Saturday, November 8, 2008

Jesus, Factional or Fictional? (1415 words)

By John de Waal

I received an article on the Internet: “Is Jesus God[JdW1] ?” in which the author talks about Jesus as if he knew him personally. He describes Jesus’ greatness as ‘obvious to all who saw and heard him (except the Roman authorities and the Jewish hierarchy, of course, who viewed him as a crackpot). Jesus was telling the people that ‘you and I are special, part of a grand cosmic scheme, and I am the center of it all!’

He noted that Jesus preached almost entirely outside the established religious framework, but ‘was identical with his message, claimed to have the power to forgive sins and to be divine, [therefore] he had to be God!’ Then, as on second thought, he asks rhetorically: “Did Jesus really claim to be God (the Creator), or was his divinity something invented or assumed by the New Testament authors[JdW2] ?”

The New Testament was altered by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 to provide the answer. Also called the Greek Testament, the Greek Scriptures, or the New Covenant, this book has seen many changes. It is compiled of 27 books that were written in colloquial Greek by as many authors anywhere from 45 to 140 years after Jesus supposedly lived. Eventually these were translated into Latin, combined and edited down over a period of several centuries. Then, around 1604, King James had The New Testament translated into English by 47 scholars.

The Universal Catholic Church became the official state religion of Rome under Constantine in 314, and the New Testament was their bible. Then a Libyan preacher observed that “although Jesus Christ was divine, he was created by God, the Father”. This implied that Jesus was inferior to God and it contradicted the Doctrine of the Trinity. This was the reason for this convention of priests who produced ‘The Nicene Creed’, in which Jesus’ divinity was explicitly affirmed, applying the term "God” to him. Thus, Jesus’ divinity was indeed a product of the New Testament authors.

There have been other adjustments to The New Testament, leaving a book with many inconsistencies and stories that are open to varying interpretations. For instance:

‘Scholars’ think that Jesus was a great moral teacher[JdW3] who “taught pure and sublime ethics, throwing the moral precepts and maxims of the wisest men of antiquity into the shade”. Indeed, according to Joseph Klausner in Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus’ ’Sermon on the Mount’ is “the most superlative of human ethics ever” as well as ”the origin of equal rights” .

I am not a ‘Jesus scholar’, but I think that that is stretching things a bit. Moreover, understand that Jesus never wrote anything himself nor are there any records, official or unofficial, that verify his existence. Everything he was supposed to have said has come down to us through Paul and other third parties as much as hundreds of years after he was supposed to have lived. So, at best, the whole document is based on hearsay!

Yet, The New Testament is the ethical guide by which Christians live. To convince others that their book is just, they find examples to back this up. In this article President Jefferson is used as an example:

“After slicing away every passage that suggested Jesus’ divine nature, Jefferson had a Jesus who was no more and no less than a good, ethical guide”.

However, it wasn’t the wisdom of Christ that Jefferson was after, but a crib sheet to help him deal with the many pesky priests that asked him for favors.

The author also claims that Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Christian ideals’ are reflected in the Declaration of Independence in the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …”

This is not true either! Mr. Jefferson, a Deist, was a staunch follower of John Locke and the Continental philosophers. It is their thinking and ideals on individual liberty that are reflected in the opening words of this document!

Far from being a clear and consistent guide for life, the contents of The New Testament’ is hard to accept by any normal thinking person. The so-called ‘bible truths’ are all based on a blind belief in God that have been forced down the throats of people for such a long time that they are now accepted by the masses without any thought given to their verity.

Even though the New Testament describes an active, wise person who did wonders and died a horrendous death, none of the authorities of his day knew anything about him. Therefore, there is real doubt that Jesus actually lived and certainly that he established Christianity, while preaching only outside the established religion, invites incredulity!

A much more plausible scenario is that Jesus is a fictional character, created to illustrate a particularly belief system, developed by Paul of Tarsus (ca 5 - 64 AD). Paul was a bright and educated Jew, born in Tarsus, Greece (now Turkey), and the first person to write about Jesus. As a Pharisee, he was self-righteous, hypocritical, and sanctimonious. He is thought to have spent time with the Essenes, a religious cult in Palestine that led a strictly celibate, but communal life.

The Jews and other peoples around the Mediterranean occupied by the Romans were rebellious and Paul, a Roman citizen, was involved with their suppression. When he traveled to Rome to make report, he suggested to Caesar that introducing the rebels to a new religion could bring calm. He had put together a religious framework along the lines of Mithraism, the religion of the Roman soldiers with its origins in the Vadic Mitra, dating back to 1400 BC in which Paul had replaced King Mithras with the Jesus character, added the Egyptian Trinity concept, and other ideas from the Essenes and the Old Testament. Then, as the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’, Paul set forth to promote this religion with the blessings and financial support of his Roman Ruler.

Thus, I believe that Jesus was a carefully crafted character by Paul, who made him real and human through his preaching, as well as the Son of God who was friendly towards Caesar (“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. Matthew 22:21). Paul obviously did a good job because Christians still believe in Jesus as a person who lived and died to absolve them of their sins, and is ‘proof’ that God made us for a purpose (happiness?).

Certainly, for many Christian religions Happiness in the form of money and power is the goal, and achieved through clever marketing based on human frailty and fear. For instance:

We know that we will all die someday. However, religion tells us that we do not really die, but simply ‘transition’ to ‘life here after’, or ‘eternal life’. This is the purpose of the Story of the Resurrection: i.e. Jesus died for our sins so we can go to this after life. Some people believe this idea so fervently that they postpone things until after they are dead, like living.

So, is religion just a huge fraud that has been perpetuated on humanity for a long time? Some apologists say that religion creates social cohesion by creating in and out groups as well as a priestly class with super-authority (because they speak for God) that shapes behavior in both prescriptive and motivational ways, most efficiently. They go so far as to equate religion with civilization. It certainly is big business with lots of money and power and most of humanity is addicted to it! As Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov said: “There would have been no civilization if they [the priesthood] hadn't invented God”.

It seems that for most of us it is far easier to go along with religion and (make) believe, than to go against it and declare not to believe. To leave religion is to leave civilization as they have always known it. Indeed, it takes courage to make that step: courage to stand on one’s own feet, courage to think independently, courage to face the realities of life and courage to take responsibility for everything one does and doesn’t do. This is daunting, but it is liberating! And once taken, one can then determine what makes sense and what doesn’t, what is the truth and what isn’t and you will be more fully human.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people were to step out of the shadow of religion into the sun light of human potential? Religion may lose its stranglehold on American life and our country can become that “shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving peoples everywhere."

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