Saturday, 3 October 2015

How Christianity was invented by re-interpreting the Psalms

Everything that is essential to the earliest Christianity can be constructed by reading the Old Testament Psalms as if they were words of and about Christ (although in places this requires using textual traditions preserved in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament).  Sometimes they are taken to be Christ speaking of himself, at other times to be God speaking of Christ.  The writer of the book called Hebrews makes quite plain that he is interpreting the Psalms this way (although curiously Paul ascribes the Psalms to King David) and I am confident that Hebrews is representative of almost as early a form of Christianity as we have access to.

This is in fact how I believe Christianity started: as a mystical reinterpretation of the Jewish Messiah as a sacrifical offering to God of and by his own closest heavenly servant, revealed out of the OT by the discovery of a way of reading it that seemingly offered insight into a mystery of salvation.

Later, once Christians came to believe that the Gospel narrative was at the beginning of their religion, they read parallels in the Psalms as if they were prophecies of what turned out to happen.  This is getting the history of the origins of Christianity backward: the first Gospel was designed as an allegory of the faith constructed largely by dramatising Psalms and other parts of the OT that Christians had begun by reinterpreting.

Here I state the essential points of earliest Christianity, quote for each point one or two of the key passages in the Psalms whence it was drawn (blue), and then quote from the New Testament outside of the Gospels to show its significance (red).  Often, the NT is clearly drawing directly on the Psalms source.

  • The revelation about Jesus is found in the Scriptures:
  • Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
        in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
    I delight to do your will, O my God;
        your law is within my heart.” 
    (Psalm 40)
  • ... according to my gospel and the preaching of [= about] Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations...  (Romans 16)
  • Jesus Christ holds the status of Son of God:
  • The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
        today I have begotten you...  (Psalm 2)
  • For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    You are my Son,
        today I have begotten you”?  (Hebrews 1)
  • God created the universe through Christ:
  • Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
        and the heavens are the work of your hands.  (Psalm 102)
  • [I]n these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. ...

    [O]f the Son he says ...
    “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
        and the heavens are the work of your hands...
      (Hebrews 1)
  • Christ takes a body, which will replace sacrificial burnt offerings to God:
  • Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not;
    but a body hast thou prepared me:
    whole-burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou didst not require.
    (Psalm 40 LXX)
  • Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
    “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
        but a body have you prepared for me...” 
    (Hebrews 10)
  • Christ is descended from King David:
  • I have found David, my servant;    with my holy oil I have anointed him...And I will make him the firstborn,
        the highest of the kings of the earth.
     My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
        and my covenant will stand firm for him.
    I will establish his offspring forever
        and his throne as the days of the heavens...
    Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
        which by your faithfulness you swore to David?

    Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
        and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations,
    with which your enemies mock, O Lord,
        with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.
    (Psalm 89)
  • For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah [David's tribe]...  (Hebrews 7)

  • Christ is the son of an unnamed female:
  • O Lord, I am your servant;
        I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. 
    (Psalm 116)
  • Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
        you are he who took me from my mother's womb.  (Psalm 71)
  • But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son— having come from a woman...  (Galatians 4 in literal translation)
  • She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness...  (Revelation 12)

  • Christ is accused of sins he has not committed and is mocked by evildoers:
  • Be not silent, O God of my praise!
    For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
        speaking against me with lying tongues.
    They encircle me with words of hate,
        and attack me without cause.
    In return for my love they accuse me,
        but I give myself to prayer.
    So they reward me evil for good,
        and hatred for my love.
    Appoint a wicked man against him;
        let an accuser stand at his right hand.
    When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
        let his prayer be counted as sin!
      (Psalm 109)
  • All who see me mock me;
        they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
    “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
        let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” 
    (Psalm 22)
  • As with a deadly wound in my bones,
        my adversaries taunt me,

    while they say to me all the day long,
        “Where is your God?”  (Psalm 42)
  • Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  (Hebrews 12)

  • Christ is crucified by evildoers (indeed by the demonic "rulers of this age"):
  • ... a company of evildoers encircles me;
    they have pierced my hands and feet ...
    (Psalm 22)
  • ... looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame ...  (Hebrews 12)
  • Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  (1 Corinthians 2)

  • Christ dies and goes to Hell, whence he prays for deliverance from death:
  •  Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
        save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
    For in death there is no remembrance of you;
        in Sheol who will give you praise?  (Psalm 6)
  • In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  (Hebrews 5)

  • Christ suffers in Hell the wrath of God due to the wicked, his sacrifice thereby substituting his punishment and death for theirs:
  • I am counted among those who go down to the pit...You have put me in the depths of the pit,
        in the regions dark and deep.
    Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
        and you overwhelm me with all your waves. 
    (Psalm 89)
  • So Jesus also suffered outside the gate [of Heaven?] in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  (Hebrews 13)

  • Christ's prayer for deliverance from death is heard, and he is saved by God from death out of Hell because of his righteousness:
  •   I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
        and I am saved from my enemies.
    The cords of death encompassed me;
        the torrents of destruction assailed me;
    the cords of Sheol entangled me;
        the snares of death confronted me.
    In my distress I called upon the Lord;
        to my God I cried for help.

    From his temple he heard my voice,
        and my cry to him reached his ears.
    Then the earth reeled and rocked [etc.] ...
    He sent from on high, he took me;

        he drew me out of many waters.
     He rescued me from my strong enemy
        and from those who hated me,
        for they were too mighty for me.

     They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
        but the Lord was my support.
     He brought me out into a broad place;
        he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
    The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;

    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me... (Psalm 18)
  • Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
        my flesh also dwells secure.
    For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,    or let your holy one see corruption. 
    (Psalm 16)
  • I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
        and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
    O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
        and you have healed me.
    O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;    you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.  (Psalm 30)
  • Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed (= Christos);
        he will answer him from his holy heaven
        with the saving might of his right hand. 
    (Psalm 20)
  • In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  (Hebrews 5)

  • God gracefully wipes away the sins of those who fear him:
  • The Lord is merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
    He will not always chide,
        nor will he keep his anger forever.
    He does not deal with us according to our sins,
        nor repay us according to our iniquities.

    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
        so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 
    (Psalm 103)
  • For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.  For he finds fault with them when he says:
    “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
        when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
        and with the house of Judah...For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
        and I will remember their sins no more.”  (Hebrews 8 quoting Jeremiah)
  • Christ serves as a priest (in God's heavenly temple):
  • The Lord has sworn
        and will not change his mind,
    “You are a priest forever
        after the order of Melchizedek.” 
    (Psalm 110)
  • Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? ...
    For it is witnessed of him,
    “You are a priest forever,
        after the order of Melchizedek.” 
    (Hebrews 7)
  • Jesus is to lead the nations to God:
  • You delivered me from strife with the people;
        you made me the head of the nations;
        people whom I had not known served me.

    As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
        foreigners came cringing to me. 
    (Psalm 18)
  • For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience...  (Romans 15)

  • Christ is destined to rule the Earth under God:
  • The Lord says to my Lord:
        “Sit at my right hand,
    until I make your enemies your footstool.”
    The Lord sends forth from Zion
        your mighty scepter.
        Rule in the midst of your enemies!  (Psalm 110)
  • But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  (Hebrews 10)

Thus, simply by reading the Psalms as if they contained a secret message about the mystery of the Messiah, one could derive the entire essential doctrine of earliest Christianity:
God has opened our eyes to read in Scripture of his Son the anointed Christ, through whom he created the universe, who is given a body, and is descended from King David and born from a woman, who suffered accusation and crucifixion at the hands of evildoers, and who was thus killed and went down to Hell, suffering the punishment due to sinners; but God heard his prayers, and saved him from Hell; now God wipes away our sins, while Christ serves as a priest, will lead the nations, and shall rule the Earth.
If one reads the 'Suffering Servant' section of Isaiah in combination with Psalms, it becomes even easier to see the emerging story:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53)
Once one sees how it easy it would have been to invent Christianity by re-interpreting old Scriptures, it becomes all the easier to understand how early Christians like the writer of Hebrews, and then Paul, developed such a theology without ever resorting to discussion of an earthly, historical, biographical Jesus of Nazareth: they did it all without his ever existing or being imagined by them.

The Jesus Myth theory, defended most ably and comprehensively by Richard Carrier, that in earliest Christian theology the heavenly Christ was given a body made from the seed of King David and gestated in a heavenly woman, and that he then descended through the layers of heaven to his crucifixion by the demon rulers of the air and Earth, may be difficult to swallow at first, in spite of all the evidence both against the Historical Jesus and for the Myth.  But it is all the easier to do so once one imagines the first Christians searching for a way to synthesise the information they were pulling out of the Psalms, with the seeming authority of communications from God and Christ themselves, and making sense of it on an Earth to which the Christ had never in fact deigned to descend in body.

With this in mind, I have spotted what looks like a possible interpolation in the letter to the Ephesians, where Psalm 68 is quoted:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?  He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... (Ephesians 4)
The parenthesis makes an argument that is completely irrelevant to the train of thought, for the sole purpose of insisting that Christ must have descended to the Earth.  Why make such an interpolation if not for the fact that there was a significant body of opinion denying that Christ had come to Earth?

It really does seem the mythicists are right, and that the Mythical Jesus came first.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The trappings of civilisation: two books on American Indian history

"They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it." 
Red Cloud.

Reading these books gets heartbreakingly repetitive because the same story repeats ad nauseam: the complacency of the white settlers in the superiority of their civilised ways ends up in the death and expropriation of Indian nations.

Dozens of examples could be given:

What good did it do Indians of the colonial period that they were (contrary to popular belief) secured by law as proprietors of their lands—when every means of fraud and threat was excused to extort it from them under colour of free consent to its sale?

What justice was there in America's great city-on-a-hill representative democracy—when representatives were elected by land-hungry settlers and sweetened by speculators?

What law was it that promised to uphold treaties preserving Indian lands from invasion by gold-panners, buffalo-hunters and homesteaders—when the government pronounced itself unable to keep them out, so the Indians had better sell up while they had anything left to sell?

What assistance was offered by humanitarian do-gooders in trying to settle tribes as farmers—when their paternalist method was to punish Indians for trying to make a living the way they wanted, on lands promised to them for ever by sacred treaty?

These are books to make you despair of the progress supposedly made in the West during centuries of philosophy, art, science, law and government.  When it came to the test, a representative sample of our culture, fortified by self-confidence as the pinnacle of human achievement, turned out to be a wave of genocide implacably sweeping a continent.

The series of events runs over and over again: a human wave encroaches on Indian land; the government promises by treaty to protect the Indians from invasion if only they will consent to removal onto a westward reservation; the reservation is invaded and the government protests it is powerless to halt the human wave, though if only the Indians will consent to removal onto a yet further westward reservation, their land will be inviolate for eternity; the reservation is invaded and nothing done to halt it; Indians use force to defend their land; the press whips up a great terror of scalpings and rapes; the army arrives to disarm the Indians; Eastern humanitarians or wolves in friends' clothing urge them to consent to a reservation; the next incident of violent conflict with settlers brings on the army; villages are rushed and massacred, chiefs negotiating under a flag of truce are arrested, bitter-enders are hunted through the mountains; the tribe submits to a yet smaller, more worthless reservation.  Repeat.

Won't you settle down and sow Indian corn like the whites will show you how?

These are books to make you wary of the nostrums of Western civilisation: democracy, law, treaty, property, freedom.  They are the sacred foundations of our culture, yet all the while white people preached them through the centuries in America, they were trappings of civilisation clothing a reality of force and contempt towards a whole people.  The damage was done partly by evil people consumed with hatred.  But perhaps the larger part was done by people who believed they were on the right side of history, people who rarely bothered to ask the people affected what their reality was on the ground, and filtered their answers through their own preconceptions even when they did.

I doubt whether this passage written by General Carleton, upon the successful removal of the Navajo to a reservation unfit for human habitation, can be beaten for complacency and contempt:
These 6000 mouths must eat, and these 6000 bodies must be clothed. When it is considered what a magnificent pastoral and mineral country they have surrendered to usthe country whose value can hardly be estimatedthe mere pittance, in comparison, which must at once be given to support them, sinks into insignificance as a price for their natural heritage...

The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate; but when at length, they found it was their destiny, too, as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, a way back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms, and, as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity, and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglectfeeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser's pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm.
So many self-satisfied civilised people going so wrong should give us pause: what barbarities are our own trappings of civilisation clothing, that posterity will damn us for?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Gospel according to Me: the allegorical meanings of Mark's Gospel

If, as I believe, Mark's Gospel (GMark) is a fictional allegory about faith in the spiritual Christ who sacrificed himself to demons in the heavens, then how does this allegory work?

Firstly, these are my assumptions, with follow-up references:
  1. Jesus did not exist; the original Jesus religion was belief in a heavenly being.
  2. Christianity was in its first centuries a mystery religion with secret doctrines.
  3. GMark was produced by a sect closer in theology to the book of Hebrews than to Paul, though opposed to the sect led by Peter and James.
I will now go through GMark, chapter by chapter, summarising as I see them:
  • the main allegorical episodes;
  • their meanings;
  • and texts which corroborate the meaning.

Mark 1
  • John the Baptist is baptising people for repentance and forgiveness from sins in the Jordan River; he proclaims himself only a forerunner: “... I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
  • I would suppose on prima facie grounds that John existed, since he is recorded in a passage of Josephus which betrays no Christian agenda, and which gives a different account of his teaching: "immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions".
  • However, if the passage is a polemical anti-Christian interpolation in Josephus, and John did not exist, then I still suppose it likely that there was at least a Baptist cult that proclaimed John as its founder, and which was a rival to the Christian cult (for who else would have interpolated it?)  Acts 19 likewise features some disciples who were baptised by John, but who haven't heard of the Holy Spirit or been baptised in Jesus' name, so Paul does this for them.  Presumably when Acts was written there were Baptist cultists around who did not believe in Jesus.  This episode in GMark would thus be a polemical allegory of John's subordinate forerunner status below and before Jesus.
  • There may also have been rivalry asserting that Jesus (once he was believed to have been a historical figure) was subordinate to John, since Luke 3 minimises John's role and delays the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus until after the baptism: "when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him..."
  • John is probably presented in GMark as Elijah returned, since Elijah was expected to herald the advent of the Messiah (Mal 4:5).  In Mark 9, Jesus says Elijah has already come.  Jesus says John was Elijah in Matt 11.  John's appearance in Mark 1:6 matches Elijah's in 2 Kings 1:8.
  • When Jesus is baptised by John, the Holy Spirit descends on him, and God announces from Heaven that he is his beloved son.
  • This shows an aspect of what Christian baptism is: the Holy Spirit enters you and you are adopted by God as his son (or daughter).  Romans 8:15: "you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons".
  • Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • The heavenly Jesus experienced temptation so as to form a proper counterpart relationship with Christians, who are subject to temptation; like Jesus, you should resist.  Hebrews 4:15: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
  •  Calling the first disciples.
  • They go straight away to follow Jesus' call, because they have faith, like you should have.
  • Jesus exorcises demons and heals the sick.
  • Jesus is your model for doing this yourself.  Paul says Christians have "gifts of healing"; Hebrews mentions "laying on of hands".  Exorcism is not mentioned in the Epistles, but we might suppose it was done due to its prominence in the Gospels, combined with the Epistles' focus on fighting evil spirits, e.g. Ephesians 6:12: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  Jesus "disarmed the rulers and authorities", who are of course the cosmic demon powers, not Earthly rulers.

Mark 2-3
  • Jesus' disciples work and eat on the Sabbath; Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
  • The ethics of the community behind GMark involve the abolition of Torah Law, and its replacement by a vaguer morality of compassion and virtue (see the Great Commandment in Mark 12).  Hebrews 13: "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have..."
  • Appointment of twelve apostles.
  • In GMark, these twelve are representative of the Church leadership whom the sect of the Gospel opposes as faithless hypocrites.  Hence why they fail in their discipleship.  More on this below.
  • A group of twelve appears in 1 Cor 15 as recipients of an appearance (read: vision) of the resurrected Jesus, which was presumably what they or their followers claimed.
  • Jesus' family think he is out of his mind.
  • Probably what Christians' families thought of them when they joined the cult!
  • Jesus says those about him are his mother and brothers.
  • This reflects the Christian cult's use of familial terms for relations between members: not only are they "brothers in Christ" but your inductor in the faith is your "Father in Christ Jesus".

Mark 4-5
  • The Parable of the Sower.
  • The parable itself is about different responses to the Word, as Jesus explains.  However, it can also be used as a guide to the responses of different characters in GMark itself.  For example, the "rocky ground" in which the Word springs up fast, but withers as soon as the hot sun burns it, is an allegory of the Markan story of Peter, whose name means "Rock".
  • Jesus speaks in parables to the public, but explains privately to the twelve.
  • Jesus is modelling how to run Christianity as a Mystery Religion.  The purpose of speaking in parables is to prevent outsiders from understanding: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”"
  • There is plenty of evidence that Early Christianity had secret doctrines and grades of initiation.  Paul tells his readers to regard the apostles as "stewards of the mysteries of God".
  • Moreover, Jesus is clueing in the reader to the way in which GMark itself is an allegorical representation of a mysterious truth.
  • Jesus stills sea and storm, while the disciples wonder who he is.
  • Obviously, he is the Lord, the image of God, although they are too obtuse, fearful and faithless to understand: "Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven." (Ps. 107)
  • GMark is criticising the Church leaders for lacking faith in Christ.
  • Jesus heals the woman with the discharge of blood, and the daughter of Jairus.
  • These people obtain healing miracles because of their faith: "Daughter, your faith has made you well"; "Do not fear, only believe."  Contrast this faithful response to Jesus with the fearful behaviour of the twelve in the boat: "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  Mark is showing the faithful, fearless manner in which you should approach Christ.

 Mark 6
  • Jesus is rejected by most in his hometown.
  • The Jews are mostly rejecting their own Messiah, though Gentiles were following him.
  • Feeding of the Five Thousand.
  • Just like Elijah's feeding miracle.  The main allegorical importance, I think, is that even after seeing this miracle, next time there is a crowd to feed (in Mark 8) the disciples still don't know what they are going to do.  They are ridiculously faithless and obtuse.  Jesus asks them there, in a clear reference to the way in Mark 4 he characterised those on the outside: "Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?"  They do not understand the inner truth of what they are seeing; this is a critique of the people they represent.
  • Jesus walks on the water.
  • The twelve still don't recognise in Jesus the God who "trampled the waves of the sea", in the words of ever-faithful Job.  They are "terrified", "astounded", uncomprehending, and "their hearts were hardened".  This is critique of the leaders the Markan twelve represent.

Mark 7-8
  •  Ethical debates with the Pharisees.
  • Jesus asserts the moral, compassionate core of the Torah, while abolishing its ceremonial and ritual rules, just like the community that wrote Hebrews appears to do.  The non-Christian Jews are accused of following the ritual without the compassionate heart that really matters.
  • A deaf man is healed.
  • Also a blind man in Mark 8, and a boy with "a spirit that makes him mute" (as well as epileptic) in Mark 9.  If the paralytic healed in Mark 2 will pass for "lame" then Jesus is shown to heal all the kinds of infirmities predicted to be healed in the Messianic age in Isaiah 35: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy."  These are presumably the healings Christians believed they were doing, or else future expectations for after the Coming of Jesus.
  • Jesus says no sign will be given to this generation.
  • This is strange considering that Jesus' miracles were surely signs of the truth of the gospel.  And Hebrews says "God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles".
  • Peter recognises Jesus as the Christ (i.e. Messiah) but then rebukes Jesus for predicting his own death.
  • Peter is shown as unable to face up to the full implications of Christian faith.  Jesus calls him Satan.  This is a continuation of a damning allegorical critique of his leadership.  Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."  But Peter in Mark 15 will do the opposite, denying Jesus and failing to follow him.

Mark 9-10
  •  Jesus predicts the coming of the kingdom of God within the present generation.
  • Very difficult to understand if GMark was written, as most suppose, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (due to Mark 13:2).  Could that prediction be a fluke?
  • Jesus transfigured on a mountain.
  • It is possible that Peter and the apostolic leaders claimed that Jesus appeared to them on a mountain, for 2 Peter 1 says: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain."  If they claimed to have witnessed such an epiphany, then GMark might here be admitting this but mocking Peter's reaction: "And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified."  Note that they were again caught up in fear, not faith.  Peter suggests doing something mundane that shows he has not grasped what he is being shown.
  • More mistakes by the apostles.
  • When Jesus repeats his prediction of being killed, "they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him."  Again fear and misunderstanding, as the allegorical critique continues.  Then Jesus has to correct them, twice, because they have been arguing about who of them is the greatest, a totally wrongheaded mentality, since the first will be last.  The Church leaders are criticised here as more interested in status than service.

Mark 11-12
  •  Jesus curses the fig-tree, and the Cleansing of the Temple.
  • Richard Carrier cites an explanation for the fig-tree story which wraps around the cleansing of the Temple: the time for the sacrificial cult of the Temple has ended ("it was not the season for figs") and Jesus clears out the money-changers and pigeon-sellers who enabled people to make sacrifices there.  The fig-tree withers like the old dispensation, and Jesus moves into an exhortation to faith and prayer.
  • The Parable of the Tenants
  • Obviously an allegory for the Jews rejecting their Messiah, and Gentiles coming into God's promise of salvation.
  • “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
  • The new Christian Messianism is not a rejection of foreign rule over the Jews, but a return to God (and liberation from demonic powers).

Mark 14
  • Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus.
  • If the etymological theory of Hengstenberg is right, the traitor's name seems to be as close as you can reasonably get to "false Jew".
  • The Lord's Supper.
  • I suppose this is a simple legendary presentation of the supper instituted by revelation to Paul (and perhaps to other apostles similarly).  Paul says in 1 Cor 11 that he found out "from the Lord" about the supper he instituted "on the night when he was delivered up" ("betrayed" is a tendentious translation; the same verb is used at Romans 8:32 where God "gave him up for us all", so in 1 Cor 11 it may be the same idea of being given over by God for crucifixion).
  • Peter denies Jesus.
  • This completes his fall from grace.  Like the seed dropped on rocky ground, the flowering of his faith withered under the first scorch of persecution.  The rest of the disciples have fled in fear upon Jesus being arrested.

Mark 15-16
  • Jesus does not speak to defend himself.
  • Isaiah 53: "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent..."  Allegorically, Jesus accepted his duty obediently, without demur.  Phil 2: "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death".
  • Barabbas, not Jesus, is released at the request of the crowd.
  • Barabbas ("Bar-Abba" is Hebrew for Son of the Father) is "among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection".  When the crowd calls to free him rather than Jesus, they pick the wrong Son of the Father, and are allegorically choosing the old-style military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans, and rejecting the new-style true spiritual Messiah.
  • Jesus is mocked.
  • Ps. 22 has the forsaken speaker mocked and gloated over.  I suppose this is what early Christians thought the demons had done to Jesus.
  • Jesus is crucified.
  • The crucifixion of Jesus could have been derived from a number of Scriptural passages: "They have pierced my hands and feet" (Ps. 22 in some translations, including the Greek Septuagint in use in New Testament times); "he was pierced for our transgressions"; "they look on me, on him whom they have pierced".  The crucifixion was known from Scripture; e.g. the Greek of Gal 3:1 says before the Galatians' eyes Jesus was "proegraphÄ“" as crucified, a word which normally means "written before".
  • Many of the details of the crucifixion scene come straight out of Ps 22, including Jesus' words, the mocking words directed at Jesus, the dividing of his garments by lots, as well as the piercing of hands and feet.  Not only does this indicate the essential unreality of the details, but also suggests these were thought to be details of the spiritual Jesus' crucifixion, transposed here onto Earth.
  • The tearing of the temple curtain.
  • The old Temple cult has ended.  The sacred route to God now goes through Jesus.
  • Resurrection.
  • Christ's death, burial and resurrection in the heavens were discovered by reading Scripture in a search for cryptic meaning.  1 Cor 15 literally says: "that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he hath risen on the third day, according to the Scriptures..."
  • The angel's message goes undelivered.
  • An apparent angel in the empty tomb tells the women, who have come to anoint Jesus, to tell Peter and the disciples that they will see the risen Jesus in Galilee.  But out of fear the women fail to pass on the message to anyone.  Note that nobody thought he would be resurrected, another damning condemnation of Peter and the twelve.  Both these details allegorically separate Peter and the disciples, and their real-life counterparts, from the resurrected Jesus, perhaps to query whether in fact they had an appearance from him at all.  After all the fear and faithlessness, they hardly deserve one!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The proofs that Christianity was a Mystery Religion

Most people think early Christianity (i.e. before legalisation in the Roman Empire) was a public preaching religion.  In fact, the evidence goes to show that it was a Mystery Religion: its doctrines were secret, only initiates were permitted to be taught them, and there were hierarchical grades of initiation into increasingly majestic mystery doctrines.

All that was publicly preached, I suppose, was a vague preface and promise of the sort of doctrines to be found within, such as were typically given out when Christians wrote for outside audiences as in the Epistle to Diognetus:
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. ...
If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. ... I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples worthy of the truth. For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking plainly [to them], not understood indeed by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples, who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father? For which reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world; and He, being despised by the people, was, when preached by the Apostles, believed on by the Gentiles. ... When you have read and carefully listened to these things, you shall know what God bestows on such as rightly love Him...
However, the balance between what was exoteric and what esoteric may have changed over time, and this deserves future analysis.

The sources below are referenced by Richard Carrier in On the Historicity of Jesus, and here I pick out the key lines and phrases for proving the point.

The Pauline epistles show that there were different grades of doctrine.  For example in 1 Cor 3:

I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.
Furthermore, 2 Cor 12 shows there are great doctrines that Paul keeps secret:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
There is a hierarchy of members of the Church which corresponds to different stations, gifts, and presumably knowledge:
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  (1 Cor 12)
Christianity being a graded Mystery Religion is presumably why Paul tells his readers to regard the apostles as "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor 4) and why his wish for his followers is:
that their hearts may be encouraged ... to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2)
Somebody might think Gal. 3:1 is evidence that Christ's crucifixion was "publicly portrayed", but actually the word used is "prographó", meaning "previously written"Presumably Paul had shown the Galatians  Bible passages that revealed Christ's crucifixion; possibly this one or this one or this one.

Hebrews 5-6 also shows that there are different levels of knowledge for different levels of initiate:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

[--Chapter break in modern texts--]

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

It would seem the italicised material are elementary doctrines, and the next material to come are doctrines of maturity.  It is interesting to see the discordance between the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6: "you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God" compared with "Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity".  It seems this is not a document that flows from one chapter to the next, but rather you either stop with chapter 5 and go over the basics again or you go on with chapter 6 to higher doctrines.  That is redolent of a manual for initiation into rising grades.

Jesus in Mark's Gospel is portrayed as a mysteriarch, and this is most likely because he was placed at the head of a mystery religion:

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4)
Looking at later Church texts, Clement of Alexandria's Stromata 5:9-10 shows Christianity was still a mystery religion at the time of this document (late 2nd century).  For example:
"For I know," says the apostle, "that when I come to you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of Christ;" designating the spiritual gift, and the gnostic communication, which being present he desires to impart to them present as "the fulness of Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery sealed in the ages of eternity, but now manifested by the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all the nations, in order to the obedience of faith," that is, those of the nations who believe that it is. But only to a few of them is shown what those things are which are contained in the mystery. Rightly then, Plato, in the Epistles, treating of God, says: "We must speak in enigmas that should the tablet come by any mischance on its leaves either by sea or land, he who reads may remain ignorant.
And chapter 7 describes the ascent through the hierarchy of the mystery religion, from faith to knowledge to love to inheritance.  It is the light of knowledge that carries initiates through the "mystic stages of advancement" leading to godlike perfection:

...knowledge, conveyed from communication through the grace of God as a deposit, is entrusted to those who show themselves worthy of it; and from it the worth of love beams forth from light to light. For it is said, "To him that hath shall be given:" to faith, knowledge; and to knowledge, love; and to love, the inheritance.

And this takes place, whenever one hangs on the Lord by faith, by knowledge, by love, and ascends along with Him to where the God and guard of our faith and love is. Whence at last (on account of the necessity for very great preparation and previous training in order both to hear what is said, and for the composure of life, and for advancing intelligently to a point beyond the righteousness of the law) it is that knowledge is committed to those fit and selected for it. It leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods; after we are freed from all punishment and penalty which we undergo, in consequence of our sins, for salutary discipline. After which redemption the reward and the honours are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with purification, and ceased from all service, though it be holy service, and among saints. Then become pure in heart, and near to the Lord, there awaits them restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour.

Knowledge is therefore quick in purifying, and fit for that acceptable transformation to the better. Whence also with ease it removes [the soul] to what is akin to the soul, divine and holy, and by its own light conveys man through the mystic stages of advancement; till it restores the pure in heart to the crowning place of rest; teaching to gaze on God, face to face, with knowledge and comprehension. For in this consists the perfection of the gnostic soul, in its being with the Lord, where it is in immediate subjection to Him, after rising above all purification and service.

Faith is then, so to speak, a comprehensive knowledge of the essentials; and knowledge is the strong and sure demonstration of what is received by faith, built upon faith by the Lord's teaching, conveying [the soul] on to infallibility, science, and comprehension. And, in my view, the first saving change is that from heathenism to faith, as I said before; and the second, that from faith to knowledge. And the latter terminating in love, thereafter gives the loving to the loved, that which knows to that which is known. And, perchance, such an one has already attained the condition of "being equal to the angels." Accordingly, after the highest excellence in the flesh, changing always duly to the better, he urges his flight to the ancestral hall, through the holy septenniad [of heavenly abodes] to the Lord's own mansion; to be a light, steady, and continuing eternally, entirely and in every part immutable.

Likewise Hippolytus of Rome's liturgy, the Apostolic Tradition, proves that there were secret doctrines at that time (early 3rd century) reserved for initiates:

If there is anything else which needs to be told, the bishop shall tell it privately to those who receive baptism. None but the faithful may know, and even them only after receiving baptism.

Meanwhile Origen in Against Celsus 3:59-60 (mid-3rd century) straightforwardly compares the Xian mysteries with the Pagan ones:

And when those who have been turned towards virtue have made progress, and have shown that they have been purified by the word, and have led as far as they can a better life, then and not before do we invite them to participation in our mysteries. "For we speak wisdom among them that are perfect."

he who acts as initiator, according to the precepts of Jesus, will say to those who have been purified in heart, "He whose soul has, for a long time, been conscious of no evil, and especially since he yielded himself to the healing of the word, let such an one hear the doctrines which were spoken in private by Jesus to His genuine disciples." Therefore in the comparison which [Celsus] institutes between the procedure of the initiators into the Grecian mysteries, and the teachers of the doctrine of Jesus, he does not know the difference between inviting the wicked to be healed, and initiating those already purified into the sacred mysteries!

Thus it is plainly confirmed by Gospel, Epistles and Church Fathers that early Christianity was indeed a Mystery Religion.

Unreferenced by Richard Carrier, I will add evidence from Roman criticism of Christianity.  Minucius Felix in his Octavius, a Christian apology in dialogue form, makes the critic say:
I purposely pass over many things, for those that I have mentioned are already too many; and that all these, or the greater part of them, are true, the obscurity of their vile religion declares. For why do they endeavour with such pains to conceal and to cloak whatever they worship, since honourable things always rejoice in publicity, while crimes are kept secret? Why have they no altars, no temples, no acknowledged images? Why do they never speak openly, never congregate freely, unless for the reason that what they adore and conceal is either worthy of punishment, or something to be ashamed of? 
The Christian's response to the charge of secrecy is that Christians:
are assembled together with the same quietness with which we live as individuals; and we are not garrulous in corners, although you either blush or are afraid to hear us in public.
This does not give us reason to doubt the charge that they kept their doctrines and worship secret.

Origen responds to the charge of secrecy in Contra Celsus 1:7:
Moreover, since he frequently calls the Christian doctrine a secret system (of belief), we must confute him on this point also, since almost the entire world is better acquainted with what Christians preach than with the favourite opinions of philosophers. For who is ignorant of the statement that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He was crucified, and that His resurrection is an article of faith among many, and that a general judgment is announced to come, in which the wicked are to be punished according to their deserts, and the righteous to be duly rewarded? And yet the mystery of the resurrection, not being understood, is made a subject of ridicule among unbelievers. In these circumstances, to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system, is altogether absurd. But that there should be certain doctrines, not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric. Some of the hearers of Pythagoras were content with his ipse dixit; while others were taught in secret those doctrines which were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently prepared ears. Moreover, all the mysteries that are celebrated everywhere throughout Greece and barbarous countries, although held in secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain that he endeavours to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing he does not correctly understand its nature.
Thus Christianity had secret esoteric doctrines, although Origen says the basics of the virgin birth, crucifixion, resurrection and judgement were well known at that time in the mid-3rd century.  Presumably time and popularity had conspired to undermine the secrecy of these elementary doctrines.