Recently I had a conversation with a friend about the history of New Testament. Everyone here on SOS knows and understands the symbolic importance of it, but there are many differences of opinion on whether it is literal history or not. It’s always been important to me to allow readers to have open discussions and even disagreements on the blog to expand our understanding.
In this post I am going to give my opinion and discuss some of the historical background which may give you a better framework which with to make your own conclusions. I welcome all comments. Hopefully we can get some good discussion going on the topic.
I want to preface my opinions with the fact that I believe the New Testament is one of the greatest compilations of literature on the planet. The fact that it may not be literal history, and how it came to be attached to the Old Testament as such, does not in any way diminish it’s spiritual significance. For me, it will always serve as a blueprint for understanding the soul and the soul’s potential for higher consciousness.
So what do I believe about the New Testament and how it came to be?
In order to answer that, we’re going to have to start with Jesus. What proof, or lack thereof, do we have letting us know he was a historical character? Most scholars have admitted that the majority of historians (at least 46) who lived and wrote near the time of Jesus’ life are peculiarly silent. Some of these historians lived during the supposed time of Jesus and wrote voluminous works, but they didn’t mention anything about his life. Others lived within least a 100 years of Jesus’ lifetime. Below I have provided a list, just to name a few:
Philo (who lived in Jerusalem during Jesus’ life), Appian, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder, Lucian, Quintilian, Valerius Maximus, Seneca, Suetonias, Justus of Tiberius (a native of Galilee), Ptolemy, Petronius, Theon of Smyran, Phlygon, Damis, etc.
The list goes on. Some scholars have estimated that there are over a 100 historians that should have mentioned something about Christ. The important thing is that there are plenty, but only two mention anything remotely related to Christ. One was Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote a complete history of the Jews. But strangely, he dedicated entire pages to miscellaneous characters, but only one passage mentions Christ. And that passage is now agreed by almost all mainstream scholars to be a forgery since Josephus used language that wouldn’t be consistent with a devout Jew.
The other writer is Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian who wrote the Annals, in AD 116. Most scholars agree that Tacitus’ passage is authentic. I have quoted the section mentioning Christ below:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”
This passage is important, because it is from an objective historian who not only mentions “Christus,” but also mentions that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate and that there was a considerable Christian population at the time of the burning of Rome, in 64 AD.
I have come to a few conclusions from all of the above info. If the story of Jesus Christ had happened as it is related in all four Gospels, then I believe it would have been mentioned by most, if not all, of the historians who lived near the time of Christ. It would have been too historically important to leave out. The fact that it is so curiously absent from almost all of them tells much: the Jesus that has been handed down to us in the Gospels in not historically accurate. However, with that being said, I believe there is a shred of truth in them. There probably was a man, or a number of men, who the life of Christ as presented in the Gospels is based on. Whether that man really had a ministry around 30 AD or hundreds of years before isn’t important to me. What is more significant is the fact that there was a large Christian population in Rome by 64 AD. This at least proves that an important religious movement was present at the time. But what does this mean?
The fact that hundreds of factions of what we term “Christianity” (as we’ll shortly see it was nothing similar to formal Christianity today) was present at this time is not disputed. There were as many differing beliefs and sects of Christianity in the Roman Empire shortly after Jesus’ supposed time period as there are today. In fact, it was much more divisive and varying in its belief system. This is understandable since everything was taught orally and there was no single book (like the Bible) that unified everyone under codified beliefs. And herein lies the single most important factor that we should keep in mind when deciding how the New Testament was attached to the Old Testament and came to be taught as linear literal history.
Constantine is an interesting figure. He was the first emperor to proclaim Christianity an official religion of the Roman Empire and granted tolerance to all Christians. Many Christians today have come to learn that he was never a Christian in the traditional sense; his own belief system was a conglomeration of pagan practices and beliefs. In 321 AD, he proclaimed that all citizens of the Empire, Christians and non-Christians alike, should honor the “venerable day of the sun.” This was in support of sun-worship established by the cult of Aurelian years before. Even though Constantine finally proclaimed that Christianity was to become his own official religion by the time he was 40, he continued to practice sun-worship.
Despite all this, Constantine did much to promote Christianity in the Empire. He returned all church property confiscated by Diocletian and promoted Christians to important places of office. Christianity was able to spread rapidly during his reign. But Constantine had a problem as all this happened. This new Christian religion he was beginning to embrace was not unified. It was divisive, because there were so many different beliefs, practices, and opinions associated with it.
Eventually, Constantine called the Council of Nicea to settle the controversy. As a student of a graduate study course on church history, I learned that most of the debate of Nicea most likely centered around three events: the Arian controversy, the Melitian controversy, and the date of Easter. In fact, most Christian apologists will tell you that the Council of Nicea mainly focused on whether Jesus was eternally God or a created being (Arian controversy). But that just isn’t true. It is only half the story. There were much bigger problems going on.
I am going to quote from an article written in Nexus Magazine in 2007 by Tony Bushby, which I found HERE (I recommend reading it in its entirety when you are finished with this post.)
“It was at that puerile assembly [Nicea], and with so many cults represented, that a total of 318 “bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes and exorcists” gathered to debate and decide upon a unified belief system that encompassed only one god (An Apology for Christianity , op. cit.). By this time, a huge assortment of “wild texts” (Catholic Encyclopedia, New Edition, “Gospel and Gospels”) circulated amongst presbyters and they supported a great variety of Eastern and Western gods and goddesses: Jove, Jupiter, Salenus, Baal, Thor, Gade, Apollo, Juno, Aries, Taurus, Minerva, Rhets, Mithra, Theo, Fragapatti, Atys, Durga, Indra, Neptune, Vulcan, Kriste, Agni, Croesus, Pelides, Huit, Hermes, Thulis, Thammus, Eguptus, Iao, Aph, Saturn, Gitchens, Minos, Maximo, Hecla and Phernes ( G o d ‘s Book of Eskra, anon., ch. xlviii, paragraph 36)…Constantine’s intention at Nicaea was to create an entirely new god for his empire who would unite all religious factions under one deity. Presbyters were asked to debate and decide who their new god would be. Delegates argued among themselves, expressing personal motives for inclusion of particular writings that promoted the finer traits of their own special deity. Throughout the meeting, howling factions were immersed in heated debates, and the names of 53 gods were tabled for discussion. “As yet, no God had been selected by the council, and so they balloted in order to determine that matter… For one year and five months the balloting lasted…” (God’s Book of Eskra, Prof. S. L. MacGuire’s translation, Salisbury, 1922, chapter xlviii, paragraphs 36, 41). At the end of that time, Constantine returned to the gathering to discover that the presbyters had not agreed on a new deity but had balloted down to a shortlist of five prospects: Caesar, Krishna, Mithra, Horus and Zeus (Historia Ecclesiastica, Eusebius, c. 325). Constantine was the ruling spirit at Nicaea and he ultimately decided upon a new god for them. To involve British factions, he ruled that the name of the great Druid god, Hesus, be joined with the Eastern Saviour-god, Krishna (Krishna is Sanskrit for Christ), and thus Hesus Krishna would be the official name of the new Roman god. A vote was taken and it was with a majority show of hands (161 votes to 157) that both divinities became one God.”
If Bushby’s research is correct, and he seems to provide legit resources, then this information is startling. The Council of Nicea was not mainly focused on the Arian controversy, but was a call to establish a new deity for a new unified religion. The information above is left out of most studies on Nicea. Perhaps because it is too tedious to review all the information available to us.
In my graduate course studies, I read several works on the early church history, frequently discussing the council of Nicea. The enterprise was daunting, and I often found myself shaking my head. One thing is clear. The complete truth of that meeting will never be discovered.
The New Testament
There has been much speculation on the origins of the New Testament. Most likely, much of letters and books presented to us today in the Christian Bible were already circulating by the time the Council of Nicea was convened, at least in part. But modern research has unveiled that those manuscripts were tampered with quite a bit. Interpolations were inserted for political reasons in almost all of them. Why? It is my personal belief that Constantine ordered such a compilation in order to verify his new religion. And Eusebius may be his main culprit in helping to establish the historical evidence for it (more on this in a moment). Consider the quote below:
“…the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD.”
(Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).
The Catholic Encyclopedia testifies to the fact that the fourth century was the time that many of the earliest New Testament manuscripts we have were written. If this is true, then it’s very possible that many interpolations were added to further promulgate Constantine’s vision of a unified religion during this time.
Eusebius was an admirer of Constantine. He is known as the father of church history because he wrote the first chronologically-based history of the church, Historia Ecclesiastica, which changed at least five times. His final completed version was submitted two years after the Council of Nicea. It is well known that Eusebius was most likely a supporter of Arian until the Council of Nicea made this doctrine a heresy. For good reasons, he changed sides! After the council of Nicea, Eusebius himself tells us in His Life of Constantine (4.36.37) that the emperor ordered him to produce “fifty excellent copies” of the sacred scriptures that would become the imperial Bible. Eusebius himself is also quoted as saying,
“It will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of those who need such a mode of treatment.” (Chp. 31, Book 12 of Prae Paratio Evangelica).
Is this an admission of lying in order to promulgate Constantine’s vision of a unified religion? Possibly. Many scholars state this statement by Eusebius is authentic while others state it was added during the Medieval Ages. We may never know. However, I believe that what little we know about Eusebius’ life makes it possible that he would do anything to help Constantine help establish his religion. It is even possible that Eusebius wrote his history of the church in order to put a historical spin on New Testament events in order to give it credence. Consider Bushby’s further statements below:
“Constantine then instructed Eusebius to organize the compilation of a uniform collection of new writings developed from primary aspects of the religious texts submitted at the council. His instructions were: “Search ye these books, and whatever is good in them, that retain; but whatsoever is evil, that cast away. What is good in one book, unite ye with that which is good in another book. And whatsoever is thus brought together shall be called The Book of Books. And it shall be the doctrine of my people, which I will recommend unto all nations, that there shall be no more war for religions’ sake.” (God’s Book of Eskra, op. cit., chapter xlviii, paragraph 31). “Make them to astonish” said Constantine, and “the books were written accordingly” (Life of Constantine, vol. iv, pp. 36-39). Eusebius amalgamated the “legendary tales of all the religious doctrines of the world together as one”, using the standard god-myths from the presbyters’ manuscripts as his exemplars. Merging the supernatural “god” stories of Mithra and Krishna with British Culdean beliefs effectively joined the orations of Eastern and Western presbyters together “to form a new universal belief” (ibid.).”
The above does not prove that Eusebius did anything wrong, but it certainly leaves the New Testament’s veracity and origins open to much debate.
More on the New Testament
Is the New Testament itself really a historical document? Was it ever meant to be? My personal belief is no. It is also my belief that the New Testament was never meant to be compiled at all by the writers who originally forged the independent letters and Gospels. Paul himself, who is supposed to have authored over half of it, hints at the fact that it is the Old Testament only that should be revered to be the sacred scriptures when he speaks with Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15-16). He never even knew of the Gospels and his Jesus was most likely non-historical as he omits a physical birth from any of his letters. This is further evidenced by the fact that he tells Timothy that the scriptures of the Old Testament are the ones that teach of the Christ. Remember, as Timothy was a child, the Gospels had not been written yet.
I would like to add another quote here from Bushby:
“The important question then to ask is this: if the New Testament is not historical, what is it? Dr. Tischendorf provided part of the answer when he said in his 15,000 pages of critical notes on the Sinai Bible that “it seems that the personage of Jesus Christ was made narrator for many religions”. This explains how narratives from the ancient Indian epic, the M a h a b h a r a t a, appear verbatim in the Gospels today (e.g., Matt. 1:25, 2:11, 8:1-4, 9:1-8, 9:18-26), and why passages from the P h e n o m e n a of the Greek statesman Aratus of Sicyon (271–213 BC) are in the New Testament. Extracts from the Hymn to Zeus, written by Greek philosopher Cleanthes (c. 331–232 BC), are also found in the Gospels, as are 207 words from the Thais of Menander (c. 343–291), one of the “seven wise men” of Greece. Quotes from the semi-legendary Greek poet Epimenides (7th or 6th century BC) are applied to the lips of Jesus Christ, and seven passages from the curious Ode of J u p i t e r (c. 150 BC; author unknown) are reprinted in the New Testament. Tischendorf’s conclusion also supports Professor Bordeaux’s Vatican findings that reveal the allegory of Jesus Christ derived from the fable of Mithra, the divine son of God (Ahura Mazda) and messiah of the first kings of the Persian Empire around 400 BC.”
I hope you reread that last quote more than once. It shows us that the Gospels are an amalgamation of wisdom sayings hundreds of years before the New Testament became the official cannon. I had a professor from my Foundations of Ancient History course at Longwood University admit to me all his research concluded that Nicea really was a council that determined largely what books would become the cannon. I never forgot that statement although I didn’t understand the implications at the time. In spite of this, I have read countless theologians that state, from all the historical evidence, that Nicea had nothing to do with the forging of the New Testament. As you can guess, I have become skeptical. The truth is that much of the Nicea records are lost to us. Why? Should we even think for a second that Constantine would allow evidence of divisive arguments based upon his new religion to surface? Probably not.
In all fairness to Constantine, he wouldn’t have thought he was covering up true history in order to form a new religion. From all the historical sources we have, he was simply helping strengthen the cohesiveness of his empire. To him, it was necessary for the good of the people. If we look at all the praise Eusebius gives to Constantine, he was probably thinking along the same lines. Today, for the mainstream Christian, such an act would be maddening. But to them, it was good in the sight of heaven.
Based on the information above, I choose to believe that the New Testament has pagan origins, and therefore, so does Christianity. Mainstream Christians often see this as a threat to the truth. But I believe quite the contrary. Many pagan beliefs of the ancient world were very sophisticated in explaining the evolution of the soul as it relates to the zodiac, of which the story of the sun-god savior of the world is certainly one of them. Of course many of them were ridiculous as well.
I also believe that Constantine, with the aid of Eusebius, helped establish the formal Christianity that we have today, reformed over and over again by later clergy and finally by Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, the traditional Christianity that we have today came from a formalized version of many pagan traditions, and has usurped many separate pagan traditions and become a doctrine and dogmatism that has revolutionized religious practices and beliefs to form the basis of modern Christianity. To find true, original Christianity, one has to delve into its pagan roots to discover the beautiful myth that was meant to explain the soul. In the words of Gaskell,
“In popular religions, we find an inconsistent mixture of two different modes of scriptural interpretation, one spiritual and the other material (historical), with the inevitable result of interminable disputations over opinions, and the formulation of incoherent pronouncements which are the laughing-stock of skeptics…The Scriptures, as proceeding from the Omniscient Wisdom, are therefore in their [proper symbolic interpretation] undermeanings quite consistent treaties, never contradicting each other, and teaching universally the great truths of the nature of man, of soul-process, and of the cosmos.”
Gaskell is stating something very important. He unlocks the key to sacred scriptures. When people take up the scriptural cause as being historical, it produces all kind of inconsistencies and contradictions which make their original intent null and void. Rather, when we see them as spiritual, symbolic representations of the soul of every man, they impart life. Only then do they become coherent, sensible, and truly spiritual.
As always feel free to comment any way you feel. Please include any important details that you feel I may have left out. I fully realize that good researchers might bring relevant evidence which I have failed to include. I only ask that you be respectful to everyone else’s comments. This can be a touchy subject for some on both sides of the fence.