On thinking about it, here is another thing I would have liked to ask that young missionary who knocked on my door offering to explain the Bible to me.
All the way through my Roman Catholic upbringing, the core of our faith was based on the dogma, ‘that Jesus, son of God, died on the cross for man’s sins; so that man could now become righteous in God’s eyes’ 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”
This dogma referenced back to the last supper when Jesus metaphorically said that the wine represented his blood and the bread represented his body, and that he would sacrifice his body and his blood as the new covenant between God and man. This then came to pass the next day with his crucifixion.
So, what was that all about? If I had to think about this, I would have to dismiss it. Why would an all-loving God require his Son to suffer and die a cruel death as a means of atoning for the evils of man. There seemed no co-relation. How would having his Son rejected, tortured and killed by humans actually thereby make humans acceptable to God as a righteous species?
While I had been studying the Babylonian texts published in 1965 by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, texts that had been written around 1650 BCE, (approximately 250 years before Moses is believed to have received the teachings of Genesis from Yahweh), I noticed that the translated epic actually contains an account of the sacrifice of a God. The Atrahasis epic is written on three tablets in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon.
Let her create, then, a human, a man,
Let him bear the yoke!
Let him bear the yoke!”
Let man assume the drudgery of the god.
They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration, in their assembly.
Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.
That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.
For the rest of the time they would hear the drum.
From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.
It would make the living know its sign.
Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.
After she had mixed the clay,
she summoned the Anunna, the great gods.
The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.
Mami made ready to speak,
and said to the great gods:
“You ordered me the task and I have completed it!
You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration.
I have done away with your heavy forced labor”
For this purpose of creating a man to make him useful to the Gods, one of the lesser gods was sacrificed, and his flesh and blood was mixed with clay from which process man was made. This reference to mixing with clay to create man in both the Greek and Biblical texts: “Prometheus shaped man out of clay, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure. Genesis 2:7,” Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life”.
But these Akkadian texts describe the sacrifice of a God so that his flesh and blood could be mixed with man to make the man useful to the Gods developing from primitive beasts to intelligent farmers and workers.
The similarity to the account of the sacrifice of body and blood of Jesus as the new covenant between God and man in the New Testament is quite astounding. It requires some further research on how this more modern Christian dogma actually came to us.
If any of Jesus’ followers believed that God was promising to finally deliver them from the yoke of Rome and give them peaceful sovereignty over the Holy land, they were disappointed. After two more failed Jewish rebellions in 70 AD and 135 AD, the Romans brutally crushed the Jewish state with hundreds of thousands of Jews killed, deported or sold into slavery. The Romans renamed Judea as Palaestina, derived from “Philistine”.
The development of Christianity in the first 100 years AD therefore evolved as one of saving the eternal souls of believers rather than saving the Jews from the military rule of Rome. Unlike other messianic claimants at the same time, who generally met the same fate of Jesus, the Christian movement was not ended with the death of Jesus; indeed it flourished after his death. That the disciples of Jesus continued openly to preach the beliefs of Christianity, knowing this would lead to their own execution, is the strongest proof that they now believed in the afterlife that could be gained through belief that Jesus, the man born as a result of a visit by angels to the virgin Mary, was and is a God.
Despite the destruction of the Jewish state, continuous Roman persecution failed to destroy Christianity and eventually the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great ended the Roman persecution of Christians in 313 AD and allowed freedom of religion within the Roman Empire.
Constantine later convened and took part in the first meeting of Christian churches, the Council of Nicea, held in 325 AD in what is today Iznik, Turkey. He hoped to help church leaders find common ground on some contentious aspects of Christian doctrine. Chief among these issues was the relationship and relative divinity of God the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Arianism was popular during this period. This Christian belief championed by Arius, a priest of Alexandria, Egypt, held that Jesus, though the Son of God, was inferior to God the Father.
The Council of Nicea established the equality of Father and Son and documented this in a creed, or universal statement of faith, to which all but two attending bishops agreed. The dissenting bishops were exiled, as was Arius himself. The Romans were not known for their tolerance towards those who did not toe the party line.
After this council, orthodox Christians agreed on the critical point that Jesus and God were equally divine and created of the same substance.
The Holy Spirit was declared a divinity in 360AD at the First Council of Constantinople and so the Roman Catholic Church officially established the Holy Trinity, God the Father, in the Heavens, God the Son, on Earth and God the Holy Spirit. This Trinity of Gods then aligned Christianity with Greek beliefs in three primary Gods of Zeus, in Heaven, Hades in the underworld, and Poseidon in the water and the Sumerian beliefs of Anu in heaven, Enlil on Earth and Enki in the water.
It is debatable whether Constantine was a true convert to Christianity (it is said he converted on his deathbed in 337AD), or whether he established the Roman Catholic Church as a political strategy to bring the growing number of Christians under the control of a Roman institution, which was under his control. The celebration of the birth of Jesus was decided around 340AD by Pope Julius 1 to be December 25. The selection of this date had no biblical basis, but the Roman pagans already celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’, on December 25th (when the Romans thought the Winter Solstice took place) and was the ‘birthday’ of the Pagan Sun god Mishra. In the pagan religion of Mithraism, the holy day was Sunday. Easter was originally timed for the Jewish Passover festival which was based on lunar activity which is why the date changed. It was separated from the strict Hebrew calendar during early Christian debates over the accuracy of that calendar, but remains today as reliant on lunar movement, a pagan observation, rather than setting a specific crucifixion date.
Given these decisions made by the Romans under the influence of Constantine we are entitled to wonder whether the account of the sacrifice of body and blood in the new testament was a borrowing of the Accadian sacrifice of the flesh and blood of a God so that intelligent man would be created that was recorded on tablets 1650 years BC? Why do this? Possibly because of the words that accompanied the metaphorical references to the drinking of wine and eating of bread at the last supper was referred to as a new covenant between God and man. That statement effectively created a new starting point for a new belief system. It confined the covenants of Abraham and Moses to history and established a new covenant, a new base from which Rome could control the followers of this Jewish-based religious sect.
Intriguing. More questions than answers. But the big question we need to ask is: “do the texts that Roman Emperor Constantine approved as the new testament, the new dogma for the movement established by Jesus of Nazareth 300 years before, really give us a true and accurate account of the beliefs of the original Jews who formed the movement with Jesus of Nazareth. Or were they edited and sanitised to suit the political requirements of Rome?”