14. Looking Back
Christianity as we have been seeing, has a murky past. Many Christians are completely unfamiliar with the religion's history. Christianity's origins are obscure and are not as Christian orthodoxy would have us believe. In the first few centuries we see a mass of variant traditions, beliefs and dogmas. Under the watchful eyes of the Roman Empire, the "orthodox" traditions evolved and beat out the "heretical" sects. The religion has a very violent history, especially during the medieval times.
To make the claim that it is all the work of a loving God requires one to ignore a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Let's quickly enumerate some of the problems with the New Testament that we have discussed so that we get a feel for the cumulative weight of all the evidence.
- The gospels are anonymous works. We do not know who wrote them. But they now are attributed to figures of apostolic authority.
- Many of the epistles are written fraudulently in someone else's name (Pseudepigrapha) to give it authority.
- The gospels seem to have been written decades after the events they describe.
- The gospels are not four independent accounts. The synoptic problem suggests that the authors were copying and modifying and redacting each other.
- The gospels and epistles are reinterpreting the Old Testament and drawing new interpretations. We see extensive use of midrash or retelling of old stories in new settings.
- Claims of prophesy fulfilled are often words taken completely out of context.
- We do not have the original autographs of the texts.
- We do not know what the originals said. We have multiple variant readings. We can't reconstruct the originals as we don't have manuscripts that are early enough, let alone the originals.
- The books seem to have gone through multiple rounds of redaction before reaching a form close to what we have today.
- The Gospels, Acts and the epistles are not mutually consistent in what they report. The Jesus in the gospels is a composite figure.
- The earth shattering events in gospel story are not attested to by any contemporary historian.
- No contemporary historian writes about Jesus of Nazareth.
- There are clearly legendary details in the Bible – virgin birth, miraculous star, massacre of infants, miracles, sun going dark, zombies walking around, resurrection etc.
- A symbolic and theological agenda is clearly visible in the texts.
- We have many apocryphal texts. There is no good or scientific reasons for holding the canonical texts, authoritative and the 'apocryphal' ones, heresies.
- The New Testament canon has never been universally accepted, till date.
The problems with the Biblical texts are manifold and non-trivial. To suggests that this is all the work of a omniscient deity trying to get us all to believe in him, is clearly ridiculous.
The mind boggles at the suggestion that God incarnated on earth and died for us, but left us with this muddled mess as evidence! Apparently, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to die an agonizing death but forgot to have this recorded in the contemporary books of history. The Son's life and death apparently inspired a mass of variant beliefs some of which survive to this day. But we know very little, if anything, about this Son of God or what he taught.
The Holy Bible was written and redacted or modified by many different people with varying agendas over a very long period of time. It was compiled to promote theological and possibly political agendas. It is painfully obvious that they do not all fit together as if all of it were inspired by one Omniscient God.
The jealous and violent Yahweh or El Elyon of the Old Testament and the violent crucifixion, antisemitism and apocalyptic message and imagery of the New Testament clashes with the message of loving one's neighbor that many modern Christians like to project.
One is forced to relegate much of the Bible as allegory, symbolism and myth to hold on to the Christian faith. The only other options are to ignore the facts or live in ignorance of facts.
[This concludes my series of posts on the origins of Christianity.]