Three articles appear below:

1    The Real Story of Christmas   #77                          Laurie Eddie
2    A few comments on...The Real Story of Christmas   Bob Potter
3    The Real Story of Christmas A Response                Anonymous



 

THE REAL STORY
OF CHRISTMAS

Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 87, 2002 November)
 

INTRODUCTION

The town of Bethlehem is referred to as the birthplace of Jesus and thus of Christianity. Yet neither Jesus nor Christianity originated in Bethlehem.

The Christian mythos says that the Christian Church was the end result of an unbroken, ongoing process, whereby:
 

  • Christianity commenced with Jesus;
  • After his death his followers kept the faith alive;
  • The faith was then taken up by Paul who passed it on to the Gentiles.

  •  

     

    This is not how it happened. We’ll look briefly at the factual origins of Christianity using the Christmas story as an example of the confusion and error that is found in the NT. We will examine:
     

  • Where was Jesus born?
  • Was Jesus a Christian?
  • Did Jesus start the Christian Church?
  • How did a polytheistic Christianity emerge from the ‘monotheistic’ Jewish religion?
  • How the Christians suppressed the truth about the Jewish origins of their faith.
  • Was Mary really Jesus’ mother?

  •  

     

    THE NAME "JESUS"

    The Old Testament contains references to at least thirteen men with the name of ‘Jesus.’ In Hebrew the name appears in various forms, as, Joshua, Jeshua, Jeshuah, Jehoshua, Jehoshuah, and Oshea.

    Amongst these are four different Joshuas and nine different Jeshuas mentioned in the Old Testament. Jesus is actually the Greek form of these names, so that in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Book of Joshua is called the Book of Jesus. In all probability the person we know as ‘Jesus’ was most likely called, Yeshu’a ha Notzri, or Jesus of Nazareth.

    Below is the outline of a famous individual. At the end of the outline you will be asked to identify him.
     
     

    • He was born of a virgin mother, in an underground chamber or cave;
    • At his birth shepherds came to him bringing simple gifts.
    • He was said to have been born at the Winter Solstice, the 25th December.
    • He could turn water into wine;
    • He was the enemy of the powers of darkness, he gave his followers victory over temptation, and brought salvation to mankind;
    • Although the powers of darkness were unaware, it was necessary that he die for the sins of his people, so, after a last supper with his disciples he was taken captive by the powers of darkness who crucified him upon a cross;
    • He died with a crown of thorns upon his brow;
    • He was buried in a rock tomb; 
    • Yet despite being put to death, he descended into Hell for three days where he overcame the powers of darkness and was resurrected on the third day;
    • By his resurrection his followers were able to spread the word of his survival and to form new churches, offering salvation to all;
    • His priests were called "Fathers", his followers, "brothers" and "sisters", or "soldiers of the Lord";
    • His followers believed that water had mystical powers to cleanse the souls from guilt and wash away their sins, and, in accepting the new faith they were plunged into water in a baptismal rite, while the priest uttered the words "I now wash away your sins in the name of the Son, the Father and his Holy Spirit." After baptism his followers were said to have been born again;
    • He was known by many names, including, Saviour; Light of the World; Deliverer; Lord, the Dayspring from on high; the Light; and the sun of righteousness.

    If you said Jesus you were wrong. The actual deity described here is Mithra. Most of the claims made about Mithra were assimilated into the Christian Church and identified as attributes of Jesus.
     
     

    NATIVITY STORIES

    Most people would be aware of the Nativity Stories contained in the New Testament, a brief outline is as follows: -

    1.    The angel Gabriel announces to ‘Mary’ that, "… you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall give him the name Jesus." [Matthew 1:30].
    2.    Mary conceives while still a virgin; [Matthew 1:18]
    3.    Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem to…register at the city of David; [Luke 2:4]
    4.    Jesus born in a stable (manger, or cave); [Luke 2:7]
    5.    Angels announce the birth of the messiah to the shepherds. They go to worship Jesus; [Luke 2:8-18]
    6.    The Magi, (Astrologers, Wise Men), see a star in the west. They travel to Jerusalem and visit Herod seeking to determine, Where is the child that is born to be the king of the Jews? [Matthew 2:1-2]
    7.    Herod is advised that the new king will be born at Bethlehem in Judea; [Matthew 2:5]
    8.    The Magi continue to follow the star and find Jesus and his parents and give them rare and precious gifts, of the type given to princes; [Matthew 2:11]
    9.    Mary and Joseph are warned that Herod intends to kill all the young children, so they flee to Egypt; [Matthew 2:13]
    10.    The execution of the innocents, Herod’s soldiers slaughter all children under the age of two years; [Matthew 2:16]

    We need to ask ourselves, how much of this general outline is factual?

    It appears that the only single fact contained in this nativity outline is the fact that Jesus was born. Although some scholars would dispute even this. However, we do not know:

  • When he was born (various estimations place it between 8 and 4 BCE);
  • Where he was born, (although we can say with some degree of certainty that he was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem);
  • His mother’s real name; although it is most unlikely she was called Mary.

  •  

     

    Not only is it the situation that nine out of the ten items referring to the biblical account of the nativity are fictional, they are in fact the myths and legends of the Gentiles who became members of the Christian Church. The obvious question is, how is it that so many Gentile traditional stories about their deities came to be attached to the figure of Jesus a Jew?

    According to the Oxford Dictionary a myth is a traditional narrative usually involving supernatural or imaginary persons and embodying popular ideas on natural or social phenomena; while a legend is a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated. There were many such stories in the various Gentile traditions, and what appears to have happened is that because they were well-known, part of their respective cultures, they were easily assimilated into the new faith.

    It had long been a tradition of conquering empires to simply add the deities of conquered races into their own pantheon, usually identifying particular deities with their own. Thus Dionysus, an Eastern fertility god became identified with Bacchus, and he was worshipped throughout the Roman Empire as the same deity, but under different names. Following this tradition Jesus was to become identified as one of the many saviour gods, and, as such, he was given the attributes of these non-Jewish deities. In this Jesus was converted from an ordinary human being, and, as a Jew, a son of God, into Jesus Christ a new Gentile deity who was identified as the ‘Son of God’ a transcendental, pre-existent deity. To the Jewish followers of Jesus this was nothing less than blasphemy, and what was most surprising was that this incredible conversion began with Paul, himself a Jew.

    Although largely fictional the Nativity stories do serve one useful purpose. They represent a model with which we can examine the rest of the gospels, for, just as the nativity stories comprise a few facts, mixed in with a great deal of fiction, we find this same pattern repeated in the ‘gospels.’

    The term ‘gospel’ is very much a misnomer, for the word literally means the "good news" (evangelion) that is, that the kingdom of God is approaching, and indeed it was expected to happen within the then current generation. This promise is recorded in Mark 13:30-32,
     

    "I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all. Heaven and earth will pass away: my words will never pass away. But about that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, only the Father."


    Just as this was a false promise so too the gospels contain very few ‘facts’ along with a great deal of false promises, and a great deal of material from Gentile sources. As such they have little real relevance to the historical Jesus, since many of the gospel stories are really the feats of other deities, attributed to Jesus, and having been written by people who had little knowledge or understanding of the Jews and their existence in Judea, got the facts wrong. As a result many of the stories about Jesus are quite impossible; for instance the claim that Jesus attacked the moneylenders in the Temple is most unlikely.

    The reason that such a claim is unlikely is that the temple in Jerusalem was one of the most securely guarded premises in Judea. The temple had its own police force, a band of armed guards who patrolled all the public parts of the temple looking for possible troublemakers. These guards were especially alert for any known troublemakers, or groups of individuals, since it was common for various sect leaders to attend at the temple with groups of their followers, and it was assumed that if trouble was to erupt, it would most likely occur with such groups. At any sign of trouble the Temple Guard would quickly take control. If a major revolt was to occur they could always get immediate assistance from the Romans, although there is no record that they ever had to do so.

    Situated adjacent to the Temple, and actually forming part of the temple wall, was the Fortress Antonio. This was a Roman fortress, a high stone tower that contained a permanent detachment of Roman troops. The main tower of this fortress overlooked the public courtyards of the temple and Roman sentries were on 24-hour guard watching over the temple terraces below for any signs of trouble.

    It would have had to be a very foolish individual who attempted to disrupt the daily operations of the temple, so it is unlikely that Jesus ever attacked the money lenders.

    This is not to say that all the gospel stories are false. There are some passages in the gospels that have a particularly parochial appearance and suggest that, if as we must assume, they were recorded by Gentiles, they were actually words spoken if not by Jesus, then at least by some other Palestinian Jew. Indeed many of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually the words of other Jewish rabbis, such as the great teacher Hillel, an Alexandrian Jew.

    One such parable is found in Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25, where Jesus is claimed to have said that, "…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

    Whoever spoke these words was obviously a Jewish teacher of the law, for it involves some quite complex issues that tend to be overlooked by most Christians and would have made no sense to a Gentile. If these were in fact the real words of Jesus, they give us a good indication of what he was really like, a straightforward, no-nonsense teacher, who stood up for what he believed. Unlike many Jews who sought to gain the favour of the rich and powerful, whoever spoke these words, was not afraid to speak plainly about the fate of those who did not prepare for the coming kingdom.

    The message was directed specifically to the wealthy Jewish aristocrats and what it says is that simply because you are a member of a privileged group you will not automatically receive special favours to get into the coming kingdom, much less will you receive automatic privileges in the coming kingdom. It was commonly assumed by the Jews, that because they were the "chosen-race" that when the kingdom of God arrived on earth, all Jews would automatically qualify to be in the kingdom. But Jesus is saying this is a wrong assumption.

    To properly understand what he is saying we need to look at the terminology he uses. Most Christians assume that the term literally meant "the eye of a needle" and that Jesus is saying that it will be impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. However, just as Cleopatra's Needle is not an ordinary sewing needle, neither does the "needle's eye" refer to the eye of an ordinary needle. What it refers to is in fact a small gate.

    Most ancient cities had thick defensive walls. Entry was gained through various sized gates. In most of the large gates there was a small opening, designed to allow easy passage to single individuals, when the main gate was closed to animal and vehicular traffic. Such gates can be seen at the entrance to most present day prisons. These gates were commonly called the "needle's eye". Now while a camel could conceivably get through these small gates, it was a very difficult task. To do so, one had to completely unload the camel, and even then the animal had to kneel down and struggle through on its knees. While camels could kneel quite easily it was extremely difficult to get them to walk forward in a kneeling position.

    So what this parable meant was, "Not every Jew is going to walk straight into the kingdom of God. Just as it is very difficult to get a camel to kneel down and walk through a small gate, it is going to be just as difficult for some people to get into the kingdom. Some will first have to get rid of their load, (their physical possessions, their wealth, their positions of power and influence), and then they will have to adopt a position they are not used to, to get down on their hands and knees and struggle through into the kingdom."

    This parable has become more confusing with the passage of time, for most Christians now associate the kingdom of God, with heaven. But the kingdom of God did not refer specifically to a heavenly "kingdom" but rather to a physical kingdom, a theocracy that God was to establish upon the earth.

    So where does that leave us? It appears most likely that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth, around the years 8-4 BCE, to a mother whose name is unknown; that he grew up in Nazareth, and then, at about the age of thirty, he left home to become a nomadic preacher.

    We do not know for certain if he claimed to be the messiah, but it appears that many of his followers, the Nazarenes, believed he was. His principal message was that the Kingdom of God was at hand, a claim that was considered seditious by the Roman authorities — and Jesus was arrested, brought before Pilate, convicted and executed by the Romans.

    There was no Joseph of Arimathea, he was a fictional character, manufactured for the purpose of providing a tomb; indeed there was no tomb either. The body of Jesus was thrown into an unmarked grave. There was no resurrection and, but for an unusual series of events that occurred after his death, Jesus would have been quickly forgotten and Christianity would never have emerged.

    It is important to understand that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity, it was Paul.

    Before proceeding it is important to briefly note the role of the messiah. There is considerable difference between the Jewish messiah and the Christian Messiah.

    As mentioned earlier, the Nazarenes appear to have believed that Jesus was the Jewish messiah — ‘the anointed one.’ To the Jews the messiah was a man who had been chosen by God to lead them to ultimate victory against their earthly enemies. With God and legions of angels behind them they would subdue all the nations of the Earth. Then would be established the Kingdom of God, a theocracy with God at the head, and the Jews as his administrators, who would rule the world until the end of time!

    The Jews eagerly awaited this new kingdom when they could finally put behind them a long history of subjugation by powerful empires that had defeated and humiliated them and abused their religion.

    In earthly politics the Jews were regarded as being of little importance but in the coming Kingdom of God they would be the rulers. Even the lowliest Jew dreamt of the great changes. No longer would they be the subjects of an oppressive empire but the rulers and the Romans conquered subjects.

    One can therefore appreciate how important Jesus was to the Nazarenes for, as the Jewish messiah, he was the vanguard of a completely new world order. So it must have been a devastating blow to his followers when Jesus was crucified, for it not only meant the end of all their individual hopes but also the end of the great Jewish dream. As they sought to rationalize the situation things started to change. Soon a process of cognitive dissonance commenced.

    Cognitive dissonance is basically a form of rationalization. When someone invests a great deal of personal effort into a particular cause in the expectation that it will come to fruition, but the belief crashes, it is difficult for them to accept the reality. There is confusion in their mind, a refusal to accept the reality. So what they do is look for an alternative explanation.

    This is what appears to have happened with the Nazarenes. A number of his followers claimed to have seen Jesus alive and the Nazarenes used these sightings as the basis of an alternative explanation, one that would overcome their dissonance at the fact of the crucifixion. Individuals claiming to have seen someone who was dead was not entirely uncommon in the past. Many witnesses claimed to have seen various Roman emperors alive after their death and as we know this is not all that uncommon — given the many who have claimed to have seen Elvis alive.

    Such ‘evidence’ encouraged the Nazarenes to rationalize the disaster of the crucifixion. They examined the Jewish scriptures and other sources for evidence to support an alternative scenario, one that included the execution of the messiah and his resurrection. It was not hard to find supporting texts in the voluminous content of the Hebrew Bible and in traditional teachings of the Jews. Soon these scriptures were being quoted as proof that God had a hidden plan.

    An important part of the overall rationale was the resurrection. Despite the very clear bias in the NT against the Pharisees, it appears very likely that Jesus and the Nazarenes followed the teachings of the Pharisees. One of their beliefs, (not shared by other Jewish groups like the Sadducees), was that in the ‘end-time’ the graves of all dead Jews would open up and the dead would rise in their former physical bodies to join the living to share the Kingdom of God.

    Using this scenario they surmised, what if Jesus had been the forerunner of this resurrection process, the first to be reborn? Then Jesus was not only ‘alive’ but, even better, all that he had promised would still come to pass and his close followers would still gain their positions of power in the coming Kingdom. On this basis the Nazarenes (not Christians) continued to preach the message of Jesus in the expectation that the Kingdom of God was at hand!

    Had extraneous events not intruded this group might have been able to survive. However, two major events brought about their demise. These were:

    [1] The arrival of the ‘converted’ Paul; and

    [2] The Jewish War with Rome.

    Paul was a strange character. There appears to be numerous inconsistencies concerning his relationships with the Nazarenes and other aspects of his life. For instance: -
     

  • It seems unlikely that he was a student of Gamaliel;
  • It is unlikely that he persecuted the Christians from personal religious motivations. It seems more likely that he was simply a henchman of the Jewish rulers, one of the Temple Policemen;
  • The claim that he was travelling to Damascus to persecute the Nazarenes is total fiction. The High Priest of Jerusalem had no authority over Damascus, which was a Syrian city, and since each Jewish synagogue was an independent entity, he also had no power over these congregations.

  •  

     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    Religiously Paul appears to have been a confused individual. He
    appears to have dabbled in the esotoric teachings of Gnosticims. There is clear evidence of this in his writings, where he constantly uses Gnostic terminology e.g.:
     

  • … imparting full wisdom and insight. (Ephesians 1:8);
  • Spiritual powers of wisdom… your inward eyes may be illuminated (Ephesians 1:17-18);
  • … dominion, authority and power, (1 Corinthians 15:24);
  • … the invisible order of thrones, sovereignties, authorities and powers. (Colossians 1:16);
  • Powers and Dominions (Ephesians 1:21);
  • Cosmic powers, against the authorities and potentates of this dark world… (Ephesians 6:12);
  • Spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:45);
  • He who ascended far above all heavens (Ephesians 4:10);
  • We were slaves to passion and pleasures of every kind. (Titus 3:3);
  • … the name above all names. (Philippians 2:9-10).

  • Paul’s movements after he was ‘converted’ are unclear. During his time as a teacher of the new gospel he had little contact with the Nazarene leaders. The generally accepted story is that after his conversion he went up to Jerusalem. However, according to Galatians 1:16-18, he admits that after he was converted, he went, "…at once to Arabia, and afterwards returned to Damascus. Three years later I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas." (cf. Acts 9:26). It was to be another 14 years before he again returned to Jerusalem.

    What appears to have occurred is that Paul started preaching a separate gospel — (he refers to this new gospel as the one that had been revealed to him alone) — that was very different to the one preached by the Nazarenes. While they taught that Jesus was the messiah, the saviour of the Jewish nation, and as such a human being, chosen by God, Paul started to teach that Jesus was a pre-existing, transcendental saviour of all humankind. Such an idea was not only incomprehensible to the Jewish Nazarenes but also quite blasphemous for it clearly contravened the basic concept of Judaism that there is but one god, Jahweh.

    The following table shows the differences between the Nazarenes’ idea of the messiah and that which Paul was preaching.
     
     

    The Nazarene (Jewish) messiah Paul’s Messiah
    A son of God. The Son of God.
    An ordinary human. The transcendental, pre-existent Lord of Glory, a supreme deity.
    Born of a human mother. Born of a human mother.
    Had a human father. God was his ‘father’.
    Inspired by God to be a great leader, who would lead the Jews against the Romans. Had powers similar to God
    Born at about 8-4 BCE Never born, always existed. Was incarnated as a human.
    Born to fight the Romans. Incarnated to fight the invisible powers that ruled the lower world.
    Crucified by the Romans. Crucified by the hidden powers of the world, the Archons.
    His crucifixion part of God’s plan to usher in the resurrection of the dead and the Kingdom of God. His crucifixion part of God’s plan to deceive the Archons into believing the saviour was no longer a threat.
    A leader who would restore Judaism as the principal world religion in a newly created theocracy. A saviour who saved individuals from the power of death and who would soon return to create a new world order.
    An important historical figure. His physical existence and his earthly life were really unimportant; all that really mattered were the transcendental aspects of his life.
    A leader who would save the Jews. As such his message was for the Jews alone. The saviour of all humankind. As such his message was for all humanity, not just Jews.
     
    Because they viewed Jesus as the Jewish messiah who brought the message of the coming kingdom, which was for the Jews alone, the Nazarenes wanted to restrict their teachings to the Jews. Paul, on the other hand, took his message to the Gentiles, proclaiming the coming of a universal saviour who would save individuals from damnation regardless of their race.

    When Paul took this message to the Gentiles he found a receptive audience. Most were conquered races oppressed by Rome. Even worse, throughout the empire economies were unstable since all workers, even the skilled artisans, were forced to compete against the huge alternative workforce of slaves owned by the wealthy. In such a world where the other saviour gods were only interested in those wealthy enough to afford elaborate rituals and large monetary donations, the alternative offered by Paul was attractive. Not only was Jesus a saviour god but, like themselves, he had known poverty and hardship and identified with their needs.

    In offering the Gentiles a new saviour deity Paul was teaching a doctrine that was not only alien but would have been abhorrent to the Nazarenes. The Jews believed, as the "chosen race", all Jews were sons and daughters of God. Paul converted Jesus from a ‘son of God’ into the "Son of God" that is, a pre-existent deity, the equal of God. While such a concept was relatively common in the ancient non-Jewish world it was alien and unacceptable to the Jews.

    Paul appears to have gone to great lengths to hide what he was actually teaching especially in the early days. Paul relied upon the support of Jewish communities throughout the empire; the Gentile converts were able to meet in the Jewish synagogues where they worshipped alongside the Jews. Later as the truth of what he was doing started to emerge, the Nazarene leaders called Paul back to Jerusalem where he appears to have lied to them.

    By the time they realized the truth that Paul was preaching a gospel that was very different from the one they preached, it was too late. The numbers of Gentiles who had been attracted to the Paulian faith were so large that they were now in a situation where they were able to break free of their Jewish origins and become established in their own right.

    In preaching his new gospel and transferring the religious base from the Jews to the Gentiles, Paul effectively weakened the Nazarene power base. The Nazarenes were simply another Jewish sect, one of many. Paul constantly attacked their Jewish articles of faith as too restrictive. Paul viewed the Nazarenes as anachronistic; their ‘old’ message, he claimed, had been superseded by his ‘new gospel’. While the Nazarenes continued to preach the imminent return of Jesus who, on behalf of the Jews, would usher in the Kingdom of God, Paul presented Jesus as the Gnostic’s universal saviour concerned with the redemption of the individual from a world inherently corrupt and evil.

    To get his message over to the Gentiles who were part of the Roman Empire, Paul appears to have adopted an increasingly anti-Jewish approach that helped to turn the Gentile converts against all Jews. Jesus was increasingly presented as a saviour figure concerned with saving humankind. His identity was changed, the messiah of the Jews became the Messiah of the Christians, and he grew increasingly distant from the original Jewish concept of the messiah.

    We do not know whether or not there was a major confrontation between the Nazarenes and Paul over the false doctrines he was teaching. By 60 A.D. when Paul was under arrest it was already too late. The Gentile church was effectively independent. The Nazarenes had lost control of the situation — cut adrift, a small Jewish sect. Then came the final straw, the Jewish War, which virtually wiped them out.

    The Jewish authorities had tried to control the rebels within their midst for they knew that if any radical group was to threaten Rome it could result in full-scale war. They were aware that they, not the Romans, would be the losers. Their worst fears were realized in 66 A.D. when a group of Zealot rebels attacked a Roman convoy and the Jews found themselves at war with Rome.

    Jerusalem was placed under siege and held out defiantly until 70 A.D. when the Romans finally breached the city walls and swept into the city. They slaughtered every male in sight taking the women and the young into captivity to later be sold into slavery. Their commander ordered them to level the city. Not a single building nor a living Jew were left in the remains of Jerusalem.

    The destruction of Jerusalem was almost the final blow for the Nazarenes; it seems likely their principal leaders were killed during the siege. There is some suggestion that a small number survived and escaped, but since the Romans banned all Jews from returning to Judea, they could not return. The Nazarene movement was effectively eliminated and we hear nothing further concerning the original leaders. There is mention of a small group called the Ebionites who lived in the eastern desert wasteland and preached a message similar to that of the followers of Jesus. Whether or not they were the last of the Nazarenes we do not know but they too quickly faded into obscurity.

    With the loss of the original core of followers this left only one group that claimed to be followers of Jesus — the Gentiles who had been converted by Paul. They had grown into a significant religious group and were now spread throughout the central portion of the Roman Empire. Derided by the inhabitants of Antioch who had insultingly referred to them as "Chrestos" (Christians), a term meaning ‘followers of the Christ’, they had adopted this name. Like many later Christian groups, such as the Methodists, (who were flippantly given that name by the Anglicans because they were so "methodical"), they accepted the name with pride and the name spread. It was within this environment of Gentile belief in a Gentile world that the ‘gospels’ took form.

    Victors write the history books, we never hear the side of the conquered. So it was with Christianity. It was the Gentile Christians who survived to write the New Testament. Seeking to avoid any direct confrontation with the Roman Empire they twisted many aspects of the life of Jesus to present him in a favourable light. To conceal the fact that Jesus had been guilty of sedition against Rome, they claimed he had been crucified for blasphemy, a crime against Judaism, yet the punishment for blasphemy was either banning or stoning. Crucifixion was only used against enemies of Rome, terrorists, rebels, robbers who attacked Roman convoys, or those who preached sedition against Rome.

    They went to great lengths to hide the fact that Jesus was anti Roman by claiming that he had publicly advocated accepting the rule of Rome. They claimed that Jesus had stated, "… render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s." [Matthew 22: 21; Luke 20:25]. The fact is, if Jesus had actually made such a statement all of his followers would have immediately abandoned him, for it was inconceivable that the Jewish messiah could ever preach reconciliation with Rome.

    Finally the Gentile Christians placed the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews, thus freeing the Romans of all responsibility.

    In Mark 13:30-32, we can read the words
    "I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all. Heaven and earth will pass away: my words will never pass away. But about that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, only the Father.
    So it was, in the early days of the new faith it was expected that Jesus would return very soon, ‘within the lifetime of the disciples’ so there was never ever considered any need for an historical record of the life of Jesus; such a record would have been superfluous.

    As time passed and all of the disciples died, the next generation wanted to know about the early history of the faith. There were already many oral traditions about the life of Jesus, most grossly exaggerated and mixed up with legend and myth. It appears there were also some documents recording sayings attributed to Jesus, (many were actually from other rabbis such as Hillel), and finally an attempt was made to collect these into books. The result were the gospels, meaning ‘the good news’ — (in fact the name is a misnomer, for it referred to the good news that the kingdom of God was coming, and since it did not, and has not come, the name is misleading).

    Unknown authors, who knew very little about Jesus or Palestine, wrote the gospels. They were forced to rely upon the following: -
     

  • Limited written material that had become adulterated by the inclusion of material mentioned in the former categories.
  • Oral traditions, stories told about Jesus, which although they contained some points of fact, had become contaminated by the fact that in their countless retelling many additional claims and exaggerations had been added.
  • Supplementary oral stories; these were simply made up stories about Jesus, and had no factual basis. Most of these included deeds that were comparable to those of the various pagan deities and were designed to promote the image that Jesus was greater and more powerful than all of the pagan gods. These included stories such as turning water into wine, (Bacchus); feeding the multitudes (Ceres); curing the sick (Aesclapius); raising the dead (Isis); and that, in his resurrection, his powers surpassed even the powers of Hades. Many of these stories probably evolved from arguments and disputes amongst ordinary people Christians arguing with pagan neighbours and were aimed at ‘proving’ that Jesus was the equal of the pagan deities.

  • Even after these stories were written down supplementary material continued to be added. These came from two sources: -
  • Where the principal author considered it appropriate he would add extra material to the old stories or simply include new ones;
  • Annotations to the text, usually some scholar scribbling notes in the margins, and later these were included as part of the main text when copied.

  • We can see evidence of the emerging Gentile Christian throughout the gospels. The Gospel of Mark commences with the words, Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. The statements that [1] Jesus is the Christ and [2] Jesus was the ‘Son of God’, are clearly not Jewish in origin, so whoever wrote this gospel was definitely not a Nazarene; it could only have been written by a follower of Paul!

    Furthermore, since the Gospel of Mark is accepted as the earliest gospel we can see that the non-Jewish ideas, those of the Gentile Christians, concerning the nature of Jesus were already far advanced. The miracles of the gospels were readily accepted because these converts were already accustomed to accept such ideas as:
     

  • a three-in-one god;
  • deities could impregnate human women;
  • the offspring of such a union were wonder-working demigods who could perform miracles, such as controlling the weather, healing the sick and raising the dead.

  • Following this course Jesus simply became another solar deity. Jesus was given all the titles of other solar deities, The Light; The Light of the World. Because he was a solar deity he had to be born in a cave, (underground) as this was the place where the sun travels to at night. Then, after defeating the powers of the underworld (death) the sun is reborn each day. This was the basis of the resurrection story.

    It was from the identification of Jesus as a solar deity that so much of the nativity story emerged. So, for instance, Luke 2:7 repeats the traditional pagan myth that the sun was born each day ‘in a cave’.

    Our modern Christmas celebrations are based upon beliefs that predate Christianity. The Nativity Story, like the rest of the stories in the gospels, was taken from much older pantheistic sources. Many were simply adopted from the former religions of the Gentile converts. What are the origins of some of these aspects of the nativity story?

    Finally, what was the name of Jesus’ mother? We know that, according to the New Testament she was named Mary. However, there is a problem with this, for we read in John 19:26, … near the cross where Jesus hung stood his mother, with her sister Mary wife of Clopas. In other words Jesus’ mother and her sister were both named Mary! We need to ask the question, would anyone have had two daughters, both named Mary? While it is possible to conceive such an event, it is extremely unlikely.

    It is more probable that Jesus’ mother was not named Mary. It seems likely that her actual name has been forgotten. As the mother of the future messiah she was probably not considered of great importance, for the woman who bore the future messiah did not really contribute to the process. Yahweh, not the mother, determined the character of the messiah. It was Yahweh who selected a male and made him special by instilling in him the divine wisdom that would make him the messiah.

    Later, when the Gentile Christians defined Jesus in the role of a solar deity it was natural that following the ancient traditions of former solar deities the name of his mother should be the same as the name given to all the virgin mothers who bore solar-deities.

    In the various solar religions the name of the virgin mother was, in its various forms, Maya, Myrrha, Myrrh, Maia, Maira. In the Hebrew this name was translated as Miriam which, along with all the other variations are translated into English as, Mary.

    Maya was the virgin mother of Buddha.
    Myrrha, or Myrrh, was the virgin mother of Adonis.
    Maia was the virgin mother of Hermes.
    Maira was the star of Isis, the dog-star, Sirius.
     
     

    Born on 25th December a) This date represented the birth of the solar deity at the winter equinox when the sun was "reborn" around the 22nd December. However because of a lack of proper instruments there was a leeway of several days. 
    b) As most of the great ancient deities and heroes were solar gods they were all claimed to have been born at this time of the year.
    c) The 25th December was the birth date of Mithra, the Son of Righteousness.
    d) This was originally the date of the Roman Saturnalia, a time of rejoicing and exchanging of gifts. 
    e) The claim that this was the birth-date of Jesus was not generally accepted until the 4th century.
    Born of a Virgin Most of the ancient demi-gods and famous humans, e.g. Adonis, Apollo, Astarte, Attis, Baal, Buddha; Dionysus, Hercules, Horus, Isis, Mithra and Osiris were all born of a virgin mother. This idea came from the cycles of the seasons that each year the Earth Goddess, (Mother Earth), was born anew, as a virgin.
    One of the earliest records is found in the Temple of Luxor. Pictures on the walls show That, the Annunciator of the Gods hailing the virgin queen Mut-em-ua, announcing to her that she is to bear the ‘coming son.’ In the next scene she is depicted being impregnated by the god Kneph, (the spirit or holy-ghost).
    Born in a cave Adonis, Apollo, Astarte, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Hercules, Horus, Isis, Mithra and Osiris had all been born in a cave, or an underground chamber. This idea relates again to the idea of the Earth Goddess as giving birth in "the womb of the Earth." 
    The ‘Cave of Mithra’ was the birth-place of the sun at the Winter solstice; also known as the ‘cave of light.’
    Born in a manger Horus, the Egyptian messiah was said to have been born at the Vernal Equinox, in Apt, or Apta, meaning ‘in the corner.’ It also meant ‘in the manger’ or ‘in the crib.’ Ancient Egyptians regularly carried through the streets of their cities, a crib with a figure of Horus displayed therein.
    Wrapped in swaddling clothes Hermes, Dionysus and Ion were all wrapped in swaddling clothes. 
    This appears to be a factual account for it was the practice to wrap newly born babies in tight wrappings to make it feel that it was back in the womb. This process provided the newly born child with a feeling of physical reassurance and stopped the baby crying. This is in direct contradiction to the later myths that Jesus was an unusual well-behaved baby. 
    Star It was recorded in the ancient stories ofZoroaster that, in the latter days, a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and that, at the time of his birth, a star would shine at noonday. And, You, …shall be the first honoured by the manifestation of that divine person who is to appear… A star shall go forth before you to conduct you to the place of his nativity and when you shall find him, present to him your oblations and sacrifices, for he is indeed your lord and an everlasting king. (Such oblations were usually gold and precious spices; the traditional Persian gifts to the sun). 
    Horus was said to have been born at the time when the three stars in Orion’s belt were in the sign of the Apis, the sacred bull. These three stars were known as the Stars of Horus, or the Three Kings. The legend that a special star, or stars will appear at the birth of the coming saviour, is about 6,000 years old.
    [a] Star of Bethlehem
     
     
     
     
     
     

    [b] Slaughter of the Innocents
     
     

    [c] Flight to Egypt

    a) According to ancient Hebrew tradition when Abraham was born a star appeared in the east and moved across the heavens. Wise men from the East seeking to find the new king went to the court of King Nimrod and told him that the star signified the birth of a child who was destined to be a great king. Nimrod was afraid that this new child would one day overthrow his reign, so he sent his soldiers to slay the child, but God protected him by dispatching the angel Gabriel to conceal him by clouds and mists. Afterwards Terah fearing for the boy’s life fled secretly from the country. 
    b) Legend relates that Mary fled into Egypt with Jesus, Isis fled to Asia Minor, or to the Nile swamps with Horus; Rhea fled to Crete to bear Zeus in secrecy; Latonia to a secret grove to bear Apollo; and Evadne to the bushes to bear Iamos.
    c) The ‘star’ was actually the saviour figure. According to the myths of Buddha when his mother conceived his mother’s side became clear as crystal through which the divine child could be seen in all his glory.
    Animals At the birth of Dionysus an ox and an ass adored him. Christian legend says that an ox and an ass also adored the infant Jesus.
    Wise Men The story of the Magi is based upon traditional stories that claimed that special humans were "marked" by the stars even before birth and that Astrologers seeing the signs in the sky knew of the coming of these special people. (Traditionally the three wise men were the three stars in Orion’s Belt).

    a) According to myth, soon after his birth Osiris was visited by "wise men" called the Magi.
    b) Krishna, Mithra and Zoroaster were all said to have been visited by the Magi;
    c) Pliny and Dio Cassius recorded that when Nero was born in 37 AD he was visited by King Tiridates, a famous magician and sage, who was accompanied by several other magi. This story was spread after he became emperor in 54 AD. Surrounded by sycophants they sought to gain his favour by proclaiming that, at his birth, his special nature had been acknowledged in the stars and that certain magi in the East, who had seen unusual signs in the heavens signifying the birth of a special man-god, had travelled to Antium to visit the infant prodigy.

    Gifts [1] The Magi presented the infant Mithra with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh
    [2] Soon after his birth Krishna was presented with rare and precious gifts of sandal-wood and perfumes.
    [3] In the pictures in the Temple of Luxor the newly born infant is shown seated on a throne, receiving homage from the gods and gifts from men.
    Shepherds Most of the ancient male gods had as their symbols either the bull or the sheep, those who looked after cattle and sheep were accorded special status as the "protectors of the symbols of the gods" and it was a common myth that when the deity returned the first people to be told of his arrival would be the herdsmen and shepherds.

    In the legends of Krishna, it is recorded that: -
    a) Angels announced to the shepherds the birth of the divine child, they were the first to whom the true nature of the divine child was revealed;
    b) The divine child was cradled among shepherds.

    Host of Angels a) Only Luke mentions the angelic host. 
    b) The NT story appears to be based upon the legends of the sage Apollonius. It was claimed that at his birth "…a flock of swans surrounded his mother, and, flapping their wings, …they sang in unison, {Doane, p. 148} proclaiming the coming of a special child. 
    c) At the birth of Osiris the great god Ra, (the sun), proclaimed from heaven that a great and powerful god had been born. 
    d)According to Greek legend when his son Hercules was born, Zeus spoke from the heavens announcing, "This day shall a child be born of the race of Perseus, who shall be the mightiest of the sons of men.
    e) At the birth of Krishna, (said to have occurred 1,200 BCE), angels came to announce his birth.
     
    NOTES:

    Mithra was said to have been born on the 25th December. This is hardly remarkable for Mithra, like many of the ancient deliverers of salvation, was a solar deity. In ancient time religion was essentially dualistic. This is a simple division of the cosmos into light and darkness; the good deities were represented by the powers of light, and the greatest light was naturally the sun.

    [1] The 25th December, was originally the Roman Saturnalia, a time of rejoicing and exchanging of gifts. It was also the birth date of Mithra, the Son of Righteousness. In the 4th century this date was adopted by the majority of Christians but the Armenians refused to accept this day.

    [2] Pagan creeds popular at the time of Jesus, and for several centuries preceding his birth, were Adonis, Apollo, Astarte, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Hercules, Horus, Isis, Mithra and Osiris. Of nearly all the deities above it was said and believed that:
    (1) They were born on or very near our Christmas Day. (2) They were born of a Virgin-Mother. (3) And in a Cave or Underground Chamber. (4) They led a life of toil for Mankind. (5) And were called by the names of Light-bringer, Healer, Mediator, Saviour, Deliverer. (6) They were however vanquished by the Powers of Darkness. (7) And descended into Hell or the Underworld. (8) They rose again from the dead and became the pioneers of mankind to the Heavenly world. (9) They founded communions of Saints, and Churches into which disciples were received by Baptism. (10) And they were commemorated by Eucharistic meals. Carpenter, p. 21.
     

    [3] Mithra was born in a cave on the 25th December. He was born of a Virgin. He travelled far and wide as a teacher and illuminator of men. He had twelve companions or disciples (the twelve months). He was buried in a tomb, from which however he rose again; and his resurrection was celebrated yearly with great rejoicings. He was called Saviour and Mediator, and sometimes figured as a Lamb; and sacramental feasts in remembrance of him were held by his followers. Carpenter, p. 21

    [4] Dionysus, like other Sun or Nature deities, was born of a Virgin (Semele or Demeter) untainted by any earthly husband; and born on the 25th December. He was nurtured in a Cave, and even at that early age was identified with the Ram or Lamb,* into whose form he was for the time being changed. At times also he was worshiped in the form of a Bull. He travelled far and wide; and brought the great gift of wine to mankind.** He was called Liberator and Saviour. His grave was shown at Delphi in the inmost shrine of the temple of Apollo. Secret offerings were brought thither, while the women who were celebrating the feast woke up the new-born god. Carpenter, p. 52 (* cf. the shepherds who came to worship the baby Jesus. ** Cf. Wedding at Cana. It was the women who found Jesus risen from his tomb)

    [5] In the Parthian epoch, for example there existed a great syncretic myth of the Cosmocrator, Redemptor, of which Mithra, born of a rock or out of a cave, was the protagonist. His birth, which would later be celebrated on 25 December, was accompanied by special signs and by luminous epiphanies and taken as symbolic of a kind of royal initiation. The Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 580.

    Date of birth: Sometime before 4 BCE since according to Matthew Herod the Great was still alive. (Matthew 2:1)

    The three wise men, this story originally referred to the birth of the Emperor Nero. Born in 37 AD when he became emperor in 54 AD he was surrounded by those who sought to gain his favour by proclaiming his exceptional nature. One of the manufactured stories was that he was divine, and that even at his birth his special nature had been acknowledged in the stars, (a common claim in those times), and that certain magi in the East who had seen a unusual heavenly signs had travelled to Antium to visit the infant prodigy.

    The very same expediency which had demanded that Jesus should have been generated by God also turned his mother into a goddess. Hyperdulia, or the worship of the Virgin Mary - also called Marianity or Mariology - owes its origin to the fact that the most popular Roman goddess which Christianity had to combat was Isis, the former Egyptian deity whose son had also been generated by a god. Isis worship could be countered only by the new faith absorbing the pagan goddess, and so Isis became Mary the Mother of God, even assuming the pagan deity's titles of 'Redemptress' and 'Star of the Sea'. In fact, the very first statues of Mary in Rome were merely those of Isis with—literally a new coat of paint; even her elaborate temples were taken over to house the chief goddess of the new paganism.

    For the first three centuries the Church had ignored Mary, but after the Roman Empire had fallen to Christianity and Constantine's Council of Nicea had conducted its ballot of the Bishops - which decided that Jesus was divine, the Son of God and God himself - it became obvious that special status was required for his mother.

    The wheels of Hyperdulia began turning with the astonishing proposal of Chrysostom, the 4th century Patriarch of Constantinople, that Mary had experienced 'perpetual virginity'. Put bluntly, he argued that Mary's hymen had remained intact not only through the process of conception, but was still so after the birth of Jesus.
     



     
     

    A few comments on Laurie Eddie's
    THE REAL STORY OF CHRISTMAS

    Bob Potter

    (Investigator 88, 2003 January)




    Laurie Eddie (Investigator 87) magnificently covered much ground exploring the origins of the Christ myth and the early development of Christianity. Covering so much in a mere 22 pages left many specifics requiring expansion. I say this because I would not wish my addenda to be perceived as an attempt to undermine Eddie's important contribution.

    Basic critiques of Christian mythology were frequent a century ago. In today's world, however, the claims of Christian apologists are largely ignored—and rarely challenged. I hope The Real Story of Christmas will be read by those beginning to challenge the superstitions imparted to them during childhood.

    How should one answer the simple question, "Was Jesus an historical person?" As Laurie points out, in its Hebrew forms (Joshua probably being the most common) Jesus was a common name. In every Palestinian town there would have been scores bearing that name—as today, hundreds answer to Fred or Tom. In this sense, there were hundreds of historical Jesuses in the period 8 - 4 BC.

    However, in a deeper sense, the question really means "Was that person who wandered about Palestine curing the blind, raising, the dead, talking to and casting out demons, walking on water, withering fig trees and resurrecting himself from the grave etc., an historical person?" The answer to this question must be "No". In two thousand years, human knowledge and understanding have progressed. Today, the majority of educated people reject such tales as superstition.

    In a desperate attempt to rescue the groundings of their doctrines, many so-called "progressive" Christians try to argue that although the narratives of the gospels may be fiction, nevertheless the teachings of Jesus are unique and divinely inspired and perhaps the myths were created to help people understand the "teachings".

    The only evidence we have regarding both the life and teachings of the mythical Jesus is to be found in the gospels. John has nothing to say regarding Christ's nativity. The earliest Gospel is that attributed to Mark. I do not share Eddie's view that Mark is a 'Pauline' gospel (very dangerous to assess it on the basis of its opening words, obviously added at a later date); the authors of Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark in front of them as they wrote. Matthew gives his text a different gloss, seemingly influenced by the Pauline School. I'll return to this point later. Luke, likewise, transcribes from other texts—and says so in his opening verses.

    Interestingly, the earliest pieces of the New Testament ascribed to Paul pre-date the gospels. When Paul, or whoever, claimed "All Scripture is inspired of God…" he was not referring to the books we today describe as "the Greek Scriptures" they had yet to be written.

    Laurie Eddie correctly reports that the stories about Jesus in the four gospels can be matched with similar, but older, tales associated with cult figures from other religions. Indeed there is absolutely no teaching in Christianity that cannot be found in a more ancient belief system. Laurie does well to highlight many of the similarities with Mithraic teachings—could I add to what he has said by pointing out that worshippers of Mithras celebrated a "eucharist", or "totem feast", by drinking the blood of the sacrificed bull.

    It is equally pertinent that the Babylonian Child-God was born in nearby Nasrah, the Babylonian Nazareth!—perhaps a, minor point, but I think Laurie wrongly has his Jesus originating from a real Nazareth. There is no evidence there was such a town, in Palestine, in the period to which we refer. Modern Nazareth is in a different locality and was built at a later date.

    The Watchtower has Jesus growing up in En Nasira "a likely site of ancient Nazareth". Presumably the later ‘Nazarene cult’, of which we know very little, gave rise to the city of Nazareth — not the contra sequence assumed by Laurie?! [Note that John 7:41,42, 52 has Jesus, by his silence, happy to see himself portrayed as "of Galilee" rather than "from Bethlehem"!

    That the supposed teachings of Jesus originate from earlier non-Christian Jewish writings is demonstrated by looking at the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an early Jewish document. The first six chapters, comprising half the text, are purely ethical, making no reference to Jesus or Christ, or the Son or of baptism or any other 'sacrament'. The later chapters have been modified and elaborated by early followers of a cult figure named Jesus who lacks any divine characteristics. The "Lord’s Prayer" appears in the sixth chapter — context suggests it is a pre-Christian prayer.

    I hope readers will seek out the Didache for themselves—a few "tasters" from the early chapters:

    Ch I "Thou shalt love the God who made thee, secondly thy neighbour as thyself; and all things whatsoever thou wouldest not have befall thee, thou too, do not to another… Bless them that curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for them that persecute you… abstain from fleshy and worldly lusts. If any one give thee a blow on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, and thou shalt be perfect; if any one compel thee to go one mile, go with him twain, if any one take thy cloak, give him thy tunic also…

    Ch 2 "Thou shalt not lust after the things of thy neighbour, nor forswear thyself, nor bear false witness, nor revile, nor be revengeful, nor be double-minded or double-tongued; for a snare of death is the double tongue.

    Ch 3 "…become not a murmurer; since it leadeth to blasphemy; nor self-willed, nor evil-minded; for of all of these things blasphemies are begotten. But be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Become long suffering and merciful and guileless and gentle and good, and tremble continually at the words which thou hast heard…"

    To conclude vis-a-vis the "Historical Jesus": in so far as he might have lived a life and "carried out good works", we have no credible information regarding him. In so far as he may have been "a great teacher" we have no evidence of any original thought expressed by him. His "sayings" as reported in the Gospels can be found in earlier documents. The occasional "added" testimony, mainly his prophecies regarding the immediate future, failed to materialize as Laurie Eddie has appropriately reminded us.

    What about Paul? Can we meaningfully speak of "the historical Paul" — the true "founder" of Christianity, as Laurie Eddie (and many others) have suggested? I am inclined to think not! Laurie seems to believe in an "historical Paul"—he argues the demise of the earlier 'group' (he calls the Nazarenes) came about by "the arrival of Paul" whose preaching "transferred the religious base from the Jews to the Gentiles". There is good reason to believe that rather than a "Paul" there was a broad group of individuals whose, often conflicting, ideas and writings have been confounded. This group was collectively instrumental in changing the direction of the new religion.

    Spend some time looking at the Epistle to the Romans, one of the most frequently quoted texts ascribed to Paul. Ideally readers interested in exploring this question will read the epistle for themselves and consider whether they agree with J C O'Neill who argues it to be the work of a number of authors at different times and aimed at different audiences. O'Neill's Paul's Letter to the Romans is readily available in Penguin (1975). It argues the "true" Paul insists Mosaic Law exists only so that mankind might know it has sinned—salvation is possible "only through faith". Hence all of the Second chapter of the Epistle is "non-Pauline" claims O'Neill, for the argument here is that salvation lies in "good conduct". For someone raised in the pharisaic manner, observance of the Law (which would demand action) would have been central to his being. The Law, however, cannot overcome sin, cannot give life; it is weak, because no one keeps it. If there is only one author of this text ', it must be one who has accepted the new ‘Torah' preached by Christ without feeling disloyalty to the old 'Torah'. O'Neill finds this impossible to believe.

    "Romans" tackles other great philosophical problems, still argued about to this day. There is the freewill/determinism debate. The writer argues there is an "inner man" trapped in the body, controlled by either the Spirit or human nature — this conflict provides the window for the insertion of "the esoteric teachings of Gnosticism" to which Eddie refers. Which of the conflicting powers possesses the individual? "God...makes stubborn whom he wishes" and the "saved' individual acts "according to the amount of faith that God has given him". As man's salvation depends upon his faith alone, it follows his deeds are not even a factor in God's decision. We are reminded God told Moses: "I will have mercy on whom I wish, I will take pity on whom I wish", "so then", Paul adds, "it does not depend on what man wants or does, but only on God's mercy." The irrelevance of man's deeds was highlighted by God's decision to love Jacob and hate Esau "before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad".

    O'Neill handles the dualism in Paul by deleting it…the freewill/determinism problem is solved by removing the sections arguing the latter alternative from his 'reconstruction' of the epistle. The "patchwork character of Romans" had been earlier argued by Archibald Robertson in his search for the origins of the Christian Scriptures. He argued the Epistle to the Romans has no less than four inconsistent(?) conclusions—xi 33-36; xv 33; xvi 20, xvi 25-27. For centuries, Christians have apparently Studied the Pauline epistles (indeed the early church depended more on these documents than on any other) without being conscious of irreconcilable contradictions.

    Laurie Eddie says "we do not know whether or not there was a major (doctrinal) confrontation between Nazarenes and Paul". History would suggest there were numerous battles between contending factions and finally, as Eddie tells us, "victors write history books … it was the Gentile Christians who survived to write the New Testament". I would argue we are in a position to view that process, "the construction of the New Testament", in action

    The authors of the Pauline epistles lived in a period when there was no 'established' church. By the time of the gospel of Matthew, the foundations of such a church were being laid — indeed the compilation of Matthew was probably to assist that process. Of 661 verses in Mark, 600 verses (often verbatim) are carried over in substance. An associated question relevant to understanding the origins of the church might well be "where did Matthew get his additional material?" [Generally, Matthew improved on Mark's Greek. He eliminated all Mark's Aramaic words — this may have been no more than the elimination of magical formulae in the Marcian text. Many of Christ's 'miracles' are there described as the work of a magician mouthing the right incantation usually in Aramaic.]

    There is massive evidence that one of the sources of new material was from the Pauline School. Both writers were part of the rabbinic tradition. Matthew oozes rabbinic doctrine. Not only are his parables rabbinic but his choice of this means of instruction — so that people will not understand as opposed to the disciples, the chosen elect, who do understand [in striking contrast to Mark where the disciples, like the audience, are unable to understand what is said to them (compare Matt 13: 14-16 and Mk 4:12)] — is again part of rabbinic belief that the identity and wisdom of the Messiah must "be kept hidden until the appointed time". In Matthew we return to the earlier doctrines argued out in the "Romans" epistle: "…whoever disobeys even the least important of the commandments and teaches others to do the same will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven." Almost everything Matthew has to say is about Law…albeit, obedience to the 'new' Law is the foundation of ‘righteousness’ and ‘perfection’. This is the core of discipleship.

    Laurie Eddie is certainly right to perceive a 'distinction' between Pauline doctrines and the 'home-group' he labels Nazarenes. While the gospel of Mark was constructed for a Roman congregation, largely ignorant of Palestine (hence all the geographical errors) and its traditions, Matthew represents the grounding of the new faith inside the existing Hebrew culture — with the potential of expansion into the non-Hebrew world beyond. Part of Matthew's task was to create the credibility of the new 'priesthood', which accounts for the changing of Mark's hostility towards the disciples (ignorant men incapable of understanding anything) into Matthew's disciples, the select elite, who do understand if at the same time 'lack faith'.

    The freewill/determinism conflict remains in Matthew, although it is not stated so explicitly. Paul's determinism flowers in the background. The secrets when revealed will expose the powers and the processes that have operated since creation. This is the underlying teaching of the parables, the secret growth of the Kingdom, its value and imminence, the impending Judgement. A key conclusion that needs be understood from Laurie Eddie's overview is that all these developments were happening long after the demise of the mythical Jesus!
     



     


    THE REAL STORY OF CHRISTMAS
    A RESPONSE

    Anonymous

    (Investigator 88, 2003 January)
     
     

    INTRODUCTION

    Laurie Eddie (Investigator 87) gave a good explanation of the "needle’s eye". It referred to a small gate built next to, or into, a city’s main gate. He also showed that the veneration of Jesus’ mother, Mary, began about the 4th century onwards. In the Bible Mary, as the Britannica puts it, "completely recedes behind the figure of Jesus, who stands in the centre of all four Gospels."

    The rest of Mr Eddie’s conclusions are questionable.
     


    SIMILARITY NOT ENOUGH

    "The origin of Mithraism goes back to the Mitra of the Aryans, though it underwent many transformations." (New Larouse Encyclopedia of Mythology 1968 p. 314)

    Eddie (#87 p. 23) lists similarities between Mithra and Jesus and concludes the Gospels were rehashed from previous myths.

    In the 19th century liberal theologians tried to demonstrate that the Bible story of Jonah was adapted from Assyrian and Greek mythology. The Greeks told of the maiden Andromeda being rescued from a sea monster by Perseus. A Trojan princess named Hesione was rescued by Hercules from another sea monster. (Cheyne & Black 1914) These things were debated in journals and researchers who tried to demonstrate Greek or Assyrian origins failed. It’s possible to make lists of scores (perhaps hundreds) of theological and historical ideas, detrimental to the authority of the Bible and debated in 19th-century journals, in which the critics lost.

    Many religious, ethical and technological ideas floated around in pre-history and their origin cannot be determined. The Bible claims that early humans sacrificed animals and grain as part of worship. (Genesis 4:3-4) They started agriculture and shepherding (Genesis 4:2), building cities (4:17), polygamy (4:19), tent-making (4:20), cattle herding (4:20), playing music (4:21), using bronze and iron (4:22), killing each other (4:24), monotheism (5:24), water-proofing with pitch (6:14), planting vineyards (9:20), brick-baking (11:3), using bitumen (11:3).

    Precise dates cannot be set on the first appearance of the above ideas and behaviors. If, as an example, we observe that ancient Greeks did some of the above and the Ethiopians did too, this would be insufficient reason to conclude one copied the other.

    It’s insufficient because some of the ideas:

  • Arose long before Ethiopians or Greeks had them;
  • Existed in many other societies;
  • May have been thought up independently by both societies.

  • To prove copying or rehashing occurred requires documents or inscriptions stating that such-and-such was adapted from so-and-so. The same logic applies to seeming overlap in ideas between the Bible and rival ancient thought.

    In Investigator 73 De Kretser listed forty alleged similarities between Horus (an Egyptian god) and Jesus. In Investigator 74 I listed similarities between Horus and Adolf Hitler. My list is not as impressive as the Horus/Jesus one — but I’m not a specialist on Hitler or Horus. The trick in such lists is the generality of the similarities. Thousands of stories mention a mountain but differ in everything else they say about it, in which case the similarity of including a mountain is irrelevant as evidence of copying. The world also has thousands of resurrection stories — if we include films, novels and claims of religious cults. Without law suits for plagiarism it’s difficult to prove if any are derived from others. The resurrection stories of Horus and Jesus had in common the idea of a return from the dead but little else.

    Consider the millions of crime stories and reports in books, movies, magazines and newspapers. Did any author copy from another? Even if we demonstrate identical sentences by two authors it may be either chance or perhaps both authors copied from earlier authors!

    Most of Eddie’s alleged similarities between Mithra and Jesus are irrelevant to his thesis that copying occurred as they were common elsewhere. Examples are being an "enemy of the powers of darkness", buried in a rock tomb, spreading the word, offering salvation, labels such as "saviour", "Lord" and "the Light", and calling followers "brothers" and "sisters".

    The major similarities — virgin mother, water turned to wine, and resurrected the third day — are explainable by principles discussed below.
     


    VIRGIN BIRTH, DYING GOD

    "The idea of a god dying for his people and coming back to life again is by no means unique to Christianity; it is one of the oldest religious ideas of all, and was at the very centre of the earliest solar religions and crop fertility religions." (Barratt 1996)

    According to the Bible God said to the "serpent" that tempted Eve:

    I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you in the head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)


    "Seed" means "offspring" or "descendant" and can, even in the singular, mean many. A "bruise" to the heal is a wound from which the recipient will recover. A "bruise in the head" is either fatal or decisive.

    The prophecy, therefore, refers to a descendant of Eve who would be temporarily defeated by the "serpent"—the supernatural source of evil—but would recover and defeat the "serpent".

    The "seed" of the serpent are not descendants by literal birth but converts who copy the "serpent" in becoming rebels against God.

    Genesis 3:15 is thus a prophecy of someone who ultimately defeats the supernatural source of evil. No ordinary human could do this because humans cannot even fully defeat evil in themselves:

    Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 106:6)


    If the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 is as old as humankind variants of it would have entered folklore. Subsequent thinkers, then, could have inferred that the human who conquers the "serpent" needs a dual origin — human and divine — hence a virgin birth. The notion of virgin birth could then have entered various religions as they became established.

    Historically we cannot pinpoint the origin of ideas of a "god dying" or of virgin birth. Hence we cannot rule out that they began with the first humans. The Gospel about Jesus, therefore, need not be a rehash of anything but could be what it claims to be — the good news of salvation.

    My placing the origin of some ideas in pre-history has echoes in other areas. Mazar (1990) writes:

    The patriarchal narratives known to us from the Book of Genesis must have been very old traditions which were orally passed on from generation to generation until they were written…

     

    EVIL AND COOPERATION

    Some similarities between the Bible and other belief are explainable by the Biblical theme of God cooperating with humans.

    Before humans chose independence the intent was cooperation between God and humans. We see this in God "planted a garden" where humans could have a safe start before going out to "subdue the earth." (Genesis 1:28; 2:8) There is cooperation in naming the animals and in God identifying one tree from which humans must not eat.

    This initial situation changed when humans went their own way. Most subsequent humans concurred and have tried everything they could to improve their lives without God — in religion, ethics, law, ideology and technology. Humanity, therefore, is in an experiment to determine how they will do without God enforcing what is best for them. (Investigator 65-69)

    Humans are failures in their rejection of God. This is shown by the hurt they inflict on each other and in the temporary nature of their cities, empires, ideologies and religions. The Bible portrays God as working behind the scenes to rescue humans from the final results of their rebellion.

    After the original cooperation was put on hold, a tenuous, behind-the-scenes cooperation commenced. It’s via prayer and answered prayer, spokesmen (such as prophets and apostles), written communication, and by giving humans the sorts of proof they think impressive.

    For example, humans invented the idea of paying for sin by sacrifice of animals. God did better — prepared a "sacrifice" that made all other sacrifices obsolete. (Isaiah 53:7-12) Humans considered success in war impressive. God did better and destroyed great armies and cities almost instantaneously. Humans invented deities of wood and stone and imagined a virgin birth for some of them. God did better — According to the Bible He predicted the demise of all those ancient deities and prepared a real virgin birth.

    Ancient people thought astrology impressive, connected births of some kings to stars, and told of visitors bringing gifts. Eddie mentions such a legend in connection with Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) of Rome. (p. 44) The Star of Bethlehem, in contrast, has scientific support. (Investigator 81)

    We see cooperation reflected in the 20th and 21st centuries. Today humans are impressed by science. Yet, in scores of conflicts between science and the Bible the latter triumphed and textbooks had to be revised or discarded. I personally used the Bible to produce a small revision in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    This theme of cooperation of God with humans — a cooperation constrained by human rejection of God — may explain some resemblances of Biblical reports with other stories. It’s God outdoing in reality what humans proposed in their myths.

    To accept this explanation requires accepting the Bible. For non-believers it’s therefore circular reasoning. However, in recent decades science has demonstrated that hundreds of Bible statements are correct. Often the latest science was needed because earlier scientists were wrong. From such results it’s rational to infer that the entire original Scriptures are error-free and only seem wrong because science has not caught up. From this stance the circularity is removed.
     


    GENERATION—Mark 13:30-32

    Jesus spoke of "this generation" that would witness various events. (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21)

    Mr Eddie claims the prophecy was false. Yet he also claims that the Gospels were finalised long after Jesus lived. If so, why would the writers not delete false prophecy? It’s more likely Mr Eddie has misunderstood the prophecy.

    I explained the prophecy in Investigator 60. Jesus addressed four disciples and hence the pronoun "you" (plural) describes events the four and their generation would see. In describing his return "on the clouds of heaven" Jesus changes to "they" implying it’s a distant event which his generation would not see. Everything that Jesus predicted for his "generation" did occur including the start of the "great tribulation" upon the Jews in 66-70 AD.

    It’s probable, furthermore, that science may soon demonstrate that the first three Gospels were finalised before 70 AD. A century ago scholars argued that the Gospel of John was written near 200 AD. Then the John Rylands Papyrus 457 which has portions from John’s Gospel was discovered in Egypt in 1934 and dated to the 120s AD. This rendered lots of previous scholarship on John invalid.

    The Magdalen Fragments of Matthew were published in 1953. In the 1990s Peter Thiede, an expert in ancient papyrus manuscripts, examined the handwriting style and placed their origin to before 70 AD. (Time, April 8, 1995) The debate is, however, still on.

    Dr John Wenham in Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke (1991) argued that these three Gospels were written in the 40s AD! For example:

    Matthew looks original… It looks early and Palestinian, reflecting a terrible clash between Jesus and the religious authorities, rather than a post-70 clash between church and synagogue. Mark looks like Peter's version of the same Palestinian tradition composed for Jewish and Gentile readers outside Palestine. (p. 88)


    Both the Old and New Testament is being proved point by point. In Investigator 25 I showed "Archaeology Supports the New Testament". And Silberman (1996) says: "In the past few decades, the archaeology of the New Testament world has achieved some striking successes…"

    Recently came a possible archaeological confirmation of the family of Jesus. A 1st-century burial urn inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" was found. (Van Biema, 2002) Again, however, the debate is still going.
     
     

    NEW TESTAMENT

    Because a Roman fortress stood next to the Jewish Temple Mr Eddie says, "it is unlikely that Jesus ever attacked the money lenders."

    Modern countries have laws to control demonstrations. However, to argue from such laws that the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe by "people power" didn’t happen would be silly. Whether laws are enforced depends on numerous circumstances.

    The New Testament records there was conflict over whether circumcision and other Jewish customs should be enforced on Christians—but not the sharp division that Eddie ascribes to Paul and the Nazarenes. Indeed Paul was considered a "ringleader of the Nazarenes". (Acts 24:5)

    Some critics have used the non-mention of Nazareth after the Gospels and its non-mention in other 1st-century writings as proof there was no 1st-century Nazareth. Archaeologists, in the 1950s, excavated the site where Nazareth should be. The remains of a village were found that was inhabited 900 to 600 BC and again after 200 BC. It shows that arguments based on gaps in knowledge — what Mr Eddie often relies on — are weak.
     


    GNOSTICS

    The Apostle Paul, says Mr Eddie, copied from the Jewish teacher Hillel and from Gnosticism.

    General ethical principles such as "love your neighbour" came from the Old Testament and were used by Jews and Christians alike.

    Quoting Gnostic sources — if Eddie is correct that Paul did this — is not necessarily a problem. To mention common ground is often done when preaching or debating. It’s what I do when I quote science journals to prove statements in the Bible, i.e. I use what skeptics and I have in common — respect for science.

    Gnosticism, however, became prominent in the 2nd-century — long after Paul. So, when Eddie alleges Paul quoted from Gnostics, we really need the names of the documents involved and the dates they were written.
     


    MARY

    Eddie identifies the name of the "virgin Mary" with mothers of Buddha (Maya), Adonis (Myrrha), Hermes (Maia) and the star of Isis (Maira).

    Consider these names — Mandra, Mandy, Marella, Marge, Margrit, Marika, Marion, Marlene, Maureen, Maxine, Meg, Megan, Meleena, Melinda, Mellissa, Melony, Merrill, Miriam, Molly, Muriel, Myra. The fact each starts with "M" and some having an "r"—and even if some of the women are virgins—is not proof the parents copied from each other.

    Eddie needs to show that Maya, Myrrha, Maia and Maira translate to Mary. He needs to refer to ancient Indian documents mentioning Buddha’s mother and to ancient translations of these into New Testament Greek. (Buddha’s virgin conception may, however, not even be official Buddhist teaching!)

    Even equating the name Miriam (sister of Moses) with the name Mary (Eddie p.39) is doubtful. Unger’s Bible Dictionary says both names mean "obstinacy, rebellion". But Young’s Analytical Concordance disagrees and says Miriam means "fat, thick, strong" and Mary means "bitter".

    For the New Testament writers to rehash myths of Mithra and Horus would have been contrary to principles such as:

    Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? What fellowship has light with darkness? … What agreement has the temple of God with idols?
    (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)


    The Old Testament teaches that the idols of the nations surrounding Israel are worthless gods and their followers and worship would perish. (See Investigator 74) Of the Biblical God, in contrast, we’re told:

    All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. (Psalm 22:27)


    Monotheism now has 2½ billion adherents and hence such predictions are plausible. If the New Testament writers believed such predictions too would they have contaminated them with idolatry?
     
     

    CONCLUSIONS

    Mr Eddie used speculation where historical and archaeological information is incomplete.

    His effort to show that the nativity accounts are "the myths and legends of the Gentiles who became Christians" failed.
     
     

    REFERENCES:

    Anonymous. The Bible: Original Truth, Not Recycled Myth, Investigator 74, September 2000, pp. 46-49.

    Barratt, D V 1996 Sects, ‘Cults’ & Alternative Religions A World Survey and Resource Book, Blanford, UK.

    Cavendish, R 1982 Mythology An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Orbis, London.

    Cheyne, T T & Black, J S 1914 Encyclopedia Biblica New Edition in one Volume, Adam Charles Black, Britain.

    De Kretser, B. Bible Stories are Recycled Myth, Investigator 73, July 2000, pp. 22-24.

    Eddie, L. 2002 The Real Story of Christmas, Investigator 87, November 2002, pp. 21-45.

    Guirand, F. New Larouse Encyclopedia of Mythology (Translated by Aldington R and Ames, D),1989. Crescent Books, New York.

    Mazar, A 1990 Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, Doubleday, USA, p. 225.

    Silberman, N A The World of Paul, Archaeology, November/December 1996, p. 31.

    Unger, M F 1957 Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Third edition, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago.

    Van Biema, D The Brother of Jesus? Time, November 4, 2002, pp. 66-69.

    Wenham, J 1991 Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke. 1991. Hodder & Stoughton.

    Young, R 1939 Analytical Concordance, Lutterworth Press.
     


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