The Christian God is not the Jewish God
IntroductionChristianity officially claims that its God, the three Beings of the Holy Trinity, is the same as the God of the Jewish Bible -- or "Old Testament" as Christians call it. However, the following website compares significant ideas of what it means to worship and obey JHWH, as defined in the OT, and contrasts these ideas to commonly understood versions of the same in Christianity.
How the OT and NT differ with respect to the Holy Spirt and the Messiah.If that link doesn't work try this one.
Christianity is not simply a more catholic (meaning universal) version of Judaism. It is profoundly different religion which, while claiming to be "true" form of Judaism that God always intended, must spend a great deal of time and energy reversing key tenants of OT Jewish worship.
Why would Christianity claim to be derived from Judaism if it isn't?The short answer, of course, is that it was once expedient to do so. Even though the time of this expediency is long past, Christianity is stuck with the legacy of this strategy.
The Roman government was deathly afraid of sedition. They were relatively relaxed about what people did so long as people did not threaten the structure of the Empire -- or more specifically, Roman domination of the civilized world. Religions though could pose a problem. The Jews were proof of this.
Rome had most of the major religions under control. All it had to do was to give money to the God's temples and make sure all the Gods got regular attention at public ceremonies -- particularly on the festival days of each God. In return for this, most temples, and their worshippers, accepted Roman rule. The followers of Zeus, Diana, or the Egyptian Gods, were perfectly happy to fit into the Roman theological world of many Gods -- all being worshipped as true. Rome went further and made it a criminal act not to worship all the Gods -- even though an individual may pay a lot more attention to one specific deity. This live and let live attitude helped the Empire both spread and remain basically peaceful.
Cults and Judaism, however, turned out to be different -- and for different reasons.
The Jews steadfastly refused to accept as true any God but their own. This would have made them outcasts and lawbreakers except that they made a habit of making themselves useful to the Empire in a variety of ways, and so the Romans allowed the Jews the special exemption from the normal, legally mandated obediance to all the Gods. For example, instead of worshipping the Emperor's genius (guardian spirit/deity), the Jews were allowed to offer prayers for the emperor in their temple at the duly appointed times.
Cults, however, were another problem. Cults were (then as now) almost universally based on the personal charisma of one individual -- who will almost always take advantage of the priviliged position and order his or her followers to do things that the government ultimately despises. Since a cult member feels that the only way to get into heaven is to follow the cult leadership, they may well be willing to die for the leader. This made them very dangerous to the Empire. The Empire went out of its way to eliminate cults both physically and memetically. Cults were hated and exterminated whenever possible.
Christianity was perceived by the Empire as a cult and made various attempts -- mostly half-hearted -- to stamp it out. Did Christianity really begin with Judaism? Or was there a time in which Christians simply realized that they could hide from the Empire's pogroms under cloak of Judaism's exemption from the Empire's normal religious laws? It seems so.
Until 500 CE, give or take, about 1/2 of all the world's Christians were followers of Marcion. This 1/2 of the Christians specifically did not believe that Jesus was the same as the OT Jewish God. They had exotic stories of their being several Gods with various characteristics and they derided Jehova as being a lesser God with a nasty disposition -- much like the architect of the Matrix. Marcionitism was the first major heresy -- although the term was not employed at the time, but it was not the only one. Burton Mack describes in his book, "Who Wrote The New Testament" that there were several groups which seemed to ultimately combine into the Christianity that we know and love:
- Jesus cults
- Christ cults
- Holy Spirit cults
- "God Fearing" gentiles enamoured with Judaic lifestyles and written history
But how could anyone rewrite Christian history?Most religions are pretty picky about the exact history of their sect -- how could anyone just rewrite history and paint Christianity Jewish and get away with it?
Today, the gospels are considered to be divinely inspired -- to be written in stone by the Hand of God, as it were. This was not always the case. The pagan writer, Celsus, claimed to have attended debates between various Christian sects and against pagan opponents and to have seen the Christians modify their scriptures during the debate to help then win arguments.
Before Christianity became useful to the Roman empire, that is, before the Council of Nicea, there were twice as many gospels in wide circulation as there are today. Each of these gospels or epistles was dearly loved by one congregation or another.
And some of these gospels and letters have quite different Christology than modern Christianity does. There was a great diversity of thought that eventually became eliminated in favor of a uniform religion that supported the idea of one God, one Emperor -- rendering unto Caesar obediance. As an example of this diversity: The most popular epistle of the second and third centuries was called "The Shepherd of Hermas" and it only mentions the name Jesus once -- and then only in passing. This letter purports to be the contents of a vision sent by God to express his will.
Often Christian sects fought bitter street battles over one theological point or another triggered by differences in the gospels/epistles. More likely these brawls were really territory disputes between the bishops of different neighborhoods but the theological differences between the groups became the officially stated motive.
With the Roman penchant for keeping order, these battles were unacceptable. Constantine, the recent (though unbaptized) convert, decided to adopt Christianity as his official state religion. Constantine effectively forced standardization of dogma on all the Christian sects. One key tenant of this forced standardization was the confusing mess called the "Holy Trinity". That is, that Jesus was in fact God -- even though three of the four NT Gospels clearly show Jesus as being merely a worshipper -- or at most the Son of God. Jesus had to be declared to be God because the Citizens of Rome would have a great deal of trouble worshipping a mere man, or even a 1/2 human such as Hercules (the son of Zeus) was. After all, why should a Roman who worshipped a supposedly true God (Zeus) switch to worshipping a mere 1/2 God?
Constantine asked for a standardized set of scriptures and had 50 copies made. These copies were sent as gifts throughout the empire -- but their real purpose was standarization of the faith. Constantine used both a carrot and a stick. The carrot was the legalization and main-streaming of Christianity. The Roman army was the stick. Richard Rubenstien documents the events surrounding the Council of Nicea and Constantine's conversion in his book, "When Jesus Became God." Interestingly, Constantine did not make Christianity the official state religion -- he remained the high priest of Sol Invictus, which was. Like many people of his time, he participated in at least two religions. His successor, Theodosius, was the one who made Christianity the Roman Government's official religion.
The Nicene Council did not create most of the NT as we currently know it -- rather, it just helped select the winners from the larger field of about 54 widely known Gospels and Epistles. The debate continued into the late 4'th century. See this website.
According to Robert Price, in his book "The DaVinci Fraud", page 100: In 367 CE, Athanasius (for Easter Sunday), sent a letter to all the world, on behalf of emperial Rome, naming the 27 gospels and epistles that define the orthodox NT. The other letters and gospels were to be destroyed. The Monks of St. Pachomius, in Chenosoboskion Egypt, hid their copies of many extant gospels in large earthen jars and buried them in the sand. In 1945, they were later recovered and form the Nag Hammadi corpus. Elaine Pagels writes extensively on the subject.
After this same time, the Roman government began to persecute heretics (people who continued to believe in non-standard versions of Christianity).
Why Judaism?The close association between Judaism and Christianity was established in the winning Gospels long before Athanisus' decree. As mentioned earlier, the Jews had a special exemption from various Roman religious laws and thus claiming to be Jewish had benefits. But there is far more to it than this. Jews were found all over the empire -- they had been forced to learn to live outside their ancestral homeland by the Babylonian conquest in 587 BCE. People of many different religions had exposure to Jewish customs and could compare their own faiths to that of the Jews. They were found in large numbers in Rome, Persia, and Egypt (having a particularly large presense in Alexandria).
Galilee was an area in particular where Jewish, Samaritan, Arabic, Syrian, Phoenecian, Persian, Greek, Italian, and Roman peoples interacted through business and personal commerce. An intermingling of ideas and religions was to be expected. As the website link mentioned in the introduction points out, many key themes in Christianity are really Greco-Roman not Jewish in origin.
Given modern Christian's strong adherence to the specific details of their faith, it seems hard to believe that the religion could have originated by amalgamation of other faiths. However, we live in an post-Nicene era. Christians have been, for 1700 years now, bound to the Nicene Creed. That is, they take an oath to believe what the Church officially decided was "true" about the faith at the council of Nicea. Debate on the subject, and even any interest in alternative views all disappeared long ago.
However, during the early days of Christianity, Gospels, Epistles, and stories about Jesus abounded. The Gnostics in particular were very inventive when it came to their beliefs -- which, while there were some Christian Gnostics, there were lots of other kinds as well. The specifics of any given faith weren't particularly important to them -- instead, they focussed on "deeper truths" and could write stories bringing these deeper truths to light using Christian, Jewish, Greek, or Roman characters with equal ease. The Gnostics infuriated the main body of Christians by being incredibly flexible -- and also by pretending to "know" things that even the Bishops didn't know. Elaine Pagels has written about the Gnostics as well.
For the Gnostic Christians, it really didn't matter whether or not the faith was truly Jewish -- they could probably have argued happily in either direction. As for the God Fearers (the gentiles inspired by Jewishness), they likely thought their religion really was Jewish in origin -- even though as mentioned before, the key Christian themes are really Greco-Roman. And since the Jews had special treatment by the Roman government, why not be a Jewish sect?