Virgin Mary

The veneration of the Virgin Mary probably existed in early Christianity. In Christian theology, she is the New Eve. God announced that there would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Christians read this as a prophecy predicting the coming of Jesus as the seed of the woman could represent the virgin birth of Jesus. The church fathers may have invented the virgin birth story of Jesus to replace the birth of Adam from Eve. Later developments turned the Virgin Mary into a surrogate mother goddess.

Isis with Horus
Isis with Horus. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Church recognised the Virgin Mary as ‘Mother of God.’ Christians made statues and icons of the Virgin with the child Jesus similar to those of the Egyptian mother goddess Isis with her child Horus. And so, the Mother Goddess Mary, eliminated from the Gospels, may have re-entered the Church via a back door. As Christians prayed to the Virgin, she became a proxy for God.

Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon
Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon.

The Protestant Reformation aims at returning to the scriptural roots of Christianity. And so, Protestants do not venerate the Virgin Mary. For Protestants, the scriptures are the only source. In this way, they may have lost the essence of Christianity. The Mary-with-child imagery could refer to Jesus as the Son of God the Mother. The Virgin Mary appeared more often than Jesus, and she performed more miracles than the other saints. Many Roman Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary rather than God or Jesus.

The Quran dedicates chapter 19 to her. Some Muslims indulge in arcane numerological explanations as to why the number 19 is special because the Quran refers to this number in the chapter named Hidden Secret. And so, the Quran may hold a hidden secret related to this number. Perhaps, the Virgin Mary plays a central role in the greater scheme.

The star and crescent became the symbol of Islam. This symbol has a long history predating Islam as it was associated with a Moon goddess. In the Bible, the Moon refers to the woman and the star to the child (Genesis 37:9). Hence, the Islamic symbol may represent the Madonna with the child Jesus or the relationship between Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and Muhammad. She was fifteen years older, so She could have been his mother.

The St. Mary of Zion Church in Ethiopia is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant. Legend has it that the Ark came to Ethiopia with King Menelik after he visited his father, King Solomon. The Ark of the Covenant symbolises Mary of Zion. The Ark is supposed to be the residence of Yahweh, the God of Israel, but apparently, Her name is Mary.1

Featured image: Madonna and Child, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Public Domain.

Other images: Isis with Horus. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain; Saint Mary Bolnichka Icon. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

1. Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Wikipedia.

The last Adam

Adam is called the Son of God (Luke 3:38), and Jesus is named the Firstborn of all Creation (Colossians 1:15). An obvious question to ask is, was Jesus Adam? The usual interpretation of Jesus being the Firstborn of All Creation is that Jesus already existed with God, even before Creation, and therefore, he was not Adam. The words Firstborn of All Creation suggest that there may be more to it. Jesus could be Adam, and Adam may have been born. A fuller explanation requires an investigation into Jewish and Christian theology, which is the topic of a separate post:

How Jesus became God

An investigation into how Christians turned Jesus in to God.

Paul compared Jesus to Adam. In Romans, he writes, ‘Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:19) And in 1 Corinthians, he says, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.’ Jesus became the redeemer for Adam’s transgressions. An obvious question is what could have motivated Jesus to sacrifice himself for Adam’s mistakes? His actions are better understood if he believed himself to be Adam. That may be why Paul called Jesus the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Christianity teaches that Jesus existed before Creation, but that may not be what early Christians believed. The likeness of Jesus to Adam in Paul’s early letters may point to an earlier doctrine still prevalent around 55 AD, which could be that Jesus was Adam.

The Quran strengthens the idea that Jesus could be Adam. Jesus was like Adam in the way he was created (Quran 3:59). More importantly, several Quran verses state that God ordered the angels to prostrate before Adam (Quran 2:34, 7:11, 15:28-29, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116, 38:71-74). It is remarkable because angels are higher beings than humans. Satan refused because he did not want to bow for a creature made from dust. The Quran stresses it several times so that it could be significant. As Christians believe that Jesus is the Lord who will command humankind, this suggests that Jesus could be Adam. The Quran also claims that Jesus will return (Quran 43:61).

Latest revision: 23 April 2022

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).

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.

Jesus and Minas Coptic icon dating from 6th or 7th century

From Jesus to Christianity

Understanding Jesus of Nazareth and early Christianity requires knowing the time and place in which Jesus lived and the ideas that were prevalent in his era. Perhaps, that is not enough. Jesus may have thought that he had eternal life and a bond with God from the beginning of creation until the end of times. Therefore, Christians expect him to return. Remarkably, Muhammad and the Jewish prophets did not view themselves in this way.

Jesus started a religion that has 2.2 billion followers today. Another 1.8 billion Muslims expect his return. It is an enigma. Apart from a historical account, a plausible explanation for Jesus’ beliefs may help us to understand him.

The earliest extant sources of Christianity date from decades after Jesus died. Christians first depended on oral traditions and used writings that no longer exist. Oral recounting is notoriously inaccurate, and there is evidence of redactions in the New Testament. And so, scholars agree on very little about Jesus of Nazareth, except that he existed and preached around 26 AD. The search for the historical Jesus has gone a long way.

Around 1760 AD, the German scholar Hermann Samuel Reimarus realised that there is a difference between what Jesus did and preached and what his followers came to believe about him. Reimarus began to investigate the historical Jesus or what Jesus thought and did. He claimed that Jesus lived in the context of first-century Judaism and that he was a typical Jewish apocalyptic prophet of his time.1

Reimarus was a Deist. Deists believe in a Creator and claim that religion requires a rational foundation. Revelation does not come with evidence, so it can never be credible to everyone. For instance, if someone claims to have seen an angel who told him that he is a prophet, then without evidence, he may only convert a few people. People usually are not so easily convinced. And, God created the laws of nature, so God does not need the supernatural to achieve His goals.

Of the accounts of Jesus’ life, much is doubtful. For instance, he probably was not born of a virgin. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke mention the virgin birth, but the accounts differ. And scholars doubt that Jesus was raised from the dead. To Paul, the resurrection was a belief passed on to him. And he does not corroborate the Gospels on this matter. He lists the people who saw the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) but does not mention any women, the empty tomb, or Joseph of Arimathea. If the accounts diverge so widely, it may be impossible to establish what happened.

So, who was Jesus? When he lived, the apocalypse was in the air. The apocalyptic worldview holds that the end is near, and God will send a messiah to punish the wicked and reward the faithful. Zoroastrianism appears to be the origin of these beliefs. This religion affected Judaism and the Greek and Persian worlds. This shaped Jesus’ thoughts. The end times, the arrival of a messiah, and a final reckoning still define Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinking. Jesus probably believed that he was the long-awaited messiah and many people saw him as the future king of Israel (Mark 11:8-10, John 12:12-14). And Jesus may have seen himself in this way too.

Christians believe that Jesus’ kingdom is in heaven and that Jesus never aspired to become a worldly king (John 6:14-15). Meanwhile, the Gospels tell that the Romans crucified him for claiming to be king of the Jews (John 19:19). In the Jewish tradition, there is no such thing as a heavenly king who is not interested in political power. A king governs his people and fights their battles (1 Samuel 8:19-22, Isaiah 11:1-9). He uses his power to subdue rebellions (Psalm 2:9, Genesis 49:10, Numbers 24:8, 1 Samuel 2:10). Crucial in understanding this difference is that Christianity developed, and the gospels were written after the crucifixion when it became clear that Christ did not rule this world. On the other hand, the resurrection made people believe that he had great power in an unseen realm. And so, Christians came to see him as a heavenly ruler.

Jesus and his followers believed that the end was near, perhaps a few years away, but not more than that. And that was 2,000 years ago. Christian sects still proclaim the end of the world from time to time and even set dates. But Jesus did not know God’s plan. He said that only God knows the hour (Mark 13:32). Jesus thought that he was going to save the people of Israel. He did not care much about gentiles. Only tokens of strong faith made him consider their pleas. And Jesus may have had only a few dozen followers, or perhaps a few hundred. That may be why contemporary sources do not mention him.

Jesus did not intend to abolish Jewish law (Matthew 5:17-18), but he preferred substance over adhering to procedure. He was critical of the Pharisees and their obsession with ritual. Jesus was remarkably respectful of women as Jewish culture in the first century AD was patriarchal. Jewish writers in Jesus’ time, for instance, Philo, taught that women should never leave home except to go to the synagogue.

The Gospels of the New Testament more often mention women compared to other texts of the same era. Of all the founders of religions and religious sects, Jesus may have been the only one who did not discriminate against women. Jesus spoke to women in public (Luke 7:11-17), and he was compassionate for them and respected their dignity, even when they were sinners (Luke 7:36-50, John 8:3-11). At this point, Jesus ignored traditional Jewish law. His views on marriage were even more unusual. But why?

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.

Read More

Latest revision: 30 July 2022

Featured image: Jesus and Minas Coptic icon dating from the 6th or 7th century. Clio20 (Anonymous). Wikimedia Commons.

1. Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith. J.R. Porter (1999). Duncan Baird Publishers
2. Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women. Franciscan Media. [link]