The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Poof! It's gone!

June 3rd, 2006 · No Comments · christianity, history

Although it is still an interesting and entertaining adventure, I feel as if I’ve just completed deconstructing the entire edifice of Christianity and need some time to readjust everything mentally. No doubt, I will continue to learn and adjust my understanding until the day I die, but for now, everything needs to stop moving for a few minutes while I catch my breath.

Having finished Alvar Ellegard’s somewhat tediously argued “Jesus: One Hundred Years before Christ”, I’m finding it very difficult to work up enthusiasm to read anything else in this vein until I’ve really digested this new time frame. Normally, I don’t immediately embrace minority positions, but this went along with my natural minimalist tendencies and, more importantly, illuminated a mystery that I had given up for lost.

I never understood how Paul could have been so active, among so many ur-Christian churches only a decade or two after the ministry of Jesus. Given the political complexities of the region during the centuries before and after the spawning of Christianity, it becomes nearly impossible to understand how so many believers could have been converted in such a short time. The answer with which I am familiar for this conundrum is that the “Holy Spirit” made it possible by fiat — which is, for me, an uncomfortably bad answer.

Also previously unanswered was the nagging question about why there was no contemporary written account of Jesus in an area that had been one of the first to develop a written language. If this man had truly been so impressive that we’ve got written records of what he ‘said’, why don’t we have anything — despite two centuries of searching — that references a Jesus of Nazareth during the time period when he was said to be alive? The squalid catholic imagination posits that Jesus’ cohorts were somehow too poor or illiterate to write anything down, despite being wealthy enough to travel around without working and educated enough to read “scriptures”. It makes far more sense that the reason there is no contemporary documentation is because no one had thought of putting a ‘Jesus’ in that time and place until about 100AD.

Ellegard’s timeline for a “Church of God” starting among the Hellenized Jewish diasporic communities in the 2nd Century BC provides ample time and place for suitably universalist congregations to develop throughout the Greek-speaking world over two centuries — not decades! It explains how a spiritualist view of the Christ had such priority over stories of a presumably historical persona, and thus why the formula of the Trinity contained so much Greek theology. Questions of conflict between Jews and early Christians, presumed from Gospels but not recorded in history, are revealed to have been resolved long previous to the formation of catholic Christianity.

It also brings a greater importance to the Hasmonian era in the development of the early philosophies and traditions that built one type of proto-Christianity. It provides more time for Platonic, Cynic, and Stoic philosophies to blend into Jewish theology. Gnosticism is viewed, more properly, as a Greco-Jewish synthesis that happened to develop in the same context as Christianity and which shared many ideas (and adherents). In fact, just an extra century makes a world of difference when trying to understand how a group of Jews went from arguing who could best literally follow Mosaic law to arguing allegorical interpretations of Mosaic law.

Another ideological history chart is in the works. I pretty much set the last one aside and started again from scratch. It’s just too hard to juggle communities, writings, and personalities all on one diagram. This one stretches from the Maccabean revolt to the council of Nicea and examines the development of Christianity from an Essene “Church of God”, using Ellegard’s perspectives. A political dominance chart of the same area over the same period of time is almost complete, and provides some very interesting counterpoints.

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