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.