“Many were led astray by reading the allegorical contents of the scriptures literally in the method of the Pharisees and Sadducees” Eusebius, Ecclestical History
I believed in Santa Claus until I was nearly thirteen years old. Like my friends, I’d been brought up to think of him as a real person, who made his rounds on a sled pulled by magic reindeer. One day in my parent’s kitchen, my best friend told me the truth. His parents had just revealed to him that it was really his own father who ate the cookies and filled the stockings.
I had accepted the idea of Santa Claus for so long, it wasn’t possible for me to entertain the notion that he wasn’t real. Instead of listening to my friend, I began to try and justify my beliefs. I argued that just because something was unlikely didn’t make it impossible. How do we know he isn’t real? Can you prove it? I began providing examples to show how it was possible that Santa Claus really did do all those amazing things.
Paul’s Gnostic communities were generally educated Greeks or Jews, who could easily see the relationship between Jesus and other mystery faiths. When they wrote stories about Jesus, they would often use Greek terms and images. Sometimes they would even take pre-existing texts from other traditions and just add, “Jesus said” to every statement of faith in order to expand their spiritual literature. For them, it was the spiritual message, and not the words or the details that were important.
The other Christian communities, which refused to change their initial understanding of the faith, had more trouble expressing themselves. When they heard from Paul and the Gnostics that Jesus didn’t exist, they reacted in the same way as I had when my friend told me that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Rather than face the evidence, they asked, “why couldn’t he be real?”, and then tried to prove that he was. They were met with much opposition.
The idea that Jesus could have been a historical man was a ridiculous concept to many. The Logos, the Son of God, was the collection of all of the sparks that existed in every person. His sacrifice and crucifixion were the story of how he became divided and stuck here with us, giving us the opportunity to return to God through him. The Greeks, Gnostics, and Romans who were familiar with the motifs behind the story told the Christians, “You’ve got it wrong. You’ve got the basics right, but let us tell you what it means.”
Believing in Jesus as a historical figure, Christians met opposition from every side. Paul and his Gnostic communities viewed them as “infants in Christ” and called them “animal men”. Greek philosophers were astounded at their simplicity, and the ruling Roman authorities were unnerved by their lack of common sense. Of all of the communities who believed in Jesus Christ, they seemed to be the only ones that declared Jesus was historical rather than mythological. Letters between these groups generally communicated the same point: beware of what everyone else is saying.
When they were told that the story of Jesus Christ was an obvious myth copied from Pagan sources and was not meant to be taken literally, they could not show otherwise. They rarely appealed to Christ’s actual words, or deeds, or events in his life, except through Old Testament passages which seemed to prophecy a future savior. They could find no physical proof that Jesus Christ had ever lived, even less than a century after his supposed death.
In Greek and Roman culture, arguments were won through their rational appeal and the speaker’s powers of persuasion. As Christians became more outspoken, adamant about the physical death of their Lord Jesus, Pagans engaged them in a battle of wits. Some Pagans published whole books to display the inherent absurdity of the new faith.
The spirit-saving philosophy of the Logos which was taught through the mysteries had developed over thousands of years. The novelty of pinning this philosophy into one historical man required a philosophical dexterity which, unfortunately, these Christians didn’t have. Their arguments, though full of zeal, were logically weak, inconsistent, and often missed the point entirely. Many times, when they couldn’t answer their opponents questions, they would resort to character attacks and personal insults.
Christians who believed in the historical Jesus also differed among themselves in serious points of doctrine. They called each other heretics, each claiming to be the true church. Assuming Jesus to be real, they invented the idea of “apostolic tradition” and made the claim that Jesus had personally taught the message that had been transmitted to them with apostolic authority.
The most serious point of contention between these communities and their adversaries concerned the resurrection of the flesh. Against the rumor that Christ was crucified in appearance only, they struggled to prove that he had been crucified and resurrected from the dead physically, “in the flesh.” Since he never died, he must have ascended bodily into heaven, meaning that the real, physical body of Christ flew up through the seven heavens and remains there still.
In the other mysteries, resurrection was a symbol for personal transformation. Each initiate could die in this life to his physical body, and be resurrected, in this life, to a spiritual body. Christians who had been taught about the resurrection but couldn’t understand the spiritual significance of the doctrine began to believe that they would, like Jesus, be resurrected along with their physical bodies. This was extremely controversial. In Neo-Platonism and other contemporary philosophies, the body was little more than a dirty beast, which trapped the pure soul like a prison. The point of philosophies like Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism, and the other mystery schools, was to release the soul from the body. Even Paul clearly said that what was to be resurrected was a spiritual body, not a physical one.
“It is the same too with the resurrection of the dead: what is sown in perishable, but what is raised is imperishable; what is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; what is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful; what is sown is a natural body, and what is raised is a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:43
“What I am saying, brothers, is that mere human nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God: what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 15:50
Christians who affirmed the resurrection of the flesh knew that they were diverging from Paul’s original message, and complained that this difference of doctrine was often pointed out to them. Instead of responding to the criticism, and recognizing that the heretics were closer aligned to Paul’s theology, they pushed ahead undeterred.
“Among the other [truths] proclaimed by the apostle, there is also this one, “That flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This is [the passage] which is adduced by all the heretics in support of their folly, with an attempt to annoy us, and to point out that the handiwork of God is not saved.” Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, 5:9
Dismissing Paul and his higher mysteries, these Christians wanted their bodies preserved until some future period when they could reclaim them. The idea was met with disgust and contempt. Justin Martyr succeeds in representing the opinion of the opposition, without answering any of the questions raised by them.
“They who maintain the wrong opinion say that there is no resurrection of the flesh; giving as their reason that it is impossible that what is corrupted and dissolved should be restored to the same as it had been. And besides the impossibility, they say that the salvation of the flesh is disadvantageous; and they abuse the flesh, adducing its infirmities, and declare that it is the cause of our sins, so that if the flesh, say they, rise again, our infirmities also rise with it. By these and such like arguments, they attempt to distract men from the faith. And there are some who maintain that even Jesus Himself appeared only as spiritual, and not in flesh, but presented merely the appearance of flesh: these persons seek to rob the flesh of the promise.” Justin Martyr, Fragments of “On Resurrection” chapter 2.
Significantly, the Christians who believed in the physical resurrection of the dead did not point to their own savior as proof, nor did they mention the miraculous raising of Lazarus found in the gospels. They neglected to offer the woman Peter raised to life in Jaffa, or the boy that Paul raised to life at Troas after he’d fallen out of a three story window, both of which were later recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. When asked to provide even one example of someone who has physically risen from the dead, they don’t.
“Then, as to your denying that the dead are raised for you say, “Show me even one who has been raised from the dead, that seeing I may believe…but suppose I should show you a dead man raised and alive, even this you would disbelieve.” Theophilus, To Autolycus, chapter 8.
Instead, they argue that God, who causes the dying and rebirth of wheat, grain and grass, must also have the power to raise a man from the dead. One gives the example of a sparrow who swallows a seed, and later leaves the seed in its droppings. If the seed can still produce a tree after such an ordeal, why couldn’t God re-animate a dead body?
They even attempt to prove the physical resurrection through the example of the planets, which lead to the development of the spiritual symbolism in the first place.
“And if you would witness a more wondrous sight, which may prove a resurrection not only of earthly but of heavenly bodies, consider the resurrection of the moon, which occurs monthly; how it wanes, dies, and rises again.” Theophilus, To Autolycus (8)
Again, they offer no eye-witnesses, and no physical evidence. The only argument ever put forward to defend Christ’s physical death and resurrection was, “It isn’t impossible. It may have happened; and we believe that it did.”
One common criticism of the idea that the Logos had a physical incarnation, was the impossibility of what is eternal and unchanging to lower itself and become mortal while maintaining its divinity. God could not be fully god and fully man any more than white light could remain both white and another color at the same time.
Another point was raised by the philosopher Celsus, who questioned why God would send his spirit down to one fixed geographical location, rather than allow it to be accessed by the entire human race equally.
“Again, if God, like Jupiter in the comedy, should, on awaking from a lengthened slumber, desire to rescue the human race from evil, why did He send this Spirit of which you speak into one corner (of the earth)? He ought to have breathed it alike into many bodies, and have sent them out into all the world.” Recorded by Origen, Contra Celsus, 6:78
This is still the strongest argument ever made against Christian faith: only a very small fraction of the human race has ever been Christian, and today the numbers, while healthy, are declining. Over 90% of Christians live in the Americas and Europe, while over 90% of people in many other countries, like India or China, are not Christian. This implies that salvation is given out by God randomly and unjustly. Someone lucky enough to be born in the right country is likely to be saved, while being born in the wrong country will most likely result in damnation.
The Christians could not compete with the skilled Greek debaters, nor with the Gnostics who also claimed to be disciples of Paul. They couldn’t even provide answers to the logical inconsistencies that arose out of their faith. Constantly confronted by rational arguments and logical debates, of which they never seemed to get the upper hand, they began to see reason itself as a threat to the truth they believed in.
The gospels, which were written in the guise of history in order to transmit spiritual truths, became a source of information for the wished-for savior that Christians were proclaiming. They took examples from the stories, which were originally meant as mythological narratives, and tried to use them to support their theology of the flesh. This would be like proving that Santa Claus really flew a magical sleigh because it was written down by an eye-witness in “The Night Before Christmas.”
Groups that believed in Jesus as a historical being would use scripture to back up their opinions about him. When the scriptures didn’t support their views, they would edit them, inserting passages and then quoting those same passages in their arguments.
By comparing handwriting and literary style, scholars can identify alterations that have been made to original texts. The passages in the Bible which scholars agree were later insertions add geographical and political details to show that the story actually happened in recent history, and edited the resurrection story to show that Jesus not only lived in the flesh but also rose from the dead in the flesh.
Later insertions include post-resurrection passages such as doubting Thomas poking his finger into the wounds of Christ, or of Jesus being hungry and eating fish, or Jesus appearing to such and such number of disciples. They are all attempts to justify the historical Jesus and the physical resurrection. Unfortunately for Jesus, having been lifted up in the flesh, he will presumably bear these physical wounds for all eternity.
Once the texts adequately represented the beliefs of the community, they were considered sacred and without error. However, because most of these scriptures were taken straight from the original mysteries of Jesus Christ, they were full of mystical symbols and formulas which didn’t make sense if accepted at face value. The Old Testament in particular was meant to be interpreted. Moses Maimonides, a respected Jewish spiritualist, taught that scripture was allegorical in nature.
“Every time that you find in our books a tale the reality of which seems impossible, a story which is repugnant to both reason and common sense, then be sure that the tale contains a profound allegory veiling a deeply mysterious truth; and the greater the absurdity of the letter, the deeper the wisdom of the spirit.” Moses Maimonides
Paul often uses scripture allegorically in order to present spiritual truths. Even stories from the Old Testament which are commonly assumed historical were used by him symbolically. For example, in the letter to the community in Galatia he describes how Abraham’s two sons represent the physical and spiritual aspects of our dual natures.
“Scripture says that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave girl and one by the free woman. The son of the slave girl came to be born in the way of human nature; but the son of the free woman came to be born through a promise. There is an allegory here: these women stand for the two covenants.” Galatians 4:22
Many of the stories in the gospels also have mathematical significance, like the name of Jesus, and use numbers to convey geometrical truths. Jesus often says things like, “Let those who have ears, hear!”, or “Let those who have eyes, see!”, alluding to the need to seek a deeper interpretation for his parables. He also chastises his apostles frequently for not understanding the actual significance behind his stories.
One example is the appearance of Jesus on the shore of Tiberias, after he has been resurrected. He comes to his disciples, which had all abandoned him and gone back to fishing, and helps them catch exactly 153 fish. While this number may seem like a supercilious detail, it’s very lack of significance lending credence to the idea that this miracle really took place, in fact it has a very serious role to play.
There is a similar story about Pythagoras, and although the exact number of fish that Pythagoras caught has been lost, it may well have been the same figure. 153 was a sacred number Pythagorean communities, a number with special significance. The fish, and the number, are references to a mathematical principle often used in the mysteries called Vesica Piscis, or the “measure of the fish.”
When two equal circles are joined so that the perimeter of one passes the epicenter of the other, it produces a third, intermediate section, which resembles the shape of a fish. This section further contains two equilateral triangles. The mathematical ratio of its width (measured to the endpoints of the body) is nearly 265:153, yielding the number 1.73203, or the square root of 3.
This symbol was used in the mysteries to show the unification of divine principles. Three circles joined this way were used to represent the eternal trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, united in one God. In the mysteries of Ephesus, the Goddess wore this symbol over her genital region, and in the Osiris story, the lost penis was swallowed by a fish which represented the vulva of Isis.
Having refused allegorical meaning and interpretation, these details were left unexplained, and subsequently lost. Much like the original story, Christianity has maintained the external form of the Vesica Piscis, seen on a thousand posters, bumper stickers, and websites, without retaining any of the symbolic wisdom. Instead it became an acronym for Jesus Christ, his nature and title, which can be made from the Greek letters for “fish”.
Iesous Christos Theou Huios Soter = Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior
Without access to the allegorical meaning, the scriptures became obtuse and difficult, full of contradiction and confusing parables. Church fathers had to keep their flock away from communities who actually knew how to interpret these symbols, and taught that some of scripture’s secrets, like the natural world, were meant to be known only by God.
“If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things (the knowledge of) which belongs only to God, and others which come within the range of our own knowledge, what ground is there for complaint, if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are throughout spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God.” St. Iraneaus, Against the Heresies (book 2, chap 8:3).
The very word, “mystery”, which used to represent a level that had not yet been attained, began to mean something which was simply forever kept a secret from us, or something that God had chosen not to reveal.
“We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and his Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries.” St. Iraneaus, Against the Heresies (book 2 chap. 8:2)
The teachers of this form of Christianity, who had all the details but none of the spiritual implications, didn’t know what to tell their initiates when they came asking questions. Reason began to be viewed as an enemy to the truth, while blind faith in scripture, and a blind eye to anyone teaching different ideas, became the highest virtues.
“You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe.” John 20:27
Rather than question why their faith had so many critics, they claimed that God had made the gospel sound foolish as a stumbling block to all but the chosen.
“Since in the wisdom of God the world was unable to recognize God through wisdom, it was God’s own pleasure to save believers through the folly of the gospel. While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, we are preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the Gentiles foolishness.” 1 Corinthians 1:21
The Roman empire of the first few centuries of the Christian movement had hundreds of religions to choose from, as well as dozens that appeared very similar to Christianity. Their relative success depended mostly on professional contacts, the clarity of their doctrine, and the ability to produce some kind of spiritual transformation.
While lacking in these categories, there was still something so intoxicating about the Christian movement that it quickly became popular among the masses. In the next chapter we will focus on how the most repudiated form of Christianity, whose beliefs met with so much opposition, rooted out all the competition and became the controlling power in Europe for over a thousand years.
The articles in this section are part of a 50,000 word treatise on the historical Jesus and Christ Myth Theory, dealing with Christian history, the mystical significance of Christian symbols, and the mistaken belief that Jesus Christ was a historical person. You can download the entire collection for free as a PDF file ebook by clicking here!