Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel

Religious experiences and miracles

The Jewish people still exist after 2,500 years, while they did not have a homeland for most of the time. That is a remarkable feat, most notably because the Jews are supposed to be God’s chosen people. It is also a bit of an enigma that Christianity replaced the existing religions in the Roman Empire. Somehow the message of personal salvation through Christ caught on. A pivotal moment was the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 AD. He made Christianity the favoured religion in the Roman Empire. A few centuries later, a small band of Arab warriors created an empire stretching from the Atlantic to India, spreading a new religion called Islam. Is it a realistic scenario that the illiterate camel-driver Muhammad became a crafty statesman after he had seen an angel? We only know this world, so we cannot answer that question. Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same deity. Our universe could be a simulation, and the fates of Judaism, Christianity and Islam could be implausible historical developments. In other words, God might be the best explanation. Only, we do not know whether or not these events are plausible.

When Islam arrived on the scene, there already was widespread monotheism as Christians and Zoroastrians in the area believed in an all-powerful creator. Muhammad had met Jews and Christians on his travels, so he was familiar with these religions. Before that, Christianity had faced an uphill struggle. While the Roman state suppressed this religion, pagans left their gods behind and accepted the Christian God as the only true God. And they did so in large numbers. That begs for an explanation, even though the conversion to Christianity was a gradual process that took centuries. The number of Christians increased at an average rate of 2-3% per year between 30 AD and 400 AD. Each Christian may have converted just one or two persons on average, but over time, exponential growth made Christianity grow from 30 followers in 30 AD to 30 million in 400 AD. There appears nothing supernatural about this process until you realise that the most often cited reason for conversions were stories about miracles Christians did.1

An early miracle was Jesus appearing to a few of his followers after his crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus appeared in the flesh, but perhaps his disciples had visions of him. The New Testament also accounts for some miracles the disciples allegedly performed. These stories may have been exaggerated, but miracles are a consistent theme in Christianity, even today. And so, there may be more to it than science can explain. On message boards, people tell stories about prayers heard and miraculous healings. Chance is not always a plausible explanation. And it seems unlikely that Christians consistently lie about these matters.

Many people have seen the Virgin Mary. She appeared several times in Venezuela. In 1976, she showed herself to Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, who received special powers. She could tell the future, levitate, and heal the sick. In Egypt, Mary appeared at a Coptic Church between 1983 and 1986. Muslims also have seen her there. There have been many more Virgin Mary appearances. The most notable one was in Portugal at Fatima on 13 October 1917. The sun spun wildly and tumbled down to earth before stopping and returning to its normal position, radiating in indescribable beautiful colours. More than 50,000 people witnessed the miracle. They had gathered in response to a prophecy made by three shepherd children that the Virgin Mary would appear and perform miracles on that date.2

Jesus also appeared from time to time, but less frequently than the Virgin. An intriguing account comes from Kenneth Logie, a preacher of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Oakland, California, in the 1950s. In April 1954, Logie was preaching at an evening service. During his sermon, the church door opened, and Jesus came walking in, smiling to the left and the right. Then he walked through the pulpit and placed his hand on Logie’s shoulder. Jesus spoke to him in a foreign tongue. Fifty people witnessed the event. Five years later, a woman gave testimony when she suddenly disappeared, and Jesus took her place. He wore sandals and a glistering white robe and had nail marks on his hands. His hands were dripping with oil. After several minutes, Jesus disappeared, and the woman reappeared. Two hundred people have seen it. It was on film as Logie had installed film equipment because strange things were going on.2

In virtual reality, this is possible. When it appears that God has heard your prayer, that could be part of the script. In that case, God did not listen to your prayer. Instead, you were supposed to pray, and the fulfilment of your request was supposed to occur. It is like a meaningful coincidence happening. Many prayers are in vain, so a fulfilled wish does not prove God’s existence. But some stories are incredible, and mere chance seems a poor explanation. And in a simulation, there is little difference between the appearances of Christ, the Virgin Mary, deceased loved ones, UFOs, angels and ghosts.

Feature image: Mohammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh, by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 AD. Public Domain.

1. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Bart Ehrman. Simon & Schuster (2018).
2. How Jesus Became God The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee. Bart Ehrman. HarperCollins Publishers (2015).

John the Evangelist from the 6th-century Rabbula Gospels

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is strikingly distinct from the other Gospels of the New Testament. In the first three Gospels, Jesus appears human. In the Gospel of John, he appears godlike. Biblical scholars have long believed that the Gospel of John is from a later date than the other gospels and that Christians had already deified Jesus by then. But Christians were already worshipping Jesus as a godlike creature very early on. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul cites a poem stating that Jesus is God in nature (Philippians 2:6-11). Scholars believe it is an older poem dating from the earliest days of Christianity.1 It makes sense if early Christians thought that Jesus was Adam, the eternal husband of God.

Another theory is that the Gospel of John originally was written by someone close to Jesus. The first three Gospels probably contain stories about Jesus that circulated among the public. A small group of insiders may have known more about the nature of the relationship between God and Jesus. This insider account, after heavy redactions, may have become the Gospel of John. Particularly telling is that the Gospel of John indicates that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. The other gospels lack the historical detail to establish the length of Jesus’s ministry. This Gospel of John likely has undergone several redactions and reviews. John could be the most historically accurate Gospel after eliminating the redactions. Only, we do not know all the redactions.

To understand the following paragraphs, you may read the following:

The identity of God

The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.

Platonic birth

Christianity may at first have had a separate creation myth in which Eve was God, gave birth to Adam, and then took him as Her husband. The account of the fall may also have been different. The Christian account of creation and fall may have contradicted the Jewish scriptures. Eve giving birth to Adam and taking him as her husband also carries a lewd suggestion. The tale of Eve and Adam is a myth, so it probably never happened, but people did not know that at the time.

And it may have had problematic consequences in early Christian communities. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes, ‘It is reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!’ (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). The scribes may have watered down this controversial fragment. And so, this man may have slept with his mother. The Christians in Corinth were proud of it, perhaps because this man followed the example of Christ.

Hence, the scribes may have taken out the creation myth, and under the influence of Platonic thinking, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus (John 1:1-14). If Jesus is Adam, and all of humanity descends from Eve and Adam, one can imagine that without him, there is no life. And if Adam was a child of Eve, we are all children of God, and because God is a woman, Christians are born of God (John 1:13).

If you are already born, you have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. The meaning appears spiritual. Only, when arguing with Jesus, the Pharisee Nicodemus noted that you cannot enter a second time into your mother’s womb to be born again (John 3:4). Nicodemus may have correctly understood what Jesus meant, which is that Christians are figuratively born of God’s womb. Jesus then gave it a spiritual meaning in his answer, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ (John 3:5)

The wedding

There was a wedding in Galilee (John 2:1-10). Jesus was there, as were his mother and his disciples. When the wine was gone, his mother said to Jesus that there was no more wine. That would not have been his concern unless he was the bridegroom. Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ It could mean that Jesus was not the bridegroom and was about to be married too. He called his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense when he considered God his Mother. Jesus started doing miracles at this wedding by turning water into wine. Perhaps, he became the Christ through this wedding. Hence, it may have been his wedding, and the scribes may have changed the narrative to make it appear that it is not.

And then John comes with a statement not found in the other Gospels, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said: ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom. The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30) Apparently, Jesus was the Messiah because he was the Bridegroom in a heavenly marriage. The other Gospels also indicate that Jesus was the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34). The Gospel compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepares a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:2).

I and the Father are one

Jesus called God Father, making himself equal with God, so the Jews wanted to persecute him, the Gospel of John says (John 5:16-18). Jesus made other claims in this vein. If the Gospel of John is a heavily redacted insider account, these claims may reflect Jesus’ own words. For instance, if Jesus believed himself to be Adam, he could have said that before Abraham was born, he existed (John 8:58). The wording in the Gospel of John implies that he claimed to be God, but that may not have been what Jesus said.

And then comes an intriguing assertion, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30) It appears that Jesus claimed to be God. And so, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy (John 10:33). But marriage is a way to become one with another person (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). If Jesus had implied that he was married to God, it would still have been blasphemy to the Jews. And if Mary Magdalene had remained in the background to let Jesus do Her bidding, and Jesus believed himself to be Adam from whom all of humanity descends, then Jesus may have said something similar to, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)

Love is a central theme: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:9-12) That is an unusual amount of love. But if Jesus was God’s husband, it makes sense. That brings us to the loving and intimate relationship that Mary Magdalene and Jesus may have had. The Gospel of John features an enigmatic beloved disciple.

The beloved disciple

The mysterious unnamed beloved disciple appears only in the Gospel of John. He may have been introduced in a redaction to mask that Mary Magdalene was God and married Jesus. Mary Magdalene may have become Jesus’ most beloved disciple in an early redaction of the text. That may still not have been satisfactory, so in a later redaction the scribes may have added the anonymous beloved disciple and made him a separate person distinct from Mary Magdalene.

This perspective can provide us with an explanation that resolves a few contradictions. One of those contradictions is in the following fragment, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

The fragment states that four women were near the cross. If you take the text literally, the beloved disciple must be one of these four women because the first sentence does not mention him. The most likely candidate is Mary Magdalene. The beloved disciple could also be a later redaction. Either explanation amounts to a similar resolution of some contradictions in the New Testament.

If Mary Magdalene was God, then Jesus may have said to Her, ‘Mother, here is your son.’ And then to his birth mother, ‘Here is your Mother.’ A few arguments can support this view. First, it is more likely that Mary Magdalene took Jesus’ birth mother into Her home than a male disciple. All four canonical Gospels mention a group of female disciples that travelled with Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ birth mother were part of that group. Mary Magdalene, being God, would also be a Mother to Jesus’ birth mother. And the Gospels suggest that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite apostle. For instance, Jesus had asked him to take care of the sheep (John 21:15-18). Only, he had fled the crucifixion scene (Mark 14:50-52), so he was not present.

According to Paul, Simon Peter saw the resurrected Jesus first, and then Jesus appeared to the other disciples (1 Corinthians 15:4-6). It probably is a statement of faith handed over to Paul. It might be the truth because it was an early belief dating from only a few years after Jesus’ death. It agrees with the idea that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite disciple. The Gospel of John tells a different story. It claims that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. She then ran to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!’ So Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb. The beloved disciple came there first. He saw the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went into the tomb (John 20:1-6).

Then the beloved disciple went in. And he saw and believed (John 20:8). Apparently, the beloved disciple saw and came to faith, but two men were inside. Remarkably, it is not Simon Peter who saw and believed. If the scribes had added the beloved disciple to the story later, it probably was Simon Peter who saw and came to faith. An empty tomb alone would not have made him think that Jesus had risen. And so, he may have seen Jesus there, apparently alive.

The Gospel of John tells that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first (John 20:11-18). If Mary Magdalene had become the beloved disciple in an earlier redaction, it was only natural that Jesus first appeared to Her and not to Simon Peter. The scribes may have changed the story accordingly, but they forgot to remove the phrase that Simon Peter saw and believed. When, in a later redaction, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple became separate individuals, the narrative changed again. And so, the beloved disciple saw and believed, while Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first. After that, Jesus appeared to the disciples (John 20:19-23). If we follow this explanation, Paul tells the truth in 1 Corinthians 15. It also implies that Mary Magdalene set in motion the resurrection beliefs by bringing Simon Peter to the tomb, and if She was God, She knew what he was about to see.

The beloved disciple enters the story at the Last Supper when he asks Jesus who is about to betray him. The Gospel of John says, “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” (John 13:21-25) Simon Peter wanted to know who was about to betray Jesus. Before the redaction he may have been the disciple who asked Jesus who was about to betray him.

The final chapter of the Gospel of John mentions a rumour amongst believers that the beloved disciple would not die (John 21:22-23). If Mary Magdalene was God and had become the beloved disciple in an earlier redaction, then the existence of such a rumour makes sense.

Figuratively speaking

The Gospel of John contains a remark that you can easily overlook, ‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.’ (John 16:25) Why should Jesus not speak plainly about God? Possibly, the scribes who redacted this gospel and performed the sex change on God have been aware of what they were doing and realised that the truth would come out one day.

Latest revision: 26 May 2022

1. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.

How Jesus became God

Religion in the time of Jesus

Before he was born, a visitor from heaven told his mother that her son would be divine. Unusual signs in the heavens accompanied his birth. As an adult, he left his home to become a travelling preacher. He told everyone not to be concerned about their earthly lives and material goods but instead to live for the spiritual and eternal. He gathered several followers who believed he was the Son of God. He did miracles, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. He aroused opposition among the ruling authorities, and they put him on trial. After he departed from this world, he appeared to some of his followers, who later wrote books about him. This story is not about Jesus of Nazareth but Apollonius of Tyana, Bart Ehrman tells us in his book How Jesus Became God.1 The parallels are striking.

In ancient times, critics used the similarities between the tales about Jesus and Apollonius to question and mock Christianity. In the ancient world, there was no chasm between the divine and the earthly realm. The miracles attributed to Jesus are not exceptional either. There were other men of which people said that they did similar deeds. Legends about people spring up easily. You only have to observe what happens on the Internet and social media. People believe and spread ostentatiously false claims. Finding out the facts later can be an arduous task. And success is not guaranteed. It has been the work of biblical scholars for centuries.

Miraculous and virgin births occur in other religions too. Claiming to be a Son of God was not unusual either. Julius Caesar pretended to be a descendant of the goddess Venus. Of Alexander the Great, it was said that his father was the Greek supreme god Zeus. Kings in the ancient world often claimed to be descendants of the gods. That gave them legitimacy for who dares to go against the will of the gods? Jewish kings were also called Sons of God. So, if Jesus called himself Son of God, this could mean the king of the Jews. And it probably was seen that way by the Jewish and Roman authorities.

Intentional obscurity

About Jesus, much remains unclear. The Gospels date from decades after Jesus’ death and scholars believe they are based on stories that are passed on orally. Oral storytelling is notoriously inaccurate but scholars believe that the Gospels at least partially describe what Jesus actually said and did. Much is plausible given the time and place in which he lived. The Gospels also tell us things that Christians would not have made up because it contradicts their teachings.1 And, the Gospels are copied from earlier sources that are now lost. The time gap between the events and these sources is smaller, so fewer errors may have crept in than most scholars nowadays assume.

Paul could have written about what transpired. He knew several first-hand witnesses so he had insider knowledge. It seems that he did not. But why? He may have had reasons not to write about what happened. It may have taken Paul nearly two decades to come to terms with what he found out about the relationship between God and Jesus. His first surviving letters date from fifteen years after he joined the Christian movement. The first three Gospels are remarkably similar and do not say much about this relationship. Scholars believe that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are based on the Gospel of Mark and another text with the sayings of Jesus. Only, the insider knowledge may not have disappeared at all. It may have been worked upon instead to become the Gospel of John.

Jesus most likely did claim to be the Son of God. According to the Gospels, Jesus called God ‘Father’. And, he may have been the Bridegroom in a marriage representing the Kingdom of God. All the synoptic Gospels hint at Jesus being the Bridegroom. Perhaps Jesus believed that he would become king, but he never claimed to be king of the Jews. He did not deny it either. But why? We cannot know that with certainty as Paul of Tarsus stands between us and the original message of Christianity. Hence, we may get close. Paul joined the Christian movement early on. He knew the apostles and other first-hand witnesses personally. Only his interpretation may stand between us and Jesus’ teachings. Paul was a devout Pharisee with knowledge of the Jewish religion and scriptures as well as Greek thought and philosophy.

To understand the following paragraphs, you are advised to read the following post:

The identity of God

The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.

The scriptures as an obstacle

The Jewish religion of the Jewish deity Yahweh and its scriptures may be an obstacle to our understanding of God. To understand God, we may need to take the perspective of this universe as the creation of an advanced humanoid civilisation to entertain one of its members. And so, there could be more to the mysterious apocalyptic prophet who felt a close relationship with God and started a new religion that has over two billion followers today. Christianity began as a branch of Judaism, a religion defined by its scriptures. Their scriptures outline how Jews, Christians and Muslims see the owner of the universe. So if God married Jesus, and Jesus had preached somewhere else, for instance, in Egypt or China, then Christianity would have been a completely different religion.

Christianity is the Religion of Love. God is love, Christians claim. Christianity paints a different picture of God than Judaism and Islam. Those religions present a vengeful warrior God. So, how is this to be explained? The God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is the same. Paul likely went at great length to bring the new religion in line with existing Jewish doctrine while being as truthful as possible. To many religious people, the scriptures are infallible. Paul could have obfuscated the most controversial parts of what he discovered by making cryptic references to the scriptures.

Biblical scholars tend to be agnostic about God and reason from what they can establish from historical sources. Christians, on the other hand, believe that the Jewish deity Yahweh is Jesus’ father. Both groups see Jesus within the Jewish context. And Jesus looked at himself in this way too. That may turn out to be a handicap as Yahweh is the imagined deity of the Jews, and not necessarily the all-powerful Creator of this universe. It may be better to view Yahweh as the cloak behind which our Creator is hidden. The most pressing problem for Paul may have been that God is a woman who had a romantic relationship with Jesus. Only to suggest so was blasphemy. And so, Jesus became married to the Church like God was married to the Jewish nation. It made Jesus eternal and godlike. That was not a great leap if he was Adam, God’s eternal husband.

Firstborn of all creation

Jesus may have thought himself to be the reincarnation of Adam. Adam was God’s son (Luke 3:38) and Jesus the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15). These words relate to the Jewish scriptures, but they can also be cryptic references to Adam being born first as the son of Eve and Jesus being the reincarnation of Adam. The phrase born of God (John 1:13) may have a similar origin. Humanity is born of Eve if you consider Adam Eve’s son. They together are the mythical ancestors of humanity.

In traditional agricultural societies, the firstborn son was crucial for the inheritance of land and the leadership of the family clan. The Jews were no exception. The theme occurs on numerous occasions in the Hebrew Bible. The story of Jacob and Esau is well-known. King David was God’s firstborn son (Psalm 89:27). The Jewish nation Israel is God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22) while Israel is also God’s Bride (Isaiah 54:5, Hosea 2:7, Joel 1:8). It provided Paul with a theological escape because God married His firstborn son Israel. In a similar vein, Jesus married the Church. And so, Jesus became like God as the Christians became Jesus’ people like the Jews are God’s people.

Jesus as God

That is not as problematic as it may seem. Many Jews believe that there are two powers in heaven.1 In Genesis, God speaks in the plural, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’ It reflects the polytheist past of the Jews, in which they believed that the gods created the universe. If we live in a simulation created by an advanced humanoid civilisation to entertain one of its members, it makes perfect monotheist sense too. The beings of this civilisation are the gods, and the owner of this universe is God. The Jews did not see it this way, so this phrase fuelled speculation about a godlike sidekick working alongside God.

In the Hebrew Bible, God appeared from time to time. For instance, some people saw God sitting on a throne (Exodus 24:9-10) while no one has ever seen God and lived (Exodus 33:20). Others saw the Angel of the Lord, who is also God, and survived. Abraham and Hagar are among those who have seen the Angel, and the Hebrew Bible then tells us that they have seen God. Hence, the Angel of the Lord is God but not God himself. Otherwise, they would not have survived.1 And so there must be two gods, an invisible all-powerful Creator and his visible godlike sidekick. From this perspective, Jesus could be the Angel of the Lord and the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).

The road to Trinity

In the first century AD, Jewish scholars like Paul were influenced by Greek philosophy. Plato claimed that ideas are the basis of knowledge and that ideas, not objects, are the building blocks of reality. In Platonic thinking, the world of ideas is superior. God is pure spirit, the most superior being. Platonists think that spirit can use words to produce matter. Platonic reasoning agreed with Judaism as God created all things using words. To create things, you need words. And so, words must have existed before creation.

The Jewish philosopher Philo lived at the same time as Jesus. He asserted that the Word is the highest of all beings, the image of God, according to which and by which the universe is ordered. Philo called the Word the second god. The Word is thus God’s sidekick. The Gospel of John starts in a similar fashion: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Here, the Word had become Jesus.

In Proverbs, Wisdom speaks and says that she was the first thing God created. And then God created everything else with the help of Wisdom alongside Him (Proverbs 8:22-25). She is a reflection of the eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of His goodness (Wisdom 7:25-26). Wisdom is female because the Greek word for wisdom is female. Wisdom was present when God made the world and is beside God on his throne (Wisdom 9:9-10).1 And so, there are two contenders for being God’s sidekick, the Word and Wisdom. Or perhaps, there are two sidekicks. If the Word has become Jesus then Wisdom could have become the Holy Spirit, so that we arrive at the Trinity.

Virgin birth

Eve may have given birth to Adam. What to do with this? It contradicts the Jewish scriptures. And the scriptures are sacred. So, why not claim that Jesus was born from a virgin instead? After all, Jesus was Adam, and Eve was a virgin when she gave birth to Adam. And God’s name was Mary like Jesus’ mother while God was also Jesus’ Mother. That may have been very convenient indeed. And so, Jesus may have become born from the Virgin Mary instead. Early Christians may have understood Jesus’ virgin birth as code for Eve being the Mother of Adam.

Christians made up the birth story. Virgin births are not a theme in Judaism. It does not appear in the Jewish scriptures, so Christians may have had a pressing reason to introduce the idea. Isaiah wrote that a young woman will give birth to a son as a sign that God will destroy Judah’s enemies (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah addressed king Ahaz in the eighth century BC and did not think of Jesus, who was to come seven centuries later.

In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible available in the first century AD, ‘young woman’ was translated as ‘virgin’. The author of the Gospel of Matthew came to see it as a prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth, which by then may have been a circulating story. In this respect, it is remarkable that the Quran claims that God has no son and consistently calls Jesus Son of Mary and not Son of God, thus implying that Jesus had no father. It could be code for God having been Mary.

Logical issues leading to arcane theology

Christianity began as a Jewish sect, so Christians came to found their religion in the Jewish scriptures. The basis for the claims of Christianity in the Jewish scriptures is problematic. The observed facts may have contradicted the scriptures, for instance, God being a woman who can take a human form. The efforts to resolve these logical difficulties helped turn Jesus into God. It should not surprise us that early Christians disagreed on this issue and that most Jews did not buy into it.

If Jesus had preached in Egypt and had claimed that his wife was the goddess Isis, the all-powerful Creator of the universe and that he was the reincarnation of her son Horus, there may still be records of his teachings. Egypt was a polytheist nation that could have adopted another cult alongside the existing ones.

The Jews were monotheists with established scriptures. It also made Christianity uncompromisingly monotheistic so that converts had to renounce all other gods. That allowed Christianity to wipe out all the other religions in the Roman Empire. And if this universe comes with an all-powerful owner, that may have been the plan all along.

Latest revision: 13 June 2022

Featured image: Christ Pantocrator in Hagia Sophia. Svklimkin (2019). Wikimedia Commons.

1. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.

The religion Paul invented

Paul’s reasoning

Paul of Tarsus invented Christianity. Paul was a Pharisee who devoutly observed the Jewish religious laws. Christianity began as one of the small Jewish sects founded by an end-time prophet who claimed to be the messiah. Many Jews awaited a messiah, but they expected a strong leader who was to liberate the Jewish nation from Roman occupation. Jesus did not live up to their hopes and was crucified. Paul was at first a fervent persecutor of the followers of Jesus, but then he received a vision. According to his own words, Jesus appeared to him. It was a turning point in his life and an event that shaped the future of humankind. In his book The Triumph of Christianity, Bart Ehrman tries to reconstruct Paul’s reasoning, which is the foundation of Christian thinking.

His vision proved to Paul that Jesus was still alive as his followers claimed. Jesus had died by crucifixion, so he was resurrected, Paul reasoned. And therefore, he must be the long-awaited messiah. Following this rationale, Paul ran into theological problems. Jesus had been executed after being humiliated in public. So, why did Jesus have to die? Then Paul came up with an answer. In many religions, including Judaism, people sacrifice animals to please the gods. These animals do not die for their own transgressions but to cover for the sins of others.1 And so, Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb of God.

Paul did not invent that Jesus died for our sins. Christians probably believed that already when Paul joined the Christian movement. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes, ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Simon Peter and then to the twelve apostles.’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) These were the things passed on to him, possibly as a creed.2 As Paul joined the Christian movement very early on, only a few years remain between the crucifixion and the establishment of this belief, so this may be as close as we can get to early post-resurrection Christianity.

And it must have been God’s plan all along to save Her His people in this way, Paul reasoned further, so observing Jewish religious laws is not critical for your salvation, nor do you have to be a Jew. That Jewish religious law is irrelevant is a revolutionary thought for a Pharisee. Prophecies in the Hebrew Bible foretell that all peoples in the world will accept the God of the Jews. To Paul, Jesus was the fulfilment of these prophecies. Rejecting all false gods and having faith in Jesus should be enough. Paul believed himself to be God’s missionary to spread the good news as this was also prophesied.1 Paul was a Jewish scholar who knew the Jewish scriptures, while most other Apostles lacked such education. And so, he could shape the theology of the early Church.

Spreading the good news

Paul dedicated his life to spreading the good news that faith in Jesus can save everyone. During his many travels, he founded Christian communities. His mission was not easy. His message caused upheaval, and the Jews often expelled him from their synagogues. But he was determined, and he worked hard. Paul’s universal gospel of personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ that is open to everyone seemed to have caught on. But the stories about the miracles Christians performed were probably a far more important reason for people to convert to Christianity.

One example was the healing of a lame man when Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra. After Paul had healed the man, the Lycaonians concluded that the gods must have come down to them in human form. The priest of Zeus brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. Paul and Barnabas explained that they were only human and brought the good news that the God of the Jews, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them, had suddenly decided that all nations should no longer go their own way. And the proof is that the Jewish God has shown kindness by giving us rain from heaven and crops in their seasons and filling our hearts with joy (Acts 14:8-18). That argument is unconvincing, so it must have been the miracle of the healing that made people believe it.

Paul’s message generated upheaval in the city of Ephesus. Demetrius, who made silver shrines of the goddess Artemis and brought in a lot of business for the local craftsmen, realised the consequences of Paul’s good tidings. He called the craftsmen together and the workers in related trades and said, ‘You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and that the goddess herself will be robbed of her divine majesty.’ When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar (Acts 19:23-29). The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia, and brought them to an assembly in a theatre.

A city clerk managed to quiet the crowd in the theatre. He said, ‘Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of Artemis and of her image which fell from heaven? Since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case, we would not be able to account for this commotion since there is no reason for it.’ After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly (Acts 19:35-41). More of such upheavals and riots were to come in the following centuries.

Contending versions of Christianity

During the first centuries, there were several contending versions of Christianity. It points at contentious issues suggesting that early Christian beliefs differ from Christianity today. The most well-known are the Nazarenes, the Marcionists, the Ebionites, and the Arians. The Nazarenes continued to observe the Jewish religious laws. Jesus probably did not intend to abolish them. The Marcionists preached that the benevolent God of the Gospel who sent Jesus Christ into the world as the saviour is the true Supreme Being opposed to the evil creator God of the Old Testament. Indeed, the owner of the universe may not be the deity the Jews imagined. The Ebionites did not believe that Jesus was divine, nor did they think that he was born from a virgin. That probably is true. And Arians claimed that Jesus Christ, even though he was the Son of God, did not exist before Creation.

For centuries, Christianity was in a state of flux. That began to change once Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. He oversaw the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the first effort to attain consensus about the Christian doctrine. Constantine had invited all the bishops in the Roman Empire. More efforts to establish an official dogma and a canon of scriptures followed. The Roman state promoted the official teachings so that the other strains of Christianity faded into obscurity.

The four Gospels of the New Testament probably were written between 70 and 95 AD, more than forty years after Jesus preached. The Apostles Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John most likely never wrote them. Scholars believe Mark, Luke, and Matthew are collections of circulating stories. And storytelling is inaccurate if there are no writings. Many of the letters in the New Testament have unknown authors, even though the letters claim otherwise. And we do not have the original texts of the New Testament. There are only copies made centuries later. Scholars have used these copies to reconstruct the original texts as much as possible.

Eliminating Paul’s perspective

Paul became a follower of Jesus early on. He came to know Jesus’ disciples, who were first-hand witnesses of the events that had taken place. Paul probably would not have dared to deviate too much from what he believed was the truth. He had been a devout Pharisee and was a knowledgable scholar of the Jewish scriptures, so it is not far-fetched to presume that Paul intended to bring his own epiphany and the beliefs of Jesus’ followers in line with the Jewish religion and scriptures.

Paul may have had help, but it is fair to say that he invented Christianity. He may have obfuscated what he thought to be the most troubling elements of the new religion so that we may find only traces of them in the writings of the church fathers and the Gospels. Only his perspective may stand between us and the original teachings of Christianity. And removing his interpretation may bring us closer to the truth.

Latest revision: 23 April 2022

Featured image: Head of St. Paul. Mosaic in the Archbishop’s Chapel, Ravenna, 5th century AD (public domain)

1. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Bart D. Ehrman (2018).
2. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.

Building a nation with religion

The Israelites started as a tribe in Canaan, much like other tribes living there. For a long time, the area was under Egyptian control. That changed after 1150 BC. Egypt was beset by droughts, food shortages, civil unrest, corruption, and endless bickering in the court, causing it to retreat from Canaan. Agriculture was the basis of existence, which required territorial defence, hence states. In the resulting power vacuum, several petty kingdoms emerged. Israel and Judah were among them. This situation lasted until new imperial powers emerged on the scene four centuries later.

Map of Israel and Judah
The kingdoms of Canaan

Yahweh was one of the gods and goddesses worshipped in Canaan. The people in the area were polytheists. At first, El was the supreme deity in the Canaanite belief system, and the goddess Asherah was his wife.1 The new small states needed religion to justify their existence. The kings of Judah, and perhaps also Israel, promoted a national religion around Yahweh to solidify their authority. Other kingdoms in the region had adopted national deities too. For instance, Milcom was the deity of Ammon, while Moab had Chemosh to defeat its foes and supply the country with blessings (1 Kings 11:33).

Yahweh thus became the deity of the state religion in Judah and possibly Israel. Several parts of the Hebrew Bible originate from this era. People still worshipped other gods. The Hebrew Bible testifies to tensions between those who held on to other deities alongside Yahweh and those insisting on worshipping Yahweh alone. As Yahweh had become the deity of the Israelites, El became a generic word for god, and Asherah became Yahweh’s wife. Records of Jews living in Egypt testify of this.

As time passed by, new empires arrived on the scene. Israel was overrun in 720 BC by the Assyrians. The Babylonians conquered Judah in 597 BC after taking over the Assyrian Empire. The Babylonians destroyed the country and deported many of its inhabitants while others fled to Egypt. The Jewish communities in Egypt, Babylon, and Judah became dispersed. The authors of the Hebrew Bible responded to the situation by reconnecting them and showing that they share a common heritage. They belonged to a larger group, a nation or tribe, a family with common ancestors. The Hebrew Bible thus became a compilation of existing tales from these communities and the royal archives of Judah.2

After the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire, Emperor Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to Israel. He commissioned the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. Those still living in the area opposed this plan, and a political struggle unfolded. After seven decades, Ezra and Nehemiah finally succeeded in rebuilding the temple. At the time, Jewish society was on the brink of being wiped out. Israel and Judah did no longer exist. The remaining Jews were mixing with the surrounding population. Jewish leaders had to find a way to keep their people together. The editors of the Hebrew Bible aimed to preserve Jewish identity around a common religion, history and cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, Judaism gradually became monotheist under the influence of Zoroastrianism. The prophet Zoroaster believed in a good creator, an opposing evil power. The Jews probably were henotheists at first. They believed in other gods but worshipped Yahweh. It is expressed, for example, in the commandment that ‘you shall have no other gods before me’ rather than ‘you shall believe there is only one God.’ Most of the Hebrew Bible still has a henotheist perspective. Zoroastrianism was widespread in the Middle East. It shaped Judaism by bringing monotheism, messiahs, free will, heaven, hell, and Satan. Zoroastrianism not only affected Judaism. Some of the Greek philosophers around 400 BC were also monotheists.

The Hebrew Bible emerged under the reign of five successive empires: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Hellenistic Rulers, and the Roman Empire. Little evidence supports the historical account in the Hebrew Bible about the time before the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. There may have been a united kingdom under the reign of David and Solomon, but it could be a fiction invented to promote unity. It made the inhabitants in the area all descend from one great nation. Before that, history becomes murky. No written records exist from these times. The tales about Abraham, Isaac, and Moses may have been legends from different communities merged into a single narrative to promote a single Jewish nation.3

The survival of the Jewish people has been hanging by a thread for a long time. After more than 2,500 years, the Jews are still around, so their nation-building project proved a successful long-term survival strategy. They even managed to reclaim their original homeland. It is also remarkable that Judaism stood at the cradle of Christianity and Islam. The Jews have played a central role in world history. It is an impressive feat considering their numbers. And so, the Jews may be God’s chosen people after all.

Latest revision: 29 March 2022

Featured image: Torah scroll (public domain)

1. “El the God of Israel-Israel the People of YHWH: On the Origins of Ancient Israelite Yahwism”. In Becking, Bob; Dijkstra, Meindert; Korpel, Marjo C.A.; et al. Only One God?: Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah. Dijkstra, Meindert (2001).
2. The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. Wright, Jacob L. (2014). Coursera.