The necessity of faith | The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? | Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy
The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God?
Three Rivers Press
, 2001 - 360 pages
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When and where does "Original" start for Jesus?
received layers of
painting to gild his image is the central crusade of this book, and I generally agree with the authors. But the paint
n't adorning the "
" Jesus but an exported and already modified messianic tool.
At the turn of the era, eternal life is still missing as a widespread tool for individual support in Syria-Palestine, as well as in the Roman world. Securing life in eternity was appealing to citizens and politically promising. Different epochs produce specific hopes and necessities in need of collectively shared answers.
During the second half of the first century AD in Syria-Palestine, competing priesthoods will race to exclusively represent the new deal so many people were dreaming of. The group that was going to administer the hopes of eternal life could expect an audience that would expand. Competition will soon grow wild.
This is the context that produced the Jewish Gospels of Mark and Matthew. The cauldron was simmering for well over a century in Judea before starting to bubble and overflow within the community that shaped the Gospels. The "original" Jesus had very little to do with what we have been taught, but that is a different story that the authors have not perceived.
Paul expatriated Jesus and the Resurrection towards the Western world, addressing essentially the Greco-Romans. (Paul could not have written a word on Jesus and the Resurrection before the texts relating the stories were written. It's a very widespread mistake to place Paul before the Gospels). Paul presented Jesus at face value, and as a vaccination against death. The new mystery had the great advantage of introducing democracy and fairness to all those who dreamed of the great dream.
Until then, all the Eleusian
and foreign resurrection cults already marginally in practice throughout the Empire were still frustratingly reserved to the elite. Becoming closer to the Hellenistic super-natural, Jesus shed his Judean past and started enacting the son of a Heavenly Father of Light, a primal deity who scorned his original father, the half-
Yahweh. This is where serious competition started between tenants of the Judean "original" and tenants of the Hellenistic tradition whose Gospels were composed as counter-propaganda.
The importance of this book is to show that the Jesus creed is built on several traditions, a fact that the Church will have more and more difficulties to conceal.
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Shocking the Faithful
Debate on the origins of Christianity touches emotional beliefs, taboos and assumptions. In the 1860s, conventional Christian faith
cracked wide open by the earthquake of Darwin's theory of evolution, producing cultural fissures that remain to this day. Christians simply could not imagine that the Biblical stories of Adam and Noah were as mythical as the
tales of Zeus and Apollo. The backlash against Darwin's Origin of Species produced Christian fundamentalism and the ongoing schism between faith and reason. The emotional hold of faith, reinforcing its institutional and social power, led adherents to retain the literal interpretation of Biblical claims as a higher authority than the evidence of their minds and senses. It takes a shuddering shock the size of an earthquake to penetrate the armor of faith.
The theory of evolution added momentum to the modern demolition of Biblical tradition. Geology had already made clear that the world is much older than the Biblical timeline. Psychology had observed that traditional claims of faith can be interpreted as projections of human desires. As the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach noted, the authors of the Judeo-Christian tradition had made
in their own image. Anthropology continued the assault. Ideas previously viewed as absolute and eternal, such as God the Father, were now traceable through their finite linguistic evolution among different societies. Textual analysis found that Moses did not write the first five books of the Old Testament as conventionally believed, and that the stories of Moses and Abraham could not have happened as presented in the Bible.
These modern findings were shocking for the faithful, many of whom retreated into their faith community and regarded all outsiders as hostile. Christians then protected their tradition with the teaching of Saint John's second letter that all skeptics are deceivers. Criticisms of faith often brought political baggage, such as the Marxist view that religion is an obsolete trick aimed at protecting class privilege. So it was easy to claim nefarious motive on the part of all doubters. The resulting polarization of intellectual debate formed into camps, with a healthy dose of economic interest supporting each pole. At one extreme, atheists have sought abolition of all religion, seeing its rituals and myths as museum specimens of the primitive history of human development. At the other extreme, Literalist Christians view any criticism as the work of Satan, although in more charitable moments they do pray for the souls of the sad rationalists.
Once one strand of the web of faith starts to unravel, the whole tapestry becomes dubious. Could
really be as mythical as Noah? The blows to conventional faith from philosophy, evolution, geology, psychology and anthropology are formidable, and have prepared the ground for the assault now underway from the mythicist argument that Jesus Christ did not exist. Many Christians have got used to Voltaire's witticism in response to Anselm's ontological argument, that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. Now we see the same argument applies to His Son, the supposed founder of the faith, with the mythicist claim that Jesus Christ Himself was a necessary fictional invention of the early church.
- Was the
Jesus a Pagan God? provides a detailed scholarly presentation of the argument that Jesus never existed. As you might expect, orthodox reception has been cold. Leading Anglican theologian Bishop N.T. Wright likened their book to the argument that the moon is made of green cheese, and flatly refused to debate these new heretics. This church reaction, shunning the heathen, is indicative of the bigoted tribal nature of religion. Claims of love and dialogue are freely made by the church until they are tested, and then the true brittle hypocrisy of this corrupted human institution becomes obvious. The orthodox hope is that if they can hide their feet of clay well enough, the whole tottering edifice can be saved from collapse.
Reading The Jesus Mysteries, it is easy to see why Bishop Wright would anathematize its authors. It is bad enough for absurd miracles such as the virgin birth and the physical resurrection to be held up to mockery and ridicule, but to claim that the entire Christian faith is fraudulent takes skepticism to another level entirely. With 64 pages of detailed scholarly footnotes and a superb bibliography listing almost 250 reference sources, The Jesus Mysteries is a serious work. Any Christian foolhardy enough to engage the authors in open debate would surely lose. Sniping from the safety of the pulpit is so much easier. The flock can be protected from shock and scandal by the proven methods of censorship and slander, while critics can be cast into the outer darkness. Where the real shock may reside in this material, however, is in the implicit claim that the mythic view is the authentic Christian faith. The real shock is that with their suggestion that the literalist church is the real imposter, mythicists are reclaiming the true legacy of Christ, without the fantasy of the historical Jesus.
The true scandal is that Christianity has got away with such threadbare dogma for so long, with such weak accountability to reason and evidence, while hypocritically claiming to bear witness to ultimate truth. The lack of debate around this scandal of faith illustrates how this material touches on sensitive taboo questions. Beliefs that we form in youth are immensely hard to shake, regardless of contrary evidence. The conservatism of religion, valuing cultural heritage and tradition, means that, as Orwell observed, once a clique has gained control of the past, it has control of the future. Christians who grow up with Jesus as a spiritual friend, a real personality who is central to their idea of human identity, may experience a sort of vertigo and denial when confronted by the claim that his story is a pure myth. Surely this claim is the work of crackpots and cranks? Surely this eccentric mythicist rumbling can simply be dismissed as fringe rubbish, with UFOs, the yeti and bending spoons?
The historical record shows the real conjuring was committed by the Church Fathers. Church success has relied on the psychological weakness seen in recovered memory syndrome, where people hold fervently to a false belief that has been deliberately planted in their mind by others. This Orwellian brainwashing is precisely what happened on a world historical scale with the establishment of orthodox Christianity.
The question here turns on the most plausible explanation for the rise of Christian faith. Freke and Gandy argue there was originally an inner church that only revealed part of its secret teachings to the public outer church. The ignorant masses called for signs and wonders before they would take any interest in new ideas. The early church serviced this mass demand for a new wondrous religion with the allegorical story of a historical messiah. The aim was to attract members to the cult, so secret mysteries could then be revealed to initiates. The Gospels as we have them were written for the outer church, as a simplified and `dumbed-down' historicized account of the inner spiritual myth.
As Christianity spread, Freke and Gandy argue the outer church took on a life of its own, gradually losing contact with the secret mysteries. The `orthodox' soon found a source of temporal power in denial of the inner church teaching that the story of Christ was a cosmic myth. By allying with the ignorant, the Church Fathers isolated and suppressed the cosmic mysticism of the old inner church, which they branded as Gnostic heresy. In an ironic parallel with the purging of the Old Bolsheviks by Stalin, control of institutional power became a more decisive criterion for influence than spiritual purity. As Orwell said in 1984, ignorance is strength.
The mystics had taught that salvation comes from within the heart, but the Literal church needed a belief system that placed no burdens on a mass audience. They insisted that salvation is objective, resulting from belief in the once-for-all atoning blood of the suffering messiah.
And yet, despite these efforts to simplify the message, some of the mystic material still found its way into the Bible. One example given in The Jesus Mysteries is the story in John 21 where the disciples miraculously catch 153 fish under the instruction of the Messiah. The Greek inventor Archimedes had earlier used the number 153 to derive the square root of 3, via the fraction 265/153. This mystic ratio is used to produce the traditional Christian ichthys fish drawing. Here we see the cosmic symbol of the New Age of Pisces the Fishes coded into sacred geometry in the Gospel story. Such cosmic symbols are throughout the New Testament, but their presence has been ignored because of the aggressive bigotry of orthodox faith. Cosmic vision provided the impetus for the original story, but was kicked away as politically inconvenient for the Literalist church.
Freke and Gandy define the Jesus mystery as the deliberate transfer of the pagan mystery religions into a Jewish framework. Comparing this thesis against the traditional claim of Jesus Christ as a literal historical messiah, forensic analysis can examine the rival stories for motive, method and opportunity. There is no historical evidence that Jesus actually lived, so the traditional literal claim of a historical Jesus would need strong circumstantial support to remain persuasive. Such support does not exist.
The motive for writing the Gospels is clear from the mythicist interpretation. In the aftermath of Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD, a believable new narrative was needed that could unite the community. The story of Jesus provided a rallying point to challenge the conscience of the pagan empire. The supposed date of Christ, generations before the time the Gospels were written, meant no eyewitnesses were around to check the accuracy of the stories.
With the word `believe' appearing more than one hundred times in the Gospel of John alone, the main objective was to lead people to believe. Historical accuracy was entirely secondary.
The method to write the Gospels as a new myth derived from the widespread Osiris-Dionysus mystery religion of the Hellenistic world. The Jesus Mysteries provides a compelling explanation of how existing myths of a dying and rising Saviour were used to invent Christ as a new hero, but with the special twist that his most powerful mythic attribute was that he actually lived as a recent historical person. Voltaire and Anselm eat your heart out - a real Saviour is so much more perfect than an imaginary one.
The story of an actual Messiah would prove far more popular than imaginary Gods like Attis, Dionysus, Mithras, Horus, Osiris, Adonis, etc, especially if He assumed their best attributes. In this creation of a world Saviour, the Gnostic inventors of the Jesus mystery story were, however, somewhat like the sorceror's apprentice, giving life to a broom that would take on a life of its own and sweep their ideas away until the end of the age.
The opportunity to invent the Christ story appeared in the city of Alexandria, the melting pot of the eastern Roman Empire. All the religions of the western world meshed together here, at a time the astrologers saw as the beginning of a new cosmic age, as the spring equinox point moved from the sign of Aries into the sign of Pisces. The cosmic brotherhood known as the Therapeuts, students of this ancient star lore, had ample opportunity to convert the mythic imagery of the turning point of time into believable Gospels, combining the perennial wisdom of mystery religion with historical anecdotes into a narrative that would render the whole fantasy plausible.
The detective investigation shows clear motive, method and opportunity to invent the story of Jesus as the basis for a new religion. By contrast, orthodox faith tells a farcical magic story, acceptable only through suspension of disbelief.
The `smoking gun' for the mythicist case is the story of Philo. As Freke and Gandy put it (p136), "Philo was an eminent Jewish author who lived at the same time that Jesus is supposed to have lived and wrote around 50 works that still survive. They deal with history, philosophy and religion, and tell us much about Pontius Pilate - yet make no mention at all of the coming of the Messiah Jesus." And this at a time when Jesus addressed large crowds, walked on water, caused tumult at his death in Jerusalem, and was famed far and wide. Really.
Fraud on such large scale seems unbelievable. Looking at Christianity with dispassionate eyes, we can see the `big lie' in operation. Hitler's dictum was that a small lie is easily spurned by the masses, but truly massive deception, when carried through without blinking, will convince those who could not imagine anyone having the audacity to deceive on such a scale.
Freke and Gandy are too polite to mention the Nazis, but they do explicitly compare the early church to the communist movement of the twentieth century. Both Christianity and communism "began with a message of freedom and equality but ended up creating an authoritarian and despotic regime." Once you sell your soul, the devil proves a stern master, insisting that small initial lies be expanded to maintain the fiction. Stalin took Christianity as his model, selling a myth of redemption to the general public to conceal his wholesale debauchery of the truth in the interest of political power.
The tragedy is that a germ of eternal truth can be twisted, abused and corrupted in the interests of temporal control. Christianity quotes the Apostle John in blaming the father of lies for all denial of the incarnation. Against this crude manipulation, scholars who study the Gospel stories should set aside their prejudices and assumptions, and try instead to see through the blackmail and bullying and blindness that enabled Christianity to destroy ancient pagan civilization and pave the way for the Dark Ages. Such a transformed historical vision, understanding Jesus Christ as myth, may be the only thing that can save Christian faith from its steady downward slide, and recapture the redemptive message of Christianity as a relevant story for the modern world.
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The necessity of faith
The necessity of faith is an important aspect of Christian doctrine, one which the authors of "The
" find fault with. The thesis they propound is that Jesus
a mythical figure based on
ideas and that Christians came to accept these myths literally. Their research supposedly proves this and negates the need for blind faith. Or does it?
In order to believe that the
writers of the Gospels truly believed Jesus was a real person and that they were relating the story of His life and teachings as best they could, one needs to trust that they were not just trying to mislead people. Well, the same goes for "The Jesus Mysteries." Most people who read the book do not have access to all the texts quoted from. Thus, they can not easily refute the thesis. And so, if they aren't going to check up on the sources, they simply need to have faith in the authorship and scholarship of this work in order to accept the thesis.
I'm not a Bible scholar and, like most people, am not going to check up on the sources. However, I have noted that many reviewers have found that the authors often misquoted their sources, took their sources out of context, and conveniently left out important details in order to support their thesis. One critic, James Hannam, pointed out that the gem depicted on the cover is considered to be a forgery! These things, for me, shed a lot of doubt on the accuracy of the "facts" presented.
The possible motives for why the authors of "The Jesus Mysteries" might not have been entirely upfront are obvious to me. However, it is not as obvious to me why the authors of the Gospels would deliberately spread falsehoods. According to "The Jesus Mysteries," John was a Gnostic who did not really believe Christ had appeared in the flesh. When I read the Gospel of John, I don't see anything that would lead me to agree. In John 21:24 John says emphatically that he "is the disciple who spoke of these things, the one who wrote them down; and we know that what he said is true." Now, either John was a really bad person or he was really trying to tell the truth. Since his works are concerned with goodness, righteousness and getting in touch with
, I have trouble seeing him as a really bad person. I don't know what his motive would be either. A free trip to Patmos (the island where he was exiled)?
Despite its flaws, "The Jesus Mysteries" does bring up a lot of interesting and valid points and it is an enjoyable read. Anyone who considers him or herself a Christian will probably end up wondering how far modern Christianity has departed from what it was supposed to be and perhaps even challenge traditional Christian beliefs. I personally don't believe we can take everything in the Bible literally and still see it as the work of a perfect and loving Creator. We absolutely have to account for human error. Yet we can still see the Bible as divinely inspired. What's important is that we never blindly accept what we are told and are always willing to ask ourselves the hard questions. This book helps us ask them. I found "The Jesus Mysteries" reassuring. It really couldn't "prove" much other than that there are many inconsistencies in the Bible. We can never know exactly what went down 2,000 years ago. Nobody can, except maybe the people who were there. We'll just have to come to conclusions for ourselves. And maybe that's ok.
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The Jesus Mysteries
I found this book fascinating. If you want to learn more about
s, and history, read this book.
?Whether you conclude that this book is the most alarming heresy of the millennium or the mother of all revelations, The
deserves to be read.?
-- Fort Worth Star -Telegram
What if . . .
* there were absolutely no evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus?
* for thousands of years
s had also followed a Son of
* this Pagan savior
also born of a virgin on the twenty-fifth of December before three shepherds, turned water into wine at a wedding, died and was resurrected, and offered his body and blood as a Holy Communion?
* these Pagan myths had been rewritten as the gospel of Jesus Christ?
* the earliest Gnostic Christians knew that the Jesus story was a myth?
* Christianity turned out to be a continuation of Paganism by another name?
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