Saul the Apostate — Part I

Medical doctors and neurologists today call it a Simple Focal Seizure or Focal Seizure without loss of consciousness. The World Health Organization states approximately 50-million people worldwide have one of the many forms of epilepsy. It is the most common neurological disease on the planet and has been since it was first recognized in about 4500 BCE by ancient Indian Vedic medicine described as ‘apasmara’ which means ‘loss of consciousness’. Here is what a brief Simple Focal Seizure looks like from the epileptic’s viewpoint:

On exhibit in the British Museum in London are Babylonian tablets that detail accounts of epilepsy (over 40 tablets total) of Babylonian medicine going back as far as 1067 BCE. It records many of the various forms of epilepsy we recognize today. Depending on the ancient culture, these seizures were regarded either as divine visions and revelations from god(s) or from demonic/evil possessions. In the ancient world this condition was widely known as the Sacred Disease or Holy Disease for its bizarre supernatural spectacle of manifestations from its victims. Throughout most of history we have account after account after account, in all cultures and places on Earth, of people, often labeled Mystics, with the exact same symptoms and behaviors of any one of the forms of epilepsy. Benedetta Carlini (1591–1661) a Catholic nun, the Norwegian Wise-Knut (1792–1876), and many modern accounts dating from the 18th and 19th centuries to the present day. NPR’s show All Things Considered did a series on the Sacred Disease reporting that based now on modern neurology asks the question Are Spiritual Encounters All In Your Head?

What is becoming more clear is that epileptic divine hallucinations were simply a commonplace neurological disorder in the Late-Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age and still occurs today around the world. They all stem from various causes (traumas?) in the (diseased? malformed?) temporal lobes of the human brain called TLE.

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With the above video in mind, we read in Acts 9:3-9:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Paul clearly shrank from his Judaic duties in the present Earthly life for defeat to it, to the pleasures and “evils” of which he begged relief. This state of mind and physical disease is preserved in The Acts of Paul and Thecla:

“A man of moderate stature, with crisp [scanty] hair, crooked legs, blue eyes, large knit brows, and long nose, at times looking like a man, at times like an angel, Paul came forward and preached to the men of Iconium: ‘Blessed are they that keep themselves chaste [unmarried]; for they shall be called the temple of God. Blessed are they that mortify their bodies and souls; for unto them speaketh God. Blessed are they that despise the world; for they shall be pleasing to God. Blessed be the souls and bodies of virgins; for they shall receive the reward of their chastity.'”

From his letters to the Galatians and Corinthians we can glean that untreated these “visions” persisted throughout his life. What is generally unknown about Saul of Tarsus and must not be ignored when considering his “new mystical Covenant” are his familial and cultural background and education. Many modern Christians do not fully realize that Saul never met Jesus face-to-face. He never spoke with Jesus in person outside of his own epileptic seizures.

Saul the Hellenist, Not Rabbinical-Israelite Scholar
Hellenism

Fatalism & cynicism – hallmarks of Hellenic philosophy

Saul was born of Jewish parents in the Roman Province of Cilicia in its capital Tarsus. Since 333 BCE with Alexander the Great’s conquest of Anatolia, Cilicia became deeply absorbed in Greek culture. By the early 1st-century CE the province was heavily Hellenistic. In Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:5, assuming these verses are genuinely Saul’s/Paul’s words, nowhere in Jewish Rabbinical history is there a tribal list or ancestry of Benjamin in existence at that time, not even rumors. Though it is claimed in Acts 22:3 that his rabbinic studies were under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, none of his ascribed writings and arguments in the Christian New Testament are Gamaliel or rabbinic in nature. However, with regard to his education and exposure in the Hillel school, Saul/Paul would have learned classic Hellenistic literature, ethics, and philosophy (Stoicism) and these influences do indeed reveal themselves in all his ascribed letters, especially from the Hellenistic Book of Wisdom and other Apocrypha, as well as Philo of Alexandria who is the father of harmonizing Greek philosophy with the Jewish Torah; both are transparent in Saul’s writings. And Saul’s infatuation with mysteries and the Spirit of God through tongues, supernatural powers, sacraments, and fatalism can be directly traced to the Gnostic lore of Alexandria and the Corpus Hermeticum, specifically the Poimandres.

The shocking point here to be understood in correlation to his ascribed epistles in the New Testament is that Saul (the Apostle Paul) was a Greco-Roman educated epileptic, not a rabbinical Jew from the tribe of Benjamin.

Earliest Animosity for Jews

Perhaps it is not coincidental that some of the earliest recorded accounts of anti-Semitism began in Alexandria, Egypt in 270 BCE by the Ptolemaic Egyptian priest Manetho. Another was an edict issued by Antiochus Epiphanes that was so harsh it began the uprisings in Judea (170–167 BCE) then led to the Maccabean Revolt of 167–160 BCE. Philo of Alexandria recorded in his Against Flaccus that in 38 CE in Alexandria thousands of Jews were massacred probably and partly because they were seen as misanthropes. When Rome conquered and occupied Syro-Palestine, Jewish dissent and rebellions were practically a weekly/monthly problem for all the Roman Emperors and Provincial Governors. This irritation and news traveled fast throughout the eastern empire and back to Rome through all ports and trade routes including southern Cilicia.

Today all Rabbinical and Jewish scholars agree that Saul’s/Paul’s conception of life was not the least bit Jewish. It was much more Hellenistic with theosophical (Gnostic) undertones. And by all extant accounts of Saul’s writings he never aligned with doctrines of any 1st-century CE rabbinical schools. Saul was what we might call today a religious entrepreneur and product of his Hellenistic culture and education.

Jesus and His Sectarian Judaism

If you want a full and accurate understanding of the wider historical context of 1st-century Judaism/Messianism — in which Jesus was born into and for several eschatological reasons became a significant historical figure — you are not going to obtain it from the four Gospels. To gain that broader more precise picture of Jesus’ world (and Saul’s/Paul’s later) we must go outside the canonical New Testament. A number of historical developments contribute to just how divided, how polarized the various Hebrew sects had become and why, while subjugated under the rule and law of the Ptolemies (Egypt), Seleucids (Syrian), and finally Imperial Rome. Many military analyst/historians say Sectarianism was the biggest reason why the Jews lost the wars (66-70 CE to Rome) against these enemies; they were too divided about how to achieve God’s Israelite Kingdom on Earth and what their many ambiguous Messianic claimants should be and not be. Much worse for the Hebrews, it was never a black-or-white argument. Jesus (then Saul/Paul) only further complicated the turmoil. Dr. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Professor of Jewish Studies at New York University and an expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Judaism in Late Antiquity, History of Jewish Law, and Talmudic literature, summarizes:

The issue was never whether or not to reject outside influence. The question was rather whether to assimilate some elements not considered harmful or to allow the wholesale entry of foreign elements into the way of life of the Jews. Those seeking exclusive worship of God in both the biblical and Hellenistic periods felt that adoption of foreign elements without restriction was nothing more than apostasy and the abandonment of Judaism. Others, against whom our sources so often polemicize, disagreed.

Philo_Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria

After four major defeats and exiles, it was a constant struggle and identity crisis for Israel against change (how to avoid it) and for survival; a nagging fear of increasing dilution (Diaspora) into complete obscurity and non-existence. In a nutshell, this was Second Temple Judaism, Messianism, and Sectarianism.

Most are familiar with the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They were quite embroiled in Hasmonean provincial politics. But by comparison there was another major Jewish sect called the Essenes, sometimes considered a branch of the Pharisees, who were much more ascetic, holy, and followed Levitical purity to the letter. Their rigid intensity to this simple piety often put them at odds with Greco-Roman culture, but more so the Pharisees who the Essenes saw as too lax and had allowed Hellenistic behaviors and philosophy to corrupt long-held Mosaic Laws. Among the Essenes many virtues that Pliny, Josephus, and Philo, among others, mention is their love for all of humanity, including enemies. Other minor Jewish sects were the Samaritans, Ebionites, Falashas, Dosetai, and others. It is Philo of Alexandria that demarcates a variation of Essenes called the Therapeutaeor ‘contemplative Essenes’ in his De Vita Contemplativa. This is what makes late Second Temple Judaism/Messianism so unique, an anomaly, and consequentially ignored by Western civilization and especially modern Christianity.

Aside from the amalgamate legends surrounding Jesus’ birth and his erroneous ancestry, one of the two most paramount characteristics overlooked or missed by Christian scholars, seminaries, and apologists was Jesus’ quasi-sectarianism and his Haggadah practices. Underneath the intentional obscuring or naïvety of Jesus’ Judaism in the canonical Gospels — in particular his Essenism (“The Way”), pseudo-Pharisaic, Ebionite, Nazarean/Nasorean, and Haggadah teachings and practices — emerges an outspoken Galilean man of the people, but oddly not of the Hasmoneans, Samaritans, or any Roman aristocracy. Jesus did not care for all humanity, particularly Samaritans (Matthew 10:5-6), if we are to believe the Gospels as reliable and not tampered with. This was in no way Saul’s Christ. And Saul cannot possibly comprehend any of these complex characteristics of Jesus simply from epileptic seizures nor from his background.

In Intro to Part II of Saul the Apostate I will set the table for how Saul’s/Paul’s mysticism thoroughly distorts Jesus’ teachings and intentions for Israel’s Kingdom of God that comes later in Part II, how he further widens the growing gulf between Judaism and Hellenism and ultimately with Rome, how his gnosis revives Persian dualism in his Christology, or Neo-Zoroastrianism if you like, and also later in Part II or Part III finally how he enamored the Hellenist Gentiles to his new-fangled “die in order to live” spiritual mysticism perceived during his epileptic seizures.

Meanwhile, please feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, or questions below about the epileptic Apostate named Saul.

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The Incarnation of G-Man

A quick exercise. I want you to list all the iconic, famous, notable people of which you are aware that mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again or found. Take a minute to think long and hard. How many can you list?

Amelia Earhart is one that first comes to mind for me. The famous pilot and her Lockheed 10-E Electra disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937. Jimmy Hoffa is another well-known American Teamster who disappeared in July 1975. Glenn Miller, the famous big-band musician and composer, disappeared over the English Channel in 1944 and Michael Rockefeller, the 4th generation member of the famous American aristocrats the Rockefellers, disappeared in 1961.

What about young children that are still missing? How many famous cases and names of children can you list? According to ListVerse.com here are 10 Cases of Missing Children. Why did those ten children make ListVerse.com’s list or why did Earhart, Hoffa, Miller, and Rockefeller have their disappearances make regional or worldwide news? Answer this:  Why is it such an extraordinary news-event that these adults and children vanished? What’s the big deal? Was there something about those people who made their vanishing so dramatic? Was there controversy, wealth, or status surrounding those missing people? Is one of them anymore important than the other?

I want you to remember your answers to those questions as you continue reading. What if there had been a group of forecasters that weeks, months, years prior to all these vanishing adults and children said Sound the alarms! Person A, person B, child A, and child B will vanish for a long time or forever! And those forecasters (psychics?) explained how they would vanish. Would their foretelling make the disappearances more astounding?

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No matter how many notable or controversial missing persons and children you can list, none of them will EVER matchup in fame or value to the one 12-year old boy I’m about to describe. No, correction. I am not the one who described him. The most famous book around the world — according to millions and billions of people past and present — will describe this one phenomenal 12-year old boy. Here is an introduction of this “boy” by Robert Deffinbaugh:

“There is nothing in fact or in fiction in the history of man which matches the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Humanly speaking, no one anticipated God’s intervention into human history by the birth of a child, born in a manger. Not even Judaism was looking for Messiah to come in this way. Furthermore, we have become so accustomed to the biblical narratives of the birth of our Lord and the credal formulations of the doctrines involved that we have often ceased to appreciate the mystery of the incarnation.

If we are to properly appreciate the mystery of the incarnation, we must first come to recognize the importance of the coming of our Lord as God incarnate.”
Robert Deffinbaugh, Th.M.- Dallas Theological Seminary and Bible.org

Indeed, “nothing that matches“. Nothing ever has and ever will match him… for the rest of time. A pretty lofty, magnanimous Earth-shattering claim, huh? And Mr. Deffinbaugh certainly isn’t the only minister or man-of-the-cloth or congregation member to make such a claim. Some 2.2 billion professed Christians knowingly or unknowingly profess it as well. God incarnate is well-known, well-established, and fully understood, which makes it obviously true! Yes?

“In Christian doctrine the Incarnation, briefly stated, is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man. It is one of the greatest events to occur in the history of the universe. It is without parallel.”
Lehman Strauss, Philadelphia Bible Institute and Bible.org

Hebrew propheciesOne method 4th – 5th century CE Church Fathers used and now modern Christians and their apologists utilize to show doubters the divine will of their God and remarkable boy-Savior, are the “fulfillments” of many Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. According to these Fathers and subsequent preachers, bishops, cardinals, and ministers these passages that were spoken, taught, and scribed on papyrus centuries before Jesus’ birth plainly reveal Jesus as the coming Jewish Messiah. This simultaneously gives the biblical Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament their divine, unmatched inerrancy and infallibility for Christendom. The game-changer!

I want to take a closer look at these prophecies and subsequent meanings.

Taxonomies of Messianic Prophecies

There are four types of Messianic-Christian prophecies:  1) Birth, 2) Ministry, 3) Betrayal, and 4) Death. It must be noted that some of these four types are actual historical events that transpired before the Old Testament book and passages were written. However, these a posteriori issues are not the critical topics of my post and should be addressed another time in another blog-post. For now what is necessary to understand is how 50 – 400 predictions, the number,  came true and the miraculous impact of these Old Testament passages support/prove to the faithful Christian divine, incomprehensible odds of coming true when they were written and/or taught some 6 to 7 centuries before Jesus was born; the miraculous part. Most all radical Christians who immediately embrace past and present paranormal phenomena, will unequivocally admit that what the Bible says about Jesus’ nativity and the events surrounding his foretold birth are literally true. No ifs, ands, or buts. But for the sake of time, let’s consider just the popular birth prophecies.

Messianic Birth Prophecies — The most well-known, due to the widespread Roman Catholic Churches built between the late 5th-century to 16th-century, are these two about the virgin birth in Bethlehem:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”Isaiah 7:14

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”Micah 5:2

There are at least 12 more mainstream, supposed Messianic passages Christian apologists assert prove the phenomenal divine intervention through Jesus’ family, local events, his birth, and his time on Earth (click here if interested). The early Church Fathers, and all later Christian apologists today say this divine intervention by God was predicted some 6 to 7 centuries before Jesus. Christians claim today there are hundreds more passages proving Jesus’ mega-exclusive, spectacular arrival on Earth, not as a simple man, but as God’s one-and-only Son. I am not going to address every single one. Scrutinizing every single one would take months. The 12 passages I linked to above suffice.

Though I will not examine all 50 – 400 of the remaining Messianic passages of Jesus’ adult ministry, betrayal, and crucifixion — they do not apply right now to the subject of ancestry, birthplace, and his first 12-years — it is nevertheless hard for Christians not to be conscious of them when the Synoptic Gospels are not placed in chronological order. Further complicating this matter, the four Gospels focus most of their narrations on Jesus’ final four-ish years, from 29 to 32/33 years of age. Hence, with all the decades of a posteriori hindsight, it is quite awkward for the modern Christian to not envision Jesus more than just a regular boy, a sinful boy from the seed of Adam. The diversion seems to be his last 3-4 years. On the other hand, with all the hoopla of his Messianic birth, he is not just a common boy. He is “the One” from the Holy Father who embodies never-before-seen or heard… non-human abilities! Let’s add more hoop-lah. Enter the three Kings/Magi and the sensational celestial event over Bethlehem. How is all of this convergence possible?

Nativity sceneThere are three or four plausible explanations for what the “star” might have been, but mathematically none of them would’ve happened around the approximate time of Jesus’ birth and Herod’s final two years of ruling. Hubert J. Bernhard, educator and lecturer at San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium, composed a 4-part series of record LP’s called “The Planetarium Lecture Series.” One of the episodes in his series addresses the Star of Bethlehem. Bernhard, along with many Christian apologists over the last two millenia, explained the events this way:

“If you accept the story told in the Bible as the literal truth, then the Christmas Star could not have been a natural apparition. Its movement in the sky and its ability to stand above and mark a single building; these would indicate that it was not a normal phenomenon, but a supernatural sign. One given from on high and one that science will never be able to explain.”Hubert Bernhard, The Planetarium Lecture Series.

Whatever created or moved the Star of Bethlehem it was bright enough for the Magi to journey from start to finish some 500-miles from the Orient/Babylonia to Judea. This most certainly would have been an event that thousands or millions of other people, astronomers, and star-gazers too would have seen. But for the time of Jesus’ birth, no one in that 500-1000 mile area (or beyond) recorded anything. Nothing. Despite this widespread omission and silence, for miracle-believing Christians these synchronizations of prophetic Hebrew passages, their fulfillment, and the cosmological spectacle cannot be understated. It was an unprecedented, epic, historical phenomena.

Inside evangelical circles then, what do we have regarding God’s newborn Messiah/Christ? One of the greatest events to occur in the history of the universe Strauss shouts without parallel“! Wow. “Without parallel“!

“When you read the record of the coming of Jesus into the world — born in a stable, born of a woman, reared in the woodshop of a poor Jewish carpenter — you could not grasp the truth that He was the God-man if the Scriptures didn’t reveal it.”Billy Graham, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Suddenly and astoundingly the long-awaited foretold boy phenom known as Messiah-G-man vanished! Gone.

And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.Luke 2:42-52

Those passages are the very last words written about the boy-wonder, Messiah-G-man for the next 17-years!

What is very odd, very suspicious of this disappearance at this point in the Gospels is that with such spectacle of a newborn King, heralded by a supernatural cosmic event — that summoned other kings/magi hundreds of miles away — forced King Herod of Judea to slaughter hundreds or thousands of baby boys, of which is also not recorded by anyone in the province or region, especially by Roman historians or scribes, no one seems to care… except the Gospel authors many decades later. These events also (a decade later) have a 3-day 2-night lost Messiah-G-man who mesmerized and dumbfounded Rabbis in the Temple.

Jesus in TempleAmazingly, all of this Earth-shattering Gospel news becomes un-news worthy! Basically, Messiah-G-man becomes the antithesis of starboy Messiah-G-man, the one and only Son of God who, as Billy Graham alludes, that the Scriptures revealed 6-7 centuries before! What is going on? Why would the Hebrews suddenly become completely apathetic to their coveted Messiah? Or more concerning, why do the Gospel authors ignore this anomaly numerous decades after Jesus’ birth and four more decades after his death? To cloud the story more the authors then offer vague, abstract fog where Jesus might have been and more puzzling… what he wasn’t doing!

So Where Did He Really Go?

There are five or six interesting theories of where and why Messiah-G-man, Jesus, deviated from his universal, divine mission. The fact that there are any theories at all speaks to the necessity for a theological (not logical) explanation for God’s one and only (not so busy) Son. Consider these theories by historical and biblical scholars:

  • Jesus stayed in Nazareth. This is the most widely accepted explanation in Christendom. It is the least complicated scenario for God’s one-and-only missing years. He simply stayed in his hometown, probably working at his father Joseph’s trade of carpentry and studied Jewish scripture, then became the head of the household after Joseph’s death, as if nothing of divine import was happening or was needed. Ho-hum, oh well for 17-18 years.
  • Jesus traveled to Japan. This explanation is based more on legend than plausible evidence.
  • Jesus traveled to Britain. This explanation is also based more on legend than plausible evidence.
  • Jesus traveled to the Himalayas, and trained with mystics there. To date, this is another explanation that unravels with no plausible or reliable evidence to support it. The final two theories below, however, are more compelling.
  • Jesus went to Qumrān, and studied with the Essene sect. Some scholars have speculated that Jesus left home for Qumrān, on the edge of the Dead Sea, where he supposedly became a member of a monastic community along with his cousin John the Baptist. Modern interest in Qumrān surged after the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of ancient religious texts, in nearby caves. The theory makes the case that both Jesus and John the Baptist were Essenes, whose philosophy embraced a view of oneness of everything in the universe with God, and espoused non-violence. It is argued that Jesus either wrote or was influenced by an apocalyptic book called The Secrets of Enoch.
  • Jesus became a disciple of John the Baptist. In his book Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, Bruce Chilton casts doubt on the notion of Jesus staying in his hometown, because the gospels don’t mention him trying to marry and start a family, which is what a village youth who simply stayed home would have done.” Instead, Chilton believes, Jesus didn’t return home at age 12 after visiting the Temple, but instead remained and eventually became a follower of John, who trained him in his philosophy. “Jesus had a rebellious, venturesome spirit, Chilton argues. He did not become a passionate religious genius by moldering in the conventional piety of a village that barely accepted him.

All of these theories have one thing in common:  conjecture. Yes, even the most popular explanation that Christian apologists offer — he stayed in Nazareth as a normal ho-hum boy doing carpentry — is ultimately creative imaginations with insufficient or the thinnest of any support. For the reasonable, logical Christian this mystery should give serious pause, to put it mildly.

Before one goes selling the farm, the kitchen sink, and all royalties for such a profound life-altering FAITH-future decision for Christ, let’s step-back, put on a neutral thinking-cap, look under the rugs and behind the curtains and consider everything. There are some major incongruencies, fallacious logic, Scriptural apathy, and distorted history with this monumental mind-numbing claim of incarnation. I want to cover it, or uncover it. It starts with a gross distortion of Hebraic history and principles within the pinnacle of the mighty Roman Empire.

Hellenist Anti-Semitism

Understanding earliest Judeo-Christianity, the movement named “The Way” by followers of Yeshua the Nasorean [sic] in the 2nd century CE, cannot be fully understood without first understanding the riff between Roman client-King Herod — with his and Rome’s harsh oppressive rule over unruly provinces and dissidents — and the obstinate Jewish sectarian people of Samaria, Perea, Galilee, Iturea, and Idumea. One could say these acute Roman policies created a powder keg atop matches and nitroglycerin. Let me set the scene.

Hebraic Principles Into Esoteric Obscurity
With Second Temple Judaism there existed unique principles and philosophies distinct from old Israelite Judaism (polytheism) and compared to other Near and Middle Eastern religions of the time. The Hebrew word Mâšîah or Messiah, could mean priest, prophet, or king. During the 6th-century BCE while exiled in Babylonia, the ancient Jews began hoping for, wanting, and anticipating a special Anointed One to restore them into Israel. Then in 539 BCE the Persian king Cyrus allowed them to return to Israel. In the early stages of the 1st-century BCE, Jews were once again conquered and suffered harsh repression at the hands of the Greco-Seleucid Empire. Bitterness, rebellion, and hope for that special Anointed One rose again desperate for an independent Jewish kingdom.

Next came the Roman Republic in 192 BCE pushing the Greco-Seleucids to the far-eastern reaches of Asia Minor. Jews were once again repressed, bitter, rebellious, and in desperate want of restoration to a sustained independent kingdom. During this period Jewish Messianism took on complex dual or triple meanings and interpretations because Israel (and their God?) was repeatedly defeated and kept falling under foreign rule. Some Jews believed the Anointed One would be a great military king. Others believed he would be a purifying priestly Son of Man to judge humanity, while still others believed he would have to be a prophet, teacher, and commander. Many Messianic forms developed during the four major Jewish exiles (i.e. a Personal Messiah), however, during these periods none of them are fully understood outside of Judaism. Jewish Messianism becomes increasingly esoteric and obscure to the rest of the world. Enter a progressively heavier Hellenistic rule and influence on Judaism. Meanwhile, Jews everywhere are now gasping and craving their Anointed One.

Rome’s Rise: Republic to Imperial Apex
From 3,900 sq. miles in 326 BCE as a small Republic to 2.5 million sq. miles in 117 CE, the splendor and spectacle that was the Imperial Roman Empire reached its majestic pinnacle during the Five Good Emperors. Scholars of early Antiquity maintain that Rome’s ascendency to a Republic and world power is attributed to three sociopolitical developments and organization of the 1) Citizen Assembly and Military Assembly, 2) the Senate consisting of Patricians and Plebeian Tribunes, and 3) the prestigious Consuls. Until 27 BCE this Greco-Roman form of representative government with efficient support of military legions, navies, and generals prepared the way for Rome’s rise and expansion across the entire Mediterranean.

For our purposes here what is important to understand is the Republic of Rome’s established 500-year foreign provincial policy. The vanquished people and province under the victors remained free socially, if they remained peaceful, and paid regular tributes to Rome. In return they’d receive protection and social-political order. Riot or incite civil discord and Roman retribution was swift and severe. What did the Jewish people generally experience under Rome’s heavy hand? More historical context first.

Fall of the Hasmonean Dynasty
The collapsing Seleucid Empire to the Roman Republic and Parthian Empire created a balancing of powers surrounding the Hasmonean Kingdom from c. 140 to c. 116 BCE until they enjoyed full autonomy in 110 BCE. At that time the Hasmoneans consolidated Samaria, Perea, Galilee, Iturea, and Idumea forming what some scholars call the Kingdom of Israel. For around 70-years the Hebrews and orthodox Judaism flourished along side influences of Hellenic Judaism from Alexandrian rule, then Roman conquest in 63 BCE. Due to these theocratic sociopolitical differences between Hyrcanus II, Salome Alexandra, and Aristobulus II, the Hasmonean Dynasty sank into civil war and disintegrated, but not before some Hebraic principles and Messianism became fixed.

Maccabean-Hasmonean Judaism believed in one single, indivisible, unsynthesized God. It explicitly rejected polytheism, dualism, and trinitarianism, which are incompatible with pure monotheism as Judaism teaches according to their Tanakh. Hellenic forms of Judaism, e.g. Philo of Alexandria, are more liberal with attributes of God sometimes referred to as Shituf. These beliefs greatly distinguished Judaism away from the other Near and Middle Eastern religions.

Animosity, Death, and Herod’s Sons
On some small or great level most everyone is familiar with King Herod the Great. Whether one considered Herod I great or ruthless depends on the point-of-view. From a material and development standpoint, Herod accomplished many projects including his most magnificent, the port at Caesarea, considered an engineering marvel. From a social standpoint, he was held in bitter contempt by his subjects, especially by the orthodox Jews for his everything-Greek appetite and favoritism and worse, his several transgressions of Mosaic Law. Though King Herod considered himself Jewish by his father and by politically marrying Hasmonean princess Mariamne, the orthodox Sadducees and Pharisees considered it suspect at best. Herod had also dissolved and curtailed the Sadducees influence within the Sanhedrin and had placed an unusually high taxation rate on the people and often reverted to violence and mercenaries to maintain civil order and fueling a deeper animosity. By the time of Herod’s death in 4 BCE, civil peace was quite volatile and disobedience to Rome fever pitched.

Rome takes Jerusalem

Four Roman Legions took Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple — 70 CE

Herod’s three sons inherited a kingdom ready to boil over.

Rising Anti-Semitism: The Jewish-Roman Wars
Disdain toward conquered barbarian cultures was not unusual in Antiquity so labeling earliest Jewish conflicts should be considered part of a wider military and sociopolitical picture. But from the time Roman general Pompey intervened in the Jewish civil wars in 66 BCE, sectarian Judea and Israel were in escalating conflict amongst themselves and with the Romans. Frustrated Prefects and Procurators could not comprehend the strange Jewish customs. Civil flare-ups and strife, which the Romans regarded as petty, would cause an uproar among the Jews. When Pontius Pilate moved his two Auxiliary Cohort units from Caesarea to Jerusalem to enforce order, in protest to effigies of Emperor Augustus on Roman military standards, a large group of Jews walked 70-miles to Pilate’s house in Caesarea to encircle it by laying themselves on the ground for five days. Why? It violated Moses’/God’s Second Commandment. It can be argued convincingly that the Jews never truly appreciated, felt they were, or intended to be under Roman command or rule. Anti-Semitism rises even more.

Although Rome clearly had every military, economic, and political advantage in suppressing rebellions and levying heavy taxes, orthodox and zealot Jews still wanted to fight. Discord, resentment, and revolt continued to rise in Galilee, Samaria, and particularly in Judaea, and still the Jews sought to fight. Between 19 CE and 160 CE Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, Suetonis, and Cassius Dio all report increased intolerances, punishments, and expulsions toward the Jews. The hostilities eventually led to the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 CE followed by crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-136 CE. The aftermath of these multiple Roman victories are what many scholars argue as the biggest historical, philosophical, and fragmentary swerve-threshold of all Judaism until the atrocities of 1933-45 Europe.

Meanwhile, Roman religions and cults had different interpretations of the divine.

Roman Apotheosis

If there is one concept that all ancient Mediterranean civilizations understood from the Bronze Age, through Prehistory, to early Post-classical history, it was apotheosis. Call him Heracles, Hercle, Hercules, or Caesar, the deification of great men was commonplace. The mixing and transformation of apotheosis over time and conquests were also commonly practiced. This was the case with the sheer size of the empire the Roman Legions were vowed to protect and defend against foreign enemies. One of the popular cults of the eastern legions in contact with the Persian culture was Mithra.

Roman Mithraism
Despite there being no direct evidence that 2nd and 3rd century CE Christianity and Mithraism were influenced by each other, there are remarkable similarities. For example, most historians and biblical scholars know and agree that Jesus was not born in winter in late December. Mithra was born of a virgin December 25th and visited by Magi. There are also similar themes in doctrine and practices such as salvation, the symbolism of water/baptism, and followers had a sign or mark symbolizing Mithra like Christians had the cross.

Roman apotheosis

The apotheosis of Homer

Other similarities between Mithraism and early Christians included pursuing abstinence, celibacy, and self-control to be among the highest virtues. Likewise, both had comparable beliefs about the world, eschatology, heaven and hell, and the immortality of the soul. Their ideas of battles between good and evil were similar (though Mithraism was more dualistic), included a great and final battle at the end of times, similar to Zoroastrianism and as will be explored next, similar to outlying Jewish sects (Qumrān) divergent from the Pharisees and Sadducees inside Jerusalem. Mithraism’s flood at the beginning of history was deemed necessary because, according to Mithraic eschatology, what began in water would end in fire. Both cults believed in divine revelation as key to their doctrine. Both awaited the last judgment and resurrection of the dead.

Roman Records and Qumrān Scrolls
Most modern historians, even non-Christian less-biased historians, agree that a great Jewish Rabbi/teacher and reformer named Yeshua, or Jesus, did exist. This is often referred to as the historical Jesus. However, where the historicity of Jesus is concerned — the consideration of non-Christian sources to construct who this controversial person was and authenticate what his intent and reforms consisted of — there is no one single unanimous picture, and contextually not even from the Gospels. Personally, I do not give as much credibility to Roman-Jewish (Hellenic) sources such as Flavius Josephus or Saul of Tarsus, another Roman-Hellenic Jew. To align with the Historical Method, Jewish or Christian sources must be taken with a fair amount of caution. Therefore, what are we left with when Christian, Judeo-Christian, and Roman-Jewish-Hellenic sources are removed as biased or partially biased? Answer:  purely Roman or non-Jewish, non-Christian sources.

1st century Qumran

Qumran reconstruction

Under these guidelines there exists only one purely Roman, valid, neutral source about a man named Jesus. It is by the Roman historian and senator Tacitus in his final work, Annals, completed c. 116 CE. It is essentially a short fact-sheet only, mentioning a wise Jewish king that was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and there were a small band of Hellenic-Christians living in Rome. However, as mentioned before this only validates a historical Jesus, but not the historicity or nature of Jesus. There are a handful of very minor references, but all of them concern Christians in general, or one dissident in Rome named Chrestus, and not the enigma, Rabbi/Reformer or failed Messiah named Jesus. For some relevant historicity about the man Jesus/Yeshua and his anti-Temple sectarian ties, we can however, utilize the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The historical background of the Qumrān Scrolls give us an unprecedented context into Jesus’ critical last years in Judea and Jerusalem and a backdrop litmus-test to the canonical New Testament, namely the Gospels and Apostle Paul, and to all Jewish and Christian sources regarding Jesus.

[The Dead Sea Scrolls] further our knowledge of ancient biblical interpretation and the effect of historical events on religious life and ideas. The texts shed light on philosophical disputes about issues such as the Temple and priesthood, the religious calendar and the afterlife. More practical disputes were focused on everyday law and observance. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

Of particular interest is Robert Eisenman’s theories drawn from the Qumrān Scrolls where he names James, the brother of Jesus, as the Teacher of Righteousness (from the Damascus Document), the Wicked Priest (from the Habakkuk Commentary) as High Priest Ananus ben Ananus, executioner of James, and Paul/Saul as the Man of Lying, or the one teaching false doctrines and misleading theology about a kingdom built with blood. Eisenman also labels Paul/Saul as Herodian, an influence that easily renders his Christology favorable to Hellenistic Rome instead of James the brother’s Torah-based Messianic version, and evidenced by tensions with the Pillars of the Jerusalem Council.

When external independent (non-Christian) sources are included in the overall picture of Judea, Rome’s impact and influence, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, it becomes obvious why the Jewish-Roman War was building to a climax. This was Jesus’ world.

IGNITION! Jewish Messianism Out, Hellenic Apotheosis/Christology In
As alluded to above, Roman anti-Semitism was ever-present across the empire and its volatility was increasingly recorded in Roman literature as early as the 1st-century BCE. Politician and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero in his Pro Flacco writes derogatory remarks of Jews as “barbara superstitio” which translates, Jews were unpatriotic, sacrilegious, backward, and alien. Tacitus also writes his anti-Jewish sentiments during the Jewish Revolt of 70 CE saying they are perverse, corrupting, too wealthy, cliquish, and out-breeding true Romans!

Philo of Alexandria recorded that one of Tiberius’ lieutenants, Sejanus, was likely an instigator of anti-Semitism with many Roman soldiers. What is abundantly clear throughout the Roman and non-Roman records is that until the 3rd and 4th-century CE Rome did not tolerate any level of rebellion or dissidence among her conquered foreigners. Consequently, with the incessant Jewish sectarian zealous elements in Syria-Palaestina and around Jerusalem (as the Jerusalem Talmud records), Roman legions destroyed the bulk of sectarian Judaism by 136 CE, including those opposed to the Temple Priesthood in Jerusalem, e.g. Qumrān and Masada. This little-known historical context is important to note because the outlying Jewish sects — indirectly mentioned in John 8:37-39; 44-47 and Acts 7:51-53 also alluded to in the Qumrān Scrolls — are the ones that offer modern historical and biblical scholars a required contrast to Hellenist-Herodian Judaism, which composes most of today’s Christian (anti-semitic?) canonical New Testament.

“The original apostles and followers of Jesus, led by James and assisted by Peter and John, continued to live as Jews, observing the Torah and worshipping in the Temple at Jerusalem, or in their local synagogues, while remembering and honoring Jesus as their martyred Teacher and Messiah. They neither worshipped nor divinized Jesus as the Son of God, or as a Dying-and-Rising Savior, who died for the sins of humankind. They practiced no ritual of baptism into Christ, nor did they celebrate a sacred meal equated with ‘eating the body and drinking the blood’ of Christ as a guarantee of eternal life.

Their message was wholly focused around their expectations that the kingdom of God had drawn near, as proclaimed by John the Baptizer and Jesus, and that very soon God would intervene in human history to bring about his righteous rule of peace and justice among all nations. In the meantime both Jews and non-Jews were urged to repent of their sins, turn to God, and live righteously before him in expectation of his kingdom.”James Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity, pp. 24-25

Enter the Hellenist Saul of Tarsus. As everyone knows, Saul/Paul never met Jesus face-to-face or followed him during his ministry in Syria-Palaestina. Everyone also knows that when he arrived in 1st-century Judea and Syria he was there to persecute earliest Jesus-followers. Paul’s initial version of Judaism was from the Hillel school and it taught a Hellenistic balance between classical literature of the Stoics, philosophy, and ethics. This would have been frowned upon (loathed?) by the outlying Jewish sects such as the Essenes, Ebionites, and that preached by John the Baptist. For Saul/Paul that drastically changed while on the road to Damascus and his 3-years spent in Arabia. This is an odd mention; peculiar. Three years spent in Provincia Arabia during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), a wealthy Nabataean client-kingdom for Rome with trade routes through Persia to India and China and obviously, according to Galatians 1:16-17, had some type of pivotal importance to Paul before beginning his own mission of Christology. To even be mentioned, it suggests it led to Paul’s overhaul of the failed Earthly Jewish Messianic kingdom (Jesus’ execution) into an other-worldly kingdom. And all of the disciples/Apostles, including pseudo-Apostle Paul, expected this other-kingdom to happen in their lifetimes.

Paul and Barnabas in Antioch Acts 15:2

Paul & Peter dispute in Antioch

Was Arabia where the true pure kingdom of God and the nature of Jesus found? Personally, I think it requires consideration. In fact, the full spectrum of Roman, Jewish sectarian, Judeo-Christian, Hellenist Christian, and secular historical and archaeological sources (i.e. Independent sources) currently do NOT support it for lack of sufficient evidence. Although with Rome eliminating most outlying Jewish sectarians and annexing the Nabataean Kingdom in Arabia, Rome favoring Herodian-Hellenistic Judaism, and increased intolerance of earliest “the Way” Judeo-Christians, Pauline Christology was nicely poised to fill the voids for social peace. And along with the struggling hopes amongst despairing, over-taxed mainline Jews and their Diaspora brethren in the wake of brutal Roman legions, as well as lowly widowed or enslaved Gentiles (who never grasped Judean Messianic doctrines in the first place), an open, inclusive Pauline Christology more easily supersedes Jesus’ failed kingdom of God!

Let’s revisit Rome.

Splitting Crumbling Empire vs. Authority

The pinnacle of the Roman Empire is considered to be 117 CE when it reached its largest in size and most prosperous economically. After the Five Good Emperors (96 – 180 CE), as it is known by scholars, the Empire began its slow and steady decline. From the Severen Dynasty, to the Imperial Crisis of the Third Century where over 20 emperors came and went in less than 50 years (235-284 CE), until Aurelian and Diocletian temporarily reunited the Empire until 285 CE when Diocletian split it in half — it was still too vast to efficiently administrate. Following the retirement and death of Diocletian in 311 CE, he had decreed two successors:  Maxentius and Constantine. Both generals plunged the empire into chaos and civil war again. As most of us know, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. He became sole emperor of both the Western and Eastern Empires until 337 CE.

During the 3-plus centuries between Emperor Tiberius (14 CE) and Constantine (337 CE), the small floundering Jewish reform movement transformed by Paul was growing within the empire and with four contributing events became Rome’s official religion by Constantine’s Imperial endorsement.

Emperor Constantine I
Asserting that Christ was responsible for his victory at the Milvian Bridge, Emperor Licinius and Constantine began a series of laws (e.g. Edict of Milan) giving legal tolerance for all religions and favorably to Christianity. As many Roman emperors had done in the past, claiming deification to supplement their status and authority, Constantine chose the Hellenistic Christ in which the Apostle Paul promoted to Gentiles. At the First Council of Nicaea (325 CE), he officiated over the theological codifying and standardizing of Christianity with assistance from Church Fathers, and distinguished important issues of Jesus’ divinity, nature, and which testaments were more aligned with the God-Son.

Constantine was a cunning general and by reforming the military, revaluing the currency, enacting social-welfare and political reforms, building projects as well as renaming Byzantium to New Rome (modern-day Istanbul) which soon became Constantinople, he stabilized the Empire. Soon after his death, however, the Roman Empire sank into civil war and decline yet again.

Emperor Theodosius I

Theodosius-I

Theodosius the Intolerant

Three emperors later Theodosius (379 – 395 CE) reinstated Constantine’s and Jovian’s reforms and took them much further. He outlawed pagan worship throughout the empire, closed all schools and universities, and converted pagan temples into Christian churches. Theodocius’ religious reinstatements and reforms were controversial and unpopular among Rome’s aristocracy and middle-class who still held traditions in paganism. They saw the emperor’s edicts institutionalizing Christianity and removing the gods from the Earth and society and replacing all of it with one God ruling from heaven. While attending the Nicaean Council bitter debates ensued between Theodosius and disciples of the Nicene Creed (Christ is the same as God the Father), against other Arian groups in the empire. Highly motivated to promote orthodox Christianity, Theodosius surpassed the ecclesiastical authorities and stamped the binding Imperial creed of the consubstantiality of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Trinitarianism). Henceforth those followers were to be considered Catholic Christians. It is safe to say, Theodosius began the principle of religious intolerance at the second ecumenical council in 381 CE, or  Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

But the fight between Arianism vs. Trinitarianism was not over. The official canon of the Christian Bible was only finalized over three more progressions:  382 in Rome, 391 the Vulgate, and 397 CE in Carthage. The confusions and debates about Christ’s nature, particularly his Incarnation (Monophysitism vs. Dyophysitism), took another 34-years to legalize at the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE! And guess what? The fight did not end. By 451 CE the Hellenistic Christian Church split. In the Eastern portion of the remaining empire formed the Oriental Orthodox Churches and in the doomed Western portion of the crumbling empire formed the Roman Catholic Church.

A Quick Summary

  • Due to the four exiles, Jews are gasping and craving their Anointed Messiah to arrive, restore, and lead.
  • Late-Ecclesiastical distortion and misunderstanding of Jewish Messianism — of which they hijack its prophecies for THEIR Hellenist-Christ and distance and distinguish themselves above and away from Judaism, anti-Semitism is born.
  • Rome rises in size, authority, and influence all over the known world while Judaism barely survives under harsh oppression and religious constraints, corrupting many of ancient Jewish orthodox principles of life and worship.
  • When the Apostle Paul arrives on the scene after 3-years in Arabia, suddenly the Greco-Roman Gentiles throughout the unstable empire seek refuge and belonging in Paul’s Christology and social-welfare. It is not exactly the same as Jesus’ kingdom of God and reforms for Judaism.
  • What does this do 300+ years later to Jesus’ retro-actively imposed Incarnation?
Incarnate G-man — Conclusion

By the end of the 5th-century CE in Western-Eastern Mediterranean history Jesus’ original Jewish Messianic reforms were so lost and convoluted by wars, Pauline Christology, sectarian genocide, and centuries of sociopolitical upheaval throughout the vast Roman Empire. In all directions from 2nd to 5th-century CE Jerusalem, the true nature and revelations of outlying Jewish sects opposed to the Second Temple Priests, such as the Essenes, Ebionites, Mandaeans/Nasoreans, and Samaritans (of which Jesus favored; Luke 10:33; 17:16; John 4:39), could not be glimpsed or gleaned until the 20th-century CE with discoveries such as Nag Hammadi, Qumrān, and more.

jewish-ossuary-with-human-bones

1st century Jewish Ossuary

By the end of the 5th-century CE almost all of the ecclesiastical authorities in Christendom had forgotten, overlooked, or ignored the fact that this all-powerful, all-knowing God who wanted to reconcile and restore (Messianic undertones) all of humanity, not just the Jews, and came in the flesh in a human body under a phenomenal celestial Star seen for at least 500-miles in every direction, according to His perfect plan! But for only 12-years; as an impressive teaser, if you will.

This same God in the flesh then decides that 17-18 years of supposedly ho-hum nothingness, doing preparatory work of “carpentry(?)” in a tiny insignificant town, was more important than restoring and saving humanity. A change of divine plans? Why? You are the living God in the flesh with all the power in the known universe! Or was it Jewish bar Mitzvah traditions for a boy into a man? But that would be quite human, quite Jewish, and quite petty when considering the salvation of all humanity.

This begs the question or questions… was 1st-century Jesus/Yeshua — who John the Baptist, James his brother, and Simon/Peter knew well — not who he became to Saul/Paul in a blinding light on the Damascus Road and in Arabia? Was 1st-century Jesus/Yeshua not who he became after the deadly Jewish-Roman Revolts? Was 1st-century Jesus/Yeshua not who he became during the internal conflict, corruption and decline of the Roman Empire up to Constantine? And was 1st-century Jesus/Yeshua not who he had become to Theodosius and the many ecclesiastical Councils up to 451 CE? Given these widespread rampant controversies and confusion, wouldn’t a full 32-34 years of life for Jesus/Yeshua to clarify exactly his nature and what solution was needed to restore one’s self and all of humanity to God’s “loving kingdom” been a better approach? Why even waste 17-years? Or was there something about Jesus that required hiding?

Because the concept of Incarnation is a retro-active scriptural and ecclesiastical reacting to evolving conundrums. Jesus was not God Incarnate and not His one-and-only Son. The true verifiable, extant history of Jesus the man and Paul’s Christology (both explicit and implicit), contrasted with the torturous labyrinth of Hellenistic apotheosis theology, as I’ve hopefully shown here, has in the end shown itself to be quite outdated and bogus non-sense.

If there is no divine, miraculous God-man called Jesus Christ, then what is Christianity?

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Some Q&A for Friends

Recently I was asked by my friend and fellow-blogger Scottie a question about history and historical fables, more specifically comparisons of historical-religious fables. His question was:

About the whole virgin-birth story before Jesus thing. Ark hinted it was an issue. I read online where it is true. But [Pastoral Apologist] claims they have all been debunked. When I first started talking with  [Pastoral Apologist] about it, he made statements that made me think the virgin birth idea was very unknown at the time. Then I find websites saying it was very common. I was wondering if you had any studies this before or had some ideas of where I should concentrate my study of it. I know Aron Ra has said that there are similarities between the Jesus story and other myths, but I didn’t realize he was talking virgin-births. To me that is a total game changer on that story if it was a common god-idea. Hugs

Initially I was planning to address Scottie’s question(s) right there in the comments of Jim’s blog-post “How to Separate the Facts from the Myths?” However, after some discussion Jim and I decided that if we placed it in the comments it would soon be eternally buried within the cyber-sphere’s archiving. We both thought this was too important to be so quickly lost. Hence, he convinced me to post it here where it won’t get as buried. Hahaha. So here we go…
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My Response

Scottie, very often Christian apologists/pastors like to portray their foundational doctrines/theology as incomparable, as dissimilar to any other religious or spiritual constructs. This is unequivocally slight-of-hand. Skeptics are not claiming the virgin stories and legends are identical, or verbatim. Every culture has its own unique twists to trade wind exchanges. As a terrestrial or seafaring example, the Silk Road trade routes (c. 500 BCE until 542 CE with the Bubonic Plague) provided some early means for religious-cultural exchanges well before Jesus’ time and beyond. At the pinnacle of Rome’s influence around the Mediterranean, they were wealthy not only because of their great war-machines, generals, legions, and tactics against other empires and hordes, but also because of their 1.9 million-mile sphere-of-influence in commerce by 117 CE. Over that time the cultural identities and exchanges mixed and transformed into new versions, not unlike the United States is sometimes referred to as The Melting Pot of the World. Christianity, in its current Greco-Roman styled canon, does mimic in numerous forms other older Persian, Arabian, Egyptian, and Greek divinity traditions.

To your question, I will address it in two ways: 1) the popular historical records of virgin-mothers and virgin-born Gods prior to Jesus, and 2) the 4th and 5th century CE Greco-Roman Christian theological one-upping.

Known histories of virgin-mothers and births before Jesus:
It must be remembered that skeptics are not claiming that ancient stories of virgin-mothers and virgin-born Gods are verbatim-identical to the well-known Jesus virgin-mother and virgin-birth story. What most are claiming are the numerous similarities that cannot be denied. Here are several that were known throughout the ancient world BEFORE Jesus. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Marduk by Damkina/Enki — Sumerian-Mesopotamian mythology c. 4500 – c. 1900 BCE.
  • Horace by Isis/Osiris — Egyptian mythology c. 3150 – c. 2615 BCE.
  • Amenhotep III by Mutemwiya/Amun — Egyptian mythology c. 1388 – c. 1200 BCE.
  • Isaac by Sarah/Abraham — Jewish tradition/mythology c. 2000 – c. 1000 BCE.
  • Melchizedek by Sopanima/Nir — Jewish tradition/mythology c. 500 – C. 400 BCE.
  • Zarathustra by Dughdova/Shaft of light — Persian mythology c. 1375 – c. 330 BCE.
  • Erechtheus by Gaia/Hephaestus — Greek mythology c. 500 – c. 285 BCE.
  • Dionysus by Semele/Zeus — Greek mythology c. 1500 – c. 1100 BCE.
  • Romulus-Remus by Rhea Silvia/Mars — Roman mythology c. 700 BCE – 220 CE.

Ancient fables of divine births and intervention were exchanged by traders and teachers/sages all throughout the vast Roman Empire. Those stories were passed from generation to generation. Due to several sociopolitical (including wars and genocide) and socioeconomic factors, some gained popularity, others faded. Historians not only see this in the archaeological and paleographical evidence, they accept and superimpose this template of evolution on their studies and theories. Christian apologists/pastors prefer not to, at least not cumulatively.

It is worthy to note that according to the College of Pontiffs and Indigitamenta there are no records or evidence from the early 1st-century that a divine god or demigod was newly born of a virgin during Augustus’ reign in the Roman Province of Palestina. However, by the late 2nd century CE the Christian Church Fathers systematically sought to discredit Roman deities and worship.

The Greco-Roman Christian theological one-upping:
The first mention in manuscripts of Jesus’ virgin-birth is about 80 – 90 CE in order to connect him as the Christian Messiah in Isaiah 7:14. Because the Apostle Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, was a Hellenistic educated Jewish Pharisee prior to his paranormal experience on the Road to Damascus (c. 35 CE?), and he was proselytizing to Gentiles unfamiliar with ancient Jewish Messianism, early controversy and confusion about Original Sin and Final Atonement (hereafter called OS/FA) began to pop-up in many Synagogues — official Christian churches didn’t arrive until much later. Many earliest “The Way” followers were Jewish-reformers, later becoming Judeo-Christians. This unpopular history is critical to understand because no matter how hard post-5th century CE Christianity to modern-day Christians want to distinguish themselves away from Jewish Messianism, it is utterly impossible. If they want to have their Messianic Christ, they must embrace (hijack?) true historical Jewish Messianism in its entirety.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, written c. 64 CE, gives us one of the very first indications of the OS/FA controversy among earliest Believers:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)

For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:19-23)

In other words, if 2nd – 3rd century CE Christianity is going to legitimately lay claim to Jewish Messianism, and Jesus is both an Earthly born Messiah as well as a sinless holy God, how did the Apostolic Fathers reconcile this dilemma? The author of Hebrews explains a Jewish version of a virgin-mother birthing a virgin-son of God and eventual “better sacrifice” — an early attempt laden with Jewish priestly Messianism.

However, as the new religion spread with the fading and literal wiping-out of Sectarian Judaism (Jewish reformers and first Judeo-Christians) around the Roman Empire, e.g. the Great Revolts of Judea, more unknowing Gentiles asked challenging questions reflecting the confusion. The letter to the Hebrews was still not enough. And there is still the gnawing problems presented by deadly revolts and chronology. Did Jesus himself ever teach he was born by a virgin? No. Did the Apostle Paul ever teach Jesus was born by a virgin-mother? No. This strongly suggests that the OS/FA controversy began developing among first Judeo-Christians prior to 64 CE, but not widespread enough by 67 CE when Paul wrote his very last letter 2 Timothy from Rome. The OS/FA obscurity during this time-period can be contributed to the Roman “X-Fretensis” Legion, “V-Macedonica”  Legion, “XII-Fulminata” Legion, and “XV-Apollinarus” Legion wiping-out many sectarian-reformed Jews in the Great Revolts of Judea. This created the void for Gentile-favored Greco-Roman (Hellenistic) theology to be further established by the 1st and 2nd generation Church Fathers.

Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Eusebius of Caesarea
Clement of Alexandria lived between c. 150 – c. 215 in Athens, Asia Minor, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, Egypt. He is considered one of the Church Fathers. In his work called Paedagogus, Clement explains that Christ (the Greek-Hellenistic name) is sinless and born in the impeccable image of God through the virgin Mary.

Tertullian lived between c. 150 – c. 225 in Carthage in the Roman Province of Africa. Tertullian is famous for two reasons:  1) his coining of the word Trinity which made its way into the early Church’s Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and/or the Athanasian Creed, and 2) his fiery temperament and forceful convictions that eventually radicalized him into Montanist heresy. Both of these Trinitarian theologies were derived from Stoic philosophy and Clement of Alexandria and less so from the author of Hebrews.

Eusebius of Caesarea lived from c. 263 – c. 340 in Caesarea Maritima in Roman Palestine. In his work Historia Ecclesiae, Eusebius points out two types of Jewish sectarian Ebionites. One denied the virgin-birth and virgin-mother, and the other did not. But he labeled both groups of Ebionites as heretical. Because Eusebius draws distinctions between these two Ebionite groups, his knowledge of them clearly comes from Irenaeus, Origen, and Hippolytus using apocryphal sources.

What should be cumulatively noted here is the evolving heavy influence and retro-fitting of Hellenistic, or Greco-Roman philosophy/theology in the roots of the 4th century New Testament canon and 5th century CE Christian Church. It was having to address long-standing conflicting, confusing teachings and questions that were not addressed adequately in the time of Paul’s letters and life, nor answered by the heir apparent Jesus/Christós — at the time, the questions were completely unnecessary and non-existent! Why? If Jesus and Paul never addressed the controversies of the virgin-birth by a virgin-mother in the arena of the later OS/FA debates, does that suggest the Greco-Roman Church — which is the ancestral majority of modern Christian churches and seminaries, many with very contrasting doctrines — did not understand, or did not favor, or intentionally distorted true Jewish Messianism to serve their man-made sociopolitical agenda?

I believe so, for the overwhelming reason that the anti-Semitism motive fits near perfectly into historical Greco-Roman-Hellenistic sociopolitical and religious traditions. The later Christian Church wants to separate itself as much as possible from Judaism.

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Scottie, I hope this post helps despite its very hasty composure. As I mentioned, I also want to give a source for you to better understand the earliest transitions from true Jewish Messianism to sectarian Judeo-reformers and finally into the monster of Greco-Roman Christology. I would start with Robert Eisenman at his website. Be sure to checkout his Articles page. And if you can gain access to two of his books, Dead Sea Scrolls & The First Christians and The New Testament Code: The Cup of the Lord, the Damascus Covenant, and the Blood of Christyou will be well on your way to an extensive, intimate knowledge of exactly when and how Greco-Roman Christology, that is propagandizing and erroneously taught today, went wrong and subsequently setup its minefield of a never-ending fracturing, disunited religion.

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