over doctrine.  There existed no less than forty-five gospels of Jesus circulating throughout the empire.  Biblical historians categorize them as the Synoptic Gospels, the Apocryphal Gospels, the Non-canonical Gospels, the Jewish Gospels, and the Gnostic Gospels.

There is little difference in these heated debates in 3rd and 4th century Roman politics, than there are now in American social-political ideological debates.  It is important to note here that within the context of Rome’s 4th century rebirth hanging in the balance, Constantine has a vision but does not know how to interpret it.  He consults a nearby bishop who from his own subjective experience tells him that based on the testaments and interpretations of Jesus’ meaning and purpose he adheres, Constantine’s vision is “remarkably identical” to King David’s rise to power and rule of Israel.  This bishop convinces Constantine that he alone is like Christianity’s and Rome’s redemptive savior.  This persona fits very nicely into Rome’s long history of divine Emperors.  A new righteous Holy Roman Empire lies waiting to start and with imperial/federal funding, bishops also seize the opportunity to wipeout their own religious adversaries in the empire’s southern provinces, (modern-day Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) as well as those ‘ungodly followers‘ of Jesus’ blood-brother James in and around Jerusalem; i.e. Jewish Christians.

Here begins the empire-wide Christianization, or more accurately Constanti-nization of Roman culture that eventually fathers if you will, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church.  Prior to these uniquely connected events, what was once simply a small Jewish reform movement begun by a prolific teacher (e.g. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Buddha, Mohammed, et al) would have likely faded into obscurity.  But such was the power, wealth, symbol and influence of the Roman Empire likened to such empires as Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan.  The endorsement of such empires to a religious or social reform movement essentially guarantees its life forever…or until at least the next reform.  One lesson here remains true:  History (or perhaps truth?) is always written by the victors.

The fourth and last event that shot Christianity to a global religion was the wide appeal of a new socialism under centuries of Roman oppression.  As a strict hierarchical and patriarchal system with the emperor at the very top of the pyramid…for the impoverished, low-class citizens, blessings and the good-life never made it all the way down to them.  In these early Christian communities, we see a social class that invites you into equality.   We see the lowliest lifted to status and dignity, the hungry know where to be fed, the sick know where to have hands layed on them to be healed, and the widowed know where to go to be cared for without having to go into prostitution.  What has developed within the empire is a welfare institution on the local and providential levels.  It is impossible to attribute the success of Christianity solely to its spiritual message; it is undeniably a well-planned community welfare system.  In no other time in Rome’s long history has its common population been offered a profound sense of belonging.

With Constantine’s imperial backing of the new Greek-Jesus movement, with the extermination of the Roman Church’s biggest threats to solidarity (the Gnostic Christians), another ingredient put Christianity firmly on the road to total dominance.  Roman aristocracy was slowly disappearing and the social landscape among the major Roman cities saw massive influxes of immigrants.  On top of this, plagues and famine were rampant throughout 2nd and 3rd century Roman life.  Modern demographers report that if there is a survival rate of only one tenth among one segment of the population than another segment when a massive die off occurs, then in a very short time a group that was once a minority can ‘miraculously’ become the majority.  Here is a big part of what had happened with Christian Roman populations, particularly in the major cities.

Finally, without the growing translations of the Jewish Bible into the Greek language, without the Jewish Diaspora synagogues sprinkled all over the Mediterranean coastline, Christianity would NOT have spread so vastly.  Christianity and the idea of Jewish Israel is inseparable.  It is by the lifelines of these Diaspora synagogues that Christianity flourishes.  Most of Christianity’s concepts of one God as Creator, the Kingdom of God, righteousness and blessings from God are given through Israel and her social system, all come from a long-established Judaic Diaspora all over the Roman world.  Socially and theologically Christianity does not distinguish itself from Judaism.  In fact, it never can because it must lay claim to Judaism’s even longer established Messianic traditions and Jesus’ legitimacy to the House of King David — exactly like Roman emperors have always had to do.  These events are not ‘miraculous‘, they are not a one-in-a-million chance, they are simply historical sociopolitical traditions of Rome and Judaism later hyper-illustrated by opportunistic leaders manipulating stories and systems to sustain their own social status and lifestyle in the face of civil and imperial collapse.  This is not an imaginative attack.  It is simply well-documented academic Roman and Judaic history.

The Original Jesus Message and Purpose Lost?

The might and extent of Roman social and political influence on western civilization cannot be over emphasized.  When that influence is accurately understood, then it is not much of a stretch to conclude that the centuries of Rome’s ruling philosophy shaped Christianity’s last religious doctrines and more importantly, its theology.

Today, two forms of Roman imperial governing are commonly unknown by conservative Christian fundamentalist; this certainly includes Tea Party members and advocates.  They are this:  1) Homeland municipal and provincial governing methods and principles — i.e. the Italian peninsula and bordering provinces, and 2) Foreign municipal and provincial government methods and principles.  To assume that these two different Roman civil policies were identical or similar, is a practice in ignorance.  To assume those Roman policies did not play a significant role in 325 CE at the Council of Nicaea and formulation of a unified single-minded Christian Church headquartered in Rome, is a practice in denial.  One need only ask, where is one of the world’s largest Christian denominations located, and how did it reach so vast a population?  The answer is NOT a purely “divine” one in today’s definition.  The answer is found in the context of 4th century Roman civil policy and reform by Constantine and his Holy Roman court of bishops.

Roman homeland civil policy essentially is intolerable of foreign social policies.  It segregated, centralized, and excluded contrary to the original rising Jesus-reform movement.  If those foreign policies do indeed have elements beneficial to the Empire and its interests, then they were modified and incorporated, BUT with traditional Greco-Roman flavors; more to the point, inserting the typical traditional man-to-god mythology.  This Roman hijacking resembles foundationally little of the original Jewish Messianic traditions of which Jesus of Nazareth is inexplicably teaching from, and gives his life to reform!  However, to Constantine and his holy bishops, this removal and transformation of Jewish Messianic tradition has no relevance to their Greco-Roman agenda.  They must save the crumbling empire!

This Greco-Roman agenda I feel needs more explanation, however, due to the length of this post I may write another separate post covering the Roman hijacking of a Jewish-reform movement.

[Posted May 11, 2011:  The Suffering Messiah That Wasn’t Jesus…is further elaboration on Jesus’ lost Jewish Messianic roots]

One cannot help but seriously wonder, that if the prolific reformer Jesus of Nazareth returned to this earth to check his movement’s accomplishments, his first shocking question would be “What has happened to the Jewish welfare and social reforms I taught and died for?”  One honest answer would be that it got lost, transformed, modified into a Greek-Roman facsimile, that followed a long-established civil and imperial method of Roman centralized control and management necessary to protect and sustain the Empire’s interests.  Today, all Christian denominations and off-shoots were fathered by the Vatican…and in turn fathered by Constantine.  The whereabouts of the original martyr Jesus of Nazareth and his true message got buried under the Roman machine not only in 66-70 and again in 132-135 CE, but almost forever at the Council of Nicaea….ALMOST.

If you would like to read further on this period of early Christianity and Rome’s major influence to its success, I recommend this website with its acclaimed scholars and supporting bibliographies:

From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians by PBS television’s Frontline

For an excellent additional expansion on the post-325 CE Christian church (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church) and how institutionalized religion becomes fear-based totalitarianism, I highly recommend Carol Leigh Rice’s article Origins of Totalitarianism – The Cathars and the Catholic Church.  Her article modernizes what Constantine began.

Addendum March 3, 2015 — Unfortunately Carol Leigh Rice’s superb article is temporarily down as she is moving to a new host-domain. She promises me that when it is all back up, I’ll be one of the first to know and of course I’ll pass it on here. Apologies.

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