The Origins of Christianity By Chris Lyons An Exploration Into How Other Cultures and Prominent Historical Figures Contributed to Christian Theology
The origins of Christianity can be depicted in four historical periods • The Canaanite / Pre-exile Jewish period • The Persian / Zoroastrian period • The Ancient Greek / Hellenistic period • The Roman / Christian Period These periods correspond to the cultures that ruled the Jewish people.
The Canaanite / Pre-exile Jewish Period The original inhabitants in the Palestinian region, the Canaanites, were surrounded by powerful political states. • To the east was Mesopotamia. • To the north were the Hittites. • To the west were the Egyptians. • And along the coast, you had a seafaring people called the Philistines
1. 1400 BCE
830 BCE (2.)
Cultural Influence in the Pre-exile Jewish period. The surrounding cultures influenced the Caananites and the pre-exile Jews in several ways including: • Their codes of law • The creation account • The myth of the Great Flood • The birth of Moses • David and Goliath
Codes of Law Their were several ancient law codes that influenced Jewish Law. The three we will briefly cover are • The Laws of Eshnunna • The Code of Hammurabi • The Code of the Nesilim
The Ten Commandments Michael Coogan asserts the Ten Commandments are modeled after Hittite suzerainty treaties (7.) The following quotes are from the Treaty Between Mursilis II And Duppi-Tessub Of Amurru (8.) • These are the words of the Sun Mursilis, the great king, the king of the Hatti land,the valiant, the favorite of the Storm- god, the son of Suppiluliumas, the great king, the king of the Hatti land, the valiant… But you, Duppi-Tessub, remain loyal toward the king of the Hatti land, the Hatti land, my sons (and) my grandsons forever! The tribute which was imposed upon your grandfather and your father they presented 300 shekels of good, refined first-class gold weighed with standard weights you shall present them likewise. Do not turn your eyes to anyone else!Your fathers presented tribute to Egypt; you [shall not do that!]
The Ten Commandments The Book of the Dead (Negative Confessions) is also similar to the Ten Commandments (Egyptian) (9.) Hail, Uatch-rekhit, who comest forth from Sau, I have not cursed God. (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain) Hail, Am-khaibit, who comest forth from Qernet, I have not slain men and women. (Thou shalt not kill) Hail, Qerrti, who comest forth from Amentet, I have not committed adultery, I have not lain with men. (Thou shalt not commit adultery.) Hail, Fenti, who comest forth from Khemenu, I have not stolen. (Thou shalt not steal.) Hail, Tenemiu, who comest forth from Bast, I have not slandered [no man]. (Thou shalt not bear false witness.) Hail, Tutu, who comest forth from Ati (the Busirite Nome), I have not debauched the wife of any man. (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife.)
The Creation Account The creation account found in Genesis was similar to the beliefs found in surrounding cultures. The three myths we will cover are • The Enûma Eliš • Enki and Ninhursag • The Instruction Addressed of Kehty to Merikare
The Enûma Eliš(10.)(Babylonian) In the Enûma Eliš, - Marduk defeats Tiamat (chaos) - Light, firmament (sky), dry land, sun, moon and people are created in order. (11.) Genesis 3 - “And God said “Let there be light”, Genesis 6 - And God said, Let there be a firmament... Genesis 9 - And God said... let the dry land appear. Genesis 16 - And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the nightGenesis 26 - And God said, Let us make man in our image
Enki and Ninhursag (12.)(Sumerian) After Time had come into being and the holy seasons for growth and rest were finally known, Dilmun, the pure clean and bright land of the living, the garden of the Great Gods and Earthly paradise, located eastward in Eden, was the place where Ninhursag-Ki, the Earth Mother, Most Exalted Lady and Supreme Queen, could be found. There she lived for a season during the Wheel of the Year, when the Earth lay deep in slumber before the onset of Spring, in the land that knew neither sickness nor death or old age, where the raven uttered no cry, where lions and wolves killed not, and unknown were the sorrows of widowhood or the wailing of the sick. And it was in Dilmun, at that time that Enki, the wise god of Magic and the Sweet Waters, the Patron of Crafts and Skills, met, fell in love and lied with the Lady of the Stony Earth, Ninhursag-Ki.
Enki and Ninhursag The Great Lady continued her mighty healing ritual, asking Enki for the names of the organs that had been affected. ‘Dearest, what hurts you?’... ‘My rib hurts me.’ 'To the goddess Ninti, the Lady of the Rib and the One who makes Live, I have given birth for you to set your rib free.’ As soon as Ninhursag uttered the last sentence, Enki felt no pain or ache, revitalized and stronger than ever. Indeed, as if he himself had been reborn in the close embrace of Ninhursag. Gone was the pain, the fever, the shivers.
The Instruction Addressed of Kehty to Merikare(Egyptian) (13.) This is from a section called the Hymn to the Creator God - Well tended is mankind - the cattle of the god: he made sky and earth for their sake, he subdued the water monster, he made breath for their noses to live. They are his images, who came from his body. He shines in the sky for their sake. He made for them plants and cattle, fowl and fish to feed them. He slew his foes, reduced his children, when they thought of making rebellion. He makes daylight for their sake, he sails by to see them. He has built his shrine around them, when they weep he hears. He made for them rulers in the egg, leaders to raise the back of the weak. He made for them magic as weapons, to ward off the blow of events, watching over them by day and by night. He has slain the traitors among them, as a man beats his son for the sake of his brother. For the god knows every name.
The Myth of the Great Flood There is evidence of local “Great Floods.” The Mesopotamian cities of Ur, Kish and Shuruppak have flood deposits. (14.) • The Ur flood is dated to about 3500 BCE • Two of Kish’s floods are dated from 3000 to 2900 BCE. A third is dated to around 2600 BCE. • Shuruppak is the home of Ziusudra, a Sumerian equivalent of Noah. Its flood deposits date to 2950 to 2850 BCE. Great floods were incorporated into Summerian mythology through tales such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet 11) (15.) You know the city Shuruppak, which lies upon the River Euphrates. That city was of great antiquity. And ancient were the gods who still lived within it. In their hearts they resolved to bring on the Great Flood... • And Enki repeats what they say to Ziusudra, Speaking through the wall of Ziusudra's reed hut: • 'Reed hut, reed hut! Wall of the hut, wall of the hut! • Listen o reed hut! Consider, o wall of the hut! • O man of Shuruppak, o you son of Ubara-Tutu, • Tear down your hut of reeds, • Build of them a reed boat • Abandon things • Seek life • Give up possessions • Keep your soul alive! • And into the boat take the seed of all living creatures.
Moses is Found Along a Riverbank • King Sargon’s birth (16) • Sargon, the mighty king, King of Agade, am I. My mother was a vestal, my father I knew not, while my father's brother dwelt in the mountains. In my city Azuripani, which is situated on the bank of the Euphrates, my mother, the vestal, bore me. In a hidden place she brought me forth. She laid me in a vessel made of reeds, closed my door with pitch, and dropped me down into the river, which did not drown me... • Moses (Exodus 2:3) • And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink. • Oedipus was also found along a riverbank.
David and Goliath (Philistine or later Greek influence) • Nestor and Ereuthalion - A giant named Ereuthalion challenges an opposing army, and a young Nestor accepts the challenge. • On their side stood forth Ereuthalion as champion, a godlike man, bearing upon his shoulders the armour of king Areithous… And wearing this armour did Ereuthalion challenge all the bravest; but they trembled sore and were afraid, nor had any man courage to abide him. But me did my enduring heart set on to battle with him in my hardihood, though in years I was youngest of all. So fought I with him, and Athene gave me glory. (17.) • The Philistines and Greeks are descended from the Mycenaens. (18.) • The armor described in 1 Samuel 17 is Greek armor of the sixth century BCE and not Philistine armor of the tenth century BCE. (19.)
Canaanites Jews • Canaanites were polytheistic, including: El Elyon (father of Gods), Athirat/Asherah (wife of El Elyon), Baal (storm/ fertility God) • God is called El 200 plus times in the Old Testament such as Genesis 33:20. “He (Jacob) erected there an altar and called it EleloheIsrael (translated as El, God of Israel).”(20.) • Yahweh worship may have been introduced into the pantheon of Gods the Canaanites worshiped from tribes to the south such as the Kenites.(21.) The Egyptians mention a tribe called the Sashu of Yhw.(22.) Some scholars hypothesize Yahweh was a war god.(23.) • In 750 BCE, the Northern kingdom of Israel is in state of upheaval following the death of King Jeroboam II. Three prophets emerge - Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea. Each are Yahwists. (24.) • 722 BCE - The northern kingdom of Israel falls to Assyria. This event may have led to the 10 lost tribes of Israel reference. (25.) Judea survives as a vassal sate.
Canaanites Jews • In 662 BCE, King Josiah (of Judah) was a strict Yawhist and he demanded the complete rejection of other Gods, such as Baal. Altars and icons of the other gods were to be destroyed. The temple in Jerusalem was the only place where Yahweh resides. Still polytheistic / henotheistic though. (24.) • 586 BCE, Judah and its capitol (Jerusalem) were captured by the Babylonians. Most of Deuteronomy is composed while in exile to explain why Yahweh just got his butt whipped. (26.) (Jews were sinful and I caused the Assyrians and Babylonians [and their Gods] to do my bidding.) • The exile of the Jews is a problem as the gods of the time are associated with particular places (a.k.a. the Temple Mount). • Solution? - I am everywhere.
The Persian / Zoroastrian Period • The Jews were exiled after Nebuchadnezzar II (Babylonian) conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE. • The Babylonians lost their independence after Cyrus the Great conquered them in in 539 BCE. • This caused several of the Jews to consider Cyrus the Great to be a Messiah (I, Yahweh, anointed Cyrus to do my bidding). (27.) • “In Isa. xlv. 1 Cyrus is called "God's anointed one," because God has called him and given him victory after victory for the distinct purpose of putting an end to the Babylonian kingdom and the worship of idols, of setting free exiled Israel, and thus introducing the new era of God's universal dominion. (Jewish Encyclopedia) • It also lead to the religious influence of Zoroastrianism
Monotheism The Zoroastrians were monotheists. The Jews became monotheists.
Omnipresence The Zoroastrians believed in omnipresence. The Jews became believers in omnipresence.
Omnibenevolence The Zoroastrians believed that their God, Ahura Mazda, could not be the source of evil. Instead his adversary, Angra Mainyu, was the source of evil. The post-exile Jews didn’t believe God could be the source of evil.
The Belief In a Heavenly Messiah • The Zoroastrians believed that a virgin would bathe in the waters of a lake were Zoroaster’s sperm had been deposited, and from her, the Saoshyant will be born. (28.) • Saoshyant means “one who brings benefit” in Avestian. • The first Jewish mentioning of a heavenly Messiah is found in the Book of Enoch. (27.) • “The Messiah is called "the Son of Man," and is described as an angelic being, his countenance resembling a man's, and as occupying a seat in heaven beside the Ancient of Days (xlvi. 1).” (Jewish Encyclopedia)
Resurrection • The pre-exile Jews believed in Sheol. The Zoroastrians believed the Saoshyant will resurrect the dead. • Sheol - “David abides there in peace... the warriors have their weapons with them ... yet they are mere shadows…The dead merely exist without knowledge or feeling … Return from Sheol is not expected ...it is described as man's eternal house ...It is "dust" (Jewish Encylopedia) (29.) • Before Exile - Death = Sheol - Isaiah 14:11 • “Thy pomp is brought down to the grave… the worms is spread underneath thee, and the worms cover thee.” • After Exile – Death = Resurrection - Daniel 12:2 • “And many of them who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” • Resurrection is also associated with Horus and Attis (among others).
The Satanic Problem The Zoroastrians had an adversary (stn) to explain the evil in the world - Angra Mainyu. The Jews didn’t. The solution? - The Book of Enoch. • The book of Enoch combined the Greek story of Prometheus with 6:2-4. • Genesis 6: 2-4:“That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose… the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” • The leader of these fallen angels, Semyaz, became god’s adversary. • Azazel brought the forbidden knowledge of weapons
Intertestimental Books The book of Enoch is an example of an interestimental book. • Others examples areBel and the Dragon, Jubilees, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Maccabees, Sirach, Tobit, and the Wisdom of Solomon The interestimental books were created during the periods of Persian and Greek rule, and they were influential in contributing to the material the New Testament is based upon.
An Example - Sirach (30.) • Say not thou, it is through the Lord that I fell away: for thou oughtest not to do the things that he hateth. Say not thou, He hath caused me to err: for he hath no need of the sinful man.” (Sirach 15:11-12) • Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. (James 1:13)
The Greek / Hellenstic Period • Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 332 BCE. • Like Cyrus the Great before him, Alexander the Great was greeted as a Messiah. • “The Jewish contemporaries of Alexander the Great, dazzled by his glorious achievements, hailed him as the divinely appointed deliverer, the inaugurator of the period of universal peace promised by the Prophets.” (Jewish Encyclopedia)(27.) • And like Zoroastrianism, the Greek mystery cults and their philosophers exerted a religious influence upon the Jews.
The Greek Mystery Cults Alexander the Great and several of the Greek leaders practiced syncretism. • Ptolemy I created the god Serapis by combining Egyptian and Greek iconography. (31.) • The Greeks may have actively incentivized participation in their mystery cults. • “To do away with the appearance of hating them all, he (Ptolemy IV Philopator ) had it written underneath, that if any of them should elect to enter the community of those initiated in the (Dionysian) rites, these (Jews) should have equal rights with the Alexandrians." (3 Maccabees 2:30) (32.) • The degree to which 3 Maccabees can be trusted is debatable. Many parts have been definitively disproven.
The Greek Mystery Cults Their were several religious cults or beliefs that were spread by the Greeks. The ones we will focus on here are: • The Dionysian mysteries • The Eleusinian mysteries • The cult of Asclepius • Hercules
The Dionysian Mysteries • Centers on Dionysus. He is either a half-god or full god depending on the myth used. • In the half-God myth, Zeus impregnated a mortal woman named Semele, and she died because Hera tricked her into seeing Zeus in his natural state. • In the full god version, Zeus impregnated Persephone. Hera found out and convinced the Titans to tear Dionysus apart and eat all of his body except his heart. • In both the half-human and full-god versions of the myth, Zeus rescued Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh. This meant Dionysus was twice born. • The Greeks would celebrate Dionysus through four separate mysteries known as the Greater Dionysia, the Lenaea, the Anthesteria, and the Little Dionysia.(33.)
The Eleusinian Mysteries • Centered on the rape of Persephone. • According to Greek mythology, Persephone was captured by Hades and was brought to the underworld to be his wife. Persephone’s mother, Demeter (the god of the harvest) then went searching for her daughter, and food wouldn’t grow because Demeter was spiteful. Then, when Hermes went to the underworld to bring Persephone back to Demeter, things began to grow again. • In order to celebrate Persephone’s return to Demeter and the harvest that resulted from this, the participants of the Eleusinian mysteries would hold the Greater and the Lesser mysteries.
The Influence of the Dionysian and the Eleusinian Mysteries The Dionysian and Eleusinian mystery cults influenced Christianity in several ways. • Baptism • It was a part of the initiation ritual for the Eleusinian mysteries. The initiates would immerse themselves in the sea with a piglet that would be later sacrificed. (34.) • Baptism was also practiced by the Egyptian religion (35.) and Mithraism. • The concept of mystery. • Communion.
The Concept of Mystery For the Greeks, mysteries were secret rites (such as baptism) or doctrines learned by an initiate during his indoctrination into one of the mystery cults. • With the exception of Daniel, which was written during the Hellenistic era, there is no mentioning of the word mystery in the Old testament. • The word is mentioned approximately twenty-two times in the New Testament. (reference 20, page 174) • “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)
Communion The Dionysian mysteries had followers called maenads who were wild women that ritualistically tore the limbs off of animals, ate the meat raw, drank the blood, and had orgies. • The quartering of the animal they sacrificed may have represented what happened to Dionysus by the Titans. • The eating of flesh and drinking of blood, a practice called Omophagia, may have been a way to obtain Dionysus’s wilder traits.(36.) • The initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries drank a drink called kykeon,which consisted of meal, water, and the pennyroyal mint leaves. The meal may have been a symbol of Persophone. (34.) • Communion was also practiced in Mithraism.
Communion Continued • At some point, the consuming of wine and grain became associated with Dionysus and Demeter. • “When we speak of corn as Ceres (the Roman Demeter), and of wine as Liber (the Roman Dionysus), we use, it is true, a customary mode of speech, but do you think anyone is so senseless as to believe that what he is eating is the divine substance?” Cicero (104- 46 BCE) (37.) • We know from Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215 CE) that the Greeks did, in fact, call bread Demeter and wine Dionysus. • “Others, plucking the benignant fruits of earth-born plants, called grain Demeter, as the Athenians, and the vine Dionysus, as the Thebans.”(38.) • This spiritual drinking of wine and eating of grain likely became incorporated by the Christians as the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of Christ.
The Cult of Asclepius • Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing. The most famous comment about the cult of Asclepius is found in Plato’s Phaedo. • Upon drinking hemlock poison, Socrates remarks that we need to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius, which is a statement that essentially mocks the belief that the cult had the ability to heal. • Asclepius was believed to have cured the lame, the mute, the blind, the sick, and raise the dead. (39.) • “Nicanor, a lame man. While he was sitting wide-awake in Asclepius' temple, a boy snatched his crutch from him and ran away. but Nicanor got up, pursued him, and do became well.” Inscriptiones Graecae 4.1.121- 122; Stele 1.16 • Jesus was said to have performed the same miracles.
Hercules • Hercules’ ascension into heaven was celebrated during the time of the Ancient Greeks • “Hercules has gone to heaven; he never would have gone thither had he not, while among men, made that road for himself. These things are of old date, and have, besides, the sanction of universal religion.”Cicero (40)
Hercules Continued (41.) Other similarities between Hercules and Jesus: • They were both children of Gods. • Had earthly fathers • Were descended from kings. • Had people trying to kill them when they were infants (Hera vs. Herod) • Had betrayers who later hanged themselves (Hercules’s wife vs. Judas). • They both returned from the otherworld (Hades vs. Heaven).
The Greek Philosophers The Greek schools of philosophy were also influential. • Heraclitus promoted the concept of logos. • The Pythagoreans worshipped numbers (including the number 3) • The Epicureans practiced celibacy. • The Stoics believed that within man was a portion of the divine logos. But of all of the philosophical movements, none was more influential than Platonism.
Plato The Republic was found in the Nag Hammaradi Library • The Allegory of the Cave • The Myth of Er Crito, Phaedo, Timaeus and Parminides would also prove to be influential to Christian thought. Plato’s belief in a corporeal body and incorporeal soul, and the use of allegorical interpretation were also important.
Allegory of the Cave • People are chained inside a cave and have their heads immobilized so that they can only see the wall in front of them. • These prisoners, never knowing anything else, would believe that the shadows on the cave wall were real objects even though they were not. • One of the prisoners escapes from his chains and exits the cave. Because of the light, the prisoner is able to see objects like animals for what they really are. • Socrates engages in a dialogue with Glaucon about how philosophers need to help people escape their chains and enter the light outside the cave so they can see the true nature of things, and not promote the shadows as true reality.
Allegory of the Cave Continued Plato’s allegory of the cave may have resulted in quotes found in the New Testament such as • John 9:25. “Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” • John 8:32 “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” • The allegory of the cave may also be responsible for the cave found in the Gospel of Mark and the prevalence of Christian missionaries • missionaries are supposed to help others see the light.
The Myth of Er The Myth of Er is about a man named Er who was killed on the battlefield and, upon his resurrection, tells his friends about his experiences in the afterlife. According to Er, • There is an entrance and an exit to both the sky and the land below. Moral people go up, immoral people go down. • People who are moral experience nirvana, and people who are immoral experience pain and suffering. • People like murderers are trapped below for eternity, everyone else is reincarnated. The concept of heaven and hell was already promoted by Zoroastrianism, but Plato’s myth of Er may have reinforced this belief. It may have also contributed to the idea of resurrection (which was also promoted by Zoroastrianism).