Dec 26, 2012

Christianity and Jesus - Part 01

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Christianity and Jesus

Searching for The True Fact - Part 01
Some Views by Christian

From Hebrew Bible to Christian Bible: Jews, Christians and the Word of God
In his teaching, Jesus often quoted the Jewish Scriptures; after his death, his followers turned to them for clues to the meaning of his life and message. Biblical scholar Mark Hamilton discusses the history of these ancient texts and their significance for early Christians and their Jewish contemporaries.

The Origins of the Hebrew Bible and Its Components

The sacred books that make up the anthology modern scholars call the Hebrew Bible - and Christians call the Old Testament - developed over roughly a millennium; the oldest texts appear to come from the eleventh or tenth centuries BCE. War songs such as Exodus 15 and Judges 5 are very archaic Hebrew and celebrate Israelite victories from the time preceding the Israelite monarchy under David and Solomon. However, most of the other biblical texts are somewhat later. And they are edited works, collections of various sources intricately and artistically woven together.

The five books of Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), for example, traditionally are ascribed to Moses. But by the eighteenth century, many European scholars noticed problems with that assumption. Not only does Deuteronomy end with an account of Moses' death (a tough assignment for any writer to describe his or her own demise), but the entire Pentateuch shows anomalies of style that are hard to explain if only one author is involved.

By the nineteenth century, most scholars agreed that the Pentateuch consisted of four sources woven together. This notion of four sources came to be known as the Documentary Hypothesis, and, in various forms, it has been the prevailing theory for the past two hundred years. Israel thus created four independent strains of literature about its own origins, all drawing on oral tradition in varying degrees, and each developed over time. They were combined together to form our Pentateuch sometime in the sixth century BCE.

By this time, many of the other biblical books were coming together. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings form what scholars call a "Deuteronomistic History" (because the work's theology is heavily influenced by Deuteronomy), a history of the Israelite states over a five-hundred-year period. This work contains much of historical value, but it also operates on the basis of a historical and theological theory: i.e., that God has given Israel its land, that Israel periodically sins, suffers punishment, repents, and then is rescued from foreign invasion. This cycle of sin and redemption shapes the work's way of writing history and gives it a powerful religious dimension, so that even when the sources behind the biblical books are "secular" accounts in which God is far in the background, the theology of the overall work places history in the service of theology. The last edition of the Deuteronomistic History, the one in our Bible, comes from the sixth century BCE, the time of the Babylonian Exile. In this context, it offers an explanation for Israel's poor condition and implicitly a reason to hope for the future.

Another section of the Hebrew Bible consists of the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the twelve "minor," i.e., brief, prophets). Here again, it's important to understand how these developed. In the book of Isaiah, from which Jesus quotes, the original Isaiah of Jerusalem lived in the eighth century BCE in Jerusalem, and much of Isa 6-10 clearly reflects the political and social events of his time. Another part of the book, however, comes from a prophet who lived two hundred years later: Isaiah 40-55, famous in the New Testament (early Christians thought the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 was Jesus) and prominent in Handel's Messiah, speaks of the Persian king Cyrus the Great (d. 530 BCE), and so the text must come from that time. Other parts of the book of Isaiah are even later, and the entire book was carefully edited together, perhaps by the fifth or fourth century BCE. The extraordinary poetry of the book offers the reader hope in a God who controls historical events and seeks to return his people Israel to their own land.

In addition to the prophets, the Hebrew Bible contains what Jews often call the "Writings," or the Hagiographa, hymns and philosophical discourses, love poems and charming tales. These include Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth), Song of Songs, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. These books were the last completed and the last to be received as Scripture, although parts of them may be very ancient indeed. The books of Psalms, for instance, contains many hymns from Israelite temple worship from the monarchic period, i.e., before the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century BCE; songs such as Psalm 29 may be borrowed from the Canaanites, while Psalm 104 closely resembles Egyptian hymns. In its current form, the 150 psalms fall into five "books," modeled on the five books of the Pentateuch.

Proverbs also has many old parts, including one apparently translated from the second-millennium BCE Egyptian text the "Instructions of Amenemope" (Proverbs 22). The remaining books in this part of the Bible are somewhat later: the latest is probably Daniel, which comes from the mid-second century.

From Many Books to the One Book

How did these various pieces come to be regarded as Scripture by Jewish and, later, Christian communities? There were no committees that sat down to decree what was or was not a holy book. To some degree, the process of Scripture-making, or canonization as it is often called (from the Greek word kanon, a "measuring rod"), involved a process, no longer completely understood, by which the Jewish community decided which works reflected most clearly its vision of God. The antiquity, real or imagined, of many of the books was clearly a factor, and this is why Psalms was eventually attributed to David, and Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes (along with, by some people, Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha) to Solomon. However, mere age was not enough. There had to be some way in which the Jewish community could identify its own religious experiences in the sacred books.

This occurred, at least in part, through an elaborate process of biblical interpretation. Simply reading a text involves interpretation. Interpretative choices are made even in picking up today's newspaper; one must know the literary conventions that distinguish a news report, for example, from an op-ed piece. The challenge becomes much more intense when one reads highly artistic texts from a different time and place, such as the Bible.

The earliest examples of interpretation we have appear in the Bible itself. Zechariah reinterprets Ezekiel, Jeremiah often refers to Hosea and Micah, and Chronicles substantially rewrites Kings. These reinterpretations are in themselves evidence that the older books were already becoming authoritative, canonical, even as the younger ones were still being written.

But some of the oldest extensive reinterpretations of our Bible come from the third or second centuries BCE. For example, the book of Jubilees is a rewriting of Genesis, now arranged in 50-year periods ending in a year of jubilee, or a time for forgiveness of debts. A related work is the Genesis Apocryphon, also a rewriting of Genesis. Ezekiel the Tragedian wrote a play in Greek based on the life of Moses. And the Essenes, the sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, composed commentaries (peshers) on various biblical books: fragments of those on Habakkuk, Hosea, and Psalms survive. From the first century BCE or so, come additional psalms attributed to David and the Letter of Aristeas (about the miraculous translating of the Bible into Greek), among others. And during the life of Jesus himself, Philo of Alexandria wrote extensive allegorical commentaries on the Pentateuch, all with a view toward making the Bible respectable to philosophers influenced by Plato.

Despite their great variety of outlook and interests, all of these works shared certain common views. They all believed the author of the Bible was God, that it was therefore a perfect book, that it had strong moral agendas and that it was abidingly relevant. Interpretation had to show how it was relevant to changing situations. They also thought the Bible to be cryptic, a puzzle requiring piecing together. The mental gymnastics required to make the old texts ever new is one of the great contributions of this era to the history of Judaism and Christianity, and therefore Western civilization itself.

An example of interpretation: Genesis 11

Genesis 11 is the story of how humans soon after the Flood built a city centered around a tower "with its top in the heavens." The purpose of the Tower of Babel was to allow its builders to "make a name" for themselves. God, in a pique of anger, alters the builders' languages so that they cannot understand each other. In its original form, the story is an explanation of why not everyone speaks Hebrew, as well as a comment on the huge temple-towers (ziggurats) of Mesopotamian cities.

For later interpreters, however, this story cried out for explanation. Why was God afraid of these people? How high was the tower? Who led the construction, and did anyone voice objections? What did the builders expect to do when they reached the heavens? What moral lessons should one learn from the story?

To answer these questions and others, Jubilees 10 says that the builders worked for 43 years (50 years of the Jubilee period minus the mystical number seven) and built a structure one and a half miles high! Their purpose was to enter into heaven itself. Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities (first century CE) adds a story about Abraham, a model of courage, refusing to cooperate with the builders and so being thrown into a fiery furnace, much like the three young men in Daniel 3. God sends an earthquake to destroy the furnace, and then he changes both the builders' languages and their appearance, so that no one can recognize even his or her own brother. Other traditions think that the builders of the tower were either giants (Pseudo-Eupolemus), or were humans led by the mighty hunter and city-builder Nimrod mentioned in Genesis 10 (Josephus). Each interpreter imaginatively builds on some chance word or phrase in the biblical text to try to answer reasonable questions about it. Meanwhile, the first-century philosopher and biblical interpreter writes an entire book on this chapter, which he interprets as an allegory about human morality: the builders represent greed and venality.

The Book and the Once and Coming Messiah

Like their Jewish predecessors and Jewish contemporaries, early Christians believed that the Hebrew Bible was God's book, and therefore a book that should cast light on current events and moral conundrums. For Christians, of course, the most important issue was the true import of Jesus and the story of his life, death, and resurrection. Since they believed him to be the messiah ("anointed one"), God's savior and the harbinger of a new and perfect age, they sought to find mention of him in the Hebrew Bible itself. This is why so much of the story of Jesus in the gospels quotes the Bible.

This move was not without precedent. The Dead Sea community also believed that the prophets had predicted their movement and their leader, the Teacher of Righteousness, as well as the political events of their time. They go so far as to claim that the prophets did not know what they were saying, but God, the true author of the text, used them to speak of the (to them) distant future.

Christians, however, had a different set of questions than the Dead Sea sect, and so they found different texts to cite. Any texts that refer to a time of a future deliverance, or the coming of a future king, were fair game. So the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 becomes the suffering Jesus of the gospels. And Luke's quotation from Isaiah 61 becomes a reference to Jesus's ministry of healing and reconciliation. Yet in every case, as far as we can tell, the Christian reading comes after the fact. That is, they first believed in Jesus and then tried to find his life in Scripture. They then could shape their telling of stories about his life to fit the scriptures. This process may seem very circular, but given their assumptions -- namely, that Jesus is central to God's plan, that God spoke through prophets who might not understand their own words, and that the Bible was a cryptic puzzle needing solving -- this belief in prophecy and fulfillment is not incomprehensible. So Luke can have Jesus say, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your presence!" Jesus saw himself as the deliverer that the prophets had foreseen long before. When his followers drew the same conclusion, they could then retain the ancient Scriptures, transforming them into something new, a Christian Bible.

Bible Etymology

The English word "Bible" is from the Greek phrase ta biblia, "the books," an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus. Christians adopted the phrase "Old Testament" to refer to these sacred books they shared with Jews.

Jews called the same books Miqra, "Scripture," or the Tanakh, an acronym for the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah ("instructions" or less accurately "the law"), Neviim ("prophets"), and Kethuvim ("writings," including Psalms, Proverbs, and several other books). Modern scholars often use the term "Hebrew Bible" to avoid the confessional terms Old Testament and Tanakh.

As for the New Testament, its current twenty-seven book form derives from the fourth century CE, even though the constituent parts come from the first century. Christians did not agree on the exact extent of the New Testament for several centuries.

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Apollo the Chrēst ? God of Oracles and Son of God 
by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

The Greek god of the sun and oracles, Apollo, possesses important attributes in common with the Jewish savior Jesus, including his status as the son of God. As Jesus was titled "the Christ" or Christos, so too was Apollo purportedly styled Chrēstos, a similar-sounding Greek word meaning "good" or "useful," among other connotations.

It is further claimed that this sun god and son of God was given the epithet ΙΗ or "IE," which appears on a Larissan epitaph discovered at the Greek sacred site of Delphi, ostensibly representing the year of "age" ("eton") of 18. If Apollo essentially was called "IE the Chrēstos," centuries before the common era, we find ourselves faced with an important precedent for "Iesous the Christos" or Jesus Christ.

Concerning the uses of the word chrestos or its related forms in Pagan antiquity, which I have discussed in depth in my paper "Is Suetonius's Chresto a Reference to Jesus?", one writer comments:

...the appellation of Chrestos which it is here insisted was employed in the Gospels, was more honorable and certainly more significant and appropriate [than Christos]. Many years ago the writer saw it upon a statuette of Apollo that had been brought from an Eastern repository. Apollo, as every classic scholar knows, was the reputed son of Zeus, the Supreme Divinity of the Hellenic Pantheon. He was the god of oracles, and was supposed to impart the gifts of healing and divination. A reference to Greek lexicons will show that many of the words which were formed from the χρηστός (chrestos) relate directly to the oracular art. A Chrestes was a diviner or giver of oracles; a chresis or chresmos denoted the oracular utterance of a divinity; a chresterion was the place of an oracle, or an offering presented there, or the staff of a God or divining priest, and a chrestologos was an interpreter of oracles, like the peter or hierophant of oriental sanctuaries. (The Metaphysical Magazine, 14.142)

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Celebrating Christmas


Christ's Birth Date Established


When Was Jesus Born ?

The Mystery of the Last Supper
Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus

If you move the Last Supper to Wednesday, instead of Thursday, the Gospels are actually in remarkable agreement. In addition, the Bible nowhere states that the Last Supper was on the evening before the Crucifixion, contrary to the claims in many biblical commentaries that it does!

For more on the Last Supper see: The Mystery of the Last Supper (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

By Colin J. Humphreys
Professor and Director of Research
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, UK
April 2011

Bible scholars have puzzled for centuries over apparent discrepancies in the Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus, and this often leads people to question the Bible’s veracity entirely. For example, Matthew, Mark and Luke all state the Last Supper was a Passover meal. John, by contrast, says that it took place before the Passover began. Whatever you think about the Bible, the fact is that Jewish people would never mistake the Passover meal for another meal, so for the Gospels to contradict themselves about this is really hard to understand. The eminent biblical scholar, F. F. Bruce, once described this problem as “the thorniest problem in the New Testament.”

The Gospels also do not seem to allow enough time for all the events they record between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, whilst indicating that Wednesday was a “missing day” on which Jesus did nothing. Scholars have literally rushed around Jerusalem with a stop-watch to see how the large number of events recorded in the Gospels could have occurred between the Last Supper on Thursday night and the Crucifixion on Friday morning. Most conclude that it is impossible. In addition, the Mishnah (a compendium of regulations attributed to about 150 rabbis who lived from about 50 BC to about AD 200) states that the Jewish Court called the Sanhedrin, which tried Jesus, must not meet at night, on a feast day or on the eve of a feast day, and in capital cases a verdict of conviction must be reached the day after the main trial. If these rules applied at the time of Jesus then the trials reported in the Gospels blatantly flout Jewish legal proceedings, yet although the gospels claim there were many false witnesses they implicitly accept the legality of the trials. However, it turns out that there is a very simple solution to these problems: if you move the Last Supper to Wednesday, instead of Thursday, the Gospels are actually in remarkable agreement. In addition, the Bible nowhere states that the Last Supper was on the evening before the Crucifixion, contrary to the claims in many biblical commentaries that it does!

What Really Happened in Jesus’ Last Week ?

In my new book, The Mystery of the Last Supper (Cambridge University Press, 2011), I use science and historical reconstruction to take a closer look at the apparent inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts of the final days of Jesus. Essential to this task was the use of different calendars. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that there were a number of different Jewish calendars in use in Israel in the first century AD, and so different Jewish groups celebrated Passover on different days. We have a similar situation today with the date of Easter: Catholics and Protestants celebrate Easter on a different date from Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians, because they calculate the date of Easter using different calendars (Gregorian and Julian, respectively). In his description of the Last Supper, John uses the official Jewish calendar, in which the Last Supper was before the date of the official Passover. However, I suggest that Jesus chose to hold his Last Supper on the date of Passover in a different Jewish calendar, which is what Matthew, Mark and Luke report. So all four Gospels in fact agree!

I am not the first person to suggest that Jesus might have been using a different calendar. Most recently, the Pope proposed in 2007 that Jesus might have used the solar calendar of the Qumran community, who were probably a Jewish sect called the Essenes. However, I have shown that when the date of Passover is calculated using this calendar, it would have fallen a week later, after both Jesus’death and resurrection.

I have worked with an expert astronomer to investigate, for the first time, the possibility that a third Jewish calendar was in use in the first century AD. The official Jewish calendar at the time of Jesus’death was that still used by Jews today; a lunar system in which days run from sunset to sunset. This was developed during the Jewish exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC. Before that, however, the Jews had a different system. This is referred to in the Book of Exodus, which describes God instructing Moses and Aaron to start their year at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. In my book I argue that this pre-exilic Jewish calendar was based on the Egyptian lunar calendar (their calendar used for religious feasts and festivals, as distinct from the Egyptian solar calendar used for civil purposes).

There is extensive evidence that this original Jewish calendar survived to Jesus’ time. Not all Jews were exiled to Babylon. Those who remained retained the pre-exilic calendar and by the first century AD groups such as the Samaritans, Zealots, some Galileans and some Essenes were still using the original Jewish calendar. Under this pre-exilic calendar, Passover always fell a few days earlier than in the official Jewish calendar, and the days were marked from sunrise to sunrise, not sunset to sunset.

According to our reconstruction of the pre-exilic calendar, in AD 33, the year of the Crucifixion, the Passover meal in this calendar was on the Wednesday of Holy Week. From the clues they give, it’s clear that Matthew, Mark and Luke all used the pre-exilic calendar in their description of the Last Supper as a Passover meal, whereas John uses the official calendar in which the Last Supper was before the Passover.

What does this mean for our celebration of Easter ?

Holy Thursday (sometimes called Maundy Thursday) is the well-known day on which Christians annually commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus. But my research shows that we should really be celebrating this on the Wednesday of Holy Week. This resolves the apparent contradictions in the Gospels on the date and nature of the Last Supper, it also gives just the right amount of time to fit in all the events the Gospels record between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and it means that the trials of Jesus were in accordance with Jewish law.

Today, about half of the churches in the world use unleavened bread in their weekly or monthly celebration of the Last Supper, because they believe it was a Passover meal, and half use leavened bread, because they believe it was before the Passover meal. I have shown that everyone is right! The Last Supper was before the Passover meal in the official Jewish calendar (used by John), but it was the Passover meal in the earlier original Jewish calendar that Jesus chose to use for his Last Supper (described by Matthew, Mark and Luke).

We celebrate Christmas on a fixed date each year: December 25. However, Easter is a moveable feast: the date of Easter Sunday changes every year, according to a complicated formula, and can range from March 23 to April 25. Many people would prefer to have a more fixed date for Easter. I have shown that the Crucifixion was on Friday, April 3, AD 33, with the Resurrection on Sunday, April 5, AD 33. For those who would like a more fixed date for Easter, my research suggests the date: Easter Sunday should be the first Sunday in April.

Finally, why did Jesus choose to hold his Last Supper at Passover time according to the pre-exilic calendar ? I suggest it was because this original Jewish calendar was the one the Old Testament says was used by Moses to celebrate the very first Passover in Egypt. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus presenting himself as the new Moses. Jesus was therefore holding his Last Supper on the exact anniversary of the first Passover of Moses, as described in the book of Exodus, thus proclaiming that he was the new Moses, instituting a new covenant (a direct reference to the original covenant made between God and the Jewish people through Moses, according to Exodus) and leading his people out of slavery into a new life. Jesus then died just as the Passover lambs were being slain, according to the official Jewish calendar. These are deep, powerful symbolisms, which are based on objective, historical evidence. Far from being incompatible, as many scholars make them out to be, here science and the Bible work hand-in-hand to show that all four Gospels are in remarkable agreement about Jesus’ final days.
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Last Supper day is wrong, claims Cambridge professor
Christians have long marked Jesus Christ's Last Supper on Maundy Thursday but new research by a leading academic suggests they have got the wrong date.

2:02PM BST 17 Apr 2011

Professor Colin Humphreys, a scientist at the University of Cambridge, has now concluded that the final meal took place on the Wednesday before the crucifixion, a day earlier than previously accepted.

He believes his findings, which are likely to cause ripples among millions of Christians, could present a case for finally introducing a fixed date for Easter.
When Was Jesus Born 
traditions vs history
If You are a person that likes to think and know facts - check it out.

Was Jesus Married? 
Ancient Papyrus Mentions His ‘Wife’

Continue to Part 02
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