Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne,
and I have founded empires.
But on what did we rest the creations of our genius?
Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love;
and at this hour millions of men would die for him.
Perhaps, in this season, you feel you’ve heard enough Jesus stories. This decade has already seen so many different interpretations of the New Testament on tv, movies, books, by preachers, hucksters and Hollywood producers. While the basic story is pretty much the same, the emphasis seems to lean toward what will grab today’s more cynical audiences – not to explain how this unlikely story might actually be true – but for profit.
If you love Jesus of The New Testament, but have some difficulty accepting some of the miraculous events – and these doubts weigh on the fullness of your faith, I urge you to spend some time with the hypothesis which follows. I have powerful reasons to present it to you in all good faith – and profit is not one of them.
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That Jesus Christ arrived on Earth in a virgin birth, preached the new idea of love for one’s brothers, suffered and died on the cross in order to redeem Mankind, was resurrected and then rose up to heaven is the foundation of Christianity. The New Testament tells this miraculous story through the witnessing of several of Jesus’ contemporary disciples. Biblical scribes and scholars have been careful to record and translate the books as they were understood in Jesus’ time. For this reason, the life, death and resurrection of Christ is understood in a framework of mysticism and supernatural events. How could Jesus be the issue of a virgin birth? How could he perform miracles? How could he die and come back to life? How could he arise into the heavens in view of his disciples?
The New Testament records Jesus’s life in the context of the First Century A.D., well before “modern” science began demystifying such things. Today, we all have seen men rise to the heavens in rocket ships. Modern medical practices almost daily resuscitate people who “die” of heart attacks and other causes. And, almost routinely, “test tube babies” are born to women in what could technically be called “virgin births.” In other words, what used to be considered miracles, are now scientific achievements.
In this modern context, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection can be described in scientific terms. Non-believers will certainly counter with the argument that no one on Earth in Jesus’ time had such advanced technology to bring about these events. But is that so? If these events happened as The New Testament records, Jesus himself and the events surrounding his life, death and resurrection must have been divinely directed. Therein lies the core of my hypothesis; that Jesus was a living, breathing being with some kind of divine connection – or – an extra-terrestrial being whose virgin birth was completely understandable in the context of what we know today. It comes down to the simple question of what, and who exactly, do we mean by “divine?”
As we know, the ancients believed their gods were living, breathing beings who dwelt among our ancestors in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and other regions for millennia, ruling them, and giving our predecessors the knowledge to advance civilization. Then, sometime between 500 and 400 BC, for reasons about which we can only speculate, the “olden gods” left Earth for realms unknown. According to Mesopotamian texts, the deity Sin (also known as Samash) was coaxed to return by the lamentation of the mother of the then-reigning human king in Sin’s Mesopotamian domain. Sin, the texts claim, was the only remaining major olden god residing on Earth at that time; and he didn’t remain very long before returning to the heavens. Similarly, Hebrew texts state that after Abraham, Jacob and Moses, their Elohim, Yahweh, no longer made himself visible to his Chosen People except in dreams, visions, and through the words of prophets.
According to Moses, Yahweh was a physical entity whom he was able to “see” more or less indirectly, obscured by some natural phenomenon. Try as he might, Moses was not allowed to see the face of Yahweh for he was to remain an “Unseen God.”
If we accept the idea that there were living, breathing gods in ancient times; if they created and maintained the special blood line of Adam, Noah, Abraham et al., through Jesus, then we must discover exactly how Jesus fits into that picture. If Yahweh was able to make it possible for Abraham’s wife, Sarah, aged and barren, to conceive a child, then it stands to reason Yahweh possessed the advanced technology and the means to make it possible over two thousand years later, for Jesus’ mother, Mary, to “immaculately conceive” a child, a procedure which medical science is capable of today. Today, the idea of a (relatively) “immaculate conception” is not thought of as a miracle at all.
It also stands to reason that if Jesus was born of Adam, Noah and Abraham’s blood line, it could only happen in either of two ways. Either Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a pure blood descendant of that line – since hers was an immaculate conception and did not involve Joseph, the man who ultimately wed her – or she was impregnated with sperm and an egg from Adam’s blood line.
If Jesus was born of a human mother under these circumstances, it is perfectly plausible that the “father” – the sperm donor – and/or the female egg donor – was an Elohim – an olden god! Which one is irrelevant. Like Gilgamesh and Adam himself, Jesus would have been born a demi-god – the off-spring of a god and a human. The Elohim and their emissaries – or angels, as they are commonly called – would have kept close watch over the young Jesus, with or without him or Mary necessarily being aware. There is a long gap in the history of Jesus’ life as retold in the New Testament – a tantalizing hint that at some point he was away somewhere. Apparently always an intelligent child with a great curiosity, perhaps in this period he was taught the secrets of the olden gods, told who he was, who his father was, and instructed on his mission here on Earth. He would have been told that he was the foretold Redeemer, giving his life for the salvation of Man. He would also be assured that his father, the unseen Elohim, would bring him back to life. He would then be taken up to the heavens, ascending to wherever it was that the Elohim then were living, rejoining them in their long lifetimes.
Returning to the subject of the enigmatic god of Abraham and Moses’, why would Yahweh insist on being unseen? Why would any mortal who saw him “surely die?” Why would he command that no graven images of him be permitted? I suggest that Yahweh was preparing the Israelites (and thus everyone who believed in him) for a day when Mankind would recognize the true God as a transcendent being or force. All the Elohim would be leaving Earth. Yahweh, knew if Moses or any of his people were to actually see Yahweh, they would surely be tempted in the future to make “graven images” of him to pray to; a clear transgression of the laws Yahweh was about to give to Moses and the Hebrews.
As Yahweh and the other gods were preparing to leave Earth, the plan was to give Moses a set of laws or “commandments” to guide mankind. Though Sigmund Freud would have disagreed, it seems implausible that Moses could have made all this up on his own. Could a mere mortal concoct this entire episode; convince a Pharaoh to release thousands of Hebrew slaves, lead them through an inhospitable desert, feeding this multitude for all those years? Did the redactors of Moses’ story simply invent the episode wherein they claim 600,000 people witnessed the “greatest theophany” on Mount Sinai? Fabrication such as this would have been in direct violation of strict Hebraic law.
Some view the Old Testament as a collection of tales designed to communicate morality. And there are many Books and Chapters in The Bible which do this. However, the story of Moses has imposed over and above its moral episodes a much more important mission. It seems to be the juncture when the mightiest of the olden gods prepared his Chosen People for a time when he would no longer be physically among them; a time when, in order to prosper, they would have to learn to live by the simple yet strict laws Yahweh imposed upon them. They would have to fall back on the “Unseen God” who Abraham first introduced, centuries before.
Yet there are so many questions which arise out of an analysis of Moses’ story. If, as our atheist friends pose, there was no god to appear to Moses, did Moses then, on his own, invent Yahweh’s Commandments? Or did successive revisionists of the tale add the Commandments much later? If so, why did they have Moses staying up on Mt. Sinai for so many days and nights? Why isn’t Moses entitled to a sacred holiday in Judaism? If the story was fabricated, where did the Ark of the Covenant – an artifact claimed to have been seen by several sources in historic times – come from? Would they lug this heavy object all around the desert, for so many years, if it did not have some extraordinary power? Why would other nations make war to capture it? It couldn’t have been just for the gold with which it was clad. There were other, richer, sources of gold. The Ark must have had some awesome powers which enemies of the Hebrews desperately wanted.
Certainly Moses was an actual historic figure. One way or another, he led as many as 600,000 (or as some claim, “only” 20,000) Israelites out of Egypt. He did lead them eastward across the desert. Somehow this vast multitude was fed every day! He did ascend Mt Sinai. Somehow, he came down with the Commandments and prepared the Israelites for freedom and a new way of life in a new land, all under the watchful eyes of one Elohim. Yahweh, The Unseen.
An (Anu), “first among the gods”, “possessor of heaven and Earth”, was “The Father of the first generation of great gods” who ruled in Mesopotamia and Egypt; Enlil, Enki, Ptah, Amun, Ra, Marduk and all the rest. Anu did not reside here on Earth, so can fairly be described as an unseen god. Perhaps Anu was the unseen god who landed on Mt Sinai, and who did not want to be seen for fear his rebellious offspring would realize he was, for reasons of his own, leading the Israelites against them. Perhaps he was Yahweh.
As the Israelites would be a nomadic tribe for some time, Yahweh commanded Moses to build a portable meeting place where Yahweh could communicate with Israelite high priests. In this “tent of appointments” will sit the famous Ark of the Covenant, container for the stone tablets on which are writ the Ten Commandments; its gold plated lid topped with two large gold cherubim whose wing-tips are so designed that they almost touch. From the space between the wing-tips, the dvir, the voice of Yahweh communicates to the high priest. We now have a god who is unseen but not unheard. One who is still intimately involved in leading His Chosen Ones, and can be communicated with through some sort of radio-like capability provided by the Ark.
The gods of most other cultures also seem to abandon their earthly abodes during this time. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s seed, the Hebrew Nation, now claims a non-corporeal, supreme god; and a Land to call its own. Hebrew prophets predict their Elohim will return one day in the future to judge. But first, they prophesy there will come at least two messiahs; a “Teacher of Righteousness,” and a warrior to free the Hebrews from their oppressors. I suspect they didn’t quite anticipate a messiah who would offer the entire world salvation from its wretchedness.
This idea of the coming of messiahs to cleanse the Hebrew Nation was taken most seriously by a particular Jewish sect, the Essenes. The earliest mention of the Essenes is by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria who lived around 20 BC to 54 AD. Philo wrote that there were more than 4000 Essenes (Essaioi) living in villages throughout Palestinian Syria. He noted that among their neighbors they were known for their love of God and their concerns with piety, honesty, morality, philanthropy, holiness, equality, and freedom.
Josephus gave a detailed account of the Essenes in “The Jewish War” sometime around the year 75 AD. According to him, the Essenes had settled “not in one city” but “in large numbers in every town” in the region. The Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, also a geographer, placed them in the desert near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.
The Essenes lived an acetic life. They followed Mosaic law and tried to lead the rest of the Jewish community back to these traditions. They believed in the Golden Rule. They believed in loving their enemies. They believed that Man’s sins could be remitted by a symbolic cleansing in the waters of baptism. They believed in messiahs.
In fact the Essenes had a messiah; the “Teacher of Righteousness” lived among them. He is referred to in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls which speak briefly of the origins of a sect (most likely the Essenes) 390 years after the Hebrews were exiled from Babylon, and after twenty years of “groping blindly for the way.” God gave them “a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart.” The Teacher would claim to have a proper understanding of Torah, being the one through whom God would reveal to the community “the hidden things in which Israel had gone astray” (The Damascus Document CD 3:12-15). The Teacher also claimed to be an inspired interpreter of the prophets, as the one “to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of his servants the prophets.” The exact identity of the Teacher is speculative, having so far not been revealed in modern translations of the Scrolls.
The Essenes also believed The End Times were imminent; they believed they were the last generation of the last generations; thus they saw no point in acquiring material things. Most importantly, they believed that every man and woman possesses an immortal soul which carries on after the body dies. Which is why they felt it so pressing to lead a spiritual life; before End Times prophecies were fulfilled.
Because of the similar way of life adopted by John the Baptist, many believe he may have been a member of the strictest group of the Essenes; those living at Qumrun, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. It is said that John went off on his own mission at some point, introducing the Essene concept of baptism and the immortal soul to anyone who was ready to believe in the afterlife. If so, one of those who heard John’s message was a young Galilean we now call Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John. He, too, became convinced the end was near and somehow saw himself as the prophesied messiah, though in a somewhat different guise.
Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, and First Century ruler of Galilee and Perea, was wary of John, viewing him as a threat to his rule. According to the Gospel of Luke, John began a ministry of preaching and baptism by the Jordan River, which marked the western edge of Antipas’ territory of Perea. The New Testament Gospels state that John attacked Herod’s marriage as contrary to Jewish law, while Josephus says that John’s public influence made Herod fearful of rebellion. For these reasons, John was imprisoned. According to Matthew and Mark, Herod was reluctant to order John’s death but was compelled by his step-daughter (unnamed in the text but traditionally thought to be Salome), to whom he had promised any reward she chose in exchange for her enticing dancing.
Many Christian theologians believe that the ministry of Jesus followed in the footsteps of John, and some of Jesus’ early followers had been followers of John. Both John and Jesus preached in times of great political, social, and religious unrest. Jesus seems to have adopted other teachings of the Essenes, weaving them into his own brand of spirituality. Astonishingly, he claims he is the son of God. He tells his followers, mostly disenchanted Hebrews at first, that there is a New Covenant with God. But he does not say the new covenant is with the same olden god the Hebrews know as Yahweh. Did they not notice this? Was he promising “change” – allowing everyone to assume the New Covenant was to be with whomever their own particular olden god was?
His actual name was not Jesus – which was a Greek name given to him in the later Greek translations of the Gospels. Most likely his name was Yehsua, meaning something along the lines of “Yahweh is my help.” Does this suggest Jesus claimed his father was Yahweh? Not necessarily, Yehsua was a common name in Galilee because the Hebrews of Jesus’ time continued to worship their ancestors’ Elohim, Yahweh. Still, Jesus nowhere seems to refer to his Father as Yahweh, or for that matter by any other name. For example, we are told in Matthew 22:34-40:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,the Pharisees got together.
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
“Love the Lord your God” hardly sounds specific. Which suggests Jesus may have deliberately allowed his followers to believe whosoever they chose to believe his Heavenly Father might have been. As far as we can tell, Jesus himself never actually specified a proper name for the God of the New Covenant, only referring to Him as his “Father.”
In this New Covenant, Jesus’ Heavenly Father will accept Jesus’ followers into his kingdom if they will believe and act according to his will. But rather than an Earthly Land of Milk and Honey, this new promise of paradise is no longer to be found on this Earth. Nor will it be found in this physical life. It may be achieved by our immortal soul in an eternal existence, after we leave this mortal coil. Recall that the idea of an immortal soul was already well ensconced among the Essenes. And of course, the Egyptians.
As unlikely as it might seem – after all the years and struggles with the concept of praying to an unseen, incorporeal God – the new covenant with Jesus’ new God appears to have caught on with enough Jews to keep it going. But then again why should this new covenant not have been embraced? The Hebrew’s Elohim Yahweh demanded more than many could give. He was jealous and vengeful. He made promises which never seemed to satisfy his followers. The Old Testament is replete with stories in which Yahweh caused the slaughter of thousands; both the enemies of his Chosen People as well as his own followers who transgressed against his wishes. Yahweh’s followers lived in fear of his awesome powers.
Jesus offered a new philosophy; he told his followers that they must not hate. They must forgive. They must help one another. And most revolutionary of all; they must love – even those who trespassed against them. In those times, these must have been viewed as radical ideas. They were Essene. They were appealing to those who had lived under the yolk of a vengeful god whose strict laws were enforced by a caste of stern high priests. Jesus offered new hope for the common man. His Father was more forgiving. His Father promised that all, including the most humble among us, could find a place in his heavenly abode.
The Gospel of John emphasizes the divinity of Jesus, presenting him as the Logos; pre-existent and divine, from its first words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”; and “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John I:14)
Other passages of John’s Gospel interpreted in this sense include “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58), “I and the Father are one" (10:30), “The Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:38), and “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” (20:28). John is also seen to identify Jesus as the Lord whom the prophet Isaiah saw, (John 12:34–45 referring to Isa. 6:1– 10), while other texts such as Hebrews 1:1 – 12 also suggest Jesus is God.
But according to those who followed him at the time, not only is Jesus the Son and the Father, he is also the Holy Spirit! Certainly, the holy spirit is not an actual individual but an emotion which can be bestowed upon us and dwell in our own consciousness. The basis for the doctrine of this so-called Trinity is found in New Testament passages that associate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, such as:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Jesus himself specifies that he is “the way” to this new kingdom. Only through him can man enter his Father’s Kingdom. In order to atone for Man’s enormous burden of sin, so that all sinners can be allowed into heaven, the prophecies foretold a savior, a messiah, must come. He will be born of that carefully maintained, seminal blood line. And he will willingly sacrifice his own life to redeem our accursed souls.
The religious concept of the deliberate sacrifice of life is difficult to reconcile. Granted, the ritual was already an ancient tradition by Jesus’ time. As far back as the earliest traditions of Sumer, it was believed that by sacrificing an animal, offering its blood to one’s god, one might curry favor, or at least keep the god pleased. Some religious rituals involved the sacrificing of an animal to atone for ones’ sins, sometimes called “propitiation.” According to this idea, by making such a sacrifice to one’s god, he may be satisfied or at least appeased, perhaps even more inclined to pardon and bless sinners. It was a yearly ritual for some, presumably to have the previous year’s sins washed away by the blood of some unfortunate animal – the more choice the animal, the more the blessings. It was typical to offer animal holocausts to the olden gods in their temples.
In the case of Jesus’ personal sacrifice, theological reasoning seems to be that the traditional holocaust was hardly sufficient to atone for humankind’s enormous burden of sin, begun in the Garden of Eden and accumulated over the millennia, as it were; thus only the sacrifice of God himself would be sufficient to atone for Man’s sins, and to open the doors of heaven for all. This may make little sense today, but surely made perfect theological sense in the context of the Hebrew’s tradition at the time of Christ.
Perhaps too, it is because through Jesus’ own terrible Moment of Doubt, the Father realized the terrible burden he had imposed on Man: every human being having to face his own sure death. But as author Ann Rice and others have pointed out, if Jesus really knew he was divine, immortal, he wouldn’t have been quite as affected by the prospect of death as are we mere humans. After all, according to his disciples, Jesus believed he was supernatural and really couldn’t die. If indeed he was, he could never feel the genuine degree of fear of death that every man feels. Nevertheless, his was an enormous sacrifice; his was an emotional story which has touched the hearts of billions of people over the ages and throughout the world.
The rock upon which Christian belief is built is the Resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not die on the cross, or if he did but did not return to life, the entire New Testament, and thus Christianity, is founded on a fairy tale.
First things first. Many non-believers would have you believe Jesus never even lived, ie: he wasn’t an actual historic figure, and the story of his life, his works and his crucifixion are simply myth. Others create their own myths; fascinating conspiracy theories such as Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He was given, they say, his last drink of wine with some sort of potion in it, one which renders the drinker morbidly unconscious, with all the medical appearances of having expired, but which wears off eventually, allowing that person to revive on his own.
So, with no apologies to Bill O’Reilly and his best-selling book “Killing Jesus,” is there any extra-bibical historical evidence that Jesus existed and was crucified? There are several reports made by non-Christian historians from around Jesus’ time. Among them are Lucian’s (c.120–180 AD), which refers to Jesus as “a crucified sophist” – a philosopher. Josephus (c.37–100 AD) wrote, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man... a doer of amazing deeds. Pilate condemned him to the cross...” Tacitus (c.56–120 AD) wrote, “Christus... suffered the extreme penalty… at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.” We can take it as fact that Jesus lived at that time, performed “amazing deeds,” and was put to death on the cross. In fact, there is no historical account from Christians, Romans, or Jews that disputes either Jesus’ death or his burial. Even Crossan, a skeptic of the resurrection, agrees that Jesus really lived and died. “That he was crucified,” Crossan writes, “Is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
Three days after Jesus was taken down from the cross and entombed according to Jewish rituals of the time, his tomb was found empty. To steal his body would have been a daunting task for grave robbers. Anticipating this possibility, local leaders had trained Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. A two-ton boulder covered the entrance. The tomb itself belonged to a member of the Sanhedrin Council, Joseph of Arimathea. To be on the council was to be very well known. Joseph must have been a real person, one known to a great number of people in the region. Otherwise, other Jewish leaders would have exposed the story as a fraud in attempting to disprove the Resurrection. How could Jesus’ followers even have managed to keep such an “empty tomb report” alive if it was not true? Surely the discovery of Jesus’ body elsewhere would have been of intense interest to the people of that time and would have instantly put an end to the myth.
The Gospels tell us in no vague terms of Jesus’ return from the dead. The manner of the telling of Jesus’ return is in itself remarkable. One would think that if the story of Jesus’ Resurrection were merely a fairy tale – written in that era to sustain Jesus’ followers, and to entice new converts to Christianity – it would have been written or rewritten in a far more dramatic way. More like Moses parting the Sea, Joshua tumbling the walls of Jehrico or David slaying Goliath. If it is a fairy tale, you would think whoever is originally responsible for it would have Jesus rising from the dead in some startling manner, in full view of his followers as well as those who crucified him. But it wasn’t described that way.
As told by all the New Testament writers, the Resurrection occurs in complete privacy, with no witnesses to moment of the actual event. Several days after the Crucifixion, Jesus appears very alive to his amazed disciples. To underscore the incredible event, the very human apostle Thomas is portrayed as the doubter. Hearing about the reappearance of Jesus, Thomas claims he will not believe until he can come face to face with him, even to specifying that he needed to put his hands into the very wounds which he saw Jesus receive during the Crucifixion. Doubting Thomas is convinced when his exact wishes are granted.
Jesus sends his apostles and disciples forth to establish his church on Earth; then in plain view, rises into the heavens. Those Christianized Jews and others who believed Jesus to be the Messiah, The Son of God, then establish Christianity to continue his Church, which has survived with many shades and nuances for two thousand years.
Though it cannot so far be conclusively proved nor disproved, many believe Jesus’ burial cloth has survived to this day; now known as the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is a linen cloth kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. It bears the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. The origins of the Shroud and its image have for decades been the subject of intense debate among scientists, theologians, historians and researchers.
For those interested in this fascinating aspect of Jesus’ story, click this link to take a little side trip to examine the fascinating story of the burial cloth in which Jesus’ body was shrouded.
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Is the idea that Jesus “divinity” comes through the hidden hand of extraterrestrial beings any less believable than orthodox explanations of his divinity? It is a materialistic way to explain much of the otherwise inexplicable in the story of Jesus. If you accept this explanation, of his continual references to his Father, of his ability to perform miracles, of his resurrection and ultimately being lifted aloft to his Father’s abode; then everything else in The New Testament as regards his personal life story can be made to fit into, shall we say, the continuing epic of the Elohim.
By this scenario, after the olden gods left our planet sometime around 450 BC, disillusioned, perhaps even in disgust, frustrated by the “stiff-necked” humans and the constant attraction to evil of their hard hearts, the Elohim sent a representative to lay the groundwork for our redemption. They had promised not to seek vengeance again, as they had done in the time of the Great Flood.
We must not forget that the olden gods created Modern Man not for Man’s benefit, but to fill their own need for workers – essentially slave labor. They were demanding of loyalty and sacrifice; stern, unforgiving, and dedicated to their own selfish glorification. Thus thousands of years and millions of man-hours were dedicated to the establishment of cities, monuments and temples dedicated to each of the gods. But the gods left us. Perhaps in retrospect they felt some sense of remorse, deciding to send emissaries to help us make a transition from slaves of the olden gods to men free to make their own choices. Recognizing that mankind had grown greatly in number, and was able to continue on his own – for our own good they would initiate a new religion designed to soften the hearts of mankind by emphasizing our spiritual side, and with the promise of a kind of eternal life in the hereafter. The very thing which Gilgamesh and the Pharaohs had been searching for on Earth through so many previous millennia.
The genius of Jesus’ concept is that it must all be taken on faith. But it was made urgent by the Essenes’ prophecies of the imminent destruction of the Earth by an angry god. It did not require the endless rituals of Mesopotamian times, the meticulous calendrical and astronomical alignments, or the constant need for interaction by the gods with the unreliable humans. The new rituals were simple and few. The symbolic cleansing of the soul in the waters of baptism was quickly and widely accepted. The promise of everlasting life was so appealing, so enthralling, that it caught on and spread very quickly. Certainly the call to love thy neighbor, and to forgive your enemy was such a relief from the culture of the time that it seemed to resonate at the very core of the human condition. But Christianity faced a rough road ahead.
The world did not precipitously come to an end as the Essenes had predicted. As passionate as the new believers were, their professions of faith quickly deteriorated into bickering – the inability of one brother to accept another brothers’ views – the very trait which the olden gods disliked in their creations. There was much strife among the various sects of early Christendom. Since most in those early years were Jews, they naturally celebrated their new Christian rituals in the same synagogues they had always attended. Of course this did not sit well with the majority of Jews who did not accept Jesus as the prophesied messiah; and eventually the Christian Jews were forced out of the synagogues to face the world as true Christians. The Romans who occupied the Holy Land at that time came to regard these Christians as a growing threat to the stability of the region. They begin to persecute the early Christians as they had not persecuted the Jews or other sects.
The first recorded significant persecution of Christians at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire was as soon as thirty years after the Crucifixion, in the year 64. The Roman historian Tacitus reported that the Emperor Nero blamed Christians for that year’s great Fire of Rome. According to Church tradition, it was under Nero’s persecution that the apostles Peter and Paul were each martyred in Rome. For 250 years Christians suffered for their refusal to worship the Roman emperor, considered treason and punishable by execution. The most widespread of these was the “Great Persecution” of Diocletian, which began in 303 AD and continued for almost ten years.
Christians suffered torture, mutilation, burning, starvation, and were forced into gladiatorial contests to amuse Roman spectators. Despite this threat, Jesus’ gospels had already achieved a foothold in Rome following the much earlier missions of his apostles, most notably Paul (who was a Roman citizen, a Jew originally named Saul of Tarsus before his own conversion which had occurred sometime about 34 AD). This new idea, Christianity, captured the imagination of a growing number of Roman subjects who tired of the olden gods. Soon the Roman world, as pagan as it was, began being baptized; and philosophizing about whether or not man possessed an immortal soul became a popular subject at polite Roman gatherings. The Great Persecution ended when Galerius issued an edict of toleration, which granted Christians the right to practice their religion, though it did not restore any of their property to them.
Then, in what can only be described as divine intervention, one of the most amazing turnabouts in Christian history occurred. A Roman Emperor converted to Christianity! Constantine the Great was converted following his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in the year 312. Under his rule, Christianity become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. How did this unlikely conversion come about?
Christian sources record that in an epiphany not terribly unlike that of Paul, Constantine personally experienced a dramatic vision just prior to the Battle of Milvian Bridge. He apparently believed this vision gave him the power and confidence to become victorious. This victory enabled Constantine to claim the emperorship of the West. According to these sources, Constantine looked up at the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light, and with it the Greek words “By this sign, conquer!” (more familiarly rendered in the Latin “In hoc signo vinces”). Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol, and thereafter they were victorious. This may have been one of the earliest examples of a “Pauline conversion.”
Constantine’s endorsement of Christianity was a turning point for the relatively young religion. One year later, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christian worship in Rome. He became a great patron of the Church and set a precedent for the orthodoxy that would be followed for centuries. Writing to Christians, Constantine made clear that he owed his successes to the protection of that High God alone. This “High God” was distinctly different from the earlier official gods of Rome – the same olden gods worshiped under different names at Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, the Indus nations, and Greece. But Constantine’s rule exhibited at least a willingness to appease those Romans who still worshiped the olden gods. Roman coins minted up to eight years after the battle still bore the images of the old Roman gods.
Constantine and Licinius announced that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best, thereby granting tolerance to all religions, including Christianity. The agreement of Milan went a step further than the earlier edict of Galerius, returning confiscated Church property. This edict made the Empire officially neutral with regard to religious worship; it neither made paganism illegal nor made Christianity the state religion.
Constantine loaded his court with those older, respected, and honored men who agreed with his views. Leading Roman families that refused Christianity were denied positions of power, yet pagans still received appointments, even up to the end of his life; two-thirds of his top government was non-Christian. Crucifixion was abolished for reasons of Christian piety, but was replaced with hanging, to show there was Roman law and justice. On March 7, 321, Sunday was declared the official day of rest, on which markets were banned and public offices were closed, except for the purpose of freeing slaves. Some laws were even humane in the modern sense, possibly originating in his Christianity: a prisoner was no longer to be kept in constant darkness, but must be given the outdoors and daylight. Gladiatorial games were ordered to be eliminated in 325. A slave master’s rights were limited, though a slave could still be beaten to death.
The former Emperor, Diocletian, attempted to destroy every one of the hated Christian Bibles, going so far as to erect a column over the ashes of a burnt Bible to celebrate what he thought was his victory around the year 303 AD. In 331, at government expense, the new Emperor, Constantine commissioned his relative Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius, a Christian theologian, bishop of Alexandria, Church Father, and noted Egyptian leader of the Fourth Century, recorded Alexandrian scribes in the year 340 were preparing these Bibles.
Interestingly, when the waves of persecutions directed against Christians died down, and Christians emerged, tormented and bloodied, from the catacombs and caves into God’s light, they were seen to sign themselves with an extensive sign of the cross, which may be the genesis of this current-day tradition.
The reign of Constantine established a precedent for the position of the Christian Emperor in the Church. Emperors considered themselves responsible to God for the spiritual health of their subjects, and thus they had a duty to maintain orthodoxy. It would be the emperor’s duty to ensure that God was properly worshiped in his empire; it would be the Church’s function to determine exactly what constituted proper worship and doctrine. In 325 Constantine summoned the First Council of Nicaea, the first major Ecumenical Council.
Though he made his allegiance clear, Constantine did not outlaw paganism; in the words of an early edict, he decreed that polytheists could “celebrate the rites of an outmoded illusion,” so long as they did not force Christians to join them. In a letter to the King of Persia, Constantine wrote how he shunned the “abominable blood and hateful odors” of pagan sacrifices, and instead worshiped the High God “on bended knee”; and in the new capital city he built, made sure no pagan temples were built. Sporadically, however, Constantine would prohibit public sacrifice and close pagan temples; very little pressure, however, was put on individual pagans, and there were no pagan martyrs.
During the course of his life he progressively became more Christian, turning away from any syncretic tendencies he appeared to favor in his past. According to his biographers, this demonstrated his growing belief that “The God of the Christians was indeed a jealous God who tolerated no other gods beside him. The Church could never acknowledge that she stood on the same plane with other religious bodies; she conquered for herself one domain after another.” Finally, Constantine himself was baptized into Christianity just before his death in 337 by Bishop Eusebius.
According to the historian Ramsay MacMullen, Constantine desired to obliterate non-Christians but lacking the means he had to be content with robbing their temples towards the end of his reign. He resorted to derogatory and contemptuous comments relating to the old religion; writing of the “obstinacy” of the pagans, of their “misguided rites and ceremony,” and of their “temples of lying” contrasted with “the splendours of the home of truth.”
On the other hand, east of the Euphrates, the Sassanid rulers of the Persian Empire had usually tolerated their Christians. But with the edicts of toleration in the Roman Empire, Christians in Persia would now be regarded as allies of Persia’s ancient enemy, and were thus persecuted. Shapur II “The Great” was the ninth King of the Persian Sassanid Empire (309-379). During his long reign, the Sassanid Empire saw its first golden era since the reign of Shapur I. Reflecting on the religious turnabouts in Rome under Constantine, Shapur II wrote to his generals: “You will arrest Simon, chief of the Christians. You will keep him until he signs this document and consents to collect for us a double tax and double tribute from the Christians … for we gods have all the trials of war, and they have nothing but repose and pleasure. They inhabit our territory and agree with Caesar, our enemy.” Christians in Persia were now suspected of potential treachery. The Great Persecution of Persian Christians occurred from 340 to 363, after the Persian Wars which resumed upon Constantine’s death.
As the Roman Empire grew and eventually collapsed of its own weight, Catholicism spread through Western Europe. During this period, the power of the Pope grew enormously. However, it wasn’t long before Christianity’s schisms resurfaced and widened. One result was the splitting away of Protestantism, weakening the central dominance of the papacy.
Islam and other religions sprang forth from the same monotheistic godhead introduced by Abraham. Belief systems never seem to solidify or achieve universality; for as multiple olden gods were known by different names in ancient times, we now have one God who is known by different names by different religions. But among Christians, a fundamental belief in the divinity of Jesus seems to have weathered a multitude of political and cultural storms which have blown through the corridors of Time.
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Why do we no longer see Abraham’s Yahweh? Why did the olden gods leave us? Unfortunately, lacking textual declarations of their intent, we can only suppose. Perhaps their original mission here on Earth was completed, and they returned to their own world. Perhaps they finally grew old and died. Perhaps they simply gave up on us. Or perhaps they are still here, hidden in plain sight, blending in with Modern Man, continuing to manipulate our history.
At some point, the ingenuity and inquisitiveness of humankind would have begun to “catch up” with the technology of the olden gods, and mankind would no longer fear them. As soon as the power they derived from Man’s fear was lost, the olden gods would have to change their thinking. While the technology and knowledge of the gods was highly advanced, it might not have been advanced in the same way man’s knowledge developed. Up until the late 1800’s, mankind lived in a Newtonian world. But this world began to look not quite complete when scientists realized the uncertainty principles of the quantum realm. By the 1920’s the world of the atom, and the quantum principles, were established. Not only did they change the scientific paradigm, but they found their way into the everyday world of technological products. In little more than half a century, the world of the horse-and-buggy evolved into one of radio, television, computers, atomic power and interplanetary travel!
Granted, the olden gods’ great power might have been based on technology totally alien to us even today. Either way, it is doubtful they could have maintained their status in our new world. As we outlined earlier, the olden gods moved from one region of the world to the next frontier, bringing each successive region to a higher state of technology before moving on again. We read in the ancient texts that they were no longer walking among us on a regular basis after roughly the Fourth Century BC. They either picked up all their belongings and left, or buried it all somewhere inaccessible, like the depths of the sea. Some of them may have liked it here too much to leave. They could easily have blended in to our world, perhaps becoming the first kings and queens of the post-Classical Greek world. It is not difficult to see how their ancient tradition of royal blood-lines continued after the Greeks declared the olden gods were dead; a tradition which continued down through the ages to this very day.
Whether or not you are a Christian, the effect Jesus had on the history of mankind cannot be over-estimated. His legacy – the good works done in his name – puts the simple Nazarene at the pinnacle of achievement, second only to Almighty God. In the end, does this not fit the definition of divine?