Common Progression in Religion

Scholars think that Jesus did not start out being "equal with God" but started out as a "heavenly mediator," a concept that became popular during the intertestamenal period, but most folks don't hear about intertestamental heavenly mediators in Sunday school, and instead think Christianity popped out of thin air. Here is a little discussion I had with someone recently on such topics:

CHRISTIAN: Jesus claim of being God was unique. He made the claim in a strictly monotheistic context and (not pantheistic) culture.

ED: We know only what others claimed about Jesus. Moreover, there were many Messiahs, Messiahnic ideas, and "heavenly intermediary" figures just prior to Jesus' day. The Melchizadek scroll found near the Dead Sea even says that God appointed Melchizadek (a human being) as a heavenly intermediary to judge the entire world. And that was before Jesus' day.

The Jewish Roman World of Jesus (great scholarly articles, great site)

Even in the Gospels you can see how in the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke) Jesus pointed to doing God's will, "Do unto others, for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew's sermon on the mount). -- "How do I inherit eternal life?" "Obey the commandments." -- "Pray this way... Forgive us as we forgive others." While in the last written Gospel (Gospel of John) Jesus is portrayed as pointing almost always at himself. So, the earliest three Gospels began with Jesus directing people to stare at where his finger was pointing, toward God, doing God's will, following commandments, while the last Gospel ends by staring almost solely at the finger itself, worshipping the finger of Jesus.

The history of religion features the same theme of the heavenly messenger getting raised to the status of the divine, superceding the message, becoming the whole message, again and again. Happened with the Buddha in Amida Buddhism (they pray "save me amida Buddha"). Happened earlier in Judaism where the "Torah" itself became holy, or the tabernacle, or things associated with God. Happened in fundamentalism in the 20th century where the "Bible" became God's inerrant words, and to doubt it's truthfulness even in little matters was condemned. Happened in Catholicism where the Popes were at one point elevated to the status of infallible "god-men," some said, "born sinless." Happens in religion, very common. The saint who loves God himself get elevated to near-divine status.

CHRISTIAN: The penalty in that CULTure, which he, Jesus, paid, was death.
He was nearly killed by stoning several times for this claim, and ultimately crucified for it. His response was not, "Hey, don't you get it?
Each of us is God."

ED: Actually that WAS Jesus' response in at least one case, "Know ye not that ye are sons of God?"

CHRISTIAN: His response was, "I am He, and if you don't believe Me, you will die in your sins."

ED: Late theological interpretation, that's from John 8:24, "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am [he], ye shall die in your sins." Only the last written Gospel (The Gospel of John), has a theology of "believe" in a certain thing "about Jesus," or "die." (Also see John 3, "he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the son...")

Such a teaching does not appear in the three earlier synoptic Gospels, except in the LATE ADDED chapter of Mark. "he who believes not shall be condemned."

CHRISTIAN: I understand that this is not the Eastern view of the nature of God or the Muslim view.

Thing is, if you go to Buddha's tomb, his bones are in the ground. Same with Mohammed's grave. Same with Krishnamurti, etc.etc. They are all dead and have remained so.

ED: What's really remarkable is that Buddha could grow into amida Buddha, the savior Buddha, that you pray to "save me amida Buddha," even without the need of hoaky resurrection tales. Hindus also have saviors, divine avatars that selflessly incarnate on earth rather than remain in heavenly bliss.

CHRISTIAN: Go to Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem.

ED: As if any archeologists have ever proven that we know where Jesus was buried.

CHRISTIAN: They'll say come on in and look around. "He is not here. He has risen from the dead!" This is not reincarnation, but resurrection. You'll get a glorified, perfect body. Jesus walked through walls after his rez. We maintain our identity. It's going to be great. Just great. Amen and Amen. God doesn't need America. He is raising up and toppling down governments over the centuries until one day His kingdom on earth is a reality.

ED: "One day," thousands of years later. The N.T. is now older than the O.T. was when the N.T. was first written. Still, no new revelations.

CHRISTIAN: He started with just 12 disciples, now over one billion people worship the One who rose from the grave. The Good news is spreading like wild fire in South America, Africa, and India.

ED: Yes, it's spreading, especially the kind of "good news" that includes Pentecostal teachings, aggressive claims of healing, end of world forecasts, speaking in tongues, and anti-intellectualism. A couple hundred million strong. This growth is bound to deepen the rift between the southern hemisphere where such "Christianity" continues to grow, and the more secularized and academic northern hemisphere. Catholicism of a more charismatic and conservative sort is also growing fast in the southern hemisphere, where the Catholic church continues having to ordain new bishops for her more numerous diocese, and that may lead to a future rift between more conservative and miracle-mongering Catholics in the southern hemisphere and their northern hemisphere brethren, especially a rift concerning which pope to next nominate. Not to mention what's going to happen as entire religions continue to collide. (You don't unconvert 900 million Sunni Muslims overnight.)

CHRISTIAN: Some countries are now sending missionaries to the U.S! The future looks bright indeed.

ED: Do you imagine this is all just one big football game and you're a pep rally cheerleader? Christians are no different from other people, crazy about some things, crazy hateful about others. Trouble is when any LARGE group of such people gets together, trying to steamroller the world with their craziness. Then hell starts a poppin', hell between family members, between nations, etc. The drive to evangelize via emotional cheerleading is linked to the drive to demonize via equally emotional name calling. Beliefs in ancient religious dogmas and holy books are not a step up the evolutionary ladder, but more like jogging in place, because for every good thing Christianity does, it also tears apart families and weakens nations. The most Christian nation on earth fell, the ancient Roman Empire, after spending zillions on "faith based programs." And for all of Christianity's sins, not matter how many dirty ditches it fell into headlong, it never lost faith that only "it" was forgiven by God, how self-righteous. Christianity is like geocentrism, provides the same sense of confidence and security. Yes, it has survival value, because it confronts people's primal fears of death and the unknown, and simplifies it all down to "have faith, we are promised resurrection," and, "anything anyone else tells you is from the devil." No religion puts things in such a starkly primal primate fashion.

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