Most people don’t really bother to think about what really is a central feature of their lives: their religion, their belief in a Deity. This is remarkable in that it is religion which tells us what would happen – or think would happen — after the few decades of our existence. Doesn’t that make religion – our religion—an important thing to think about to study? Ordinary people of course don’t have the leisure to do this.
But science through the academe in the past several decades have made religion a field of study using the same scientific method, and putting aside faith and superstitution, that it has used to study the natural world, resulting in the discovery of the universes’ “secrets”, thing such as DNA, sub-atomic particles and origins of the cosmos.
The result of these studies on religion though will trouble the Christian faithful.
The first wave of the unravelling of religion has been through books, published from 2005 to 2009 by the so-called “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism”: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006) , neuroscientist Sam Harris (The End of Faith, 2005), cognitive scientist Daniel Dennet (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, 2006), columnist Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007). These four have made such a systematic, comprehensive debunking of religion – demonstrated incontrovertibly to be a relic of mankind’s infantile period – that these books are said to have ushered in the era of atheism.
After these overall philosophical and logical critique of religion has been the attack on Christianity itself, ironically undertaken by religious scholars of that religion.
Probably 40 percent of scholars – excepting the fundamentalists — who have studied Christianity as their fields of scholarship concluded that a Jew named Yeshua did exist and who was deified as Jesus Christ (“Yeshua the Messiah”) by a fringe sect of Judaism. However, he was not a god at all but was one of the scores of similar Jewish apocalyptic who proliferated in the Mediterranean and Middle East after the traumatic destruction by the Romans of the Jews’ Temple of Jerusalem in AD 70.
All the “Yeshuas” claimed they were the savior prophesized who would defeat the evil empire, Rome — and were executed by the Romans using their favorite torture-killing gadget, the crucifix. Marxists even invented their own Yeshua, claiming that he was a revolutionary fighting the Roman Empire, and that this Yeshua started the so-called “liberation theology.’
There has been a plethora of books with such themes, the most popular by New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (How Jesus Became God), John Crossan (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography), and the best-selling Zealot by Reza Aslan.
Jesus Christ though has been shrunk from being a God to being merely a charismatic., but failed preacher, and now as having never existed. These so-called mythicists claim Yeshua was merely the invention of the proselytizer Greek-Jew Paul, in practically the same way the ancient Egyptians concocted the god-man Osiris, or the Greeks, the demi-god Hercules, or even King Arthur by the English. One of the oldest deities, popular in Sumeria, was of Inanna, who like Jesus died but was resurrected to become rule of all gods. The only difference between the wo was Inanna was female
The mythicists argue that Jesus Christ is a mythic figure, concocted in the first and second centuries to become the core of a new religion. They point out that most of the alleged accounts of Jesus – even his death and crucifixion – were borrowed from the Old Testament’s prophets such as Elijah.
The mythicists also claim that elements of the Jesus story were prevalent in myths during that era and in that part of the world. The theme of a dying-rising god was common in ancient religions: Osiris, Attis, Heracles, Baal, even the Rome’s founder Romulus.
One of their strongest arguments will surprise most Christians: There wasn’t any eyewitness account of Jesus. The New Testament is 100 percent hearsay. But weren’t Mark, Luke, John and Matthew, who wrote the Gospels, disciples of Jesus, who narrated their time with the Messiah?
Aramaic, not Greek
No, I learned that in my first theology class at the Ateneo in my youth. The Gospels are written in educated Greek. The four evangelists’ language was Aramaic and, having been recruited from the poor, they were illiterate in an age and society where only an estimated 1 percent of the population, mainly the priests and rulers, were literate. No way they could have written the Gospels.
All biblical experts, even the passionately Christian ones, are unanimous that the gospels were written (the earliest is Mark’s in AD 70 about two decades after Jesus’ reported crucifixion) by anonymous Greek-speaking, highly literate writers after hearing accounts of the Messiah by disciples of the disciples of Jesus’12 apostles.
Furthermore, the mythicists argue, there are no non-Christian accounts reporting that a Jesus existed and was crucified. The often-cited reference to Jesus by the first-century Roman-Jewish historian Josephus — the phrase in his “History of the Jewish people, “the doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth” — has been conclusively established to have been clumsily inserted into the text a century after Jesus’ supposed life, obviously by a Jesus believer.
The mythicists’ arguments seem to be gaining traction both in the academe and in bookstores, and in social-e that they have their “rock-star” of sorts: the 54 year old Richard Carrier who has a doctorate in ancient history from Columbia University, where he studied the history of science in antiquity. Carrier has published nine books providing details for his argument that Jesus was just one of many dying-rising gods in the Middle East, from which the Jews patterned their Jesus Christ – in desperation after the Romans did the impossible, the total destruction of their Jerusalem Temple and their forced dispersal.
A summary of Carrier’s Jesus Christ from Outer Space reads:
The earliest Christians believed Jesus was an ancient celestial being who put on a bodysuit of flesh, died at the hands of dark forces, and then rose from the dead and ascended back into the heavens, i.e. what we call now as “outer space.” But the writing we have today from that first generation of Christians never says where they thought he landed, where he lived, or where he died. The idea that Jesus toured Galilee and visited Jerusalem arose only a lifetime later, in unsourced legends written in a foreign land and language. Many sources repeat those legends, but none corroborate them.”
But why could a copy-cat “Jesus movement” grow to become one of the world’s largest organized religions?
It was embraced in the 3rd century as one of the major state religions of the Roman Empire — the most powerful empire the world has seen — as ordered by the wily Constantine the Great as one way of consolidating this rule over an empire of varied cultures and peoples. The rest, to use the cliché, is history, as the successors of the Roman Empire, the medieval kingdoms of Europe (Spain, England, France and Germany), and then the modern superpowers that included the United States, embraced Christianity also as their de facto state religions.
That is of course the way other major religions of the world grew, as a state religion that rulers use to make the ruled believe that they rule by divine ordinance. After being the war religion of Arab tribes that created their Caliphates in the eighth century in the Middle East, Islam became the state religion of the Ottoman Empire that emerged in the 14th century and rivaled the Christian European empires.
Hinduism and Buddhism, of course, didn’t grow as huge as Islam and Christianity did, even if they were much older than these two relatively modern religions. India, whose main religion is Hinduism, and China, where Buddhism competed with Confucianism, never became world empires.
It is not coincidental that the central figure of Christianity is more often called Christ the King, or that of Islam’s as Allah the Most Powerful.
It would be such an irony indeed, if the most popular birthday celebrated by 2.4 billion Christians turns out to be a myth, that no such Jewish preacher who saved and continues to save the world was born.
What is a major development for the study of religion is that technology is here to make widely available studies that only universities had kept in their libraries, their price beyond the rich of ordinary people. Now there have been lively debates in podcasts on religion. Carrier in fact has been so active in the world of podcasts, his ideas spreading like wildfire. Check out his interviews at YouTube.
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