From Faith to History
“Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I charge you, in the name of his appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it.” 2 Timothy 4
Believing that Jesus Christ was a radically new kind of savior, Christians were excited to spread the word. Obeying the scriptures and the commands of the church fathers, many gave up their possessions and began actively converting people.
Mimicking the gospel stories, Christians enacted a great number of social services like feeding the poor and taking care of the sick. Unlike the other mysteries which charged admission fees, Christians invited everyone to be baptized free of charge. They gained a reputation for their healing prayers, care of the poor, and selflessness. Emperor Julian, hoping to revive Paganism against the spread of Christianity in the mid 300’s, notes that it was this philanthropy which greatly advanced the Christian cause.
“(Christianity was) specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care of the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar and that the Christians care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help we should render them.” Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian
New followers were told that they would be saved from death through only a few simple rites, and for publicly pronouncing the name of Jesus. Christian leaders expected very little other than blind faith in the historical figure of Jesus Christ, and as neither wealth nor intellectual prowess were required, many of their recruits were poor and uneducated. Paul admits that the Christian message was popular among those who had no merits in the worldly sense.
“Consider, brothers, how you have been called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families. No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong, those who by human standards are common and contemptible-indeed those who count for nothing-to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something, so that no human being might feel boastful before God.” 1 Cor. 1:26
Belief in the bodily resurrection allowed Christians to face their own deaths courageously, almost to the point of reckless living. While everyone else ran away during plagues or natural catastrophes, Christians would stay and tend to the victims. Some even sought out danger, eager for heavenly rewards. Christians became known for their fearlessness and disregard for personal safety. It may also be assumed that these Christians had trouble obeying the law and respecting the proper authorities, because Paul often had to remind them to keep out of trouble.
“Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God.” Romans 1
Rome asked its citizens to honor the emperor as a god, and offer a small prayer or sacrifice to him. This rule was seldom enforced, unless specific complaints were made, and even then the accused was allowed to make a public offering to clear his name. Many Christian communities saw no difficulty in this, and encouraged their followers keep a low profile.
“I urge then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving should be offered to everyone, for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live peaceful and quiet lives with all devotion and propriety.” 1 Timothy 2
Those Christians who read scripture literally identified Jesus with the jealous god of the Old Testament and saw these offerings as idolatry. They received a reputation for stubbornly refusing to obey the law. When brought to trial, they were sometimes asked to worship the emperor and deny Christ. For many, the basis of Christian faith consisted in affirming the name of Christ Jesus, even though they hadn’t been taught its mystical significance, and so this request was adamantly refused.
The church fathers taught that the important part of being Christian, virtually the only part, was to proclaim the reality of Christ against critics. They promised initiates immediate rewards in heaven if they faced persecution bravely; much like the spiritual leaders of today’s terrorists. The Romans were primarily concerned with maintaining peace and order, and would sometimes make allowances to let Christian go free.
However, some Christians refused to cooperate, hoping for the esteem of a martyr’s death. For slaves, the poor, and melodramatic teenagers, exchanging their lives for an eternity of paradise was an attractive proposition.
“I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech you not to show an unreasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, though whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep (in death) I may be no trouble to anyone. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.” Ignatius, Romans (chap. 4)
This reckless disregard for life, a nuisance to the Roman government, was considered the very image of courage to new converts. Passionate novellas were written about the virtues of martyrdom. Several young idealistic women practically threw themselves to the beasts in spite of their family’s attempts to reconcile them. These acts agitated the public, and Christianity continued to draw numbers, although almost exclusively from the poorer classes.
Convinced that they had received a radical new truth which was superior to all others, Christians treated the philosophers and other religious traditions with condescension and scorn. They even sullied the sacred mysteries by learning about them and then going public, breaking the strict code secrecy.
“And now, for it is time, I will prove their orgies to be full of imposture and quackery. And if you have been initiated, you will laugh all the more at these fables of yours which have been held in honor. I publish without reserve what has been involved in secrecy, not ashamed to tell what you are not ashamed to worship.” Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen
Taking Pagan myths at face value and interpreting them literally, as they did their own scriptures, Christians accused spiritual mythology of being merely ludicrous fables. They mocked and ridiculed everyone outside of their faith as superstitious fools.
“Poor wretches that ye are, who have filled with unholy jesting the whole compass of your life a life in reality devoid of life! Oh, happier far the beasts than men involved in error! Who live in ignorance as you, but do not counterfeit the truth. There are no tribes of flatterers among them. Fishes have no superstition: the birds worship not a single image; only they look with admiration on heaven, since, deprived as they are of reason, they are unable to know God. So are you not ashamed for living through so many periods of life in impiety, making yourselves more irrational than irrational creatures? Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen, 1
It is hard to imagine the public outrage caused by Clement of Alexandria when he declared that the ancient Pagan gods were dead; it would be nearly 1,500 years before Nietzsche could claim the same blasphemous statement.
“For Zeus is dead, be not distressed, as Leda is dead, and the swan, and the eagle, and the libertine, and the serpent.” Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen, 1
Like the Jews, these Christians obeyed the Second Commandment, which forbid making and worshiping “an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below.” Although this commandment forbids religious art in general and is now broken in every church and Christian home around the world, strict adherence to it was one of the defining characteristics of the early church. Christians challenged the local deities, seeing them as bits of wood and stone, and called attention to themselves as blasphemers and enemies of the divine powers.
For the Pagans, everything in life was governed and provided by some demi-god. The public feasts were ways of thanking the universe for the food and drink they had received, for their good health, the fine weather, and blessed fortunes. To withhold gratitude to these forces showed marvelous audacity, and was seen as taking life for granted. Christians who refused to participate in public feasts and events of thanksgiving to these gods were considered self-absorbed ingrates. The philosopher Celsus tried to explain to them that they should either respect the positive forces of life, or embrace death without delay.
“They must make their choice between two alternatives. If they refuse to render due service to the gods, and to respect those who are set over this service, let them not come to manhood, or marry wives, or have children, or indeed take any share in the affairs of life; but let them depart hence with all speed, and leave no posterity behind them, that such a race may become extinct from the face of the earth.” Celsus, recorded by Origen (8:35)
To fuel the fire of public indignation, Christians refused to offer either evidence or argument in favor of their faith. They could not describe their own rational motives for believing nor answer even basic questions about the savior they claimed was historically crucified. When pressed, they would announce they believed what they believed because it was true, and that you should too.
The Pagan philosopher Celsus wrote an entire book in order to discredit these Christians. He claims that when interrogated, they exclaim, “Do not examine, but believe!” and, “Your faith will save you!” He also refers to what was assumed to be a common phrase of the early Christian community, “The wisdom of this life is bad, but foolishness is a good thing!” (Contra Celsus 1:9) Celsus characterizes Christianity as a faith of fools, opposed to reason.
“The following are the rules laid down by them. Let no one come to us who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent (for such qualifications are deemed evil by us); but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence. By which words, acknowledging that such individuals are worthy of their God they manifestly show that they desire and are able to gain over only the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.” Recorded by Origen, Against Celsus 3:44
As Christians grew in numbers and spread through the empire, Christianity became seen as a threat to Roman order. The Christian religion was called strange and unlawful by a senatorial decree of the year 35. Tacitus called it deadly and hateful, Suetonius said it was new and harmful, and Minucius accused it of being mysterious and opposed to light. For these reasons it was persecuted by different emperors throughout the first several centuries of its existence. It wasn’t until 313, under the emperor Constantine, that the Christian movement had a sudden change of fortune.
Constantine reportedly had a miraculous dream, wherein he saw a figure of the cross (the Chi-Rho) and was told, “with this, conquer.” After he won the battle which made him emperor, he was Christianity’s new champion. In 313 he issued the edict of Milan, which granted liberty of worship to all Romans, and restored Christian church property that had been confiscated during earlier persecutions.
Constantine was particularly attracted to Christianity because of its monotheism. His mantra, “One God, One Emperor” reflected his ambitions to unify the entire empire under one universal religion. In an attempt to turn Christianity into the empire’s official faith, Constantine changed the face of the Christian movement.
He made it as easy as possible for his people to accept the new religion, by tailoring Christianity to pre-existent Pagan customs. Constantine decreed Sunday the day of rest, as opposed to Yahweh’s preference of Saturday, further aligning Christ with the cult of Sol Invictus, and turned the invisible God of the Christians into a savior with a human face.
The Pagan festival of Saturnalia continued nearly unchanged, even though it was officially changed to Christmas. Candles, incense and garlands were adopted, as well as Pagan temples, with their doors facing East to greet the sun.
Veneration of Mary became an easy substitute for Pagans who had previously worshiped goddesses. Egyptian statues of Isis with the infant Horus can still be found in some Christian churches. Although Christians proclaimed one God, saints and martyrs rapidly filled the ranks of the minor deities, sometimes even moving directly into their temples.
The Jews, and the early Christians after them, had been meticulously careful not to venerate any “graven image”, that is, any statue or picture made by man to represent God. A large part of their previous persecution had been based on their respect for this custom. Their God was silent, invisible, and did not live in grand temples or images but in the heart.
When Christianity became the state religion, the Pagan obsession with art proved too difficult to break, and grand cathedrals, built in the style of Pagan temples, were flooded with statues and paintings depicting divine stories.
Constantine further helped the church by making clergy exempt from government duty. Positions in the clergy became reserved for wealthy families with powerful ties, and could be bought and sold. In order to stifle disagreements and unify the empire under one, simplified religion, Emperor Constantine summoned the Council of Niceae in 325.
One of the biggest controversies during this council was whether or not Jesus was a physical man. Many of his followers believed that Jesus was all powerful and completely divine. Others argued that this made his suffering inconsequential, and preferred a human Jesus who felt genuine pain on the cross. A consensus was not reached at this council, and the emperor himself composed a compromise to be signed by all the bishops, under the threat of exile.
Jesus was declared both fully God and fully man, the first of many logical inconsistencies in the Christian faith. Rather than through the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit, this insight was hammered together by a Pagan emperor, who had no interest in theology. The Nicene creed, still a staple of faith in many Christian churches, is the result of this council.
In 330 the temple on Vatican Hill, a center for Pagan worship of the goddess Cybele for hundreds of years, became the site of the St. Peter’s Basilica of Rome. The books of the biblical canon were chosen in 340, and Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine’s personal theologian and church historian, wrote a new history for the Christian empire. Although today scholars conclude that it is largely erroneous and full of propaganda, it was viewed as the definitive historical reference for well over a thousand years.
Constantine’s own mother traveled to the Holy Land and after three centuries, claimed to have found the actual cross used in the crucifixion. She founded the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on a plot of land that even Christian scholars believe could never have been the true site of the crucifixion, and Christian pilgrimages to the site have been made ever since.
Although Christians had found favor with the empire, it would be impossible for Pagan customs to continue alongside of Christianity because of the obvious roots they shared. Christians, with the power of the empire behind them, now had the means to eradicate Paganism and erase its own embarrassing history.
Between 375 and 383 Emperor Gratian confiscated temples and abolished privileges for heathen priests. In 380 Christianity was declared the official religion of the empire by Emperor Theodosius I, who forbid heathen religious observances from 379 to 395. By 435, Theodosius II commanded that all temples be destroyed or turned into churches. Emperor Justinian prohibited heathenism on pain of death, and abolished the 900 year old school of Athens in 529. The ancient temple of Alexandria, with the world’s largest collection of academic books and scrolls, was burned to the ground during this period.
Christian similarities to Greek philosophy and Pagan mystery texts were obscured when the gospels were translated into Latin by St. Jerome. Between 340 and 420, the Latin Vulgate Bible became the standard Western Christian Bible. The translator, despite his reputation as hot-tempered and quarrelsome, was made a saint.
Christianity was steered further towards its present state by a young bishop named Augustine. Unable to read Greek, he relied only on Jerome’s Latin translation which did not express the original spirituality found in the Greek version. Augustine made a radical departure from previous Christian doctrine. While the church had always taught that each person was completely free to heed the call of God, Augustine claimed that, through the original sin of Adam, we were born sinners.
Sin was no longer an action that stirred the lake of the soul, but a birth defect, which we had no way of repairing. No one was capable of redeeming themselves, or of even choosing to break with sin. Humanity was irreparably humbled in sin, and it was only through God’s actions that we were saved. Augustine was made a saint on the basis of this theological twist, even though late in his life, Augustine denounced his earlier writings, which he admitted were mistaken.
Various interpretations of Christianity were no longer acceptable. If Christ was historical, and had really given a specific message to his apostles, then there must be only one version of it. All Christian churches were ordered to bow their heads to the authority of Rome, or be cast out of the fold, and in this way only the orthodox version of events was passed down.
After 2,000 years, in a time of unparalleled technological and scientific advancement, when research has questioned the historical Jesus and logic conflicts with central tenets of Christian belief, the passion of Christ is still considered a historical fact by Christians and non-believers alike. Those who keep the faith continue to cling desperately to the historicity of Jesus rather than explore and fulfill his spiritual message.
In Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, we see the same story repeated, full of human emotion, gore, grief, and touching kindnesses between strangers. Subtly reasserting the message of Christ’s historicity are objects which will later become prize relics in Cathedrals throughout Europe; the cloth that caught an imprint of his face, the thorned crown and the nails, laid out and ready to be enshrined.
This really happened, the story says, and there is a surplus of evidence to prove it. The bloody mess of Jesus is triumphantly raised to life in the body, still bearing his wounds from the crucifixion, continually ignoring the obvious disadvantages of spending eternity in our physical bodies.
Like the early communities who strayed from Paul’s teachings, Christians today claim that Jesus was a real historical man, who urged us to share his message and spread the good news. They are also wary of any investigation, whether rational or scientific, which may conflict with their beliefs. Finding solidarity with one another against those mysterious forces of evil who are seeking to disrupt, they inspire each other to keep believing, despite the criticism, despite the questions, despite reason.
Many Christians are also waiting, some a little too eagerly, for the end of the world. They are excited to receive their rewards, to be greeted by Jesus at the final judgment; excited to be proved right after all these years. Although Jesus says many times in the Bible that the kingdom of God is within them now, and not somewhere in the future, they rely on another passage, which reads, “I will be with you until the end of the age.”
Usually assumed to mean that Jesus will be present until the end of time, the word age was an astrological concept that corresponded to one zodiac rotation caused by the precession of the equinoxes. 4,000 years ago Mithras conquered the age of Taurus by slaying a bull, initiating the age of Aries. 2,000 years ago Jesus slaughtered a lamb, and begun the age of Pisces. The sun continues burn, and the earth continues its annual orbit. For 2,000 years, the myth of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, crucified for the sins of the world, has been mistakenly viewed as a historical figure.
Maybe after all this time, we can finally remove the training wheels and appreciate the spiritual meaning of the Christian myth. Maybe we can move from milk to solid food. However, if we are going to start the story all over again, it is time to take down the lamb from the cross. The age of Pisces is ending. This time, we need to crucify a fish.
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
Some people may feel, after finishing these articles, that I haven’t proved my point at all. Just because Christianity borrowed some ideas from the Pagans doesn’t prove that Jesus didn’t exist. After all, it’s only natural that after a community’s founder has passed on, it will continue to grow and expand, borrowing things from other traditions. That doesn’t mean that Jesus couldn’t still have been a real man.
I’ve had some Christian friends say, “I know that December 25th isn’t really Jesus’ birthday, and I understand that Christians chose that date because it was important to the Pagans, but that doesn’t change my belief that Jesus was historical. Why can’t a Christian have this information and continue to be a Christian?”
Well, first of all, they can! There is nothing at all wrong with Christianity. It is a fine spiritual tradition, full of wisdom and good advice. Jesus Christ is also a great moral example. However, if we want to continue believing in a historical Jesus, we need to recognize that some of the defining characteristics of Christianity did not originate with him.
Most people can agree that December 25th wasn’t Jesus’ real birthday, so let’s give up that idea. We’ll say that it isn’t important to the Christian message. But what about all the other things Jesus shared with the Pagans? How about the Virgin Birth? A lot of Pagan gods were born of a virgin, so we’ll have to give that up, too.
The tough question is, where do we stop? Pagan gods also had a death and resurrection. Many were crucified, all of them were sons of God and saviors. They redeemed their followers through a great sacrifice. The cross was already a sacred symbol, and many mystery religions even practiced Baptism, Confirmation, and the other sacraments. Can we take those things away from Christian faith without influencing it? How far can we go without stripping Christianity of all of its meaning and spiritual value?
The purpose of this website has been to show that the Jesus we all know and love, the one we learned about in Sunday School, the one who performed miracles, raised the dead, died for our sins, and is seated at the right hand of the father, never walked on earth as a physical human being. Although this may still seem like a controversial assertion, it doesn’t necessarily undermine the valuable spiritual tradition which records the stories of Jesus Christ.
It’s true, I can’t prove that there wasn’t some historical man that acted as a nucleus for the beginning of Christianity. But if there was, he did very little to inspire anyone, his disciples forgot about him, he said nothing new or original, and his promises of salvation were vague echoes of earlier traditions. Shepherds didn’t follow a star to his birth in a manger, he didn’t walk on water, feed the 5,000, raise the dead or turn water into wine. He wasn’t the Son of God, he wasn’t crucified or resurrected from the dead, and his name definitely wasn’t Jesus Christ.
If affirming Christ’s historicity makes us focus on his physical shell and give up all of the principles and values of Christian faith, how can this concept of Jesus still be important to us? At the end of this line of investigation, the emphasis lies with faith in a reality that can’t possibly be true, which cannot help but clash violently with all progressive and free-thinking societies.
On the other hand, by accepting and appreciating Jesus Christ’s mythological legacy, very little about Christianity has to change. Jesus is still the Son of God, the Savior, who was crucified (symbolically, at the beginning of time), for the removal of our sins (to remove our separation from God, by giving us the light of wisdom, Sophia). All the motifs of Christianity remain unchanged, as does Christ’s spiritual significance, importance, and active role as an ever-present moral guide.
Jesus Christ does save; he is our higher selves, our voice of reason and guidance, our intuition and goodness. He is what separates us from animals and what drives us to become better people. He has many names, and the expressions of his faith are as diverse as all the world’s many distinct cultures.
Regardless of personal opinions about this controversial subject, this much is true: we are on a threshold of a very great change in human spirituality. We can either continue to view Jesus as a real person and remove the body of mythological literature from our ideas about him, or we can relinquish his physical reality and keep his transcendent, omnipresent, spiritual influence.
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!
Please check back as we are constantly updating our site with new evidence for the mythical Christ!