The Bible Unmasked
(Joseph Lewis)
Tim Uy

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Saturday, April 29, 2000 1:56 PM

The case of David is a classic (and undeniable) example of Lewis' point: David was a scoundrel throughout his life (according to the accounts, but let's take those accounts at face value for now). However, he was, throughout his life, called a favorite of God.

I have been told that loyalty to God is the only morality that matters in the long run. The Bible tends to favor this interpretation. If this is the case, I want nothing to do with it: what is to protect me from the wrath of one who gains earthly power, who then decides it is good punish me for my disloyalty?

At least Jesus (again, according to the accounts) gave lip-service to good deeds: "By their fruits you shall know them." This did not prevent Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) from snuffing out the lives and confiscating the estates of any who were disloyal to these Christians' particular version of the Christian faith, but at least the words are there.

I still think the ethical system of Thomas Paine runs circles around any that can be derived from the Bible. (I obviously think my own ethical system is superior to the Bible's -- otherwise, I would follow that which I find in the Bible.)

The Bible's system of ethics is based upon tribal loyalty, which was crucial to human survival several thousand years ago. This system is enforced by fostering superstition and fear. These methods enhanced human survival back then (although we who were of an inquiring mind tended to be killed off during these regimes).

However, the tribal totem mentality can only impair anyone's chances for survival today. It continues to discourage scientific inquiry and it continues to foster bigotry against any who do not tow the party line.

I will conclude by suggesting that the texts were indeed whitewashed: People who would have never been accepted as "righteous" in a more humane system are made the heroes in this barbarous religion. "David" and "Jacob" would never have cut muster in any other system; they would never have become heroes, and indeed ought never be emulated or respected by any human, for any reason.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Monday, May 01, 2000 2:22 AM

To the Hebrews, loyalty to God meant exterminating His enemies. The Church (both Catholic and Protestant) practiced similar loyalty, being sure not to break God's law against spilling blood, so instead they burnt God's enemies in obedience to Jesus's command in John 15:6.
 

Even to the point where they kidnapped a virgin to sleep with him on his death bed. Right.

David was called a man after God's own heart. I agree with this because the Yahweh character was more of a butcher even than the David character. David was a scoundrel through and through, and I see nothing in the tale about him repenting. The whole story is about him amassing wealth and practicing debauchery at others' expense. The reader keeps waiting for him to turn around, but this never happens. Stopped in his tracks a few times? Yes. Learning and beginning to practice genuine humanistic morality (which he ought to have practiced from the start if he were to truly earn our respect)? If it did happen, the Bible forgot to tell that part. But even if he had repented, I do not see it as a good thing for him to have been honored at all.

Nevertheless, David is among the most highly honored Bible characters of all time. It is this "honor" granted by theists (Christians and Jews) that originally steered me away from having anything to do with the Judeo-Christian ethic. I saw this as a child when we learned about David killing a man with a sling shot (I was only four years old!). And killing him for what!?

I have, as an adult, reexamined the initial shock I felt as a child, and still feel it. Goliath was boasting and denigrating the servants of the god of Israel ("who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?"). This is all about tribal loyalty and about nothing else. It is this attitude of tribal loyalty, continuing in the modern world, that is more likely to wipe out our species than any other threat.

And yet you still argue that David is worthy of honor!
 

No, because the Bible god has "revealed" an alien form of morality which you call "righteousness." It is alien in that it is inhumane -- un-human. It is the inversion the complete reversal -- of natural human compassion which is (usually) the result of our childhood nurturing.''

(Those of us who were fortunate to have been nurtured as children were more likely to survive long enough to procreate and then nurture our children: this is humanity. The "dog-eat-dog" "law-of-the-jungle" social Darwinism does not apply to humanity, which survives only through nurturing children through a the longest childhood [the highest childhood to life-span ratio] of any life form.)

"Righteousness" stifles all human passions and desires. "Righteousness" turns a woman away from her children and turns a child against its parents, placing tribal loyalty above even one's own self-interest: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

You are right: only by stifling and forfeiting your humanity can you become "righteous." No. I am human, and will strive to be the best human I can be with what little I have.
 

By their fruits shall you know them.

The fruit of the Christian message is that it makes people forfeit their own human compassion for the sake of loyalty to the tribal totem (in this case the Gospel message).

And, if they hadn't killed off their philosophical opponents, you probably wouldn't be a Christian today, because the Gospel message has never been able to stand on its own merit. It must be forced upon others either by violence or through deception -- otherwise very few would buy it.
 

My ethical system is my ethical system. I have spent decades developing it, and I am very happy with it.

I can live with any decision I make and not be ashamed because I have worked very hard at trying to learn how to make the best decisions. I do what I say and I say what I do and I have nothing to hide. I don't say something unless I both intend to do it and know that I can do it (that it is not impossible for me to do; that I don't lack the resources).

This is all I care to tell you about my ethical system because it is mine and nobody else's. Although I do expect a minimum behavior of others if they wish to associate with me (as friends or business associates, etc.), I do not hold others to the strict accounting to which I hold myself.

Most importantly, though, I do not tell others what to do or how to live their lives. While I will offer suggestions, this is always done in the context of what I would probably do in a given situation. In this sense, I need to witness a real situation before I will offer such a suggestion; I don't sit here and think of possible scenarios or how I would act in them.

Finally, the only time I actually oppose someone is when what they are doing endangers myself or others. In lieu of this endangerment, I usually let people make their own mistakes. This is why I seldom offer suggestions to people (businesses; business associates; managers or workers at bars where I spend lots of time; the landlord; etc.) unless the outcome directly impacts my life.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Monday, May 01, 2000 5:00 PM

Nurse!? She crawled into bed with him! ("Let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.") Why did the damsel they needed have to be a virgin? Why did she have to be pretty? If he needed heat, I would think a fat woman would do the job much better than a pretty one -- or a big, burly man for that matter!

Methinks if he hadn't been so petered out (groan!), he surely would have had relations with her. (Methinks this was the idea behind bringing her to David in the first place -- to perhaps inspire him to practice that activity most likely to motivated him toward any kind of action. (Compare this with the process King Ahasuerus used to replace Queen Vashti with Esther to see exactly what Biblical morality thinks of the dignity of woman and to explain how they could just grab a virgin to lie with the king -- thereby ruining her prospects for marriage.)

No. There is nothing in the text to indicate that anything except age ever tempered the David character; this is "Exhibit A" on that note.
 

You have it backwards: the stories are there -- and yet he is honored!

I don't get it! Only tribal loyalty could blind people into honoring a figure such as David.
 

He committed murder to cover up his adultery, and yet the Hebrews (and Christians) are proud. I'm not trying to explain this pride, I just don't understand it. It is not humane in any sense of the term.

David should be universally vilified along with the Charles Mansons of this world. At least Manson's case can be understood (but not excused) because he is a nut who should never have been released from the prison term he was serving until the mid-1960s. David was made king (by a prescient "Almighty God," according to the story) and thus his actions reflect upon that entire theistic system -- particularly its basis for determining ethical behavior.
 

A giant bragging session. A bully drawing a line in the sand at the schoolyard, and another (younger, up-and-coming) bully outsmarting him, thereby gaining supremacy among those who respect bullies. This is the mentality of the Bible heroes!

 

They are alien in their original context. They are not precepts that any modern group of humans, working democratically toward the best interest of all living in the community, would develop. They are also alien in that they are alleged to have come from on high, and not to have been developed by the community.

True, we would all adopt the modern understanding of a few of the commandments, such as do not murder and do not steal, but the ancient understanding was quite different from how they are interpreted today. Do not murder once meant do not pollute the land by spilling blood upon it (because the life is in the blood and the blood cries out for vengeance, etc. -- blood being the object of some extremely superstitious fears); do not steal meant do not move landmarks (because of the curses written upon them -- again, the object of superstitious fears); do not bear false witness against your neighbor worked only for fellow Hebrews (and everyone else was fair game). It was all about superstition and tribal loyalism and had very little to do with the humanistic understanding which is naturally read into it by the post-Enlightenment mind.

Meanwhile, I don't think we need a revelation from above to know that murder, theft, and false testimony in a criminal case is wrong. (A dog doesn't need a revelation from "God" to know that it is wrong for another dog to steal his bone; are we that much more stupid than dogs that we need "divine" guidance?) Even if we don't feel the pangs of conscience over these things, we will fear the repercussions of doing them -- not only from the law, but also from our fellow men in lieu of any laws.
 

Many of the early Jesus communities were stoics, wandering philosophers who had renounced all materialism. For them to have placed these words in Jesus's mouth seems only natural, because these vagabonds were the same "poor" that were the object of the Beatitude commandments of their "Jesus." Other Jesus communities (and other communities) had different agendas, and wrote different tales about Jesus, each reflecting the needs and problems of the various communities at the time the tales were written.

A classic example of this happening in recent times is in the testimony Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. He complained that the churches could not agree whether baptism is by sprinkling or by immersion, and whether man had free will or God predestined everything. This was very much the situation during the century or so while John Wesley's humanistic Christianity took hold in America. So, when Smith wrote his "bible," he has his "Jesus" give a speech. Guess which issues Smith's "Jesus" settles in the year C.D. 34? Predestination and baptism! -- those issues which were hotly disputed in New York in 1810! -- those very issues which plagued young Joe Smith!

This is precisely the same thing that happened many times when the books of what we now know as the New Testament were edited and compiled -- when the tentacles of Constantinian Christianity wrapped themselves around the previously diverse groups of Jesus movements and choked them (and the accounts of their existence) out of human memory. Rome replaced the truth with its own fictionalized account of what happened, and that is the story that most Western Christians believed for hundreds of years, and still believe today. The same thing happened within Islam during the two hundred years after Mohammed is alleged to have lived (but did he even exist? that is a separate and very valid question).

Only within the past 100 years (Baur and Bauer and others) have we had enough archaeological information to see that the further back you look (before Constantine), the more diverse the Jesus movements appear. What was later (and is now) called heresy was mainstream thought in many areas -- and not just one or two "heresies," but to the point where it doesn't look like what is now seen as orthodoxy even existed before then. It's not like a "Big Bang" where a Jesus laid down the religion and it spread and then heresy later crept in (although the Catholics would have us believe this is how it happened); it's more like a whole world of diversity among Jesus movements (some so diverse that they didn't even have a "Jesus" and others still waiting for the resurrection to occur, etc.) was suppressed and supplanted with that one, tiny stream of thought that eventually became Christian Orthodoxy -- which eventually influenced which books made it into the New Testament and which were omitted or even suppressed.

To effect this, a new historical "account" had to be written and the old one driven out of the memories of the people. The Beatitudes (and the other poverty saying such as sell all your goods and give to the poor [vagabond preachers]) are enough to make any modern Christian cringe. They are included because the Jesus-Stoic movements were sufficiently popular (at just the right time) that their memory could not be erased very easily. So, the sayings were included and remain today.
 

A succinct summary of tribal totem loyalism if I ever saw one: who are the "neighbors" in the OT passage but one's fellow Jews? All the commandments (particularly the Ten Commandments) make sense when interpreted in this light, but do not make sense when seen as humanistic codes of conduct. "Thou shalt have not other gods before me" implies the existence (in the minds of the people) of other totem deities, each with his or her own tribe.

  

This only makes sense in light of the "neighbor" being one's fellow tribe member; it does not work (and cannot work) when one is trying to live and uphold the Christian message(s) in a pluralistic society. Jesus is quoted as saying, "You cannot serve two masters." Much is said about abandoning or suppressing all that is of human construct ("worldly; fleshly").

The biggest problem with tribal loyalism (in respect to participating in the decision-making processes of a society) is the aspect exclusivism. We are the good guys and everybody else is wrong (or inferior or not "spiritual" or whatever). This is a very common problem I encounter of Christians: their tendency to see me as being in some way inferior because I am not "saved." This ranges from the woman handing out pamphlets on the bus (who tells me she will pray for me after I announce that I am an atheist), to the political pundits who do not want "Secular Humanists" to have a voice in developing policy for the schools and the communities. Everywhere within this range, any non-Christians (and even rival Christians) are seen as second-class citizens at best and evils to be thwarted at worst.

No. In a pluralistic society, we all must have a say in such matters: we all live here. True, many Christians consider themselves citizens of Heaven (Php. 3:30; also, Col. 3:1; Jn. 18:36) and consider themselves only "sojourning" on this planet (1 Pe. 1:17). Such Christians cannot have it both ways and still earn the respect of the rest of us: either they must join us and work together for the common good of us all -- placing the common good even above their own special interests in political matters (like the Episcopalians and the traditional [Roger Williams] Baptists), or they must form their own private communities and leave the rest of us alone to build our society (like the apolitical Jehovah's Witnesses, the 19th-century [Brigham Young] Mormons, and also the modern Hare Krsna devotees and the original Twelve Steppers).

It is one's actions toward his or her fellows which impacts us all. Thus, in a pluralistic society one must choose between the tribalism of loving one's neighbor and healthy participation in the processes that make up a pluralistic society. If someone is making decisions based upon one's loyalty to his or her god, one is not thinking about the best (or least evil) choices we, as a society, can make, but only in the interest of furthering the agenda of the tribe or gaining special favors for tribe members.

Exclusivism precludes the tribe members from thinking about the interests common to all. You can't have both. Any good to society that comes from tribal loyalism is accidental; it is never a product of the loyalism.

When (as has happened since the end of the Jimmy Carter administration) the Christians (or the members of any exclusivistic tribe) gain dominance in the political processes, favoritism gives way to anything that may be good for all; anything good that comes from such a system is merely incidental, accidental, and not there by design.

Exclusivistic tribal loyalty, by its very nature, precludes any good coming to the whole of a pluralistic society. Orthodox (or traditional) Christianity is exclusivistic in that only those who tow the line are "saved" or "one of us" (or, as the Twelve Steppers now put it, "spiritual"). The rest of us are the "others" that the Christians are trying to convert or "save."
 

And I would say it is the Gospel message itself that is flawed.
  

So follow Christ and live your life the way Christ wants you to live. If you can afford to have your own community where your Christianity does not trample the rights of the rest of us to march to the beat of a different drummer -- or the beating of our own hearts -- then fine. If you cannot afford your own island or mountain, then at least let the rest of us (those of us who are citizens of the world) do the best we can toward establishing and maintaining a pluralistic culture that works for the good of all people (including the citizens of Heaven).

It is wrong for us to make policy that impairs your right to obey Christ in your personal life, and it is wrong for us to forbid anyone from participating in the political processes -- so we citizens of earth, we members of a pluralistic society, will never ban the citizens of Heaven from these processes. It's just that the citizens of Heaven who sojourn among us want also to rule over us, to the end that they can count us out the moment they have the power to do so. Since about 1978, they have been exploiting our processes and deceiving their own fellow citizens of Heaven to accomplish this goal. You say you abhor what happened during the Dark Ages? It's happening again in America today.

This is the gist (and the extent) of our opposition to the workings of the citizens of Heaven.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Thursday, May 18, 2000 8:28 PM

I would hope that an experience with such an entity (should such an entity exist) would at least inspire moral behavior superior to what we would expect from one who has not had (or has rejected) an experience with such an entity.

This only prompts me to further question the validity of the claims that such an entity exists.
 
 

1. Your answer presupposes the existence of a "God" which is the very question we are trying to resolve here.

2. There is plenty of "Scripture" that talks about the life being in the blood and about how the land is polluted by blood and how humans are rendered "unclean" by touching something that has touched blood.
 

The Bible is quite clear in its warnings not to worship gods other than the tribal totem, Yahweh.

There are one or two passages that state that these other gods do not exist but are frauds perpetrated by the priests of these gods (e.g., "Bel and the Dragon"), but the main gist presupposes that rival gods were worshipped (i.e., existed). Otherwise, we would expect, throughout, clear statements along the lines that these gods are phonies.
 
  

And how much more religious is America today (per capita) than it was in 1789? The most thorough study indicates that America was not very religious during the times of the Revolution, but is the most religious of all the nations today.

In light of this, tell me: what good has religion done?
 

But that's not what it says about a Jew's "proper" relationship to one's neighbor. It talks about neighbors not having the same rights as a Jew (see, for example, the laws about human slavery). Using the same language, the Bible forbids bearing false testimony against one's neighbor (fellow Jew) -- but is strangely silent about non-Jews.
 
  

But this is not a natural interpretation of the passage in its context. It has had modern humanistic values superimposed onto it. The original clearly speaks of loyalty to the Jesus cult versus the absence of such loyalty.
 
  

Romans 1-3 seems to be saying we are all in the same boat, but not even Paul (unless the Pastorals are forgeries) was consistent with the context into which you placed this passage (by virtue of using it as your response to my objection).

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Sunday, May 21, 2000 11:47 PM
 

David's life (according to the story) manifested the most despicable of behavior throughout -- and yet he is honored as a man after God's own heart!

Meanwhile, it is one thing to think sweet thoughts about God, it is another thing altogether to act morally. Without these works, the sentiments in Psalm 51 and elsewhere are little more than lip service (assuming these to be works of David and not forgeries).
 
  

Abel's blood "cried out from the ground." This passage clearly supports Lewis's notion that we are dealing with a superstitious taboo, here. This discussion is about why (according to the Bible) murder is wrong. Meanwhile, it doesn't take a revelation from "God" to know that murder is wrong.
 

In many Bible passages, the "God" character sure acted as if these gods were real. This points to the likelihood that the people of those times thought of their god as local, not universal, and that monotheism came much later.
 
 

No. I am talking about religion as people having faith in supernatural beings -- people's relationships to a God -- as opposed to humans working out our own problems using our own reasoning powers (however feeble). In light of this definition, tell me what good religion has done.

Meanwhile, throughout the Bible I see faith (relationships with a "God") being used consistently as a tool to wield power. This begins with the story of Eve eating the fruit of knowledge, continues with the tale of Abel performing the proper sacrifice, and goes on through the story of Paul publicly denouncing Cephas for eating with Jews. The New Testament comes off as an extremely biased pro-Roman, anti-Jewish political tract.
 
  

You are using New Testament passages to interpret what Old Testament people meant when they used the word "neighbor." What the Jesus character did to "correct" the common understanding does not alter the previous (uncorrected) understanding of the word.

Please stick to the discussion at hand: What did the Old Testament writers mean when they used the word "neighbor"? Why does the Protestant Ninth Commandment specify that one should not bear false witness "against thy neighbor"? Why does it not simply say, "Thou shalt not bear false witness"?

This is the question Lewis raised, and it remains valid despite your attempts to distract.
 

In Romans 1-3, Paul is discussing various people before they become Christians. Paul is saying that Jews should not see themselves as having any advantage over Gentiles.

Meanwhile, Paul and the others rest heavily on the notion that Christians are superior (in various respects) to non-Christians. This theme is consistent throughout the New Testament, and it is this theme that, more than all others, taints the dignity that could have been the Christian religion and promotes the bigotry from which we non-Christians suffer.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Tuesday, May 23, 2000 5:13 PM
 

My point precisely: David is the servant of this butcher god. Anyone who worships the butcher-god must honor one who faithfully serves him, who faithfully carries out his will. Fortunately for us, it is very unlikely that such a butcher-god exists. More likely is that primitive butcher-charlatans wrote the words that many call the Word of God.
 

But although he could have intervened (or even have changed Cain's heart) he did not. This points very strongly toward the likelihood that no such god exists.
 

It says much about spilling blood and describes attitudes toward blood that are very superstitious and which have no foundation in that body of knowledge discovered by the modern scientific method.

It says much about blood but is strangely silent on the modern reasons why we abhor murder: someone lost his or her life and will not get it back either here or in some afterlife.
 

The Abel character gained some sort of power over Cain (i.e., Cain felt a loss of some kind).
 

Acts is an extremely filtered account, which attempts to reconcile the problems between Paul and Peter. It was written after the fall of Jerusalem and distributed among the Roman nations where there were few surviving Jerusalem members to dispute what it said. The Ebionites state that the problem was never resolved, and that Paul was considered a heretic by the Jerusalem Church. Paul himself, in Galatians, paints such a vastly different story from the account in Acts that many orthodox Christian commentators insist that they cannot be commenting about the same event.
 
 

Do not fret. This is precisely what your predecessors, the New Testament writers, did. Before they had a New Testament, they saw Christ in almost every passage of the Old Testament. This is reflected in the "fulfilled" messianic prophecies (many of which are not even prophecies to begin with). The stretches to which they went to in order to "fulfill" these "prophecies" are hilarious. Later writers, such as Justin, are a real hoot. No modern writer would even consider most of Justin's ideas about messianic prophecy. By the time of Augustin, this approach had become, for the most part, passe.

I do not have any response to your request for specifics on the Old Testament acting as if the other gods were real. I only remember the impression I got, along the lines that we cannot assume monotheism from these passages, but only when we compare them with the few that specifically teach monotheism (i.e., that the other gods are false gods -- as taught in the apocryphal "Bel and the Dragon," etc.).

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tim Uy"
Subject: Re: The Bible Unmasked (Joseph Lewis)
Date: Friday, May 26, 2000 2:50 AM

The Ebionites claimed to be the original followers of the completely human Jesus, whom Paul had transformed into a god. They were Jews, and practiced Judaism. They denounced Paul's deification of Jesus as a Hellenistic heresy. Paul's were the earliest writings among those that were eventually accepted into the canon. What we know today as Paul's writings were assembled by Marcion -- who didn't think Jesus's "Father" was the same Jehovah of the Old Testament. With this scenario, the Jewish followers did not "re-Judaize" but, rather, never left their Jewish roots. Only the followers of Paul, primarily Gentiles, left the Jewish religion. In this sense, the original disciples were a sect of Judaism. They were eventually ostracized by the Christians (for being Jews) and by the Jews (for being Christian -- or by being seen as followers, in some respect, of Paul's Christianity).

The Ebionites went underground after the second war, and eventually died off about the third century. Meanwhile, Paul's version of history flourished, and eventually influenced the later writings of the Gospels and Acts and the pseudonymous epistles of Peter and John.

Justin Martyr,* Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome all confirm that the Ebionites opposed Paul as a false apostle. The Pseudo-Clementine writings are seen by many (originally Baur) as being Jewish Christian or probably Ebionite works. Paul is strongly hinted at as the supreme enemy under the literary disguise of "Simon Magus." The Peter character's attack on this Simon/Paul character is on the grounds that he is a false prophet, that he has spread lies about Peter, and that he knows nothing about the true teachings of Jesus, since he never met him in the flesh, but bases his ideas entirely on delusive visions. If nothing else, this shows that Paul, unlike Peter, was a controversial figure, whose role in founding Christianity was the subject of great contention.

[* FOOTNOTE: This paragraph is derived from Hyam Maccoby's 1986 book, "The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity," First U.S. Edition, pages 180-81.]

Meanwhile, for Paul to assert that Jews believed that people are justified (passively and entirely -- in the Christian sense) by works of the law is, I think, for him to misrepresent the Judaism of Paul's time. By that time, the ceremonial law was just that: ceremonial. It provided a bond between Jews and a springboard for faith (much like the icons of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity do today). It has always been faith through which men were established and maintained their relationships with God. Read Acts 7 and note that every act of justification recounted by the Stephen character occurred somewhere other than in Jerusalem or at the temple; this is the entire gist of the Stephen story, and for the Jews to stone him for saying that is so unlike the Jews of that time (just as for the Jews to advocate crucifying anyone is so unlike everything we know about them) that we can rest assured that the Stephen story is fiction, provided as a backdrop for setting a precedent for the doctrine of non-Jerusalem/non-temple justification. Although this had always been the case in Judaism, it was imperative for the Gentile Christians to paint the Jews as having lost the favor of God (Romans 9-11) so that the Pauline Gentile "Church" could supplant the Jews as the elect of God.

In a similar vein, note the basic teachings of the John the Baptist character (my personal favorite biblical character). His message was that one is not justified by previous acts of faith made by ancestors or nations, but by a personal act of faith which any individual is competent to make. Also, he seems to be saying that one's past acts of faith cannot count for salvation, but that the act of faith must remain alive. Paul would not have this, because he preached a permanent, irrevocable redemption.

Paul also advocated that one cannot attain saving faith on one's own power, but rather it is a gift from God. Christian theologians have been twitching ever since, because Paul seems to be saying that God not only foreordains the salvation of the elect, but also the damnation of the non-elect (notwithstanding the fact that the damnation described by Paul is the default condition of man).

None of these things were popularly held by Jews of the time. However, these things take a back seat to the notion that God would ever become a man or that He would die or that He would need the death of a man (or Himself) to propitiate Himself for the sins of any man -- much less mankind. These ideas are so un-Jewish and so patently pagan that I, for one, cannot conceive of anyone, having studied the history of the times, taking the redemption myths seriously as having had a Jewish source.

I cannot be the only one who feels this way, because the only passage in Luke that even mentions the idea of redemption is widely suspected as being a later addition to Luke. In Luke, salvation is attained through a vow of poverty, and damnation through self-indulgence.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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