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

From Jesus to Christianity

An enigma

Understanding Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity requires understanding the time and place in which Jesus lived and Christianity emerged. But that may not be enough. Christianity is more enigmatic than Judaism and Islam. Jesus may have believed he was the Son of God and that he had eternal life. Muhammad and the Jewish prophets did not view themselves in this way. This universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced humanoid civilisation. Therefore, we might exist for entertainment an it may not be an accident that the religions of the God of Abraham came to dominate the planet.

Jesus seemed to have believed that he had a special relationship with God that no other prophet ever had. He may have thought that he had eternal life and a bond with God from the beginning of Creation until the End Of Times. Jesus may have had his reasons for these remarkable beliefs for 2,000 years later he turned out to be the founder of a religion with 2.2 billion followers. Also 1.8 billion Muslims believe he will return. It is an enigma that remains to be explained, unless you assume that Jesus was delusional and that the spread of Christianity and Islam were just historical accidents.

Apart from an historical account, a plausible explanation for Jesus’ beliefs may be needed to understand Jesus as well as the spread of Christianity and Islam. The earliest extant sources of Christianity were written decades after the alleged death of Jesus. Early Christians depended on oral traditions and writings that do 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 really existed and preached for a few years around 25 AD.

In search of the Jesus of history

The German scholar Hermann Samuel Reimarus realised there is a difference between what Jesus did and preached and what his followers came to believe about him. Around 1760 AD Reimarus was the first to investigate the historical Jesus. He claimed that Jesus could only be understood in the context of first-century Judaism and that Jesus was a typical Jewish apocalyptic prophet of his time.1 For instance, in Matthew Jesus claimed that he didn’t come to abolish the Jewish laws or the prophets:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.2

This statement from Jesus clearly differs from the teachings of Christianity. There are several other discrepancies. This raised questions for scholars to work on in the centuries that followed. They were in search of the historical Jesus and tried to deal with questions like who was Jesus and how can his teachings and the beliefs of early Christians be explained in the context of first-century Judaism?

Reimarus was influenced by the Deists who believed there is a Creator and that there should be a rational explanation for religion. The Creator has defined the laws of nature and therefore has no need for the supernatural. The Deists also claimed that the universal religion of the future should emerge from rational explanation rather than revelation. Revelation is without evidence and can never be credible to everyone.

Jesus and the early Christians were influenced by Jewish traditions like the Pharisees and the Sadducees but also by Greek culture and philosophy. Other religions already had concepts like virgin birth and sons of god. Scholars nowadays surmise that Christianity took over those concepts but it remains an mystery why Jesus seemed to have believed that he was God’s immortal son and why he was called the Bridegroom.

It also remains a mystery why Jesus was so respectful of women. Jewish culture in the first century was decidedly patriarchal. Some Jewish writers of Jesus’ time, such as Philo, taught that women should never leave the home except to go to the synagogue.3 Jesus spoke to women in public.4 He was also compassionate for women and respected their dignity, even when they were sinful.5 In doing so Jesus ignored traditional Jewish law. Plausible explanations for his conduct have yet to be found.

The missing link

The missing link in the research of the scholars is God. Science doesn’t assume anything about God and for good reason. But if this universe is created by an advanced humanoid civilisation for entertainment then leaving God out of the picture would be a serious flaw while researching the origin of religions. Perhaps God is a real person from this advanced civilisation who can use avatars to appear like an ordinary human to us.

Including God in the explanation can solve a few mysteries. Mary Magdalene may have been an avatar of God. She may have made Jesus believe that she was the reincarnation of Eve and he was the reincarnation of Adam. She may have told Jesus that Eve was not made out of Adam’s rib but that Adam was born as the first son of Eve. Jesus was son of God because Adam was and because he was Adam’s reincarnation. In this way Eve is Mother of all the living and Christians are born of God.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene has become a bit of a cult figure as there is a lot of mystery surrounding her. She may have been the most important person in Jesus’ life.

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This is an explanation that doesn’t require revelation. The technology to make virtual realities and the romantic desires of women in combination with the available evidence in the scriptures can make it appear plausible. There is evidence suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, even though it is never explicitly stated that he was.

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.

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The prophet Muhammad married his boss Khadijah. He remained her loyal servant, and perhaps in more than one way. Like Jesus, Muhammad may have been married to God.

Khadijah, mother of the believers

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was a wealthy merchant and Muhammad’s employer. Muhammad was twenty-five and Khadijah was forty when she proposed to him. Their marriage was both happy and monogamous.

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According to the Jewish scriptures God ordered Abraham to grant the wishes of his wife Sarah. Hence, Sarah may have been an avatar of God. Even though historical evidence for their existence is lacking, several Jewish prophets may have been married to God.

Sarah, mother of the Jews

The will of God coincided with the wishes of Sarah several times. God summoned Hagar to return to her mistress Sarah and God told Abraham to send Hagar away when Sarah wanted this.

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Paul’s role

Paul of Tarsus turned Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect into a religion with a universal appeal. He modified Christianity so that it was not only meant for the Jews, but for everyone. Theological foundation may have been that Eve is the Mother of everyone. To that aim Paul made several compromises, for instance that gentiles didn’t have to follow all the rules of the Jewish religion. Paul also was a Roman citizen and could travel freely throughout the Roman Empire. This allowed Christianity to spread but it made Paul a controversial figure with Jewish Christians. Over time the gentile Christians began to outnumber the Jews so that Paul’s views won out.

Paul and his followers may have tried to resolve the conflicts between existing fractions of Christians with a unifying theology. On the one hand they brought Christianity more in line with the Jewish theology by making God male and invisible. This might have prompted him to make Jesus the Bridegroom of the Church instead of the Bridegroom of God. By referring to the Jewish concept of God being married to Israel, and replacing Israel by the Church, Jesus may have become deified in this new theology. Jesus being married to God may also explain why Christians believe that God is love.

God is love

There is an explanation why Christians believe that God is love. Only, there may be something very troubling about this love.

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Paul may have turned Jesus into a god who sacrificed himself for his bride who in a sense was also his mother as he was believed to be the reincarnation of Adam and Mary Magdalene was believed to be the reincarnation of the Mother Goddess Eve.

Mother Goddess Eve

According to the Bible Eve was called ‘mother of all the living’ by Adam before they had any children. It is also odd that Eve was made out of the rib of Adam. Eve may have ben a Mother Goddess and Adam may have been Her son.

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Paul came from Tarsus where the mother goddess Cybele was worshipped. Her husband was also her son, a shepherd named Attis. Attis castrated himself as a sacrifice to her. Attis’ self-mutilation, death and resurrection represent the fruits of the earth which die in winter only to rise again in the spring. The parallels between Attis and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, may have inspired Paul to apply an Attis-like imagery to Jesus.

At the time the gospels were written most first-hand witnesses were gone and different stories were circulating. It may therefore have been possible for the Church Fathers to destroy or modify texts that didn’t fit in the new narrative. The Gospels do not suggest that the Bride Of Christ was the Church. It may not have been Paul who brought his up. Ephesians, the letter in which this idea is introduced, appears to have been written a decade after Paul’s death by one of his followers. The modifications in the gospels were probably done in several stages over several decades.

Gospel of John

The Gospel of John differs from the other gospels. For instance, it contains the phrase ‘born of God’, suggesting that God could be a Mother. Is is also the gospel in which Jesus calls his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense if the word ‘mother’ was reserved for God. This gospel also contains a few references to a Beloved Disciple. And the gospel suggests that there had been rumours that the Beloved Disciple was immortal.

Born of God

The phrase ‘born of God’ can be found in the Gospels and the letters of the Church Fathers. It is now believed to have a spiritual meaning but the origin may have been quite different. The God of Christianity could be a woman.

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The Gospel of John is believed to have been written around 100 AD but it contains some historical accuracies not found in the other gospels that contradict this late date. Therefore this gospel might have been based on an earlier source written by a first-hand witness.1 Scholars believe the Gospel of John has been redacted three times.

Perhaps the role of Mary Magdalene has been changed from God into the Beloved Disciple in the first redaction. In a subsequent redaction the evidence of Mary Magdalene being the Beloved Disciple may have been removed. And a third redaction may have been needed to tie up some loose ends. The Gospel of John may have been part of an early distinct tradition in Christianity in which God was a Mother.

Featured image: Jesus and Minas Coptic icon dating from 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. Matthew 5:17-18 [link]
3. Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women. Franciscan Media. [link]
4. Luke 7:11-17 [link]
5. Luke 7:36-50 [link], John 8:3-11 [link]

Happiness

The point of technological development and social change

What’s the point of technological development and social change? What’s the point of agriculture, cities, writing, money, empires, science, industry, human rights and democracy? This universe doesn’t exist to please us. The same is true for technological advances and social changes. These things don’t happen to make us happier. For instance, humans switched to agriculture because agriculture could feed more people so farmers soon outnumbered hunter-gatherers, even though farmers were more miserable.1 Private property, individual rights and independent courts emerged because countries that had them did better economically and came to dominate the planet.

Technological advances happen because investors expect to profit from new technologies or because governments see some use of it. And so scientists fetch budgets for their research and get busy. Efficiency considerations do the rest. More efficient designs win out. This is for instance the reason why Natural Money may be the money of the future. Making people happier may be a side-effect of Natural Money but economic efficiency is the reason why it may become the money of the future.

Social reforms may make people happier, but it is a lot harder than you might think. For example, equal rights for women and minorities, and many other social justice issues have a long history, and are yet to be fully resolved. It is difficult to alter views and attitudes from the majority as well as the minorities as cultural differences are an underlying cause of these issues. Trying to resolve them can lead to social conflict.

Social reforms don’t necessarily make people happier. If there is a social norm, for example of the man being the head of the family, then women may be happy with this arrangement. Introducing feminist ideas can produce tensions and women may not always become happier as a consequence, let alone men. Perhaps propaganda can help. If people are taught that women and men should have equal rights, people can be happier with such an arrangement.

So what makes people happy? It is an important question. There are several issues that seem to have an effect on our sense of happiness:

  • chemical processes in the body
  • human needs
  • money
  • expectations
  • desires
  • having a sense of purpose
  • social and political environment

Chemical processes in the body

Some people are always happy despite adversity and poor living conditions. Some people are always angry even when they prosper and have no serious problems. That has something to do with chemical processes in the body. But if happiness is about chemical processes in the body then making people happy is about inventing the right pills and distributing them. Indeed pills can help to end a depression. Many people believe that pills give a false sense of happiness, but more and more people take pills to feel better.

maslovpiramid
Maslov’s hierarchy of human needs

Hierarchy of human needs

Abraham Maslow came up with a hierarchy of human needs. He thought that basic needs such as food and shelter are paramount. If these needs are fulfilled then people become interested in security. Maslow thought that if you don’t have food, security becomes of secondary importance, and if you have food and security, love and attention become more important. And if you have all that, it becomes more important to be respected and have a sense of purpose in your life. And even though the hierarchy is contested, the needs Maslow identified aren’t questioned.

Money

Does money make you happier? A lot of research has gone into this question. The results aren’t surprising. If you are poor then more money will probably make you happier. Poor people often worry about making ends meet. As soon as you can buy the things you need and have no financial worries, the picture becomes confusing. In that case more money can make you happier, but only if you spend it right. What is right is a personal consideration. So if you have the money, you should go on that vacation or go to that concert, but only if that is what you really want to do.

Expectations

Expectations can be important. If you expect to get a small car, and you get a medium sized car instead, your expectations are exceeded. That can make you happy for a while. But if you expected to get a big car, and you get the same medium sized car, your expectations are not met. And that can make you sad for a while. In both cases it is the same car. If you expected less, you are happy with the car, but if you expected more, the same car makes you feel bad. People tend to adapt to a new situation so after a while the happiness or the sadness from missed expectations is gone.

Similarly, if you are better off than others, it can give you satisfaction. Alternatively, if you are worse off than your peers, it can displease you. Happiness can depend on the people you compare yourself to. The attention given to celebrities, their riches, and their beautiful husbands and wives can give you the unpleasant feeling that you have to keep up with them. This can make you go to the gym or the plastic surgeon and buy things you can’t afford and turn down potential spouses that don’t look so great. The advertisement industry aims to make us unhappy so that we will buy more stuff. It can also explain why people in more equal societies are happier on average.

buddha
Rock cut seated Buddha statue, Andhra Pradesh, India

Craving

Gautama Buddha also weighed in on the issue. He was the founder of Buddhism. You may have seen a statue or a picture of him because he has become quite popular in recent decades. Buddha taught that people are always craving for temporary feelings and things. This craving causes a permanent state of dissatisfaction. As soon as you have achieved a desired feeling, for example love, or acquired a desired object, for example a car, you will start to crave for something else. That probably sounds very familiar.

Buddha also taught that this craving will tie us up in this world so that our souls will continue to reincarnate and suffer from craving. Only when we stop craving for temporary feelings and things and disengage ourselves from this world, we can disappear into nothingness, which is a state of eternal peace. This is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.  This type of happiness is a tranquillity caused by detachment from mundane affairs that may come close to not caring.

Meaning

Last but not least, if you think that your life has meaning, that can make you happy. Religious people may be happier than atheists because they may believe that they play a role in the great cosmic scheme of God while atheists may believe that their life has no purpose. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman came up with a similar conclusion. He researched a group of women and interviewed them about their daily activities, and which activities gave them pleasure. He also asked the women what made them happy.

It turned out that caring for their children were amongst the activities that gave them the least pleasure. But when he asked these women what made them the most happy they answered that their children made them the most happy. Perhaps the children gave meaning to their lives. Perhaps these women were just deluding themselves like religious people. Similarly, if you think that your job is important, that may give meaning to your life, but that can be a delusion too. If you didn’t do your job, someone else probably would. Delusions can make us happy so it may not be irrational to have them.

Social and political reforms can be worthwhile

If we contemplate social reforms we might need to ask ourselves: “Will they make us happier?” Perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from political and social institutions in this respect. That doesn’t mean improvements aren’t worthwhile. If they aren’t then it doesn’t matter where you live. So why do so many immigrants come to Europe or to the United States? Most immigrants try to escape poverty or flee for oppressive regimes.

Perhaps people in Africa and South America learn about the life in Europe or the United States and become dissatisfied because they are worse off. Whatever their motives might be, it appears that prosperity and social institutions do matter. And that is why it can be a good idea to engage in social and political reforms, and to aim for the highest standards everywhere around the globe.

In ‘advanced’ countries the roles of the state and the market economy have increased at the expense of the family and the community. This may cause alienation and stress as humans have evolved to live in smaller groups, not in the anonymity of the state and the market. Reducing the role of governments and markets may require enlarging the role of communities and families. Life in communities and families wasn’t ideal either so people may not become happier if that is going to happen.

Pictures:
– Rock cut seated Buddha statue, Andhra Pradesh, India CC BY-SA 3.0. Adityamadhav83. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22764139