Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The bible is unnecessary, because...

Like Jesus, I like my collection of pithy quotes. Take for example "Nobody talks about purple polka dotted grass." It's a great statement to remind myself, and those I've discussed it with, that the person I'm referring to has been thinking of what they are discussing. Nobody talks about something that isn't on their mind.

I cannot remember the first time I used that phrase. I certainly cannot recall the comment the person made that led me to creating "purple polka dotted grass".  I'm even more certain that the person I told it to the first time has no clue I had created on the spot for that conversation. Moreover, I have no clue how often I have used the phase or how often others have mentioned it to me. I've even heard people use the phrase when talking to other people who have heard it. Moreover, I've heard people tell people of some of my pithy sayings, sometimes out of context with the original meaning (but nonetheless close enough to apply). It is clear that, even in my lifetime, people are repeating what I have said and applying it to new/similar circumstances.

I was reading the bible today and saw a number of sayings of Jesus prefaced by some situation.  That made me wonder... Was the scenario in the bible the original scenario that generated the saying or was it a later example that is simply similar? Like people twisting my words slightly to fit the new circumstance, did the evangelists of old do the same with what Jesus said? Did they even know what the original scenario or care?  Did they instead, like people around me, apply the pithy saying to a circumstance they felt it related to?

Sometimes, changing the scenario changes the impact or scope of a saying. This made me consider what would happen if I ignored the prefix/scenario and concentrated on the pithy saying alone. Would I be better off simply collecting the pithy sayings without the background story that generates it. It is reasonable to assume the background story presented in the bible could be completely unrelated to the reason Jesus created/used his pithy words. The easy answer is removing context entirely removes useful information.

Having said all of that, my mind is drawn to a Big Bang Theory television episode where it was determined that Indiana Jones was not needed for the outcome of the story, even though he was the main character of the film. Is the work I was doing having an impact on the outcome? Does the bible matter?

Consider the following questions:

Who is Jesus?  Is he:

1. Another word for God
2. The trinity, as in simply another facet of God
3. A distinct, but connected element of a holy trinity
4. Another god... perhaps a lesser god
5. Half god/half human with all the powers of god
6. Born human, but God elevated Jesus to god
7. Born human, but God elevated Jesus to a divine being (less than "god")
8. Human, but God controlled him (like a puppet)
9. Human and God spoke to Jesus, enabling him to perform god-like powers
10. Human and God inspired him, but Jesus had his own will to choose to comply
11. Human who was well informed by others (not God) about what to teach
12. Human with awareness of the sociological and ethical issues and created a solution
13. ?myth? never existed? Everything about Jesus is made up?

Question number 2. Do you believe in salvation by faith alone?

If you answered question one with anything between 1 and 8, and answered question two with a yes, then why should you care what the bible says? Why care about the pithy sayings at all? A god has told you that if you believe in them, you are saved.  What else is there? All the bible stories and commandments matter for nothing because salvation is promised by one able to grant it simply because you believe in them. Throw the bible out and get on with your life. The rest of the bible has no impact on your outcome.

On the other hand, if Jesus existed as a human (9-12) and/or salvation is through good works, then defining "good works" matters. Knowing what Jesus said is the proper behavior matters. Knowing what scenarios need to be associated to which pithy saying matters. Knowing the context matters.

Unfortunately, if my own pithy sayings are misapplied, even in my own lifetime, how can I trust Jesus' sayings would remain sacred and accurate through decades of retelling and centuries of transcriptions. Identifying what he really said and the context he said it in matters more to those who don't fall into the first group. To these followers, the bible matters.

What was it like back then?

consider the following possibility...


Many cultures were travelling around the eastern mediterranean around the time of Jesus.  There were three major cultures present: Greek City-State, the Roman Empire, and the Jewish Temple-State.  None of these were working efficiently at the time.

The various cultures lived in semi-isolated groups within cities trying to keep their culture/history alive.

This produces an environment of tension, bigotry and racism.  

Along came Jesus.  He was (most likely) a reformed rabbi who saw the problems caused by the cultural clashes and wanted to teach people how to get along in peace and harmony.


Prior to Alexander the Great, there were three models which societies would use to structure themselves. Yes, there are others, but these three are most predominate in the time of Jesus.

Let's call the first one the "Ancient Near-Eastern Temple State". Every city had its own god (maybe more) who ruled the citizens of the city. Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, and Judeans are familiar examples. Common in these temple-states was social stratification (power vs purity, or king and high priest) and some form of scribe would mediate between the two organizations. This was the culture of the jews before the first destruction of the temple. There was one high priest for all of Judea.

Then there was the polis or Greek City-State. The polis was a creation of the Greek spirit of independence and free thinking as well as the practical need for aristocratic clan leadership. The Hellenistic approach was to push the control of government down to the city level. Each city choose what type of government they wanted, from democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or tyranny to name the most common. What they had in common was the sense of rejection to a large, national dictator predetermining how they are ruled.

And, of course, we cannot overlook the roman republic. This social system, based on patricians and senators, demanded order from all within their domain.

When I look at the United States, I see a similar behavior: cultures moving about and coming in contact with one another, each wanting to maintain what they have. When that interferes with another culture, conflict increases. I've often said people raise their "voice" when they don't feel heard. If someone's culture is being ignored, pushed aside, or otherwise not honored as the people of that culture expect, the tendency is to push back. In the US, we tend to deal with pockets of cultural infusion at any time.  The western mediterranean area must have been overwhelmed by all three of these cultures clashing everywhere all at once.

In the meantime, the Jewish temple state was undergoing change as well. After the hasmonean rulers attempted to integrate Greek ideas, the more "pure temple-state priests" pushed back harder. This lead to the pharisees, who wanted to push back time and integration to their more familiar world. These separatists developed schools of ethics, piety and politics based on the law of Moses to counter the changing environment leading away and towards Hellenistic practices.

This "raised voice" began to divide the Jews into those moving towards new practices and those wanting to keep their culture intacted and unchanged. Needless to say, there was a vast amount of diversity in the area at the time of Jesus.

Like the current United States, I'm certain that groups would cluster tightly together in small micro-cultures. Just as we have the chinatowns, Japan towns, little Italy, and more, people wanting to preserve their culture will band together in small tight communities. As these communities bump into one another, the chance of conflict increases. Once that conflict has gone on more than a generation, people forget what caused the conflict and simply integrate the hatred and animosity into their daily lives.

This is the world Jesus was born into. This, therefore, is the underlying world Jesus worked with as he preached a message of love. To this chaos, he taught the following three things:

  1. The notion of a perfect society conceptualized as a kingdom
  2. ANY individual was fit for this kingdom
  3. That the kingdom should be a mix of people (ethnic, cultural, etc)
Needless to say, but this message did not sit well with people trying to enforce their cultural beliefs or even those who simply wanted everyone else to just go away.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Musings on the deification of Jesus

 I wrote the following notes back in April 2005.  At some point in the near future, I should review it and see if I am still aligned with it...

Is God a trinity?  Should we honor Jesus as an equal third of a trinity?

To begin, let's first examine the nature of God and God's creation: Is God an artisan or a parent?  Did God create the world, as the Jewish faith proclaims, like a painter brushing oils upon a canvas?  Or, is God more like a parent who births the world by copying, or replicating, God's own essence into everything (as the Greek philosophers' would have us believe.)

This question is crucial, as the ramifications produce entirely different views of religion.  If we were to accept the parent explanation, God donates a part of himself to the creation.  Another way of looking at this is God duplicates himself, or part thereof, like a cell, cloning himself in the creation process.  If this view is accepted, then all of creation is God.  If this is true, then we are all begotten of God and Jesus would be nothing more than another part of God's essence. (This does deify Jesus by deifying everything God begot, including us.)

On the other hand, if the Jewish perspective were to be considered, God was more of an artisan.  God created everything out of nothing.  God willed the world into existence.  The world had a point where it came into existence.  It had a beginning.  God is different because God has no beginning.

If God is a parent, then humans do not need salvation.  Jesus would never have considered mentioning salvation if we all are part of the essence of God.  If God is a artist, then we, his creation, have fallen short of the glory of God.  Salvation would have meaning.

Arius wondered: "If the Father had begotten the Son, he who had been begotten had a beginning, and therefore there must have been a time when the Son did not exist."

Like us, Jesus was one of God's artistic creations.  Like us, Jesus has a beginning.  Like us, Jesus does not know everything that God knows.  For example, Jesus points out in Mark 13:32 that only God knows when the world will end, and that Jesus does not know this information.  In John 14:28, Jesus points out that God is greater than Jesus.  Jesus even points out that, like a puppet, God commands Jesus on what to say in John 12:49.  If the Gospels don't spell it out directly enough, there is always the first of the ten commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me."

Jesus even spelled it out clearly when he said that we should "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."  Jesus did not say, love the trinity, or love me, or even love the essence of God.  On the contrary, Jesus separates God from God's creation with the golden rule.

Is Jesus part of God?  No more than we are part of God.  Jesus was, like us, God's creation.  Jesus falls short of the power of God.  But is Jesus a god?  The first of the ten commandments implies that there are other gods.  Could Jesus be one of these gods?  That is very possible.  Any case, Jesus is less than God (capital "G").  Think of Jesus as a "lesser god".

It would appear that Jesus was aware of the greek perspective (god as a creative parent).  

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

 I was looking at the dates scholars provide for the various books of the bible, and was comparing it to the attributed authors...  At that point, I began to digress to my more mathematical portion of my brain get to play...

Jesus is said to have been born in year zero.  At least that is why the current calendar says.  Scholars think otherwise, placing his birth at either 4 or 6 years earlier. (There are plenty of sources for both dates.) In any case, it seems like the calendar creator is the only remaining scholar to think Jesus was born on year zero. (which always confused me....  If December 25, year 0 was the birth of Jesus, then that year only had one week in it.  The other 51 weeks were "before christ"...  oops, I'm digressing)

It is commonly believed that Jesus started his work when he was 30 and died 3 years later.... Putting the year of his death at: 27, 29, or 33 (depending on when he was born).  His disciples were considered "men" when Jesus began teaching.  Jewish definition of a man is age 13.  So, if his disciples were "men", they had to be born no later than year 11, 13, or 17 (again depending on the year of Jesus' birth).

Life expectancy in they first century Judea was much shorter than today.  Infant mortality was much higher than today, as was childhood mortality.  We can thank modern medicine to save us from numerous childhood diseases which first century children could not survive.  If we pull out infant and childhood deaths, we can estimate the life expectancy of people in first century Judea.  Again, relying on scholarly research, the life expectancy of a first century Jew who survived childhood is about 45-50 years.  A few well-to-do people lived to 60.

Assuming best case scenario:  Jesus was born on year zero. His disciples were just 13 years old when they began following Jesus (who was 30) and the disciples were so well off that they could live to the maximum age of 60, then it is safe to say that the last disciple of Jesus was dead by the year 77.  On the other hand, if they were roughly the same age as Jesus (say 5 years younger) and Jesus was born roughly 5 years before the calendar, then the disciples were born in year 0 and were 28 when Jesus died.  The disciple would likely be dead by the year 50.  That puts the span between years 50 and 77.

Using similar math for the followers of Jesus (again assume the followers were 13 or older when they began following Jesus), they would also be dead by the year 77 at the latest.  In general, if you spent any reasonable amount of time with Jesus, you were most likely dead by the year 77.

Okay, so... who cares?  As I said, I was looking at the dates scholars provide for the various books of the bible. I then asked myself, "How well did any of these authors KNOW Jesus, or simply were told stories about Jesus?" If everyone who knew Jesus was dead by the time the books were written, then we are relying on people telling stories about Jesus. How much of Jesus' behaviors were captured by the stories?

Let me run off on a brief tangent.  Consider the following "event": The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. In the retelling of the event, even if the writer recites it accurately and "completely", there is much missing from the story: Where did it take place?  When did it take place?  What was the mindset of the fox (or dog)?  What was the aftermath? What was the motivation? Are any of these questions relevant? If so, would the written story be misleading? Is every element of the "event" relevant?  If not, would the inclusion of the irrelevant elements have an impact on future readers in an unintended way?

My wife likes to boast about me, often in my presence.  I've heard the dozen or so stories she tells about me repeatedly.  I hardly consider the sum of those stories a real description of who I am.  Some border on deceptive, but not enough to tell my wife she is wrong.  Other friends of mine (from before I met my wife) tell other stories about me.  Those stories paint an entirely different type of person.  Neither are wrong, just different because they view me from a different perspective and time period.

Getting back to the main thought thread... How much of Jesus' lessons are reported?  And of the ones repeated enough to make it into a written book, how well do they portray the message Jesus wanted to deliver?  How much of the stories have been embellished or the focus of the story changed to address some contemporary issue?

Going back to the quick brown fox...  What if the original focus of the story is the smartness of the fox to take the shortest path when addressing an emergency.  Would a couple decades of retelling lose the original focus as people discuss the differences between quick foxes compared to lazy dogs?  Imagine another group thinking the story is about how we should jump when addressing all obstacles.  How about a third group thinking the lesson of the story is to not allowing jumping foxes to disturb our focus.  Add a couple decades before writing down what you think you were told and presto, different books with the same story, but different meanings.  Add a couple centuries and have a handful of people decide which books are the most "authentic" canon.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Do not seek to follow the footsteps...

 There is a Buddhist saying: "Do not seek to follow the footsteps of Buddha.  Seek instead what Buddha sought."  The nuance may be subtle, but truly different.  Visiting the places Buddha visited and saying the words that Buddha spoke will not give you the enlightenment Buddha sought and found.

Buddha went looking for answers to life and found them.  Finding those answers ourselves require we bring into ourselves, at a much deeper level, the same questions and research.  Buddha helps point the way to enable others to find enlightenment easier, but each person must still follow the path that Buddha followed.

I've often tried to apply this logic to christianity.  I've even tried to figure out what pithy saying I could use about Jesus that would correlate to the Buddhist saying.  I think I found something close.

"Seek not to live your life with Jesus in it.  Seek instead to live your life as Jesus lived." It's like the difference between a cult and a following. The "Christ Cult" honors Jesus over the teachings. Whereas the "Jesus Followers" honors the message Jesus spoke over himself.

Mind you, there are some early references supporting a Christ Cult. Consider the volume of the Gospels space it taken up with the lead up and death of Jesus. The various letters in the bible, for example First Corinthians 15:1-3, spell it out as such.

I hear a great deal of "Praise Jesus" and "Hallelujah", as if recognizing the relationship between Jesus and ourselves is the main goal of christianity.  But is being christian about the relationship, or is it about the message and teachings of Jesus?

Jesus, in the earliest documents, tends to downplay his divine status focusing more on two things: helping and caring for one another, regardless of social stigma... and teaching us to behave the same.  By both word and deed, Jesus' focus was on love, caring, and community.  His message was not focused on "praise me."

So, I wonder, what percentage of time do we spend praising Jesus compared to time spent loving unconditionally everyone, including those we would otherwise disagree with?  How much time do we spend loving those who disagree with us, say...  politically? or sexually? or perhaps religiously?