Friday, March 26, 2010

The Four Legends of Jesus: Part II

In part one of The Four Legends of Jesus, I stopped with the Jewish revolt of 70 A.D. ending in massacre by the hands of the Romans. Shortly after the failed revolt, the gospel of Mark emerges as the first written gospel. Recall the possibility that Jewish Christians and mainstream Jews alike were expecting a Messiah to rise up and secure the new kingdom during the revolt against Rome. While Jewish Christians were possibly looking for Jesus to return and establish the kingdom, the mainstream Jews were probably looking for a different Messiah to rise up from among their ranks.

Either way, the revolt failed and Jerusalem was sacked; the Temple--so precious to the Jews of Jerusalem--was desecrated and laid to waste.

Mark

The "new Jews" probably needed new encouragement to help them endure the deep disappointment of an absent Messiah. But what could facilitate healing after such a brutal pounding from the Romans? The survivors lost loved ones in a bloody massacre as well as their central symbol of God's presence-- the Temple.

Many scholars of textual criticism point out that the gospel of Mark is short and abrupt relative to the other canonized gospel writings. Consider the original ending of Mark before it was edited. The women who want to anoint the body of Jesus with spices are last seen frightened and fleeing the tomb, telling no one what they saw. Also, we find that Jesus is absent from the tomb, said to be away in Gallilee.

Jesus was absent from the revolt, too. He didn't make his way back down from Heaven.

The traditional ending of Mark found in the typical bible was added on later. Mark actually ends in chapter 16 verse eight. Someone apparently didn't like how Mark originally ended and needed to smooth over Mark's bewildering ending. But in doing so, the editor of Mark may have covered up an intentional literary device by the original author.

The goal of Mark seems to be consolation towards the followers of Jesus after the failed revolt. Again, someone needs to smooth over the disappointment caused by failed expectations of prophesy. The gospel of Mark seems to depict Jesus as a reflection of the people who suffered through the horrors in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. Also, Mark seems to reach out to the diasporic Jews who saw the outcome of the failed revolt from afar. Mark attempts to help the followers of Jesus feel as though he identifies with and knows their sorrows. For instance, Jesus falls prostrate in the garden before he is crucified, begging God to take the cup of suffering from him. He exclaims to his disciples that he is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death before he is arrested. Likewise, many of the people who endured the punishment of the Roman army no doubt fell prostrate, begging not to be slaughtered by the sword.

The women leave the tomb during the resurrection scene not knowing what to think and terribly afraid--wondering where Jesus could be. In like manner, those who endured the failed revolt were probably thinking the exact same thing. Those who were "new Jews" were probably afraid and wondered where Jesus could be. Why hasn't he returned like he said? Yet, the mysterious man standing at the tomb insists Jesus is alive somewhere. Perhaps Mark also attempts to leave a subtle glimmer of hope concerning Jesus. Maybe he's challenging the reader. Will you continue to look for and hope for Jesus? Will you go to Gallilee and find him? Or will you run away in fear, never reaching past his empty tomb?

On a side note: the prophesy of the demolished Jewish Temple was added in hindsight in my opinion. If the disappointed early Christians can be persuaded that Jesus predicted this, they may very well accept that he has a higher purposes and meaning to his words than they could have possibly understood. But if none of this was divine to begin with, the only way the "prediction" of the Temple could appear in Mark is for if the revolt happened first.

Matthew

Matthew seems to work towards depicting a new kind of Jesus-- Jesus, the King of the Jews. The dating of Matthew is debated (as well as Mark), but many think Matthew was written next. In this gospel, Jesus often speaks of fulfilling the law and acts as a literary type of Moses by going up into the mountains and coming back down to the people with a message or miracle from God. Jesus has a pedigree that links him directly back to Abraham. The actions and words of Jesus are quite often a fulfillment of an alleged Old Testament prophesies (many of which Jews contest or claim to be gross misinterpretations by Christians). The author of Matthew is attempting to attract mainstream Jews into accepting Jesus as the real Messiah. I suppose the first failed revolt left a bitter taste in their mouths and Jesus' promise needs to be fulfilled soon. In the meanwhile, an appeal needed to be made to the rest of Israel to rally behind their soon to return Messiah.

Luke

Later comes Luke. Again, the dating is debatable. But since so much of Mark is contained in the other three Gospels, Mark is considered a literary source. Unlike Matthew, Luke is written largely to a pagan audience. Luke takes time to explain Jewish laws to his audience, which wouldn't be necessary with a largely Jewish readership. Luke also traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way to Adam-- who is the son of God. Luke alludes to the divinity of Jesus in somewhat of a pagan manner-- reminiscent of mystery religions in my view. Jesus is the son of God, much like Caesar was probably seen as the son of God. Human, yet divine.

Luke also tried to stress to the Greeks that one could still be safe under Roman rule while converting to Christianity.

Honest. The Romans won't become suspicious of you if you openly became a Christian.

Honest.

According to many scholars of textual criticism, the gospel of Luke is written with pristine Greek-- the finest of the whole New Testament canon. Luke is said to write on the level of a Classical Greek novelist. I'm sure this helped to hold the attention of his sophisticated, Greek audience. Also, many people forget that the book of Acts was part of the gospel of Luke. And with Paul often depicted as a missionary to the Gentiles, he appears in Acts. Paul's "Roman" citizenship is played up a few times in Acts. His citizenship even prevents Paul from getting flogged or mistreated by Roman guards when he's arrested. The Book of Acts even ends with a "happily ever after" feel as Paul preaches the gospel in Rome unhindered.

But secular history tells us that Paul returned to Jerusalem just before his arrest-- years before Luke and Acts were even written. The Romans arrested Paul as a rebel rouser and executed him. Likewise, the Romans went after Peter and the other leaders as well because they suspected this fringe movement of Judaism was creating dissension towards the Roman government.

Yeah, being an early Christian in Rome was really safe.

John

In the gospel of John, Jesus is sometimes depicted as a superman. Jesus embodies the full divinity and majesty of God. Contrasted with Mark-- Jesus delivers a beautiful prayer in the presence of his disciples before he is arrested (John 17). When the Roman guards finally come to arrest Jesus, they inquire of his whereabouts. When Jesus responds, all the Roman guards fall back onto the ground! To me, this expresses that Jesus willingly goes away with his captors. These guards clearly didn't have the power to apprehend Jesus; he is only letting them take him away and nail him to the cross. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. Compare the story of Jesus' arrest with all the other gospels within the context I've presented so far. Do you still see four people telling different angles of the same event? Or do you see four different "Jesuses" pitched to four different audiences, written by four different authors who have four different religious or political agendas?

Another fascinating feature of John (and perhaps found in the other gospels) is the constant rivalry between Jesus and the Pharisees. They argue with Jesus constantly when he claims authentic Judaism. But . . . if Pharisees were truly Abraham's children, they would love Jesus-- not hate him. But the Pharisees don't love Jesus at all. So then, the Pharisees cannot be the real Children of God-- but rather only the Children of the Devil.

But according to some historians, Pharisees weren't prominent until years after the Temple fell and synagogues became more important than ever. Interestingly, this phenomena seems to match the time that John was probably written-- decades after the fall of the Temple. So then, Pharisees seem to become some sort of anachronism within the gospels.

Hmmmm . . . .

As the synagogue and Pharisees became more important in Judaism, the mainstream Jews were finally making a full split with Christians as John was being written. The gospel of John was the final cry of an outcast group demanding to still be called Jewish as they were being thrown out of the synagogues. By now, the mainstream Jews had a new Messiah by the name of Bar Kokhba and strong tensions for a new revolt were forming again.

Eventually, Bar Kokhba was believed to be the true Messiah and lead a second Jewish rebellion that was also smashed by the Roman government.

The "new Jews" sat out on this failed revolt. By now, they were too Christian to be Jews and were too smart to be creamed a second time by the Romans. Christians now have their eternal, divine Jesus as their Messiah. His return is still soon, but he is otherworldly now and can flutter down from the Heavens to establish the kingdom whenever he sees fit. At this point, many first generation Christians were passing on. So then, the return of Jesus and the establishment of God's kingdom finally needed to transcend time and place so that Christ's followers could still maintain hope in rising above any political situation that kept them oppressed.

If it had not been for Constantine, Christianity would perhaps be regarded as nothing more than a myth or legend by now. Probably not too different from the ancient mystery religions or the ancient religions of Greece and Rome that finally fizzled out from that time period. And if Christianity did hang on without Constantine, I have a feeling the believers would only make up a very small religious order.

With this new perspective, I don't see Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the four gospels any longer. I now see them as the Four Legends of Jesus.

I don't think I could ever bring myself to become a fundamentalist Christian again.

Just so you know I didn't make all of this up on my own, you can see the documentary that inspired this post:

From Jesus to Christ



DISCLAIMER

I also want to stress that I'm mainly stating my opinions based on what I've understood from the documentary, some extra reading, and a few suspicions I've held in the back of my mind since my deconversion. I don't make any claims at being a biblical scholar and I understand that my analysis could be wrong in many places. But, I personally feel like my presentation is a rough idea of how Jesus evolved from a Jewish political rebel, to the Messiah, and then into the very person of God in the flesh.

I believe the followers of Jesus changed who he was over time-- from a fringe group's Messiah to the Christian's Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Four Legends of Jesus: Part I

For all my life, I understood the gospels to be four harmonious accounts of the same events. Even after becoming an atheist, that idea remained uncontested in the back of my mind.

Not anymore.

First, let's apply the context that has shaped my new opinion.

The earliest of Christians (You know, Peter . . . Paul-- those guys) probably saw themselves more so as enlightened Jews rather than "Christians". And like most mainstream Jews in the first century, these "new Jews" were eager for the re-establishment of their former Davidic kingdom which was to be accomplished by the Messiah. Thus, the kingdom of God was initially an exclusive desire of the Jews. The first Christians, then, are best viewed as newly enlightened Jews who would follow along with their newly realized Messiah (Jesus) who will bring about the establishment of the Davidic kingdom of God. The establishment of God's kingdom would require the overthrowing of Roman rule. A defining quality of the Messiah is to accomplish the resurrection of the kingdom; mainstream Jews reject Messianic claims from anyone who accomplishes less than that.

So, these "newly enlightened Jews" believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the real Messiah. They trusted him and expected him to fulfill the required work of the Messiah by saving Israel from Rome.

But before anything significant happened against Rome, Jesus was executed.

No revolution. No Davidic kingdom. No overthrowing of Roman rule.


No Messiah.

So, now what?

I suspect that the words of Jesus suddenly needed new interpretation as his followers struggled to understand why he died without even sparking a revolution. They eventually rationalized that Jesus must rise from the dead; after which, he will return to Earth from Heaven and establish the new kingdom of God.

But, this peculiar fringe group of Jews were probably dwindling fast after the death of Jesus. And the truest followers who invested the most into Jesus were probably dealing with cognitive dissonance. Once they saw that Jesus did not immediately fulfill the required role of the Messiah, the key followers of Jesus rationalized that he would return to fulfill his Messianic requirements after making certain preparations in Heaven. In the meanwhile, the "new Jews" needed to recruit new followers. However, the Jesus-movement couldn't seem to bring in very many mainstream Jews.

Why not?

Because mainstream Jews were looking for a living Messiah who would establish the kingdom presently. Right then. Jesus did not fit that description. The mainstream Jews were not going to follow a "failed" Messiah. And as the decades turned into centuries, this "new Judaism" evolved into the familiar Christianity of today. And this Christianity is quite opposed to Judaism concerning the nature of God. Not only do Jews reject Christianity because of the failure of Jesus as Messiah, but Jews also reject Christianity because most (not all) Christians understand Jesus to be more than just the Messiah; Jesus is divine. Jesus is God. For many Jews, the Godhead has no room for Yahweh and Jesus, too.

Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one LORD.


So then, the new Jews had little choice. Go ye therefore and teach those pagans!

Er, I mean . . . teach all nations . . .

The "new Jews" invited Gentiles into this new flavor of non-exclusive Judaism. Paul seemed to be the greatest champion of this cause. And as the Gentile base grew within the "new Judaism", it slowly became less Jewish and more Christian.

Keep in mind that at this point in history only the letters of Paul where being circulated. No gospels seem to have been written at this point. Perhaps a general document containing the sayings of Jesus was floating around, but the gospels as a literary work do not seem to be in circulation just yet.

While the "new Jews" were growing, tensions grew between the Romans and Jews of all flavors. This tension built up over decades until it finally exploded in Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. The Jews in Jerusalem staged a revolt against Rome.

And the Romans responded with hot and heavy-handed anger. They brutally crushed the attempted rebellion of the Jews.

Many of the "new Jews" were probably expecting Jesus to return during the revolt to finally establish the kingdom. But instead, the "new Jews" and mainstream Jews alike were burned, maimed and killed in the streets. Those fortunate enough (unfortunate, maybe?) to survive these horrors fled out of Jerusalem for their lives.

Shortly after the revolt, the gospel of Mark appears-- the earliest of the four main gospel writings.

In my opinion, the historical context that I just presented sheds light on the true purpose behind each canonized gospel writing. I think this context also provides a better understanding of who Jesus and the earliest Christians truly were.

And with that, I will conclude part I of this post.

In the meanwhile, you can see where I'm coming from and where I'm going with this post by visiting the link below:

From Jesus to Christ

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why the Big Bang Ain't So Crazy of an Idea

The prospect of an explosion happening from out of nowhere while creating all existence sounds hard to believe.

And it should be. That's your skepticism kicking in . . . and that's a good thing.

Yep. I said it. Skepticism of the Big Bang is a good thing.

Don't simply believe in the Big Bang. Understand the premise and then make a judgment for yourself.

So, why do so many scientists buy into such a strange idea?

Well . . .

The light our eyes see is not all there is to light.

When light goes through a prism, it is dispersed into a spectrum. And the spectrum of light can revel the chemical elements found within the source that is emitting the light.

Still with me?

Spectral analysis of stars show that all the elements found on Earth are also found in Sol, our sun.

Nearly all of us have heard about E = mc2, which is Einstein's famous equation. But what about the implications of this deceptively simple, yet powerful equation?

Matter can be turned into energy, and energy back into matter. Stars compress hydrogen gas so much that they smash into each other at nearly the speed of light. This causes the hydrogen to fuse together to form helium. As this happens, immense energy that gives off a bright light is released. And then the helium atoms are further fused into heaver elements, producing even more energy still. The hotness and luminosity of our sun (and any other star for that matter) comes from this constant reaction of nuclear fusion.

Through this process, stars create the elements found all around us.

When a star experiences a supernova, all those elements get scattered throughout the cosmos. The released gases also tend to spark off the formation of a new star.

When one star dies and another is born, the elements of the Universe are formed. When planets, asteroids, and comets formulate out of the gaseous eddies left over from star formation, all the elements of the periodic table will already be in place.

If a star can form the elements from scratch, what could an infinitesimal release of energy produce?


Bell Labs back in the 1960's was working on a project with satellite transmissions. But, they had a nagging problem. They kept getting static interference which they couldn't explain.

And that static was jackin' up their experimentations and stuff.

Simultaneously and serendipitously, a pair of scientists had a conjecture that if a star had the ability to form the raw materials of existence, then perhaps the Universe itself came forth from an immense release of energy. In that release, the building blocks of matter could have formed. The mathematics (which I'm sure I couldn't understand) added up-- with the exception of one major problem. An energy release that big would not have cooled down completely-- not even after billions of years. So, the mathematics predicted that some sort of background radiation should exist.

But, they don't see none.

Oh well, time to move on to another hypothesis.

That is until these scientists happened to hear about out what was going on at Bell labs. That static that was jackin' up the Bell Labs experiments-- that was the cooling radiation from a really big release of energy. Something like a . . . um, how would you say . . . a Big Bang?

Those guys got a Nobel Prize for their discovery.

Hey, it's still okay to be skeptical. It's okay to remain skeptical about the Big Bang.

But at least realize the Big Bang ain't so crazy of an idea-- even if one day physicists realize the idea was completely wrong.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why Can't I Own a Canadian?

A member posted an interesting link on a message board that I follow. I felt that the link would nicely follow my previous post concerning Uganda.

The piece seems anecdotal, and I tend to shy away from anecdotes as proof of anything. But the point made is quite worth considering.

Here's the link below:


Why Can't I Own a Canadian?


And to save you a few clicks, I've re-posted the YouTube video found at the end of the reading. If nothing else, give that a view if you don't feel like reading the letter I referenced above.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Uganda

Much of Africa is plagued by the ramped spread of AIDS. World Bank data indicates that Uganda has seen the best improvements in the fight against AIDS within much of Africa.

This improvement in Uganda has been credited towards a mixed effort of promoting condom use and abstinence.

But worse than when the Pope went to Africa and discouraged condom use, a bill in Uganda has been introduced back in November which will turn homosexuality into a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Furthermore, a homosexual with HIV could be given the death penalty if caught having sexual relations with other homosexuals.

Can you imagine what would happen with the HIV situation in Uganda if every homosexual was targeted by the government?

The claim is to protect the traditional family. The traditional family is not in danger. I have a traditional family. It stays together because we work at it. Homosexuals aren't tearing my family apart. My family unit isn't in danger of anything. People just want to enforce their religious beliefs with punishment of death-- and that's a shame.

The logic behind the bill also seems to conclude that punishing homosexuality will curb the AIDS epidemic.

A few religious radicals in the United States and within Uganda urge the parliament to accept the bill into law. Hopefully the Ugandan parliament is too progressive to make such a despotic decision.

I wonder if supporters of the bill even realize that Uganda is one of the few places in Africa that seems to be doing the right things to bring HIV infections down in their country.


Yeah, that's right. Threaten homosexuals with the death penalty. Then watch the HIV infections go down with the homosexual population as they all turn straight again.

Ridiculous!

They will either leave the country or stay in the closet. Then, they won't be open about their sexuality. They won't go to the doctor to be tested. And AIDS, in my view, will spread worse than ever in Uganda.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Reason Why We Need Skepticism

A phrase is often repeated in the United States:

A person is innocent until proven guilty.

In the past, I've found myself guilty of taking that sentiment and generalizing it to mean that all ideas or notions deserve the benefit of the doubt.

In other words:

Any given idea should be considered creditable until proven ridiculous.

But that's not quite how "innocent until proven guilty" generalizes.

"Innocent until proven guilty" really means:

The prosecution bears the burden of proof.


A prosecutor cannot simply claim that someone has committed a crime. The prosecutor must support the allegations with evidence and then argue his or her case in the Court of Law.

All claims have the same burden: an idea or a notion does not inherently receive the benefit of the doubt. On the contrary, a claimant must carry the burden of proving any claim in the same way that a prosecutor must prove the guilt of a defendant.

That is why a person is innocent until proven guilty. A person should not be punished until a thorough, justifiable argument has been made which is supported by verifiable evidence.

This is nothing more than another flavor of skepticism.

This form of skepticism is designed to deter anyone with great authority from whisking you away to some cold dungeon or tying you to a stake and burning you alive.

This mechanism prevents someone from making frivolous claims against your person-- claims which could easily condemn you to a tortuous end-of-life. All because you were simply accused.

Skepticism allows the questioning and challenging of ideas. Skepticism is simply freedom of thought. But this simple-- yet powerful-- ideal works towards protecting us from being constantly bullied by people of higher authority.

And where there is freedom of thought, freedom of expression tends to follow. These two principles serve as the vertebrae of any free society. The United States was born out of a movement of enlightenment and skepticism.

Here then, is another reason why we so desperately need skepticism. A tyrant desires an society that subscribes to unthinking belief.

But where there is skepticism, liberty is not too far behind.