'Mainstream' Religions - History, Theology and Texts

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Religions and Religious Texts Information
Hinduism
Judaism
Zoroastrianism
Jainism
Taoism
Buddhism
Hinduism
Judaism
Zoroastrianism
Christianity
     Old Testament
     Dead Sea Scrolls / Qumran Library
     Q
     Didache
     Codex Sinaiticus
     New Testament
     King James Bible
     Peshitta
     Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon
     Gospel of Mary / Berlin Gnostic Codex
     Nag Hammadi Library
     The role of Mary Magdalane
     Early Christianity: Sects, Non-Canonical Texts and Concepts of Jesus
     Christianisation
           Introduction
           Pagan Festivals
                 Christmas
                 Easter
                 The Birthday of John the Baptist
                 All Saint's Day
           Reinterpretation of Biblical Figures
           Christianisation of Rituals and Concepts from Other Religions
                 Introduction
                 Influence of Zoroastrianism?
                 Influence of Judaism and Mithraism
                 Influence of Hinduism
                 The Eucharist/Holy Communion and Neoplatonic Theurgy
                 Influence of Egyptian Mysticism
           Triquetra
           Fish Symbol
           Ouroboros
           Obelisk
           Cross
           Rod of Asclepius
           Amen
     Concept of The Trinity
     The Gospel of Barnabas and the Islamic view of Jesus
     Monotheism and Dualism
     Hesychasm and Theoria
     Concepts of the Devil, Fallen Angels & Hell
     The Afterlife
     Last Judgement
     Kingdom of God
     Original Sin
     Opposition to Human Sacrifices
     Parting of the Red Sea
     Genesis: Creationism and Evolution
     Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament and Antisemitism
     Conflict between Christian and Muslim nations
     The Protestant Reformation
     Christianity and Colonialism
Islam
Sikhism
Baha'i Faith

Last Updated: 22 October 2013

 
Religions and Religious Texts:

Below we examine some of the religions and philosophies discussed above in the rough Chronological order in which they were formed. These religions have been classified as 'monotheistic' which is in the broadest sense true, although not entirely. However, the terminology is used for convenience and to save screen space! This page clearly focusses on Christianity, and related philsophies and esoteric Christianity, and reflects my own exploration of the Christian experience.

This page is dedicated to Brad. Rest in peace, my brother.

 
Hinduism:

Hinduism is described on Wikipedia at the link below. It is thought be have originated somewhere between 3200 and 1500 BC. It is a polytheistic religion, introducing the concept of the Trinity, and reincarnation. Hinduism is extremely heterogenous as a religion, and is more a collection of many hundreds or thousands of religions. Brahman is the central deity of Hinduism who gave birth to all other gods. Hinduism shares the concept of reincarnation, but with the ultimate goal of reuniting with God, through achieving good karma in consecutive life spans.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism

There are four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They were no doubt a major influence the religions of Buddhism, Jainism (which appeared in the 9th Century BC), and Sikhism. These Vedas can be read on line at the link below.

www.sacred-texts.com/hin

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (birth name: Maruti Shivrampant Kambli) (April 17, 1897 Ð September 8, 1981) was an Indian spiritual teacher and philosopher of Advaita (Nondualism), and a Guru, belonging to the Ichegeri branch of the Navnath Sampradaya.

One of the 20th century's exponents of the school of Advaita Vedanta philosophy (nondualism), Sri Nisargadatta, with his direct and minimalistic explanation of non-dualism, is considered the most famous teacher of Advaita since Ramana Maharshi.'

In 1973, the publication of his most famous and widely-translated book, I Am That, an English translation of his talks in Marathi by Maurice Frydman, brought him worldwide recognition and followers.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisargadatta_Maharaj

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Judaism:

Judaism is described on Wikipedia at the link below. It was formed in roughly 2000 BC by the covenant between Abraham and God. It is one of three Abrahamic religions that regard Abraham as one of their prophets, the other two being Christianity and Islam. Discussion on the New Testament and Old Testament and how they related can be found in the section on Christianity below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism

http://whatjewsbelieve.org There are various texts in Judaism including the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament), Talmud and Mishna, Haggada, Kabbalah, Midrash and other works from the Middle Ages and also modern works. These texts can be read on line at the link below.

www.sacred-texts.com/jud/index.htm

The Hebrew Kabbalah is defined below. It is a series of books claimed to represent Jewish mysticism and esoteric knowledge about God not mentioned in the Tanakh or Old Testament. It is labelled dualistic by many critics because of its split between a good power and an evil power.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah

The earliest documents which are generally acknowledged as being Kabbalistic come from the 1st Century AD, but it is suspected that the Biblical phenomenon of prophecy may have been grounded in a much older oral tradition which was a precursor to the earliest recognisable forms of Kabbalah. Some believe the tradition goes back as far as Melchizedek. There are moderately plausible arguments that Pythagoras received his learning from Hebrew sources. There is a substantial literature of Jewish mysticism dating from the period 100AD - 1000AD which is not strictly Kabbalistic in the modern sense, but which was available as source material to medieval Kabbalists. On the basis of a detailed examination of texts, and a study of the development of a specialist vocabulary and a distinct body of ideas, Scholem has concluded that the origins of Kabbalah can be traced to 12th. century Provence. The origin of the word "Kabbalah" as a label for a tradition which is definitely recognisable as Kabbalah is attributed to Isaac the Blind (c. 1160-1236 C.E.), who is also credited with being the originator of the idea of sephirothic emanation. Prior to this (and after) a wide variety of terms were used for those who studied the tradition: "masters of mystery", "men of belief", "masters of knowledge", "those who know", "those who know grace", "children of faith", "children of the king's palace", "those who know wisdom", "those who reap the field", "those who have entered and left". Jews often state the Kabbalah is the secret knowledge given by God to Adam and to Moses, which was 'secretly' encoded in the Old Testament (Tanakh) - hints at mysticism - but which was explicitly recorded in Kabbalistic texts much later.

Many Christians regard the Kabbalah as a series of occult and spiritualist texts, the knowledge received in visions whilst in a 'trance'. It has been linked to Hermeticism and the Hermetic Qabalah (a Western European Hermetic 'religion' largely based on the Jewish Kabbalah), the magical/occult tradition, and in particular made up a major part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn theology and practice. Some may argue that this is not the fault of the Kabbalah if it is adopted by occultists, however one could argue that for it to be used in this manner there must be some underlying Hermetic magical quality to it. The Kabbalah was adopted in certain Christian circles starting from the 13th Century onwards, there known as Christian Kabbalah or Cabbalah, and was as stated was later adopted by the Rosicrucians, Freemasons and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (as the Hermetic Qabalah).

http://www.exorthodoxforchrist.com/kabblah_cabala.htm

www.kheper.net/topics/Kabbalah/JudaicKabbalah.htm

www.webcom.com/gnosis/jskabb1.htm

www.kheper.net/topics/Hermeticism/GoldenDawn.htm

www.kheper.net/topics/Kabbalah/ChristianKabbalah.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermetic_Qabalah

http://www.kheper.net/topics/Hermeticism/Qabalah.htm

The Kabbalah is explained and defended by a Jew at the link below.

www.jewfaq.org/kabbalah.htm

A look at Kashrut or Jewish law regarding dietary practices, and Kosher food, can be found at the links below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher_foods

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/kashrut

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Zoroastrianism:

Zoroastrianism was formed somewhere between 1200 and 1500 BC by the prophet Zoroaster in the area of Afghanistan and Iran. In the first and second centuries BC, Zoroastrianism was linked with Gnosticism although it predates this movement by well over 1000 years. More information can be found on the on Gnosticism page. When trying to understand Zoroastrianism, it is best to do so from a Zoroastrian perspective, rather than a Gnostic perspective, as Gnosticism has reinterpreted Zoroastrianism to an extent.

Fravashi (guardian spirit) of Faravahar (or Ferohar), one of the primary symbols of Zoroastrianism, is shown above.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism

www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/history/zoroaster_1.shtml

http://tenets.zoroastrianism.com

www.wisegeek.com/what-is-zoroastrianism.htm

The Avesta is the primary collection of texts of Zoroastrianism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avesta

The Avesta texts can be read on line at the link below.

www.avesta.org

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Jainism:

The Jains follow the teachings of the 24 special Jinas (conquerors) who are known as Tirthankars (ford builders). The 24th Tirthankar, Lord Mahavira lived in ca. 6th century BC. One of the main characteristics of Jain belief is the emphasis on the immediate consequences of one's physical and mental behavior. Parshvanatha was the twenty-third Tirthankara (ford maker) in Jainism and is the earliest Jain leader that can be reliably dated. According to scholars he probably flourished in 9th Century BC. Jainism is a polytheistic religion that uses the concept of reincarnation. It shares Hinduism's belief in reincarnation but regards all life as sacred, from small insects upwards, as they are all incarnations of life and the soul may go from one form to another; all being equally deserving of life. Jainism preaches pacifism, but there is more emphasis on this than say Christianity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism

The Jainist Sutras can be read on line at the link below.

www.sacred-texts.com/jai/index.htm

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Taoism:

Taoism is described on Wikipedia at the link below and also on the Taoism.net web site. Taoism teachings were formed from the 6th to 3rd Centuries BC. Lao-Tze is the founder of Taoism and wrote the pivotal book Te Tao Ching. Taoism could be perhaps regarded as a pantheistic religion or philosophy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism

www.taoism.net/enter.htm

An on line translation of the Te Tao Ching can be found at the link below.

www.religiousworlds.com/taoism/ttcstan3.html

Sun Tzu's Art of War is regarded as being a classic Taoist influenced book on the art of wisdom in combat and warfare. It can be read on line at the link below.

www.online-literature.com/suntzu/artofwar

Taoism has been linked to Confucianism, however there are significant differences, and Taoism was in a sense in opposition to Confucianism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius

www.sacred-texts.com/cfu/index.htm

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Buddhism:

Buddhism is described on Wikipedia at the link below. Buddhism was founded in the 4th or 5th Century BC in India. Buddhism uses the concept of rebirth and the withdraw from earthly existence and its pleasures and pain, to ascend to a state of Nirvana.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism

http://www.aboutbuddhism.org

A resource for on line ancient and modern Buddhist texts is listed below.

www.sacred-texts.com/bud

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Christianity:

Various Biblical and non-canonical Christian texts are examined below. This section reflects a general exploration of my (previous?) Christian faith. I have endeavoured to examine some of the more debated issues about Christianity and theological and canonical issues and problems, and to look at them from both sides, for the benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike. The purpose of all the questions raised in the text of this section is really to probe the reader into asking questions about what one actually believes in and considering the meaning of what one believes, and to explore Christianity from all possible angles. It is not necessarily intended to direct the reader to certain specific beliefs, to 'attack' Christianity, but to adopt an open mind and consider various alternative interpretations. The reader does not necessarily have to accept any or all of these premises. I have adopted the philosophy that by being honest about the history of one's religion and also by examining its origins and inconsistencies, one can try to explore what constitutes spiritual truth and what a faith is/was really about; and be certain about those areas one can be certain about, and keep an open mind (relatively speaking) about those areas that one cannot. I do not view inconsistencies within the theology or religious texts of a Religion or known historical wrongdoings as a reason to necessarily dismiss the faith behind a religion. One's approach does not have to be all or nothing.

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Old Testament:

The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible (aka Tanakh) was written and compiled between the 12th and 2nd Century BC.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Testament

The Masoretic Text (MT) is the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh). It defines not just the books of the Jewish canon, but also the precise letter-text of the biblical books in Judaism, as well as their vocalization and accentuation for both public reading and private study. The MT is also widely used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, and in recent decades also for Catholic Bibles. The MT was primarily copied, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the seventh and tenth centuries CE.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masoretic_Text

The Septuagint (aka LXX) is the Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translated in stages between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC in Alexandria. The Septuagint also includes some books not found in the Hebrew Bible.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint

Many people believe that the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), known as the Pentateuch, were actually written by Moses in Sinai desert around 1000 BC. The Pentateuch are sacred books to Jews, Christians and Muslims. However, it would appear according to archaelogical evidence and from early manuscripts, that the first 5 books were most likely written in 800 BC. If so, then they were probably written by intellectuals and theologians of the time. There were 4 different versions of each of the 5 books, each with slightly different interpretations. The theory goes that the four versions of each book were combined, even though they didn't fully agree, into one single version.

The Pentateuch was influenced by the King Hezekiah of Judah, who ruled a country containing different branches of monotheism. He no doubt wished to unite the people, to worship only at the temple, and to create a single Jewish religion. The victory of Jerusalem over the Assyrians was apparently due to the Jews paying off the Assyrians who were on the verge of conquering Judah. The Bible records it as a great victory. Perhaps the Biblical account contains a little 'spin'. Politics has always played a major part in religion. According to Dr Robert Beckford, King Hezekiel was murdered by another King who he met with, rather than dying of disease.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezekiah

www.varchive.org/tac/hezekiah.htm

www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/C/can_you_believe_it/debates/bible.html

The exodus of the Jews from Egypt is not supported by historical and archaelogical facts. This is however not to say that it did not occur in some form.

Other books were added to the Tanakh (Old Testament) and perhaps written to give the Jews hope and pride in difficult times. It was really only when the book of Isaiah was written that the Old Testament became not just a 'Jewish' book but a book for all nations, and prophesied for the first time the coming of a new King of Israel, who would be a King for all nations. There was perhaps some spin here too, but that is not to say that any of these books weren't written with people inspired by God and with revelations from God.

Prior to the religion of Abraham, Jewish religion had arguably been about being dependent on external forces or deities for own's survival, whereas Judaism brought with it a sense of personal responsibility, in the sense that one was responsible for one's own destiny, guided by whether one sinned or not. Archeological evidence suggests that Judaism was not as widely practiced amongst the Jewish people as we once believed. It does not appear to have been widely taken up until around 500 B.C., pagan religions instead being practised by the majority of Jews up until this point. It is not until the exile in Babylon, many Jews converted to Babylonian paganisn. However the idea of the Jewish people being God's chosen people started to became popular, as it gave them hope, and their situation confirmed the concept of sin, that they had not embraced God's message and were being punished for their sins. Thus, rather than give up Judaism in adversity, it took hold stronger than before. It is in exile that the Jewish unifying and arguably Nationalist monotheistic religion was born and was to influence the majority of the people on the planet in one form or other.

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Dea Sea Scrolls (aka Qumran Library):

The Dea Sea Scrolls were discovered in 11 different caves in the area of the ruins of Qumran at the northern part of the Dea Sea (in Israel), between 1947 and 1956. The documents have been dated to between the 2nd Century BC and the 1st Century AD. The Scrolls so far discovered represent a library of 900+ documents, making up as many as 350 separate works in multiple copies, many of which are represented only by fragments. Cave 4 alone contained 520 texts in 15,000 fragments. When they were first discovered and studied, many fragments were incorrectly matched up, and modern imaging technology will no doubt help the correct matching of fragments in the present and future. The Dea Sea Scrolls were hidden by the Essenes probably in the 4th Century before they were defeated by the Romans. The Essenes were an ascetic, mystical Jewish Sect that predated Christ. Contrary to popular opinion, Judaism was not as homogeneous as some imagine, with a number of different Sects. The Dea Sea Scrolls consisted of a number of copies of books from the Old Testament and alternative versions. It is likely that the books found in the Old Testament are based on combining a number of older historical versions written by different authors. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) also contain a number of other non-canonical writings. Translations of parts of the DSS can be found at the Gnosis web site below.

www.religiousstudies.uncc.edu/jdtabor/dssfacts.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls

www.webcom.com/gnosis/library/scroll.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essenes

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Q:

Jesus life and teachings were communicated verbally in the 20 years or so after his death. Christianity at that time was very much an oral tradition. It was only as the Apostles began to die that gradually religious books began to appear. The first Christian text is reputed to be called 'Q' which the NT synoptic gospel writers (of the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke) allegedly based their writings upon. John's Gospel was written slightly later and is considered to be 'slightly Gnostic' by some in that it contains certain Gnostic elements, although clearly not the Gnostic cosmology.

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/q.html

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Didache:

The earliest non-canonical Christian texts which still exists today is viewed to be the Didache. The Didache was discovered first in 1056, and again in 1873. It is believed to have been written either in the 2nd or 3rd Century AD. A translation can be found at the first of the two links below.

http://reluctant-messenger.com/didache.htm

www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didache

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Codex Sinaiticus:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Sinaiticus

The Codex Sinaiticus is a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Greek Bible which was written between 330 and 350 AD. It originally contained both the OT and NTs but only parts of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) survive, along with a complete NT, the Epistle of Barnabas, and parts of The Shepherd of Hermas - the implication being that the latter two books may have been considered Biblical canon by the editors of the codex. It is the only uncial manuscript with the complete NT text.

Hoskier counted 3036 differences between the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, but apart from these differences, they are in general agreement with one another:

- Matthew: 656
- Mark: 567
- Luke: 791
- John: 1022
Together: 3036.

The following books of the Old Testament have some verses missing:

- Genesis: 23:19 - 24:46
- Numbers: 5:26 - 7:20
- 1 Chronicles 9:27 - 19:17
- Ezra-Nehemiah (from Esdras 9, 9).

Text New Testament omitted several passages:

- Matthew: 12:47, 16:2-3
- Mark 16:8-20
- Luke 22:43-44 marked by the first corrector as doubtful, but a third corrector removed that mark.
- John 5:4, John 7:53-8:11 (Pericope adulterae), and John 21:25
- Romans doxology followed after 16:23, v. 24 omitted.

As can be read from Mark, the omission of verses 8 to 20 from chapter 16, removes all of the post-resurrection narrative, after Jesus meets the disciples in the garden outside the tomb.

www.codex-sinaiticus.net/en

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080721/lf_nm_life/bible_internet_dc

The Codex Sinaiticus Project - an international collaboration between the British Library, National Library of Russia, St Catherine's Monastery and Leipsig University Library - with the goal of reuniting the entire manuscript in digital format. The current books united within the scope of the project to date are listed at the link below. Translations are being made and may not be available at the time of writing this. It is however possible to view the actual Greek scrolls.

www.codex-sinaiticus.net/en/project/webcontents.aspx

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New Testament:

Many people also believe that the Canonical Gospels of the New Testament were written 40 years or so after Christ died by the disciples and close brothers of the disciples.

The four canonical gospels were written to different audiences. They are four different views of Jesus. There are facts and sayings missing from some that are mentioned in others. Their focus and 'purpose' is different, not that there should really be an agenda with a gospel.

Each gospel is by no means a complete record of the life, actions and sayings of Jesus. For example, Luke 2:1-20 tells the story of a group of shepherds that after having been visited by an Angel of the Lord, went to look for Jesus who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The 'babe' had been recently born. There was no room at the inn in Bethlehem, so one can assume this took place in or immediately outside Bethlehem. It is not specified where the manger was, and in what type of building. Matthew 2:1-14 examines the story of the visit of the 'wise men' (not Kings), who followed the star to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. They visited the 'young child' of Jesus in a 'house'. It is not stated how old Jesus was at this time. The wise men 'stood over' him. Now some consider these two accounts contradictory. However, the way most people interpret the accounts is that Jesus was visited by shepherds in or around Bethlehem when newly born. Mary and Joseph then settled down in Bethlehem, after the census had taken place (we assume). When the child was very young, perhaps a few years old or so (we assume), he was visited by the three wise men. After this, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with Jesus to escape Herod's men. These accounts are not inconsistent but require a little extrapolation. It is odd that Luke and Matthew do not both mention these two events.

It could be argued that other, non-canonical gospels also contain facts about the sayings or actions of Jesus, such as the Gospel of Thomas (from the Nag Hammadi library). However, this is difficult to prove, but it is not inconceivable. This is discussed elsewhere.

In only small respects is there any discrepency between them however (e.g. the events following Jesus' resurrection). The fact that the gospels don't completely fit together is not really the point. They were books written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, but obviously who being flesh had views, interpretations and had a point to get across. That doesn't mean that they are not true of course. To take all these books, and the old testament books as literal historical facts might be considered unwise by some. Large parts are historical facts, but they are not all totally historically correct according to historical records and archeological evidence. The spirit and religious teachings could be considered to be what the Bible is really about. To dismiss the Bible because of any historical inaccuracy would be foolish and missing the point.

The Canonical Gospels could today be integrated into one 'super' gospel (which wouldn't be that hard to do - which is something that happened with the early Aramaic Peshitta Bible). For historical reasons, this will probably not be done in any formal capacity. They were included as four separate gospels to try to make the Bible as universally acceptable as possible, back in the fourth century AD.

Some scholars argue that there has been a degree of amalgamation of different versions of each of the four gospel books which may have been circulating during the fourth century, as well as a little creative editing, to tailor the books to their target audience and to emphasise certain aspects of Jesus background or life. For example, the birth of Jesus in the current city known as Bethlehem may not actually be correct, and his real birthplace may well be further north. However, Jesus had to be shown to be born in the City of David, with the connection to David being emphasised. Unfortunately we may never know as part of the ruins of the village in question has been asphalted over by a main road!

www.archaeology.org/0511/abstracts/jesus.html

www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm

It is postulated that Luke's account of the census being the reason for the pregnant Mary to have come to Bethlehem as being incorrect, examining the writings of contemporary Jewish Historian Josephus, who recorded the activities of Herod in great detail, but never once mentioned an empire-wide census.

www.ankerberg.com/Articles/editors-choice/EC1205W3C.htm

The Roman Emperor Constantine came up with the first formal Bible in 310 AD - Codex Vaticanus. Those books that we now know as the New Testament were formalised and agreed by the Catholic Church, in the Codex Vaticanus, to provide a unity and consistency as to what Christians should actually be reading (or rather be read in churches, as the public distribution of Bibles in people's own language would not occur for 500-1000 years later!) It is likely that those books that emphasized certain aspects of Jesus' nature were included, perhaps John being included as a compromise in some capacity (containing certain gnostic concepts but not the gnostic cosmology). The formation of the 'Bible' is discussed in the section below on Early Christianity.

Obviously there was much debate over what stayed in and what went out, and it is likely that books were removed or omitted that had fallen in disuse by early Christians, that has been written relatively late in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, that didn't quite meet with full agreement and which didn't fit the politics of the early Church.

The Jerome Bible could be perhaps considered a somewhat dubious translation of Greek into Latin. It was the first Latin Vulgate Bible available in Western Europe and was an important version in Western Christianity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome

The Bible was kept in Hebrew, Greek and Latin only until around 1500, and was generally read and translated to Church congregations. No Bibles in other languages were available and Christians in general did not have Bibles to refer to or to study. They had to rely on the interpretation of the Bible versions from Church. The Churches of Western Europe were keen to keep hold of the Bible and thus retain a degree of monopoly and also control over their congregations.

In 1370 in England, John Wycliffe translated the Jerome Bible into English. The Wycliffe Bible was the first English Bible and it was actually illegal! Wycliffe was an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 14th Century and was a precursor to the Protestant Reformation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_wycliffe

Tindal, translated the original Greek and Hebrew Manuscripts into English in the early 1500s.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Tindal

The history of the Bible was discussed in a documentary by Dr Robert Beckford.

www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/C/can_you_believe_it/debates/bible.html

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Authorised Version of the Bible:

Tindal's English version of the Bible was used by King James in 1604, who wanted to unite the Country and also have his own Bible separate from the Catholic Church. So he took this last translation, took a big team of English Biblical scholars encompassing all the different camps, and came up with an amalgamation. The resulting King James Version, a.k.a. KVJ, Authorised Version (AV), was finalised in 1611. It was 85% Tindal.

King James was himself a Freemason. Please see the links below for more information. Please see also the page on Freemasonry in the Religion - Other section.

www.moriel.org/articles/discernment/ruckmanism/king_james_founder_freemason_lodges.htm

The KJV Bible was unchanged until about 1900 when various newer English Bibles were produced.

The AV Bible with Apocrypha can be read for free at the link below.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/kjv.browse.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Version

The Authorised Version of the Bible issued by King James in 1611 did include the Apocrypha and it was the formal Bible for use in Protestant England! It was widely adopted by both Protestants and Catholics alike. The 1611 AV Bible was originally issued including the Apocrypha (aka The Maccabees Bible), which were deemed to be non-essential but still spiritually inspired books to be included in this Bible.

The Bible has been translated into a number of different versions since the 1611 Bible, e.g. New American Standard Version, New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and Good News Bible are amongst the most popular. The New King James Bible is a version of the King James Bible translation reputed using more modern English. There are various arguments for and against this version as it makes rather unusual changes. My personal opinion is that if you want to read the KJV, then read the KJV and not the NKJV. If you want to read a modern Bible, then read a modern Bible. Please see the section below on Christianisation for more information.

The KJV Bible is now to be retranslated by a group of Vatican approved scholars, incorporating certain elements of the 'Dea Sea Scrolls'. These are literally only certain passages from the books written/stored by the Essenes, one of many Jewish Sects around before the birth of Christ. The Dea Sea Scrolls of course are different versions of books belonging to the Old Testament, and were written at a time of the Roman occupation of Judea. They do not affect the New Testament, which is probably the main area of contemporary debate. They certainly would never include the Nag Hammadi Library, which is reflective of the Gnostic tradition, and mainly concern the events of the New Testament and include completely new gospels and Codexes describing the Gnostic Cosmology, which the Catholic Church, or indeed most other churches, would never accept. It is perhaps ironic that the KJV is now to be re-written by Catholics, whereas in 1611 it's construction was instigated by Protestants. A certain number of Freemasons were involved in the writing of the 1611 Bible, so it will be interesting to see if any Freemasons will again be involved in the re-translation of the KJV. Hopefully it will not make the same 'errors (of judgement)' that the NKJV made.

www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/11/books.humanities

I am not knowledgeable enough about the Essenes to ascertain what the general view is amongst Christians. They appear to have displayed some elements of Christianity and ascetism even before the birth of Christ. What influence they actually had on Christianity is hard to determine.

It should be noted that some contemporary scholars consider the Apocrypha (the 'optional books' in some editions of the KJV), those books most often used by Catholics than any other denomination, to reflect the more 'warrior' side of Judaism and Christianity, and these books were used/included by those that wanted to emphasise the dominance side of Christianity. I do not have an opinion about this at this stage. Perhaps this applies to some books of the Apocrypha, but certainly not all e.g. the tale of Daniel in the lion's den. Some of the Apocrypha books seem to me to be 'missing parts' of the Old Testament, whereas others do perhaps seem 'supplemental' in nature.

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Peshitta:

The Peshitta is the version of the Bible written in Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peshitta

The Peshitta Old Testament is the earliest piece of Syriac literature of any length, probably originating in the second century. Whereas the majority of the Early Church relied on the Greek Septuagint, or translations from it, for their Old Testament, the Syriac-speaking church had its text translated directly from the Hebrew text, similar to the proto-Masoretic texts. In some passages the translators have clearly used the Greek Septuagint. Supporters of the Peshitta OT argue that the Greek translation of the Hebrew is problematic in places.

The Peshitta New Testament is a reworking of Old Syriac texts (combined with some Western and some Byzantine renderings) to form a unified version of the scriptures for the Syriac-speaking churches, in the early 5th Century. It however does not include the books 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation. Almost all Syriac scholars agree that the Peshitta gospels are translations of the Greek originals. A minority viewpoint is that the Peshitta represent the original Aramaic New Testament (Aramaic being the actual language of Jesus and his disciples and the first Christian Churches in the East); the Greek New Testament being a translation of the 'original Aramaic NT'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramaic_primacy

The Peshitta, lightly revised and with missing books added, is the standard Syriac Bible for churches in the Syriac tradition: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Indian Orthodox Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Maronite Church, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Church, the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

There are a number of translations of the Peshitta into English, including the Younan Bible, Lamsa Bible, Murdock Bible, Etheridge Bible and Khabouris Codex.

www.aramaicpeshitta.com

The most complete of these versions is arguably The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts, aka the 'Lamsa' Bible, first issued in 1933. This was translated from the original Aramaic Peshitta by Dr George Lamsa. It is argued that this version of the Bible is truer to the original texts. The Lamsa Bible uses ancient Aramaic scrolls for its translation, but in places reverts to the King James Bible where translation becomes difficult. The main area of contension is in the dying words of Jesus, in Matthew 27:46, which the Lamsa Bible translates differently. KJV:"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" vs the Lamsa Bible: "My God, my God, for this I was spared!"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamsa_Bible

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_M._Lamsa

The Lamsa Bible can be read on line at the links below. The first link is the OT, the second being the NT.

www.aramaicpeshitta.com/OTtools/LamsaOT.htm

www.aramaicpeshitta.com/AramaicNTtools/dr_george_lamsa_bible.htm

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Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon:

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia, that was formerly part of the Coptic Orthodox church until 1959, which it was granted its own Patriarch. It is one of the few pre-colonial churches of Sub-Saharan Africa, and is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. It is thought to have been formed in 346 AD.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_church

www.ethiopiantreasures.toucansurf.com/pages/religion.htm

Some have observed that the Ethiopian Church is a shining example of Christianity working with the traditions of Judaism. The Ethiopian Church regards the Old Testament as as sacred as the New Testament, if not more so. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians observe many Jewish customs such as dietary customs and indeed circumcision, and some believe that Jewish practices and culture in the area predate Christ, which is not unfeasible or that unlikely given the history of the Jewish people. Perhaps the Jewish people should take note that it is possible to embrace both Judaism and Christianity together in a number of forms.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon contains a total of 81 books, including the books accepted by other Orthodox Christians.

- The Narrower Canon includes Enoch, Jubilees, and 3 books of the Meqabyan
- The Broader Canon includes all the Narrower Canon, plus 2 Books of the Covenant, four Books of Sinodos, A Book of Clement, and Didascalia.

www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/ethiopican.html

No one has printed the Broader Canon since the early 1900s. The Haile Selassie Version of the Bible, published in 1962, contains only the Narrower Canon.

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Gospel of Mary (Magdalene):

The Gospel of Mary was acquired by a German scholar in 1896 in Cairo, Egypt. It is known as the Berlin Gnostic Codex. It is written on a 5th Century papyrus but may have originally been written in the 2nd Century AD. It could be viewed as evidence of the Catholic Church suppressing the truth about the role of women in the early church, as evidence of the political struggle between recognition of the Apostles after the death of Christ, or alternatively as total rubbish and a fabrication (wishful thinking). Some regard it as a 'evidence' of Jesus having a relationship and children but this is pure speculation and has no basis in any historical evidence whatsoever.

www.webcom.com/gnosis/library/marygosp.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mary

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Nag Hammadi Library:

The Nag Hammadi Library was discovered at Nag Hammadi, which is close to the River Nile in Egypt, in 1945. Many of these were damaged in storage by white ants who ate parts of the scrolls, but all in all they have been preserved in remarkable condition considering the time elapsed. These scrolls date back roughly to 4th Century (at the time of writing of these copies), although the exact date of the writing of the original versions is a matter of debate and could be much earlier, for example the 2nd Century. They were written in Coptic and not Aramaic like the original synoptic gospels. A list of Codexes and scrolls of the NH library can be found at the Nag-Hammadi web site below. The translated versions of the Nag Hamadi library, can be found on the Gnosis.org web site below and on various other web sites.

The Nag Hamadi Library contains 'lost' gospels. Some argue that they are 'lost' and others that they were purposely excluded from the Biblical Canon because they deviated with the accepted view of Jesus and the Trinity in Christian tradition and existing texts of the time. Many of the Gnostic Codexes arrived much later than the synoptic gospels for example. Some of gospels, like The Gospel According to Thomas ('The Secret Sayings of Jesus'), contain minor Gnostic references and some Gnostic concepts and elements (more than in the Gospel of John in the Bible for example), but certainly not the whole gnostic cosmology. Whilst still contested, they are not considered as controversial as some of the others. An analysis of the Gnostic content and ideas in the Gospel of Thomas can be found in the Gnosticism section below. The Gospel According to Thomas is probably the most widely accepted scroll of the Nag Hammadi library and certainly the most complete, accessible and readable.

Other gospels of the Nag Hammadi library are more contentious and contain more controversial Gnostic elements, and more clearly contradict the teachings of the Bible. Some are clearly dualistic or even pagan in interpretation. Some, like the Gospel of Philip, focus more on Jesus' humanity and his relationship with Mary Magdalene, which contradicts the account in the Canonical Gospels - this is in a sense more controversial and political than those texts with a just few Gnostic Elements in them. This is discussed below.

The Nag Hammadi Library is clearly very diverse, and it is up to the individual as to which are given any credibility and which are to be ignored as just someone's opinion and idealised view of how they would like the teachings of Jesus to be (i.e. an excuse to promote the Gnostic message). The Nag Hammadi library has been adopted by Gnostics and Gnostic Christians, but also by many Christians who are not Gnostic Christians.

The Nag Hammadi library is defined and translated below.

www.nag-hammadi.com/manuscripts.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library

www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html

www.nag-hammadi.com

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Mary Magdalene:

Much has been said about Mary Magdalene by the Catholic Church and other churches over the last 2000 years. She is rumoured to have been a prostitute and immoral woman before meeting Jesus. This allegation was first made by Pope Gregory the 'Great' in 591 AD in a speech, and the association has stuck ever since. However, these rumours have no basis in historical fact or in Biblical evidence. A female prostitute is mentioned in the gospels but she is not identified as being Mary Magdalene. Indeed no mention of Mary Magdalene's past in mentioned in the gospels. Mary Magdalene was the disciple/follower of Jesus who first saw Jesus after the resurrection and clearly had a pivotal role in the four canonical gospels. She was a intelligent, level headed and independent woman of the day. It is likely that these rumours were spread initially by the Catholic church to reduce her importance in the Biblical story, perhaps to ensure male domination of the early church, and have stuck largely to this day. Was Mary Magdalene's role played down in the canonical gospels? Was she 'edited' down to give Jesus' story more credibility - female legal testimony of the day was not regarded as equally trustworthy as that of a male. Perhaps this had an influence in the canonical gospels. The Bible did not really offer much in the way of sexual equality and good, balanced role models for women, with specific exceptions. It was only in 1969 that the Catholic Church actually acknowledged that there was no Biblical basis for calling Mary Magdalene a prostitute and has acknowledged her role as an apostle to the apostles and canonised her as a Saint. However, the notion of MM being a adulterous woman has stuck in popular culture and films in the 1970s and to this day.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Magdalene

There is an inconsistency in the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verses 1 to 11.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=KjvJohn.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=20&division=div1

Mary Magdalene is identified as the person who first found Jesus' tomb open (verse 1). She ran to meet Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved (verse 2). Why does John refer to 'the disciple who Jesus loved' which is much more long winded than referring to his or her name? If John identifies a specific disciple as being more loved than the others, then why not name him or her? John does refer to the disciple that Jesus loved in the masculine gender (verse 5). John states that Simon Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved both ran to the tomb to investigate (verse 3). The two disciples then went away (verse 10). But then John refers to Mary Magdalene as being outside the tomb, weeping (verse 11). It is not very hard to mention that Mary Magdalene ran back to the tomb. Why the inconsistency? Is it a case of bad writing? Or a case of bad 'editing'? Was the disciple of Jesus loved in fact Mary Magdalene? And the attempt to separate out her role into two people confused by the 'editors'? Was the attempt to describe both 'Clark Kent' and 'Superman' being in the same place at the same time always going to be prone to confusion? Was the role of Mary Magdalene separated out into two characters to give the Biblical story maximum credibility and Jesus a more divine sounding nature? If Jesus did love Mary Magdalene more than the other disciples, then what kind of love was this? Brotherly/sisterly love? Or romantic love? Clearly evidence for the latter scenarios is speculation and not actually based on Biblical fact. You decide!

The Gospel of Philip contains a an incomplete verse (the last few words eaten by ants): 'Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her...' This verse has been 'completed' by certain translators and speculative people as to saying 'on her mouth' - as in the Gnostic Society Library translation. However this has just been made up. That this is evidence for Jesus marrying and having children with Mary Magdalene has no basis in historical evidence whatsoever and is pure speculation. Works on fiction such as the Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code extrapolate such theories even further with more fanciful fictional additions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Da_Vinci_Code

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priory_of_Sion

www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com/why-jews-should-worry-about-the-da-vinci-code.html

www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com/christian-analysis-of-da-vinci-code.html

The above is assuming that the Gospel of Philip itself is a valid and trustworthy text, which may not necessarily even be the case. Those that believe in the 'blood line of Christ' base their ideas upon dubious evidence such as the Da Vinci Code and false claims and falsified documents about the Merovingians (based on claims from one rather shifty and sleazy looking Walter-Mitty type that he was a surviving Merovingian, who later admitted it was all falsified). Of course, there is no record of what Jesus did before his ministry in his 20s and one could speculate anything, even if it totally goes against what he did in his ministry. However, using historical evidence, then one could assume that Jesus' brothers and sisters, who are mentioned in the New Testament in passing (i.e. the sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph), could well have been married and had children. These children would have had the bloodline of Mary (the mother of Jesus), which goes back to that of David, however this is not the same as having common ancestry with Jesus. At best they were 'half brothers'. It is no doubt possible that there are people alive today who are descended from Mary, but there was never anything supernatural about her DNA, and it is about as relevant as claiming ancestry to Ethiopians 20,000 years ago.

More 'evidence' to prove that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene is provided by the finding of the family tomb of a wealthy person called Jesus, outside Jerusalem, and not in Nazareth. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population had the name Jesus. The tomb is of a man called Jesus, son of Joseph and related to a woman called Mary in some capacity, with a brother called James. These were not uncommon names at the time. Mary could have been his sister rather than his wife. The Bible states that Jesus was not the son of Joseph but only the son of Mary. It was Jospeh's lineage to David that was seen as important even though he was not Jesus' father according to Matthew 1:16.

www.skeptics.ca/articles/eric-jesustomb/eric-jesustomb.html

www.progressiveu.org/160029-a-tale-of-two-or-eleven-ossuaries

Another version of Jesus is described on Jeff Rense's 'conspiracy theorist' web site below - that of Jesus as a magician. Many Hermeticists and perhaps some Fringe Gnostics may have regarded / may regard this as a likely picture of Jesus. The belief in the extent of Hermeticism in Jesus' philosophy/practices varies amongst such persons, from a little to total. Egypt did spend his early youth in Egypt, and it is not unfathomable to believe that he was at least familiar with early Egyptian Hermetic or even Gnostic teachings.

www.rense.com/general66/hide.htm

Some argue that most Jewish men were married at the time of Jesus, and also that all of Jesus' disciples were married (but which is not documented either in the Canonical Gospels; and that if Jesus was married, it probably would not have been written about in the Gospels anyway as it would not have been considered important to the 'narrative'; and that if he was married, he would have certainly had children; and that not all of disciples and followers believed he was equal to God, although the Canonical Gospels cite as many examples of instances where they do.

It should however be noted that there was significant number of Jews at the time of Jesus that chose celibacy for spiritual reasons. These include the Essenes, the Jews that are believe to have written and stored the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran, at the northern point of the Dead Sea. Some Gnostics believe that Jesus visited the Essenes and was inspired by their philosophy, which included a belief in a soon coming end time and ritual cleaning. One could also view the fact that some of Jesus teachings pointed to his bleief in representing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. One of his teachings was to disregard the family. In the New Testmanet : Matthew 19:29:
"And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."

Matthew 22:23-30:
[23]The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,
[24] Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
[25] Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
[26] Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
[27] And last of all the woman died also.
[28] Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
[29] Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
[30] For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.


A major conceptual problem for those that theorise about Jesus' alleged physical relationships and his alleged children, is that they largely draw upon Gnostic gospels as opposed to the New Testament. The argument is that Jesus was more 'man' than 'God', or that his 'manliness' was the entirety of the male experience, with all its desires, lusts and longings. These people (on the whole) believe that Jesus was not crucified, but had one or more children. However, the problem here is that Gnosticism (the philosophy behind the Gnostic Gospels) holds that Jesus was not a man at all, but an Aeon, a spiritual essence, imitating human form. Gnosticism holds that Jesus was not crucified but that his spiritual essence simply reunited with God, and that his crucifixion was a myth. So those that believe in his physical form are relying on texts that suggest he was not physical at all. It would be wise to consider these facts, and the cosmology of the Gnostic Gospels, before using any one Codex or archeological find as 'evidence', but try to find a consistent story or thread. The Gnostic Gospels are rather varied in the picture they paint and information/teachings/narrative they impart, so if one is to use certain specific Gnostic Gospels as evidence, then one must have good reason to believe that these are true and reliable, and that others are not reliable, true or relevant; rather than just pick the few Gnostic Gospels that suit one's argument, and ignore the others.

The question of who Jesus was in a complex one. And the question of what he taught is another. Ultimately, our view of who or what God is and what he represents actually defines for us who Jesus was and what he was about. If we start at the top and work down, everything should hopefully be clearer. If we are uncertain about who God is, if he represents a monotheistic God, Jehovah, a panentheistic God, or a pantheist monist ideal or essence, like the Gnostic Monad, and if the latter, in what context and what this actually means, then we are unlikely to have any idea who Jesus was either.

There is clearly a trend in post-modern and post-enlightenment society to increasingly distrust authority, the authorites and establishment's account of 'truth', and to believe in 'pseudo-science' and to question any established religious doctrine and theology. To the point where a 'conspiracy theory' or version of events is automatically given more credence than an official version! This applies to Christianity too, and the example of The Da Vinci Code proves this point. People are more likely to believe unsubstantiated allegations and theories, and fiction, than actual historical documentation, because it is the sort of thing they would like to believe.

There is perhaps a tendency to view the Gnostic Gospels in this manner, with rose tinted spectacles, and to interpret them in the way we would like the theology to be, and to interpret the role of women in the early Church in a way that we'd like it to be. However, we should try to stick to the actual documents themselves and not wildly speculate too much. Whether the Gnostic Gospels are pure fiction anyway is another question entirely! If we are to look specifically at the role of women in the early Church, then there are not really specific positive statements about the role of women made in the Gnostic Gospels in general.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned specifically in a number of the Gnostic Gospels, and the exact relationship between Jesus and Mary is not explicit or clear. However, if one was to wildly extrapolate from the Gnostic Gospels, and assume that she was Jesus' lover, 'bitch' or 'bit on the side', it does not really tell us anything positive necessarily about women in general in early Christianity. One can draw one's own conclusions about how the references to Mary Magdalene relate to women in general in Gnosticism and the Early Church, but the physical evidence is not there. It all comes down to speculation at the end of the day, and theories. And personal opinion. But you can't really prove anything, either way!

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Early Christianity: Non-Canonical Texts, Cults and Concepts of Jesus:

Please note that the Berlin Gnostic Codex, the Qumran Library, the Nag Hammadi Library and other 'gnostic' texts are often all referred to as the Dea Sea Scrolls, although this may cause more confusion than anything else as the history and origin of these different texts is very different.

It is important to try to understand the Dea Sea Scrolls and other non-canonical texts in proper historical perspective in as much as is possible. The books of the New Testament were allegedly written in the middle and end of the first century AD, in many cases after the apostles had since passed away. Some date the books to the second century. The canonical gospels are traditionally ascribed to being written by the actual apostles themselves, although there is little historical data to support this, and they were perhaps more likely to have been written by others. They were originally circulated anonymously.

In the 300 years or so after Jesus' death, the concepts of early Christianity were far from widely accepted by Christians, and there were a large number of Christian books in circulation. There are considerable debate about the nature of Jesus, and the nature of the trinity, and whether Jesus was solely God, solely man or somewhere in between. And in the latter cases, there was considerable debate as to how much man and how much God! This related to the concept of the trinity and its exact nature - clearly a complex concept when one delves into details. Some theories were more leftfield and had radically different concepts of the trinity and even of multiple Gods (Jewish God and Jesus)! The vast majority of Christian sects however viewed the OT as sacred, Jesus having been a Jew and observed most but not all Jewish religious practices. For some philosophers of the time, the extent of separation of Christianity from Judaism was a matter of debate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christianity

Perhaps an indication of the confusion that arose is documented in the canonical gospels, where the disciples sometimes refer to Jesus as teacher or Rabbi, and at other times Lord. These are very different roles. One would think it disrespectful surely to refer to the Son of God as just teacher or Rabbi? Perhaps Jesus only really portrayed himself as a Rabbi. There are some odd passages in the New Testament in this respect. Some passages refer to Jesus both as Rabbi and the Son of God. Others do not.

In John 3:2 (KJV): 'The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.'

Is God with him (i.e. an enlightened prophet or teacher) or is he God? The verse above implies the former.

Luke 18: 18-19 (KJV) states:

18: And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19: And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.


Is Jesus implying that he is not God?

In addition, later in this chapter of Luke, Jesus implies that giving one's wealth to the poor (in addition to following the Scriptures) is enough to receive 'treasure in heaven' and eternal life.

20: Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
21: And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22: Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.


Jesus adds at the end 'and come follow me'. Is this then necessary for the ruler to have eternal life and treasure in heaven? Or is the following Jesus necessary as well? And when Jesus says 'follow me', does he just mean follow him or does it mean that the ruler had to accept Jesus as God rather than just a teacher or prophet whom one might follow to become wiser and more spiritually fulfilled? You decide!

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (and to a much lesser extent as the Son of God) in the New Testament, but it should be noted that the term 'Son of God' is also used to describe others. This is inconsistent. Does this detract from the meaning intended by Jesus' own use of this term? Or is this just a result of poor use of terminology, the lack of proper referencing to other work, excessive personal choice of symbolism or error in translation? Or a result of creative editing to emphasise certain aspects of the text to promote certain meanings to the target audience?

Adam is referred to as the Son of God:

Luke3:38 (KJV): Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Israel is referred to as the Son of the Lord:

Exodus 4:22 (KJV): And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
23: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.


King David is referred to as the Son of the Lord:

Psalms 2:6: Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7: I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.


Those who believe in Jesus Christ are referred to as Children of God:

Galatians 3:26 (KJV): 'For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.'

The Gospel of John refers to God, the Light, and John the Baptist, and then makes the following statement where the 'he' and 'him' one can assume most likely refers to God.

John 1:12-13 (KJV):
[12]But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: [13] Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Those who follow the teachings of Jesus are referred to as Children of God:

Matthew 5:9 (KJV): Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Certain types of human behaviour were not accepted by followers of Peter who would later make up the Catholic church (e.g. romantic, sexual or other manly behaviour). There is a big gap in the story of Jesus of roughly 30 years where nothing is actually known. What were his relationships like with Mary and his brothers and sisters? After his birth and childhood, and a brief period of teaching in synagogues when he was a child, nothing is mentioned of Jesus until his thirties when he began his ministry. He seemed to have a huge command of the Hebew Bible and scriptures from an early age. Did he study these further over the next 25 years? Was he just helping his family, working as a carpenter and had a normal circle of friends and acquaintances? Was his carpentry any good?! What were his friends like and what were these relationships like? Did he show an interest in any women during these years? If so, how 'innocent' was it? After all, Christians date before marriage, and many abstain from physical contact during this period, and sometimes even kissing! Did he preach or teach in any capacity during these 'in between years'? Was he getting to grips with being merely human prior to beginning his ministry? Was he human just like any other man? Was he influenced by any fringe Jewish sects (e.g. The Essenes) in his own philosophy (as a man)? How much of a 'man' really was he or was he 'allowed to be'?

One book that claims to document the adolescent life of Jesus is The Urantia book. This was written between 1924 and 1955 by unknown sources, and it is claimed to have been written by 'spiritual relevation from celestial beings to the planet of Urantia' (a funny name for the planet Earth). It is intended to be a complete work on science, religion and philosophy, using many Christian and Gnostic Christian concepts with a little new age science fiction. The Urantia Book can be read on line at the second of the links below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Urantia_Book

http://www.watchman.org/Profile/urantiapro.htm

http://urantiabook.org/index.html

http://www.urantia.org/about.html

There are many unanswered questions about the life of Jesus, and the implications may affect our understanding of his place in the trinity to an extent. The early Christian sect known as Adoptionists viewed him as being fully human only during his early adult life, only reaching a state of perfection and Godliness (at one with God) later in his life (i.e. adopted by God). This was not however the mainstream view of Jesus in early Christianity. Many Christians are/were clearly uncomfortable with many of the human aspects of Jesus. How human was he allowed to be? Did he go to the toilet? What did he talk about prior to his ministry? Was he just a regular guy?

There was apparently also a power struggle between followers of Paul the Apostle (Paul of Tarsus) and followers of James the Just (Jesus' brother, the son of Mary and Joseph). This struggle was most likely really about the centre of Christianity, in Jerusalem or Rome. James was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and Peter could be viewed as the first Pope of what would become the Catholic Church, based in Rome. James and his followers had known Jesus in person intimately whereas Paul had never met Jesus and had found faith by hearing about Jesus alone. Could Paul have heard a slightly distorted or exaggerated version of the story of Jesus (relayed second or third hand)?

Some might argue that as Saul or St Paul had never actually personally known Jesus, physically, and could only go by what he'd heard and his own personal experience, that he was not really in a position to guide the direction of the religion and change it (allegedly). St Paul could perhaps be compared to the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, who came up with a new type of Christianity from his own head - and question the reliability and appropriateness of such a source. Smith did not try to replace any other type of Christianity that went before him and homologate it in the way that Paul did of course. One could view this as a negative or a positive. Some might argue that Christianity needed this to survive - but at what cost (assuming there was a cost and that he actually did change Christianity to a 'cult of Jesus worshippers' rather than 'religion about the sayings of Jesus'.

James' Epistle features in the New Testament but is greatly overshadowed by the writings of Peter and Paul. Some argue that James' focus was more on God, and Jesus role as a teacher than on Jesus' divinity than the writings and words of Peter and Paul who were perhaps more keen to emphasise Jesus' divine nature. Whether James was actually suggesting that Jesus was just a man, just a prophet, or a man given power to heal and resurrect by God and the most significant prophet to have lived (in line with the Muslim view of Jesus), or that he was both God and man, but stressing his human side as much as his divine nature, is another matter and subject to speculation. Please note that whilst Gnostics may share some of these views, they do not believe that Jesus was a man at all, but just an angel (Aeon) imitating physical form (no physical resurrection), which of course contradicts the New Testament.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_of_Tarsus

http://www.bible.ca/cath-peter=pope.htm

In the first century, there were three main Christian sects, those who the followers of James the Just (including Jesus' disciples and their followers), Pauline Christians - the followers of Paul the Apostle (aka Paul of Tarsus), and the Gnostic Christians. Pauline Christians began to dominate from the first century onwards. It should however be noted that Christians of all branches or Sects were equally persecuted by the Romans in the centuries prior to the 4th Century AD. Gnostic Christians were however regarded as the biggest threat to Christianity besides Roman persecution.

On the subject of James the Just being the brother of Jesus, there is a reference to Jesus' brothers in the gospels of the New Testament. James the Just was reputed to be one of his brothers. In Matthew 12:47 (KJV), they are referred to as his 'brethren'.

47: Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

In the New International Version, this is translated as his 'brothers'.

47: Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."

The context is clear from Jesus subsequent response (Matthew 12:48-50 (KJV), as he refers to family members, i.e. mother, brothers and sisters:

48: But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
49: And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
50: For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.


One could argue that this teaching of Jesus was against family values, in opposition to what most modern Christians regard as being something Christian. It of course depends largely on your interpretation, and in what spirit you adopt Jesus Christ.

www.nobeliefs.com/jesus.htm

Clearly before the introduction of a formalised New Testament, and indeed before the writing of the first of the canonical gospels, between 50 and 90 AD, Christianity had an oral tradition. During these years, it is highly likely that memory of the events surrounding Jesus and also subsequent versions of accounts of Jesus' life and teachings would gradually become somewhat distorted, embellished or mutate somewhat, certain aspects being emphasised and others forgotten; much like what happens in an office when trying to recall a procedure that has been used by staff not actually read for several years - recollections of the procedure will vary quite considerably. Can you accurately remember the exact words and context of your conversations with family members, 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

Based on the four main areas of Christian tradition, namely Scripture, schooling, singing and the sacraments, it would appear that there is no basis for Gnostic Christianity in these, but that certain aspects of its theology is derived from other sources or ideas (i.e. Zoroastrianism). The Hebrew Bible was widely acknowledged as the main source of Scripture, with some new sporadic Christian books being utilised by communities, depending on the location. Gnostic Christianity rejects the use of the Hebrew Bible and the idea of a physical resurrection, both of which deviate from Christian tradition at the time.

This is not to say that the four main areas of Christian tradition are completely accurate or complete with respect to the exact wording and completeness of Jesus teachings, the nature of Jesus humanity (i.e. his God/man nature) and indeed in the role of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples. And indeed that the gospel writers and their editors/compilers accurately reflected all of these things (i.e. some of the aforementioned Codexes that are considered controversial or with 'Gnostic elements' in them, but not containing the Gnostic cosmology.

http://blog.bible.org/primetimejesus/content/orthodoxy-%28or-proto-orthodoxy%29-there-was-functioning-new-testament-april-8.08

In subsequent centuries, other Christian sects arose included the Adoptionists, Arians, the Ebionites, the Montanists, the Marcionites and amongst others. Some even speculate that the Essenes (a Jewish sect) could have influenced early Christianity and even Jesus himself.

The Ebionites were a Jewish ascetic Christian Sect that lived in Palestine and Judea between the 1st and 4th Centuries. They acknowledged Jesus Christ and also strictly adhered to Jewish Law and customs. They however followed the Adoptionist view of the Trinity, which is discussed in the section below on the Trinity.

It is understood that there is some Essene influence on early Jewish Christianity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites

During the 2nd Century, Montanus claimed to have received a series of direct revelations from the Holy Ghost, but personally to be the incarnation of the paraclete mentioned in the Gospel of John 14:16. Montanus was accompanied by two women, Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and Maximilla, who likewise claimed to be the embodiments of the Holy Spirit that moved and inspired them. They were known as 'the Three'. They spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these personal revelations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montanism

In the 4th Century, Arius started a movement called Arianism. This is discussed in the section below on the Trinity.

Marcionism is the dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome in the year 144. Marcion affirmed Jesus Christ as the savior sent by the true God, Monad, and regarded Paul as Jesus' most important apostle. He however rejected the Hebew Bible and the Hebew God Yahweh. He saw Christianity as totally separate from Judaism and in a sense tried to 'de-Judaize' Christianity and separate it from the Old Testament. He regarded Yahweh as the creator God, but a wrathful and vengeful lower being compared with the loving and all powerful God of the New Testament. This was certainly one way to resolve the conflict between some of the concepts of Judaism that seemingly conflict with the New Testament! Marcionism regarded Jesus in a Docetic way (see Gnosticism below), i.e. that Jesus was not a man and did not take physical form, but was the saviour sent by God in spirit form, but who resembled physical form. Thus Marcionism did not believe in a physical resurrection, in a similar manner to Gnosticism. The two Gnostic religions Manichaeism and Mandaeanism are both thought to have been influenced by Marcionism. There are important differences between Marcionism and Gnosticism however, and Marcionism is not considered to be Gnostic by many. This is because Marcion relied on the Epistles of Paul and took the Christian view that belief in Jesus Christ and asking for forgiveness of one's sins was enough to be a Christian and go to heaven. Gnostics had a different view, involving reincarnation and of breaking free of the cycle of rebirth by attaining Gnosis or secret knowledge. Marcion did not belief in the concept of secret knowledge or of discovering one's true nature in this manner, but through direct belief in Jesus Christ. Marcion was however regarded as a heretic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionites

The Gnostic Christians and more cerebral or philosophical Christians were less focussed on sacrifice and faith being defined merely by believing in Jesus and the Resurrection, but by a more internal, intellectual and philosophical approach to Christianity, and gaining salvation through understand deeper and hidden meanings in religious texts. This was perhaps more elitist and less open than the faith adopted by Peter and his (later Catholic) followers, which was more explicit in its theology (to an extent), and emphasized more the sacrifice of Jesus and gave people strength and the willingness to die for their faith. It is perhaps likely that Gnosticism's tendency towards minority and 'elitist/intellectual' uptake and philsophical and esoteric meaings lended itself well to being preserved in Masonic Temples in later centuries.

However, more philosophical Christian sects did not perhaps hold such strong beliefs with regards to conversion. Finding God through philosophical reflection does not lend itself to a strong belief in seeking to convert others. ÔConversionÕ is not such a simple concept as there are simply different shades of understanding God on a sliding and perhaps infinite scale. Spreading the word of God or knowledge of God is more a process of offering information and Ôplanting seedsÕ that may seem obscure to some, but more often than not make an impression on the subconscious mind whether the conscious mind recognises this or not. Some clearly grow these ÔseedsÕ more than others (i.e. a seed landing on fertile soil rather than on rocky ground). To just keep oneÕs enlightenment to oneself unless others particularly express an interest in it and ask one directly (assuming that they are even aware of oneÕs beliefs which they may not be) would perhaps be just a glorification of the self. One could be sitting next to the most enlightened or wise person on the planet, but if he never opened his mouth, one could easily miss it, even if one had a genuine desire to learn!

Mainstream Christian theology and teachings had an inbuilt duty to convert others and to preach the (Biblical) word of Jesus, via ministries. This inbuilt self-replicating tenet is present in other religions such as Islam, which seek to convert as many people as possible to their respective faith/denomination. This could be compared with a ÔvirusÕ or a ÔreplicantÕ (from the Sci Fi Series Stargate SG1), that exists only because of its replication from others. Or perhaps just similar to the way that human and animal life procreate in order to maintain the survival of their 'genes'. Is this approach to religion then a mechanism or programming to ensure the survival of the Ôspiritual geneÕ in future generations? If oneÕs ideas and beliefs are merely the result of inbuilt self-replication, to what extent is one enlighened, intelligent and acting according to free will? Such a view/approach may be justified by Old Testament interpretations of God punishing mankind or populations for being too ÔsinfulÕ in statistical terms. It could be argued that such core beliefs were introduced into the theology in order to preserve the continuity of the religion and to ensure that its teachings are not lost or do not just disappear into obscurity like many religions and teachings before it - does this 'practical' element however detract from the spirit of the actual teachings themselves? Perhaps it depends on what you believe those actual teachings really are. Are such core beliefs there to ensure its dominance over other religions which were considered to be false or inappropriate. Other religions were/are competing for people's minds, so perhaps it was felt that Christianity should be competitive also, given the hostile response and persecution early Christians received from the Romans. However, this is a sceptical view of course. Overzealousness to convert and strong conviction in oneÕs position as ÔrightÕ and another as ÔwrongÕ can often lead to division and judgementalism if one is not careful, which goes against the spirit of the actual teachings. Some more philosophical forms of Christianity regard living and behaving in a way where one does not know God or is separated from god as just ignorance rather than sin.

One could equally argue that if one has experienced peace, calm, beauty and enlightenment, and one feels compassion towards oneÕs neighbour and fellow man, then one would wish to help others and to let the other person know what one has learnt and to develop their own relationship and feeling/understanding of God. Oh course, one cannot ÔforceÕ anyone to believe anything - except if one is using the old Islamic doctrine of offering people a ÔchoiceÕ of Islam or the Sword. One can however choose to plant seeds by helping others and leading by example; by preaching the gospel (repeatedly) at people until they start to listen (or who avoid you because they are fed up with hearing it repeatedly); or by making the relevant information readily available to people should they wish to take it up. Clearly, approaching people and discussing spirituality with them may be more effective at some times than others; and it depends on what has gone on before and if any others seeds have been planted or not. However, to what extent is it caring to respect someoneÕs beliefs and freedoms to do and think what they like, and to respectfully offer up information in a semi-passive manner; and to what extent is it more caring to actively try to convert them as you deeply care about them? Clearly the latter position assumes that one is right and they are wrong or ignorant. It requires certainty. One can be certain about certain precepts in a philosophical approach too, but here there are many grey areas, leading it to be more open and acceptable to discuss with others than a more fixed position.

As part of the drive to unify Christianity, there was an increased drive to eradicate those books which were deemed unsound. There were a large number of different books in circulation, written by people belonging to a variety of Christian sects. It is likely that a letter in the 4th Century AD from the church in Alexandria to the Egyptian bishops encouraging them to unify in their formal adoption of the 27 approved books (of what would become the New Testmanet), and to dispose of any other unapproved gospels, resulted in priests or bishops taking some of the other texts and hiding them in the caves at Nag Hammadi so that they would not be destroyed. The Roman Emperor Constantine I become the first 'Christian' emperor, although the extent of his faith could be debated as there was still Gladiator fighting permitted under his rule! Constantine wanted to unite Christians under his rule, which later led to the formation of the Catholic or Universal Church. The Roman Empire later became known as the Holy Roman Empire.

www.roman-emperors.org/conniei.htm

www.earlychurch.org.uk/constantine.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Roman_Catholic_Church

Over time, the Catholic view predominated and those of other schools of thought were excommunicated or otherwise persecuted, along with their books and works. Constantine would perhaps have never taken up a faith that was fragmented, and so perhaps a more powerful, unified faith helped to spread Christianity throughtout the Roman Empire and into Europe. It is likely that what was the Catholic Church at the time held that a simple view of faith was easier for the 'masses' to comprehend and take up, more accessible and more effective in achieving mass conversions. That is not to say that that way of viewing the Christian faith was wrong, but it was perhaps necessary for its survival. The more mystical and philosophical forms of Christianity and Gnostic Christianity, theological and cosmological differences aside, were perhaps too elistist to really spread and survive, and would only ever really have found favour with the intellectuals of the time and the future. That is not to say that that view or approach to Christianity is wrong.

If Constantine had never converted, then perhaps Christianity would have died out or never actually spread to Europe, leaving Europe to be dominated by pagan religions, and morely likely by Islam in later centuries. Without Christianity in Europe, we would never have seen a Protestant Reformation, which was one of the key instigators to modern capitalism, democracy and individualism. One can of course speculate about the scientific, cultural, commercial and other benefits that Europe would have gained from a moderate Islamic faith.

As we know from history, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and later Protestantism prevailed over more philosophical forms of Christianity or Christian influenced movements. However, since the 19th Century and particularly since the late 1940s after the discovery of the Qumran and Nag Hammadi 'libraries', there has been an increased interest in the more philosophical aspects of Christianity, which are often at the expense of core Christian beliefs. Many mainstream Christian Churches are now trying to modernise, embracing environmentalism and sexual equality amongst the clergy, and even accepting homosexual priests and bishops. The Catholic Church is trying to face up to its 'errors' of the past in protecting child molesting priests. There appears to be a move towards more accountability and equality in the modern Church; a stronger desire to appeal to the young in order to survive. This is not universally so, as some Evangelical, Baptist and 'Fundamentalist' Churches, particularly in the USA, reject this modern progressive movement. To what extent will more modern and progressive churches embrace the more philosophical side of Christianity (e.g. Desert Christians and even some aspects of Gnostic Christianity) in order to survive or to grow? Who is to say in what direction Christianity will take in the future. It will be interesting to see.

Gnostics ironically have adopted the Gospel of John, but it is not actually Gnostic and was used by proto-orthodox Christians as a basis for argument against the ideas of the Gnostic cosmology. Carbon dating identifies some of the Dea Sea Scrolls as being written during the fourth century. It is possible that the original writings were written before this, as what we had at Nag Hammadi was copies stored and hidden. However, it is likely that the later emergence of these texts compared with the four gospels we know of today counted against their inclusion into the New Testament. Ideas of the role of women in the church perhaps also played a part in the selection of the gospels for the NT. It is understandable that there was a drive to create a more coherent Christian message as some ideas floating around were clearly contradictory and controversial. One may however debate about the validity of the end result.

So whilst there were many different Christian books in circulation in the first few hundred years after Jesus' death, and many different sects and views of Christ, the vast majority of these books were destroyed and became lost. What we have today is just a small part of this in the Nag Hammadi library, much of which is heavily fragmented, damaged and hard to piece together. The different views of Christ can be understood in many different ways. One may take a rigid view of the NT being correct and other gospels being heretical. Or one may take a view that recollections of Jesus, his teachings and his nature became fragmented and distorted by subjectivity, and that only by taking in a variety of views about Jesus and his life and teachings can one really get a glimpse of what the real Jesus was like; and perhaps take all the different views with a pinch of salt (as being interpretations and no one giving us a complete and unbiased view of Jesus) and understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to achieve and project. What we do know is that had Christianity not unified it might not exist today, but that perhaps in its present form or historical form has not perhaps embodied the true cross section of ideas and beliefs that were in evidence at the time of Christ and shortly after his death, and that perhaps the rigid view of Jesus that we find today may perhaps have alienated some who might potentially otherwise be attracted. Given the difficulty or near impossibility of piecing together all the Dea Sea Scroll fragments, then perhaps we will never know fully! It is important to try to understand the history of Christianity and also the respective beliefs of the various denominations and branches (viewed as 'cults') that deviate in their teachings from the Bible - both in the past and present - to understand where the respective ideas came from and who has shared them in the past and present.

Of the present denominations of Christianity, there are those that seek to preserve their own historical traditions, there are those that seek to preserve the historical traditions of the early Church, there are those that seek to dispense with tradition (to varying degrees, although never completely) and stick to the core message of and spirit of Jesus, and there are those that seek to recreate past or lost traditions of the early church based on references in the Bible and 'filling in' or making up the gaps.

www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations

Many denominations (of the latter category) are often regarded as cults by mainstream Christianity (the 'respected denominations' such as Anglicanism, Catholicism, Lutheranism and Orthodoxy, etc.) However, there is debate as to whether the Catholic Church is strictly Christian in all of its ideas and practices (hence resulting in the breakaway denominations). For example, there are a number of practices and beliefs which have no Biblical basis, for example, the concept of Purgatory, the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the Saints and others. Are these supplementary activities and beliefs of pagan origin, taken up by the Catholic Church to keep the pagan converts happy? Or were they brought in by pagan converts? Or are they in fact supplementing and enhancing what is written in the Bible, adding new traditions to enhance the faith and the follower's relationship with the trinity? This is for Catholics to decide for themselves. What indeed is a 'proper' Christian other than one who believes Jesus Christ is the Messiah? We should remember that it is not only Catholics who took on certain pagan traditions in their faith. Other Christian denominations have done the same, for example, baptism originates from ancient Egyptian Religion. Pagan festivals were replaced by Christian festivals on the same dates, etc. So one should get it all in proportion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianization

Catholics are criticised for using 'non-canonical books' i.e. the Apocrypha, but the Authorised Version of the Bible issued by King James in 1611 did include the Apocrypha and it was the formal Bible for use in Protestant England! It was widely adopted by both Protestants and Catholics alike. The 1611 AV Bible was originally issued including the Apocrypha (aka The Maccabees Bible), which were deemed to be non-essential but still spiritually inspired books to be included in this Bible.

www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Cults/Catholicism/catholic.htm

www.jesus-is-lord.com/cath.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Version

The problem we have is that of history and wanting to know the historical truth about who Jesus was; and to what extent we can rely on the written gospels as they are today; and indeed the question of rewriting 'history' or accepted accounts based on questionable evidence. There was no formal church structure in place at the time of Christ, so one could argue that it is not necessary today to belong to a church to engage in a full spiritual life. Churches do offer the advantage of fellowship with other Christians, but this is not unique to a church. Early 'churches' were home groups, a small number of people collecting in someone's home. In a sense, no matter what books you decide are valid and to be read, the whole point of Christianity is a relationship with God and Jesus, and the opening of one's heart to the Holy Spirit. So any text is secondary to this experience.

Calling oneself a Christian could also be viewed as somewhat pretentious, as it implies that a one off decision or commitment is sufficient to ensure one has 'eternal life' and will go to 'Heaven', as opposed to being a day to day relationship and way of being in the 'here and now'. Clearly the whole concept of Christianity is forgiveness, and the concept of who you were before believing being irrelevant. One can only comment on the here and now, and ultimately it is not up to us to make that kind of claim, it is for God to decide! A little humility goes a long way. Early Christians did not refer to themselves as Christians but as 'brethren'.

Biblical texts can be interpreted in a number of different ways, and it is easy to read them and understand them in an intolerant manner (e.g. attitudes to 'sinners', gamblers, tax collectors (!) and homosexuals), and lose the whole purpose and spirit of the New Testament (the good news!) I view any kind of spiritual enlightenment to be a matter of philosophical meditation on life rather than a simple and easy formula. But clearly this is a personal decision, choice and understanding.

Indeed, Islam sought to remove all idolatry from Middle Eastern religious practices. Some 'left overs' from pagan idolatry can be said to be found in Christianity, such as the depiction of Biblical characters, saints and so on. Such pictures include frescos, stain glass windows and carvings. In addition, relics and particular churches or Biblical places are often 'venerated' by Christians, even those that may be fakes, such as the Shroud of Turin (probably) or alleged 'bones' of Jesus or Apostles. Even if they are not fakes, it is somehow missing the whole point.

Exodus 20:4 (KJV) states: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth'

Islam does away with all this and no pictures, symbols or images are permitted inside a Mosque. Perhaps Christians could learn a few things from Islam! To eliminate all unnecessary distractions and maintain a better focus during worship. Why Christians must all face the alter whilst praying is beyond me. In early Mosques, there would often be no central focus, but a more egalitarian approach to worship and prayer.

In more modern times, other attempts to recreate 'primitive' or 'original' Christianity inlucde the New Thought Movement, as discussed on the Psychology Bibliography and Reviews page.

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Christianisation:
 
Introduction:

Christianisation is the process by which entire populations are converted 'officially' to Christianity has historically also included the practice of converting native pagan practices and culture, pagan religious imagery, pagan sites and the pagan calendar to Christian uses, reinterpreting them as their own.

Placing churches over temples of pagan worship was an easy way to maintain loyalty amongst the local population, as they were used to worshipping at certain 'sacred' locations, rather than trying to demolish such temples. Adopting pagan festivals and giving them a Christian interpretation could be either seen as early Christian attempts to appease local populations (or to distract them from their pagan Gods) and incorporate their festivals into the Christian Calendar, or perhaps 'counter festivals' conducted at the same time as pagan festivals, to symoblically oppose the spiritual activity taking place around them, or perhaps as a way to avoid persecutation by 'mingling in' and celebrating when other pagans were celebrating.

It is likely that early converts from Anglo-Saxon paganism to Christianity merely saw Jehovah as just another God that they could worship or include in their array of deities they worshipped, so conversion was not as troublesome as one might imagine; but in the UK for example, resulting in a mish mash of Celtic Christian, Roman Catholic and Anglo-Saxon pagan warrior and honour traditions and values - creating new forms of cultural identity (much like cultural evolution today). One could view this practice as a Catholic Church, already having incorporated its own 'pagan' practices into its structure, further diluting or losing the original Christian message - or merely as a cultural evolution of it.

We should not assume that Christianisation is a thing of the past, and that it was solely conducted by the early Catholic Church. Christian churches have become 'practical' and acknowledge that certain populations simply will not give up their traditional pagan practices and particularly festivals, as they are deeply ingrained in their cultural fabric, and are part of their identity, and they simply carry on these practices in parallel to their Christian faith. In an attempt to make themselves feel better, church leaders try to take over these festivals and rituals and give them nominally Christian references. Does this really mean anything though? For example, in the Philippines, in certain communities, there are fertility festivals that include dancing in the streets. These have been nominally Christianised and now are actually organised by the local Catholic Church! The basic content and spirit is however little different to the original pagan practice. In other parts of Asia for example, animism and ancestor worship occur in parallel to Christian beliefs, and the local churches have often arrived at a compromise, allowing locals to continue their older beliefs and practices whilst singing a few hymns and avoided blantant references to pagan practice, whilst still actually doing it. However, in some communities, such as in aboriginal communities in Australia, aborigines who are converted to Christianity still continue their older pagan practices, but they are now merely ceremonial and the spiritual meaning and knowledge behind them has been lost forever - the rites are merely a case of 'going through the motions'. Whilst not strictly Christianisation, in Africa, missionaries were disturbed by the sexual practices of local Christian converts, and thought them 'unholy' and wished them to only have sex in a certain manner that was considered 'Christian', which is where the expression 'the missionary position' came from.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianization

www.cathar.net/Witness3000/Worship/207_cathars_christmas.html

Christianisation can also be seen in the context of the reasons for conversion, which in Northern Europe, were often for socio-economic reasons, and that becoming a Christian was an opportunity to associate with modern Celtic technology, wealth, prestige, which was in fact the polar opposite situation when the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain (Christians and 'Britons' (if such a thing existed) associating/identifying themselves with Anglo-Saxons for economic reasons, as they were more likely to get ahead in society if they did). For many such converts, they are unlikely to give up all of their old culture and traditions, and in order to assist in the conversion and retention of conversions, and to provide an incentive, direct replacement or mimmicking of pagan traditions was necessary.

Today, the Christian adoption of early Pagan festivals means for many pagans that much of the essence of these pagan festivals has been preserved and brought into the 20th Century, which they can enjoy and celebrate along with the Christians and non-Christians alike, but knowingly ignoring the Christian parts and focussing on the pagan parts that remain (very strongly!) The pagans are probably wiser to the situation than the Christians who are under the impression for the large part that all these festivals are of Christian origin! So in a sense it is a win-win situation! If you don't consider the perpetuated ignorance of most modern Christians about their own religion and heritage.

One can view Christianisation and adoption of spiritual ideas from other religions in a number of ways. One can view it in a fundamentalist manner, and try to remove all the aspects that you can clearly identify as being pagan from your religion, and depending on how far you want to be, it could adopting a stance similar to Baptist's or Jehovah's Witnesses in certain areas. One could simply be aware of them and just take the more borrowed or comical aspects with a pinch of salt, knowing the historical roots of all the different traditions you are involved with, placing your emphasis, focus and faith elsewhere. One could view it another way and give up on one's religion as it does not seem 'authentic' any more. Or one could acknowledge the spiritual heritage of your religion, and the fact that few if any religions appear out of 'nowhere' and do borrow ideas heavily from other religions, each time creating something different and unique, not necessarily 'better' and all others that you have borrowed from being 'wrong' - perhaps it is a mutation, assimilation or evolution. One could alternatively view the common elements amongst different religions and see the elements of perceived spiritual truth in a number of religions. Or perhaps just put all religions into context and try to differentiate between cultural heritage, appropriation, myth, fantasy and actual concrete spiritual truth free from dogmatic rules, and just understanding and working with the rich variety of spiritual principles available in the world's rich spectrum of religious experience. As long as one is honest with oneself, that is what counts.

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Pagan Festivals:

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Reinterpretation of Biblical Figures:

Biblical figures such as Mary, the mother of Christ, and Satan, could be seen to have been given non-Biblical interpretations after the Canonical Gospels were written and finalised. The veneration of Mary, and the image of the mother with child could be compared with the pagan and indeed neo-pagan concepts of Mother Earth and the Sun God. Please see the section on The Devil below.

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Christianised Rituals and Religious Concepts:

Triquetra and NKJV Bible:

The Bible has been translated into a number of different versions since the 1611 Bible, e.g. New American Standard Version, New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and Good News Bible are amongst the most popular. The New King James Bible is a version of the King James Bible translation reputed using more modern English. There are various arguments for and against this version as it makes rather unusual changes. My personal opinion is that if you want to read the KJV, then read the KJV and not the NKJV. If you want to read a modern Bible, then read a modern Bible. Please see the section below on Christianisation for more information.

The NKJV uses the Triqueta on the cover. It is claimed that it is a Christian symbol representing the Trinity.

Exodus 20:4 (KJV) states: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth'

Let us consider the origin of the Triquetra - it predates Christianity and is likely to have been a Celtic symbol of the Goddess, and in the North of Europe, a symbol of the deity Odin. The Celts used the symbol to represent the triplicities of the mind, body and soul as well as the earth, sea and sky. No tripartite goddess has ever been identified with the symbol. It is used by Wiccans and Neopagans today as aspects of the Triple Goddess (Hecate) - the three phases of the moon - waxing, full or waning - and also maid, mother and the old crone. In a Christian context, the Triquetra is most commonly a symbol of the Holy Trinity i.e. Father, son and Holy spirit first used by the Celtic Christian Church - occasionally represented by 3 interlocking fish.

http://altreligion.about.com/od/symbols/p/Triquetra.htm

Certain Baptist Christians may make a fuss about how the Triquetra is used on the NKJV Bible, but Christianity has been appropriating symbols from other religions - not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that - so why focus on the Triquetra and not the other symbols for instance. Protestantism in general has sought to eliminate some of the old Catholic symbolism and Roman practices from its repertoire but still honours old pagan festivals etc. so drawing the line here, so vehemently, seems rather arbitrary in my opinion.

www.av1611.org/nkjv.html

www.letgodbetrue.com/bible/scripture/new-king-james-version.htm

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Fish symbol:



The fish symbol, or Ichthys, used by early Christians and in modern times, by Evangelical Christians has its roots in pagan religion. Is this really a suitable symbol for modern evangelical Christians to use? Why do they indeed need a symbol? If they are not to use the Cross, then why bother using any symbol at all? The fish symbol is often jokingly referred to as the 'Jesus fish'.

www.religioustolerance.org/chr_symb.htm

www.atheists.org/christianity/fish.html

Counter arguments from a Christian perspective can be found at the link below. These rely on the idea that just because pre-Christian pagan traditions 'may' have used the fish to represent various concepts of fertility etc., this does not mean that its use automatically means that it is non-Christian. However, adherents of this theory probably would like to imply that there is no Christianisation whatsoever, or at least not draw attention to it!

www.tektonics.org/copycat/fishsymbol.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthys

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Ouroboros:



Above art by Theodoros Pelecanos, in the alchemical text Synosius (1478). This depicts the symbol 'Ouroboros', the Serpent eating its Tail, has been used to represent many different concepts throughout history, mainly cyclicality, divine life, infinity and unity. It is sometimes used to represent the concept of Reincarnation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouroboros

The Ouroboros has also appeared in Norse mythology, Hinduism, Alchemy, Aztec religion and also in Gnosticism.

It is reputed that the Ouroboros was a 'secret code' used to demarc early Christian graves.

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Obelisk:

Obelisks were a prominent part of the architecture of the ancient Egyptians, who placed them in pairs at the entrance of temples. The obelisk symbolized the sun god Ra, or Re as some know him, and during the brief religious reformation of Akhenaten was said to be a petrified ray of the Aten, the sundisk. It was also thought that the god existed within the structure.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obelisk

The Vatican moved the giant Obelisk from Rome to a position in front of the main building at St Peter's Square in the 16th Century AD. It had originally been excavated in Egypt in the 13th Century BC, brought to Rome in the 1st Century AD by the pagan Roman rulers. The Obelisk has a nominal cruficix on the top. This is a classical case of Christianisation! What this has to do with St Peter or Christianity is not clear! It is not the first time that Egyptian religious symbolism has appeared in a Catholic context.

www.lindahall.org/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/civil/vatican.shtml

The use of ancient Eyptian symbols in a political/religiouscontext is discussed elsewhere on this site on the Freemasonry page and the Bavarian Illuminati page.

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Cross:

Many people assume that the cross is of Christian origin, and that other uses of the cross are copies of Christianity's symbols and therefore attempts to mock or distort Christian symbolism. However, the cross symbol probably originates from Ancient Babylon and the corresponding worship of the sun gods Mithra and Tammuz, where usage of the cross was widespread in an almost identical form. In ancient Egypt a variation of the cross is seen in the Ankh symbol.

www.albatrus.org/english/religions/pagan/origin_of_cross.htm



The Emperor Constantine, the former pagan sun worshipper, was reputed to have envisaged the cross in front of the sun, in a dream according to Lactantius, and in the heavens/sky just before the battle at Milvian Bridge, according to Eusebius (depicted below). This was Constantine's Cross, called the Chi Rho, as opposed to the cross we see today in predominant use with the corpse of Jesus nailed to it.



The Chi Rho is the earliest of the Cruciform symbols used by Christians, formed by superimposing the first two letters of the word 'Christ' in Greek, Chi = ch, and rho = r. It is not technically a cross but invokes the crucifixion of Jesus as well as symbolising the status of Jesus as the Christ (later with the letters Alpha and Omega on either side of the Chi Rho. The two bar cross was adopted afterwards, as a literal crucifix.

http://atheism.about.com/od/constantinethegreat/ig/Constantine-Emperor-Rome/Constantine-Vision-Cross-Sky.htm

Other parallels to the unification of Sun God worship with Christianity (perhaps to ease uptake or because Constantine was still very fond of his old religion) include the declaration of the Roman Sun Day to be the Christian Sabbath (not Saturday like in Judaism) of the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Nicene in 325 AD.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday

The adoption of the cross was arguably a form of idolatry and focussing on the Pauline emphasis of the resurrection of Christ as being at the forefront of Jesus' message and purpose rather than what he actually said about the kingdom of heaven and everything else. The Apostles certainly never walked around wearing Crosses or would ever have conceived of doing so! Imagine that.

Some variants on the cross can be seen at the links below.

www.nazarite.net/satanic-symbols.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross

The cross's pagan origins are displayed in the 19th century secret society, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, discussed on the Fringe Religions page, whose Rosy Cross incorporates other magical elements. Some Christians confuse the Christian Cross with the Ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol, and I even heard of one Christian wearing one, thinking it was a crucifixion symbol.

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Rod of Asclepius:



Source: Catherine Munro

The Rod of Asclepius is an ancient Greek symbol for astrology and also medicine and healing. It is represented by a snake entwined around a staff. In Greek mythology it is the staff of Asclepius, the son of Apollo, who was a practitioner of medicine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius



The symbol of the staff with a serpent wrapped around it also appears in the Old Testament in the Book of Numbers 21:6. Here it is known as the Nehushtan, a copper snake on a pole, depicted above in Michaelangelo Buonarroti's 1508 painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nehushtan

This is likely an example of early Jewish mythology being inspired by this tale from Greek mythology, and being appropriated and taken into a Judaic context.

The symbol has been used as a medical symbol for the last few hundred years, representing 'medicine', appearing on ambulances and medical alert tags. There has been some confusion between the Rod of Asclepius and the Caduceus, a different ancient Greek symbol with two snakes on it, and the Caduceus has been adopted by many medical bodies as their symbol since the 19th Century, despite the symbol having no medical context whatsoever! The Caduceus is the symbolic representation of Hermes, the God of travellers, thieves, orators, poets, sports and athletics, weights and measures, invention and commerce.



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Amen:

The use of the word 'amen' in Christianity, can perhaps trace its origins to various religious traditions and points in history. Whilst Amen is probably derived from the Hebrew 'aman' meaning to nourish or make strong. In Judaism it may be an acronym for El Melech Ne'eman meaning Mighty, Faithful King. Islam also uses the word 'Amin' in the same way as Christianity to end prayers (a non-Quranic tradition).

Amen can also potentially be traced to Hindu and Buddhist traditions, containing the sound of the word 'Om', although this may not have a semantic basis. 'Amen' is also speculated to have its origins in Ancient Egypt. The Sun God or creator God, Amun, a.k.a. Amen, Amaon, Ammon, Amounra, Amen-Ra was a lesser God in Egyptian Mysticism until 1500BC when he was raised to the level of monotheistic national God. It is possible that Jewish settlers in Egypt at this time may have incorporated the term 'Amen' into their own language or religious symbolism. However, this is unlikely as it has no semantic basis.

www.seiyaku.com/customs/amen.html

www.hindubooks.org/sudheer_birodkar/hindu_history/omkar.html

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Concept of the Trinity:

Is the concept of a Trinity and of Angels strictly monotheistic? Or is it a form of polytheism? There are five beliefs behind the Trinity:

1. There is only one God
2. The Father is God
3. Jesus is God
4. The Holy Spirit is God
5. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons

The OT and NT do not mention the term 'Trinity', but it was adopted in probably the 3nd Century AD, after the Canonical Gospels were written. The concept of the trinity, i.e. the separate persons of the trinity but also their equivalence to God, is stated/implied in pieces in various places in the Bible. There are various passages in the both the OT and NT that can be used as references for the above (e.g. OT passages referencing The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost). For examples, see the link below.

www.contenderministries.org/biblestudy/trinity.php

As the link above shows, there are references to the Father being God, to the Son being God and to the Holy Spirit being God. However, some passages are slightly unclear. Are there any actual passages that mention all three together conceptually?

Let us look at The Gospel of John.

John 1:1-18 (KJV):

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

'The Word' is not really defined in the first verse, but being somehow equivalent to God. Did anyone really speak to 'The Word' prior to Jesus' ministry? Who did Moses and Abraham speak to? Was The Word differentiated here? If the Word has always existed, then why is it not mentioned in the OT?

[2] The same was in the beginning with God.
[3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
[4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
[5] And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.


Above, John defines the 'light' as being life in/through God.

[6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
[7] The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
[8] He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
[9] That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.


The 'light' has a slightly different meaning here, which we can assume to mean Jesus, although it is could still just mean 'life in/through God', John being a witness of God.

[10] He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
[11] He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
[12] But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.


Here we have a reference to men becoming 'sons of God' as discussed elsewhere on this page, as 'son of God' is not an exclusive term used for Jesus Christ. But who is the 'him' and the 'he' here? And 'his name'? We would assume that the 'he' and 'him' meant God, but the reference to 'his name' would suggest/imply the 'son' or Jesus, from what we know elsewhere in the gospels.

[13] Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

This is a reference to being born again in the spirit, that Jesus describes later on.

[14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

We can assume that 'the Word...made flesh' is referring to Jesus, as Jesus, the son of man, is said to be God made flesh. This is further elaborated on by 'the only begotten of the Father', implying it was the Father's only Son. However, this is implied rather than stated.

[15] John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

'Him' we can assume refers to Jesus, from the narrative elsewhere int he gospels and the above verses, but it could perhaps also refer to just 'God' or 'the light'.

[16] And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
[17] For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.


Verses 14 refers to grace meaning 'The Word made flesh' and verse 16 also refers to grace. Verse 17 states that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

[18] No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

What exactly does this verse mean? Is it suggesting that man can now only see God through Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son (presumed to be the same thing)? What of the experience of those who communicated with God in the OT?

1John.5:7 (KJV): For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

1 John 5:7 above states that the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost are as one. Who is 'The Word'. 1 John does not define this, but it is implied from John above that it is the 'Word...made Flesh' or Jesus. This is probably the closest that one can get to a statement regarding the 'Trinity' in the NT.

Matthew 28:18-20:
[18] And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
[19] Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
[20] Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.


Here is another statement close to the concept of the Trinity, spoken to Jesus after his resurrection.

John 14:11: Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

The above verse may be read that Jesus and the Father are both God, as one is in the other.

1John.4:15: (KJV): Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.'

However, the verse above from 1 John 4 suggests that he who believes in Jesus as the Son of God is defined in the same way. It would be helpful if this had been elaborated more fully as according to Christians, there is a HUGE difference! A man cannot become God! Having God dwelling in one and oneself dwelling in God does not make one God. So what does this say about Jesus statement about this?

John 14:16-17:
[16] And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
[17] Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.


In John 14:16-17, Jesus first introduces the concept of the Holy Spirit, a gift from the Father to mankind to be with us when Jesus had risen from the dead and returned to Heaven. Jesus states that the Comforter/Spirit of Truth/Holy Spirit shall dwell in believers. According to the New Testament, there was no Holy Spirit experienced on the earth. However, what was the spirit of God felt by believers? What is the relationship between the 'spirit' sent by God in various passages in the OT, which are not references to angels, but in some form the embodiment of God (as discussed below)?

John 14:20: At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

However, in verse 20, Jesus states that again he is in the Father, and that we are in Jesus, and also that Jesus is in us. He already stated that the Holy Spirit will be in believers, so is this a contradiction, a blurring of distinction between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, or do they both reside in one? Most modern Christians attend churches where Jesus is said to be among us. However, are they really referring to the Holy Spirit? Few churches are churches to the Holy Spirit, but are dedicated to Jesus. If one believes in the name of Jesus, Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, then what is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Father? God is only the father in the sense that Jesus is the Son. Presumably the Holy Spirit is not another 'son', and was never made flesh. What exactly is the Holy Spirit? Is it the feeling of Jesus inside one? If the Holy Spirit was part of the 'one' from the beginning, along with the Word, then is it really just a Trinity? Are there not other aspects or manifestations of God that are not arbitrarily considered part of the Trinity that have been described in the OT? And if the Word had been one with God from the very beginning, and the Word can be seen as the 'spirit of God' or the 'teaching of God', then why did the spirit of God change from the Old to the New Testament? Surely God's wisdom in Jesus was present all along? Sometimes people use the phrase 'the Word' to describe the Bible as a whole, as if it is literally the spoken word of God in its entirety.

Jesus himself told his disciples that the Kingdom of God shall not simply be defined clearly to the world, but that it shall be communicated in a slightly metaphoric manner or with parables. This is a theme that is common to both the Canonical Gospels and the Gnostic Gospels. Jesus disciples spent much of his ministry misunderstanding him, and only seemed to have grasped his true message at the very end of his life and even only after his resurrection when he departed back to heaven. Is it not likely that in subsequent years, that believers in subsequent centuries would also not be in complete agreement or misunderstand his message, perhaps so much more so as they did not actually know him? One could arguably say this about Paul. What of the Gospel writers themselves? And the translations we have now, and modern versions based on older English versions which were themselves erroneously translated in places? Slightly variations in wording can have a profoundly different effect on the meaning.

Whilst the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God, they are considered by most Christians as three distinct persons. That is, they are the same 'what', but not the same 'who'. Not all Christians accept all 5 premises, and some accept only the first four, e.g. Modalism. This is in a sense a blurring of the three Persons of God. For example, the doctrine of the trinity led to many to pray to the trinity. Instead of addressing the Father as the one we pray to and Christ being our Mediator to bring our petitions on our behalf, the doctrine led to people blending the three together so strongly that there was little distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Modalism accepts the first four premises, but denies that The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons. Modalism is the view that there are no distinctions within God, threefold or otherwise, but that in God's external relationships with his creation, he assumes different modes in which to make himself known and to accomplish his purposes amongst humankind. The implication or argument is that the modes are successive not simultaneous and thus not representative of 'different Persons'. Modalism is the view most frequently held by Oneness Pentacostals and United Pentacostal Church. There are however references in the Bible to two or three Persons acting. Some examples of these are discussed at the link below.

www.westpalmbeachchurchofchrist.com/articles/diff_quest/biblical_trinity.html

The other extreme is to view all three Persons of the Trinity as being too separate, to the point of Polytheism; that they are three separate Gods, one central God and two lesser Gods (i.e. Mormonism - examined also on the Other page). The other view is that there is one central God and the other two are of equal status to 'angels', widely held by Jehovah's Witnesses. Both views have little Biblical basis however and certain passages imply that the concept is incorrect. Mormons are often classified as polytheistic, although they claim only to worship one of the Gods they recognise. These beliefs are derived from Arianism.

Arianism is an early 4th Century view that God is so transcendent and separate from all of existence that he needs a 'mediator' for every relationship or interface with the world. Jesus, the Logos, is then the semi-divine, and lived so perfect a life that he was given the title Son of Man or Son of God. Jesus is thus viewed as being created and not as strictly eternal (always having existed and always will exist), but rather immortal, i.e. Jesus is not God but is not just man either. The New Testament does state that the child named Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit entering into Mary, so in what sense is this a creation event. If the human form of Jesus was created from the Holy Spirit entering into Mary, to what extent was the entirety of Jesus eternal prior to this and to what extent is he a 'product' of the Holy Spirit and a woman? i.e. his divinity coming from the Holy Spirit? What was Jesus role in the trinity prior to his birth? Was he on the right hand of the Father through all of time prior to this? There is no mention of the Son, Jesus Christ, explicitly in the OT, although there are references to one that will come and to the future Messiah.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arianism

Indeed, to what extent is the human soul eternal (given by God)? Did the human soul exist prior to conception? Is the soul just allocated a physical body at the point of conception? If so, what was it doing for all eternity before this? Was it in Heaven? Or somewhere else? Did it have any self-awareness?

The formation of the modern concept of the Trinity that the vast majority of Christian denominations accept is actually based on a compromise reached by Constantine to appease both opposing factions in the 4th Century AD, namedly the Nicene Creed (325), The Council of Sardica (342), The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381). Thus the concept of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit arrived at and used ever after was a concession and compromise of differing opinions rather than rooted in Biblical scripture. That is not to say that it is not correct. The Trinity are all divine, but that in Jesus, his divine nature was integrated with his human nature. Opposing parties had previously believed on the one hand that Jesus' two natures were distinctly separate (giving the problem of how God could also be a distinctly separate human), and on the other hand that they were one and the same. Arianism held that Jesus was created by God, and the opponents that he had existed all the time. Arianism has been said to have influenced Islam in its view of Jesus, and also the modern Christian movements Unitarianism and Jehovah's Witnesses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed

Similar to the Arianist view is that of Adoptionism (aka Dynamic Monarchianism). This the view regarded Jesus as merely human, but that he became divine later on in his life. This however denies that Jesus as a Person of the Trinity was co-eternal. It holds that God is one being, above all else and wholly indivisible and of one nature, it reconciles the "problem" of the Trinity (or at least Jesus) by holding that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father, and that Jesus the Christ essentially was granted Godhood (adopted) for the plans of God and his own perfect life and works. Adoptionism, in addition to contradicting the Canonical Gospels, does not also explain the Biblical references to Jesus preaching with profound wisdom in the synagogues as a child. Was he then just a 'wise' at an early age? However, arguably this could be explained by the Transfiguration, the moment when Jesus went from being merely a man and a wise teacher to becoming divine and God-like. The concept of the transfiguration is problematic when trying to determine just how human Jesus was before this and how human he was after this. Few Christians are completely comfortable with the balance of his humanity vs his divinity. How Jesus had such a in depth knowledge of the scriptures as a child? It is possible that he studied them from an early age, as there are childhood prodigies. Perhaps this knowledge was of a divine source. If so, then to what extent was Jesus divine all along and the Transfiguration not really what it is made out to be? Different types of Adoptionism hold that Jesus was "adopted" either at the time of his baptism or ascension. An early exponent of Adoptionism was Theodotus of Byzantium. The Sects that adopted Adoptionism (no pun intended) were the Ebionites and the Monarchians (Dynamic Monarchianism). The Monarchians also adopted a Modalist view of God (Modalist Monarchianism).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoptionism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarchianism

The Christian practice is usually to pray not to the Father but to the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. beginning with 'Dear Lord' or 'Dear Lord Jesus'; and ending with 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen'); but it is not uncommon for prayers to be directed at the Father. The general convention seems to be to pray to the 'Lord' (which could be either the father or the son) or 'Father' and to sign off with a statement that the prayer is 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ', before ending with 'Amen'. It seems that the Holy Spirit is the one Person not often prayed to. What is the logic here? To what extent should Christians (be allowed to) pray to just God? When one feels God, which Person is one feeling? The Holy Spirit? As described by Jesus after his resurrection? Jesus taught the disciples the Lord's prayer, where one prays to the Father. This is the matter in which one should pray he taught. He did not teach them to pray to him. Jesus himself prayed to the Father (or God). Not to himself. Should we not also pray to the Father and not to Jesus, as Jesus did and told us to do? Does it matter? Why is the father (or just plain 'God' -God is God after all) not prayed to more often Christians? Do they feel bad if they neglect Jesus? Sometimes, Lord is used in prayer to imply either God or Jesus, is it important which one in the mind of the worshipper? What part of the Trinity is Lord referring to? Jesus? Or the Father?

Christians believe that our covenant is with Jesus Christ, regardless of Jesus own covenant with the Father. Because the Father sacrificed Jesus for the sins of the world, we are able to ask Jesus for forgiveness and to pray to God in the name of Jesus in order to communicate with the Father, rather than make sacrifices as a way of asking for forgiveness as described in the pre-Jesus OT. Christ in a sense is the ultimate sacrificial offering to God. By using Jesus' name and praying to the Father in Jesus name, we are representing Jesus as a sacrificial offering to God, and hence we are no longer bound to the letter by the laws of the OT. To mention 'in Jesus' name' we are communicating directly with the Father but mentioning that 'Jesus sent us'. Jesus is said to represent the ultimate level of holiness that we as humans strive to achieve, and that we pray to God AS Jesus, as hopefully representatives of Jesus Christ. Whilst there is a certain logic here, it is still a rather strange concept to many believers and non-believers, and hard to many Church ministers to grasp or teach correct. Indeed, this probably why there is so much variation in the understanding of the concept.

There appears to be some confusion in terms of the concept of Blessings in Christianity. Who gives them and where do they come from? Christians often say ÔGod Bless YouÕ? Why is this? Are they asking God to Bless them? Or do they believe that they are in command of blessings or in directing them on some level? Is it an encouragement to the receiver to feel blessed? The saying often results in an elevated state in the receiver, or a sense of feeling closer to God, if they believe in God. Why do Christians not say ÔJesus Bless YouÕ rather than ÔGod Bless YouÕ? If they pray to Jesus? Why is the phrase GBY used on receipts in the retail section in the USA? What has retail consumer capitalism to do with religion and Jesus? If retailers can utilise religious feeling to create a good feeling and of Godliness associated with their store, customers are more likely to come back and spend again. As if one associates good feelings with buying from a certain vendor, or rapport with a salesperson, then repeat business is more likely. Is this exploitation of Christianity viewed as acceptable by Christians? Why about references to God on the Dollar Bill? What has God got to do with Central Banking and capitalism?

It should be noted that according to the version of events in the Gospels of the New Testament, the disciples addressed Jesus as 'Lord' or as 'Teacher', and not as 'Jesus'. So why would we refer to Jesus as 'Jesus' today? Jesus was at the time a common name, and was not synonymous with 'Lord' or 'God'. So it is rather interesting that it is today. The name Jesus is still used today, albeit not as commonly, and not always as an inspiration from Jesus of Nazareth (as Muhammed is used by Muslims today). If we were to refer to Jesus as 'Liam' or 'Geoff', would it not be strange? If one of the Trinity was called Liam, this might seem rather wierd. Yet perhaps the use of a common name strengths the human side of Jesus of Nazareth more to people, making their relationship to him seem closer. The word 'God' is not a unique term, and could apply to any number of pagan deities, yet the term is used to imply there are no other Gods. The actual name of God is not used by name Christians at all. This seems odd as they use Jesus' first name - unknowing of his last name - which is also rather odd, seeing as he was such a huge historical figure.

It could be argued that if we pray to Jesus and notice an immediate result or a miracle, then is this because we prayed directly to God, the whole of the Trinity, or just one of the Persons of the Trinity? If we assumed for a moment that Jesus was just a prophet, and not the Son of God, and that the Trinity did not exist, but that there was one God alone, Jehovah aka Jahweh - would a prayer to Jesus Christ/Lord Jesus actually work and would God listen. Clearly we can see examples of prayer to Jesus working, sometimes even with miraculous results - is this because we were directly openning our hearts to Jesus, or was God listening (the Father - assuming no Trinity), but regardless of the words and titles used, the spirit of God being prayed to was the same, and that God recognised it and answered it? If we pray to Jesus Christ in this way, we are conceiving of God in a certain way, not in intellectual tems, but a certain aspect of God, a certain Person of God. This may be very powerful way of connecting to God, regardless of whether Jesus is God, or whether it is just the Father who is God. Presumably the theology is irrelevant when entering a deeply spiritual state, letting go of the ego and feeling God with one's heart. Does God really hear the words or is one really just communicating in spirit, in emotion of joy and love for God, which God can feel? Prayer is/should be an opportunity for humility, honesty with self and with God, and to open one's heart. It should not really be an opportunity for gratuitous self-serving thoughts of 'I want that Ferrari' or 'I want that parking space' etc., even though positive visualisation according to the principles of the law of attraction may indeed set up one's mindset and mental resources in order to make it happen. Prayer in a sense is a direct way to 'see' God. Perhaps the emotional association with each term for God thus triggers our emotional state when we use it and try to connect to that Person of God. Perhaps one could use it as a metaphor for connecting to one's higher self and that with positive visualisation and the mind and body working at the optimum level of positive 'vibration', that miraculous results can be possible. Clearly one can view the Trinity and prayer in any number of critical ways! However, we are here just concerned with why it works and the mechanism, considering all possible different scenarios for the reader's benefit.

On the subject of prayer, miracles and the Trinity, there are a large number of documented miracles that have occurred through the power of prayer. The revivalist web site below contains a list of verified testimonies. The main page is www.ibethel.org

www.ibethel.org/features/testimonies/index.php?f=testimonies.php&page=24

Below is another web site containing a number of testimonies which is worth a read.

www.freshfire.ca/?Id=959&pid=8

One can see the Biblical references that imply that there is a trinity. We can see the what and who. One could indeed ask why there is a trinity however. Could it purpose not be served by just one Person? Can anyone truly understand the exact nature of the trinity? To what extent can they all be God but simultaneously be separate People? And how separate are they if they are all God?

The First Vatican Council called the Trinity a Mystery, a truth that we are usually incapable of discovering or understanding apart from through Divine Revelation; and even then which when revealed may still remain hidden by a veil of faith and enveloped by a kind of darkness, most impenetrable to reason.

www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm#IV

www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

In some respects, one could argue that excessive intellectualisation misses the point and one should just feel and communicate with God. However, is this a form of Modalism? Christians expect non-Christians to comprehend this and often have difficulty themselves! The Trinity is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christianity. Clearly the concept of the Trinity deserves more study and thought.

The Muslim view of the Trinity is slightly skewed by Mohammed's misinterpretation of Catholicism, with its focus on the veneration of the Virgin Mother Mary. Thus, Islam came to view the Trinity as being the Father, Jesus and Mary, instead of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Muslim ideas about Jesus and the Trinity can also be read in the section below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity

One may acknowlege the Biblical evidence for a Trinity, but to really understand why there is a Trinity and really the relationship between the 'what' and the 'who' is another matter, and something many Christians still struggle with. Both the Trinity concept and Arianism regard Jesus and the Holy Spirit as 'mediators' in some sense, but that the Trinitarian view is that Jesus as a mediator is God, whereas the Arian view is that Jesus as mediator is semi-God and not actually God.

Judaism regards the Trinity as a false doctrine and is some sense could be considered the basis for Arianism. Jews argue that the OT is quite clear that God, The Eternal, is indivisible and one, and that the Jews were taught by Moses to only pray in the one God's name. Isaiah writes of God's words that he was the first and the last, and besides him there is no God. Jews do also not accept that Jesus was God, but instead a heretic. Judaism argues that there is no direct reference to the word Trinity, or complete single verse explanation of it, in the Old Testament (which is true). Judaism also argues that certain passages from the NT state that not all parts of the trinity have equal power, nor is the punishment for blasphemy against any one person of the Trinity the same.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org

Judaism also points to the passages from the New Testament as evidence questioning the validity of the concept of the Trinity:

1) Jesus does not have the same power as the other Persons of the Trinity - presumably Jesus should be forgiving them in any case as he is God?

Luke 23:34 (KJV): Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

2) Jesus will is not quite the same as the Father.

Matthew 26:42: He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

Jesus was man as well as God, but his will should be that of the father - even in times of weakness? As when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. Indeed one could argue that Jesus should not need to pray to the father if he is already God - unless his human side is somehow separated from his God-side, compartmentalised somehow. If Jesus prayed to the Father, and showed us the Lord's prayer beginning 'Our Father..', why do most Christians pray to the 'Lord Jesus' and not just to the Father?

3) Jesus did not have the knowledge of the Father - one can presume that his includes both Jesus and the Holy Spirit?

Matthew 24:36: But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Mark 13:32: But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Judaism also argues that God has sent many spirits to mankind, apart from Angels, for example:

1) The Spirit of God - Genesis 1:2 (KJV): And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
2) Evil Spirit of God - I Samuel 16:23 (KJV): And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
3) The Lying Spirit of God - I Kings 22:23 (KJV): Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.

4) The Destroyer - Exodus 12:23 (KJV): For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
5) The Burning Bush - Exodus 3:2-4 (KJV):
2: And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3: And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4: And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.


These are described or implied in the Bible as being aspects of God in some sense. However, Judaism argues that if one is to adopt a concept of the Trinity, or multiple Persons of God, or 'mediators, then surely these forms should have been included too? Or none included at all. It is thus thought that Christians and the NT in general have arbitrarily chosen the Holy Spirit and the Son and ignored the others. Jews often accuse Christianity of wanting a concept of 3 Persons, in similar keeping to other religions like Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Babylonian mythology (Anu, Bel and Ena) and Roman mythology (the trinity of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva - ignoring the other Gods). However, if one is to take the New Testament as fact, then it is clear that this is not what Jesus taught.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation06.html

Judaism argues that many of the concepts of the New Testament are out of keeping with the teachings of the Old Testament, for example, returning to the pagan concept of human sacrifice, not sticking to just the one Person of God, different concepts of Hell and of Satan, introducing the concept of 'original sin', using the concept of another dying for one's sins (not permitted in OT); and Jesus not fulfilling many of the Messianic prophecies, and thus in some sense it is not valid as it breaks with God's teachings.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation03.html

Christians argue that the purpose of Jesus ministry was to act as a more effective 'mediator' to mankind than to necessarily fulfill every prophecy of the Tanakh. Indeed, Jesus was not recognised as the Messiah by many Jews for this reason, as he was not seen as a literal, powerful, political King for the Nation of Israel.

Judaism believes that man cannot become God and God cannot become man. This is the pagan tradition of the Pharaohs and Roman Emperors who claimed to be Gods and were worshipped.

Hosea 11:9 (KJV): I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.

Numbers 23:19 (KJV): God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation08.html

What is your concept of the trinity?

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Gospel of Barnabas and the Islamic view of Jesus:

Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus and the concept of the Trinity, but believe Jesus to be a prophet, a man born of immaculate conception of Mary and the Holy Spirit; a man who was miraculously endowed by God and able to perform miracles; and who did not die on the cross; there being no physical resurrection but Jesus was carried up to God in a spiritual resurrection.

Qur'an 4:156-157: (156)And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. (157) But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise.

Muslim academics claim that Paul changed Christian doctrines and incorporated Pagan Roman Traditions and Platonic philosophy. Paul is considered to have added the following ideas to Christianity:

1) That Jesus is the Son of God
2) The concept of Atonement
3) The renunciation of the Law of the Torah

It is claimed that Paul did this to try to win over the Gentiles (non-Jews) and that the actual followers of Jesus and those who had known Jesus strongly resisted these ideas.

Muslim academics often point to the Gospel of Barnabas as evidence. The disciple Barnabas is reputed to have written a gospel documenting the 'real' Jesus. Muslim academics claim that the Gospel of Barnabas dates back to perhaps the first century, and claim it was accepted as Canonical Gospel in the Churches of Alexandria until 325 AD. Saint Iranaeus (130-200 AD) is claimed to have been a staunch opponent of Paul and his ideas about Jesus and is claimed to have quoted frequently from this gospel in his writings.

www.soundvision.com/Info/Jesus/inIslam.asp

www.wrestedscriptures.com/a08islam/gospelchange.html

The Gospel of Barnabas can be read at the link below.

www.barnabas.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=34&Itemid=61

Two versions of the Gospel of Barnabas have been found, one in Spanish and one in Italian, not Aramaic or Hebrew. Experts have dated it to the 14th or 16th Century at the earliest. The text contains a number of anachronisms and geographical errors. It is generally believed to be a Medieval forgery, a pseudepigraphical work.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Barnabas

It is likely that Muslim academics are confusing the Gospel of Barnabas the Epistle of Barnabas, written in the first Century, or perhaps even the Acts of Barnabas and the Epistle of Barnabas:

The Epistle of Barnabas was written between AD 70 and 135. It is traditionally ascribed to the Barnabas who is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, though some ascribe it to another apostolic father of the same name, a 'Barnabas of Alexandria', or simply attribute it to an unknown early Christian teacher. Toward the end of the second century Clement of Alexandria cites the Epistle. It is also appealed to by Origen. Eusebius, however, objected to it and ultimately the epistle disappeared from the appendix to the New Testament, or rather the appendix disappeared with the epistle. The epistle generally sided with the Pauline view of Christianity and is not considered Gnostic in general. Perhaps the association of the Epistle of Barnabas with Clement of Alexandria is behind the Muslim academic claim that the 'Gospel of Barnabas' was part of the accepted canon of the Churches of Alexandria at this time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_of_Barnabas

The Acts of Barnabas has been identified by its use of language as a 5th Century AD work. The text of the pseudepigraphical (falsely attrituted work of the) Acts of Barnabas claims to identify its author as 'John Mark', the companion of Paul, as if writing an account of Barnabas, the Cypriot Jew who was a member of the earliest church at Jerusalem. The convert Saul was welcomed into the apostolic community through the services of Barnabas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Barnabas

Saint Irenaeus was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyons, France. He was an early church father and apologist, and first great Catholic theologian. His writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist. His most famous book 'Against Heresies' (180 AD) was a detailed attack on Gnosticism. More recent findings from Nag Hammadi however show that Irenaeus' view of Gnosticism and his claims were highly inaccurate. Perhaps Muslim academics believe he quoted from the Epistle of Barnabas, which they are perhaps confusing with the Gospel of Barnabas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

This is not to say that the Muslim view of Jesus is necessarily wrong, but that the evidence cited could be considered as highly flawed and inaccurate.

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Monotheism and Dualism:

If one views spiritual fulfillment as being in tune with God, and if there is only one God, then evil could be viewed as the absence of spiritual awareness and a moving away from God and connectedness; towards the ego, and self-power through negative and hateful actions. Clearly one requires an ego in certain respects to interact with the world and to survive. The ego is in a sense a defense mechanism ingrained from our animal 'fight or flight' days. Is it important to literally believe in the concept of the Devil, and in Satan as a self-conscious being? Does belief in God necessarily mean that one has to believe in the Devil? The Devil is often cited as being the 'opposite' of God, and as such, is given the status of a 'God', albeit an evil one! As a fallen angel, surely Satan is just an evil spirit, as other demons are. The 'enemies' of being with God in our day to day experience are demons, or evil spirits, who normally reside in the astral plane. Does one really need to know the exact hierarchy and which exact evil spirit is trying to mess us around? Do demons have to necessarily have a 'big boss'? Probably not. To what extent can Christian beliefs be considered dualistic in terms of two 'Gods', one good and one evil, (i.e. ditheistic - two opposing Gods, as opposed to bitheistic meaning two complimentary Gods!), and to what extent can it be considered monistic, monotheistic and/or panentheistic? Can an angel, whether fallen or not, exert such a big influence on the minds and hearts of humanity? Or is he working with considerable help from 'friends', i.e. other evil spirits? Or is 'evil' just the sensation of egotism and turning away from God, in its lowest form?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism

Dualism when applied to theism is the belief in two Gods, either complimentary (bitheism) or in opposition to one another (i.e. ditheism). Many Christians have a perception of Satan as a 'God' and being the polar opposite to God. This is a somewhat dualistic (ditheistic) interpretation of Christianity. Those of this perspective may view evil as being that which highlights the good that there is, and in a sense good and evil having some kind of symbiotic relationship, one 'needing' the other.

Some Christians point out the difference between believing 'in' something and believing 'against' something. Clearly if you focus on what you believe is what you don't want, you are more likely to subconsciously embrace it rather than reject it. Not all Christians believe 'in' the Devil or a concept of Satan. Karl Barth once remarked that it is impossible for a Christian to believe 'in' the devil, since the devil deserves only an attitude of utter disbelief. Thus Christians do not believe in him, but against him. If you want to 'believe in' something, it’s much better to believe in God! It could be argued that a belief in God is itself also a denial and rejection of the powers of nothingness and of all the dark glory of their parasitic pseudo-existence.

One could argue that Christians, believing in God, cannot believe in the devil and demons as they may believe in angels. Christians are supposed to have a positive relationship to that in which we believe. There is no positive relationship to the 'devil' and/or demons. Christians perhaps can only know that they oppose them with the most radical unbelief (i.e. a strong belief in the power of God). So in a sense the 'devil' or demons are just a myth, the lie which is the basis of all other lies - i.e. to believe in the devil is to believe in a lie!

However, perhaps this is just a matter of focus and that one is still in effect believing in the existance of 'Satan', but that one is choosing not to focus on him or give him any power. Is this a more enlightened view or just burying one's head in the sand? Does one have to fool oneself to just avoid focussing on the Devil? Is one's faith that weak? It could be argued that this is still a dualistic (ditheistic) view. Interpreting anything that moves away from God as 'Satanic' can sometimes help to reinforce the dualistic interpretation and understanding of Christianity, which often misses the point. It could be argued that practices such as Exorcism are in some way dualistic or give significance to 'devils' or 'the devil'.

Unless one acknowledges that the 'devil' is just a belief (convenient term) in 'non-God' or absence of God, in a literal sense, or an embrace of the more destructive parts of one's ego, then only this is arguable truly monotheistic. Whether one believes in fallen angels and evil spirits any more than one believes that some peoplein the past and present have committed cruel, 'evil' deeds and atrocities against humanity actually has anything to do with God or has any bearing in one's concept of God is another matter. The concept of God does not need a 'formal opponent' as such. Does one need to understand exactly the nature of 'non-God' in order to understand one's faith in God? Does it matter if 'non-God' is just the destructive side of the ego, or where one is vulnerable to literal 'spiritual attack' by an evil spirit or spirits, or whether it is the influence of 'Satan' is perhaps largely irrelevant.

If one believes in a formal entity or opponent, how powerful is one to assume that it is - as powerful as God? That would truly be dualistic.

Whether 'Satan' then is a fallen angel generally associated with a person's rejection of God, of 'devils' or just symoblic is a matter for personal interpretation. Christianity should presumably be focussed on God (what one wants) rather than on the 'devil' (what one doesn't want). The confusion over terminology in the New Testament and how literal or symbolic it is clearly does little to help Christians understand what they really believe in.

To make matters more confusing, one should consider what Jesus actually believed as a man, and what he believed, being 'God'. Jesus was brought up in the faith Judaism. He regarded the Scriptures as divine. Judaism as discussed above does not believe in a literal concept of the Devil. Presumably Jesus then as he regarded the Scriptures with great reverence did not believe in the concept of the Devil either? The New Testament has numerous references to 'the Devil' and Satan in the Christian rather than Jewish context. Was this creative writing or interpretation by the gospel writers/editors, or did Jesus actually radically differ from the books of the Old Testament in his beliefs? What is the exact nature of the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament? In many respects, Jesus was providing some new interpretations of how one should reach God and how to interpret the spirit of the Scriptures. He was declaring himself to be the Son of God (according to the Bible). But otherwise, as a man, he followed Jewish customs and Jewish laws (with certain exceptions!) To what extent did Jesus share the scientific views and beliefs of the Jews? To what extent did he possess divine knowledge of these and to what extent did he possess the same knowledge as everyone else (e.g. the earth being the centre of the universe, the earth being flat and having windows in the sky to let the water in etc.)? Are the references to 'devils' or the 'devil' in the New Testament just a reflection of Jesus power over the dead and evil spirits? And have nothing actually to do with 'the devil'?

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Hesychasm and Theoria:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychasm

Hesychasm (Greek 'hesychasmos', from 'hesychia', "stillness, rest, quiet, silence") is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some other Eastern Churches of the Byzantine Rite, practised by the Hesychast; based on Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "go into your closet to pray", Hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (Theoria).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoria

Eastern and Western Orthodox Traditions vary in general, as Western Orthodox Christianity holds that the essence of God is unknowable and cannot be directly experienced.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Fathers

http://home.newadvent.org/cathen/01623c.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayings_of_the_Desert_Fathers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philokalia

Below are the Philokalia in mp3 format.

www.philokalia.org

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Concepts of the Devil, Fallen Angels and Hell:

We are familiar with the figure of Satan in the New Testament. However, is this figure the same as the Satan of the Old Testament? Does a deity with the same qualities or role as Satan occur in other religions in antiquity? Was Lucifer a fallen angel? Is Lucifer the same as Satan? Please see the Deities associated with Satan page for more information.

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The After Life:

The ancient Christian Churches hold that a final universal judgement will be pronounced on all human beings when soul and body are reunited in the resurrection of the dead.

Some other denominations, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, hold that, until the resurrection, the dead simply cease to exist or, if they exist at all, do so in a state of unconsciousness.' (a.k.a. soul sleep).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_sleep

In Christian theology, soul sleep is a belief that the soul sleeps unconsciously between the death of the body and its resurrection on Judgment Day. Soul sleep is also known as psychopannychism (from Greek psyche (soul, mind) + pannuchizein (to last the night)).

A similar belief is thnetopsychism (from Greek thnetos (mortal) + psyche (soul, mind)), the view that the soul dies with the body to be recalled to life at the resurrection of the dead, or that the soul is not separate from the body and so there is no "spiritual" self to survive bodily death.

In both cases, the deceased does not begin to enjoy a reward or suffer a punishment until Judgment Day.

The more common Christian belief about the intermediate state between death and Judgment Day is particular judgment, that the soul is judged at death. In Roman Catholicism, the soul is judged to go to heaven or hell immediately after death, a belief also held by most Protestants. In Catholicism some temporarily stay in purgatory to be purified for heaven. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the soul waits in the abode of the dead until the resurrection of the dead, the saved resting in light and the damned suffering in darkness. This Eastern Orthodox picture of particular judgment is similar to the 1st-century Jewish and early Christian concept that the dead either "rest in peace" in the Bosom of Abraham or suffer in Gehenna. This view was also promoted by John Calvin in his treatise attacking soul sleep.

Soul sleep was promoted by some Reformation as well as some minor Protestant denominations.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell#Christianity

In the above instance, the soul that dies could be interpreted literally, in the precise terms that Ezekiel was used to using, to support the above idea, or metaphorically to mean 'eternal damnation' or 'not heaven', i.e. life meaning the kingdom of heaven and death meaning hell.

Universalism is the belief that all life comes from God, and that the dead are reconciled with God, in one way or another. Universalism is increasingly marginal as a Christian belief in the present day, although much more prominent up until the 6th Century AD.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universalism

One could argue that our moment to moment experience is our consciousness being dragged around by our conscious minds and subject to the thought patterns and 'software' programming of our unconscious minds. But that these things do not constitute our 'soul' or consciousness. Our consciousness is simply a 'passenger' to this 'computer' or 'vessel' of the brain. If one subscribes to this understanding, one could perhaps consider that your programming dictates your actions and that your concept of freewill is indeed somewhat limited; and that when you die, your soul is released from your body, and is still separate from the body/mind/brain, and basically it makes no difference what you did in your life, your soul rejoins God and the Universe, knows peace once again. The 'hell' or 'heaven' you experience perhaps depends on your programming and state of mind that you drag yourself through whilst you are alive. Of course, this view may not necessarily be true. Perhaps this is an interpretation of Universalism, where the exact mechanism of reconciliation is varied according to the exact belief.

The question of the starving child who doesn't know Jesus is as old as the Bible itself. If a starving child has not accepted Jesus into his heart, will he go to Hell? What about toddlers who cannot yet speak? Must they believe in Jesus to be go to Heaven if they were to be killed in an accident? Does it depend on whether the child was baptised or christened? Or the spirit and atmosphere around the child, specifically the parents, and the vibe that the child picks up? And to what extent is this within the todder's control? Are we expecting children, toddlers, infants and the child in the womb to make adult decisions? To what extent does a child's faith really mean anything as the child has yet to experience life, appy his faith in life situations and to know himself? Of course, not all children lack self-knowledge.

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Last Judgement:

Last Judgement is the belief that after the return of Jesus, that all souls, both living and dead, will be judged again. Those that have already gone to Heaven will be judged again and if deemed worthy, will remain in Heaven, or otherwise be cast out. This is a view held by both Protestants and Catholics. However, some Protestants believe that the dead souls rest in another place whilst waiting for the Final Judgement. Esoteric and Gnostic traditions however do not believe in the Final Judgement as it is at odds with God's nature.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment

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Kingdom of God:

What is truly meant by the 'Kingdom of God'? It is mentioned in both the OT and NT. Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as the theme of his ministry as well as the destination for the righteous in the end of days. Those who believed in him would join him in the Kingdom of God, i.e. Heaven, when they died, and receive eternal life, but only truly experience the full kingdom of God after the Last Judgement at the end of days. Some Christians interpret the Kingdom of God to be all around us in the physical world, a state of mind that one attains through faith, rather than just being a final destination. On some level in the latter philosophy it is very similar in concept to the Holy Spirit, or perhaps a panentheistic view of the Kingdom of God. It is the journey and not the destination. Some minority Christian groups believe in different types of Heaven, for the faithful, and for the good that do not believe in Jesus or God, etc. Some scholars have interpreted the Kingdom of God as referring to a literal geographic power group, meaning the Jewish people in Israel (being Godly - with a 'King', i.e. Jesus) versus the Roman rulers (not the Kingdom of God, but Kingdom of sin etc.) Muslims interpret the Kingdom of God as being in everything good, including people who do good deeds and who trust in God, but not in those things that do not. Jesus uses some elaborate language when describing the Kingdom of God, and indeed there are several possible interpretations. Gnostics interpret the Kingdom of God as being Gnosis or indeed the Pleroma.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_god

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven

A friend of mine sent him this anecdote:

Look back and 'Thank' God.
Look forward and 'Trust' God.
Look around and 'Serve' God!
Look within and 'Find' God!

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Original Sin:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin

Judaism does not have a concept of Original Sin that mankind inherited from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Babies are born free of sin, and become sinful through fleshy desires and rebellion against God, in opposition to mainstream Christianity's view that one is born sinful and only through faith in Jesus and being 'born again' and asking Jesus for forgiveness can one be cleansed of sin. However, the concept of Original Sin did not appear in Christianity until the 4th Century AD, when St Augustine of Hippo, the Bishop of Hippo Regius, created it through his own interpretation of the Bible, basing this notion on 2nd Century anti-Gnostic teachings. The concept of original sin was one of the factors that held down the power of women in the early church and even today, as woman are in some sense believed to be blamed for the fall of mankind from grace, and giving 'ancestral sin' to their children. The story of Jezebel, the proud Queen who refused to give up her own culture and religion in her new surroundings, much like Christian rulers would not give up their own religion and impose it on others, but who was thought of as an example of the 'evil' of women, is also a contributary factor to misogyny and sexism in Christianity.

Even if one was to assume that Original Sin WAS Christian from the beginning, but was not understood properly prior to the 4th Century AD, then to what extent were Jews then free of sin before the coming of Christ, but then by default sinful until they believed in him after his ministry? Were the teachings of the Torah on this wrong? The Scriptures were the teachings that Jesus himself studied and followed prior to his ministry. Jews argue that Genesis does not actually state that Adam and Eve were sinful, but first mentions 'sin' in conjunction with Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve stated as being thrown out of the Garden of Eden because Eve listened to the speaking Serpent and tasted fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God did not want Adam and Eve to taste fruit from the Tree of Live and receive Immortality. Thus it could be argued that humanity experiences mortality and physical death as it is the intended natural cycle of life that God intended and that he never intended for humankind to be physically immortal. However this is a matter of debate as Genesis refers to extended life spans of early man, and the fact that God was not pleased with Adam and Eve for disobeying his instructions. Was this then 'sin'?

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation05.html

Christians believe that man is born into sin, and that Jesus came to save mankind from damnation, rather than comdemn people to (eternal) damnation. From the Father comes the Final Judgement.

John 5:24: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Christians believe in the concept of being born into sin and condemnation, and the purpose of Jesus was/is to save mankind from condemnation, and not to condemn him. The Father performs the Final Judgement.

John 5:24: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

What does the evangelical/born-again Christian concept of being 'saved' actually mean. Is it a single decision or event in one's life that 'guarantees' that one will go to heaven regardless of how one behaves in the rest of one's days? The way many Christians use it does instill a somewhat false belief in this regard, like it's in the past tense.

Does being saved to mean escape condemnation? Or does it mean to actually go to heaven? The latter meaning is unlikely. However, to be saved in the Christian sense may mean that one may enjoy some fruits early on but that as one grows in one's faith one can enjoy many other fruits of one's relationship with Jesus.

In romans 10:9 the word save is a greek word, "sozo." It means to save, "keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction one (from injury or peril); to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health, to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue.

To save could therefore mean to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment or to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance.

The word saved is often used in a single sense rather than in the above usages, but after one has embraced God, one's spiritual wellbeing is up to the individual and his ongoing relationship with God.

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Opposition to Human Sacrifices:

After Abraham, God was clearly opposed to human sacrifices to God. Yet God gave his son Jesus to be sacrificed for the sins of mankind. Did this action then cleanse mankind of its sins (and original sin) only if they believed in Jesus? To what extent was God breaking his own rules?

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation01.html

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation02.html

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation05.html

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Genesis: Creationism and Evolution:

The historical relationship of science and religion, specifically Christianity, has been rocky in places, with the Catholic Church suppressing and persecuting early scientists that challenged the authority of the Church. Natural events were thought of simply as the Will of God. Over time, the scientific perspective has more and more formulated our society and its technology. It should however be noted that not all religions have dismissed Science that challenged their cosmological view. Indeed, Islamic scholars and scientists were at the cutting edge of scientific development before the Enlightenment.

One may view Genesis (or other parts of the Bible) as being literal truth. Or indeed as a spiritual understanding of the creation of the universe applied to historical concepts of 'physics' and 'astonomy', i.e. a human interpretation of divine truth and inspiration. i.e. the Bible is not the same as the Koran which is believed to be the literal word of God as spoken to Mohammed, observed orally until the death of Mohammed, but after which time was recorded by scribes. The Bible is clearly not an all or nothing book. It is a collection of many different books written by different people in different cultural surroundings, for different reasons. There is not one single mode of interpretation that applies to all books equally, one has to take each book on its own merits, and indeed each verse on its own merits even, understanding its context, to arrive at sensible interpretation. All or nothing arguments are outmoded and inappropriate in my opinion.

Perhaps if Genesis had been written today, then it would be very different, but still convey a similar spirit and meaning. For example, would it include a description of the Big Bang or Super String Theory, i.e. the creation of the universe and not just the Earth, by God?

Many theoretical physicists have no explanation why a singularity should suddenly explode and many cite it as evidence that there must have been some form of divine intervention, including Professor Stephen Hawking himself. Modern physicists marvel at the exact relationship between the fundamental forces, as any minor deviation would have meant that life could never have existed anywhere in the universe. M-Theory may provide an explanation of the big bang in terms of colliding membranes. However, it cannot be proven yet.

If one regards the laws of physics, and cause and effect on a large scale and also quantum level as being the mechanics of God, then every action and result is the will of God on some level (God being in all things and in those that choose to accept and feel God's spirit and without ego.) One could then argue that separation from God, in worry, anger, depression and other negative emotions, thus attracts a negative consequence and this is the will of God in some sense; as opposed to the 'wrath of God'.

Clearly the understanding of science in this manner is a case of accepting scientific discoveries and theories, and using faith as an add on, to explain the unexplained that physics often creates. Physics is unable to explain why, and the further it progresses, the more unanswered questions it raises. To adherents of this view, including Vatican astronomers, they do not reject any scientific discoveries, but are actually seeking to advance knowledge of science and astronomy. They do not regard Genesis as literal truth, but as an allegory as described above, with the spirit of God in it. As Genesis is not a fundamental tenet of the Christian church, then they feel comfortable with accepting the scientific explanation of the creation and age of the Universe with no problems at all. However, if one day science was to disprove the existence of Jesus, then this might present a problem. This is not likely. The Bible as a religious and spiritual work can be viewed as never dating over 1000s of years, not being a scientific work, whereas science books and papers go out of date in a matter of years.

Of course, not all scientists have any spiritual belief, and from a strictly scientific perspective, one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. However there is not hard data to go on for scientists, and thus the idea cannot be discounted but is not a theory in progress.

Most (Western) Christians would concede that the creation story is an allegory or a metaphor based on Jewish traditions and not perhaps the literal word of God. However, there are Christians that reject any scientific theory that provides a conflict with the Bible, and indeed may adapt/distort/reinterpret contemporary scientific evidence to make it fit in with the Bible story, even if this means ignoring a huge amount of data from geological dating etc. Even if one does not believe in God one can view Genesis as a piece of beautiful poetry and worth reading on its own merits.

Those of an atheistic disposition who dismiss Genesis as outmoded myth, perhaps underestimate the importance of storytelling and myth. Human beings have been telling stories for as long as language has existed. We understand ourselves and see insights into the human condition through storytelling and myths, and the tales of the actions of others. Atheists who reject any story or myth of creation may consider themselves as being educated and rational, but the vast majority still enjoy escapism and myths, in the form of novels, television and cinema. Is it rational to watch a low quality soap opera for many years and on some level the brain considers it to be 'real'? Clearly there is a human need for such abstractions or fantasies. Does this make a spiritual person less rational?

What Genesis does do however is quite new from the pre-existing Jewish pagan religions of the time. Other pagan and monotheistic religions that predate Judaism view creation as something that was born out of conflict between opposing forces or rival deities. Genesis describes acts of creation not as dramatic explosive results of spiritual conflict but as serene, calm and deliberate acts of a single creative force. There is no conflict.

Would a modern version of Genesis (if written today) use the concept of Darwinist evolution or not? There are many Christian evolutionists, so it is not just a debate between atheist scientists, creationists and 'intelligent design' proponents. The fossil record is used by some Christians to justify creationism, to the extent that Christian museums exist today featuring Homo Sapiens together with dinosaurs - despite the fact that no human/proto-human remains are found in the same geological period as dinosaurs and large reptiles. Literalists who believe Genesis to the letter do not always have the same sense of following every letter in the Bible, as often key teachings of Jesus, such as forgiveness and turning the other cheek, are ignored when it suits, for example, when it concerns the death penalty, engaging in warfare and in matters of foreign policy. So it is a form of selective 'fundamentalism'. Science does not have to be at odds with spirituality, but in fact both should enhance each other, and should be simply different ways of expressing the same thing (on a Quantum level).

The UK movement known as the 'Sea of Faith' is a network of religious individuals who believe wholeheartedly in science. They acknowledge that the idea of creation in Genesis is an allegory, and that God might not exist, and that Jesus probably existed but may not have been a supernatural figure or had a resurrection. Strangely some with these views are practising bishops and priests! However, their open mindedness in their beliefs, perhaps largely Agnostic, favouring science and psychology over religion, does not stop them practising their religion personally and in the service of others. This is justified by the logic that rather than reject their faith and practice, they choose to embody it as it answers many spiritual questions and provides a valuable method of developing positive relationships with others, cultivating happiness and stillness, taming the ego and providing a positive social fabric and guidance for society. The Bible is viewed as a narrative of describing human nature and a better way to live, and which may or may not be the literal word of God. Clearly this perspective is non-dogmatic in its approach, but is a personal view of faith or a personal Agnostic view of faith. Whilst this clearly only has a minority membership with the UK Churches, it is still significant and growing. There are many ways of viewing faith, and the concept that there is a default clash with science is not correct. There can be, but equally there does not have to be.

www.sofn.org.uk/sof/index.html

Whilst Western Christianity, particularly Catholicism, stifled the growth of science for many centuries, it did slowly adapt to embrace scientific enquiry and not view it as a threat. When Darwin first presented his theory, it started a religious argument that has ensued to this day. Many contemporary Christians at the time were concerned about the comparison with monkeys and the literal interpretation of Genesis, and later on when Darwin was used as a rationale for atheism and a divergence from Christian morality, they were understandably concerned that survival of the fittest would replace helping the poor and needy. Indeed, the excesses of this philosophy can be seen in its misapplication in Eugenics and indeed Nazi Germany's policies. Clearly there was good reason to be concerned about the excesses of Neo-Darwinism and applying Darwin's theories outside of it's actual scientific 'home'. Creationism, some might argue, is the application of religious beliefs and ideas into domains where it does not belong either, and is not a true reflection of religion or spiritual belief. Unfortunately, many atheists point at creationism to dismiss all religion as being unscientific, much as some anti-Darwinists point to Nazism to dismiss all of Darwin's ideas, which is not fair either. It should be remembered that Darwinism does not necessarily have to conflict with religion, although it clearly can for Creationists and those who take religious texts completely literally in their entirety. Darwinism and the Theory of Natural Selection, like any scientific theory, is true as far as it goes and we can measure it today - on the whole, although that is now in question following the latest studies in genetics - but it is by no means a complete theory. It is a part theory, explaining only a small part of the overall empirical picture. It is the theory of the how, but does not tell us 'why'. Religion can be used to explain the why as plausibly as atheism and chaos theory can. Atheism in this sense is not proven by Darwin. And neither is Religion. What meaning one chooses to associate is down to personal choice and interpretation.

Darwinism and specifically Social Darwinism is examined in the Religion Other section.

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Parting of the Red Sea:

Did God really part the Red Sea for Moses or is this a mistake in translation - the correct translation being 'Reed Sea' or the marshy area on the north coast that separates Egypt from Israel? One theory is that the Reed Sea could potentially have been drained for 45 minutes during an earthquake emanating from the middle of the Mediterranean and causing a huge flood up the river valleys thereafter, which either killed the Pharoah's army or inspired a little elaborating of the story of Exodus. This opens up the debate of if the Old Testament does not contain literal spiritual truth from God, then to what extent is it an interpretation and 'tradition' and 'myth' and how should one interpret it to gain the spirit of what is being said. It is clearly a matter of interpretation and one should formulate one's own opinion on the subject.

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Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament and Antisemitism

Christians acknowledge that God sent Jesus to preach a different message than was evident in the less forgiving and vengeful (on occasion) God of the Old Testament, and that over time, God came to want to reach humankind (and not just the Jews) in a slightly different way. One could debate as to why God wasn't like this from the beginning. One way of interpreting this is clearly to separate the aspects of God into two separate Gods, as the Gnostics have done. Another way is to completely reject the Old Testament as being false or confused religion and not embodying the true spirit of God. Another is to regard the Old Testament as really being a collection of books describing Jewish religious history, traditions and 'myths' with less global application than the New Testament. Or one could view the struggle Jesus had with the Jewish religious establishment as evidence that the Jewish religion had slowly become corrupted (no fault of the Old Testament or Torah itself), and that there is no real inconsistency between the Old and New Testaments, but the New Testament is merely adding an additional layer on top of spiritual understanding and way of coming to God. One could take the view that much of the New Testament as largely irrelevant or lesser in importance, and just stick to reading the four canonical gospels, as anything that the apostles said or did would be of secondary importance to the word and actions of Jesus.

At the time of Jesus ministry, his audience had only had sight of the Scriptures, or the Old Testament and other books of the Torah. Jesus was teaching a slightly different message about the spirit of God. In some sense, before the arrival of Jesus, it was 'enough' to just believe in God to 'go to heaven'. However, after Jesus ministry and death on the cross, his message was on the whole if one believes the canonical gospels, that one had to believe that Jesus was Lord. How can one reconcile these two different positions based on a difference of say 50 years? Clearly if Jesus was the son of God, and one believed in God, then there would be no reason not to believe in him. Does this mean that those Jews who continue to follow Judaism are then considered 'hard of heart' and not worthy of going to heaven? Does this mean that God should have communicated the commandments differently to Moses and his message differently to Abraham and Isaiah? Or was it because of the way the message from God from the prophets adopted by the Jewish people had changed over the subsequent years?

To what extent was Jesus preaching to the Jews and simply fulfilling Jewish prophecies from the Scriptures? To what extent was his story 'sexed up' so that he would fulfil these predictions and prophecies to the letter and fullest extent, to appeal to the Jews more? To what extent was his message Universal and the history of the Jewish people and Israel irrelevant? Jesus, being a Jew and following the Scriptures, preached a message to mankind which was not strictly based on the Scriptures or tied to the Scriptures - to what extent should those who follow the word and spirit of Jesus actually pay attention to those same Jewish customs and Scriptures?

Jesus was fully versed in the Torah and Scriptures and indeed so were his Jewish audience and followers. The Kabbalah did not become part of the Torah until much later, probably the 13th Century AD. The Bible has explicit mention of evil of the occult, and if the Kabbalah did represent the secret, esoteric knowledge given by God to both Adam and Moses, then Jesus would no doubt have been aware of it, being God, and would have communicated this in his teachings, assuming this was something that was valuable and congruent with a belief in God and in Jesus, and that it had disappeared from Hebew texts of the time.

Many view the early teachings of Jesus as a refinement of Judaism, being that Jesus was well versed in the Scriptures (i.e. Torah) and used to teach from the Scriptures in Synagogues himself as a youth. Has the Jewish component of Jesus been lost? History and the NT show us that Paul's vision of Christianity became increasingly dismissive of the Jews, who were not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven unless they accepted Jesus as the Son of God. Paul became increasingly dismissive of the Torah or OT and associated books. This general attitude prevailed within the early orthodox (Catholic) church.

Further demonisation of Jews perhaps occurred because of the perception of Judas, the Jew - his name sounding a bit like 'Jew-das', being the Christ killer, and his image being portrayed in religious art as having increasingly Jewish features; Jesus becoming more classically 'white European' or Gentile in his appearance; and the story of the death of Jesus 'at the hands of the Jews' rather than Pontius Pilate; has resulted in a huge amount of anti-semitism over the last 2000 years. Jews were demonised in Christian art as being the enemy of Christianity. In England, stories of cannibalism of Christian babies by Jews was spread resulting in incidents of mass executions of Jews. Some perhaps regard this as being insecurity of the offspring religion of it's parent religion, a form of Oedipus complex.

Rome made its first Jewish Ghetto in 1555 at the bequest of the Roman Catholic Pope, as it was felt that Jews and Christians living in harmony was undesirable, as the Christians might become 'tainted' somehow. This lasted until 1870 when it was finally abolished. The Vatican did not make an official statement about Jews not being 'Christ killers' until 1965!

Martin Luther's 'One the Jews and their Lies' (1543) was arguably anti-semitic in content, although to regard it as a precursor to Nazism would be highly anachronistic and misuse of hindsight. It was one book of many, and his main focus was on the nature of salvation. Some scholars view Luther's influence as limited and the Nazi party's use of his work as highly opportunistic. In any case, the Nazis in general were not interested in religion and indeed persecuted Christianity as it promoted the idea of universal brotherhood. Some Nazis were indeed Christians and perhaps they cited this book of Luther to justify what they already believed and acted upon. It is of course no reason to dismiss Luther's ideas about salvation, as indeed the vast majority of priests, scholars, intellectuals, politicians and so on were predominantly ethnocentric and racist to some degree up until some time in the early or middle of the 20th Century.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther

A critical view of Martin Luther and his anti-semitism can be found at the link below. Indeed, Hitler regarded Luther as one of Germany's great reformers - which sounds rather like an opportunistic use of his name, as Hitler perhaps wanted to associate himself with 'household Germanic names'.

www.nobeliefs.com/luther.htm

Of course, the holocaust of WWII was not a Christian instigated programme, but it is clear that Aryan Christianity in Germany at the time had some influence on Adolf Hitler's own ideas, amongst a whole host of philosophical and Germanic mythological influences. However the holocaust affected not just Jews but also Christians, non-desirables, political prisoners and non-ethnic Germans. There are various incidences of the Vatican turning a blind eye to the Nazis and assisting them (discussed elsewhere on this site), and also certain Catholic populations assisting the Nazis, for example, the Croatians, that creates further friction between Catholics and Jews. The fact that the current Pope was once a (forced) member of the Hitler Youth has of course opened old wounds, but whether this is of any actual consequence is another matter.

Will the Jewish people regard Jesus to be one of the finest teachers and prophets of Judaism? Will Christians come to recognise Judaism and attribute it with its just significance and part in Christianity? And understand Christianity through Judaism? This might occur if the NT was not comprised mainly of texts by Paul and did not perhaps overemphasise Jesus' divinity, but more his teachings. One could view that modern Christianity as having its Jewish origins and Jewish practices, that Christ would have himself performed and been involved with, removed, to leave certain simple aspects remaining such as Baptism and the Resurrection/Forgiveness of man's sins formula remaining. Were John the Baptist and Jesus inspired by the Essenes, the Jewish sect that practiced regular ritual washing. Are these practices in fact a reflection of Christianity as a special Galilean Jewish sect, rather than being a completely new religion? Jesus was said to be the fulfillment of prophecy and the King of the Jews, to enhance and refine the Jewish religion and bring one's relationship with God back to the living and everyday existence rather than something one waited for after one was dead and the hypocrisies and showiness of contemporary Judaism of the time. Some Jews argue the concept of the 'messiah' of the OT was not necessarily of a Son of God, but a Son of Man, someone who would show the path to God and to liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule and bring truth and justice to Israel. Like a religious and military figure, a true King in that sense. Some Jews regard Jesus as being a failed messiah, in that he did not deliver in the physical world, but promised the Jews and everyone salvation after death, and in a sense during one's life through a full relationship with God; but that his physical messianic role was never fully realised. Christians argue that the second coming will result in the fulfillment of prophecy, which is either true or a convenient way of explaining around the fact that Jesus 'got himself killed' and 'failed'. Was Jesus then really resurrected? Is it possible for Jews to accept Jesus as their greatest teacher - and if so, what must be changed or adapted from the modern Christian account of who Jesus was and what he said?An examination of some of the Jewish sects and early Christian sects as above sheds some light on this, but we are still far from an easy answer or reconciliation between the two religions.

To what extent were they just a product of Jesus' humanity and his geographical location and the social traditions and culture in which he existed? If Jesus did not follow the Scriptures to the letter but more in their true spirit, were they not best communicated to the Jewish people in their Scriptural format?

To what extent are those followers of other religions, that embody a similar spirit to that of Jesus, but not quite the same, and who perhaps only recognise Jesus as a prophet, are they 'wrong' or at 'sin'? And to what extent do religions embody and deviate from the Universal Truth about God, and to what extent to they embrace it? Do they embrace it 'enough'? With the rise of atheism, secularism, individualism and hyper-capitalism, and the parallel rise in 'fundamentalism' of different faiths, are we likely to see any other prophets? And if we do, would anyone recognise them or give them any credibility? Followers of various religions are often quick to proclaim a figure a prophet or even an incarnation of God (e.g. Hindus proclaiming a deformed baby with two faces to be an incarnation of God) on a minimal sound basis.

Whilst virtually all Christians follow the teachings of Jesus in the Bible in terms of the need to pray and the need for fellowship, the vast majority of Christians do not fast and lack any kind of physical discipline. There has been a huge embracing of consumerism within Christianity, even if many Christians claim this is not the case, and a corresponding lack of respect for the body and physical discipline, and the spiritual discipline which comes from this. This is partly a case of selectively reading the Bible. Fasting was common amongst early Christians.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting#Christianity

Some modern 'fringe' branches of Christianity have incorporated holistic ideas about health and looking after the physical body into their overall theology, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists (SDA). Is this considered a 'reintroduction' of such ideas into Christianity?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah's_Witnesses

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-day_Adventist_Church

It is a shame that Christian denominations tend to focus on their differences and what they do not like about each other, or live in insular worlds where other denominations do not exist - as if their version of theology and the teachings of Jesus as the only true path; rather than focus on Jesus' teachings and his positive message. Many atheists who regard Jesus as just a wise teacher who was 'hijacked' by religious zealots might become much more interested in the teachings if the focus was here rather than on the 'formula of Jesus' - the idea that the Bible clearly states he said he was the son of God and there is no possibility that he was just a wise teacher. During Religious Education classes at school, a number of other students and I were genuinely interested in Jesus, but the teacher insisted this could not be so, presumably to try to bring in people to the faith with his written 'proof', but all it did was to turn everyone offand lose interest entirely. Is this a wise way to preach the message of Jesus?

Is a literal belief in the Christian 'Formula' necessary? That of God giving his only Son to be sacrificed so that the sins of man could be forgiven; and that in order to achieve this he had to die on the cross and be resurrected? And to taste eternal life, one must believe in this formula and accept Jesus as one's saviour, and one has a guaranteed seat in Heaven when one dies; rather than really try to understand the very deep sayings of Jesus and try to apply them to the complex situations and ethnical dilemmas of merdern living? Is the exact nature of the formula so important to 'faith' or to feeling God? At the time of writing, I acknowledge Jesus as a wise teacher, a source of illumination and being from God, but does not worship Jesus directly - but more prays to God and 'vibes' with Jesus. I believe in the Trinity as much as I am agnostic about the Trinity. Perhaps this is a Gnostic interpretation.

To search on individual words or phrases in the Bible or individual books, one may use various on-line Bibles. Here is the search page for the on line KJV:

http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/kjv2www?specfile=/texts/english/religion/kjv/kjv-pub.o2w

I concede that there are issues with some of the wording in places in the OT. There was indeed politics and culture seeping into the Bible at various times when the books were being written. If we look at things historically, everyone of every religious faith, pagan or otherwise, was butchering people for varying reasons. It is easy to impose our hypocritical, pro-human rights, modern, selfish, consumer culture onto culture of the past and criticize it, but values were very different. People went to gladiator fights! Now we have similar urges, but we repress them, and we are not honest with ourselves, and it comes out in nationalist conflicts, road rage, bullying in the workplace, yob culture, watching violent films and TV shows, listening to 'gangster' rap music or 'death metal', drug culture and racial hatred etc. I personally have an issue with the people the OT says to put to death. Just because one or more defining books of a religion has a few issues or contradictions doesn't necessarily mean that it is bad or everything in it is wrong, as you can appreciate. It depends on the individual what he chooses to believe and apply to his own life. Books are written and edited by men, and men are imperfect after all, whether they were divinely inspired or not. Politics and culture always have an effect on some level. We need to be conscious of this before passing judgement.

Videos showing clips from Oprah Winfrey's show denying the need for Jesus can be viewed below. This is listed as many Oprah fans are probably under the impression that she was a Christian.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW4LLwkgmqA&feature=related



Some critical views of the Old Testament can be found at the links below.

www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/DarkBibleContents.htm

www.bidstrup.com/bible.htm

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Conflict between Christian and Muslim Nations:

Islam, Christiantiy and Judaism co-existed in relative harmony in Cordoba, the cultural and scientific capital of Europe, during the Moorish occupation of Andalucia in Spain during the 10th Century, for example, and one should not assume that they are incompatible on religious or cultural grounds by default, on account of modern historical events, nor that fundamentalism and politicisation is by default part of these faiths. Of course, Cordoba was not the model of religious harmony, as non-Muslims were generally treated like second class citizens, and there was an underlying resentment of the Muslim occupation. But beyond this, there was a great deal of harmony in the society, more than we see anywhere today. Once the Moors left Spain, Christian kings, whilst on occasion spoiling Mosques to Christianise them as a kind of insult to Islam and a representation of religious victory, were in many cases still inspired by Moorish architecture and culture, which was often viewed as being more evolved and superior. For example, the 14th Century Alczar palace was build in the same style as the Alhambra. Southern Spain would cease to be the cultural and scientific centre of Europe. One might even argue that Spanish palate for pork and pork based food products was perhaps a reaction to the Islamic past, and a sign of cultural and religious defiance. The Crusades can be seen as an inferior or more backward culture attacking a more sophisticated one (in terms of philosophy, education, science and culture). During the latter half of the last millennium, Islamic countries and empires have been in decline with Europe and later the Americas rising to economic dominance in the world. Christianity itself has declined as well as Islam, and it is possible that in the Middle East there is a socio-economic rivalry of the West, and a jealousy of prosperity which is used by unscrupulous religious and political figures for politicial end, turning it into a religious issue.

The Crusades of the Holy Land by Roman sponsored forces were never viewed by the Arabs as being a religious war, despite the religious rhetoric, but merely as a brave attempt at imperialistic style conquest. Whilst there were some religious fundamentalists amongst their ranks, most of the Crusaders were motivated by money (being very poor) and the chance to sack and pillage those they defeated, and in some cases to rape their women (not unlike the Vikings). Raiding loot has been a common theme amongst invading armies for several millennia. King Richard's Crusaders, whilst on route to the Holy Land, stopped off at Lisbon and the soldiers attacked the city, looting, killing Jews and Muslims, burning down homes and raping women. Many were arrested and only released when their ships were about to leave dock.

The Muslims reconquest of the Holy Land and Bizantium was also just a conquest for land and spreading Islam. It was not anti-Christian as such. Indeed for all the religious rhetoric of the Crusaders, the Christian inhabitants of the captured territories got along very well with the Islamic inhabitants. The Crusaders were not really embodying Christian values in any sense nor seeking to spread Christianity as they actually invaded and sacked the Orthodox Christian captial Constantinope (named after the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine)! Ironically, the Byzantine Empire, the largest Christian Empire at the time, had requested the assistance of the Pope against invading Muslim forces. It was really just about showing who was boss and settling old scores as much as capturing land and seizing wealth. Recruits were motivated by fictitious stories of acts of barbarism by moslems against Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, and by promises of salvation if one died in combat in this 'Holy War'. The Crusades were pitched by the Pope and religious leaders as a Holy War, as opposed to necessary/defensive war that was still sinful (as had been the previous attitude towards war by Christian church leaders). They inspired an unprecedented level of religious fanaticism and desire for bloodshed in the name of religion. There were even isolated incidents of cannibalism, documented by both Christian forces and Islamic historians of the time, impaling 'pagan' (i.e. Muslim) children on spits and boiling them - although such incidents were probably very rare and were no doubt a result of starvation. Butching men, women and children was quite commonplace (by both sides) during the Crusades. Yet the Crusaders were far from widely accepted as righteous warriors by Christians at the time, and the Byzantines were initially horrified by the first Crusaders that arrived on their doorstep.

It should be noted that Saladin, the Kurdish ruler and most powerful leader in the Middle East of the day, recruited muslims using similar religious rhetoric as the Crusaders in order drum up support for the recapture of the Muslim city of Jerusalem and land of Palestine for its original inhabitants; and for his own benefit, to extend his empire and make a name for himself. He was however regarded highly by King Richard at the time and was close friends with many senior European figures. He had no wish to slaughter the Crusaders and their communities, but merely to recapture the land and re-establish 'muslim' control or his control over the territories. Although recruiting on religious grounds, he was not anti-Christian, and was aware of the history of Christianity in the Middle East, in Jerusalem, and indeed that Syria had been Christian (not from the West but from Jerusalem) long before it became a Moslem nation. Saladin was the most successful Muslim leader in Islamic history in terms of conquest of land, and is regarded as a hero by many Muslims today. Many Muslim political leaders have identified with him (in their dreams!) However, he is not the anti-Christian and anti-Zionist figure that he is made out to be by modern Muslim extremists. Such people conveniently ignore the facts about him and history, and choose to reinterpret history for their own benefit.

The Crusades were very much forgotten in the Middle East once the Crusaders were driven out and the lands recaptured, pushing Muslim control even further north than ever before, and actually capturing much of the Byzantine Empire and beyond. Memories of the Crusades were awakened again however during the European Colonial period, when empires spread into Northern Africa and India, although there really is no comparison between the Crusades and Colonial rule. During the WWI, the Germans sided with Austro-Hungary and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which controlled Jerusalem, and when the Allied Forces came to Jerusalem, leaders were very conscious about the sensitivity about the Crusades. However, the Western media was very quick to draw parallels and make insensitive comments about the latest Crusade. The subsequent British occupation and management of Palestine was handled rather badly, and the influx of Jews and expulsion of Palestinians from their land and separation of Muslims from Jews was regarded as similar to Crusader settlements and expulsion/slaughter of Muslims. Israelis or Zionists were later compared with and thought of as Crusaders by many Islamic Extremists.

Today there is still a huge amount of insecurity and ill feeling in the Muslim world towards the west, and the perception is that the Crusades never actually ended. This is a modern interpretation of what the Crusades were about. Indeed it is just socio-economic ill feeling essentially and feeling of emasculation. Muslim countries resent having anything thrust up on them or that comes from the 'West', even if it is actually what they want (e.g. democracy or economic development), as a matter of principle. By addressing these socio-economic issues and encouraging the countries in question to be seen to be developing initiatives themselves, they will be more lively to succeed, and arrive at a point of greater religious tolerance and mutual understanding between two of the great monotheistic religions that have more in common than they would like to admit.

Some view the Crusaders, pretending to represent Christian values, but really just after land and stealing wealth, are similar to the interventions of the West in the Middle East, for example, the invasions of Iraq on the pretext of anti-terrorism but 'in actuality' an attempt to secure oil resources and open the country up to corporate interests. However, this is a very expensive theft, and the value of the oil has been paid many many times over by American tax payers and the lives of inhabitants and Western soldiers alike.

Modern Islamic fundamentalism and indeed terrorism associated with Al Qaeda can be seen as the Crusader ethic living on today. The Christian instigators of the Crusades were the creators of modern Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in a sense. Al Qaeda capitalise on the ill feeling about the Crusades in the Muslim world by referring to Westerners (including any Christian denomination and indeed anyone European or American) as Crusaders, manipulating people's feelings to gain support, wanting to expel the 'Crusaders' from 'Muslim soil' (as they did 1000 years ago) regardless of whether they are there to protect democracy or not. There is still a fundamental lack of cultural appreciation about the effect of the Crusades in the minds of modern Muslims, and the actual slaughter that went on during the Crusades, on the request of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church seems to have conveniently forgotten about this. Westerners use the term 'Crusade' in casual conversation to mean a committed effort to do a particular task, unaware of its offensive connotations amongst Muslims. If we were to describe an attempt to eradicate inefficiency in the office as a 'holocaust', we might find it similarly distasteful. Modern conflict in Palestine is clearly fuelled to some extent by perceptions of the Crusades, with an Islamic Extremist desire to 'expel all infidels from the Holy Land', i.e. modern day Jews. Of course, not all or indeed most Muslims do not share this view, but many are manipulated by extremists into joining their cause. George W. Bush displayed his lack of cultural appreciation and ignorance in his famous speech after 911, when he talked of a 'Crusade...a war on terror'. This was not heard favourably by the Muslim world, many of whom believe the Crusades are still in effect on some level today, hear such a statement from the world's biggest superpower, and 'world policeman', and Christian nation (debatable if you view the Constitution). We surely should expect more professionalism from our politicians that such ignorant and incompetent outbursts, which cause huge damage to international relations and probably indirectly increased the death toll of fighters on all sides in the Iraqi conflict. We are still experiencing the hangover of 'religious' violence today, and appreciating that will help to some extent to bring together warring peoples and increase religious tolerance and mutual cultural respect.

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The Protestant Reformation:

Martin Luther (1483-1546), the founder of Lutheranism and arguably the founder of Protestantism also, started his campaign against the Catholic Church by writing a paper on why 'indulgences' (pardons that were sold to Catholics that were signed by the Pope and which claimed to forgive all one's sins) were wrong, which struck a chord with Germans at the time. He was not really looking however to reform the Catholic Church (or join the Orthodox Church instead), but sought to fight the Catholic Church and reject it. He did not see that one needed a mediator between himself and God, one's relationship being a personal one. He went ahead and translated the Bible into German, which was previously only available in Latin and translated and read out to congregations by Priests. He also controversially called the Roman Catholic Pope the Antichrist. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther

Ironically his legacy was not one of increased spiritual insight and understanding, but to a large extent one of bloodshed and division. Many centuries of conflict between Protestants and Catholics unfolded which still persists to this day in places like Northern Ireland. Protestantism was persecuted in many countries before it took hold. For example, in France, in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of August 1572, Catholics (mainly ordinary people) annihilated between 30,000 and 100,000 Huguenots across France in an act of 'cleansing spiritual rot' from their communities that might result in adverse judgement from God and going to Hell.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Bartholomew%27s_Day_massacre

During the Protestant Reformation, many newly formed Protestant countries persecuted and massacred the Catholics. This was partly fueled by religious zeal, Protestants believing Catholics to be servants of the Antichrist, and by killing Catholics one was doing God's work and even perhaps going to heaven; a little like Catholic Crusaders before them felt that by butchering Muslims and Orthodox Christians they were doing the same. The Protestant Reformation in England was only instigated by Henry VIII for sexual reasons, in that he wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and to marry Ann-Boleyn, so she could bear him a son, whom he later had beheaded anyway. Henry did not take the news from Rome well that he could not divorce, so decided to make himself the head of the Church of England. He had little interest in Lutheranism before this, and in fact strongly opposed Luther's ideas and was vehemently Catholic. However, he liked to get his own way, and went on to persecute Catholics in England, having many executed who refused to convert to Protestantism, and raiding the wealth of the Catholic Church in England (which was often used for the service of the community, e.g. maintaining libraries etc.) for his own benefit. Even today, many extremist Protestant Priests still insist that the Pope is the Antichrist and resent Catholic dogma, but seem strangely unrepentent about their own form of religious persecution that was thrust upon Catholics only a few hundred years ago. Luther was not to know what would happen as a result of what he started, but it can be said that whilst there were many positive aspects to the Protestant Reformation, there were equally many disasterous aspects that are still being felt today with anti-Catholic feeling and prejudice in many West European countries. Some estimate that one million people were slaughtered during this time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_reformation

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Christianity and Colonialism:

The Protestant Reformation arguably also lead to secularism and free market capitalism, which one may regard as being a good thing or not! Today Christianity is associated with the West and with capitalism, but this is a very Western Centric way of looking at Christianity. Of course, traditionally, Christianity, whilst initially a Middle Eastern religion, with Middle Eastern protagonists, spread outwards to North East Africa, but also further north, to the Gentiles, into Europe. Here it remained the predominant religion of both Eastern and Western Europe. Christianity was thus seen by many as the 'white European's religion' for the next in its first 1800 years. During that time , the majority of it at least in Western Europe being Catholic, was spent homogenising the faith and stamping out variants and different types of Christian faiths, or indeed other faiths, including anything resembling witchcraft, Gnosticism, the Cathars and so on; and fighting Islamic forces (at various times - being more a territorial issue than a religious issue). The Knights Templar even fell victim to this themselves, although mainly for political and economical reasons (they were too wealthy and powerful). Whilst earlier there had been a Catholic vs Orthodox struggle, it later turned into a Protestant vs Catholic struggle.

During the colonial era, Western Europeans, when setting up new colonies, set about trying to convert the native populations they encountered in India, Africa and Central and South America to their own denomination of Christianity. However this was not just Christianity, it was a Western European interpretation of it. Jesus and Mary had always been seen as being 'white'. And much of the healing and driving out of spirits had disappeared from European Christianity. The colonial powers sought to exploit and control the local populations, but also sought to control their minds and souls too, by converting them to Christianity. The Colonial invaders saw their subjects often with disdain, being culturally inferior and as pagan heathens, knowing what was best for them. In Western Africa, nearly 30 million were sold as slaves (by local 'black' rulers and Muslim traders). In Latin America, entire populations were nearly wiped out by disease that the Spanish and Portugese invaders brought with them. Not too dissimilar in concept to today's Western Nations and indeed the United Nations interfering in the national problems of developing countries and indeed in the Middle East.

The colonial powers sought to displace indigenous culture, replacing it with their own, and try to make the locals more European - including forcing Christianity on local populations. This was however not very successful a strategy until the local populations were able to take Christianity and make it their own, i.e. assimilating it into their own culture and to some extent their old pagan (or existing) religious and cultural traditions (Christianisation). The figures of Jesus and Mary were no longer white faces, but were made to represent the local indigenous peoples. In Africa, many of the indigenous peoples did not take up European style Christianity as it had little relevance to them, and they felt that it was fake or theoretical in some sense, i.e. if you cannot touch it, feel it, taste it or see it, it is not real. Therefore the God of the Europeans was not real. It was only really when indigenous priests spread the message of God, having an understanding of indigenous pagan traditions, culture and religion, that they were able to communicate the faith to people in a way that they could relate to and understand. Pagan Africans believed in spirits and healing, and this is why charismatic Christian denominations like Pentecostalism has spread so widely. In fact, one in four Christians are Pentecostal and/or Charismatic. And now 1/3 of the world's population is Christian. But not as many of us know it. Those ethnocentric Christians who like quiet and orderly Church services where people are not behaving too enthusiastically may have started to become worried and feel 'threatened'. For a long time they felt they were the proprietors of Christianity, but that is no longer the case.

Whilst this overall trend may have many good points, including increased passion in religion, vitality and 'power', more experience of the Holy Sprit, i.e. a more intimate relationship with faith, it may also have some negative characteristics (or positive depending on your perspective), including intolerance towards homosexuals and other religions, liberalism, freedom of interpretation of the Bible and the personal relationship with God, belief in the Bible being the literal word of God (i.e. creationism and a somewhat 'anti-scientific' bias, or at least only endorsing science that does not contradict the Bible), etc. How opponents of this view could argue that Europeans have only become more secular and liberal in their outlook because their faith has lost much of its meaning and power and they are looking for ways of supplementing it because it is a hollow shell of its former self and if they were truly religious, then they would not be so concerned with such matters and would focus more on God.

I am not certain of the origin of American Evangelical Christianity, as to whether it is homegrown or whether it has actually been imported from South America or Africa and 'Americanised' into the 'white causasian' communities. This has however been exported to Europe in recent years. Evangelicals are often looked on with some distaste by traditional European Christians, as being uncontrolled and hysterical, rejecting traditional hymns in favour of modern compositions, acoustic guitar based 'worship music', gospel influences, and indeed the speaking in tongues, people falling over and even animal noises.. However, traditional Protestant and Catholic Christians could be viewed as missing a large part of the message of the Bible about the Holy Spirit, and their services being excessively dull, restrainted and emotionally and spiritually constipated.

Now ironically we have a situation where Europe is no longer the main home of Christianity. Logic would dictate that the Middle East should be the stronghold of Christianity, but it never really was. Clearly some nations were Christian (from after the time of Christ) until they were overrun by Muslim invaders, but they were more the exception than the rule. But now we have a situation where Latin America, Asia and in particular Africa, are actually where the Christianity is growing the fastest, and is being re-exported back to Europe. There are more Anglicans in Africa than there are in Western Europe. Therefore it is only logical that these Anglicans should expert more and more influence on the Anglican church as a whole. African Christians view themselves as representing the original Christianity, and Europe as having lost it's way, and looking to convert Europe back to proper Christianity! This is something the colonial rulers of the past perhaps had never counted on happening!

However, as mentioned above, not all Christian nations outside of Europe had Christianity thrust upon them. This is a very European-centric perspective. Syria was a Christian nation for many years. Indeed, Lebanon still is. Egypt and Ethiopia were also Christian nations, from the middle of the first Century AD, ironically whilst Rome was still party to pagan rulers. The Orthodox Church is said to predate the Roman Catholic Church, and is considered the first Christian Church - the Catholic Church being a later evolution of it, which the Orthodox churches never fully assimilated with, resulting in the formal Great Schism in the 1054. It should be noted that Orthodoxy has not been responsible for the crimes against humanity to the same (if any) extent that Catholicism and Protestantism have been in historical terms, for misguided, divisive and insecure reasons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East-West_Schism

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the official name of the largest Christian church in Egypt. Egypt is named as the place in the New Testament that the Holy family sought refuge after fleeing from Judea. The Egyptian Church is more than 19 centuries old. Egypt is frequently referenced in the Old Testament.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_Orthodox_Church_of_Alexandria

The first Christians in Egypt were mostly Alexandrian Jews (e.g. Theophilus). The church was founded by Saint Mark the Evangelist, believed to be the apostle, the author of the Gospel of Mark, and a companion of Saint Peter. He is believed to have been the first Bishop of Alexandria and the first Pope of Alexandria. He is regarded as the founded of African Christianity and his evangelistic symbol is the lion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Mark

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia, that was formerly part of the Coptic Orthodox church until 1959, which it was granted its own Patriarch. It is one of the few pre-colonial churches of Sub-Saharan Africa, and is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. It is thought to have been formed in 346 AD.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_church

www.ethiopiantreasures.toucansurf.com/pages/religion.htm

Some have observed that the Ethiopian Church is a shining example of Christianity working with the traditions of Judaism. The Ethiopian Church regards the Old Testament as as sacred as the New Testament, if not more so. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians observe many Jewish customs such as dietary customs and indeed circumcision, and some believe that Jewish practices and culture in the area predate Christ, which is not unfeasible or that unlikely given the history of the Jewish people. Perhaps the Jewish people should take note that it is possible to embrace both Judaism and Christianity together in a number of forms.

www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/ethiopican.html

Many Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans regard Ethiopia and Egyptian churches as an inspiration, as Africans choosing Christianity and not having it thrust upon them; and indeed Ethiopia which was the only nation to stand up to colonial invasion until the 2nd world war.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity differs in many respects to its Western European counterpart, Catholicism and Protestantism. One of the main differences is in approach. In Orthodoxy, one of the main principles is to spiritually become closer together, to become one with God, and more Christ-like, whereas Catholicism always held that God was intangible and could never be directly experienced by mere sinners or mortals. Eastern Orthodoxy is rich in symbolism and metaphor in its rituals, full of feeling and sensation, whereas Protestantism is rather dry and intellectually-based in comparison.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Church

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Islam:

Islam is the religion started by the prophet Mohammed who taught in the 7th Century AD. The teachings of the Qur'an are deemed to have been passed onto Mohammed by God, although the book was written after his death.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam

The Qur'an or Koran can be read/listened to on line at the link below.

www.quranexplorer.com

Halal or 'permissible' food is defined at the link below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halal

Islam regards Jesus as a prophet, and Muslims look forward to the second coming of Jesus. There are however differences between the concept of Jesus in Christianity as stated in the Bible and those stated in the Qur'an. Islam regards Jesus as a wise prophet, created by immaculate conception, given God's power to heal the sick and resurrect the dead, and who was not crucified or physically resurrected but taken up by Allah (spiritually). Islam recognises the prophets of the Old Testament. If this version of Jesus' story was true and one considers the amount of distortion that would have to have taken place of the New Testament Scriptures, then is it not reasonable assume that a similar amount of distortion could have taken place in the writing of the Qur'an, also written after the death of the respective 'prophet'? Is there any text that one can thus rely 100% on? Or must all be interpreted by the individual?

www.soundvision.com/Info/Jesus/inIslam.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_Islam

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_view_of_Jesus'_death


Articles and lectures by Islamic scholar Dr El-Essawy can be found at the links below.

www.el-essawy.com/isprt/reconcilable.html

www.el-essawy.com/isprt/spirituality.pdf

www.el-essawy.com/TheNatureofGodpart1.ram

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Sikhism:

Sikhism was founded in the 15th Century in India. It is founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak and nine successive Sikh Gurus in fifteenth century Punjab. It is currently the 5th largest religion in the world. All the holy teachings are thought to be condensed into two books, or rather one book or one volume. These books are known as Gurus, in contrast to Hinduism where sects are led/founded by human Gurus/teachers. It is in a way a combination of Hinduism and it's concept of reincarnation and karma, combined with Islam's concept of monotheism; and its emphasis of defence of the religion, but in a non-aggressive manner. It does away with the caste system of Hinduism and is more egalitarian. It is defined on the web sites below.

www.sikhs.org

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism

The different Sikh scriptures are listed at the link below. They include Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Arjan, Dasam Granth, Sarab Loh Granth and Varan Bhai Gurdas.

www.allaboutsikhs.com/scriptures/the-sikh-scriptures.html

Below is a link to an on line version of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (including an English translation), including a search function. This text is considered to be the most holy of the Sikh Scriptures.

www.srigranth.org/servlet/gurbani.gurbani?S=y

Below is a link to an on line version of the Guru Arjan (including an English translation), including a search function. This is probably the second most important of the two main Sikh Scriptures.

http://gurugranthsahib.gurudwara.net

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Baha'i Faith:

The Baha'i Faith was founded in 19th Century Persia, and represents the unity of God and the unity of Religion. It regards the prophets of other religions (e.g. Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad) as messengers from God. It incorporates social teachings also on subjects as organising communities and agriculture. It uses the Pentagram as it's symbol, which has been associated most strongly with the neo-paganism and the occult since the mid 19th Century.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahai

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