Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Chapter One] Final Edit

Redeeming the Redemption

Redemption is the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Jewish people understand that their ancestors partook in the redemption at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Moses parted the sea in order to let the Israelites pass through unharmed and destroy the wicked Egyptians. Thus the former Israelite slaves were redeemed, and through the Covenant they continue to be redeemed to very this day.

Then roughly 2,000 years ago those who would in time come to be named Christians appeared and revealed a new understanding of the earlier Jewish redemption myth. They revealed that before the coming of the “end times” God's own Son came down to earth to redeem us. Whereas the Jewish redemption bestowed upon its chosen people the promise of a multitude, a nation chosen by God, and blessings in this life, Jesus offered us the far better redemption of eternal life. Jewish faith was relegated by the Christians to holding the promise of merely a lesser and temporal redemption, granted for a time, and foretelling of what was to come through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The goal of this book will be an attempt to uncover the story of how and why Christianity as it has come down to us today is founded upon an intentional alteration of an earlier and more original understanding of Christian redemption. Almost two thousand years separate us and the events described in the gospels. If such an intentional alteration in fact took place, then our present understanding of the redemption of, by, and from Christ is fundamentally flawed. Political circumstances have gotten in the way of us becoming acquainted with the earliest message of the gospel.

This earlier and as yet “unreformed” Christianity was blamed for starting a massive insurrection in one of the most tenuous regions under Roman control. The original faith of Jesus was deemed to have such a hold on the poor that it was seen as a threat to the rule of Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor known as the ‘philosopher king’, renowned for his learning and wisdom. The ultimate irony that ripples through our understanding of the origins of Christianity is that upon closer scrutiny we find that the Christians of today are nothing like the early Christians. Their understanding of redemption would likely have little appeal for us. We have more in common now with the persecutors than with the persecuted.

If we could travel backward in time to 177 CE we would see the government of Marcus Aurelius sanctioning a massive persecution against many of these ‘original Christians’ in the Rhone valley region of what is now southern France. To maintain order throughout the Empire, the Imperial authorities would cultivate shows of strength to remind the poor not to allow their disenchantment to spill over into open rebellion. To this end, the persecutions of 177 CE in Gaul were little more than a show of force. It was Marcus Aurelius’ way of acquainting the rabble with the ancient dictum of the philosopher Heraclitus – ‘all beasts should be pastured by blows.’

It is worth noting that all of our information about Christianity – including this time of persecution in Gaul - comes down to us from a man named Irenaeus of Lugdunum (modern Lyons). Irenaeus has been called by some the “father of Catholic dogmatic theology.” Yet he is a most mysterious figure, a Church Father, an individual who is only known to us through his writings. We don’t know where he was born; we don’t know when he died. All that can be ascertained about his person must be plumbed from the depths of his tediously complex writings.

Throughout the course of this investigation we shall continually refer back to this mysterious yet venerated individual. When uncloaked, Irenaeus takes on the appearance of a Roman agent. Irenaeus claims that he was part of a tradition, an apostolic line of succession associated with the disciple John. Yet this story is rife with inconsistencies and is one which few scholars of today outside of the Roman Catholic intelligentsia accept at face value.

The claim which Irenaeus made was that this ‘apostle John’ somehow managed to escape from Judea and wander around the Empire before ultimately settling in Asia Minor, in what is now the coastal region of western Turkey. The cities and towns in this part of the world were Greek speaking but John would have spoken Aramaic. Per Irenaeus this Aramaic speaking John made quite a great number of converts among the Greek speaking population of the area. Among these converts was to be found a certain Polycarp of Smyrna, the teacher of our Irenaeus of Lugdunum.

I contend further that Irenaeus became obsessed with apostolic succession lists, and when he arrived at Rome without one, he fabricated one to suit his goal of usurping Christianity to the gain of the Roman Emperor.

It is upon this rather shaky historical foundation that Irenaeus brings forward his claim to be an authority on the beliefs and practices of the original disciples of Jesus.1 He may have heard a lecture or two by Polycarp when he was a little boy, but that really amounts to the extent to which he was an authority on this or any other Christian teaching. Nevertheless with little more than what amounts to lies and half-truths we see Irenaeus utterly fixated on the task of demolishing all other traditions which actually had a real claim to a tradition based on apostolic succession. The bitter ironies of history never ceased to amaze.

As we shall demonstrate shortly we can say that Irenaeus seized upon the misfortunes of the persecuted in the south of France and utterly transformed Christianity. Irenaeus truly demonstrates the old axiom that the pen was mightier than the sword. Armed with little more than intense personal hatred, Irenaeus gave lecture after lecture condemning alternative Christian traditions for being ‘heretics.’ The original Greek word behind our terminology didn’t have the negative associations that we now associated with it. It was originally used to denote a particular ‘school’ of thought.

Indeed even in the letter of Paul in our New Testament canon we find the indifferent use of this terminology when the apostle declares that that “there must be schools (airesis) among you so that the trustworthy may be revealed among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:19) In other words, in the beginning believers took these words according to their plain meaning – that is, as a commandment encouraging the establishment of many different traditions in order to spread the teachings of Christ effectively. Yet Irenaeus turned this scripture on its head and turned the word ‘heresies’ into something of an insult, into a negative term which meant ‘wicked sectarians.’

It is hard to appreciate with how far removed Irenaeus was from everything that came before him. As we shall see in due course, Christians originally had a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards people they disagreed with. Nevertheless by the power of his voice, Irenaeus forever changed all that. His actions in the late second century effectively pulled the rug from underneath all that came before him, redefining Christianity for ages to come.

Indeed it wasn’t just that Irenaeus had a powerful voice for speaking his own mind. Irenaeus was very good and putting the words in the mouths of dead people. He wasn’t alone in this activity of course. There is a pseudepigraphal character to sections of the whole sections of the Bible even before Christianity came to be. Indeed the reality is that the most of the world recognized that Moses wasn’t even the author of books that tradition claimed him to have written. As such when we say that Irenaeus engaged in the activity of ‘making up stuff’ in the name of other people, we should be careful to note that he was by no means alone in this activity. There were a lot of other liars in the business of religion. Yet the brazenness of Irenaeus’s lies is what sets him apart from all his contemporaries.

For instance whereas most of our Jewish sources timidly acknowledge the false authorship of the Torah, Irenaeus baldly announces that this counterfeiting effort clearly demonstrates that God approves of forgery.2 It is hard to get our minds around what kind of position Irenaeus must have held to allow him to flippantly embrace the dark side of the history of the Bible. For Irenaeus plainly declares that the Holy Spirit allowed Ezra “to recast all the words of the former prophets, and to re-establish with the people the Mosaic legislation.” If the Holy Spirit allowed Ezra to get away with the complete reworking of the Old Testament, imagine what Irenaeus could do with a new body of writings that few people had actually seen with their own eyes.

Not surprisingly every text that Irenaeus holds up to prove this or that theological point can be demonstrated to have been tainted with the charge of forgery. While he was a “passionate advocate of the Johannine authorship" but this same collection of writings was accused of having been counterfeit at the very time he was active.3 The same holds true for the gospel, the collection of letters associated with Paul, the Acts of the Apostles and as we said every single text which he got his hands on.

At least one pagan writer turned this state of affairs into something of a joke - “As to statues,” writes Lucian of Samosata after the death of Polycarp “The story is that he despatched missives to almost all the famous cities—testamentary dispositions, so to speak, and exhortations and prescriptions—and he appointed a number of ambassadors for this purpose from among his comrades, styling them ‘messengers from the dead’ and ‘underworld couriers.’”4 In other words, this hallowed written tradition which forms the basis to our serious, scholarly understanding of early Christianity appears upon close inspection to be utterly fraudulent.

Again the real problem is that Irenaeus’s corruptions have been baked into everything that we’ve inherited from Christian antiquity. We even define something as fundamental as ‘Christian redemption’ in wholly Irenaean terms. To simply use ‘the gospels’ to help us determine the life of Jesus, and the rest of the New Testament to teach us how the Church developed is utterly stupid because these texts were systematically corrupted to reinforce a particular view of Christian origins. Anyone who carries out this endeavor doesn’t recreate Christianity as it ‘actually happened’ but rather the myth of Christian origins as developed in the imagination of Irenaeus.

If the reader wants fairy tales it is only good and fair to cite those preserved outside of the Church to help explain how it was that the Catholic tradition emerged triumphant the Tathbit Dala'il Nubuwwat Sayyidina Mahammad, (The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Mohammed'), written in Arabic by 'Abd al-Jabbar (10th century Mu'tazilite) and recently translated by Shlomo Pines can provide them with a good historical counterpoint:

The Romans reigned over them. The Christians (used to) complain to the Romans about the Jews, showed them their own weakness and appealed to their pity. And the Romans did pity them. This (used) to happen frequently. And the Romans said to the Christians: "Between us and the Jews there is a pact which (obliges us) not to change their religious laws. But if you would abandon their laws and separate yourselves from them, praying as we do (while facing) the East, eating (the things) we eat, and regarding as permissible that which we consider as such, we should help you and make you powerful, and the Jews would find no way (to harm you). On the contrary, you would be more powerful than they."

The Christians answered: "We will do this." (And the Romans) said: "Go, fetch your companions, and bring your Book." (The Christians) went to their companions, informed them of (what had taken place) between them and the Romans and said to them: "Bring the Gospel, and stand up so that we should go to them." But these (companions) said to them: "You have done ill. We are not permitted (to let) the Romans pollute the Gospel. In giving a favorable answer to the Romans, you have accordingly departed from the religion. We are (therefore) no longer permitted to associate with you; on the contrary, we are obliged to declare that there is nothing in common between us and you;" and they prevented their (taking possession of) the Gospel or gaining access to it. In consequence a violent quarrel (broke out) between (the two groups). Those (mentioned in the first place) went back to the Romans and said to them: "Help us against these companions of ours before (helping us) against the Jews, and take away from them on our behalf our Book." Thereupon (the companions of whom they had spoken) fled the country. And the Romans wrote concerning them to their governors in the districts of Mosul and in the Jazirat al-'Arab. Accordingly, a search was made for them; some were caught and burned, others were killed.

(As for) those who had given a favorable answer to the Romans they came together and took counsel as to how to replace the Gospel, seeing that it was lost to them. (Thus) the opinion that a Gospel should be composed was established among them. They said: "the Torah (consists) only of (narratives concerning) the births of the prophets and of the histories of their lives. We are going to construct a Gospel according to this (pattern).

Everyone among us is going to call to mind that which he remembers of the words of the Gospel and of (the things) about which the Christians talked among themselves (when speaking) of Christ." Accordingly, some people wrote a Gospel. After (them) came others (who) wrote (another) Gospel. (In this manner) a certain number of Gospels were written. (However) a great part of what was (contained) in the original was missing in them. There were among them (men), one after another, who knew many things that were contained in the true Gospel, but with a view to establishing their dominion, they refrained from communicating them.5

The point here is not to ‘side’ with one tradition over another but rather provide a fair and balanced view of history by taking into account the perspectives of all sides of the story. The reality was that Christianity was not subdued by the might of the sword, but as the tradition clearly states, owing to a subversive effort within its ranks that completely transformed its Holy Scriptures. Over the course of the works in this series we shall demonstrate that Irenaeus was the historical mole who burrowed his way into the inner sanctum of Christian truthfulness.

That such a corruption occurred in this age can hardly be questioned. Irenaeus’s testifies to the contemporary coziness with the Imperial court and this state of affairs is reinforced by a number of different testimonies including that of the fourth century Christian chronicler Eusebius of Caesarea. We can use the thumbnail sketch of the period can be provided for us the great Australian Patristics scholar Eric Osborn as a good historical context when he explains, “Commodus was persuaded to treat Christians kindly by his mistress Marcia who viewed them with favour. Under Severus monotheistic disloyalty to imperial cult brought sporadic persecution, which in Alexandria was harsh in face of a triumphant Christian response … The state ceases to be neutral; its rejection of the Christian offer becomes as significant as the Christian refusal to comply with the requirements of the state. Only under Constantine, when state and church accept one another, is the conflict resolved.” 6

Indeed we can basically agree with Osborn sketch of the historical period. The authority of the Catholic tradition was firmly established under Commodus, there was a period of tension in the latter half of the third century before matters were finally ‘resolved’ during the reign of Constantine. However we need to start at a much earlier period if we want to provide some context for Irenaeus’s close relationship with the Imperial court. As with many friendships of convenience, the Roman state and the Roman Church became intertwined against the common perceived threat of – the tradition of St Mark the evangelist.

Just think about matters this way. If Mark is almost universally acknowledged now to be the original evangelist and a tradition associated with the evangelist developed and perpetuated into the second century – if not the modern era – why would anyone need anything else? Why would there have arisen the need to build canon built around texts which were little more than forgeries of Mark – i.e. Matthew and Luke? For instance, if I open a bottle of Dom Perignon who at the table is going to ask for Baby Duck? So, in the very same way we should see the Roman Catholic tradition as developed by Irenaeus of Lugdunum as subversively hostile to Mark, his gospel, his tradition and his Church. As long as the good wine was made available, no one would have need for his vinegar. It has only taken us two thousand years to catch up to his craftiness …

1. Of course contemporary scholars never come out and say that this John ‘is a fake.’ They instead develop complicated scenarios where they posit ‘two Johns’ – one who was the disciple of Jesus and the other the John known to the circle of Irenaeus and that it was ‘confusion’ which caused these people to mistake their John for the John of Jesus. As we shall see there is a lot of this ‘confusion’ which apparently caused them not only to mistake lies for the truth, but actively promote them as part of their plan for world domination. 
2. “the Scriptures had been corrupted, and when, after seventy years, the Jews had returned to their own land, then, in the times of Artaxerxes king of the Persians, inspired Ezra the priest, of the tribe of Levi, to recast all the words of the former prophets, and to re-establish with the people the Mosaic legislation.” [Adv Haer 2. The understanding that the Torah was written in the fifth rather than the twelfth century before the Common Era may be controversial in the modern era, but it finds its way into that holiest of books in the Jewish tradition, the Talmud where it says that if the Torah would not have been given through Moses it would have been given through Ezra (Sanhedrin 21b). 
3. M. Hengel, The Johannine Question, trans. J. Bowden (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Trinity Press Int'l, 1989 4. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, trans. W Harvey 3.21.2 

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