Research on Belief in God

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Echoes said:
I understood perfectlly.

But there are no different correct way to interpret texts. There's one correct and dozens of wrong interpretations. If you interpret Qu'ran in your own way, then you aren't a Muslim, you are considered a heretic. Same for the Bible, the Gospel, the Torah or the Talmud,...

There's only one correct interpretation of the Sharî'ah. That is some sort of a guide for the Muslims (it's not a Law, the lawS are comprised in it but itself is more than that) aiming at protecting the body, the soul and the mind/reason.

And I insist the aim is morally irreproachable.

I insist on the fact that those who are considered "Djihadists", "Islamists", "Terrorists", etc. today are actually "Wahhabits" and "wahhabism" is indeed a heresy, considered so by traditional Islam. That is what history teaches us. They would have faded away like all heresies if it wasn't for the support of the Brits and then the USA... But they are definitely not Muslims. The daily Muslims that I can frequent all know that and they are right.

That is why we need to read history books, essays on sociology and theology, classic literature, why not, because we cannot just think by ourselves, our minds have to be armed and these weapons can only come from tradition and culture. We don't have rocket science. I read many things about all that but I haven't yet read half of what I should. So I guess those who are spending all their lives on video games, I guess they'll remain in a state of ignorance.

This Western neocon/atheistic elite who tries to put oil on fire, like the one quoted by Jspear, are just insane. The aim is to create mainly in Europe - where most Arabic migrant have gone - a civil war between religious communities, in order to transform a financial crisis that they are responsible for into a religious crisis. It's the Clash of Civilization theory. It's frightening. :eek:
So the excellence of your premise hinges on a belief in the exclusivity of your doctrine that one truth exists, at the expense of more virile intellectual qualities. Well done Echoes, but I speedily tire of such captious arguments in which I can detect, under a vapid narrow insolence, the fierce intransigence of the sectarian who values himself above others and who is in possession of forms of life that are in fact not his own.
 
Oct 23, 2011
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The Hitch said:
Dawkins in his book points out the similarities between Jesus and other young make religious figures that preceded him like Hercules. If Jesus did exist in the way Christians believe, it's funny that he shares so many characteristics with characters that came before him who were merely inventions of the human mind.
Dawkins in his book also claims IIRC there is a serious debate among historians whether Jesus even existed, thus making sure nobody who knows anything about history will ever take him seriously again.

In Dutch, we have an expression for this type of rhetoric. 'Preken voor eigen parochie' which means literally 'Preaching for your own parish.' It's when somebody uses arguments and rhetoric that will only resonate for the people who agree with him anyway. Much like Christian fundamentalist apologists might give a very one-sided picture of history, philosophy or science or whatever and reap hallelujah's and amen's from their own group, whereas the rest of the people find it hard to take them seriously. These militant atheist apologists, like Dawkins, generally do the same. But as a Christian with at least a basic knowledge of most of the relevant historical and philosophical topics, their one-sided account of history and philosophy is nothing but atheist propaganda. By the way, I feel the same about a lot of Christian apologists. Their talks generally only help the people that are Christian to begin with and they often tell very one sided stories to fit their own ideas. You know how this works. You've probably been annoyed by these Christian apologists who come with one sided selective accounts of history and philosophy and science lacking all nuance, in order to fit their opinion. I'm saying, to most theists, Dawkins and company are doing exactly the same. Two sides of the same coin. There's more intelligent thinkers to listen to if you want to be an atheist.

Dawkins should have just stayed with biology, where he made some very serious contributions, or so I've heard. In the debate concerning (a)theism he has made a lot of noise and sold a lot of books, but he made zero contribution.
 
Jan 27, 2013
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rhubroma said:
So the excellence of your premise hinges on a belief in the exclusivity of your doctrine that one truth exists, at the expense of more virile intellectual qualities. Well done Echoes, but I speedily tire of such captious arguments in which I can detect, under a vapid narrow insolence, the fierce intransigence of the sectarian who values himself above others and who is in possession of forms of life that are in fact not his own.
One truth does exist, it can be simply stated - I don't know. The Alpha and Omega. hahaha
 
Maaaaaaaarten said:
Sure, χριστος is a Greek word, meaning 'anointed one'. Obviously however the use of this word in Christianity derives from the translation of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (=masiach/messiah) which occurs in the Old Testament a lot and has been connected in Judaism with the messiah. So clearly calling Jesus 'the Christ' is but saying that he is the messiah that was expected in Judaism. This is beyond dispute. The Christ is but a translation of a Hebrew word denoting the messiah as expected in Judaism.


The etymological issue you raise, though, needs to be placed in its rightful context, which only has relevance in so far as polytheistic Hellenic society transformed a Jewish prophetic tradition involving the coming of the messiah, into a materialized savior. And it did so with all the features familiar to that culture's salvation deities. The only difference was now the mythos was attached to the logos, and hence icon to scripture, which had never been done. The Greeks also combined this new, one and exclusive savior, to a narrative based on Oracles old and new, Epiphanies of the Gods, Miracles, Sacred Orations, and Resurrection, which is exactly what we find in the canonical gospels as well. Not surprisingly they seem to have been written originally in Greek. At least there is no evidence for them ever having been written in Hebrew prior to the earliest Greek versions based on their late first century ancestors. This is probably because the gospel was never written in Hebrew. Hence the importance of Jewish tradition appears to have been overrated in the development of the new faith, whereas the oriental influenced Hellenic mystery cults and their language seem much stronger.

Sure, you have a point here. I'm not denying some of these works were widespread, nor am I denying that these works have tremendous historical value for understanding early Christianity. I'm just saying you're giving a one sided explanation of the history, relying only on those books that suit your idea. Show me how the mystery religions influenced the canonical books, show me how they influenced the mainstream early Church. Show me how they influenced non-canonical early Christian writing like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache or other books that were influential in mainstream Christianity. Show me how it influenced the patristic theology. And show me how these were influenced to the extent that you claim. All you've shown me is that among early Christians there was a group that might have been quite significant in some periods that was prone to mix their faith with elements from the ancient mystery religions. Nobody denies that. But you act as if you've shown that the whole of Christianity was fundamentally mixed with mystery religions. This I would say is a bit too strong a claim.
The patristic authors were heavily influenced by the pagan philosophers. Augustine acknowledged this himself on a number of occasions in referencing Apuleius' in De civitatis Dei, which even seems to have been molded upon the North African Roman writer's Metamorphosis. That Plotinus' philosophy exerted wide influence on patristic authors has been thoroughly explained. I thus don't see where the dilemma arrises. Even the canonical gospels seem to have been shaped by Flavius Josephus', a Hellenized Jew at the Roman imperial court, historical writings.



I have absolutely no problem with understanding Christianity in relation to the context in which is originated. Off course historians don't understand early Christianity apart from the context of the ancient world, which included the mystery religions. It also included neo-platonic thought which heavily influenced certain patristic thought. It also included Judaism which is the primary context in which Christianity arose. And of course it included still more. Christians were quite fond of stoic ethics. Early Christian apologists, like Justin Martyr, were heavily influenced by the dominant philosophy of the time. In fact, in patristic theology when explaining Jesus Chris as the 'Word' (see the first chapter of the Gospel of John), they relied heavily on the concept of the λόγος σπερματικός, which comes straight out of stoic philosophy. I don't want to see Christianity isolated from the context in which it originated at all, I'm just saying you make rather strong claims about the relation between Christianity and the mystery religions, which as far as my knowledge extents, is unwarranted.


The relationship between these religions is attested to by the visual culture we have from early Christianity, to say nothing of its liturgical feast days. I don't need to list all the instances of Mithraic and Christian art in free-exchange during the early period, or others evidencing a visual promiscuity with the Egyptian cults. The problem is that, of course, much more was destroyed in orthodox Christianity's mission to purge the faith of such untoward "contamination." Then there is the complete obliteration of their texts by the Church, which surely existed, even before Gregory the Great was able to enforce orthodoxy over what remained of Latinity in the West.
 
rhubroma said:
The patristic authors were heavily influenced by the pagan philosophers. Augustine acknowledged this himself on a number of occasions in referencing Apuleius' in De civitatis Dei, which even seems to have been molded upon the North African Roman writer's Metamorphosis. That Plotinus' philosophy exerted wide influence on patristic authors has been thoroughly explained. I thus don't see where the dilemma arrises. Even the canonical gospels seem to have been shaped by Flavius Josephus', a Hellenized Jew at the Roman imperial court, historical writings.
In what way do the canonical gospels seem to have been shaped by Josephus?
 
Jan 27, 2013
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Jspear said:
In what way do the canonical gospels seem to have been shaped by Josephus?
Never mind Josephus, why are there four gospels? Answer that and you'll begin to understand how they relate to all other religions that preceded the new testament and Judaism for that matter.

The archetypes keep getting re-imagined.
 
Maaaaaaaarten said:
Dawkins in his book also claims IIRC there is a serious debate among historians whether Jesus even existed, thus making sure nobody who knows anything about history will ever take him seriously again.

In Dutch, we have an expression for this type of rhetoric. 'Preken voor eigen parochie' which means literally 'Preaching for your own parish.' It's when somebody uses arguments and rhetoric that will only resonate for the people who agree with him anyway. Much like Christian fundamentalist apologists might give a very one-sided picture of history, philosophy or science or whatever and reap hallelujah's and amen's from their own group, whereas the rest of the people find it hard to take them seriously. These militant atheist apologists, like Dawkins, generally do the same. But as a Christian with at least a basic knowledge of most of the relevant historical and philosophical topics, their one-sided account of history and philosophy is nothing but atheist propaganda. By the way, I feel the same about a lot of Christian apologists. Their talks generally only help the people that are Christian to begin with and they often tell very one sided stories to fit their own ideas. You know how this works. You've probably been annoyed by these Christian apologists who come with one sided selective accounts of history and philosophy and science lacking all nuance, in order to fit their opinion. I'm saying, to most theists, Dawkins and company are doing exactly the same. Two sides of the same coin. There's more intelligent thinkers to listen to if you want to be an atheist.

Dawkins should have just stayed with biology, where he made some very serious contributions, or so I've heard. In the debate concerning (a)theism he has made a lot of noise and sold a lot of books, but he made zero contribution.
lol at this half arsed appeal to solidarity and neutrality. You with your beliefs are not remotely neutral.

You claim to know exactly what happens after death and what actions can result in eternal suffering and look down upon those like myself as worse than rapists.

That is the most extreme position anyone can have.

Oh and Dawkins pointing out that human beings have been around for 200 000 years before christ is a significant contribution to the atheist debate. Your ilk might be in denial about it though since the whole religious story is ****ed when one realizes that 99% of humans that ever lived never had a chance to believe in jesus since god waited so long to reveal him to "us":eek::cool::cool:
 
Jan 27, 2013
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A Pathless Land
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.ca/2010/06/pathless-land.html

Whether this is what went through Krishnamurti’s mind is anyone’s guess, as he refused to talk about the experience later. Still, by the time he descended from the podium, the elaborate fantasy Besant and her colleagues had built around him, and the revitalization movement that had grown up around that, were blown to smithereens. Truth, he told his listeners, is a pathless land; no messiah can take you there, or lift the burden of thinking for yourself off your shoulders. In front of them all, he disavowed his role as World Teacher and dissolved the Order of the Star in the West. The mass movement popped like a bubble, and all the Theosophical organizations suffered huge drops in membership; Besant’s career was effectively over, though she lingered on for a few more years. Ironically, Krishnamurti went on to a long career as a spiritual teacher, but he steadfastly refused to allow any organization to form around him, and I don’t know of anybody who claims that he really was the World Teacher.
hahaha

Here's the original speech:
Truth is a pathless land
http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/about-krishnamurti/dissolution-speech.php

hilarious
 
Oct 23, 2011
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The Hitch said:
lol at this half arsed appeal to solidarity and neutrality. You with your beliefs are not remotely neutral.

You claim to know exactly what happens after death and what actions can result in eternal suffering and look down upon those like myself as worse than rapists.

That is the most extreme position anyone can have.
I don't really see a connection between my neutrality concerning these beliefs about life after death and some moral issues which you ascribe to me and my neutrality on the topic I was actually writing about in my post; the rhetoric and argumentation of people engaged in the public debate about (a)theism.

Looks like an ad hominem to me, unless you care to elaborate on the connection between my neutrality on some dogmatic issues of Christianity and between my neutrality about rhetoric and public debates.
 
Jspear said:
In what way do the canonical gospels seem to have been shaped by Josephus?
Particularly in Luke and Acts many details have uncanny parallels in Josephus' works. Luke hit upon the exact same names of people Josephus used in his narratives. Since the names given by Josephus were merely examples (i.e. they were not that outstanding), someone with access to a different source would have come up with a list of different names.The manner in which historical errors were made in Luke-Acts betrays his source as Josephus. Perhaps more importantly, the similarities in uncommon vocabulary between Josephus and Luke, form the final basis for arguing the latter's dependence on the former.

That Josephus only made two references to Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews (though both of these were either later Christian additions, or else in part doctored-up in a redacted text) it hardly seems plausible that the relationship between the works could have been the reverse: that is Josephus drew information from John.
 
RetroActive said:
Never mind Josephus, why are there four gospels? Answer that and you'll begin to understand how they relate to all other religions that preceded the new testament and Judaism for that matter.

The archetypes keep getting re-imagined.
Put simply they are 4 different accounts of the life of Jesus.
 
Jan 27, 2013
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Jspear said:
Put simply they are 4 different accounts of the life of Jesus.
After a lot of emotional rhetoric, restating how special Christians are and how perfect the book is yada, yada - this fellow finally coughs it up:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pink/gospels.intro.html

“Four” is the number of the earth. It is, therefore, also, the world number. We subjoin a few illustrations of this. There are four points to earth’s compass—nor the, east, south, and west. There are four seasons to earth’s year—spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There are four elements connected with our world—earth, air, fire, and water.
Something similar happens when you start to wonder why there are 12 tribes of Israel...and on and on.

rhub. is talking about Luke (and historical inaccuracies, lol). It seems pretty clear to me that Elisabeth represents the earth at the end of the age of Aries and Mary represents the earth at the beginning of Pisces. It's a passing of the torch sort of thing but I could be wrong. If I'm right though...a lot of people would have had similar stories at the time. A new Age is a new Age after all, the stargazers would have been all a flutter about it.
 
rhubroma said:
Particularly in Luke and Acts many details have uncanny parallels in Josephus' works. Luke hit upon the exact same names of people Josephus used in his narratives. Since the names given by Josephus were merely examples (i.e. they were not that outstanding), someone with access to a different source would have come up with a list of different names.The manner in which historical errors were made in Luke-Acts betrays his source as Josephus. Perhaps more importantly, the similarities in uncommon vocabulary between Josephus and Luke, form the final basis for arguing the latter's dependence on the former.

That Josephus only made two references to Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews (though both of these were either later Christian additions, or else in part doctored-up in a redacted text) it hardly seems plausible that the relationship between the works could have been the reverse: that is Josephus drew information from John.
I have not read much of Josephus's work. Do you know any of these names off the top of your head? I'm curious as to which they are.
Edit: Also could you give some examples of historical errors in Luke and/or Acts?
 
Jul 16, 2011
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Echoes said:
I understood perfectlly.
So either

a) you understood perfectly and complained for show that I (or atheists in general) throw Christians into the same basket, although my point was aimed at buble literalists, of which you are not one.

or

b) something else (I'll leave that to you).


Echoes said:
But there are no different correct way to interpret texts. There's one correct and dozens of wrong interpretations. If you interpret Qu'ran in your own way, then you aren't a Muslim, you are considered a heretic. Same for the Bible, the Gospel, the Torah or the Talmud,...
To be honest, when I read this all I can hear is "We have always been at war with Eurasia" and "Where are the People's Popular Front of Judea?". "He's over there" (sorry to real Monty Python fans if I got the second quotation wrong).

Here, we're on completely different wavelengths. For me, if you can't think for yourself, then there is no religion (or way of life, if that sounds more natural coming from me). Obviously, that does not mean you don't listen to others.

Where does the one official correct interpretation come from? OK, I'll agree that if it breaks the golden rule, then something is wrong.

You believe in the gospels. Does that extend to Acts of the Apostles? I seem to remember you have a sceptic attitude to the letters. If so, I then your canon doesn't extend to Revelation (also because where is the one correct interpretation)? Can what you believe be described in "n pillars"?

Echoes said:
This Western neocon/atheistic elite who tries to put oil on fire, like the one quoted by Jspear, are just insane. The aim is to create mainly in Europe - where most Arabic migrant have gone - a civil war between religious communities, in order to transform a financial crisis that they are responsible for into a religious crisis. It's the Clash of Civilization theory. It's frightening. :eek:
I too think Maher is a sensationalist, but then to be honest a lot I read from you is sensationalist (like the paragraph above, Maher is part of a neocon/atheistic elite responsible for the financial crisis?? I'll accept that he's atheist).

I'm happy that I don't have to worry about having the correct interpretation. I don't have to agree with Sam Harris's doctrine of an objective morality (as I think it's based on a circular argument) or with Dawkin's view that evolution is non-random (although possibly that boils down to him seeing Brownian motion with drift as non-random, as opposed to standard Brownian motion - it could be chaotic, but then I'm a believer in free will rather than determinism).
 
Jan 27, 2013
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The Renewal of Religion
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.ca/2013/10/the-renewal-of-religion.html

What makes the involvement of what I’ve called the theosphere essential to any such program is that the emotional and intellectual energies set in motion by religious experience very often trump all other human motivations. When people step outside the ordinary limits of human behavior in any direction, for good or ill, if love or hate toward another person isn’t the motivating factor, very often what drives them is religious in nature—not ethical, mind you, but the nonrational commitment of the whole self toward an ideal that comes out of religious experience. Every rationalist movement throughout history has embraced the theory that all this can be dispensed with, and should be dispensed with, in order to make a society that makes rational sense; every rationalist movement finally collapsed in frustration and disarray when it turned out that the theory doesn’t work, and a society that makes rational sense won’t function in the real world because, ultimately, human beings don’t make rational sense.
 
Oct 23, 2011
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rhubroma said:
The etymological issue you raise, though, needs to be placed in its rightful context, which only has relevance in so far as polytheistic Hellenic society transformed a Jewish prophetic tradition involving the coming of the messiah, into a materialized savior. And it did so with all the features familiar to that culture's salvation deities. The only difference was now the mythos was attached to the logos, and hence icon to scripture, which had never been done. The Greeks also combined this new, one and exclusive savior, to a narrative based on Oracles old and new, Epiphanies of the Gods, Miracles, Sacred Orations, and Resurrection, which is exactly what we find in the canonical gospels as well. Not surprisingly they seem to have been written originally in Greek. At least there is no evidence for them ever having been written in Hebrew prior to the earliest Greek versions based on their late first century ancestors. This is probably because the gospel was never written in Hebrew. Hence the importance of Jewish tradition appears to have been overrated in the development of the new faith, whereas the oriental influenced Hellenic mystery cults and their language seem much stronger.
These types of somewhat speculative hypotheses seem very difficult to defend to me. You say the miracles, the epiphanies, sacred orations and the resurrection as described in the life of Jesus come from the Greek influence. Or rather the way in which they are portrayed betray Greek influence and not so much Jewish influence or factual truth, or something like that at least. Thus the savior figure depicted in the canonical has little to do with history or Jewish religion, but more with Greek myth and mystery cults. That is what you claim, if I understand you correctly. I have two objections against this.

Firstly, many of the things you mention seem to be present as much in Old Testament and other Jewish literature as in the Greek myths. In fact, some of the things you mention are so general, that they are present in almost any religion. Miracles, epiphanies and sacred oration are present in the Old Testament. An almost divine savior figure is present in the Old Testament, although some scholars would argue against this; but no scholar will argue that the expectation of a savior; that is the messiah, the christ, was very much present in Jewish religion in the period between the old and the new testament. Furthermore, the link between the resurrection and mythology has been discussed at length in academic literature and I guess it is somewhat controversial. Many of the proposed parallel's in Greek mythology are in many ways quite different from the physical historical way in which it is portrayed in the canonical Gospels. A much better parallel would be the Jewish idea of resurrection.

Furthermore the canonical gospels do actually betray evidence of semitic language. Jesus is actually cited sometimes in Syriac. Think of the famous words of Jesus on the cross; 'Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?' meaning 'my God my God, why have You forsaken me?' That's Syriac, which was the common tongue for the Jews in the time of Jesus, not Greek. Besides that, some passages in the gospels actually seem to have an underlying Syriac source. I'm not claiming that the gospels were originally in Syriac, the authors definitely composed them in Greek. However, there seem to have been some traditions in Syriac that were used by the evangelists in composing their gospels. By the time the canonical gospels were composed Christianity had already spread out of the Levant, thus it is obvious why they would use Greek, the lingua france of the area, but the gospels do actually very much show influence of Syriac.

So in conclusion all of the parallel's you mention with Greek mythology are present in Jewish scripture, religion and tradition. So then how do we conclude where they are derived from? Given the fact that we're talking about books composed by Jews, concerning the life of a Jew, citing Jewish Scripture several times on every page, I think it is safe to say that Jewish scripture, religion and tradition is a more likely candidate for the idea of miracles, epiphanies, sacred orations and the resurrection.

Secondly, my objection to your reasoning is that you seem to wholly pass by any notion that the gospels may contain some accurate historical information. I understand that in your worldview miracles and the resurrection are utterly impossible and thus a priori you don't take them seriously; but when we talk about a religious leader and teacher, doesn't it occur to you that accounts of him having an epiphany, that is some sort of religious experience and of him holding some sort of (sacred) orations might be, you know, more or less historically accurate, considering this is exactly what we would expect a religious leader and teacher to do? We're talking about books composed in a genre of historiography, namely biographies, which were written mere decades after the life of the person which they describe, based on accounts and traditions from even earlier; you can't brush aside any historicity so easily, no matter how critical you want to be. The letter's of Paul, originally a pharisee immersed in Jewish religion, are even older and betray the notion of Jesus as a savior as much or even more than the gospels. So this Jesus figure as a savior who was resurrected seems to have been there from the beginning in Christianity and not a later development under influence of Greek mystery cults. In fact, when that influence later did happen in some groups, it was immediately hereticized by many church leaders. So it seems that the idea of Jesus doing miracles, being resurrected from the dead, holding sacred orations and having epiphanies is first of all original in Christianity and not a later development and second of all quite devoid of any influence from Greco-Roman mystery cults.

rhubroma said:
The patristic authors were heavily influenced by the pagan philosophers. Augustine acknowledged this himself on a number of occasions in referencing Apuleius' in De civitatis Dei, which even seems to have been molded upon the North African Roman writer's Metamorphosis. That Plotinus' philosophy exerted wide influence on patristic authors has been thoroughly explained. I thus don't see where the dilemma arrises. Even the canonical gospels seem to have been shaped by Flavius Josephus', a Hellenized Jew at the Roman imperial court, historical writings.
I in fact affirmed this myself and gave a prominent example of the influence of Stoic philosophy in patristic theology with the notion of the logos spermatikos being applied to Jesus. I also already mentioned the influence of neoplatonism (Plotinus) on patristic literature. I don't know much about the Josephus thing you're talking about, but besides that, I agree with everything you say here. I don't see however how this is relevant for the topic we were originally discussing, namely the idea that the Jesus figure we have today is more derived from Greco-Roman mystery cults than from the historical Jesus, thus rendering the notion of the historicity of Jesus irrelevant. First of all we were discussing influence form Greco-Roman mystery cults earlier on, not Greek thought in general. Secondly even if we expand it to Greek influence in general, interaction between patristic theology and Greek philosophy, which is undeniable, doesn't come anywhere close to prove your very strong claims.

rhubroma said:
The relationship between these religions is attested to by the visual culture we have from early Christianity, to say nothing of its liturgical feast days. I don't need to list all the instances of Mithraic and Christian art in free-exchange during the early period, or others evidencing a visual promiscuity with the Egyptian cults. The problem is that, of course, much more was destroyed in orthodox Christianity's mission to purge the faith of such untoward "contamination." Then there is the complete obliteration of their texts by the Church, which surely existed, even before Gregory the Great was able to enforce orthodoxy over what remained of Latinity in the West.
I'm but an uncultured Protestant barbarian from the north and so I know nothing about art and visual culture and little about liturgy. So I'll take your word for it. :)
 
Jan 27, 2013
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Maaaaaaaarten said:
These types of somewhat speculative hypotheses seem very difficult to defend to me. You say the miracles, the epiphanies, sacred orations and the resurrection as described in the life of Jesus come from the Greek influence. Or rather the way in which they are portrayed betray Greek influence and not so much Jewish influence or factual truth, or something like that at least. Thus the savior figure depicted in the canonical has little to do with history or Jewish religion, but more with Greek myth and mystery cults. That is what you claim, if I understand you correctly. I have two objections against this.

Firstly, many of the things you mention seem to be present as much in Old Testament and other Jewish literature as in the Greek myths. In fact, some of the things you mention are so general, that they are present in almost any religion. Miracles, epiphanies and sacred oration are present in the Old Testament. An almost divine savior figure is present in the Old Testament, although some scholars would argue against this; but no scholar will argue that the expectation of a savior; that is the messiah, the christ, was very much present in Jewish religion in the period between the old and the new testament. Furthermore, the link between the resurrection and mythology has been discussed at length in academic literature and I guess it is somewhat controversial. Many of the proposed parallel's in Greek mythology are in many ways quite different from the physical historical way in which it is portrayed in the canonical Gospels. A much better parallel would be the Jewish idea of resurrection.

Furthermore the canonical gospels do actually betray evidence of semitic language. Jesus is actually cited sometimes in Syriac. Think of the famous words of Jesus on the cross; 'Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?' meaning 'my God my God, why have You forsaken me?' That's Syriac, which was the common tongue for the Jews in the time of Jesus, not Greek. Besides that, some passages in the gospels actually seem to have an underlying Syriac source. I'm not claiming that the gospels were originally in Syriac, the authors definitely composed them in Greek. However, there seem to have been some traditions in Syriac that were used by the evangelists in composing their gospels. By the time the canonical gospels were composed Christianity had already spread out of the Levant, thus it is obvious why they would use Greek, the lingua france of the area, but the gospels do actually very much show influence of Syriac.

So in conclusion all of the parallel's you mention with Greek mythology are present in Jewish scripture, religion and tradition. So then how do we conclude where they are derived from? Given the fact that we're talking about books composed by Jews, concerning the life of a Jew, citing Jewish Scripture several times on every page, I think it is safe to say that Jewish scripture, religion and tradition is a more likely candidate for the idea of miracles, epiphanies, sacred orations and the resurrection.

Secondly, my objection to your reasoning is that you seem to wholly pass by any notion that the gospels may contain some accurate historical information. I understand that in your worldview miracles and the resurrection are utterly impossible and thus a priori you don't take them seriously; but when we talk about a religious leader and teacher, doesn't it occur to you that accounts of him having an epiphany, that is some sort of religious experience and of him holding some sort of (sacred) orations might be, you know, more or less historically accurate, considering this is exactly what we would expect a religious leader and teacher to do? We're talking about books composed in a genre of historiography, namely biographies, which were written mere decades after the life of the person which they describe, based on accounts and traditions from even earlier; you can't brush aside any historicity so easily, no matter how critical you want to be. The letter's of Paul, originally a pharisee immersed in Jewish religion, are even older and betray the notion of Jesus as a savior as much or even more than the gospels. So this Jesus figure as a savior who was resurrected seems to have been there from the beginning in Christianity and not a later development under influence of Greek mystery cults. In fact, when that influence later did happen in some groups, it was immediately hereticized by many church leaders. So it seems that the idea of Jesus doing miracles, being resurrected from the dead, holding sacred orations and having epiphanies is first of all original in Christianity and not a later development and second of all quite devoid of any influence from Greco-Roman mystery cults.



I in fact affirmed this myself and gave a prominent example of the influence of Stoic philosophy in patristic theology with the notion of the logos spermatikos being applied to Jesus. I also already mentioned the influence of neoplatonism (Plotinus) on patristic literature. I don't know much about the Josephus thing you're talking about, but besides that, I agree with everything you say here. I don't see however how this is relevant for the topic we were originally discussing, namely the idea that the Jesus figure we have today is more derived from Greco-Roman mystery cults than from the historical Jesus, thus rendering the notion of the historicity of Jesus irrelevant. First of all we were discussing influence form Greco-Roman mystery cults earlier on, not Greek thought in general. Secondly even if we expand it to Greek influence in general, interaction between patristic theology and Greek philosophy, which is undeniable, doesn't come anywhere close to prove your very strong claims.



I'm but an uncultured Protestant barbarian from the north and so I know nothing about art and visual culture and little about liturgy. So I'll take your word for it. :)
Why does it matter so much that Judaism and Christianity by extension were absolutely unique and original? Ancient Hebrew was a dialect of Canaanite/Phoenician so there's one starting point. Abraham emerged from Chaldean culture, so there's another entry point. Moses came out of Egypt, so there's a third (in fact Moses is an Egyptian name), and the one probably most worthy of attention as Egypt can be traced for much of the thought in ancient Greece and throughout the Mediterranean. Where the original Egyptians came from? Who knows but a case could be made for Gobekli Tepe at the end of the last ice age, that spread to the Sumerians and Arratta, probably the Indus valley too. It's been cross pollinating itself ever since it seems, east and west. Throw in Zoroastrian thoughts of God and Satan in clear delineations into the mix too. Nothing was formed in a vacuum. To form a distinct nation requires some doing though in terms of forging beliefs - this is the way we do things and the others are wrong! The things they're doing or thinking aren't really unique though.

Even today the Sufi mystics go on at great length about opening the heart chakra. They may be nominally Muslim but mystics of every faith could, in theory, change hats from one formal religion to the next quite seamlessly. They're all playing with the same basic deck, or notes (as in music) more appropriately. They just use the highlighter differently, even within the same religion over time.

Self transcendence can take on many forms it seems, as can Self (we're at 7 billion +, not including all other lifeforms)...and no thing remains the formless void, eternal.
 
Jspear said:


I wonder if this contradictory banner was made on purpose. Isn't Santa a fairy tale? :D
For me one advantage of being agnostic/atheist is that I don't feel any need to impose my non-beliefs on others. Maybe the ad is the result of existing in a more fundamentalist environment to counter religious posturing.

Now that I think of it, there is a group in France that has obtained court orders against nativity scenes in public buildings. As someone who doesn't believe in the nativity story I have absolutely no problem with nativity scenes.
 
Maaaaaaaarten said:
These types of somewhat speculative hypotheses seem very difficult to defend to me...

I'm but an uncultured Protestant barbarian from the north and so I know nothing about art and visual culture and little about liturgy. So I'll take your word for it. :)
Read Plutarch's De superstitione, or Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, the more potent first century 'miracle worker' than Jesus, or indeed Iamblichus' The Mysteries of Egypt, to immediately grasp the crucible in which Christianity was forged in the Classical World: thus the Gospel, Acts of the Apostles and Revelation.

Apulieus should have been informed, as well, about the wondrous magic of Christian protagonists like St. Paul, who at Philippi in Macedonia had once expelled a possessing spirit from a slave girl who had powers of divination (Acts 16:16), given that Apology 2.2 records that the distinguished senator Q. Lollius Urbicus (consul. ca. 136) was present at his trial in Sabratha. As urban prefect Lollius had sometime earlier, perhaps in 150, presided over the trial of three Christians, as Justin Martyr records. Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine that Apuleius was totally ignorant of the miracles of Jesus who, like Moses, had spent time in Egypt: the headquarters of magic and secret gnosis in the ancient Mediterranean (for Jesus as a magical apprentice in Egypt see, Smith Jesus the Magician 1978, esp. 46-7; for Moses magus, see F. Graft 1997 Magic in the Ancient World, 6-7.). He certainly though knew of the magical Moses (Apol. 90.5).

It is thus little surprising to find on the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome in the chiseled spiral record of his wars a picture of the Miracle of the Rain by which in one battle his foes were confounded: the work of an Egyptian sorcerer says the historian Cassius Dio—nay, of the soldiers of the Christian legion, the “Thundering,” corrects the monk Johannes Xiphilinus, epitomator of Cassius Dio at Constantinople during the latter half of the eleventh-century, for they brought down rain by the prayer to their God. Here is Cassius Dio’s actual account:

“So Marcus made the Marcomani and Iazyges subservient by a series of great struggles and dangers. A great war against the so-called Quadi also fell to his lot and it was his good fortune to win an unexpected battle from Heaven…The Romans fell into dire distress from their fatigue and their wounds and from the sun’s heat and their thirst; and for these reasons could neither fight nor march in any direction, but were standing and being scorched in the line of battle and at their posts, when suddenly a number of clouds rushed together and a great rain, certainly of divine origin, came pouring down. Indeed, there is a story that Arnouphis, an Egyptian wizard, who was a companion of Marcus, invoked by means of enchantments various deities and in particular Mercury, god of the air, and by this means attracted the rain.

This is what Dio has to say about it…It was not Arnouphis, the wizard, for Marcus is not accounted to have taken pleasure in the company of wizards and charms. But what I have reference to is as follows: Marcus had a company (and the Roman name for the company is “legion”) of soldiers from Melitene. They were all worshipers of Christ. Now it is stated that in that battle, when Marcus was in a quandary over having been surrounded and feared the loss of his whole army, the prefect approached him and said that those called Christians can accomplish anything whatever by their prayers, and that among them there chanced to be a whole company of this sect. Marcus, on hearing this, made an appeal to them to pray to their God. And when they had prayed, the God immediately gave ear, hurling a thunderbolt upon the enemy and encouraging the Romans with rain. Marcus was astounded at what happened and honored the Christians by an official decree, while the legion he named ‘The Thunderbolt.’”
(Cassius Dio Historiae Romane, Liber XXI 8.1-2, 4-5; 9.1,2-6: the translation is mine)

“Igitur Marcus, multis magnisque proeliis et periculus, Marcomannos et Iazygas subegit. Post haec bellum ei magnum, instructa acie, fuit cum iis, qui Quadi appellantur: quo in bello victoria praeter spem, vell potuis dei beneficio, feliciter consequua est, quando Romanos pugnantes, ex periculo in qua versabantur, numen divinum mirabiliter liberavit…Hic Romani in summis difficultatibus versari, cum et labore et vulneribus, et ardore solis, ac siti vexarentur, nec ob eas res aut pugnare possent, aut alio secedere, sed in acie suis quisque locis stantes verentur. Tum vero multae nubes derepente ita coactae sunt, ut maximus imber ceciderit non sine dei beneficio. Fertur enim Arnuphis quidam magus Aegyptius, qui cum Marco erat, Mercurium praesertim aerium, aliosque daemonas, quibusdam artibus magicis invocavisse, ac per eos pluviam elicuisse.

Haec quidem Dio de his tradidit…non Arnuphis ille magus; quum nusquam memoriae proditum sit, Marcum magorum societate aut praestigiis fuisse delectum. Res autem, quam haberet a Melitene petitam, cuius milites omnes Christum colebant, ad eum praefectus praerorianorum venit, nescientem in illo proelio, quid consilii caperet, timentemque toti exercitui, eique dixisse fertur: nihil esse, quod ii, qui Christiani nominannem integram in exercitu hominum huius generis. Qua re cognita, Marcum ab iis petiisse, ut Deo suo supplicarent. Quad quum fecissent, Deum eos exaudisse subito, percussisseque hostes fulmine, ac Romanos pulvia recreasse. His rebus Marcum vehementer obstupefactum, edicto Christianos honorasse, ipsamquae legionem Fulminatricem appellasse…”
 
(cont.)

...We know far more today about magic and its incantations in the ancient Roman world than was ever understood previously. This is largely due to the two volumes of Preisendanz’s Papyri Graecae Magicae, which Fritz Graf has masterfully analyzed. Graf has convincingly demonstrated that what previous scholars had wished to maintain as mutually exclusive domains between magic and religion, only evidenced the “Christiancentric” character of their definition of religion, which is largely an inheritance from Augustine. It was inconceivable for these scholars that magicians like Apuleius, deeply involved in the world of superstition and barbarism—for which Plutarch had attacked magic—were capable of conceiving messages that provide such impressive evidence of a spiritualized religiosity, for example in the so-called ”Liturgy of Mithras.”

For Graf magic does not historically proceed from religion, nor does it come earlier, but rather was a powerful spiritual device within gentile religious practices, as one specific religious form. Thought of in these terms, the situation of the magician is that of a priest-like interlocutor, in whose incantations and prayers one uninformed about theology or mythology can only perceive the interaction of the horizontal ritual message (however symbolic), which leads to the gods and is determined by an ancestral cultural tradition. Magic is thus the search for a close communication with and participation in the divine sphere, which is precisely what we find in the writers of the imperial era—Apuleius’ communion loquendi cum dis and Iamblichus’, the Neoplatonic philosopher, treatise on The Mysteries of Egypt, methousia ton theon: both insist on the dialogue that the magician establishes with the gods.

While we must not place in doubt that sorcerers uttered prayers; nor did the ancients as we are reminded, for example, in Lucan when the witch Erichto formulates a prayer that could have belonged to any textbook on religion; or more importantly when Plato already spoke of the “prayers” (eukhai) in addition to the “incantations” (epoidai) uttered by the begging priests and seers. There is also Simaitha’s prayer to Selene, to protect herself from Hecate’s disturbing apparition in Theocritus’ Second Idyll (Pharmakeutriai or The Sorceress). Characteristic of this prayer is the invocation of the divinity to send a messanger (angelos), who can carry out the act desired.

Yet the most instructive case is found in a prayer in the Charm of Astrampsychus to obtain success and happiness. The prayer begins with a beautiful invocation: “Come to me, Lord Hermes, like babies in the belly of their mother, come to me, you who collect the food of gods and men, come to me, Lord Hermes, to the so-and-so.” Next comes the expression of the wish: “Grant me charm, food, victory, happiness, sexual attractiveness, beauty of face, strength regarding all women and men.” However between the time of Plato and that of Apuleius, and thus between Hellenistic period and the imperial age, something radical had transpired: magic had moved away from being strictly a black art to harm one’s adversaries to a technique that approaches the gnostic and Neoplatonic quest for knowledge that derives from the experience of the divinity.

The beginnings of an “epistemological break” with the past, can be seen in the claims of the cathartic priests of the Hellenistic age, however, it would only be in the times of Apuleius that the shift had come to fruition—that will also parallel the act of philosophy metamorphosizing into theology. Fritz Graf, Prof. of Classics at the University of Basel, explains the phenomenon thusly:

"It was only in imperial times that magic became knowledge providing access to the Supreme God, and it was only at that moment that the sorcerer acquired, through his knowledge, an assistant that accompanies the sorcerer throughout his career. From this derived that attempt of neo-Platonic theurgy to use magic techniques to acquire knowledge about the Supreme God; from this also derived the ambiguity in the status of the philosopher and the acharismatic “divine man,” Apollonius of Tyana or Jesus, who, depending on the viewpoint adopted, could be presented as a great sage or sorcerer. It is obvious that this change reflects a fundamental change in society; the earlier, agonistic society with its low hierarchy and its large need to support in competition changes into a much more highly hierarchized society in which competition is the concern of a narrow elite, while the rest of society turns to the care of spiritual well-being."

Since the Hellenistic period there was, after all, ever an element of the magus in the sacerdotus, and vice versa, just as their was ever an element of the philosophus in the theologus. However, by the later imperial age the one magus/sacerdotus and the other philosophus/theologus had been completely subsumed within themselves. The Lucius of Apuleius' the Golden A$$ bears this out. Although it was Christianity that brought the process to its absolute fruition, for which the magician becomes the priest and philosophy becomes theology as I have previously stated. In fact Iamblichus at the time refers to certain priests expert in the arcane knowledge, especially theurgy, as Theosophers; and he evidently included with them also those among the new Christian faith. Take, for example, the orthodox liturgy of the Eucharist, by which the Catholic priest binds the divinity to the Host in what is dogmatically referred to as 'transubstantiation': if that is not a magical rite, then I don't know what is. It is thus no coincidence that the act of binding (defixiones), was the most commonly used invocation of the magus in antiquity. I "bind" my victim to the ground, or I "bind" her love and erotic desire to myself.

Perhaps, therefore, Christ's utterances to Peter in Mathew 18:18,19 should be best understood within this context: "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven..." But the impassive is not to be charmed or forced or constrained by necessity, as the magus does. Compare the Gospel according to Matthew, XI, 12. "From the days of John the Baptist till now, the kingdom of heaven is forced, and they who are violent seize it."

Unfortunately Protestants have, in addition, elided the entire visual culture that Christianity grew-up with in its incipient phase, which thus neglects an entire body of evidence for comprehending how a religion was formed in Graeco-Roman antiquity. They have thus abandoned an essential element by which the Christian viewpoint was manifested at the time. In this sense they have divested themselves of Christianity as it was lived among the ancients, who understood that there were hermeneutical and mystical elements in the writings and visual culture of the religion of which the Hellenistic period already provides ample precedents. In this sense modern Christian scholarship is inadequately equipped to approach antiquity, which has concentrated on pragmatic and positivist approaches, largely at the expense of the practice and theory of ancient hermeneutics. One of the things early Christians were consequently able to do was to efface the boundary between the 'mythos' and the 'logos,' that is between the metaphor (or allegory as it may) for ‘seeing’ the deeper purposes and ironies of history; from a purely rational and separate reality connected to the flux of time and the ‘real’ world of the viewer. In fact none of this was Jewish, or what in mystical Judaism might suitably be compared with the phenomenon, such as in the Kabbalistic texts, was rather derived from the Hellenized and Egypticized arcana. Indeed early Christians recognized that the moment the relgion entered the gentile culture (ecclessia ex gentibus), all that remained of orthodox, rabinical Judaism was the scriptual tradition (ecclesia ex judicorum, or ex circumcisione). Everything else came by way of pagan visual culture, the Graeco-Roman heirarchical priesthoods and heiratic vision of exhange between the divine and human realms, as well as their developing inner spiritualism and salvation cults.

By contrast, the historical Jesus, had he actually existed, and his disciples were all culturally bound to rabbinical Judaism, however Hellenized it had become at the time. In other words Jesus never thought of himself as anything but Jewish; his ministry of announcing the Kingdom of Heaven (which did not materialize) was directed exclusively to his fellow Jews; and he certainly never intended to found a new religion that later became Christianity. That religion is a product of Graeco-Roman cosmopolitan spiritualism of the imperial age, which Constantine began to graft upon the state, from whence it got its Roman imprint in the Catholic priesthoods, liturgical calendar, and indeed basilica architecture and visual culture. None of this had anything to do with the rabbinical Judaism of Jesus, and thus only the messianic aspect within its scriptural tradition was coopted by later Christianity.

Of course magic and miracles do not exist from the rationalist point of view, however, with the exception of intellectuals like Plutarch, the common ancients readily accepted such superstitions as fact. It is a shame mass culture even today continues to be guided by their fears and such superstitions, rather than the faculty of reason - especially given what Plutarch already warned us about in the second century of our era.
 
Mar 13, 2009
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frenchfry said:
For me one advantage of being agnostic/atheist is that I don't feel any need to impose my non-beliefs on others. Maybe the ad is the result of existing in a more fundamentalist environment to counter religious posturing.
I think you are quite right on this one. I have also pointed out before that the religion/atheism debate is infinitely more intense in the US than most European countries. Though, to be fair, Islam is a major controversy in many European countries, from mosques to burqas everything is subject to public debate.

In the US however, there are many, many closeted atheists who are afraid to come out because they are afraid of being ostracized by their family or their community. Richard Dawkins said that out of 535 members of US Congress, there is one open atheist - this is statistically impossible. But it shows the stronghold that religion has on US society.

To counter that, Atheists do these ad campaigns every now and then. But even in my native Luxembourg there was an atheist campaign a few years ago. The reason behind that was this: virtually everyone in Luxembourg is baptized by the Catholic church shortly after their birth. A lot of people grow up to be not in the least religious, and have absolutely nothing to do with that church. The problem is that no one bothers to leave the church, since most feel like they never entered in the first place (they had no say in being baptized). So the Catholic Church still gets to claim that it represents 95% of Luxembourgians, and therefore has the right to claim certain privileges and powers in society. When in reality, that percentage is way lower.
 
Whether the majority of the people like it or not, catholicism should become a state religion again, at least in the countries it formerly was. But for this, you need to reject Vatican II. A tree should be assessed by its fruit. The atheist post-1789 period was much worse for the population than the Christian period. It's crystal clear.


Atheists are making fun of Islam because it's the only religion in Europe that has remained somewhat traditional. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church lost the Vatican. Those who occupy the Vatican today are not Catholic. There hasn't been a Vatican II equivalent for Islam yet. Some neocons would love to see it, like Ralph Peters but so far it still isn't. That's why Islam is the enemy of the West today. True Catholicism also should have been but it suffered a huge blow with Vatican II.
 

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