Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ancient Judaism and Canaanite Religions

There are many names of God or Gods used in tanakh. Orthodox Jews maintain that every name refers to the same God, except those names which are clearly used to refer to idols of other religions. Some of the names, however, are strikingly similar to the names of gods from the polytheistic religions surrounding ancient Israel.

Ugarit was an ancient city in what is now northern Syria, which existed from before 6000 B.C.E. (or approximately 2000 years before the creation of the Universe, if you're a young-Earth creationist) to around 1200 B.C.E. It was rediscovered in 1928:

The excavations uncovered a royal palace of 90 rooms laid out around eight enclosed courtyards, many ambitious private dwellings, including two private libraries (one belonging to a diplomat named Rapanu) that contained diplomatic, legal, economic, administrative, scholastic, literary and religious texts. Crowning the hill where the city was built were two main temples: one to Baal the "king", son of El, and one to Dagon, the chthonic god of fertility and wheat.

On excavation of the site, several deposits of cuneiform clay tablets were found, constituting a palace library, a temple library and -- apparently unique in the world at the time -- two private libraries; all dating from the last phase of Ugarit, around 1200 BC

...

The discovery of the Ugaritic archives has been of great significance to biblical scholarship, as these archives for the first time provided a detailed description of Canaanite religious beliefs during the period directly preceding the Israelite settlement. These texts show significant parallels to Biblical Hebrew literature, particularly in the areas of divine imagery and poetic form. Ugaritic poetry has many elements later found in Hebrew poetry: parallelisms, meters, and rhythms. The discoveries at Ugarit have led to a new appraisal of the Old Testament as literature

...

Ugaritic religion centered on the chief god, Ilu or El, the "father of mankind", "the creator of the creation". The Court of El or Ilu was referred to as the 'lhm. The most important of the great gods was Hadad, the king of Heaven, Athirat or Asherah (familiar to readers of the Bible), Yam (Sea, the god of the primordial chaos, tempests, and mass-destruction) and Mot (Death). Other gods worshipped at Ugarit were Dagon (Grain), Tirosch, Horon, Resheph (Healing), the craftsman Kothar-and-Khasis (Skilled and Clever), Shahar (Dawn), and Shalim (Dusk). Ugaritic texts have provided biblical scholars with a wealth of material on the religion of the Canaanites and its connections with that of the Israelites.


There are some obvious parallels here. The God of tanakh is often referred to as El, recalling the chief God of Canaanite religion. Furthermore, the term Elohim, which is now thought of as merely another name of God, was in Canaanite religion a term for the whole court of El. (Hebrew not having vowels, Elohim in Hebrew is basically the same as 'lhm.) Some of the other Gods mentioned in the Ugaritic texts are also mentioned in the Bible, not as synonymous with the Jewish God, but rather as "other gods," which are now (by Orthodox Jews) thought to mean "idols" or false gods. Asherah is mentioned in 2 Kings 18.8:

He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the grove, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.


Where's Asherah in that verse, you ask? Well, the hebrew word that's translated as "grove" is... Asherah. Which frankly makes a lot more sense when you notice that its parallel to "the high places," "the images," and "the brasen serpent," all sources of idolatry. Some English translations retain "Asherah," such as the New Living Translation. The New King James Version translates it as "sacred pillars."

Asherah is interesting because of her status in Canaanite religion. She is the "consort" of El, and the mother of his 70 sons.

Scholars believe that Asherah was worshipped by many in ancient Israel and Judah, referred to by Jeremiah as "the Queen of Heaven."

Jeremiah 7.18:

The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead [their] dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.


Another interesting Canaanite God is Ba'al, who is mentioned in tanakh. Orthodox Jews understand Ba'al to be a false god -- or several false gods -- quite popular in Jeremiah's time.

Now in tanakh, YWHW is the same God as El. But YHWH may have started out in Canaanite religion as one of the 70 sons of El. The Dead Sea Scrolls fragment of Deutoronomy 32.8-9, which agrees with the Septuagint, reads as follows:

When the Most High ('Elyon) allotted peoples for inheritance,
When He divided up the sons of man,
He fixed the boundaries for peoples,
According to the number of the sons of El
But Yahweh’s portion is his people,
Jacob His own inheritance.


Now the Jewish version reads "sons of Israel" in place of "sons of El," but the first time we see that version is from a manuscript dating 700 years later than the above. "The older reading implicates an original polytheist context at the birth of Judaism. Within this framework, humanity was divided into seventy peoples, each with its own patron god. Yahweh takes Jacob as his, shedding additional light on the textual meaning of the chosen people."

The argument for the original polytheistic context at Judaism's birth is bolstered by the name "Elohim."

"Elohim" has the shape of a plural noun, and indeed is often used that way in tanakh when it's used to refer to "other gods." However, it's often used as a singular noun, as in Genesis 1.1. Many scholars argue that the plural form of "Elohim"

reflects early Judaic polytheism. They argue it originally meant 'the gods', or the 'sons of El,' the supreme being. They claim the word may have been singularized by later monotheist priests who sought to replace worship of the many gods of the Judean pantheon with their own singular patron god YHWH alone.

...

The alternative polytheist theory would seem to explain why there are three words built on the same stem: El, Elohim, and eloah. El, the father god, has many divine sons, who are known by the plural of his name, Elohim, or Els. Eloah, might then be used to differentiate each of the lesser gods from El himself.


This theory makes the Elohim saying "Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness" make more sense, as well as YHWH's commandment to Israel, "worship no other gods [Hebrew:Elohim] before me."

Dan Brown may have been wrong about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but a pretty strong case can be made not only for El/YHWH and Asherah, but for an even bigger cover-up than the one in The Da Vinci Code -- that the earliest Jews were polytheistic!

46 comments:

The Jewish Freak said...

Very interesting stuff. Could you please list sources if you have a chance?

Jewish Atheist said...

I got basically all of it from wikipedia.

Just me said...

A terrific post. Yasher koach! Matuk k'dvash.

happywithhislot said...

"This theory makes the Elohim saying "Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness"

JA
why cant this simply mean the Royal WE?

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the grove, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

Why are you using KJV? JPS translates הָאֲשֵׁרָה as "the Asherah."

You present it as if the meaning is covered up, but it's not.

In addition, you present the LXX Hebrew vorlage as being 700 years older than the MT, but that is false. The MT text-type is as old as the LXX text-type. Both groups, along with the Samaritan type were found at Qumran.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>why cant this simply mean the Royal WE?

It can. But it also might not. Do we find many other uses of the "royal we" in the Torah? Take a look at Gen. 6:3 "וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם" First person singular.

UberPropagandist said...

I've actually seen a drawing they've found in the book the dead sea scrolls that depicts two gods, husband and wife. Yehova and his wife Ashera!!
Besides many verses in the bible indicate god's "helpers". "let US go down...." and of course "though shalt not worship other god's" "el kanah anochi etc.."
Angels is just such a convinient excuse. Or in some instances "judges" by the nefilim.
What is the difference between undergods and angels? Not much really. Just symantics.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Interestingly enough, in our monotheistic creation story, the One And Only God says "let US make humanity" — while in the very polytheistic Enuma Elish creation story, Marduk (one of Many Gods) says "*I* will make humanity".

the monotheistic one uses a plural;
the polytheistic one uses a singular.

ADDeRabbi said...

why is this stuff so revolutionary? this is aleph-bet for anyone with minimal exposure to ANET.
is this for the benefit of those who want to extend the 'da vinci code' conspiracy theory back to the old testament?

ADDeRabbi said...

"This theory makes the Elohim saying "Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness" make more sense"

wouldn't that be the exception that proves the rule? or were the editors of the torah just a bit sloppy that day?

UberPropagandist said...

the editors were sloppy!
The greek version left that out according to the gemorah. I need to look at it myself.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Just to play devil's advocate, maybe literally, this theory supposes that traces of non-monotheism are found in the Torah but weren't removed by monotheists because they didn't realize that those passages weren't monotheistic. Why wouldn't later editors have changes "Naaseh adam"? Because said editors were monotheists and thought that Elohim was only a designation of the one God, whereas they were handling received texts. The language of this passage could have, in theory, meant one thing 4000 years ago and another thing 2500 years ago. The "editors" could have thought it meant "the royal we" or "angels." Mitchila ovdei avoda zara hayu avoteinu is part of our heritage too, you know. Ad kan devil's advocacy, not that I've never done it before nor will never do it again.

UberPropagandist said...

But this devil's advocate view agrees that the bible is nothing but a collection of traditions. Fine by me!

asher said...

That does sound right. The Hebrew scribes who wrote the torah over a couple of centuries casually took the names of other gods and incorporated them into the Torah, knowing full well that anyone reading it would be familiar with the false gods. When the tanach read "The Lord your God, the Lord is One" it's really speaking of the metaphysical one...you know the whole court of gods.

And to think this fooled Rambam, Ramban and Rashi.

Well, what did they know anyhow?

Ben Avuyah said...

Good stuff, it's possible that later monotheistic editors did a poor "cleaning job" because they had a strong desire to preserve certain terminologies and segments that rang true, or were recognizable to segments of the society.

Perhaps, they were unbothered by a heritage of idolatry sealed in the written word. Indeed the neviyim make little attempt to white wash large spans of time of complete imersion idolatry.

smoo said...

You note that there are 70 sons of El in the Canaanite pantheon. That seems very reminiscent of the seventy sons of Jacob who went into Egyptian exile and were later transformed into one unified people. So too, the many gods of Canaan were unified into a single entity by the Yahweh alone movement.

With regards to the Asherah, I have two posts I hope you find interesting.

http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/05/asherah-revisited.html

http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/05/did-god-get-hitched.html

Random said...

Christians of course would add that the use of the plural form reflects the trinitarian nature of the deity, make of that what you will.

"Dan Brown may have been wrong about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but a pretty strong case can be made not only for El/YHWH and Asherah, but for an even bigger cover-up than the one in The Da Vinci Code -- that the earliest Jews were polytheistic!"

Setting aside Dan Brown with the contempt he deserves, speaking personally I think it's quite difficult to make this case, although you could make a much stronger case that they were monolatrist - after all, the first commandment states "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" not "there are no gods but me". That the ancient Israelites may have believed other gods existed but they were only permitted to worship one does not sound very earth shattering to me.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Interesting stuff. I'm almost convinced that Zoroastrians were the first monotheists though. Judaism most likely wasn't officially monotheistic until around 650 BC and most likely as with Christianity took a bunch of fables and myths and mixed them with existing beliefs to come up with their dogma.

There is no evidence a historical Jesus ever lived btw, so Dan Brown's novel is just an add on to a myth most likely.

JA, I was wondering if the fact that no evidence that the Exodus happened had an affect on your deconversion process.

Jewish Atheist said...

happywithhislot,

why cant this simply mean the Royal WE?

I'm not aware of a royal we in Hebrew.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell,

Why are you using KJV? JPS translates הָאֲשֵׁרָה as "the Asherah."

You present it as if the meaning is covered up, but it's not.


KJV is the standard for hundreds of millions of people. I mentioned that other translations translated it correctly and that the Hebrew was accurate.


UberPropagandist,

I've actually seen a drawing they've found in the book the dead sea scrolls that depicts two gods, husband and wife. Yehova and his wife Ashera!!

Yes! They were labeled "YHWH and his ashera."

What is the difference between undergods and angels? Not much really. Just symantics.

Good point.


Steg:
Weird.


ADDeRabbi,

What's ANET? This post is for those of us who went to Orthodox schools and were never shown the obvious.


asher:

I don't understand what you're saying.


Random:

Setting aside Dan Brown with the contempt he deserves, speaking personally I think it's quite difficult to make this case, although you could make a much stronger case that they were monolatrist - after all, the first commandment states "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" not "there are no gods but me". That the ancient Israelites may have believed other gods existed but they were only permitted to worship one does not sound very earth shattering to me.

That is what I'm trying to say. Sorry if I'm not being clear. This is the first I've heard the word "monolatrist."


BEAJ:

There is no evidence a historical Jesus ever lived btw, so Dan Brown's novel is just an add on to a myth most likely.

I think Josephus mentioned him. Also, there's no evidence he didn't exist, AFAIK.

JA, I was wondering if the fact that no evidence that the Exodus happened had an affect on your deconversion process.

Actually, it never occured to me at the time. I didn't really think about the historicity of Exodus until I started reading JBlogs, a couple of years after I deconverted. It was basically Genesis plus the morality I couldn't agree with (gays, non-Jews, etc.) that did it for me.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>KJV is the standard for hundreds of millions of people. I mentioned that other translations translated it correctly and that the Hebrew was accurate.

Fine, but you present it as if it was a coverup. I doubt the KJV translation committee knew much about the nuances of ANE paganism seeing as it was the 16th century. Most of the discoveries which shed light on many words in the Bible came about subsequently.

Jewish Atheist said...

I didn't mean that it was a conscious coverup. Just that the original meanings had been covered up by later theology. The Bible, in any language, still today, naively read, yields a monolatrist understanding. However, almost all religions which use it present it as full-on monotheistic. That's the coverup.

suzan said...

don't take things at face value. dig deeper.

Jewish Atheist said...

Care to elaborate?

Shlomo said...

http://shlomoaronovitz.blogspot.com/2004/12/judaism-original-or-just-extra-crispy.html

smoo said...

Although we have no picture of our god El (as the Canaanites have of their El), we do have an image of El found in the original proto-Sinaic alphabet.

Check it out at: http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/05/asherah-revisited.html

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

JA, I used to fall for the Josephus line too, but only recently (the last year and a half) I looked into it further, and I found out that Josephus wrote about Jesus around 40 years after Jesus supposedly died. Sure there were Christians, but Christianity seemed to only spring up around 60AD.
Not a word was written about Jesus while he supposedly lived. Not by the Roman, the Jews, the Greeks...nobody.
And forget physical evidence which there is nothing.

Jewish Atheist said...

Thanks for all the links, guys.


BEAJ:

I found out that Josephus wrote about Jesus around 40 years after Jesus supposedly died. Sure there were Christians, but Christianity seemed to only spring up around 60AD.
Not a word was written about Jesus while he supposedly lived. Not by the Roman, the Jews, the Greeks...nobody.
And forget physical evidence which there is nothing.


Hmm. I admit I know nothing about it. Being Jewish and/or an atheist, I never really cared if Jesus really existed. Could be he didn't. I wouldn't be shocked. That said, it seems strange that they would just totally make him up. We've seen plenty of other charismatic figures around whom religions start. Granted, most aren't thought of as divine, but still. It's plausible that he was a charismatic Rabbi known only to a few hundred people and only later did the myth begin to grow.

Let's call me agnostic on the did Jesus exist question. :-)

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

There is lots of info on my blog about why and how he was made up on my sidebar by the multimedia section. Check it out when you have some time.

Modern Day Prophet said...

I have studied the writings of Ras Shamra, and I disagree with the assessment that the early children of Yisra'el were polytheistic.

Yes, we see similar terms within the writings of the Tanakh and the writings of Ras Shamra referring to deities, but this by no means means that these terms are used in the same way, and speaking about the same things.

Take a Jew who is speaking English, and using the term "God", verses a Christians whom uses the term "God", or a Muslim that uses the term "God". Here we all are using similar terms, but these terms by far do not mean the same thing when used by the three.

The same can be stated concerning the Arabic word "Allah", it is a general term meaning "the Deity" and refers to the deity of Avraham in the minds of Muslims, however ancient Arabs applied the same term to Shin (the moon deity). And Jewish speakers of Arabic used the term in place of "El".

As to the plurality of the word 'elohiym, any native speaker of Hebrew understands that in Hebrew, like unto Spanish, the name subject, the adjectives, and the verbs must all match in gender and in quantity, thus if the adjectives within a sentence, and the verbs within a sentence are singular, but you have the word 'elohiym, then the word is not plural. This is true of all Hebrew words, not merely this one, and we do not have special conditions merely for this word.

Random said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Random said...

"That is what I'm trying to say. Sorry if I'm not being clear. This is the first I've heard the word "monolatrist.""

Cheers JA - glad to be able to add a useful word to your vocabulary:-)

As for the "did Jesus exist?" debate, I'd hate to divert the thread with a discussion of something that is essentially to theology what Erich von Daniken is to the SETI project. But I'd just like to make a couple of observations -

1) The first written accounts of Jesus' life and teachings were written down at a time when people who were likely to know him (or know he couldn't have existed) were still alive, yet there are no - that's correct, none at all - remotely contemporary "what a load of rubbish" type documents attacking the veracity of the gospels or Josephus. The historicity of Jesus in fact does not seem to have been seriously attacked until the 19th century. It is not irrelevant to add that this "lifetime" characteristic of the documentation means that the written evidence for the life if Jesus is actually much *stronger* than that for the likes of other historical figures such as Alexander the Great, who didn't get a biography written until several hundred years after his death, or indeed virtually any major figure of the Old Testament. Yet nobody to my knowledge spends any time debating whether or not Alexander or King David actually existed.

2) From about the second century onwards when Christianity begins to rise in prominence we find an increasing number of extremely unflattering references to Christians in general and Christ in particular in both Jewish and Roman material. There are all sorts of fanciful smears and allegations in this period, but the one allegation that never appears to get made is the claim that Jesus never existed. This is important as a narrative as laid out in the gospels would generate a non-trivial paper trail in the Roman and Temple bureaucracies - court records, official reports, death warrants and so on which would have been accessible to 2nd century historians but lost to us now. If no such records ever existed, then *somebody* would surely have smelt a rat at some point. The fact in particular that a well-connected and careful historian such as Tacitus who it seems clearly did have access to Imperial records could write (rather sneeringly) about Jesus without expressing the slightest scepticism as to his existence is especially relevant here.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Random and I are in complete agreement on both the points that he has made.

(1) Christian scholars have long accepted that the ancient Israelites were monolatrists.

(2) Anyone who denies that Jesus existed is talking out his butt.

The apostle Paul's letters are dated to the early 50s: i.e., twenty years after Jesus' death. He started out as an opponent of the faith, but after his conversion he spent time with Jesus' original disciples (notably Peter) and Jesus' brother, James, who was head of the church at Jerusalem.

As for the Gospels, the consensus is that Mark was written before the destruction of the Temple in 70. But the Gospels underwent a long period of development before Mark consolidated it in that form. In other words, the tradition was being rehearsed, circulated, (and embellished) immediately after Jesus' lifetime.

If someone is such a sceptic as to deny that Jesus existed, then we don't have adequate grounds to believe any ancient figure existed. Because Random is right: the evidence for Jesus' existence is far stronger (even if it has an overlay of myth) than the evidence for any other person who lived in ancient times.

smoo said...

For the record, I accept Random's words about the likelihood of Jesus' historicity. But with regards to Josephus...

BEAJ- Solomon Zeitlin of Dropsie College has a paper about the Jesus passages in Josephus' work. (My dad was a student of his while studying for his Ph.D at Columbia University, and my dad holds him in high regard but you can read his work and decide for yourself). He shows based on Josephuses' style that all the Jesus passages/paragraphes are later additions. Josephus "could never have written of Jesus as the Messiah, and Origen twice states that Josephus did not admit that Jesus was the Messiah."

If anybody wants a copy of the paper email me at smoolee37@hotmail.com It will be in Word format.

Modern Day Prophet-
Please read William G. Dever's Did God Have A Wife. You may change your position about early Israelite worship. I have a summary at http://shmuzings.blogspot.com/2006/05/did-god-get-hitched.html

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Again, I stand by the fact that just because someone wrote about someone after the fact doesn't mean that person existed. How much is written about Greek and Roman Gods, and much was accepted for quite some time.

I suggest that anyone who thinks Jesus existed visit my blog and seriously read the links I've provided on my sidebar.

Lots of things were questioned in the 19th Century that were never questioned previously, it doesn't mean that these things shouldn't have been questioned in the first place.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Re the Josephus texts:

I'm not much invested in the issue one way or the other. But I will note that there are three possible explanations:

(1) That Josephus actually wrote the passages as they appear. (highly unlikely)

(2) That Josephus made no mention of Jesus and some Christian copyist inserted the passages. (certainly possible)

(3) That Josephus made an innocuous reference to Jesus, and some Christian copyist jazzed it up into a testimony to Jesus' Messiahship. (Also a real possibility; many scholars hold to that opinion.)

tpaine95006 said...

> 1) The first written accounts of Jesus' life and teachings were written down at a time when people who were likely to know him (or know he couldn't have
> existed) were still alive, yet there are no - that's correct, none at all - remotely contemporary "what a load of rubbish" type documents attacking the veracity
> of the gospels or Josephus.

The fact that the early christians, once they had power, were extremely fond of cruelly murdering those they considered "heretics" and burning all their writings couldn't play ANY part in THAT, could it?

Of the important writers of the New Testament, let's focus on Paul and the Evangelists.

- Paul not only never met the living Jesus but flatly claimed that his hallucinations (or visions, if you insist) better reflected "true teaching" than the Church at Jerusalem.
- Luke ( Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles) was one removed even from that, being Paul's disciple.
- None of the other 3 ever, that's correct EVER claim to have been eyewitnesses to the events they recount.

> The historicity of Jesus in fact does not seem to have been seriously attacked until the 19th century.
Many silly superstitions weren't challenged until the 19th century. At the dawn of the 19th century, the average, educated human believed the earth was less than 10,000 years old, that the Great Flood had really occurred and that humans were handmade works of incestuous dirt as recounted in Genesis.
> much *stronger* than that for the likes of other historical figures such as Alexander the Great
There is a diary, carved in stone, from a temple in Babylon that Alexander conquered describing, in detail, the battle and the day. There are coins, arches, and other evidence of his life. There is NO contemporaneous record of the existence of Jesus. All the ones that DO exist came either from the hallucinations of Paul or the exact time of the utter destruction of Israel.
> If no such records ever existed, then *somebody* would surely have smelt a rat at some point.
No more than anyone at the time questioned the existence of Mithras, Adonis, Attis or any of a dozen other dying and reviving god-men of the mystery cults.

Truth, as we know it, was not a priority of the ancients. It was a luxury that barely existed until the Enlightenment, nearly 2 millennia later, in fact.

Did Jesus exist? The jury is out.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Did Jesus exist? The jury is out.

How then do you account for the historical data about James, the brother of Jesus? He was head of the church at Jerusalem, according to Paul and Luke.

Paul would not have invented James. How do I know that? Because James was an enemy of the Gospel as preached by Paul.

James believed that Christians should remain Jews: i.e., that they should continue to observe the law. This brought him into sharp (if indirect) conflict with the apostle Paul, giving rise to a profound crisis early in church history. Paul reports the event in Galatians 2:

"But when [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to [Peter] before them all, If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

(Paul refers to Peter as Cephas here and elsewhere in his letters; hence the square brackets, where I have replaced Cephas with the more familiar name, Peter.)

Here we have the two greatest apostles of earliest Christianity, Peter and Paul, coming into heated conflict with one another, to the lasting embarrassment of the Church. And who precipitated the crisis? James, the Lord's brother.

One of the books of the New Testament is attributed to James. Not surprisingly, it argues that salvation is not by faith alone (Paul's view); on the contrary, faith must be completed by works; faith without works is dead.

There was a sect within the early church that continued to follow the teaching of James. Variously described as Nazarenes or Ebionites, they held to a low christology (i.e., they denied the deity of Jesus) and they argued that Christians must continue to observe the law. They had several non-canonical Gospels tailored to their theology. Eventually, and inevitably, the rest of the Church denounced them as heretics. (You can read a good account of such Jewish Christians in a book by Bart Ehrman, "Lost Christianities".)

Paul had direct, personal contact with James according to Gal. 1:19 and Gal. 2:9.

The existence of James is well established, then. But if Jesus had a brother, James, surely Jesus must have existed! If not, how would James ever have agreed to become head of a church dedicated to his non-existent brother!

You can deny the existence of Jesus if you like. Some people believe in a flat earth. Some people reject the massive evidence in support of evolution. Some people believe they have been taken away in space ships and probed by aliens. So you can believe whatever tickles your fancy, and I'm sure it makes you a more rational person than me.

But really … if you want to attack Christianity, there are better grounds for your attack than this silly denial that Jesus ever existed.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Q, the bible isn't a history book. Your whole post has not proved one thing to me.

You have assumed too many things that are not verified by evidence.
Even if Galatians was written by Paul, you are assuming Paul didn't lie or embellish or that the one who said he was James was really Christs brother.
Read this entire article. I dare you.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I dare you.

What is this, grade one?

There's nothing in there that I didn't already know. If you thought I would be shocked by the claims of critical scholars, you're mistaken.

More than that, I accept many of the claims of critical scholarship. You should do the same. The article points out that seven of Paul's epistles are considered to be genuine, including Galatians, and it was written in the 50s.

True, Paul was not an eyewitness of Jesus. But he associated with those who were eyewitnesses, including Jesus' brother, as he indicates in Galatians. Just as I said.

You can reject that evidence, but if you do, you're a fundamentalist. That is, you're in the same camp with fundamentalist Christians who reject the evidence for evolution and, moreover, insist on a young earth.

Anyone can allow their presuppositions to override hard evidence. But rational people don't behave that way.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I should add that I think you've missed an essential element of my argument. The history about James isn't the sort of story the church would make up.

The church likes to gloss over the tensions and disagreements that existed in the first three centuries of its history. If you read Acts, for example, it sounds like James and Paul quickly came to agreement: Gentiles don't have to observe the law.

When you read Paul's letters, you get a very different "take" on the subject. Why would he invent "James the Lord's brother" and then present James as an adversary; someone who contradicted Paul's version of the Gospel? Who would people likely believe: Paul (who never knew Jesus personally) or James, the Lord's brother?

Paul wouldn't invent a story that put him in such an awkward position. Nor would he invent a story where he and Peter were on opposite sides of this issue: again, Paul couldn't do his cause any good by inventing such a tale.

The same thing is true for the later decades of church history. It is an embarrassment to the Church that Peter and Paul disagreed on the nature of the Gospel. To this day, evangelicals try to explain away that evidence. (They prefer the secondary account in Acts to Paul's first-hand account in Galatians.) But I side with the critical scholars who recognize real disagreement between Paul, James, and Peter at a fundamental point of doctrine.

That's why the story has verisimilitude. If you deny that Jesus' brother became the head of the Church at Jerusalem, it's not because the evidence is weak; it's only because you don't want to believe it. And I have no respect for that.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

"Only in Galatians 1:19 does he make reference to a contemporary Jesus, and then only in terms of James being the "Lord's brother." The use of the term "Lord's" even makes that single reference somewhat questionable to scholars, as the word "Lord's" did not have currency until the late 2nd. century. So the Pauline letters, at least the reliably Pauline letters, aren't good witnesses for a Jesus of the first half of the first century. What makes this particularly interesting, is that other non-Canonical early Christian pre-Gospel literature make the very same omissions.

Later Christian writings were written well after the events they describe, none earlier than at least the seventh decade at the earliest. And none of them are known to have been written by the authors to which they are ascribed. Most are second or third-hand accounts. There was plenty of time for mythmaking by the time they were written, so they're clearly not reliable witnesses."

Sorry, but you really don't understand what the term evidence means.

BTW, regardless of whether Jesus lived or not makes no difference to me whatsoever. I'm pointing out that there is absolutely no evidence that convinces he lived, just as there is no evidence the Exodus happened.

Sorry, but your evidence doesn't cut it with me, and I can't respect your evidence.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Even in antiquity people like Origen and Eusebius raised doubts about the authenticity of other books in the New Testament such as Hebrews, James, John 2 & 3, Peter 2, Jude, and Revelation. Martin Luther rejected the Epistle of James calling it worthless and an "epistle of straw" and questioned Jude, Hebrews and the Apocalypse in Revelation. Nevertheless, all New Testament writings came well after the alleged death of Jesus from unknown authors (with the possible exception of Paul, although still after the alleged death).

Epistles of Paul: Paul's biblical letters (epistles) serve as the oldest surviving Christian texts, written probably around 60 C.E. Most scholars have little reason to doubt that Paul wrote some of them himself. However, there occurs not a single instance in all of Paul's writings that he ever meets or sees an earthly Jesus, nor does he give any reference to Jesus' life on earth. Therefore, all accounts about a Jesus could only have come from other believers or his imagination. Hearsay.

Epistle of James: Although the epistle identifies a James as the letter writer, but which James? Many claim him as the gospel disciple but the gospels mention several different James. Which one? Or maybe this James has nothing to do with any of the gospel James. Perhaps this writer comes from any one of innumerable James outside the gospels. James served as a common name in the first centuries and we simply have no way to tell who this James refers to. More to the point, the Epistle of James mentions Jesus only once as an introduction to his belief. Nowhere does the epistle reference a historical Jesus and this alone eliminates it from an historical account.
LINK

Stephen (aka Q) said...

the word "Lord's" did not have currency until the late 2nd. century.

Where are you getting your (absurd) information?

The word "Lord" is used 260 times in the pauline epistles alone. It was the standard designation for Jesus: a word that had resonance both with Jews (the Greek equivalent of Adonai) and with Gentiles (because "Caesar is Lord" was a standard confession, and "Jesus is Lord" was a Christian challenge to it).

Paul's epistles are not late second century documents, not even the ones that scholars regard as pseudonymous. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the latest pauline letters, are typically dated in the very early second century. In any event, the seven undisputed epistles date to the 50s, as your own Wikipedia link attests.

As for the rest of your comments: you seem to be mistaking me for a fundamentalist. I've been studying the scholarly literature on this stuff for 20 years. I guarantee that I know more about it than you do, and I accept many of the findings of critical scholarship, as I've already indicated.

You are the one who rejects sound scholarship in favour of ignorance, not me. You never did respond to my argument that Paul would never have made up the story in Galatians 2. That's because there is no answer for it; you reject the conclusion solely because you're unwilling to believe it.

And that's my last comment on this thread. In fact, I won't address a comment to you again: you've demonstrated that you aren't to be taken seriously as a partner in dialogue, and I don't waste my time on people who prefer ignorance to truth.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I didn't say you are a Fundy, but you obviously need to believe that Jesus existed. Again, you are missing the point. Your proof is not evidence. It would NEVER hold up in a court of law.
My point is that there is no real proof Jesus existed. None. Zero.
Here is more.

You are acting very juvenile btw.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has helped us immensely to understand the origins of our religions. Let's look at some verses and compare them with modern translations:



"El has taken his place in his assembly, in the midst of the Elohim He holds judgment." Dead Sea Scrolls Psalm 82:1



"God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the gods." NIV Psalm 82:1



"Ascribe to Yahweh, O sons of El, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength." Dead Sea Scrolls Psalm 29:1



"Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength." NIV

Psalm 29:1



"For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh, who among the sons of El is like Yahweh." Dead Sea Scrolls Psalm 89:6



"For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?" NIV Psalm 89:6



Notice how these verses only make sense written as they were originally intended. This is proof that the Bible is false.



Ancient Judaism evolved from a pantheon of gods, it was not originally monotheistic. Ancient Judaism is the foundation for Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Now if the roots of the tree are false then anything after that is false as well.

Anonymous said...

Ashera is mentioned in
2 Kings 18.4
NOT: 2 Kings.8

fr.gr. gc.jense@zonnet.nl