Two articles appear below:
  1. Vardis Fisher and the Testament of Man
  2. 1st Century Christianity Fisher and Eddie Answered

VARDIS FISHER and THE TESTAMENT OF MAN

Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 165, 2015 November)


Few people today will have heard of Vardis Alvero Fisher, (March 31, 1895 – July 9, 1968). An American, he was the author of a number of historical novels set in the Old American West.

Particularly moving was his novel, The Mothers, a harrowing, but extremely emotive account of the Donner Party tragedy of 1846-47. This tragic event occurred when members of a wagon-train heading for California, hoping to find a shorter way, left the main route and became hopelessly trapped in the snow-bound Sierra Nevada Mountains during winter. When they ran out of food supplies they ate their horses, then, even the leather harnesses were boiled to be eaten. Eventually, so desperate did some become, they resorted to cannibalism. Of the eighty-seven who were trapped only 48 survived.

Fisher is probably best known for his epic twelve-volume series of novels, The Testament of Man, (1943–1960), a fictional account of the development of human societies, from Palaeolithic times through to the 20th century. In preparation for the series he read more than 2,000 books on anthropology, history, psychology, theology and comparative religion, incorporating many aspects of these subjects into the subject matter of these books.

Three of the novels in this series, Jesus Came Again, A Goat for Azazel and Peace Like a River, dealt with the early, formative years, of Christianity, from its origins through to the era of the Christian anchorites. In these, Fisher wove into his fictional depiction of the lives of his various characters, factual details of the complex social issues and the tensions that existed between the Romans, the Jews and the gentile Christians during these times.

What was unusual about these three books was that, at the end of each one, he included a lengthy collection of quotations, from a wide selection of scholars, relevant to the conditions in the eras which formed the background of that particular novel. Set out under specific headings, these quotations covered many of the social, political and religious issues pertinent to the early years of the emerging Christian faith. 

Unfortunately, only the surname and initials of the various authors quoted were provided, none of the titles of the books, from which the quotations had been obtained, were given.

Since the lack of bibliographic details created a degree of uncertainty as to the legitimacy of these quotations, this author set out to attempt to check as many of the quotations as possible, in an attempt to determine the veracity, or otherwise, of these quotations.

Using Google, a number of books by the following authors were located ─ E. Carpenter; C. Guignebert; P.S. Moxom; J.M. Robertson and W.R. Smith. Referring to reproductions of the original books, many of the quotations cited by Fisher were located and found to be true copies of the originals. While this in itself is not proof that the remaining unchecked quotations were similarly valid, it does suggest they too were probably also accurate reproductions.

Born, and raised in a strict Mormon family, in adulthood Fisher became increasingly disillusioned with both Mormonism and Christianity. Possibly reflecting this changed outlook, most of the quotations cited in these three books questioned many of the commonly held beliefs about the origins and evolution of early Christianity.

The common image of the early Christian Church is that it developed in an orderly, sequential manner, that the original teachings were passed on, intact and unchanged, from Jesus to the disciples, to Paul, and then finally, to the members of the developing Christian community. However, the overwhelming tenor of the quotations cited by Fisher is that this is a complete fallacy.

These quotations suggest that the early years of the new faith were quite chaotic, and that as each of the numerous sects sought to promote their specific teachings, it produced a great deal of disharmony, infighting and open conflict.

The new faith, comprising Gentiles from many parts of the Roman Empire, appears to have shaken off the original teachings of Jesus, the leadership of the original disciples, and all other Jewish influences, replacing them largely with their own unique interpretation of "Christianity."

Although influenced by the teachings of Paul they were inclined to incorporate many of their own former pagan beliefs into the new belief-system. The result was that the faith which emerged was an amalgam, a diverse collection of Aryan, Semitic, Greek and Egyptian religious concepts, combined with many aspects of the various Eastern mystery cults.

Evidence of the influence of mystery religions upon the early church comes from the claim that the so-called 'Last Supper' was largely fictional, the creation of later Gentile writers.

Certainly, from a Jewish perspective, the gospel version of this event is completely inconceivable. The very idea of drinking blood, even in a symbolic sense, would have been completely abhorrent to any Jew. No devout Jew would ever have used the terms "eat of my body and drink of my blood." According to the quotations, the so-called Christian “last Supper” was a mystery concept, originating with pagan cults such as Mithraism, it was introduced into early Christianity by early converts.

The early Christian Church was heavily influenced by Greek philosophical concepts; some Church Fathers, such as Origen, even sought to demonstrate a relationship between the earlier philosophical ideals and the new religion. The basis of this point-of-view  perhaps comes from the fact that many of the doctrines and teachings of Paul reflect Stoic and Gnostic influences; thus, the Christian concept of the brotherhood of men was a basic teaching of the Stoics, the concept of a transcendental atoning deliverer, the Christos, came from Gnosticism and the mystery religions, while the dualistic concept of a battle between good and evil, against the, “… spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) was a Persian-Gnostic concept.

As Lake indicated, "The ethics of the Stoics were almost wholly adopted by the leaders of Christian thought,”. Latourette too noted that, "stoicism affected Christianity through a number of channels. Some modern scholars ascribe to it a substantial part in shaping Christianity."

Jewish students were exposed to a range of Greek philosophical ideas as part of their general education. Paul must have been aware of these philosophic teachings since Tarsus, where he grew up, was a major centre of Stoicism and Gnosticism. Furthermore, as a Jewish scholar, he would have been exposed to the common Jewish debating practice whereby students were expected to know every possible argument that their opposition might use. It was commonly said that, when debating, Jewish scholars should be able to argue one-hundred points in favour of their argument and one-hundred points against.

The gospel writers were obviously aware of other Greek philosophical concepts; the notion of the Logos, which features so prominently in the Gospel of John, was a Platonic and Stoic conception. A "divine" animating force, it was believed by the Greeks to be the governing principle of the entire Cosmos. Adopted into Jewish philosophical thought by Philo (circa 20 BCE - AD 50), the Gospel of John goes on to  identify the Logos as an actual divine principle, rather than an abstract concept, and names Jesus as the incarnation of this notion.

Many of the quotations suggest the majority of the early Christians were from the lower classes; they were generally perceived as being ignorant and largely uneducated. They already believed in such incredulous ideas as “virgin births,” where human females were impregnated by divine-beings to produce semi-divine children, celestial omens proclaiming the birth of divine beings, sages with miraculous healing powers, even able to raise the dead, the result was that these, and many other extremely fanciful pagan ideas, were unquestioningly, incorporated, into Christianity.

In their extreme naivety early Christians put forward the most incredulous concepts, however spurious, to support their various beliefs. As Trachtenberg noted, in arguing the validity of the resurrection of Jesus, the Church Fathers offered as proof of this, the "fact" that the Phoenix too, was also regularly resurrected.
The early Christians lived in a fantasy world, expecting Jesus to return at any moment, and to sweep aside the current world political order. As Gibbon observed, they were, "... animated by a contempt for their present existence." adopting an attitude of indifference towards politics and the realities of life.

It also appears that, from the earliest times Christians perceived themselves as "an elect." For them Christianity was the only "true religion" and they were extremely intolerant of all “non-believers,” (including those Christians whose beliefs differed from their own), who they believed were all doomed to eternal damnation.

Such opinions would not have been a problem if they had kept them to themselves, unfortunately, they openly proclaimed these beliefs, not only to the pagans they came into contact with in their daily life, but also to Christians of other sects, haranguing them to “convert or be doomed.” It was said that one could not shop in the markets or bazaars without being confronted by at least one shop-keeper demanding to know your religious beliefs, and seeking to convert you if you were a pagan. This behaviour created a great deal of animosity, not only amongst their pagan neighbours, but also amongst members of the many other sects.

The early Christians were especially harsh towards the Jews who they demonized as those most responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Ignoring the fact that Christianity was a direct offshoot of Judaism, the Gentile Christians, believing they were truly god's elect, considered it necessary to do everything possible to denigrate the Jews, and their belief they were god's chosen people.

The various authors point out that both the Jews and Christians used allegory in much the same way as the Greeks had rationalized the Homeric tales of Zeus. According to Harnack, without allegorizing a great deal of the Jewish text, "the Old Testament would have been unacceptable to Christians." Furthermore, by using this approach, Christians were able to "discover" passages in the Old Testament which they perceived as being not only relevant to the life of Jesus, but also outlined his destiny upon earth.

Despite the opposition of the Jewish Rabbis the early Christian scholars were determined to "Christianize" the Old Testament, to fit it to their own beliefs. Uncritically the Church leaders "reinforced" what they presented as the basic truths of Christian teachings; as Moody observed: “... the Church was able to ... read into it whatsoever she judged to be 'spiritual' truth."

The existence of the twelve apostles is queried; the number "twelve" appears to be symbolic, rather than an actual number, much like that found in Mithraic tradition. Furthermore, there is some degree of uncertainty as to the actual names of the disciples; these varied according to local church traditions and Loisy suggests that, far from being chosen by Jesus, they were more likely the individuals chosen by the first community of believers to manage the affairs of the group.
The quotations indicate that, on the subject of baptism, there is a great deal of uncertainty. It is pointed out that, despite being baptized himself, Jesus never promoted the practice in his teachings. Indeed, many early Christians objected to this ritual, arguing that none of the disciples had ever been baptized. Typical of the naive rationale of early Church Fathers, Tertullian argued the disciples had actually undergone a form of de-facto baptism, "... they were sprinkled when the spray dashed over the boat, and Peter was immersed when he tried to walk on the waves."

Baptism was a common rite of transformation into mystery cults and other pagan Salvationist religions; total immersion in water was a common ritual form of entry into the worship of Isis and Mithra. The ritual signified the death of the old, and the creation of a new individual, who, like the deity, as they emerge from the water, were reborn to a new life. Replicating this pagan idea, the Christian initiate would “wash away” the old self, to ensure that, in their “reborn” form, they could gain eternal salvation in the company of Jesus.

The quotations clearly indicate that Jesus never set out to establish a new religion. On the contrary, he was a devout Jew, and his primary intention appears to have been to act as a Jewish herald, proclaiming the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, and warning his fellow Jews to prepare for this event.
With regards to the miraculous aspects of the life of Jesus, it is clearly pointed out, most of his so-called “miraculous abilities,” were already commonly attributed to other pagan deities. Indeed, it is impossible to find one supernatural quality attributed to Jesus that had not been previously ascribed to other pagan deities. Some scholars, e.g. Loisy, while accepting the historical existence of Jesus, totally reject the claimed miraculous aspects of his life.

Some of the other concepts, referred to in the various quotations, which were taken from other religious sources, were: -

•    The Christian concept of "sin" cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of the Jewish teachings on this subject, while the connection of the physical body with sin was a Gnostic concept;
•    The concept of the Incarnation was Indian;
•    The concept of angels, demons and a divine Mediator was Persian;
•    The concept of rebirth was both Chinese and Eleusinian;
•    The concept of the Trinity was common in many ancient religions, including the Egyptian;
•    The concepts of a virgin birth was a common belief in many religions including Chinese, Egyptian, Greek Indian, Roman and Persian.


REFERENCES:

Carpenter, Edward. Pagan and Christian Creeds, Their Origin and Meaning. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publications,1992.

Fisher, Vardis. A Goat For Azazel. New York: Pyramid Books, 1956.

Fisher, Vardis. Jesus Came Again. New York: Pyramid Books, 1956.

Fisher, Vardis, Peace Like A River. New York: Pyramid Books, 1957.

Guignebert, Charles, Jesus. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1935.

Moxom, Philip Stafford. From Jerusalem To Nicaea: The Church In The First Three Centuries, Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1896.

Robertson, John M. Christianity and Mythology. London: Watts & Co. 1910.

Robertson, John M. Pagan Christs, Studies in Comparative Hierology. London: Watts & Co. 1911.

Smith, William Robertson, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, Fundamental Institutions. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1889.





1st CENTURY CHRISTIANITY
FISHER AND EDDIE ANSWERED

Anonymous

(Investigator 165, 2016 January)


INTRODUCTION

Based on the work of novel writer Vardis Fisher (1895-1968) and the people Fisher quotes from, Mr Eddie (Investigator #165) says:

These quotations suggest that the early years of the new [Christian] faith were quite chaotic, and that as each of the numerous sects sought to promote their specific teachings, it produced a great deal of disharmony, in fighting and open conflict…

The new faith, comprising Gentiles from many parts of the Roman Empire, appears to have shaken off the original teachings of Jesus, the leadership of the original disciples, and all other Jewish influences, replacing them largely with their own unique interpretation.

Whatever Fisher's quotations may say the fact is that the main guide to 1st century Christian history is the New Testament itself, supplemented by 2nd century Christian writers.


1ST CENTURY CHRISTIANITY

Was Christianity "quite chaotic" with almost everything "shaken off" or was there a continuum with progressive increase in details?

Jesus' life, ministry and teaching were general knowledge when Christianity started. (Luke 1:1-4) Jesus did not teach everything Christians later believed but laid the doctrinal foundation upon which the Apostles built. Doctrinal development was progressive rather than chaotic. The New Testament accepts the Old Testament as "inspired of god" and shows clear progress in applying the Old Testament to the Christian situation.

In my article "The New Testament Canon" (Investigator 127), I summarized the quotations taken by second-century "church fathers" from the New Testament. The 2nd-century authors include:

•    Ignatius (35-197), Bishop of Antioch;
•    Clement (wrote around c.100), fourth Bishop of Rome;
•    Papias (60-130), Bishop of Hierapolis;
•    Polycarp (69-166), Bishop of Smyna;
•    Tatian (b. 120), Christian convert and apologist.

Not mentioned in #127 but worthy of inclusion is Justyn Martyr (100-165) a convert from paganism.

The New Testament and the 2nd century writers who quote it as their authority placed a limit on the official beliefs of Christianity.


CHAOS OR CONTINUITY?

The "chaotic" aspects that Eddie seems to see are the following:

1.    Some people aimed to exploit Christian congregations for personal gain;
2.    Some converts adopted Christian beliefs but then became subversive by advocating other beliefs;
3.    Some Christians were not up-to-date due to living in isolation from the mainstream;
4.    Some Christians deserted the faith completely.

However, all such divisiveness is compatible with the existence of an official mainstream.

Jesus himself in the parable of the wheat and weeds foretold that his genuine disciples and imitations would mix and even be indistinguishable. (Matthew 13:24-30)

Some of the issues and disputes can be read in:

•    Acts 8:9-23; 15:1-2; 20:29-31;
•    I Corinthians 1:10
•    II Corinthians 6:14-18; 11:3-4, 13-15, 27
•    Galatians 2:1-4; 11-14
•    II Thessalonians 2:1-12; 3:6
•    II Timothy 2:17-18
•    Jude 1-25
•    Revelation 2:6, 15

That not all was "chaotic" is seen by the existence of doctrine and beliefs regarded as "accurate". The evangelist Apollos, for example, needed to catch up but was otherwise "accurate":

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:24-26)

Continuity and stability is also seen in that some of the earliest disciples were still alive decades later including Philip the evangelist (Acts 6:5; 21:8-9, 16-17), Luke, John, Peter, Paul and others. Some congregations also had periods of peace (Acts 9:31) when teachings could be consolidated.


SHAKEN OFF?

Eddie says: "The new faith, comprising Gentiles from many parts of the Roman Empire, appears to have shaken off the original teachings of Jesus, the leadership of the original disciples, and all other Jewish influences, replacing them largely with their own unique interpretation."

Rather than everyone having "shaken off" almost everything the 1st-century story is one of steady progress in applying the Old Testament and teachings of Jesus to the Church.

What Eddie calls "chaotic" was due to dissenters and "false brethren" along with opposition from established belief systems. In that sense the development and growth of every new group — including the skeptics whom Eddie promotes — experienced "chaotic conditions". Consider any large-scale endeavour — perhaps the development of cars, computers, democracy, or the educational system. In all these we see steady development but also controversy, alternative methods, splinter groups, and many dead-ends.

Jude, one of the last New Testament writings to be written, reveals that Christianity was facing corruption from within:

I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you … who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Verses 3-4)

Second-Century Christian writers refer extensively to the New Testament as their authority — showing it had not been "shaken off".

In short, while the Apostles and their immediate successors lived, the faith was relatively united. It had official explanations of how Jesus and Christianity were predicted in the Old Testament; its Gentile converts discarded Greek and Roman idolatry; and it had a system of ethics and morals that shamed the larger society. (I Peter 4:4)

LAST SUPPER

Eddie claims the "Last Supper" was introduced from pagan cults such as Mithraism. To check this we go to the "textual critics" who compared all ancient Bible manuscripts and fragments to determine what the original said. The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament lists thousands of "various readings" and shows that the "Last Supper" is not in doubt. The Last Supper is also mentioned by Justin Martyr (100-165).

If some Christians later added elements from Mithraism to their "last Supper" ritual, that does not affect the truth of the New Testament. The process of adding to the Bible or substituting or ignoring it, goes on even today in pseudo-Christian cults. Justin Martyr argued:

Now it is evident, that in this prophecy [allusion is made] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks. And this prophecy proves that we shall behold this very King with glory; and the very terms of the prophecy declare loudly, that the people foreknown to believe in Him were fore-known to pursue diligently the fear of the Lord. Moreover, these Scriptures are equally explicit in saying, that those who are reputed to know the writings of the Scriptures, and who hear the prophecies, have no understanding. And when I hear … that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this. (Dialogue with Trypho)


OBJECTIONS ANSWERED

Eddie claims that: "the Christian concept of the brotherhood of men was a basic teaching of the Stoics, the concept of a transcendental atoning deliverer, the Christos, came from Gnosticism … while the dualistic concept of a battle between good and evil … was a Persian-Gnostic concept."

A few general ideas in common, in the absence of specific quotes from specific sources, do not prove plagiarism or indicate origins. Paul routinely cites the Old Testament as his reference — i.e. the Old Testament is Paul's "specific source", never Gnostics or Stoics.

The "brotherhood" of Christianity follows from the Old Testament teaching of God as "father" and the New Testament teaching that Christians are "brothers of Christ". The "atoning deliverer" was foretold in the Old Testament e.g. Isaiah 53.

And the "concept of a battle between good and evil" probably reached Persia via Israel's "Ten Lost Tribes" exiled around 700 BCE to Mesopotamia and border areas of Persia.

Archaeology has shown that some exiled Israelites became officials, scribes and priests. Zoroastrianism with its "dualistic concept" was founded about 150 years later. (See debate with Dr Potter in #121-#123; also "The Devil, The Ten Lost Tribes and Zoroaster in #155)

Is "logos" in John's Gospel a "Greek philosophical concept", a "divine animating" force?

In John's Gospel "logos" refers to Jesus as the "Word of God" — i.e. God's words personified in Jesus. We see this because Jesus said:
The Greek word "logos" in the New Testament therefore does not imply that Christians held to mystical beliefs of Greek philosophers. The preceding quotes show what Christians held and there is no mention of Greece or Greeks. "Logos" occurs with its common meaning about 50 times in John's Gospel and 350 times in the New Testament, and not in restricted senses employed by Greek philosophers.

Eddie attributes virgin birth, resurrection, "celestial omens proclaiming the birth of divine beings", and miraculous healing to "fanciful pagan ideas". Again no New Testament passage quotes "pagan ideas" but the Old Testament is routinely quoted.

Eddie considers the number "12" in the 12 Apostles to be symbolic and points to some apostles having multiple names. However, such an argument would make Mr Eddie himself non-existent and symbolic because he is variously referred to as "Mr Eddie", "Eddie" and "Laurie". The 12 Apostles are all named including alternative names, and when one apostle dropped out he was replaced to retain the total at 12. (Acts 1)

Eddie says "The concept of angels, demons and a divine mediator was Persian." That was discussed in #121-122 with Dr Potter where I cited the Britannica Macropaedia: "The debt of Israel to its eastern neighbours in religious matters is easy to demonstrate on a few precise points of minor importance but less so in other more important points such as dualism, angelology, and eschatology."

Angels, according to the Bible, appeared to Abraham, which was about 2000 years before Zoroastrianism became the official religion of Persia/Parthia. And since those angels were said to deliver messages they were also "divine mediators". The virgin birth of someone who would destroy the devil is implied in Genesis 3:15 and communicated to the first humans. Historically the origin of such an idea and how it spread is unknown.

Mr Eddie goes on to mention Christian bigotry, intolerance and stupidity. However, his comments refer to the 2nd or 3rd century or later when the New Testament predictions of false prophets, antichrists, and imposters had become facts of life.

Nevertheless, I wonder whether the "extreme naivety" of the Church Fathers in offering the regular resurrection of the Phoenix as an argument for Jesus' resurrection is misrepresented. Perhaps their argument was that pagans were inconsistent in believing in a recurring resurrection while denying Jesus' one-off resurrection.


MY AGENDA

What I do is research the accuracy of the Bible to satisfy people who say, "Prove the Bible and I'll believe it." My method is to consult scientific literature to examine whatever in the Bible is testable. This method has confirmed hundreds of biblical claims as truthful.

To oppose these results by citing superficial similarities between the Old Testament and China (or Persia, Egypt, India, Greece, etc) is a dubious response because lists of resemblances establish nothing about the significance or origins of the resemblances.


REFERENCES:

Livingstone, E.A. 1977 The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press

Younger, Jr., K. Lawson Israelites in Exile, Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec, 2003.

www.earlychristianwritings.com/justin.html

www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Phoenix_(mythology)


http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/