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. I also have a tale to tell, even though it is not as spectacular as some of the stories you can find elsewhere.

At the final secondary school exams, I had the highest average grade in my class. I was good at every subject. There was one notable exception, explaining literature. It was about guessing the hidden intentions of authors. My scores were consistently poor, probably the poorest of the entire class on average. I considered guessing other people’s motives and decoding hidden messages in texts a waste of time. Authors often marvelled at what literature experts found out about their intentions from the books they had written. And I was not good at it. With the exams nearing, I began to fret. I asked my teacher to give me some additional practise exams. A teacher could only dream of such a fanatic pupil, so he was helpful, but the grades remained as poor as before.

Before the final exam, I prayed to God that the grade would not be too bad. My result on the exam turned out to be the best of everyone, only matched by a girl who flaunted her interest in art and literature. My teacher was amazed and suggested that the extra lessons had made a difference. Another girl became curious about this peculiar feat and said to me, ‘You have a mysterious way of winning in the end.’ I was too embarrassed to tell her about the prayer. It was selfish to pray for a higher grade, and I did not need it to pass. Starving people in Africa needed God’s help much more than I did. It could not be that God granted my wish, or could it? I was a Roman Catholic but unwilling to accept religious interpretations when other explanations suffice. When I was doing the test, the questions appeared more concrete than usual, so it was easier for me to answer them. And so, coincidence seemed more likely at the time.

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 had 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 have 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 wish fulfilled does not prove the existence of God. 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).

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.

Sepphoris Mosaic

Sarah, mother of the Jews

Weaving one tale into another

The Hebrew Bible features tales about the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This book tells us that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. But archaeological evidence does not support these stories. The historical Hebrew Bible begins with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. That does not mean that the Bible accurately describes what happened from then on, but many of the names and events mentioned are historical. It also does not mean that the account in the Bible from before that time is entirely fictional. There only is little evidence to substantiate it.

The kingdom of David is in the twilight zone between myth and history. David probably was king, perhaps of Judah alone, and there may be some truth to the account of his reign. Before the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, there probably was tribal leadership. The Book of Judges is about the tribal era preceding the kingdom. So can avatars of God appear in stories that never happened? We may already live inside a fiction, so why not? The story of Hans and Gretl never happened, but we can read it while we may be real ourselves. If you are God and command the scene, you can also write the tales inside it. And indeed, possible avatars of God do appear in the Hebrew Bible.

Hiding it behind human motivations

There is a mundane historical explanation for the existence of the possible avatars of God in the Hebrew Bible that does not require divine interference. Jacob Wright argues that the Jews were too weak to hold on to territory. They had to survive as a minority in the lands of others. Military adventurism could have been fatal. The biblical authors, therefore, may have reinvented the hero. Rather than warriors, biblical heroes were often virtuous people1 and people who had weaknesses.

The biblical authors also refashioned the role of men and women. Men played a significant role in family life. By depicting contributions women made to military victory, the biblical authors undermined the authority of men in war. Women achieved triumph on the battlefield and decided the fate of men.1

For instance, Jacob defrauded Esau of his birthright by deceiving his father, Isaac. Only, it was his mother, Rebecca, who planned it. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. When the Jews started to conquer Canaan, Rahab harboured their spies in her house (Joshua 2). And Esther saved the Jewish people from a plot in the Persian court. The Hebrew Bible does not depict events indicating that Rebecca, Rahab or Esther could be God. The biblical account of Jewish history begins with Sarah and Abraham. And there was something special about Sarah.

Sarah and Abraham

Judaism started with Sarah and Abraham, the Hebrew Bible says. Sarah became pregnant at the age of ninety. God wanted Her to become the mother of the Jews. Jewishness comes with matrilineal family lines, so you are born a Jew when your mother is one. And for that reason, the Jews are not primarily children of Abraham but children of Sarah in the way Christians are children of God.

The will of God coincided with the wishes of Sarah in important family matters. God summoned Hagar to return to her mistress Sarah (Genesis 16:9). And God told Abraham to send Hagar away when Sarah wanted this (Genesis 21:12). The Egyptians were subject to plagues when the Pharaoh tried to make Sarah his wife (Genesis 12:17). King Abimelech received threats from God when he tried to do the same (Genesis 20:3).

Asenath and Joseph

Joseph was a handsome man. When he was Viceroy of Egypt, he married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian high priest. The Hebrew Bible tells us little about Her. There is a story about their marriage dating from the first century BC. Perhaps it is written to explain how Joseph came to marry a pagan priestess. According to this tale, Asenath was proud and despised men, but She became impressed by Joseph’s looks.

Joseph first did not want to marry Her because She bowed before idols and did not worship the God of the Jews. Asenath showed repentance, and an angel from heaven came to Her chamber to bless the marriage. When She told Joseph of the angel, he changed his mind and decided to marry Her. Asenath’s repentance and change of faith appear insincere and the result of Her desire to marry Joseph. Nevertheless, God approved the marriage.

The Quran dedicates an entire chapter of 111 verses to Joseph. It expands on his good looks as well as the desire women had for him. Hence, Joseph may have been important to God, and his appearance was worth mentioning. The highly desired prize ended up in the arms of Asenath so She could have been God.

Zipporah and Moses

Moses’s wife Zipporah saved his life by circumcising him. As the story goes, She knew that God planned to kill Moses because he was not circumcised. She then circumcised him on the spot (Exodus 4:24-26). That must have been a graphic scene. Moses may have been a great prophet because he had a strong woman behind him. Only God knows what God is planning. Zipporah knew what God was about to do, while the tale does not say that She received advance notification of God’s plans.

Bathsheba and David

Bathsheba broke David and his kingdom. She was bathing on a rooftop where he could see Her naked. David ordered Her to come to his palace. She became pregnant after sleeping with him. David then commanded Her husband Uriah to go home, hoping that he would sleep with Her so that the scandal would go unnoticed. Uriah did not comply. David then asked his general to place Uriah on the frontline of the battle so that he would die. After Uriah died, David married Bathsheba. The marriage was a grave sin but God nevertheless loved Bathsheba’s son Solomon who was to become King.

Bathsheba turned out to be a fate changer. The prophet Natan foretold David that his house would be cursed because of his act. David’s eldest son Amnon was murdered by his half brother Absalom after he had raped Absalom’s sister Tamar. Later Absalom was killed after he had declared himself king and raised a revolt against David. That eliminated two potential heirs to the throne. In David’s old age, Bathsheba secured the succession to the throne of Her son Solomon. And so, Bathsheba could have been God.

The name Bathsheba consists of two parts, Bath and Sheba. Bathsheba seduced David by bathing naked where he could see Her while the Queen of Sheba later visited Solomon. Hence, the Queen of Sheba may also have been God. And so, the pun may be intended, even though English is not the original language of the Hebrew Bible.

Deborah, the founder of the Jewish nation

Early Jewish history in the Hebrew Bible probably is mythical, but God may have founded the Jewish nation in person. Deborah was a leader of Israel in the era of the judges. She took part in a battle (Judges 4:8-9), even though it was Jael, the wife of a clan leader, who killed the commander of the opposing army (Judges 4:17-22). According to the Hebrew Bible, She was the fourth judge, but that may not be correct. The oldest part of the Hebrew Bible probably is the Song of Deborah (Judges 5). It may date to as early as the twelfth century BC. It is here where Jewish history probably begins.

The Book of Judges is from a later date and appears wrapped around this song. And so, Deborah may have been a historical figure and the founder of the Jewish nation. She sent for Barak, the commander of the troops, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” (Judges 4:6-7) Deborah commanded Barak so She could have been the God of Israel.

Latest revision: 3 May 2022

Featured image: Sepphoris Mosaic. Pbs.org. [copyright info]

1. Wright, Jacob L. (2014). The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. Coursera.

Lucretia Garfield. Library Of Congres

The identity of God

This universe could be a virtual reality run by an advanced humanoid civilisation to entertain an individual we can call God. God might be like us and use an avatar to appear as an ordinary human in this world. If this is the case, existing religions tell us little about God. On the other hand, it may not be an accident that half the people in the world worship the Jewish deity as the only true God who rules the universe. Hence, avatars of God may have interfered with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It further appears that Jesus knew God personally. In other words, he may have known the avatar of God.

According to the scriptures, Jesus called God ‘Father’. Jesus appears to have had a loving relationship with God. Hence, Christians believe that God is love. In the four canonical Gospels, Jesus is called the bridegroom, but the identity of the Bride is obscure. That could raise questions. The official Christian doctrine is that Jesus married the Church, but the Church did not exist when Jesus lived. And why do the Gospels not mention it? It has the hallmarks of a cover-up.

The Bride of Christ may have been God by the avatar of Mary Magdalene. She may have made Jesus believe that he was Adam reincarnated and that She was Eve reincarnated, that Eve did not come from Adam’s rib but gave birth to Adam, and that they were an eternal couple from the beginning of Creation until the End of Times.

It implies that Jesus is God’s son because Adam was. Jesus may have known that he was married to God. The New Testament states that Adam is the Son of God (Luke 3:38) and that Jesus was the Firstborn of all Creation (Colossians 1:15), which might imply that Jesus was Adam and that Adam was born. It further appears that Muhammad married God by the avatar of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid but did not know it.

Jesus and Muhammad are historical figures. The accuracy of the records of their lives may be questionable because they date from decades after they died, but there is little doubt that they have lived. The account of the early history of the Jews in the Hebrew Bible is mostly mythical. Archaeological evidence does not support it. Nevertheless, the narrative of the Hebrew Bible may support the idea that Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David married God.

The evidence is circumstantial. One cannot expect otherwise if the Abrahamic deity is a veil behind which the owner of this universe has operated so far. Most of this research deals with the relationship between God and Christ, as the earliest Christians may have known that Jesus married God. This relationship, and the Jewish context in which Christianity started, may have led to the complicated theology of Christianity. The Gospel of John could be a heavily redacted insider account, possibly originally coming from one of the disciples. The other Gospels could be collections of circulating stories compiled by people who were no witnesses.

Let us begin on a lighter note. Christians may have performed a sex change on God. So, if nothing happens by accident, consider the song Gimme The Prize by Queen.

The lyric might indicate that the God of the coming kingdom is a Queen:

Here I am, I’m the master of your destiny
I am the one, the only one, I am the God of kingdom come

Queen, Gimme the Prize

That would be a queer joke, and to stress the queerness, Freddy Mercury was at the centre of it. But a religion centred around the love between a Father and His son is a bit queer indeed. It sets the stage for a politically incorrect inquiry into the identity of God.

Latest revision: 5 May 2022

Featured image: Lucretia Garfield (a possible avatar of God)