Monthly Archives: September 2008

On Eusebius and Christianity

The influence of Eusebius, and through him Constantine, on the traditional narratives of the development of Christianity is so great that one is tempted to say that they invented it. But that would be giving them far too much credit in my opinion and ignoring the typically diverse elements that precede all leaps and major changes.
In the case of Judaism splitting in Christianity, I see a number of developments necessary before we get to the 4th century.

1. First century anti-Herodian opposition movements trying to spread Yahwehism and combat Roman domination. Apostles dedicating their lives to this movement. The Christs (Anointed Ones) of Yahweh/Jesus
2. Supernatural (comic-book) stories of heroic traveling Apostles spreading the kingdom of God movement and working magic.
3. Mixture of prophetic and apostolic literature to create the gospel/son of God – Jesus Christ stories. A period of diverse gnosticism
4. The mixture of 2nd century gnosticisms in the Alexandrian cauldron of the 3rd century.
5. Eusebius and Constantine taking that Alexandrian potion and giving it a fairy-tale history in the early 4th century, which seems to have drastically increased its efficacy.

Until the application of C14 dating techniques to disprove or prove it, this is my best hypothesis.

Also, it seems as though the Gospel of Thomas was written around the same time as the other gospels; there are papyri fragments of it which are carbon dated to around 200 CE so the gospel itself must be older – probably around the early to mid second century.

And also, Lord Raglan’s Hero Scale (here), which Jesus scores pretty high on – around 19 out of 22. 22 being a complete fabrication and 0 obviously being real.

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Posted by on September 24, 2008 in Christianity, eusebius, hero scale


Confirmation Bias

by MICHAEL SHERMER [9.13.07]

Is religion a force for good or evil? Yes. And with the confirmation bias firmly ensconced in our brains—where we look for and find confirmatory evidence for what we already believe and ignore disconfirmatory evidence—it is simply a matter of scanning the social landscape and picking out examples to support whatever answer you have already formulated to this question.

On the good side, there is Arthur C. Brooks’ data in his 2006 book Who Really Cares, showing that religious conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals and nonreligious people (even when controlled for income), they give more blood and log more volunteer hours; religious people are four times more generous than secularists to all charities, 10 percent more munificent to non-religious charities, and 57 percent more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person. Those raised in intact and religious families are more charitable than those who are not. In terms of societal health, charitable givers are 43 percent more likely to say they are “very happy” than nongivers, and 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is “excellent” or “very good.”

On the evil side, there is Gregory Paul’s 2005 data published in the Journal of Religion and Society demonstrating an inverse correlation between religiosity (measured by belief in God, biblical literalism, and frequency of prayer and service attendance) and societal health (measured by rates of homicide, suicide, childhood mortality, life expectancy, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, and teen pregnancy) in 18 developed democracies, where the U.S. scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions, and teen pregnancies.

In his thoughtful Edge essay Jonathan Haidt wrestles with this problem, correctly demonstrating that the response by atheists and secularists toward the insurgence of extreme religionists in American politics is more emotional than it is rational. Although I have been actively (and emotionally) involved in combating some of these religious intrusions into social life (e.g., the teaching of intelligent design creationism in public school science classes), I find myself in agreement with Haidt in his conclusion that “every longstanding ideology and way of life contains some wisdom, some insights into ways of suppressing selfishness, enhancing cooperation, and ultimately enhancing human flourishing.”

As a social primate species we evolved moral emotions that set up a tension between within-group morality (where we tend to be pro-social and cooperative with our fellow group members) and between-group morality (where we tend to be xenophobic and tribal against out-group members and other groups). Informal means of behavior control work well when group numbers are small and groups are spread out. When tiny bands and tribes coalesced into large chiefdoms and states over the past 10,000 years, however, two social institutions evolved to codify and enforce the rules of social cooperation: government and religion. For many millennia both have had a monopoly on how humans should live with one another in large state societies. The Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution are only a couple of centuries in development and thus we have our work cut out for us to convince the vast majority of the world that reason and science can and should be employed to enhance our moral emotions to reinforce the values our reason leads us to choose.

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Posted by on September 17, 2008 in confirmation bias, religion


The Problem of Evil

If a personal god created everything, then he’s responsible for all of the “evils” in the world as well as the “good”.

Tittha Sutta AN 3.61

Having approached the priests & contemplatives who hold that…
‘Whatever a person experiences… is all caused by a supreme being’s act of creation,’
I said to them: ‘Is it true that you hold that… “Whatever a person experiences… is all caused by a supreme being’s act of creation?”‘

Thus asked by me, they admitted, ‘Yes.’

Then I said to them, ‘Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of a supreme being’s act of creation. A person is a thief… unchaste… a liar… a divisive speaker… a harsh speaker… an idle chatterer… greedy… malicious… a holder of wrong views because of a supreme being’s act of creation.’

When one falls back on creation by a supreme being as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], ‘This should be done. This shouldn’t be done.’ When one can’t pin down as a truth or reality what should and shouldn’t be done, one dwells bewildered and unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative. This was my second righteous refutation of those priests and contemplative who hold to such teachings, such views.

Is god the fire or the one who lights the flame? If god is the fire then he’s in a constant state of battle against being extinguished. If god lights the flame then he’s also the one who extinguishes it.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

In this, the Buddha says that our thoughts make the world. I agree with this, however, our thoughts are also created by the world leading to a paradoxical and/or symbiotic relationship. In biology, it’s stated that only 2% or less of our genetic makeup is what makes us distinctly human. I also contend that this 2% isn’t even what makes us an individual – it’s a lot less than 2% of us that is distinctly individual. We are products of our environment. Just by speaking English a bit of our individuality is absorbed by having to think and express ourselves using English. And then we’re taught society’s rules which takes away more of our individuality. This includes laws, religion, peer pressure, etc. I think the cause of suffering is this battle against the 99% of us that isn’t distinctly “us” as individuals.

This is the cause of suffering. Not just simply “desire”, but the “desire to fit in”. If it exists at all, the “real you” is buried somewhere deep inside of the 99% of all of your influences; and the only way to figure out what that 1% of you is *really* you (if it even exists) isn’t through prayer, but through knowing yourself. Probably by meditating.

“You try so hard to hide – to follow and fit in. But serving your life to the system’s shit won’t save you from your death”

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Posted by on September 10, 2008 in buddha, buddhism, problem of evil


More On The Essenes and the Ebionites

So it seems as though there’s more on this controversy on the link between the Essenes and Christianity. I read the short wikipedia bio on Alvar Ellegard, and he’s another person who saw links between Jesus the Christ and the Essenes’ Teacher of Righteousness. From wikipedia:

Ellegård argues that the original Jesus was identical to the Teacher of Righteousness, who was the leader of the Essenes at Qumran about 150 years earlier than the time of the Gospels, and that it was Saul/Paul who created Christianity through his contacts with the sect that kept the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to Ellegård, the Damascus Document gives support to this theory. The document states that the Essenes moved to Damascus outside Jerusalem, but the word “Damascus” appear to being used symbolically to refer to exile. Ellegård interprets this as one evidence that the “Damascus” that is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles in fact is Qumran. St. Paul was on his way to Damascus when he had a vision of Jesus.

There’s this strange link between Gnosticism, the Essenes, early Christianity, and Paul. It seems as though if more serious research was put into this link, then we could flesh out a true picture of what happened in Christianity’s early years. But no serious research will be done on the historicity of Jesus because huge institutions have a lot of money and power that goes into whether Jesus was a real person or not.

Again with politics.

John Allegro, Elaine Pagels, and Alvar Ellegard – if we put the writings of these three together, it seems as though Jesus might just be a myth after all. I never considered Jesus Mythicism to have as much legitimacy as mainstream scholarship on the issue, but who knows – if other mainstream scholars weren’t also Christians, they wouldn’t have such an emotional reaction to the issue and would be able to study it objectively. Jesus as solely a myth or Jesus as a historical person doesn’t have any emotional impact on me either way, so in that respect, I’m more open to possibilities about the issue than mainstream Christian scholars.

As for the Ebionites; they were a sect of Jewish Christians who followed the teachings of Jesus but still followed Jewish law. The word “ebion” in Hebrew means “poor”. The Ebionites rejected many of what are now mainstream thoughts on Jesus, like his pre-existence, divinity, atonement for original sin, virgin birth, and resurrection. From wikipedia:

The Ebionites are described as emphasizing the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus as the biological son of both Mary and Joseph, who by virtue of his righteousness, was chosen by God to be the messianic “prophet like Moses” (foretold in Deuteronomy 18:14–22) when he was anointed with the holy spirit at his baptism.

Of the books of the New Testament, the Ebionites are said to have accepted only a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews, as additional scripture to the Hebrew Bible. This version of Matthew, Irenaeus reports, omitted the first two chapters (on the nativity of Jesus), and started with the baptism of Jesus by John.

The Ebionites believed that all Jews and Gentiles must observe the commandments in the Law of Moses, in order to become righteous and seek communion with God, but these commandments must be understood in the light of Jesus’ expounding of the Law, revealed during his sermon on the mount. The Ebionites may have held a form of “inaugurated eschatology” positing that the ministry of Jesus had ushered in the Messianic Age so that the kingdom of God might be understood as present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age.

James vs. Paul

James, the brother of the Lord, presided over the Jerusalem church after the other apostles dispersed. Paul, self appointed Apostle to the Gentiles, established many churches and founded a Christian theology, (Pauline Christianity). At the Council of Jerusalem (c 49), Paul argued to abrogate Mosaic observances for his non-Jewish converts, but Paul’s arguments were rejected, and Jewish Law and tradition concerning non-Jewish followers were asserted by refrence to Noahide Law.

Some scholars argue that the Ebionites regarded James, brother of Jesus, the first bishop of Jerusalem, the rightful leader of the Church rather than Peter. James Tabor argues that the Ebionites claimed a unique dynastic apostolic succession for the relatives of Jesus. They opposed the Apostle Paul, who established that gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised or otherwise follow the Law of Moses, and named him an apostate. Epiphanius relates that some Ebionites alleged that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism in order to marry the daughter of a high priest of Israel but apostasized when she rejected him.

Emphasis mine. This can also explain Paul’s connection with the Essenes, his assertion that Gentiles didn’t have to follow Jewish laws, why he writes in Greek, and his conception of Jesus. It’s funny how Christians nowadays follow Paul’s Christianity (being “gentiles”, obviously) instead of James and the Ebionite’s Christianity. I guess it’s not really “funny” because what’s known as Christianity today was largely the result of the politics in regards to Eusebius and Constantine I.

Again… politics.

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Posted by on September 6, 2008 in ebionites, essenes, historicity, jesus myth, teacher of righteousness


The Middle Way

So because of my scientific-spirituality, when people asked me what religion I am, I always say “I’m a Buddhist”. Technically, Buddhism can be seen as nominally atheistic, even though there are “gods” in Buddhism, they’re more like supermen and/or advanced alien lifeforms and not anthropomorphized objects of reverence. They go through the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) just like us.

Anyway, while describing my spirituality to people, I always talk about the need for “balance” and “non-extremism”. Christianity fails at this because it’s all about hating life/the world and seeking refuge from “bad” and trying to obsess over and revel 24/7 in “good”. My thing was that sort of mentality is just as damaging as consistently engaging in “evil” or “bad”. All things are necessary for life – like you can’t function if your world is 100% light and 0% darkness just like you can’t function if your life is 100% darkness and 0% light.

From a scientific or physics standpoint, the only way we can function in day to day life is maintaining balances – or equilibrium as it’s called in physics. When you lean on a wall, the wall also leans on you. If the equilibrium isn’t kept, either the wall you’re leaning on is going to collapse (bad) or you’re going to hurt yourself by pushing on the wall too much (bad). It’s like this in everything I see in nature – the sun is a huge ball of equilibrium which balances between gravity sucking in hydrogen and making explosions, which creates outward pressure. As soon as one of these things overtakes the other (gravity or pressure) the sun will cease to exist as it is. Even too much water is bad for you; people can die from water poisoning.

In Buddhism, apparently the Buddha (before he became “The” Buddha) tried overdoing the “good” in the Christian paradigm – fasting, exposure to pain, celibacy, etc. – and realized that this amounts to nothing more than self-hatred and self-mortification. You can’t grow spiritually as a person if you hate yourself. Just like you can’t physically grow if you deny yourself valuable nutrients. So, he discovered the Middle Way, which is a philosophy of non-extremism. A middle way between the extremes of self-gratification and self-mortification.

Balance. Equilibrium. The Middle Way.

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Posted by on September 4, 2008 in buddhism, Christianity, the middle way


Greek, The New Testament, and the Essenes

This information is taken from the rational response squad, who I think are kinda cultish. Even so, this is a very good argument for why the NT was written in Greek and not the native tongue of Jesus and his disciples:

  • All four canonical gospels were written in Koine Greek, which reflects Greek education – the same education that Pliny the Elder / Younger, Julius Caesar, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Eratosthenes, Virgil, and Apollinus of Rhodes would have received. All four canonical authors would have had to attend gymnasion, the Greek school for filospohia, aglhteon, and grammatikov, or literary education – how to read and write, to learn to “know one’s letters”
  • Hellenized Jews were also welcome to attend gymnasion as long as they had enough money to afford it. Often Jews of high standing in a community could attend gymnasion.
  • The gospels are derived from a common form of literary creation[,] dependent on model use — something taught rigorously at gymnasion — where the author would use earlier literature as a foundation for building tropes, archetypes, and narrative to formulate plot and even name characters.

So, how could illiterate Palestinian fishermen who spoke Aramaic learn Koine Greek just out of nowhere? Unless they really weren’t fishermen and they were some of the higher class Jews. Reading and writing at this time period wasn’t just for anyone – only the highest class people would go to school and actually learn to read and write. If Jesus and his disciples were carpenters and fishermen – professions that don’t earn a lot of money and require no formal education – from some backwater of the Roman empire, why and how would they learn to read and write Koine Greek?

Also of note, I was reading the bio on John Allegro and it said that he was one of the people responsible for translating the scribes found at Nag Hammadi – which is where we get a lot of information about Gnosticism from. He said that the parallels between the Essenes and Christianity are intriguing, to say the least.

The Essenes were an ascetic sect of Jews from the Hellenistic period up until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. These Essenes mysteriously disappeared after the temple’s destruction, which is also around the time that Christianity started gaining ground. Most of what we know about the Essenes comes from Philo the Jew and [Flavinus] Josephus.

Josephus mentions the Essenes and their “river bathing rituals” which could be construed as a direct description of baptism or just a common religious meme from that time period and locale.

I think there’s an obvious connection between either the Essenes directly, former Essenes seeking some direction after the destruction of the Temple, or people who were incredibly influenced by Essenes theology. John the Baptist seems to fit the description of an “Essene” perfectly – and supposedly Jesus “continued” his ministry. The stories of Peter seems unequivocally to be nothing more than a dramatized mnemonic of the role of the Essene main “Overseer” (the Essene title ‘caiaphas’ – or ‘cephas’ as a word play on the Aramaic “stone”, ‘kepha’), recognized by many scholars as the equivalent of the later Christian “Bishop”. Essenes in their writings have a “Teacher of Righteousness” – which could be one of the possible influences of the creation of the Jesus that Christians have in their minds today. Maybe not a direct copypasta, but maybe some of the characteristics of the Essenes’ “Teacher of Righteousness” – their beloved, inspirational, and suffering Teacher, who they arguably regarded as a latter-day Joshua ben Nun (Jesus son of Fish) were ‘put into’ Jesus’ character. After all, Philo and Josephus were Jews who learned Greek education and they knew about the Essenes – it’s entirely possible that whoever wrote the gospels of the New Testament knew about Essenes theology as well – and injected their prior Essenes theology and sayings into the gospels.

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Posted by on September 3, 2008 in Christianity, dead sea scrolls, essenes, greek, greek education, gymnasion, josephus, koine greek, nag hammadi, new testament, philo


Secret Book of James

So I’ve been reading about Cerinthus, who was apparently someone who John, son of Zebedee (the purported author of the gospel of John and the Book of Revelation) really didn’t like. It seems as though Cerinthus was a gnostic and the gospel of John was written in retaliation to Cerinthus’ beliefs. However, another sect of Christians pejoratively called “Alogi” (literally ‘without logic’) said that gJohn was actually written by Cerinthus. Neither camp – modern Christians or the Alogi – have any evidence either way as to who wrote gJohn. Attribution of gJohn as being written by the actual Apostle John was done in an ipse dixit fashion by Ireneaus. Who really doesn’t have any more authority than the Alogi other than his say so. Anyway, reading on wikipedia, some scholars think that the Secret Book of James was written to Cerinthus.

James is mentioned by (Jew) Josephus in his “Antiquities of the Jews” as the “brother of Jesus [son of Damneus]”. I wonder who Damneus is, since Joseph is supposed to be Jesus’ father. Anyway, according to the Secret Book of James, James is the one who continues Jesus’ ministry after Jesus is executed for sedition. This also follows the theme of gJohn and the Gospel of Mary where Peter fails to get Jesus’ message and James does. Near its beginning the Apocryphon (revelation) of James mentions another “secret book”, which may have described a different revelation from Jesus to James. But if this other book actually existed, it has apparently been lost.

The Apocryphon also says that this story takes place “550 days” after Jesus’ resurrection, but before his ascension! I thought he was supposed to ascend up to heaven after 40 days (10 days before pentecost)? Not 550 days!

Of course, all of this goes contrary to what the churches teach, since most churches – oddly enough – follow more of a Pauline Christianity (Christians don’t have to follow Jewish laws) moreso than a James/Cerinthus/Gnostic Christianity (Christians do have to follow Jewish laws, Jesus wasn’t god, etc.)

Which is also really weird because Valentinus, who I think is like the most influential Gnostic, was also a follower of Paul.

Anyway, none of these writings exist until Eusebius and Constantine – so who knows what they did to the writings to suit their own agenda…

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Posted by on September 2, 2008 in cerinthus, gnosticism, james, josephus, paul, valentinus

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