People of the Book

“And on top of all this, please heaven, that famous saying of Plato's is always quoted: ‘Happy the states where either philosophers are kings or kings are philosophers!’ But if you look at history you'll find that no state has been so plagued by its rulers as when power has fallen into the hands of some dabbler in philosophy or literary addict.”
-Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, 1509

Monotheism and Polytheism

A common term for a non-Muslim monotheist in the Muslim Qur’an is “people of the book.” It was used by early Muslims to distinguish pagan religions from other monotheistic faiths, which at the time, they held in higher regard. It’s an apt term for the distinction, as no pagan religions put the kind of emphasis on sacred scripture than that of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It might be said that a far more inherent difference between polytheistic and monotheistic religions is the belief that there is only one god as opposed to many, but a closer look shows this to be problematic. The commandment “You shall have no other gods before me,” makes no distinction as to whether these “other gods” exist or not. As it is, opinion varies between many Bible readers as to whether these “other gods” like Ba’al-Zebub are demons inherent in dualistic theology, or completely non-existent, as most modern Jews would have it. Once more, many ancient practitioners of pagan religions centered their cult around one particular deity. The pantheon of gods and goddesses in the polytheistic world were always headed by a supreme being much the same way the God of Abraham is described as ruling over a hierarchy of angels in the monotheistic religions. As it is, the difference between the religion of “one god” and “many gods” is really more of a function of the accepted hierarchy.

Of course, many people following “polytheistic” religions worshipped only one god while accepting the existence of many (called “henotheists”), and many people following “monotheistic” religions pray to multiple divine and semi-divine beings. But one key difference separating monotheistic and polytheistic religions is the jealous nature of the supreme god, who is believed to punish humans, either in this life or the next, for false worship or the worship of a false god or god-structure. Thus Judaism and the monotheistic Aten religion of Egypt from the 1300's B.C. were not unique in that they worshipped only one god but in developing a taboo against worshipping other gods, which the Old Testament typically refers to as “foreign gods.” The book of Exodus reads, “I am Yahweh your Elohim [God], who brought you out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Do not make yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You will not bow down and worship them; for I, Yahweh your Elohim, am a jealous Elohim, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (20:2).

The commandment not to worship other deities is associated with idol worship, making Yahweh a god without images. Idol worship is usually made out to be putting anything else above God, normally abstract concepts like the love of money. But in it’s original context, the idol was an image made of wood, stone, or metal symbolically representing a god, which the follower would bow towards to show respect. While both Jews and Muslims still hold to this commandment today, most modern Christians see bowing down before the image of Jesus on the cross as an exception. However, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that this would be different than bowing down before any other image, and the symbol of the cross was actually unknown in the first three centuries of Christian iconography. The first known appearance is a Greek cross with equal-length arms on a Vatican sarcophagus from the middle of the 400s A.D. But images of the ichthus fish (seen on cars today) and anchors long preceded the cross in ushering in the long history of Christian art unparalleled in Judaism or Islam. How does one come to identify with a God who has no image? While most pagans identified gods by astral bodies or aspects of nature, the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims became identified with words passed down from scroll to scroll and book to book.

Each pagan cult had their own rites and customs, but these were highly localized to a particular temple or city. This plurality of customs extended even to cults who recognized the same god, as the Ba’al or Aphrodite of one city often employed cultic practices that were different than ones taken to heart in another city. This was primarily because the authority of one priest or priestess rarely extended past the area he or she resided in. But written authority can propagate faster than personal authority, and with the spread and gradual acceptance of authoritative scripture came the ability for ideas and associations to survive from generation to generation.

These monotheistic religions that defined themselves by authoritative scripture have completely replaced the pagan religions of Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. The world that had been predominantly polytheistic and animistic up to two millennia ago has dwindled down 25% in the present day. The belief that people should only worship one and only one god, virtually unknown outside of Israel and Egypt in the B.C. era, now makes up over half the world’s population, mostly divided between Christians (33%) and Muslims (20%), with Jews and Samaritans making up less than 0.5%. One could see it as the triumph of the written word over that of oral tradition.

Abraham is considered to be the first monotheist in both Jewish and Islamic traditions. Muhammed identified Allah as the God of Abraham, and said that the Arabs were descended from Abraham’s son, Ishma’el, the Biblical patriarch of the Arabs and half brother to Isaac, the father of Jacob and grandfather to Judah. This may come as a surprise to those familiar with the Old Testament, which can give the impression that there is an unbroken line of faith in one God, starting with Adam, past Noah and Abraham, to Jesus. But Non-biblical apocrypha compliments this tradition, telling of Abraham refusing to worship the idols of his father, Terah, and being consequently thrown into a fire by an evil king, usually Nimrod, a parallel to the story of Daniel. Although a miracle saves him, his brothers are killed, and this subsequently sets up the unexplained reason for why God tells Abraham to leave the land of his father in the 12th chapter of Genesis. Genesis mentions Terah, but only that he existed, and gives no indication that he or any of his forefathers, stretching back to Noah‘s family, believed in only one God. Important prophets like Isaiah and Paul also notably focus on Abraham, and when the martyr Stephen gives a synopsis of the Old Testament in Acts of the Apostles, he begins with Abraham. This break of faith between the 9th and 12th chapter of Genesis is also highlighted by archaeological finds of Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations detailing ancient polytheistic versions of the Garden of Eden and Flood stories that predate the Hebrews. Similar flood stories have been found in Indian and Greek mythology as well.

Sigmund Freud, a Jewish atheist and one of the great pioneers of psychoanalysis, instead saw the beginning of monotheism and the Levite priesthood as originating with the monotheistic Aten religion in ancient Egypt around 1300 B.C. The Aten religion was started by the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, who was the predecessor and possibly the father of the famous pharaoh, Tutenkhamen. In his book, Moses and Monotheism, Freud presented his theory that Moses had actually been a conglomerate of two different people, one who was a priest of Aten who led the Jews out of Egypt, the other a Midianite priest who delivered the Law from a volcano god named Yahweh. Descriptions of a shaking mountain, unquenchable fires, a pillar of smoke leading the Hebrews to the mountain, and characteristic plagues led Freud to read Mount Sinai (a.k.a. Horeb) as being an accurate description of a volcano. Although the mountains on the Sinai peninsula are not volcanic, there are volcanoes on the western border of Arabia, near Midian, where Moses married into the family of the Midianite priest, Jethro. In the Bible, the condemnation of idol worship begins with Moses, who presents the first laws against them, with the exception of Jacob, who orders his household get rid of foreign gods in Genesis (35:2). One of the cities said to have been built by the Hebrew slaves in the Book of Exodus is Pi-Thom, which translates to “City of Aten.” (1:11). Freud also traces circumcision as originally being an Egyptian custom since the practice had been the most widespread in Egypt. Aside from Freud, the Qur’an says that Queen Tiye, the wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and Akhenaten’s mother, was the one who adopted Moses (28:9), as mentioned in the Book of Exodus (2:10).

In his book, Against Apion, the first century Jewish historian and Roman general Flavius Josephus confirmed the Babylonian flood story as proof of the validity of the Jewish scriptures, but argued vehemently against an account by an Egyptian priest and historian named Manetho. He, like all the Egyptians of his time, believed Moses had originally been a priest of Heliopolis named Osiris before he changed his name. Josephus also argues against the Egyptian belief that Moses was originally dispelled from Egypt because of leprosy, saying that the laws ascribed to Moses had lepers excluded from the community. Manetho’s account also says that the Egyptian king Bocehoris was told by an oracle of Hammon (or Amen, who was often equated with Zeus) that because the Hebrews were afflicted with leprosy, they were to be drowned and so Moses brought them to Judea while robbing and destroying temples along the way. Josephus criticizes Manetho for his sloppiness in details and blames his outlook on a general hatred for all Semites. The name of God used in the Qur’an, Allah, is derived from ”al-Ilah,” meaning “the God” in Arabic. Arabic Jews and Christians freely use Allah for the word God in their language as well. The name goes back to the pre-Islamic pantheon, who was worshipped along side his daughters al-Lat (“the Goddess”), al-’Uzza (“the Mighty One”), and Manat (“Fate”). The name al-Ilah is related to that of El, Eloh, and the plural Elohim, all Semitic terms used in the Old Testament for God. Although Elohim is a pluralized word, the context of the Hebrew grammar renders it in its singular form, with some exceptions. Allah in it’s linguistic form can not be pluralized but uses the royal ’We’ when referring to himself in the Qur‘an. Some instances of plurality appear in the earlier parts of Genesis, for example, when Yahweh goes to confuse the speech of the builders of the Tower of Babel, he says, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (11:7). “El the Bull” was also the king of the gods in the Canaanite pantheon, and is known to have had two daughters, one or more of them associated with the morning star (Venus), much like in the Arabic pantheon. The name of God in the New Testament, Theos, is likewise a cognate of the Greek storm god Zeus. In Sanskrit, the word is Deus, as in “Deus Ex Machina,” which is related to the word “deity.” In Latin it is “Jove” or “Jovis”, the same as Jupiter, although there has also been question into the relationship between the words Jove and Yahweh (which is sometimes pronounced Yahveh or Jehovah). The English word “God” itself comes from the German, Gott, a deity synonymous with luck and rooted in the Gothic gheu and Sanskrit hu, meaning to invoke. It seems to be related to the Persian khoda, and Hindu khooda. Even this name rabbinic Jews do not write or print, instead rendering the word G-d.

The Old Testament name Yahweh is so sacred to rabbinic Jews that it is believed that the name is never spoken, but is instead substituted with the name Adonai, a common Semitic title meaning Lord. The Christian Bible in turn renders all instances of Yahweh as “the LORD.” Roughly translated “I am that I am,” it gives the etymological impression of totality beyond the division between male and female, but the God of the Bible is definitely that of a male, and the Old Testament records that many Jews worshipped the Asherah, a fertility goddess identified with Venus, along side Yahweh, much to the disdain of the prophets. In Moses and Monotheism, Freud brings notice to the similarity in name of Yahweh (which he renders Jahve) to that of the Roman Jove, an alternative name for Jupiter (Zeus), and also makes a more cautious comparison of Adonai to the Egyptian Aten.

On the island of Elephantine in southern Egypt, ancient papyri caches from the 400’s B.C. describe a community of Jewish soldiers stationed there during the Persian occupation of Egypt. These documents were first acquired in 1893 by New York journalist Charles Edwin Wilbour, but were stored in a warehouse for over 50 years before being brought to light. The documents include a petition for assistance in rebuilding the Jewish temple after it had suffered damage from an Anti-Semitic rampage, which says that the temple had been built “back in the days of the kingdom of Egypt” and that it was the only temple that wasn’t destroyed when the Persian Emperor Cambyses conquered Egypt in 525 B.C. The community is believed to have started when the King Manasseh of Judah, who is scorned in the Old Testament for having allowed the worship of other gods, sent troops to Egypt for a campaign against Nubia in 650 B.C. The documents also refer to a goddess named “Anat-Yahu,” a combination of the Canaanite goddess Anat and a variant spelling of Yahweh. The “Passover letter,” which gave detailed instructions on properly keeping Passover in 419 B.C., also recognizes Anat as the wife of Yahweh.

A picture found on an ancient store jar excavated in 1978 from Kuntillet, a large caravan inn in the eastern Sinai desert, depicts two nude gods, having the same frame as the Egyptian lion-god Bes, along with a goddess strumming a lyre in the background. The jar dates back to the 700s B.C. and above the picture, an inscription informing the reader that the jar belongs “to Obadaiah, Son of Adnah; may he be blessed by Yahweh” A similar phrase was found in 1968 on a Judean tomb at Khirbet el-Qom, near Hebron. “Uri-Yahu, the Prince; this is his inscription. May ‘Uri-Yahu be blessed by Yahweh, for from his enemies he has saved him by his Asherah.” The impression given from the inscription on the jar is that the two gods are El and Yahweh, and that the goddess is Asherah. There is a verse in the Greek Septuagint and Dead Sea Scroll versions of the Book of Deuteronomy that says “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. When El-Elyon [God Most High] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the sons of Elohim. For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob [Israel] his allotted inheritance.” (32:7). The verse implies a father/son relationship between Elohim and Yahweh, the god of Israel. But this verse was modified in the Hebrew Masoretic version to say, “…he set up boundaries for the people according to the sons of Israel.” so that it could not be interpreted in a polytheistic way and is the version that is still used in most Bibles today.

Obadaiah's store jar
Store jar drawing from 700s B.C. excavated from Kuntillet
Inscription reads “to Obadaiah, Son of Adnah;
may he be blessed by Yahweh"

Egyptian god Bes
Bes, Egyptian god who protected households

In arguing that there could never be more than four gospels, St. Irenaeus links the number to the four zones of the world, the four winds, the four faces of the cherubim, and the four creatures covering their eyes before the throne of God as described in the Book of Revelations. In John’s Apocalypse, it says, “the first beast was like a lion, and the second like an ox, and the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like an eagle in flight.” (4:7) Irenaeus associated each of these creatures with one of the gospels. These representations that can still be found in gospel decorations today, although the icons have become shuffled as St. Augustine, Pseudo-Athanasius, and St. Jerome each decided to switch around the icons the gospels were associated with. The cherubim (or karabu, literally “to be near“) were seen as angelic bodyguards of Yahweh in ancient Israel, much like the griffons attending Zeus in Greek mythology, the sphinx guardians of Egyptian mythology, the lamassu of Babylonian and Assyrian mythology, and the anzu bird of Sumerian and Akkadian mythology. They were usually depicted as having the head of a human, the wings of an eagle, and the body of either a lion, like in Egypt (where lions were more prevalent), or that of a bull (which is more in the Assyrian style).

It’s been hypothesized that the existence of these animalistic bodyguards can be attributed to a common solution invented in order to harmonize the beliefs of animistic societies that worshipped totem animals to the beliefs of polytheistic or henotheistic societies that tended to construct a hierarchy of human gods that mirrored the hierarchy of a developed human civilization. Traditional animists would want to keep their totem animal’s association with the god, but this would only seem to degrade the human god to more others, so the totem animal would instead be transferred to the god’s bodyguard. The totem of the Elamite culture of ancient Iran was the eagle and this may have played a role in the ancient Sumerian Myth of Anzu, in which the anzu bird steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil (equivalent to El of the Canaanite pantheon), but is defeated and replaced by Enlil’s offspring, “the son of God,” a more anthropomorphic hunter god named Ninurta.

Relief of Ninurta fighting the anzu bird

For example, the reason many scholars believe Bes is short, stocky, and big-earred is that he came from an earlier totem association with lions before being anthropomorphized into a man-god. The name Bes means “protector” and may be related to the Nubian word for cat, besa. In Egypt particularly, cats were kept to protect against snakes and crop-destroying rodents and were praised for their beneficiary work. In ancient times, lions used to raid cities during the night to prey on children, and it‘s often been argued that this has largely led to the fear of the “hunter god,“ commonly believed to only come out at night. Some scholars have linked this early belief to the story in Genesis of how Jacob wrestles with God all night, after which God is forced to flee when the sun comes up (32:25). Judah itself has long been symbolized with the lion, starting with a blessing given to him at his birth by his father Israel in the book of Genesis (49:9). Random lions are used to do God’s will throughout the books of Samuel and Kings as well. The Persian god Mithras slaying the bull in Roman legend could also be seen as another example of the man-god replacing the totem animal, although it also seems to be linked with the changing of the Astrological ages, from Taurus to Aries (which is placed anywhere from 2150 to 1658 B.C.). Another example to be considered is the symbolic description of a griffon’s metamorphosis into human form in the Book of Daniel: “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.” (7:4). While Yahweh’s totem in Egypt, Arabia, and Judah is matched with the lion, the term, Elohim, or El, was more often associated with the bull in the northern tribes of Israel, as they had closer ties to Assyria, a country more focused on the bull totems of the Sumerians and Akkadians. The Jewish prohibition against idol worship would come to bring the bull totem to be identified with the devil, yet Judah’s lion totem would come to be used as a symbol for Christ in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

The Ugaritic god El is said to have fathered twin sons as well, Shahar, whose name means “dawn,” and Shalem, whose name can mean “peace,” “wholeness,” “perfection,” or “dusk.” Shalem is the origin of the names of both Jerusalem and King Solomon, his Hebrew name being Shlomo. The other name, Shahar, is found in the famous verse from the Book of Isaiah, which reads, “How you have fallen from heaven, Helel son of Shahar! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (14:12). Helel, son of Shahar, or “Shining One, son of the dawn,” has traditionally translated as Lucifer (14:12), a Latin name translated from the Septuagint Greek name heosphoros (“dawn-bearer”), an epithet of Venus that comes from the Greek word phosphoros, meaning “light-bearer,” from which the name Prometheus, the bearer of light to humanity, comes from. Helel, a Babylonian and Canaanite god, is believed to be the mythological equivalent, worshipped as the morning star, which can normally be seen rising or descending at dawn or dusk. Although early Christian writers such as Tertullian and Origen, and much later works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno have created a long Christian tradition of identifying Lucifer with Satan, the Book of Isaiah is using the celestial fall as a metaphor for the king of Babylon’s pride and eventual downfall, and in fact Jesus himself is referred to as the morning star in the Book of Revelation (22:16). In Homer’s Illiad, Hephaestus was thrown from Mt. Olympus because he released his mother Hera from a golden chain after an argument she had with Zeus. In it, Hephaestus describes how “the whole day long I was carried headlong, and at sunset I fell in Lemnos, and but little life was in me.” Another Homeric myth says that Hera threw him off himself after seeing how grotesque and misshapen he was. The myth may be used to describe the dwarf-like hideousness of the Bes or Yahweh. Just as Hephaestus was married to Aphrodite, Yahweh is described as being married to her equivalent, Asherah, connecting them both to Venus. Thus, just as Bes/Yahweh/Hephaestus were seen as ugly and misshapen because they had originally been lion-gods anthropomorphized, so too were they “thrown out” of Heaven/Olympus and turned into demons for retaining some of their original feline attributes.

The Old Testament

The Christian Bible is divided into two parts: popularly called the Old Testament and New Testament, also known as the Old and New Covenants. The Old Testament is made up of a canon of at least 39 books, originally written in Hebrew and chronicling events from between 4000 B.C. to 400 B.C. These books were originally written in ancient Hebrew on scrolls made from animal hides, and ranging in length from Psalms, being close to 150 pages long, to the Book of Haggai, consisting of only two brief chapters. Following the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church also came to recognize an additional 12 non-Hebrew pre-Christian books that Jews and Protestants consider to be apocrypha. The Greek Orthodox church recognizes another three books and the apocryphal Psalm 151.

The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the five books of Moses, or more commonly, the Torah, literally the Law, named so because a large portion of the last four of these books consist of law codes given from God to Israel through the prophet Moses. Jewish and Christian tradition credits the Torah’s authorship to Moses, who lived some time before 1300 B.C., but the language of the text itself gives the impression that it was written long after the events it describes, often mentioning ancient markers that “still stand there even today.” The Torah also describes Moses as “the humblest man that ever lived,” hardly something Moses would write himself. Old Testament scholars believe that the Torah, like a good portion of the rest of the Old Testament, was written by four primary authors from between 850 and 600 B.C., and appended into a single law code in the 400s.

The Book of Genesis is a history of the world given in the form of a genealogy. It includes the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the first Hebrew Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, who fathers the 12 tribes of Israel, including Joseph and Judah. The book ends with Joseph bringing his family into Egypt, where he and his father die. The Book of Exodus begins some time later when a different pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” puts Israel into slavery. God raises up Moses and his brother Aaron to lead them out of Egypt and give them the Ten Commandments. But the Israelites continuously rebel against Moses and for this are repeatedly inflicted with diseases, parasites, and other forms of divine retribution. It describes how Aaron’s sons, the Levites, were to act as priests, upholding the laws and performing the necessary sacrifices. The second half of Exodus, the Book of Leviticus, and the first half of Numbers list off most of these Levitical laws. The second half of Numbers describes various campaigns against pagan cities who “seduced Israel” to worship their gods, and how God punished the Israelites for their infidelity by making them wander the desert for 40 years. The Book of Deuteronomy, meaning “Second Law,” lists more laws and ends with the death of Moses.

The laws of the Torah are not just religious laws but societal ones, including punishments meant to be handed down from the community for violating them, many including death by stoning or hanging. The laws are in no way universal, but are meant for a specific time and place. For example, the Book of Exodus reads that if an ox gores someone due to the negligence of the owner, then the ox and the owner should be put to death, unless the owner is demanded restitution instead and pays it, or if the victim is a slave, in which case the owner must pay the slave’s owner 30 shekels of silver (21:28). No where in the Torah does it suggest that the laws are meant to be practiced except in Israel and Judah. Many of the laws are stated that they are to be upheld forever, such as the sons of Aaron being promised the position of priesthood for all generations to come or an ordinance to perpetually observe the Feast of Tabernacles from that period on. The ability for the Jewish community to reinforce these laws has changed throughout history and many of them, including laws involving a no longer existing temple, have not been able to be upheld for over 1,900 years.

The rest of the Jewish canon chronicles the history of the Israel from it’s conquest by the war leader and prophet, Joshua, to it’s return from Babylonian captivity and subsequent religious reformation in 445 B.C. by Ezra the scribe and Persian cupbearer, Nehemiah. The book of Joshua tells how Moses' successor led a campaign of destruction to take back the land they had abandoned for Egypt but had been promised to them by God. The book of Judges is set in the period when the 12 tribes of Israel were ruled by war chiefs, or 'judges.' The Book of Ruth is a short preface story that tells how the Moabite grandmother of King David came to marry a man from Judah and moved there. The first Book of Samuel explains how Israel’s first king, Saul, was anointed by the prophet/priest Samuel and how when Saul is killed by the Philistines, David from the tribe of Judah takes his place and conquers all the lands amongst Israel. Conquering Jerusalem from the Jebusites, David makes it his capital. Shortly before his death, David's son Adonijah tries to take over and Solomon kills his half brother to secure the throne. Solomon builds the first Temple to Yahweh, but it's said he turns to the foreign gods of his wives in his old age. Kings and Chronicles are dry kingly records, both focusing on the same time period, but are from different sources and so give different accounts of the same events. They start with how Israel and Judah were split soon after Solomon's death and follow the kings of both nations, explaining whether they were good kings who followed Yahweh alone or bad kings who built shrines to foreign gods. Israel is conquered by the Assyrians and this is blamed on their infidelity to Yahweh. Babylon then conquers Judah and blame is placed on worshipping other gods again.

Unlike the other nine northern tribes of Israel who were largely conquered by the Assyrians, the Jews, Levites, and Benjamites were able to maintain their cultural identity while held captive in Babylon. Cyrus the Great, the Persian king, conquers Babylon and allows the captive Jews to return to Judah and rebuild their temple. For delivering the Jews out of bondage, Cyrus, also known as Korseh, was considered a Messiah, or savior king, much like their great king David. Vernon Wayne Howell, who in 1993 led a standoff with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Waco, Texas, believed himself to be a new incarnation of both King David and Cyrus the Great, which is why he took the name David Koresh. After the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, a priest named Ezra was sent from Babylon to overlook the rebuilding of the nation. When he learned that the Jews had taken foreign wives, he forced them to “put away” all their wives and children in an attempt to keep the Jewish bloodline pure. Known as the Second Moses, rabbinic tradition suggests that had a role in editing some of the minor prophets like Daniel, Esther, and Ezekiel, but many Old Testament scholars believe he had an even larger role in the formation of the Bible, that of editing and redaction of the four ancient sources responsible for the core of the Old Testament.

At what time period the Jewish canon for the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, came to be closed is a mystery, but evidence suggests that the canon closed some time between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. The Samaritans, who in modern times consist of a mere 700 individuals in the West Bank of modern Israel, hold only 6 books as canon: a special version of the five books of Moses, believed to have been written by his brother Aaron, plus the book of Joshua. Much evidence allotted in modern times has shown that the Book of Enoch, now almost universally considered apocrypha, was considered canonical by many ancient Jews and Christians from Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Dead Sea Scroll community in Judea. This apocalypse details the fall of the chief angel and a third of Heaven’s angelic host bears a striking resemblance to the oral tradition of Satan’s fall from heaven.

While Jewish rabbis read their Bible in it’s original Hebrew, called the Masoretic text, the writers of the New Testament quoted from a Greek translation known as the Septuagint. This translation was produced in Alexandria, Egypt, some time between 300 and 100 B.C. It’s name literally means “seventy,” and is often abbreviated with the Roman number “LXX,” as the legend behind it’s translation was credited to no less than 72 Hebrew scholars, who were said to have translated the first five books in 72 days. This was done, according to the legend, for the Alexandrian king Ptolemy some time around 282 B.C. Although most of the earlier books of the Septuagint coincide well with the Hebrew Tanakh, their arrangement is different and the titles bestowed on them use a different system than that of the Hebrew. While the Greek names act as descriptions of what the book entails, Jewish tradition makes the first words of the book into the title. Genesis, for instance, is called Bereshit, or “In the beginning.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls, hidden in desert caves for over 2000 years, have shown to have more in common with the Jewish Tanakh than the Greek Septuagint about 95% of the time, but one particular exception stands out in the Book of Jeremiah. The Septuagint version of the Book of Jeremiah is about half as long and is in a different arrangement than the Masoretic version, and it’s this smaller version that matches the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most translations of the Old Testament, from the Orthodox/Catholic Vulgate, rendered in Latin in the early 400s A.D., to the King James Version published in 1611 A.D., have used the Masoretic text as it’s source, including the longer version of the Book of Jeremiah.

The New Testament

The New Testament is made up of 27 books but is only a third as long as the Old Testament. The scripture was originally written in Koine Greek, also called “Common Greek,” an ancient international language that had evolved out of Ancient Greek and largely replaced Aramaic in the Eastern Mediterranean after the conquests of Alexander the Great. While Aramaic is largely considered the language of Jesus, one probably would have had to have known Koine Greek in order to talk to Pontius Pilate. The word “canon” comes from the Koine Greek word kanon, literally a reed or carpenter‘s ruler, which symbolized how one measured a person’s beliefs in what books they acknowledged as authoritative. There is much evidence that early Christian writings were spread predominantly by papyrus codex, paper fastened to wax-covered tablets, a precursor to the printed book. Although the format did not get popular until the mid-200s, the format seems to have been used by gospel writers from the very beginning.

The New Testament consists of: four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; one book on the Acts of the Apostles, said to have been written by Luke; 21 epistles, almost all of them letters credited to the apostle Paul; and one Book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse of John. The four gospels tell the story of Jesus, as he wandered around the cities of Galilee, which is today part of northern Israel but at the time was considered outside the Jewish homeland. Each of the four gospels present Jesus teaching and performing miracles, but also coming into conflict with certain Pharisees and Sadducee temple priests from Jerusalem, who subsequently set him up to be crucified by the Romans. The gospels are said to be written by the early apostles, literally “messengers,” and two of them are believed to have been Jesus’ disciples, Matthew and John. The names of the gospels are not actually the titles of those works, but are anonymous and have no title assigned to them in their original Greek form. The names of the gospels were assigned to these canonical works on the basis of later, extra-biblical texts.

New Testament scholars refer to the first three gospels as the Synoptic gospels, syn-optic meaning “same-eye,” because they are three heavily edited versions of the same story. Each of the gospel authors compiled their material using earlier texts as sources, with the gospels of Matthew and Luke both relying heavily on the gospel of Mark. “Matthew” took about 90% of Mark and added a lot more sayings, editing it to be a very Jewish-styled gospel. “Luke” took about 50% of Mark and created a gospel far more focused on the inclusiveness of Gentiles (non-Jews). Luke also contains many sayings in sayings from Matthew that are often put into different contexts, believed by many New Testament scholars to have been copied from a sayings document referred to as “Q.”

Since the apostle Mark never met Jesus in his lifetime, it seems unlikely that Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, would choose to base his work so heavily on a second or third-hand account. But what’s even more telling is the way that the source material is so readily altered from Mark, showing that the author was more concerned with elaborating correct theology than presenting historical fact. The Gospel of John itself reports to be based on the tradition of a mysteriously anonymous male author called “the Beloved Disciple.” John comes from a different source than the other three and is far more theological and polemical, written primarily to establish dogma on the divinity of Jesus. Textual problems within the Gospel of John, long recognized by critical scholarship, have more lately been seconded by Roman Catholic Biblical scholars.

The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel to start with a preface, giving context to the author’s identity and intentions. Rather than claiming to be a first-hand witness to the miracles of Paul and the Apostolic Age, he or she claims to be an editor of material that was “handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” (1:2). Acts of the Apostles tells what happens to the disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and is the only book to portray his bodily ascension into heaven. Although the book has more on the disciples than any other book, it focuses primarily on the apostle Paul. The New Testament epistles take the form of letters written from Paul to churches he formed while traveling across the Roman Empire. Like John but unlike the Synoptics, Paul focuses on the theology of the role Jesus’ death in the salvation of mankind. The Epistle to the Galatians shows Paul fervently denying ever accepting the authority of any of the “so-called pillars” of Christianity in his epistle to the Galatians. This is especially surprising because the Catholic/Orthodox church set itself apart from other Christian churches as the “Apostolic Church” because it derived it’s authority from traditions supposedly coming from an unbroken line of bishops starting with the apostles, with Peter considered the most important.

In this autobiographical portion of the letter to the Galatians, Paul explains that after his visionary experience of the risen Christ, he went straight to Arabia and then to Damascus, in Syria. The epistle says that he preached for 14 years before he even met the disciples! Not only that, he is said to have only done so to compare his gospel to the gospel of “those who seemed to be important” in Jerusalem. When this is done, an agreement was made with James in which Paul would stick to preaching to the Gentiles on the requirement that he “remember the poor.” Paul’s back-story climaxes with Cephas (who is believed to be Peter) refusing to eat at the same table as some of Paul’s non-Jewish Christians like he did before because Peter was afraid of the “circumcision group,” that is, Jewish Christians sent by James. Paul opposes Peter in front of everyone, saying that if anything could be gained by continuing to follow the Laws of Moses, then Christ had died for nothing. The picture that the epistle to the Galatians gives is that Peter and Paul were divided on whether the old Levitical laws from the Old Testament were still in effect. Acts of the Apostles, however, tries to emphasize that this division did not really exist, that Paul believed in everything that agreed with the laws of Moses (24:14), even to the point where he paid for four Jews to go through purification rites in order to prove it (21:24). “Luke” instead blames this belief on rumors circulating among violent Jewish zealots, and seems to have been unaware or dismissive of Paul‘s epistles, though cognizant of a number of legends regarding the apostle’s background that are similar but not identical to what’s found in the epistles.

These observations have been recognized by scholars for decades and have been elaborated upon in literature genre known as “higher criticism,” as opposed to “lower criticism,” which is more a study of the differences between different Biblical translations. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says, higher criticism “ is not, as supposed by some, an arrogant denomination, assuming superior wisdom, but it has come into use because this sort of criticism deals with the larger aspects of Bible study…. Catholic Biblical critics, while taking as postulates the plenary inspiration and the inerrancy of the sacred Writings, admit in a large measure the literary and historical conclusions reached by non-Catholic workers in this field, and maintain that these are not excluded by Catholic faith. With the exception of Abbé Loisy and his followers, no Catholic scholar has claimed autonomy or complete independence for criticism, all proceeding on the principle that it cannot validly, and may not lawfully, contradict the established dogmatic teaching of the Church." Those who suppose it to be “an arrogant denomination” are mostly Evangelical Protestants who distrust any interpretations concluding that canonical scripture is errant and inconsistent. For this reason, many Evangelicals have books on Apologetics for the Bible, which in a sense “apologize” for what the Bible says and reinterprets the words so that they maintain consistency with the beliefs of the apologist. The genre of Apologetics began in Greece, first with Plato in his Apology for Socrates, in defense of his wrongfully convicted teacher, and was then adopted by the late 100s as a means to defend the Christian religion. The word comes from the Greek apologia, which could mean either “apology” or “defense.” However, the word is not supposed to imply an admission of guilt as it does now, and because of this the New Advent encyclopedia says, “the adoption of the word, ‘Apologetics,’ in the sense of a scientific vindication of the Christian religion is not altogether a happy one.”

Unlike the Old Testament, which at its core is fixated on divine law and the defeat of foreign adversaries, the New Testament is more concerned about theology and social justice, especially the sick and the poor. The New Testament also has a much greater focus on the end of the world and the afterlife, describing heaven as the "Bosom of Abraham" and hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Synoptic gospels show open antagonism towards the rich and powerful. New terminology not found in the Old Testament, like the Holy Spirit, and “unclean spirits,” are also found solely in the New Testament. The Jewish canon has a more clearly defined law code centered in the first five books of the Torah, while what it means to be a Christian must be pieced together from a combination of gospel parables and collected dissertations, leaving the availability for a wider variance of philosophical constructions to be worked out through competing oral traditions.

Both Jewish and Christian Orthodoxy go beyond what is written in their sacred texts, but also include canon law set by certain councils. For Judaism, Orthodoxy was established by the Council of Yavneh in 90 A.D., 20 years after the Roman Emperor Titus destroyed the Second Temple, forcing Jews to establish a new mode of worship without animal sacrifice. The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. is likewise what established the Trinitarian Orthodoxy of Christianity 13 years after Constantine defeated the city of Rome at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Then once again, the Latin-speaking west adopted a Greek religion whose roots had originated in the further east.

The Qur'an

Islam began in the early 600s in Saudi Arabia with the preaching of Muhammed. The word Islam is sometimes translated “peace,” but can also be rendered “submission,” as the name implies submission to God. The word Muslim means “believer.” Muhammed was born in the prosperous caravan centre of Mecca (also called Makkah). Muhammed was in the caravan business himself and was married to an affluent widow named Khadija, said to be his first convert, and fathered 3 daughters. At the age of 40, he began to preach the worship of one god, Allah. Making little headway in Mecca, he was later invited to a city mixed with both Jews and Arabs called Yathrib, which is now Medina. His move there marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar and is celebrated as the hijra, or ’emigration.’ He began to take over the city politically and organized attacks on Meccan caravans. He also tried to get the Jews of the city to accept him as a prophet of the God of Israel, but since the Jewish canon had been closed for hundreds of years and Muhammed was an Arab, this was not readily accepted. The Jews were eventually expelled from the city. Muhammed allied himself with Bedouin tribes from west and central Arabia and forced Mecca to surrender itself to be purified of it’s idol worship. Mecca became Islam’s holiest site, and Medina it’s second holiest.

Unlike Christianity, no distinction between church and state is made within the writings of Islam. Community leaders, known as Caliphs, were responsible for enforcing religious obligations as a matter of law. When asked what miracles he did, Muhammed replied that his only miracle was that of producing the Qur’an (or Koran), but in Islamic legend, he is said to have ascended bodily from Jerusalem into heaven, just as Acts of the Apostles records Jesus doing. Some legends say he flew there on a fiery winged horse called Buraq. A less mythical story asserts that he had his meat poisoned by a Jewish woman, and upon putting it in his mouth, sensed the poison and warned the other diners. However, it was too late, and one fell over dead from swallowing the meat. Muhammed grew ill just by the taste of it and when the woman was brought before him and asked why she did this, she told him how he that it was no secret how much he had afflicted her people and so figured that if he really was a prophet, then he would be informed of the poison, but if he were a king, that she would be rid of him. When Muhammed heard this, he forgave her, but there is a disagreement over whether she was put to death or not.

After Muhammed’s death, he was succeeded by Abu Bakr through the election of a secret meeting. Various tribes tried to rebel against the new Caliph system and Abu Bakr put them down in the Ridda Wars, or Apostasy Wars. He was then succeeded by ‘Umar, whose reign saw the Islamic Community conquer Mesopotamia, the Sassanid Empire of Persia, Egypt, Palestina, Syria, North Africa, and Armenia. Abu Bakr and ’Umar had both been with Muhammed originally in Mecca. When ‘Umar was assassinated, a 6 man committee previously chosen by ‘Umar decided to install the third Caliph, Uthman, a Meccan tribesman. During his rule, Islam conquered Iran, more of North Africa, the Caucasus, and Cyprus. Uthman also headed the committee that established the editing and distribution of today’s version of the Qur’an. Believing that religious controversy would split the Muslim Empire, he had all variant versions burned. Uthman also appointed many of his kinsmen and was soon seen by many Muslims as abusing his authority as “first among equals.” Uthman reportedly promised to curb the nepotism but quickly broke his promises. Relations were further strained when his tribal kindred killed one of Abu Bakr’s sons, inviting the animosity of Aisha, a widow of Muhammed and daughter of Bakr. Discontents eventually put his house to siege, and when a call for help to his kinsman Mu’awiyah went unanswered, the men eventually broke in and killed him. Legend says that he died while reading the Qur’an.

Uthman was succeeded by Muhammed’s cousin, Ali, who had never liked the fact that Abu Bakr had been secretly elected without his knowledge. Ali put down a rebellion led by two of Muhammed’s companions, Talha and az-Zubayr, and supported by Aisha. Ali treated Aisha well after she was captured and even set her up with a pension. Accusing Ali of having orchestrated Uthman’s death, Mu’awiyah then raised an army in Syria to fight Ali on the Euphrates in the Battle of Siffin. Although Ali began to succeed militarily, Mu’awiyah’s side put Qur’ans at the end of their spears and asked for arbitration. Since they were fellow Muslims, Ali acquiesced and an arbitration was convened in which his position was weakened by signing a peace treaty that recognized the two as equals, thus failing to subdue Syria and dividing his own loyalty.

At this time the Muslim community became broken into three sects. The first were the Sunni, followers of Sunna, or “practice,” who recognized the authority of Caliph as absolute and respected Ali as the fourth and last of the 4 Rightly Guided Caliphs. The second sect were the Shi’a, short for Shi’at ‘Ali, “partisans of Ali,” who believed Ali should have been recognized as First Caliph. Today the Shi’ia make up most of the population of Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan, while the Sunni maintain a majority everywhere else. The third sect are the Kharijites, or “Withdrawers,” who went against Ali for arbitrating with Mu’awiyah, and believed that Caliphs like him should be deposed if they commit grave sins. A fourth sect within the religion, the mystical tradition of the Sufi, became established by the early 1000s A.D. This belief system set down esoteric teachings on direct knowledge of God believed to have been passed down from Muhammed through oral tradition. When some Kharijites killed the governor of Nahrawan, a city a few miles away from modern Baghdad, Ali marched against them. However many of Ali’s men didn’t wish to engage the Kharijites because they had fought by their side in the Battle of Siffin. Ali convinced all but 1,800 of them to join his side and receive amnesty, and subsequently slew all but 9 of the rest. Two years later, Ali was mortally wounded from a blow to the head given by 1 of 3 Kharijite assassins while attending morning prayer. Accounts say that in his last days he showed concern for the treatment of the captured assassins and asked that if he died that justice be accomplished on them swiftly. Following his death, Ali’s son Hasan abstained from declaring himself Caliph, presumably so that no more Muslim blood would be spilled by the competitor, Mu’awiyah, but Shi’a Muslims recognize him as the second imam, or leader, after Ali.

The Qur’an, or “Recital,” was compiled from a collection of 114 surahs, or chapters. As the name suggests, it is meant to be spoken aloud and it is believed that no translation of the original Arabic can be considered anything but interpretation. The surahs are not set in the order in which they are believed to be revealed but generally from longest to shortest. The recitation was not written by Muhammed, who could not read, but were recorded as Muhammed delivered God’s message through the angel Gabriel. The Qur‘an was one of the first texts written in the Arabic language and at the time it still did not have a vowel notation, and so variations of vocalization came to be used. Seven variant transliterations were recognized as Orthodox by the Muslim scholar Ibn Mujahid in the early 900s and 3 more were added later. Most Islamic scholars commit the entire Qur’an to memory. The Qur’an is generally more akin to the poetry found in Psalms than the direct storytelling found in Genesis or the gospels. Bible characters are sometimes portrayed anachronistically as contemporaries. The social laws are generally closer to the Bedouin nature to the Old Testament than the more universalized ethics of the New Testament.

There is a noticeable difference between the chapters originating from Muhammed during his life in Mecca and those of his political life in Medina. The earlier chapters begin with rhymed prose and focus on theological matters such as God’s great power and mercy, the delights and pains of heaven and hell, and the rejection of previous prophets of God. It was during this period that he sought for Jews and Christians to accept him as prophet, to which some Christians are known to have joined him. Later chapters focus on the social laws of the newly formed Muslim Community, laying out religious obligations, the laws of marriage and divorce, and community laws. This latter period saw more controversies with Jews, Christians, and dissident “hypocrites,” which are manifested in Muhammed’s increasingly reproachful remarks.

The Qur'an says both good things and bad things about “People of the Book,” but is mostly critical to those who do not accept Muhammed as a genuine prophet. The book is home to many verses like, “Oh Prophet! Make war against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be merciless against them. Their home is hell, an evil refuge indeed.” But the Qur’an also says, “Surely those who have faith and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabians, whoever has faith in God and the Last Day and does good deeds, indeed their reward is with their Lord and they will neither fear nor grieve.” and “The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr.” The Qur’an also tells Muslims to “Assist a person oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.” Different Muslims have interpreted the Qur'an in different ways in how they treat non-Muslims throughout history, but the most traditional stance was to force polytheists to convert on pain of death while allowing other monotheists to practice their religion freely, though often taxed at a higher rate. Muslim kingdoms were generally more tolerant towards other religions than Christian kingdoms during the Medieval period. While science and philosophy stagnated in Europe, the Islamic lands went through what many call a Golden Age of cultural advancement from 750 to 1200 A.D.

The Trinity Forgery

It’s been said that Christianity is based not on a creed but on a person. Much of what has been deemed heretical or schismatic is notably not based on ethical conduct but theological attempts to reconcile the mortal and divine nature of Jesus. As we’ve seen, the split between the Orthodox and Arian church was over whether Jesus was equal or lesser to the father. The split with the Oriental Orthodox Chruch occurred over whether Jesus had one or two distinct natures after the human-divine unification. The official reason for the schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Church in 1054 was over whether the Holy Spirit moves from the Father and the Son to the church or whether the Holy Spirit moves from the Father through the Son to the church. The real reasons for these splits were, of course, cultural and political, most notably on the issue of the Pope’s authority. The Roman Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia explains it this way:

"An accident of political development has made it possible to divide the Christian world, in the first place, into two great halves, Eastern and Western. The root of this division is, roughly and broadly speaking, the division of the Roman Empire made first by Diocletian (284-305), and again by the sons of Theodosius I (Arcadius in the East, 395-408; and Honorius in the West, 395-423), then finally made permanent by the establishment of a rival empire in the West (Charlemagne, 800). The division of Eastern and Western Churches, then, in its origin corresponds to that of the empire."

The Trinity is considered to be one of the central doctrines of the Christian religion, and was accepted by the Council of Nicaea established by Constantine, yet no equivalent for the word is found in the New Testament. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the Word of God, saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus telling his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit,” but not even in the more theologically-minded epistles is there a clear description of God being embodied in three persons. When a medieval copyist came across a verse in the First Epistle of John reading, “There are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement,” it must have seemed unthinkable that the disciple of Jesus would make no mention of the Trinitas, so the verse was changed to “For there are three that testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood….” Out of the thousands of copies of the epistle known today, only eight of them include this addition. St. Cyprian, arguing in favor of the Trinity in the mid-200s, quotes the original verse and then adds his own homily which is similar to the forgery, and may have been where the reference originated. The forgery would appear in several versions of the Vulgate, the Roman church’s official Latin version of the Bible, some time around the 800s. St. Jerome, who produced the original Vulgate in the early 400s, seems to have been unaware of the passage, considering his own apologetic writings on the Trinity.

Desiderius Erasmus, an important 15th century theologian and humanist, had kept the reference out of the first two editions of the Textus Receptus because he could not find it in any of the Greek copies he had. But the church made him agree to put it in the next edition if a Greek copy could be found with the Trinity reference intact, and so one was quickly produced. The third edition of the Textus Receptus included the addition, but with a prolonged footnote about his suspicions that the Greek copy was spurious. Ironically, today’s version of the Vulgate appends brackets around the added verse, the church having admitted the mistake, while the Protestant King James Version keeps the third edition rendition of the Textus Receptus with no attached footnote.

Erasmus was also an important translator and editor of St. Ambrose, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, Cicero, and St. Jerome. He criticized Church practices but never the Church itself. Although Luther and other Protestants pleaded for him to join the movement, he continuously rejected their offers so as to keep his scholarly integrity, yet he was often blamed for starting the Revolution. Having “laid the egg that hatched the Reformation,” his works were prohibited by the Church, and he gained the ire of Protestants for not committing to their cause. Luther’s movement started only a year after the Erasmus’ translation of the New Testament into German. In Erasmus' book, The Praise of Folly, he writes:

But I don't know why I bother to defend myself with a single example, seeing that it’s the generally accepted privilege of theologians to stretch the heavens, that is, the Scriptures, like tanners with a hide. According to St Paul, there are words which can do battle for Holy Scripture, though in their context they don't do so, if we are to trust Jerome, that 'master of five tongues'. Paul once happened to see an inscription on an altar in Athens and twisted its meaning into an argument for the Christian faith. He left out all the words which would have damaged his case and selected only the last two, ignoto deo “to the unknown god.” Even in this he made some alteration, since the complete inscription read “to the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa, the unknown and foreign gods.” His, I believe, is the precedent our present-day ‘sons of theology’ follow when they pick out four or five words from different contexts, and if necessary even distort their meaning to suit their purpose, though those which come before and after may be either totally irrelevant or actually contradictory. This they do with such carefree impudence that theologians are often the envy of the legal experts.

Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Christian Unitarians, and other denominations reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Thomas Jefferson was himself a quasi-Unitarian, “a sect of his own,” as he put it, who rejected the divinity of Jesus but believed that Jesus had devised “the finest ethical system the world had ever seen.” He believed that “the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter” and even devised his own Bible that combined all the ethical teachings of Jesus while leaving out all the supernatural phenomenon. When ecclesiastical efforts were used to assassinate his character, Jefferson wrote in a letter, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Contrary to the belief of many American Evangelicals, nearly all the Founding Fathers were Deists, most of whom denied the divinity of Christ, from George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. Many belonged to the Freemasons, a secret fraternal organization holding metaphysical beliefs that are discouraged by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches.

Some Roman Catholic priests like the Biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown have also put forward the belief that Jesus was not identified with God during Christianity’s earliest stages. Marcellus of Ancyra, who had been present during the Council of Nicaea in 325, wrote against the concept of the Trinity while still holding to the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: “Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God... These then teach three hypostases [essences], just as Valentinus the heresiarch [arch-heretic] first invented in the book entitled by him ‘On the Three Natures.’ For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have stolen this from Hermes and Plato.”

Protestants in the forefront of the Reformation like Luther and Calvin accepted Jesus as God and saw no problem with bowing before crosses or calling Mary the Mother of God, but later Protestants of the 1600s began to see the veneration of the Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics as idolatry. The Nestorian Church in Iraq, Iran, and Malabar, India, still hold today that the Virgin Mary should not be referred to as Theotokos, or “God-bearer.” As we’ve seen, these Christian communities were declared heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 449 and today number around 175,000 members. The Roman Catholic Church has relations with some Jacobites and Anglicans, and in 1994 the Nestorian and Roman Catholic Church signed a declaration recognizing the legitimacy of each other's theological positions.

Other monotheists, Jews and Muslims, believe Jesus would not have wanted to be worshipped as God or Son of God. They see bowing down before his image or the image of Mary as a form of idolatry. Many Muslims have taken offense to the word “Mohammedan,” an English colloquialism from the 1950s, because to them it insinuates that Muslims worship Muhammed the same way Christians worship Christ. Today, Jews and Muslims who hold their scripture to be divinely inspired make it a point to denote that while a prophet’s words come from God, the prophet is only a messenger. One of the commandments from the Old Testament reads, “You shall not make yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters below,” it’s prolonged narration leaving no room for exceptions. The 11th century Roman Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas tried to separate veneration of the cross from idolatry by saying, “Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.” The Hebrews who originally enforced the laws of Moses drew no such distinction and destroyed all forms of venerated objects.

Contentions against the worship of both Jesus and his mother are written about in the Qur'an as well: “After reminding him of these favors, Allah will say, ‘Oh, Isa [Jesus], son of Maryam, Did you ever say to the people, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods beside Allah?’ [Jesus] will answer: ‘Glory to you! How could I say what I had no right to say? If I had ever said so, you would have certainly known it. You know what is in my heart, but I know what is in yours; for you have full knowledge of all the unseen.” (5:116). The Qur'an does accept that Jesus was the Messiah, was sent by God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and lived a perfect and sinless life, but it also teaches that the true message of Jesus was the same as all the other prophets since Abraham. The traditions of Jews and Christians are believed to have become corrupted by their religious leaders, and that the true message was revealed for the last time with the prophet Muhammed. Because of this viewpoint, Muslims tend to anachronistically refer to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as Muslims. The Islamic mode of prayer, kneeling with the face set before the ground, is held to be an extremely important factor in their religion, and references to prophets praying in this fashion in the Bible are often held up as proof that the corrupted texts show signs of an earlier Muslim practice.

Jewish rabbis, in contrast, believe that Jesus, if he ever really existed, was nothing more than a false messiah, one of many who promised a divine victory over the Romans that never materialized. Jesus’ teaching of “turning the other cheek” is often described by Jews as countermanding God’s message from the Old Testament to fight evil. To them, the real Messiah is to be born as a normal human being, not the Son of God, though his appearance will bring about a prolonged era of peace. The Messiah will set his kingdom up on earth and he will have no need to die and return again. As the Book of Isaiah says, swords will be beat into plow shears, and the lion will lay down with the lamb.

Despite all of this, there is proof from the apocryphal Book of Enoch that many Jews did accept God as a kind of triad before Christianity. The most reverent title for God used in Enoch is the Ancient of Days, or Atik Yomin, an Aramaic term repeated in the Book of Daniel. Enoch himself becomes divine in the text and becomes identified with the Son of Man, a title also used for a mysterious figure in Daniel and which becomes a title for Jesus in the Synoptic gospels. Also a part of the divine council is the Lord of Spirits, a figure that can be identified with the Holy Spirit, or with the Sumerian Enlil, whose name can be read “Lord-Spirit.”

The Golden Rule

When Jesus is asked which commandment is the most important in the Gospel of Mark, he replies, “‘Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (12:29). The first of these Old Testament verses comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:3) and the second is actually broken off from the second part of a law from the Book of Leviticus that says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh.” (19:18). The two laws are never found together in the Old Testament, and neither, in their original context, give the indication that they are any more important than the dozens of other laws that come before and after them. Yet the famous Rabbi Akiva, one of the founders of rabbinic Judaism, who lived around the early 100s A.D., also singled these two particular parts of the Law out as the foundation on which the Torah rests.

It’s said that Akiva (or Akiba) recognized Simon bar Koziba, who led the failed Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans in 135 A.D., as the Messiah. But Akiva abandoned Jerusalem and the revolt when Bar Kochba decided to join forces with the Samaritans. After the revolt failed, the Romans prohibited Jews from entering Jerusalem or reading the Old Testament Torah. It’s said that when Akiva refused to obey this prohibition against the Torah, he was tortured to death at the age of 120, the same age Moses is said to have died. When the Roman torturers began tearing the flesh from his body with red hot pincers, he made no sound, similar to how the gospels relate the silence of Jesus while he was accused and crucified. Like Jesus, he is also said to have tried to comfort those who were mourning for him, saying, “My children, be not sad because of me. I have reached the goal of my desires. I was worried about this verse, ‘…[Love God] with all your soul,’ even if He [God] takes away your soul. This endless love, how can we prove it better than by giving up one's life, one's soul for the sanctification of God's Name!” As the sun rose, he cried out, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be His Name for ever and ever. And thou shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might.” This is almost identical to the verse found in the Gospel of Mark.

The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (7:12). The epistle of James also gives special consideration to the Golden Rule, saying, “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (2:8). The epistle of Paul to the Galatians reads, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (5:14), which is very similar to the quote from Matthew. And they are both very similar to a quote from the rabbi Hillel the Elder, who is also one of the most important religious figures in Judaism. In the Babylonian Talmud, it is said that a Gentile who wanted to become a Jew asked him for a summary of the Jewish religion, to which Hillel responded, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law; the rest is only commentary.”

Interestingly enough, the Acts of the Apostles says that Hillel’s famous grandson, Gamaliel, was a teacher of Paul. Acts also has Gamaliel convincing his fellow rabbis as head of the Sanhedrin not to execute Peter and the other apostles, saying, “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their present case or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (5:28). It’s been suggested that Paul was the student who showed “impudence in learning” towards Gamaliel as mentioned in a collection of important Jewish writings known as the Talmud (Shabbath 30b). However, most New Testament scholars think that Paul being a student of Gamaliel is an invention by the author of Acts since there is no mention of Gamaliel in any of the epistles credited to Paul. There are autobiographical parts in the epistles about Paul’s credentials as a former Pharisee, and to not mention Gamaliel would be like bragging about being a former philosopher without mentioning you studied under Plato.

The Golden Rule, also called the Ethic of Reciprocity, is a tenant found in nearly all modern religions. The 13th Saying of Muhammed in Al-Nawawi's Forty [-Three] Hadiths is “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” The Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of Hinduism reads, “One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire.” The Buddhist Udanavarga says “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” The Analects of Confucius includes the saying, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, from the Baha’i World Faith says, “And if your eyes be turned towards justice, choose you for your neighbor that which you have chosen for yourself.” The Sutrakritanga of Jainism reads, “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.” The T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien of Taoism says, “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your loss.” The Zoroastrian sacred texts, called the Shayast-na-Shayast, includes, “What is disagreeable to yourself, do not do to others.” Even LaVeyan Satanism, an occult philosophy started in San Francisco in the 60s, which does not actually ascribe belief in the devil, uses a derivative of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as they do unto you.”

Salvation and the Ten Commandments

The most often-quoted words from the New Testament comes in John’s third chapter, saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (3:16) For most of the church’s history, it has been taken for granted that only ritually observant Christians would be saved from the fires of hell. Even babies who went un-baptized by their parents would not enjoy the fruits of heaven according to St. Augustine, but by the time of the St. Aquinas were regulated to the neutral plane of existence named Limbo.

Protestant theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin would later use verses from the epistles of Paul to argue that Christians are saved by faith in Jesus alone, and that no amount of good works would have any effect on the matter. The epistle to the Ephesians reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (2:8). But the epistle of James counters that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (3:17), and that even the demons believe in the one true God. Luther’s response to this was to call James “an epistle of straw.” Protestant theologians have historically put a great deal of emphasis on the Pauline epistles in their interpretation of the New Testament, and Protestant Fundamentalism has gone even further in that direction. “Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter, fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ.”, wrote the American philosopher and historian Will Durant in his book, Caesar and Christ.

Luther and Calvin apparently took the idea of good works being meaningless to heart. Martin Luther also wrote a book called, On the Jews and Their Lies, which incited German Christians to burn down Jewish synagogues, steal their property, and exile them long before Hitler was born. John Calvin is known to have arrested the greatest medical genius of his time, Michael Servetus, and burned him alive. Servetus was a scientist and theologian, and discovered the system of pulmonary circulation, but he was sentenced to death in Geneva for disagreeing with Calvin’s doctrine of the Trinity, and this was after Severetus just escaped from being imprisoned by the Pope! Luther and Calvin went on the be considered the greatest theologians behind the Protestant Reformation and Severetus is often called the first Unitarian martyr.

In his anti-semitic book, Luther writes seven suggestions that Germany implement towards the Jews:

“First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly - and I myself was unaware of it - will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them…….

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb….

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews….

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…. Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest. With this he could set himself up in some occupation for the support of his poor wife and children, and the maintenance of the old or feeble. For such evil gains are cursed if they are not put to use with God's blessing in a good and worthy cause.

Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen 3[:19]}. For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.

The salvation by grace model formed by Luther and Calvin is built off of the theology of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of John, but the concept seems completely foreign in the Synoptic gospels. When Jesus is asked how to get into heaven in the Gospel of Mark, he not only fails to speak of faith in the Son of God as the central key, but actually denigrates his own status of divinity by reproaching the man for calling him ‘good.’:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’, Jesus answered, ‘No one is good- except Theos [God] alone. You know the commandments: [5] Do not murder, [6] do not commit adultery, [7] do not steal, [8] do not give false testimony, [?] do not defraud, [4] honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words.

But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ Peter said to him, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” -Mark 10:17-29

When Jesus tells the disciples that those who have left their homes and families will receive a hundreds times as in the present age, as opposed to the age to come, it refers to the hundreds of homes and fields that missionaries traversed along and the hundreds of spiritual brothers and sisters.

“Do not defraud” is listed as if it is another commandment, but it does not appear in the commandments in the Old Testament and may be intended as an extension of “Do not give false testimony.” The third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath is not given mention in this list. An earlier portion of the gospel shows Jesus to be more lax regarding the Sabbath law than the Pharisees who criticized him for picking wheat on Saturday, the day of rest. Jesus responded to their criticism by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”(2:27). This is certainly an interpretation that takes a radical departure from the intent of the Torah as we have it: the consequence for breaking the Sabbath is death and there is an example of it made in the Book of Numbers (15:32).

Although the Ten Commandments are generally believed to be meant for everyone, the traditional belief in Rabbinic Judaism is that these laws were given by Moses to the Israelites and that Gentiles are no more obligated to follow them than the other laws of the Torah. Talmud and post-Talmudic writings instead transpose seven laws from the time of Noah, called the Noahide Laws, extrapolated very loosely from verses in Genesis, as universal laws that all races are required to obey. This is because Noah’s family is the only one who is said to have survived the flood, and their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, are believed the be the ancestors of the three main racial divisions of the entire world: Semitic, African, and European. The first six Noahide laws prohibit idolatry, cursing the name of God, murder, theft, sexual immorality, eating a limb from a live animal, and the seventh law requires the establishment of a justice system. The exact nature of each law is somewhat variant amongst sources. The part about eating a limb from a live animal is traditionally interpreted to encompass all animal cruelty. The Noahide Laws mostly encompass the core commandments, with a few exceptions, most notably keeping the Sabbath.

Acts of the Apostles reports that “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’” (15:1) Paul and Barnabbas came into dispute with this and so a council was established in Jerusalem, with James as the judge. After hearing Peter, Paul and Barnabas speak against the requirement of circumcision, James quotes a verse from the Old Testament Book of Amos about the rebuilding of King David’s tent including Gentiles who bear his name, and then makes his ruling: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (15:9). The laws meant for Gentiles as quoted from James in Acts appear to be three out of the seven Noahide Laws.

The exact numbering of the Ten Commandments is disputed between different religious groups. Jews, Roman Catholics and Lutherans interpret “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” as being the same commandment while Greek Orthodox and the majority of Protestant denominations view them as being two different commandments. Roman Catholics and Lutherans in turn separate “Do not covet your neighbor’s house.” and “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife.” to make the number equal. Jews recognize these two as a single commandment but instead consider “I am Yahweh your Elohim, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” important enough to consider it a commandment unto itself.

Adding to this complexity is a listing in the book of Exodus of a set of Ten Commandments that come after the popularly known version. Although in the context of the story of Exodus, they are replacements for the old commandments which Moses broke, they are listed as a completely different set of rules (34:1). These commandments are listed as: do not worship any other god, do not make a treaty with foreigners who live in Israel, do not make cast idols, celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, sacrifice every firstborn from the flock, work the first six days but rest on the seventh, celebrate the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Ingathering, do not sacrifice anything with yeast, and do not cook a goat in it’s mother’s milk. Old Testament scholars believe that this is the earliest version of the Ten Commandments and was later redacted into a different context by later editors so that the more commonly known commandments could take their place. The Qur’an includes laws in various places that are equivalent to the Ten Commandments, except for the Sabbath rest, which is stated to be only required by Jews. Congressional prayer for Muslims was to be held on Friday evenings instead.

Today, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that those who receive a complete understanding of Islam and reject it will go to hell, similar to what many Christians believe about their own religion. Jews, however, do not believe that one has to follow Judaism in order to get into heaven. This would seem to be a more natural presumption since they are such a small minority in the population of every country except Israel. But not only do Jews not attempt to proselytize others into Judaism, in most cases rabbis try to dissuade non-Jews from converting. Some traditional rabbis hold that a potential convert should be turned away three times to ensure their seriousness. This changes the dynamic of their faith greatly, as practitioners of Judaism do not view other religions as competition. Belief in the afterlife is partly what distinguished the Pharisees of rabbinic Judaism from the Sadducees, the Temple priests of Jesus‘ time. But most rabbis today tend to point out that unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism is not focused on the question of how to get into heaven, but rather how people should act in this life. A book in the Jewish Mishnah, the Pirkei Avot, reads, “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead, be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the awe of Heaven [God] be upon you.” The Talmud speaks of Olam Ha-Ba, or “the world to come,” as a time of great peace, which could either be interpreted as the afterlife or the physical world after the true Messiah takes his place. The Talmud says that all of Israel has a share in the Olam Ha-Ba, but that the righteous will have greater shares. Rabbinic Jews believe that the righteous from all nations will also have a share as well. There are a few statements in the Talmud that go against this assumption, but most rabbis consider them to be a sentiment of the times, in which neighboring nations in contact with the Jews were not seen as righteous people.

Very little of the Old Testament touches on the afterlife, and what little there is describes a netherworld underneath the earth called She’ol, no different from what surrounding polytheistic cultures believed in. The pagan Greeks called this place Hades, and the New Testament uses the same word to describe the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Another name Jews used for hell was Gehinnom (Gehenna in Yiddish), referring to the Valley of Hinnom. In the Old Testament, it was a place where Canaanites would sacrifice their children to Molech, and in Jesus’ time was a garbage dump that was kept burning to keep the stench down, so it served as a good metaphor for the kind of place evil spirits would go to after they die.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Akiva said that the souls in Gehenna could be punished for up to 12 months. “After 12 months, their body is consumed and their soul is burned and the wind scatters them under the soles of the feet of the righteous.” (Rosh Hashanah 17a). This led to the Jewish practice of praying for the souls of the dead for up to 11 months after their death. To pray for a twelfth month would imply their soul would be destroyed. Roman Catholics similarly pray for the souls that are in Purgatory, a place of temporary punishment, who must pay for their transgressions before entering Heaven. But many Protestants believe that it’s a sin to pray for the dead because the destination of the soul is only determined by what the person did in life. The First Epistle to the Corinthians insinuates that a sinful man from Paul’s congregation who took his father’s wife was to go through some kind of punishment before being ultimately redeemed: “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (5:4). The Jewish idea that all the souls of the righteous must go through a temporary punishment in hell while the unjust are left behind is also found in the Gospel of Mark, which says, “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?” (9:49). The concept of non- infinite punishment was also inherited in Islam. The Qur’an refers to this saying, “There is not one among you who shall not pass through hell; such is the absolute decree of your Lord. We will deliver those who fear Us, and leave the wrongdoers there, on their knees.” (19:71).

Inclusiveness, Exclusiveness, and Cultural Pluralism

Although it is the Roman Catholic Church which is best known for combating the heliocentric model of the solar system popularized by Copernicus, most notably the trial and house arrest of Galileo Galilei in 1633, Protestants of the time found the Copernican model to be just as heretical. Martin Luther in his writings makes reference to Copernicus, saying:

“There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”

The verse in Joshua that Luther refers to describes the prophet calling for the sun and moon to stand still so that his army could chase down and defeat the retreating Amorite confederacy he was fighting against (10:12). Psalms 93 and 104 also dictate that the earth can not be moved, and a verse in Ecclesiastes speaks of the sun revolving around the earth (1:5). The Qur’an likewise describes the sun and moon as orbiting the earth (36). Luther’s reaction can be compared to that of Theophilus, the Patriarch of Antioch from around 180 A.D., writing about Noah’s flood and the dispersion of the three races to the far corners of the earth: “And the writers, not knowing these things, are forward to maintain that the world is shaped like a sphere, and to compare it to a cube. But how can they say what is true regarding these things, when they do not know about the creation of the world and its population?”

Knowledge of the heliocentric solar system was not first discovered by Copernicus, but only popularized by him in Europe. The ancient Vedic Sanskrit text, Shatapatha Brahmana, written around 800 B.C., not only outlined a system in which the earth revolved around the sun, it also accurately measured the distance from the sun and moon from the earth as being 108 times the size of their respective diameters. Subsequent scientific measurements have shown the sun to be 107.6 times and the moon to be 110.6 times in distance. The astronomical system used by Europe was largely that of geocentric model of Plato’s student, Aristotle (330 B.C.), which had been improved on by the Hellenized Egyptian Ptolemy (100s A.D.), and the Persian Muslim scientist Nasir al-Din Tusi (1200s).

The reluctance for older Bible Literalists to accept that the world is not the center of the universe is easily compared to that of modern Bible Literalists who fail to accept that modern humans are not at the center of world history. Following the same logic as Theophilus and Luther, and for the most part harboring a personal disdain against the concept of Darwinian evolution, Bible Literalists replace the four and a half billion year timeline of Geology with a 6,000 year one based on the Bible. They generally believe dinosaurs to be contemporary with humans, and dismiss such things as carbon dating science, hominid fossils of proto-humans like that of the 4 million-year-old “Lucy,” and the overabundance of fossil fuels resulting from a 360-million-year Carboniferous Period.

Today, the Roman Catholic Church renounces Biblical Fundamentalism and recognizes that the early chapters of Genesis can be read symbolically. Since the 1950s, the Roman Catholic Church has allowed for the idea that the human body may have been generated from past organisms as long as it is recognized that the human soul was created by God alone. In 1996, John Paul II apologized for the church’s repression of Galileo and addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences saying, “Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.”

In October of 2005, the Roman Catholic Church released a document as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the Second Vatican Council finding, Dei Verbum, “On Divine Revelation.” The 2005 document read that, “We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision.” The bishops also acknowledged their debt to biblical scholars, criticized the “intransigent intolerance” of Christian Fundamentalism, and discredited the expectation for the Book of Revelation to describe details about the end of the world.

The Second Vatican Council had been called by Pope John XXIII as soon as he was elected in 1959. In a way a continuation of the First Vatican Council that had been cut short by the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. After 3 years of preparation, the council was convened in 4 sessions, which lasted from 1962 to 1965. Pope John also invited many non-Catholics to observe, reportedly saying, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.” But after the first session, Pope John died and was replaced by Pope Paul VI. Unlike previous councils that dealt with heresies, this council looked into the church’s role in the modern world. Among other things, it led to the church changing it’s Latin mass to that of vernacular languages. In one of the 3 declarations, Nostra Aetate, or “In Our Time,” the church put out a controversial stance on it’s relation to other religions. Here are some excerpts from this declaration:

“Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.”

“The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth (Cf. St. Gregory VII, Letter III, 21 to Anazir [Al-Nasir], King of Mauretania PL, 148.451A.), who has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.”

“Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

“True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

“Therefore, the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition in life or religion. Accordingly, following the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the sacred Council earnestly begs the Christian faithful to ‘conduct themselves well among the Gentiles’ (1 Peter 2:12) and if possible, as far as depends on them, to be at peace with all men (cf. Romans 12:18), and in that way to be true sons of the Father who is in heaven (cf. Matthew 5:45).”

One of the 4 constitutions, Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations,” says this:

“This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines.”

A major event of the final days of the council was the act of Pope Paul and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras making a joint expression of regret for many of the past actions that had led up to the Great Schism between the eastern and western churches. This did not bring about a reunification of the two churches, but was rather a show of desire for greater reconciliation. Today, Roman Catholics will share the bread and wine of Communion with Greek Orthodox Christians, but not Protestants. Although there is no official stance of the Greek Orthodox Church regarding the nature of salvation outside the church, the vast majority of Orthodox scholars believe that non-Christians can still be saved through, or in spite of, practicing other religions.

The different approaches as to how people view different religions is usually separated into three classifications: exclusivism, inclusivism, and cultural pluralism. Exclusivists view their faith tradition as the only true religion and that all other religions are rivals, usually led by Satan or demonic forces. Inclusivists view their own religious tradition as the only complete truth, with other religions having partially developed approaches to the truth. Cultural pluralism, or religious pluralism, is the belief that no single religion can claim absolute authority to teach the complete truth and that human fallibility limits all religious knowledge. In general, Deists, Unitarians and rabbinic Jews are cultural pluralists, Roman Catholic bishops and Greek Orthodox scholars have slowly moved to inclusivist, and Muslim scholars and Christian Fundamentalists are exclusivist. Many Christian exclusivists considered Pope John Paul II a heretic or anti-pope in 1999 after he kissed a Qur’an inside a Syrian mosque.

To some extent, today’s three most prominent monotheistic religions each contain a mixture of cultural history, hero worship, and social law, each of these traits best emphasized by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam respectively. All three religions pay homage to the same god of Abraham, completely centered on the history of ancient Israel. Pagan religions in Europe and the Middle East focused more on the supernatural “proto-science” of describing nature by allegorical acts by the gods. Ancient monotheistic authors instead focused primarily on the “proto-history” of the earth below, writing it in the typical ancient fashion, by combining fact with symbol, and substituting data with allegory. The proclamation of moral superiority compared to that of polytheists, and to each other, is a marked trait within the writings of the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Qur’an. Unlike their pagan predecessors, whose prayers were largely meant to benefit the present life alone, Monotheists are distinct in their beliefs about the afterlife. Each established a different set of laws, each believed to have been given directly from the primary representative of their faith, with each set of laws believed to be immutable until the end of time. The need for doctrinal purity has led the sanctification of Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic as all being considered the language of God, while many Protestants similarly consider the English translation of the King James Version to be the only version “unchanged” from the word of God. The great mathematician, philosopher, and mystic, Pythagoras of Samos, and the German philosopher and co-discoverer of Calculus, Gottfried Leibniz, both said that numbers was the “language of God.” While Jews find themselves in need to reconcile ancient laws with modern living, Christians are stuck with the question as to how the Old Testament law (like the Ten Commandments) fit in with the admittedly new teachings of Jesus. Muslims in turn must reconcile their faith’s Arab foundation with that of the Jewish cultural history that Muhammed so heavily drew upon. With the establishment of canon law, each monotheistic religious community seeks to bring themselves to become an idealization of what their founder- the strongest link to God- would have wanted. Marked changes like that of the Protestant Reformation are normally seen by their participants not as an advancement, but a return to a purer, more original form of religious practice. Julius Wellhausen, the first Biblical scholar and Orientalist to hypothesize that most of the Old Testament was made up of four sources, also made the observation that writers of the New Babylonian period associated monotheism in the closest way with unity of worship. Although our modern monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have continuously branched off into different sects since their inception, little has changed in intent. The greatest hindrance to that goal has been differences of language, that which is said to have started at the Tower of Babel, and epitomized by the cultic reverence given to specific holy texts in the languages of Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Latin, and to some extent, English.