The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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October 11th, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, culture, history

Following are the assertions I currently use regarding the origin of Christianity. These will likely each be expanded upon over time.

1. Evidence: There is no physical evidence for the existence of a single, rapidly developed mystery cult whose or structure singularly informed the post 4th-century Christian church. There is no art, architecture, ritual gear, or contemporaneous mention. This includes a general lack of statuary, reliefs, mosaics, funerary motifs, or graffiti that can be said to be “Christian”, in the post 4th-century sense. No churches were built before . There was no episcopate prior to [1]. There is no evidence of of Christians within or without the , prior to Constantine[2].

2. Tradition: Christ does not belong to a chain of any tradition. There are no connecting paths linking the teachings of Christ to any teachers previous to or subsequent to him. There are no connecting paths linking Christ, theologically or genealogically, to any church leadership or membership of any ecumenical councils. We do not know which of the three contemporary strains of Judaism he followed, nor do we know his teachers.  We presume we know the top-tier of his students, yet we are provided with few names of any significant students of the Apostles, and we have no connections between these and the leadership of any of the major 4th Century churches. We have no evidence of significant theological differences derived from competing apostolic schools… until Constantine.

3. Space & Time:The traditional narrative for the development of the places most of the action in the largest cities of the Empire. Since Christ was shown as teaching largely in the Judean countryside, this emphasis on big cities is a remarkable deviation. A significant problem with this narrative is that it assumes a kind of Pax Romana existing in the Eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of the millennium as there was in the 4th Century. It also requires that a similar, easy multi-culturalism existed throughout the Empire at the time of Christ that actually wasn’t present before the 3rd & 4th centuries. Given the situation at the beginning of Empire, it is exceedingly unlikely that a radicalized, Syrian Ya cult would have been able to spread easily into the major cities, especially Rome, without significant and well-documented reactions by Roman officials. It lies beyond the pale to anticipate that such a cult could somehow remain hidden, and yet explosively mushroom in numbers such that they become the favored cult of the Empire in a couple of centuries.

4. Hadrian: The Emperor Hadrian[3] was truly the Philosopher King in the Platonic mold. He travelled throughout his empire building cities and walls and temples where-ever he went. When he travelled into Judea, he sparked a full-scale rebellion by building a shrine to Jupiter on the foundations of the Great Temple, renaming the city of Jerusalem[4], and making circumcision illegal. Had there been a rapidly popularized Jewish cult with the triumphant universalism of 4th Century Christianity, Hadrian would likely have gladly embraced it over more established, stiff-necked Jews. He would have made some point to explore it, or try it out. We have no evidence that Hadrian recognized any such cult during his time, although we are told it had significant populations in every major Roman city of the day.

5. Constantine: The most certain argument against the existence of a single-source, universalist Messiah cult prior to Constantine was his own disdain for tradition — the best you can do with the assumption of a pre-existing Messiah cult is to accept that it would have to have been significantly modified to fit his purposes. Constantine was probably the first emperor after Hadrian who had spent enough time in both the East and the West to appreciate the pros and cons of each and to recognize the degree to which government is theater.  Better than most, Constantine realized that in order to hold the whole of his Empire, he would need to expand the universalism of Roman Citizenship to encompass all the peoples of his Empire. The fact that the structure and dogma of the 4th Century Christian Church far better served Constantine’s needs and agenda than that of any hypothetical believer then or in 65AD also strongly indicates that any previous order or organization would have been subsumed within the Roman system to become something very different under Constantine’s hand.

6. Entropy:  One would have expected that the earliest Christian creeds would have contained the most detail regarding the life of Christ, and the later ones would have represented successively more refined versions. Instead, it’s the other way around: the Nicean creed of 325AD contains almost no identifying elements that would connect the deific Christ to any human biography. Only after accretions were applied at the council of Constantinople in 381AD, did it this creed even mention the Virgin Mary or Pontius Pilate by name. This is indicative, not of a slowly forgotten story, but of a thinly built tale that was gradually fattened over time.

7. New Testament: Internally Contradictory – The received text of the New Testament contains numerous and internal contradictions within the texts, most of which are resolved only through an acceptance of a very late date of authorship, or perhaps later, subsequent interpolation of older texts. Deliberately Ambiguous The vast majority of the personages mentioned in the text cannot be clearly identified. Jesus of Nazareth, for example, could also be Joshua, son of Joseph the Nazarene, but this still does little to give him a time or place. In the Gospels, we are given, for Jesus, contradictory genealogies and the simultaneous assertions of membership to specific bloodlines and a “virgin birth”. For supporting characters, like Phillip, the text is vague where not directly contradictory — is he a king or a slave? A clerk or a witness? Irrational & Derivative The miracles presented within the text are obvious, irrational fictions, and most of the philosophical content can be found in the sources of other bright lights of Asian traditions. The timing of the appearance of this material is also suspect, linking it to the “historian” of the early church, of Caesarea.

8. Synchretism: The synchretism inherent within Christian theology would have been anathema to wisom seekers one needed to attract for the early formation of a successful mystery cult. No one would stand and defend, before the face of torment and death, a faith that was the pale shadow of a dozen other, purer and more vibrant cults. Those who seek truth know synchretism exists as signposts toward truth: systems composed entirely of sychretic elements serve as spiritual teaching tools for the naive initiate, but rarely satisfy the seeker of wisdom. Synchretism was used by the Romans as a tool to eliminate the cultural distinctiveness of the various areas of their empire. Some cults did this willingly, but it was less popular in the areas less inclined to favor the Empire. Since there was an extended history of conflict between Judea and the Empire, the suggestion that a radical Jewish cult would willingly submit to synchretism with the Emperor’s personal cult is as insulting as it is unlikely.

  1. any references to bishops in written records can be shown to be later inferences or insertions
  2. most contemporary writers relate these as actions against followers of various Asian faiths, like Mithraism or Judaism
  3. reigned from 117-138AD
  4. which was otherwise something of a dump by that time

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