Notes on Christianity

The Hebrew Bible does not have a notion of resurrection. When people die their souls survive and enter a shadow world, Sheol, from which they can communicate with the living. Sheol is the Jewish state of the dead. It could mean the grave or another dimension. Later, Jewish mythology evolved to include the notion that there will come a future time when the righteous will be resurrected, but this is not original to the ancient religion (but it explains all the bone collections – those unique stone boxes full of bones). The notion of Hell as understood in Christianity, Gehenna or Hades, where the soul and body suffer everlasting torment and destruction, albeit sometimes also denoting the concept of Sheol or Hades as the abode of the dead, is not of ancient Jewish origin. Moreover, in the Old Testament, Satan was one of God’s archangels (of which there were many and many other lesser angels). Satan resided in the celestial dimension with God and was deployed by God to test the faith of his followers, sort of a celestial prosecutor.

In the late Old Testament and intertestamental period, between late sixth century BC and the first century AD, Jews came under the influence of Persian culture (when Persia conquered the Babylonians in 536 BC) and were influenced by Zoroastrianism, which conceived of the universe – and the soul – as containing opposing forces of good and evil, or cosmic / moral dualism. The evil force opposed God’s creative force, polluting / corrupting God’s pure creative work, hence aging, sickness, etc. There are two paths you can go by: the righteous path, which is the stairway to Heaven and happiness everlasting, and the wicked path, which leads to wretchedness and eternal torment in Hell. Zoroastrians are optimistic that evil will finally be vanquished and humanity will realize Paradise on Earth (they became more optimistic as the religion evolved, but I digress).

Under this influence, Jewish cults emerged that re-conceptualized Satan as the personification of evil. Satan is no longer tempting man as God’s prosecutor to test for loyalty (as we see in Job), but enticing man to sin for his own sake. He becomes the corrupter of men’s souls. In the emerging cultish version of Jewish cosmology, God (and his angels) and Satan (and his demons) become independent forces, locked in a struggle for power.

Christian mythology takes this further: Satan, an archangel is depicted as rebelling against god in the celestial realm. God casts Satan out of Heaven. Satan falls towards Earth (although it’s unclear whether all the way). Jesus, another of God’s archangels, is sent from Heaven, eventually depicted as God incarnate, representing along the way the fulfillment of a revised Jewish prophecy, repurposed to wash away the stain of sin with his purifying magic blood. The idea of choice, central to Zoroastrianism, where one chooses to be good, is incorporated into Christian doctrine, producing a more agency-driven religious feel (and an early source of the coming fascination with individualism); a person accepts Jesus as his personal savior, honoring the sacrifice Jesus made, in order to be welcomed into Paradise, now removed from Earth to Heaven. Jesus, one of many savior deities, thus represents a composite myth, and is subsequently historicized via the Gospels, which are written in the second century AD.

This is confirmed by the epistles of Paul, which are the earliest references to Jesus in history, penned well after Jesus is supposed to have lived. Paul insists that he has no personal knowledge of Jesus, that scripture and revelations are the only ways to knows Jesus. It came to him in a vision (although he consorted with other wizards of his sort). Jesus is not connected to human history in any of Paul’s writings. All of the elements in the Gospels, written many decades after Paul, are not in Paul’s epistles: Mary and Joseph, the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, the time and place of the birth, the manger and three three kings, Jesus’ childhood, John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, the temptation, sermons, parables, and moral pronouncements, exorcisms, healings, and miracles, the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ arrest and trial, the witnesses at the tomb, the transfiguration – none of these things are known to Paul (for they had not yet been invented). Paul only knows about crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and some vague notion of the sperm of David (which translates much like God’s manufacture of Adam) and it is not clear that any of these things even happened on Earth. They seem to have happened in the celestial space between the Earth and the Moon where God and Satan do battle.

In Paul’s story, Jesus is an archangel, a salvation deity, sent from Heaven for the sake of people. Decades later there is a dispute among Christians as to whether that’s for Jews and Jewish converts, i.e. Torah observant Christians (TOCs), specifically, which ties in with the entirely speculative historical case of Jesus as a rebel seeking salvation from Roman occupation, or for Gentiles, too, for a we-are-the-world go at things. That latter bit really caught on, as you can see. Or, more accurately, with elaborated and forced on populations by law and by sword, thanks to the Romans. However, the only recipients of Jesus’ message, according to Paul, are apostles like Paul, that is, recipients of revelations from celestial quarters (albeit not in the detailed ways Muhammad and Joseph Smith were informed by Gabriel and Moroni). The ritual of the Eucharist is transmitted to Paul in the same way God transmits to Moses the building of altars (that “Don’t let me see your testicles” bit). It is not conveyed to him or by him as symbolic of an actual historical moment (which had yet to be invented).

The Gospels, written much later, attempt to situate Jesus in history, but even here the stories take the form of the Greek myths that purport to report events happening on earth. Indeed, when people read the Gospels as history they are missing the fact that they are myths telling parables about spiritual matters (such as the story of Jesus and the fig tree in Mark 11:13). Thus the Gospels are instances of contemporary myth-making in the same way that Joseph Smith manufactured the Book of Mormon. And very much in the spirit with the Jewish tribes and all, which either Smith accidentally picked up or he was smarter that we think). And just as the Book of Mormon is a plagiarism of the Biblical text, so the New Testament is a plagiarism of the Old Testament, and the Quran is a plagiarism of both the Old and the New Testament – as they were known at that time.

So, the New Testament is a mix of Paul’s epistles, second century AD myth-making and plagiarism, and forgeries (such as 2 Peter). Moreover, the extra-biblical sources claim knowledge of Jesus either only have knowledge of the cult or are themselves forgeries. Jesus is not actual historical figure. He is myth through and through.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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