Pagan origins of the Christ myth


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The first schism
The New Testament book of Acts describes the
orthodox history's first Christian schism.  It happened right after Jesus' death, likely in the 40s AD. In Jerusalem the first Christians thought Christianity was Jewish.  You wanted to be Christian? -- first you had to convert to Judaism, to be circumcised and to follow Jewish ritual.

St. Paul, from the Hellenized city Tarsus, saw it different.  You became Christian, you didn't get circumcised (whew!), you didn't have to follow Jewish ritual -- you didn't convert to Judaism.

The two sides argued. You read the New Testament, you get the feeling Paul and his pals won.  That's because the New Testament is partly a product of the first Christian schism, written before the convert / don't convert question was finally settled, including gentile- permissiveness as a theme, spinning Paul's point of view.

What you miss, reading Acts, is that the gentiles-convert sect did not convert to Paul's brand of Christianity.  They formed their own Christianity. They became (probably, details are fuzzy) the Ebionites.   They followed Christ, but insisted initiates also convert to Judaism. They had their own New Testament, now lost in the bonfires of suppression. The later Church fathers, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, describe the Ebionite "heresy" lasting well into the third century AD. 

(By the way, you'll probably be interested to hear the Ebionites denied the divinity of Jesus and his virgin birth -- presumably those legends got tacked on to the Christ myth after the first schism.)

A zoology of Christianities
Only Rome's Christianity was not heretical.  The guys in Rome had the swords.

In the decades and centuries that followed the first schism, Christianity continued in the pattern of the ancients' other Pagan religions. The Pagan habit of doctrinal freedom led Christ's believers to develop dozens of different Christianities.  Here's a partial list: 

  • Apollinarianism

  • Arianism (Alexandria)

  • Docetism

  • Donatism (Carthage)

  • Ebionism (Judea)

  • Encratite

  • Eutychianism

  • Gnosticism (Syria)

  • Manichaeism (Babylonia)

  • Marcionism (Caesarea, in Asia Minor)

  • Monarchianism

  • Monophysitism

  • Monothelitism

  • Montanism (Asia Minor)

  • Nestorianism

  • Priscillianism (Spain)

  • Sabellianism (North Africa)

These different Christianities were often defined by beliefs about the "nature" of Jesus -- was he "consubstantial" with God, was he really human or really God, or really both, or what?  That makes sense -- the first Christians had to fit the square peg of Greco-Roman Gods- and- divine sons into the round hole of strict Jewish monotheism. Three Gods that were really one God was a new idea -- something to argue about.

Other things weren't new, and people didn't argue about them. What the early Christians didn't split into new sects over were baptism, the Eucharist, the soul, eternal life, salvation, etc.  -- exactly the things they inherited from the other ancient Pagan religions.  Everyone knew how they worked.  Why argue?

Different Bibles. We think the Nag Hammadi cliffsNew Testament is the four Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles.  The first Christians didn't think so.  

  • The Gnostics had the Gospels of Peter, Matthias, Thomas and the Gospel of the Twelve [apostles], the Prophecy of Barcabbas, and others.

  • The Manicheans had "The Gospel," written in Persian, and the Book of Mysteries, the Book of Life-giving, among others.

  • The Messalians had The Asceticus, ["that filthy book of heresy," according to the orthodox Third General Council of (431 AD).]

And so on. There were dozens of Gospels, dozens of Epistles, dozens of Acts.

How Bible we got our New Testament is a long story.  Christian writers quoted Paul's letters in the first century.  They must have existed by then. But no one quotes (or mentions) our Gospels until well into the second century. If they existed before then, there is no evidence at all that anyone knew about them.

 Basically our New Testament was put together late in the fourth century, with books picked by Roman Catholic clergy.  They set the number of Gospels at four because that's the number of winds. [I am not making this up.]

By the way, have you maybe noticed the "Jewish" Old Testament isn't the book modern Jews use?  That's because the books of Christian Old Testament were also picked not by Jews but by orthodox Roman Catholic clergy.  Who'd 'a thunk it?

In one dark way the new Christianities differed from the other Pagan religions. They were exclusive.  They were intolerant.  They hated dissent and crushed freedom. And in the black seed of Christian intolerance lay the death of ancient civilization.  Which brings us to...

Constantine and social Darwinism "Who does not see how much the worship of the name of Christ has increased." [St. Augustine, Civ dei :18:45]
In 312 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine responding to a dream (how Pagan!), converted from paganism to Christianity.  Constantine.  As goes the emperor, so goes the empire.The world changed forever. All of a sudden it was good to be a Christian and bad to be a Pagan.  Within a century of Constantine's conversion the Empire went from roughly ten percent Christian (most of these believing in now extinct "heretical" Christianities) to mostly Roman Christian.

How'd the conversion happen?  Partly by giving Christians preference for government contracts and advancement.  

Also by coercion.  

Constantine made divination in public matters was punishable by burning to death. 

Pagan sacrifices were banned [341 AD]. 

Nocturnal pagan worship was forbidden [353 AD]. 

By mid-century, pagan temples were ordered closed.

In 356 AD worship of non-Christian images became a capital crime.  

In 385 Christians tore the great and famous temple at Edessa to the ground, and the praetorian prefect Cynegius' trip to Egypt was marked by Christians rampaging around the pagan cities of Syria as vandalizing, looting mobs.  Taking Pagan gold, but not stealing it, for, "...there is no such thing as 'robbery' for those Saint Augustine who truly possess Christ." [Libanius, Or. 30.9f]

In 399 AD Gaudentius and Jovinus, counts of the emperor, "overthrew the temples and broke the images of the false gods" in Carthage. Ever since, says St. Augustine, "Who does not see how much the worship of the name of Christ has increased." [St. Augustine, Civ dei 18:45]  Well, no kidding.


Picking sides. 
It was tough to be a pagan in the fourth century.  It was also tough to be a Christian believing in a non-Roman theology.  The emperor took sides.

In 317 Constantine's Roman Christian sectarians in Carthage filled the well outside the main Donatist [non-Roman Christian] church with the bodies of their Christian opponents.

In 333 AD Constantine issued edicts against "Arius, wicked and impious,"  forbidding his teaching and even outlawing just owning his version of the New Testament.  "Whoever hides them [Arian's writings] shall be condemned to death."  Constantine didn't kid around about stuff like that.  At least you knew where you stood.

In 382, in Egypt, celebrating Easter on the day set aside by the local non-Roman Christian sect was punishable by death.

In 383, in Spain, Urbanica was stoned to death and her bishop Priscillian was executed for their non-Roman Christian beliefs.  

St. Augustine describes the sectarian struggles in North Africa, in which believers had their eyes torn out and one bishop had his  hands and tongue cut off. [Augustine, Epistles 44.7]


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