Ancient history revisited (Part Two)…

On a separate blog, a very VERY long time ago, I posted this exploration into the foundation of Christianity and Jesus.

As I have no desire whatsoever to link this blog to that one, I will occasionally reproduce the content from one into the other.

Link to this? Dandy. Steal it? I will come after you. Ask questions? By all means. Rant? You can’t imagine how fast I will block you.

We begin…

March 25, 2008: Ok. So I think I need to further this discussion…

As I understand it, his basic teaching was that you could find the kingdom of heaven within yourself and to mistreat others was to mistreat yourself. People have misinterpreted what Jesus was saying:”If you believe what I believe, you’ll get there, too.” Instead they heard “Only through me.” Believe in Jesus and you’d be saved. It should have been “Believe in what Jesus is saying and you’ll save yourself.”

Not to start a major debate but Jesus very clearly said that he was the path to salvation. Now I’d argue that there are many paths but the Bible is pretty clear on the path of Jesus.

See, now, here’s where I have a problem.

Jesus was Jewish. The Jewish belief that you get to heaven on your own, by believing that’s where you’ll go, is something he taught. The trouble with the bible is that it was written hundreds of years after Jesus died. In Greek. Translated any number of times. It’s terribly hard for me to believe that what is written in the book is the exact thing Jesus said. After all, how many games of Telephone lead to an exact retelling of the original phrase.

Couple that with a change in languages (ancient Hebrew, the original Aramaic (not as ancient as the version in the original Old Testament) of the bible and then Greek, Latin, and finally English (King James), plus other modern languages), and you really can’t say for absolutely sure that what is written is exactly what Jesus said.

One version has the onus of a single individual as a representation of the only way to get to heaven, and the other indicates a philosophy that, if followed, will get you there.

I don’t personally think he said that he was the path to salvation. I really believe he said his way was the way to salvation. That’s two very different meanings muddied by millennia of individuals, many of whom had their own personal agendas to carry forward.

Remember: For both the Greeks and the Romans, very few humans made it to Mount Olympus to live with the Gods. The Jewish faith was vastly different: One God and a heaven to which all people had access; where it wasn’t necessary to have Priests intervene on their behalf and where they wouldn’t simply be consigned to the Afterworld (Hades).

It was a radical departure from what the vast majority of people believed then, and put the Priests on such shaky ground (who feared what would happen if enough people believed in Jesus’ version of the truth), that the threat was sufficient to have Jesus executed. They didn’t expect that their execution plan would backfire, but then it’s rare that people in power consider the power of the martyr. Have a look in the general direction of the Middle East (where all this theology developed) and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

My problem all along (and the root of many a debate in high school and beyond with some of my more fundamentalist Christian friends) has been that the Bible is an interpretation of history, much of it verbal and only later written down in a way that could be interpreted by present day speakers. And don’t even get me started on the Old Testament (Hebrew version or otherwise).

Wikipedia (sometimes questionable source that it is) provides an example of what I’m talking about here:

I note especially this comment about The Passion of the Christ:

“The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ is notable for its use of much dialogue in Aramaic only, specially reconstructed by a scholar, but not an Aramaic specialist, William Fulco. However, rather than basing his reconstruction on what is known of first-century Aramaic, he used the Aramaic of Daniel, fourth-century Syriac and Hebrew as the basis for his work.[10] Modern Aramaic speakers found the language stilted and unfamiliar.”

Just think for a moment: You’re familiar with Shakespeare. It’s written in English, right? But how many of the words and phrases he uses mean the same thing as today? Consider how many footnotes you find in the modern texts, and then think about this: We’re talking about a period of time that’s not even 500 years ago. Think how much language has changed and then think about a period of time 2,008 years ago, and you can get a better idea of my basic problem with the Bible.

Drifting way back to January 7th and 8th, 2006, where this current spiritual wandering of mine started, I see a lot of books that were recommended to me then that I didn’t have time to pull down and read. Most notable amongst these is the Bible itself. But which one? King James? Gideon? T. Jefferson?

I refer back to that dubious but handy fountain of information:

The recent uncovering of the apocryphal Gospel of Judas calls into even larger question the validity and truth of what people have come to understand: That Judas was the epitome of a traitor and the foundation of all that is wrong with the Jews in history – a fitting example of why they must be exterminated. If, instead, he’s viewed as the key to taking Jesus’ message to the wider population (by sacrificing his leader and himself because he was asked to rather than simply because he’d lost faith in the lessons and the man), how then are we to know that he actually committed suicide. The Priests saw no benefit in a public execution, but would they be above a hanging that would look as though Judas was guilty and repentant? Suppose you consider the possibility that he didn’t hang himself? Can we know for sure, just because the Bible tells us he committed suicide? Who’s really saying that? It couldn’t have been Judas and only Judas would know for sure. The rest is heresay.

The first time I really investigated this topic, I was in my first year of college, taking a cultural anthropology course. Way before I considered theatre as a career, I was convinced that Anthropology was The Thing for me. One of the books we read, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches had a different interpretation of Jesus and what he meant to the Jews.

I’m coming to realize, after over 20 years of additional experience since reading the book, that there might have been a grain of truth to the postulation of Jesus as a military figure whose inability to win freedom for the Jews proved that he was not the Messiah and therefore a target for death, but that this doesn’t take into consideration the things Jesus might have taught his followers as a Rabbi. I need to go back and reread this book with my additional experience, but not before I sit down to read the Bible itself. I’m tempted to read the Jefferson Bible, but I suspect that won’t get me an understanding of what the majority of Christians believe. A recommendation about the best version is welcome, though. I’m gathering that King James is the most widely used version today, but I can’t say for sure that it’s the best version.

I find it vastly interesting that at the same time I’m ruminating on this subject, scientists have located a Gamma Ray burst sufficiently bright to be seen by the naked eye. From the NASA web site:

Never before has anything so far away come even close to naked-eye visibility. The explosion was so far away that it took its light 7,500,000,000 (7.5 billion) years to reach Earth! In fact, the explosion took place so long ago that Earth had not yet come into existence.

I can’t reconcile the Bible as absolute truth with these sorts of things. The two don’t make sense to me. Either science is One. Big. Lie. or the Bible has it wrong on some level. It’s in my nature to fall on the side of science.

Now I can believe that a man named Jesus lived, taught people as a Rabbi, and died on the cross 2008 years ago, give or take a day. I simply can’t take as absolute truth most of what the Bible has to say, unless I can take it in context. There are simply too many contradictions to take it as a whole, and if not taken as a whole, then the whole document comes into question. And if you can’t take the gospel as gospel, then the book raises more questions than it answers.

This is what I believe. Your mileage may vary.

I do love, however, that the Gamma burst noted above happened within 24 hours of Arthur C. Clarke’s death. Makes for a neat juxtaposition. At any moment the monolith will visit us and everything will become clear.

Any day now.

Comments from way back then:

I think Jesus was an extremely wise man, and that he certainly had a deeper spiritual connection to earth and heart and things that matter than most people of his time and place. I also believe that he would be appalled at how many people have suffered and died, and at how many crimes have been committed, in his name.


The trouble with the bible is that it was written hundreds of years after Jesus died.

Actually, the earliest gospels were written around 65AD, about 30 or so years after Jesus’ death and when a lot of his original followers were still around. The oldest surviving copies are from around 200AD, a big difference between being written 200 years later. I wouldn’t consider it a perfect account of history but the message about Christ being the son of god and being the savior is consistent.

You mentioned the King James version to read. The original is a crap translation but the New King James keeps the original language but cleans up the translation considerably. I prefer the New American Standard myself. A fellow Quaker prefers to read several translations at once. He said that they might differ on little things but where they all agree is where you can be pretty sure that is what the original author intended.

About Jesus being a military figure, I doubt that completely. Rome had a nasty habit of making examples of the opposition. If Jesus was leading an anti-Rome movement, all of his followers would have been rounded up and crucified, not just Jesus.

The Jewish faith was vastly different: One God and a heaven to which all people had access; where it wasn’t necessary to have Priests intervene on their behalf and where they wouldn’t simply be consigned to the Afterworld (Hades).

All Jews had access to that god, not people in general. Despite the popularity of converting to Judiasm today, it wasn’t a religion into which you converted. Jews needed priests, hence the temples and the sacrificing. It wasn’t until after the Jewish rebellion in like 69AD when Rome destroyed all those temples that animal sacrifice and the pharases went away. That was the radical thing about Jesus – he was the one that said, “Hey, I’m the sacrifice. You don’t need the bulls any more.”

As for the comparison with Shakespere, while individual phrases have different meanings or have gone out of use, the overall characterization and plot of the plays is still there. Hamlet is still a prince of Denmark. Romeo and Juliette are still young lovers. MacBeth is still Scottish. Thus I find it hard to believe that even with translations and idioms, the central theme of Jesus being the son of god and a way to salvation is completely wrong.

Again, I don’t think that Jesus is the only way nor did he say that he was the ONLY way. But I think that he definitely is a way and said so himself.

(For the record, while I grew up in a fundamentalist church, I’m more deist these days as I can’t reconcile a “loving a forgiving” God condeming[sic] millions of people to death because they’ve done some honest soul searching and came up with a different answer than mainstream Christianity. I don’t believe that God is that petty about it.)

Um, all PEOPLE have access to G-d – Jews just have a specific path. You, as a non-Jew, have to find your own, as far as Judaism is concerned. I don’t know who told you what you believe, but s/he is dead wrong.

But if Jesus was Jewish, then he would have known that human sacrifice is one of the biggest non-nos in Judaism. We used to kill entire nations for that one.

There’s a pithy Dire Straits lyric: “Two men say they’re Jesus. One of them must be wrong.”

Yea. Like that. There’s a cacophany[sic] of voices out there. Who to listen to? There are a variety of Christian groups that would point to me and say that I’ve got it all wrong, and that I’ll likely burn in hell for it. Trouble is, if I sign up with any of them all the others will still condemn me. So you can’t win on those grounds. This is happening more and more even within my own denomination, heaven help us! My own brother-in-law has referred to those with the gall to disagree with him as “the apostate church.” Heh.

No, in the end we’re all left to our own devices. I suspect God wants it that way.

See, that’s the main reason why I like the folks in my congregation. The guy I was sitting next to on Sunday for the second service is a devout atheist, and he still got something good from the sermon. For us it’s far more about the community than the specific faith. Everyone has views and they might all be right. What I believe isn’t necessarily what you believe. Its that freedom to choose what you feel is right that’s so prized in UU faith.

As for me, I’m thoroughly enjoying this topic. Its rare to find a place where talking about religion is not taboo. I love this forum for just that reason.

For the best translations of the Bible (as opposed to The New Testament), your best choice would be an Artscroll version. There are some that have intralineal translations, so the translation is directly under the hebrew word(s) that are being translated.

The problem with that is that I believe the old testament even less than I do the new. Ironic, since I’m presently working on an opera that celebrates Noah’s ark…

As I’ve always said, the problem with conventional Christianity is that they’ve mistaken the messenger for the message.

I highly recommend the book “Misquoting Jesus” which is a great reference book of all the changes that scholars know got into the Bible along with when and how they got in. Some is translation error, some deliberate, and all of it is fascinating.

I’ve been meaning to pick that up, along with a copy of the Gospel of Judas. I think I need to make a book list out of this thread and make some real time to read the material.

One hole in your (&/or Xian) logic is that Jesus was NOT a threat to the priests. This is proven by the way the story has them disposing of him. If he were truly a threat, they could have simply tried/executed him on those grounds – thus destroying not only him, but his teaching. But he wasn’t, & they didn’t. If the story has any truth to it, it was that he was a threat to the Romans – who would never have executed anyone on behalf of a troublesome subjugated people – especially not Pilate, who had been sent to Jerusalem as a punishment. Rome used crucifixion for specific crimes – such as rebellion. But those writing the story had to throw blame from the Romans because they were the only realistic pool of converts for them, the Jews already having passed on the idea (& the circumstances of his supposed arrest/trial/etc. prove that the writers were completely unfamiliar w/Jewish law. Also, history has shown that we do not execute false messiahs – we’ve had them more times than just once).

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