Christianity Clarifications

After the 9/11 attacks on America, I attempt to gain some perspective on religion and culture so decided to read three books on Islam. I was surprised to learn that many Muslims believe things that are not found anywhere in the Quran. I always knew the same was true of Christians (I am not a scholar but did attend three years of religious study prior to my Lutheran confirmation in 1965; and have read a lot of material since then) so I decided to read three books on Christianity and came away even more surprised. Religion scholars inform that there are ~ 400 christian sects in the world today and believe this might be due to the fact that every sect believes their perspective is the only correct interpretation (comment: at least Islam is limited to 72 sects). This document is an attempt to shine some light upon the issue. If you are going to "believe in" something then you had better be aware of the facts.

Neil Rieck (2020-12-25)
caveat: This is a work in progress (updated weekly - time permitting)
edit: 2021-03-27

Christian Chronology

Date Event
44 BC The Julian Calendar (based upon the Alexandrian Solar Calendar used in Egypt) replaces the Roman Agricultural Calendar.
4 BC Jesus, son of Joseph of Galilee is born of a young woman named Mary (comment: "A young woman" is often mistranslated as "virgin")
"BC" usually means "Before Christ" while "BCE" always means "Before the Christian Era" (this is due to the fact that no one really knows when Jesus was born)
1 AD
  • The abbreviated year modifier AD (Anno Domini which is Latin for 'year of the lord') was created by Dionysius Exiguus around the year 500 AD
  • Since nobody was using zero in Europe at that time of Dionysius, there is no "year 0" in this calendar, or the revised Gregorian Calendar of 1582
  • Religion scholars think this date was chosen because Dionysius made an error in determining the death of Kind Herod. This ignores the fact that none of the Abrahamic religions approved of celebrating birthdays.
  • Other scholars claim that this date was chosen because ancient astronomers noticed that the Metonic Cycle (proposed 432 BC) and the Callippic Cycle (proposed in 330 BC) reset nicely in year zero when doing the Golden number calculation. There is some evidence that Dionysius was aware of the work of ancient astronomers so might have said "hey look at this coincidence that happens near the birth of Jesus".
comments:
9 AD At age 12, Jesus disappears from the new testament books until age 30
scholarly speculation: some have mentioned (without evidence) some middle-east people (including Jesus) visiting India. Middle-eastern visitors might have mistakenly thought that Indian meditation was prayer (eg. sending a telepathic thought to your deity). Scholars also tell us that the name "Satan" most likely came to Jewish culture when the ten tribes were living under Babylonian captivity. Remember that two tribes escaped that fate.
10 Paul of Tarsus is born (BTW, Paul is his Roman name. His Jewish name was Saul)
14 Augustus, the Emperor of Rome, dies. He is succeeded by Tiberius.
27 At age 30, Jesus begins his Jewish ministry. There is no indication that Jesus was attempting to start a new religion.
comment: Jesus was a liberal Jew who wanted all people to "obey the spirit of Jewish law". The Sadducees were conservative Jews who wanted people to "obey the letter of Jewish law".
30
At age 33, Jesus is crucified under the Roman Governor, Pontious Pilate (who served between 26 and 36)
49 to 58
The Letters of The Apostle Paul (a man who never met Jesus) are written (the first piece of Christian literature is "1 Thessalonians" which was written in 49 AD)
comment: Paul apparently saw a beam of light on the road to Damascus. Everything about Paul's description (along with some speculation about Paul's affliction which he writes about, and prays to be released from, but never details) is now thought to be associated with a grand mal seizure in epilepsy. Quite simply, religious people of those times associated mental disorders with demonic possessions etc.
64 Paul of Tarsus dies at age 44
65 to 70
The Gospel of Mark is first written (all four of these Gospels were written in Greek; none were written by the original apostles who were all illiterate; other Gospels were lost or discarded)
comment: from the perspective of a historian, this book would be considered a little more accurate than the others only because it is the earliest account
80 to 90
The Gospel of Matthew is written; it appears to be targeted at a Hebrew audience because:
  • the author begins with an incomplete genealogy to nudge the reader into thinking something magical happens every 14 generations (numerology?)
  • having the birth take place in Bethlehem (not mentioned in the other gospels) in the line of David fulfills old testament prophecy (this is important because people in that time believed that Joseph was the father of Jesus; the trinity thing is introduced much later) 
comment: here the women who attend the tomb of Jesus are told to tell the Apostles that Jesus will meet them in Galilee; the ascension happens 40 days later
80 to 90 The Gospel of Luke is written; it appears to be targeted at Greek and Latin audiences
  • scholars tell us that Luke and Acts are volumes one and two of a two volume set
  • scholars think that Mathew and Luke-Acts were written at the same time for two different audiences from two similar sources (one source is Mark while the other source is a lost book referred to as "Q" (which is short for "Quelle", the German word for source)
  • here the women are told to tell the apostles to stay in Jerusalem; the ascension happens on the third day
90 to 110
The Gospel of John is written (while there are many similarities between the first three gospels, John is somewhat different)
325
First Council of Nicaea is hosted by the Roman Emperor Constantine who was trying to adopt Christianity as the official state religion. The Nicene Creed is first published.
comment: This version of Christianity is quite different from the teachings of Jesus (perhaps it should have been renamed the Pauline religion)
379 The emperor Theodosius I makes Christianity the official state religion of Rome. All other religions were made illegal.
381
The Nicene Creed is amended at the First Council of Constantinople
comment: some sources say the Filioque controversy begins here;  others sources say
1054 At the church in Constantinople, The Church of Rome formally excommunicates the other Churches (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem). See schism just below.
1517
Martin Luther nails his Ninety-five Theses to the church door in kicking off the Protestant Reformation
1582 Problems with the Julian Calendar mean that Easter is being celebrated too late (eg. too close to Summer)
The Vatican publishes the Gregorian Calendar which removes 10 days (Thursday 4 October 1582 was followed by Friday 15 October 1582). Many peasants revolted thinking that 10 days had been removed from their entries in the book of life.
1677 Dutch writer, Baruch Spinoza, kicks off the age of Enlightenment in Europe. This spreads to Scotland then England (as well as the English colonies), then France and Germany
Note: The Illuminati was a real organization that ran for 15 years in Bavaria promoting the European Enlightenment. The German government killed it in it's cradle which transformed it into a conspiracy theory.

Two Great Schisms (or "one major" and "one minor"?)

  • Ask modern Christians about "the great schism" and most are only aware of the split between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism ~ 500 years ago
  • But between 325 AD and 381 AD, words (now known as Filioque) were added to the Nicene Creed which divided the main five churches (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem)
  • Quite simply, here is the Filioque controversy boiled down to two lines:
    original text the holy spirit proceeds from the father
    new text the holy spirit proceeds from the father and the son
  • The Western church (Rome) excommunicated the other four churches in 1054 which is now known as The Great Schism (was this action religious or political? I is hard to say since many cultures were theocracies at that time)
  • From that time on humanity has only used two labels: Eastern Orthodox (sometimes: Greek Orthodox) and Catholic
  • Now words have meaning and Orthodox comes from geometry (Orthogonal) and means "Straight Thinking". In the world of religion, the opposite of orthodoxy is usually termed heresy so doesn't this mean that Roman Catholicism, as well as everything derived from it including all the Protestant splinters (Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Anglicans, Anabaptists (Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, etc)), represent "Heretical Thinking"?
    comment: churches did not like being referred to as heretical so some employed new verbiage like "Catholic Orthodoxy" or "Lutheran Orthodoxy" although modern bible scholars prefer the word "heterodoxy"
  • Historical Facts: Jesus was an unordained teacher (so not a rabbi) who never claimed he was the literal "son of god" although he did speak metaphorically when saying we were all "children of god". Sometime between the death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus becomes divine. Then other people in the early Christian community create additional concepts like trinity and "triune god" in order to avoid polytheism. Some see the Filioque as just another step in completing the trinity story. So should you pray to Jesus? You might be a heretic if you do.

Bible Oddities (old + new Testaments)

  • Most people in common culture today throw around the word "bible" as if there is only one, but there are many.
  • Most Hebrew bibles are comprised of 17-books
  • Most Catholic bibles are comprised of 73-books
    • There have been many sanctioned bibles over the past millennia but this bible-thing starts in the fourth century with the work of Saint Jerome and his book known as the Catholic Vulgate
      caveat: there were many Vulgates by many authors after Saint Jerome
  • Most Protestant bibles are comprised of 66-books because Martin Luther's cannon removed 7 old testament books ( Deuterocanonical ) and questioned 7 new testament books ( Antilegomena )
    • Luther also contemplating the removal of The Book of Revelation since it appeared to be a collection of gibberish authored by someone thought to be suffering from food poisoning
      (to all my American friends obsessed with this stuff: It is "Revelation" not "Revelations". There is no trailing "s". I remember our religion teacher always correcting us with the line "there was only one revelation")
    • the two books of the Maccabees describe the activities of Jewish freedom fighters (read below)
    • comments: I remember receiving a bible book-mark at age 10 that contained a picture of a library bookcase with 66-books; I was told, by age-13 you will be able to recite those books from memory, and I could.

New Testament Oddities and Speculations

Book Order

  • These books are not presented in the order of their publishing dates. If they were, then the books written by Paul of Tarsus (a man who never met Jesus) would occupy the first third.
  • The next two books would be Peter 1 and Peter 2 which were not written by Simon Peter but were definitely written by two different authors.
  • All of the original twelve apostles (perhaps with the exception of Judas) were illiterate. They could not read or write so did not, and could not, write any of the books attributed to their names. Almost 40 years elapsed since the death of Jesus and the writing of the first Gospel (so there are, perhaps, 40 years of oral story-telling until someone decided to write them down)
  • John Spong wrote the following: if the books of the new testament were reordered by their publication dates, then the first books would contain few-to-no miracles; miracles slowly creep with each book until the final book (Revelation) where you've got all kinds of wacky things going on. comment: could it be that many of these oral traditions are an ancient example of the modern telephone game?

Inter-book inaccuracies

Greek Myths become Christian Myths?

  • Church tradition claims that Jesus was born of a virgin but we today we know that "virgin" often appears as a mis-translation of "young woman". scholarly speculation: some have mentioned (with little evidence) that people back then exaggerated the facts in order to have Christianity accepted. For example, most people were aware of the Greek story about Heracles (born from the union of a god named Zeus and a woman named Alcmene) or the Roman equivalent story of Hercules (born of the union of a god named Jupiter and the same woman named Alcmene). The reasoning here needs Jesus to be born of the union of a male God and human woman in order for the Jesus narrative to replace the Heracles/Hercules myth?
    • Many people do not know that Hercules had an identical twin brother named Iphicles which makes one wonder what ancient people thought about identical twins (one child came from a male god while the other came from a human man). Something similar happens with Jesus as is described in the Gospel of Thomas which is not part of any cannon because it was only discovered in 1945. The author of this book claims to be Didymos Judas Thomas (literal translation: Twin Jude Twin) who is the identical twin brother of Jesus and it sometimes mistaken for Jesus. You do not need to read too far before you realize why this gospel was not included in any original canon. But the similarity between the Jesus story and the Hercules story now seem evermore obvious.

The Star of Bethlehem

  • church tradition claims that a star was positioned over Jesus's place of Birth and that this event attracted the attention of three wise men. Even though the city name of Bethlehem is only mentioned in one of the four gospels (Mathew), the star event is commonly referred to as the Star of Bethlehem. Now for some reason I will never understand, it appears that the common people from then to now (who were almost always illiterate) had no concept of analogies or metaphors so took everything literally rather than figuratively. So here are some facts that the church never mentions:
    • the phrase "wise men" really means "educated men"
    • "educated people" in those times (and possibly up to 400 years ago) believed in "astrology as a science" so these wise men (if they ever existed) are most certainly referring to an "astrological sign" rather than an "astronomical sign"
    • the name "planet" comes from the Greek word for "wanderer" because these objects appear to wander through the imaginary constellations compared with stars which maintain their relative positions to each other while they appear to rotate around Earth. This wandering is now known as retrograde motion and is only (properly) explainable if you also accept the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun (Copernican Revolution) which is something the Vatican only admitted in 1992 with their apology to Galileo (who was found guilty of heresy then sentenced to spend the remainder of his life under house arrest).
    • Now when two planets appear to loop together in the same part of the sky then this event may appear to be a sign from god; When those two planets are Jupiter and Saturn, and they come together in the constellation of Pisces (two fish which astrologers associate with Israel and Judea, some people are going to interpret this as A KING (Jupiter) is coming to Israel/Judea (Pisces).

Old testament Oddities

  • The first 5-books of the bible are known as the Pentateuch (or Torah or "The Law") and Bible scholars talk about two sources: A + B. The first four books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) are from source "A" whilst Deuteronomy is from source "B"
  • Many Christians have never read any part of the bible so do not know that there are two creation stories (Genesis + Deuteronomy) and the two do no match
  • For example, the Ten Commandment story in Exodus is different in Deuteronomy
    • In Exodus, Moses ascends Mount Sinai to received the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) which sometimes number 10, 11 or 12 depending upon the translation; he sees his people worshiping a golden calf, loses his temper, then smashes the tablets; five verses later he reascends Sinai the comes down with ~ 40 commandments.
    • These two events have different details in Deuteronomy
    • Members of the Abrahamic religions would have you believe that this was written down after it happened (if it ever happened) between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries BCE but there is some evidence that most of the old testament was written down when the 10-tribes were living in captivity in Babylon five centuries before Jesus.
  • Many Christians think the Old testament is either identical, or similar, to the Talmud. Since the Talmud claims that Adam had a wife before Eve by the name of Lilith then I think we can agree that some editing has taken place over the past 2,000 years (BTW, you will only find Lilith mentioned in Isaiah 34:14 of the Christian Old Testament)
  • Consider the ecclesiastical value of this quote from Ezekiel 23:20 then ask if it would be something any father would want his wife or daughters to hear on a Sunday morning?

    "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled."

Good vs Evil?

When I was first taught bible stories, my church always seemed careful to portray the Christians and Jews (er, Hebrews) as law-abiding citizens who were always being bullied by the Romans. The truth of the matter is this: the Christians and Jews were never as good "as we were told" (just look at the stories of King David) while the Romans were not as bad "as we were told". So what follows is a very high-level overview of what happened to the people living in Judea, slightly before and after the time of Jesus. Please accept my apologies for only presenting these facts in point form.

comment: the historical view from religious texts (for example: the old testament books of Maccabees-1 and Maccabees-2) will be different from the scholarly view from other sources.

167 BCE to 160 BCE The Maccabees were a group of Jewish-Hebrew freedom fighters who revolted against Hellenistic Rule
comments:
  • Churches and Sunday Schools will tell you that Hellenistic Rule meant "Greek" rather than "Macedonian". This oversimplification to historians is worse than saying Catholic and Protestant mean the same thing.
  • In the 1960s this was taught as the first Maccabean revolt (of three) but has since been revised with the discovery of more detailed, and accurate, historical accounts.
63 AD The Roman general, Pompey, captured Jerusalem. Almost no one died because Pompey learned, though his spies, that Hebrew people would offer no resistance if the military action occurred on the Jewish Sabbath.
66 AD
  • What used to be taught in the 1960s as the Second Maccabean revolt is now referred to as First Jewish-Roman War
  • Jewish-Hebrew freedom fighters attacked and killed 6,000 Roman soldiers (one would assume that this is "a legion")
  • One of Nero's Generals, Vespasian is pulled out of retirement (well, he had been exiled to the country-side by Nero for falling a sleep during one of Nero's performances).
  • Vespasian retakes Jerusalem with much bloodshed
69 AD
As a reward, Vespasian is made Emperor of Rome (this ends the reign of the Twelve Caesars while begins the reign of the Six Flavians)
70 AD
The Roman general Titus Flavious (Vespasian's son) is dispatched to tear down King Herod's Temple (The stolen loot is used to build the Colosseum)
115 to 117 While the Roman armies are off fighting Trajan's Parthian War, Jewish-Hebrew freedom fighters take advantage of the situation by slaughtering the Roman troops guarding Jerusalem.
The Romans regain control (with much bloodshed) during the Kitos War
132 to 136
  • the Bar Kokhba revolt is labelled the Second Jewish-Roman revolt (as if the Kitos War did not happen) by some and the Third Jewish-Roman revolt by others.
  • knowing that another revolt could happen again at any time:
    • the Roman Emperor Hadrian sells Hebrew captives into bondage
    • then he changes the name of of the Roman Province of Judea to Syria Palaestina to prevent them from finding their original homeland. This is where the modern names Syria and Palestine originate

Festivals to Holidays

  • Major Days (often celebrated by the general population)
    • Christmas
      • word is not found anywhere in the bible
      • Jesus was mostly likely born in September (using some references to the feast of the tabernacles); BTW, shepherds never watch their flocks at night in December which is the rainy season
      • meant as a replacement holiday to stamp out non-religious holidays such as:
        • the Roman festival of Saturnalia
        • heathen (people of the heath or bush) and pagan festivals of Europe (mostly Germanic and Nordic)
          note: in the religious context "pagan" means polytheistic
    • Easter
      • word is not found anywhere in the bible
      • meant as a replacement holiday to stamp out these observances:
        • the fertility festival held on the first day of spring (usually March 21) at the Eastern gate of Babylon named the Ishtar Gate (so Easter is a derivation of Ishtar)
          comment: this fertility festival involved symbols of reproduction including chicken eggs, rabbits, and prostitutes; modern people still celebrate Easter with chocolate eggs and rabbits but most do not know why
  • Minor Days (only celebrated by the church)
    • Ascension Day
      • celebrated 40 days after Easter even though one of the gospels tells us that Christ ascended shortly after the crucifixion
    • Pentecost
      • celebrated 50 days after Easter
      • church tradition claims that the flame of the holy spirit (holy ghost) jumped from apostle to apostle causing them to speak some sort of angelic gibberish referred to as speaking in tongues. The truth is this: most common people living in Judea 2,000 years ago where illiterate and only heard others speaking Hebrew or Aramaic. Most literate people (especially those lucky enough to receive a liberal education in Athens) would also be familiar with speaking in Greek and/or Latin. What you and I refer to a multilingualism was interpreted by the uneducated as magic.
  • Minor Days (only noted by the general public)

Jesus and Christianity from non-Bible sources

I think we can all agree that writings in one place (The Bible) need to be corroborated with other text from other sources. For example, we learn in Christian churches the following general points:
  1. the body of Jesus disappeared from a guarded tomb
  2. In some of the writings, Jesus walked around Galilee for the next 40 days performing miracles before his ascension directly into heaven.
If these events were literal occurrences then I am certain that some historian in Judea or Rome would have written about them. But the first historical writings about Jesus come from the Jewish historian, Josephus, around 93 AD (so after the writing of the gospels which were written after the letters of Paul). The second historical writing comes the year 110 when the Roman governor of Bithynia and Pontus, Pliny (the Younger), wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan requesting advice about a problem he was having with Christians who ignored an order to all citizens to stop congregating.
Year Author Notes
93 AD Josephus visit: Josephus on Jesus where we will also see the names: Pontious Pilate, James, John the baptist
comment: Josephus was one of the freedom fighters I mentioned above mentioned in the first Jewish-Roman War in 66 AD. He was captured (by Vespasian?) and about to be put to death when he talked his way out of that dilemma by mentioning "that he was literate" then "suggested he spend the rest of his days writing an historical account of Judea under Roman rule"
110 Pliny (the Younger) visit: Pliny the Younger on Christians (this is about Christians; not anything specific about Jesus)

To Learn More about Christianity "from the scholars"

A lot of modern Christian preachers and teachers (includes everyone from priests to ministers as well as anyone teaching religion in "Sunday School" or "Public School") are either unaware of these historical facts, or choose to ignore them. A lot of new books have been published in the past three decades three  but I have found the the books authored by Bart D Ehrman, Ph.D., M.Div. to be a little more approachable by non-academics. Check out his books or video lectures

My worries about the next Dark Age

  • I have many friends and family who think that humanity's problems today are due to the fact that their is not enough Christianity in the world. This wish seems to ignore the historical fact that Christianity was made the official state religion of Rome in 379 by the emperor Theodosius I and that Rome was the most powerful empire of its day. Christianity had its shot at societal domination so what became of this? Answer: Rome collapsed causing the world to enter a new dark age which lasted 1,000 years. Many historians and enlightenment writers (Edward Gibbon is one) place the responsibility squarely at the feet of organized religion.
  • Now I do not think you can only blame Christianity.
    • The knowledge loving, while literate, Athenian Greeks where well on the way to replacing "religion with reason" until the war loving, while illiterate, Spartan Greeks defeated them in war (the labels, conservative and liberal were used back then as well). But then the Spartans no longer had any Greek allies so were (eventually) conquered by the Macedonians under Alexander. Eventually the Hellenistic peninsula becomes a province of Rome.
    • Romans, being a superstitious people, renamed the Greek gods with Roman names then added them to their own polytheistic pantheon. This is probably how Rome acquired Christianity
  • Putting Roman Aqueducts and Roman Roads aside for a moment, not very much in the way of European science or mathematics after "the initial contribution by the Greeks" up to "the Renaissance". The years between are still known as the Middle Ages by some and the Dark Age by others. While there is no official date for the start of the middle/dark ages, I think we can all agree that 1,000 years passed.

Before-After the Dark Age

Philosophy, as a serious endeavor, is still somewhat strange to me because philosophers continually rehash old ancient logical arguments but never seem to move on. You might hear modern philosophical types talking about their big three which are usually Socrates, Plato and Aristotle but this limited preference, in my opinion, short-changes human intellect. How many non-scholars today are aware of these Greeks?

  • Aristarchus of Samos was born in 310 BC.
    • He proposed that the Sun was the center of our world, not the Earth
  • Eratosthenes was born in 276 BC.
    • He proved that the Earth was round then used trigonometry to determine Earth's size to within 10% of the actual value. He also used trigonometry to determine the distance to the sun within 10% of the actual value.

On the other hand, Aristotle (born 383 BC) published that heavier objects fell faster than lighter objects. People believed that for more than 1,800 years until Galileo did an experiment (supposedly at Pisa) to prove that Aristotle was wrong. On this issue, as well as others, Galileo was now up against the Catholic Church who had been dogmatically promoting incorrect Greek ideas like those of Ptolemy which stated that the Sun went around the Earth and that orbits were perfectly circular because god would have designed things that way. Was the church being stupid here -OR- where they angry become someone was challenging their world view. During the years associated with the inquisition of Galileo (it was NOT a trial), Galileo said in his defense: "The bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go" which, proves to me, that he had a better understanding of life on Earth than the Vatican. But let's not let the Protestants off the hook on this one. Martin Luther (b: 1483 d:1546) is very clear in his writings that he stood on the side of religion when he first heard about the new book published by Copernicus (b: 1473 d: 1543)

What might have been

  • I sometimes wonder WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE LIKE, TODAY, if the Peloponnesian War (where conservative Sparta conquered liberal Athens) had not happened. After this, Sparta was no longer able to protect itself. It was a short term gain for the Sparta but a backward step for humanity. Today, Sparta only lives on in comic books and big-budget action movies.
  • I sometimes wonder WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE LIKE, TODAY, if the Corinthians had not conquered their southern Greek neighbors in the Corinthian War (how many non-historians have heard of this one?)
  • I sometimes wonder WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE LIKE, TODAY, if the Macedonians under Alexander had not conquered their Greek neighbors to the south.
  • I sometimes wonder WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE LIKE, TODAY, if the Romans had not conquered all of the Hellenistic peninsula after the death of Alexander. Would Rome have renamed all the Greek gods as there own?
  • I sometimes wonder WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE LIKE, TODAY, if Constantine and Theodosius had separated church from state
Could a dark age have been averted? No one knows for sure but I do know this: It is an absolutely absurd statement to say that Christopher Columbus proved the world was round. The flat Earth model was the one adhered to by people with no education, or the people whose education was more religious than philosophical (comment: science was still referred to as natural philosophy in those days) 

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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.