Acts 1:9-11 “he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
The Christian religion is based on the New Testament of the Bible which was endorsed around 400AD when the Christian Church was under the control of the Roman emperor and his Bishop of Rome. But Christianity was alive and flourishing for hundreds of years before the Christian Bishops of the Catholic Church of Rome finally wrote the narrative upon which the modern Christians rely for their beliefs. Starting with the official birthday of Jesus, the 25th of December.
Christmas day is, of course, mid-winter in the Northern hemisphere, so no summer holidays to follow as we have in the southern hemisphere. But nonetheless Christmas Day continues to be a huge celebration all around the globe. It is the big one. Billions of people stop work to celebrate Christmas Day. So how did it come to this?
The history of the celebration of Christmas Day traces back to when a Jewish preacher and miracle worker was anointed by his followers as the Messiah, meaning ‘the anointed one’ or ‘liberator’. The preacher was actually named Yahshua but this was adapted to Iesous when, after his ascension into the heavens, disciples took the religion to Greece; and they added the Greek title of Christos, also meaning the anointed one. The preacher’s name has subsequently been Romanised and/or anglicised to Jesus Christ. Christ’s Mass is the Christian Churches’ celebration of his birth. But there is no actual record by day, month or even year that Yahshua was born. So how did the day of 25 December come to be established?
As a proclaimed messiah/ liberator, he was recognised by the Romans and their Jewish High Priest puppets as being intent on liberating the Jews from the rule of Rome. This was a crime of sedition for which punishment was death by crucifixion. After his crucifixion, miraculous recovery and ascension into the heavens, his reputation lived on through his apostles and disciples and in fact Christianity grew beyond Galilee and Judea throughout the Roman Empire and was causing the state of Rome some irritation. Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE scattering the surviving Jews and forbidding their Judaic religion. But this Christian sect of Judaism just kept growing, no small feat given the persistent efforts of the Roman Empire to crush it. At around 313AD the Roman Emperor Constantine decided that he would make peace with the Christians. The official Roman Catholic version is that in 312 CE Constantine saw a cross in the sky the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge against rival Emperor Maxentius over supremacy in the Roman Empire. Constantine decided that the vision of the cross in the sky was a signal that Jesus had enabled him to win the battle and so he agreed to stop persecuting Christians as his part of the deal. No one knows if Maxentius had seen the same cross, but in the end, he finished up drowned in the Tiber.
In effect, Constantine made the Christian bishops an offer they could not refuse. His patronage. That meant legitimacy, an end to persecution, an authority over the peasants in their parish that was backed up by the soldiers of Rome and an income from those peasants that could only increase as the emperor’s endorsement expanded their customer base. The bishops would become franchise holders of this religious organisation. The global head office would be established in Rome and the Bishop of Rome would be the capo di tutti. And so, it was agreed. The Christian church expanded with the support of Rome and the bishops made sure all those under their pastoral care were loyal to Rome.
The common people obviously bought into this concept, literally bought in, believing that it was a choice of paying a tithe to the parish priest or facing eternity in the fires of hell (and/or the swords of the soldiers of Rome). These were a simple people facing simple choices and so the Church flourished. Then in 325AD Constantine convened the first formal convention of all the bishops of this Christian Church of Rome at a place called Nicaea, which was in modern Turkey. Everyone loves a convention, especially in Turkey. Nicaea was no humble collection of cave dwellings in the wilderness like Bethlehem, it was an historical and prosperous city right on beautiful Lake Ascania. This grand convention was called to establish the doctrine of Christianity to which all Christians would be bound under the threat of consignment to hellfire for all eternity. One of the items on the agenda was to give Jesus the Nazarene a birthday to celebrate. His followers over the past three centuries clearly had not settled on a birthday celebration, so Constantine thought that needed sorting out. If Jesus was to be proclaimed a God then he had to have a birthday celebration.
But whether by coincidence or by edict the day chosen for Jesus’ birthday was an existing Roman festival of Natalis Solis Invicti, celebrating the birth of the sun god Mithra. The dates of 21st/22nd December are the winter solstice, the longest night of the winter. On this winter solstice the sun drops to its lowest point in the sky, descending onto the Crux constellation (Cross) where it appeared to remain for three days before starting to rise again. The 25th of December therefore was the existing Roman festival of the rebirth of the sun.
Mithraism was the dominant pagan religious cult in the Roman military at that time. According to the Roman historian Plutarch, Mithraism became part of Roman religious belief during the military campaign of Pompey around 70BC. Worship of the deity Mithra goes back 3500 years in the Indian Verdic religion and spread up through Persia following the conquests of Alexander the Great, with Mithra eventually becoming the primary god in Asia Minor. Mithra was referred to as the Sun-God. His legend also reportedly includes having been born in a cave to a virgin goddess named Anahita. As the Sun-God, Mithra was said to have had twelve satellites (read apostles) and was believed by the Indians to be the mediator between God and Man. From this some scholars conclude that Constantine simply overlaid his Mithraic beliefs onto the Christian religion that he had usurped.
So, Jesus’ birthday was then agreed at the Council of Nicaea to be December 25th even though it would seem unlikely that shepherds would be tending their flock in the hills at night during the snowy depths of mid-winter. It was a political decision of the ruling military power of most of the known world at the time and the effective ruler of Christianity, but it has been retained by Christianity long after the fall of the Roman Empire.
In summary, a relatively small, impoverished, and persecuted cult of thousands was taken over by Rome Inc. and today has a global client base of around two billion people paying off an advance mortgage on an after-life plot in heaven. It is now a modern, complex corporation worth untold billions of tax-exempt dollars. Was this the greatest corporate takeover and franchise operation of all time? It is not as if the people can make a claim under the Consumer Protection Act after they are dead.
But at its essence, the celebration of Christmas is the official Roman Church recognition of the legend that just over 2,000 years ago, three magi (star watchers) travelled from somewhere in Persia to Galilee because they had noticed a very bright body in the night sky and, from their ancient knowledge, they concluded that this ‘star’ meant the coming of the anointed one, the Messiah. They followed this star until it shone a beam down to a stable in Bethlehem where they witnessed the birth of Yahshua.
Now if anyone today told of a mysterious bright light in the sky leading three astronomers to a remote village in the desert to witness the birth of the child of a woman who had been approached by unearthly beings and artificially impregnated, they would be looked at with serious scepticism, at the very kindest. And when witnesses described that same baby’s final day on earth 33 years later as one where he was magically raised up from the Mount of Olives and was last seen entering a ‘cloud’ hovering above them, they would be ridiculed as alien conspiracy loonies. But, thanks to the endorsement of the Roman Emperor Constantine, this story has been given the credibility to be accepted by the most conservative people as the basis of the religion of Christianity. The basis for the declaration that Yahshua was indeed a son of God.
Today the bright light over Bethlehem, the angels serving an all-powerful God and the hovering cloud from the religious narrative have all been translated in the commercial myth of a Santa Claus, who knows if you have been good or bad, who has elves helping him prepare gifts for the good and who flies around the world on a warp-speed sky-craft to either reward or to deny reward.
For the first 1700 years, Christmas was solely a religious event, a Mass involving devout worship, wholesome family gathering and alms to the poor. Any money to be made was in tithes to the local parish priest which passed up the line until the capo in Rome eventually wet his beak. The priest would expect a bonus from his clients for a special Christmas performance, but the despised merchant class was largely left out of the action.
Then, thanks to Coca Cola and the D’Arcy advertising agency, Saint Nicholas, a revered Christian patron saint of children and one of the bishops at Nicea, was rebranded as fat, jolly Santa Claus and the commercial Christmas era arrived in full force. Charles Dickens had tried to start instilling a bit of guilt and goodwill in the hearts of the rich at Christmas time. But it was Coke that gave really gave Christmas the nostalgic magic of fantasy that overtook the religious festival and saw the true commercial potential of using Santa to endorse their products; and the rest of the commercial world climbed aboard the sleigh. Selling the idealism of a benevolent father figure living in the North Pole with his angelic elves, bringing gifts to all the good little children, runs parallel to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Just as Constantine had blended an established pagan celebration with the birth of Jesus, so too Coca Cola blended the Christian Saint Nicholas celebration with a commercial Santa Claus celebration. It did not take long before the target market was extended to all people that we ‘love and care for’. Even extended families, which are progressively becoming more complex, are socially coerced into getting together for this day.
That of course just exponentially increases the number of gifts and food that must be purchased. It became a gift-giving and feasting event that threatened social shame upon those miserly scrooges who did not support it. Brilliant! Was this one of the most effective ad campaigns of all time? How many businesses today owe their existence and profits to that morphing of Santa Nicholas into Santa Claus? Including family lawyers with post-Christmas now becoming one of their busiest times of the year as the victims of this season of peace and goodwill turn up at their offices in January as predictably as whitebait in October.
If the birth of Jesus was an important anniversary for his followers, his death, recovery and subsequent ascension into a cloud in the sky from the Mount of Olives is actually the true basis of the religion. For it was based on witnessing this event that his followers had the conviction and courage to face persecution, torture and cruel death to deify him. It was also the basis for the collection of Christian Bishops, gathered together by Roman Emperor Constantine in Nicea in 325 A.D., to vote that Jesus was actually a God equal to God the Father as well as a human. With this declaration 1645 years ago, the Christian religion was established as a bona fide stand-alone religion of the Roman empire rather than just a cult sect of Judaism. In the Roman world there was no limit on the numbers of Gods and any ‘faith’ had to be headed up by a specific God. And so, Christianity was established to become one of the three great religions of the modern era. It also slightly adjusted the original Christian Church’s Judaic base belief system from being monotheistic to now being a trinity of three Gods in one: a human form, a spirit form, and a paternal form. In considering the Easter narrative that Jesus died on the cross and on the 3rd day was resurrected as God, pause to recall the choice of Jesus’ birth day celebration as the third day after the winter solstice when the sun was reborn after having descended onto the Crux (cross) constellation.
For a Church which believed that Jesus’ resurrection and physical ascension into the heavens demonstrated the triumph of a human-form of God over the pagan forces of nature, it is peculiar then that the date of Easter changes annually, based on the timing of the first weekend after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. This uses an undeniably pagan calendar and coincides with a long-established Spring Equinox pagan festival. This came about because in 595 AD, Pope Gregory sent a mission of 40 monks led by a Benedictine called Augustine, who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, with instructions to convert Pagans to Christianity by superimposing Christian events over established Pagan festivals.
The Spring equinox celebration in paganism (witchcraft) today is called the feast of the Germanic goddess of fertility and new birth “Ostara” or “Oeste”, which is clearly the root name for our Easter. This is one of the eight neopagan holidays that make up the pagan wheel of the year. And if we dig a little deeper in history to paganism in Rome at the time of Emperor Constantine, we also find the older Spring Equinox festival where they believed in a goddess Cybele, the great mother of Gods, who had a consort named Attis. Attis had been a shepherd who was believed born of a virgin birth from his mother, Nana. Attis died from self mutilation beneath a pine tree having broken a promise to Cybelle but by the power of Zeus his body did not decompose and he was resuscitated.
This Roman Pagan Spring festival, called Hilaria, was celebrated over a three day period 10-7 days before the April new moon. The 3rd day of the festival, Hilaria, was a day of rejoicing at Attis’ resurrection. It is recorded that during this festival a pine tree was cut in the woods and brought to the sanctuary of Cybele. The duty of carrying the tree was entrusted to a guild of Tree bearers. The trunk was swathed like a corpse with woollen bands and decked with wreaths of violets (violets were reputed to have sprung from the blood of Attis). The parallel to our Christian mourning of Jesus bearing the cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha is uncanny. On the third day of the festival the high priest (Archigallus) drew blood from his arm and offered it as a sacrifice. The inferior clergy also danced their way into a frenzy of self-mutilation to splatter their blood on the tree. The splattering of blood was supposed to be an aid to resurrection. Again, the sacrament of the blood of Christ offered up at the last supper is an uncanny parallel. The subsequent rebirth of nature as spring progressed is then seen as proof of the restoration of life. The worship of Cybele and Attis was brought to Rome from Phygria (Asia Minor) in 204 bc. Attis was made a solar deity in the 2nd century ad so was an established Roman god at the time of Nicea. The black stone (meteorite) in which the spirit of the goddess was embodied was entrusted to the Romans who installed it in the temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. The subsequent harvest was exceptionally good and her position in their belief system was established.
And so it came about that the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into a cloud in the heavens of Jesus the Nazarene co-existed with, or overwrote, the existing Pagan narratives as the official Roman Cybele-Attis cult celebration of the rebirth of Spring.
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.
If I had to think about this, I would have to puzzle over why an all-loving God would require his Son to suffer torture and die a cruel death as a means of atoning for the evils of man. There seems no co-relation. How would having his Son rejected, tortured, and killed by humans actually thereby make humans more acceptable to God as a righteous species? But this was the narrative that was required in order to make Christianity palatable to the Romans. The integration of Christianity with existing pagan rituals was the only way Constantine and his advisers could make it work. It was just politics. But was there any other history upon which the pagan rituals were based?
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 semi-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 Judea, then 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”. But from the books of the New Testament, Jesus was most famous in his day as a healer and a miracle worker, a magi not a military leader. He restored the sight of the blind, restored the hearing of a deaf mute, cured lepers, he turned water to wine and fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, he brought Lazarus back from death, as well as himself.
The development of Christianity in the first 300 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 recorded messianic claimants at the same time, who generally met the same fate of Jesus of Nazareth, 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 based on the belief that Jesus, the man born as a result of a visit by angels to the virgin Mary, had risen from the dead and was witnessed being physically beamed up into the heavens. They believed in heaven because they had witnessed the raising of Jesus into a cloud and then disappearing into the heavens. A very powerful experience.
So the question that I raise is, did the Council of Nicaea actually achieve an official takeover of Paganism by Christianity, or was the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in effect an integration of Christianity into the existing pagan rituals by the emperor Constantine as a political accommodation? After 300 years of Rome trying unsuccessfully to suppress this Judeo-Christian cult, did he in fact simply don a Christian façade and bring the dissident Christians under his control in this way? Was the new, improved Christianity post-Nicea simply a hybrid Pagan/Christian religion designed to bring religious and social harmony into the Roman Empire? Did he bring the feasts of paganism and the dates of paganism, complete with funny hats and symbolic staves, meld them with carefully edited texts about the life of Jesus (many original texts were said to have been declared heretical by this new church, and burned) and say: “Behold the new Christianity!” Certainly, once Rome became the holy seat of the Church, the blame for Jesus’ death was attributed to a divine decision to sacrifice his son for the forgiveness of the sins of all men rather than being a military execution by the Roman Governor. It was ‘agreed’ at the conference that Yahshua died, not for the crime of sedition against the Roman occupiers of Israel and their Rabbi puppets, but rather in atonement for the sins of all mankind. It became almost as if the Romans had been given no choice but to crucify Yahshua because this death was ordained by God, who had predetermined to sacrifice his son in atonement for the sins of all humans. It wouldn’t be the first time that history was rewritten. Conferences are all about compromise and consensus for a win/win.
How much do we really now know, then, about the early Christians? And what did they really believe? It was Peter, and later Paul, who first started preaching to non-Jews sometime after the crucifixion. But this caused divisiveness with the Christians who remained in Jerusalem and stayed faithful to the original mission as stated by Mathew’s (10:5) account of Jesus’ instruction. “Do not turn your steps into pagan territory and do not enter any Samaritans town; go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” And later in Mathew 15:12 when a Canaanite woman asked for help, Jesus replied “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel……it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.” And Jesus most certainly was not setting out to replace Judaism when he said in Mathew 5-17:“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”
When apostles spoke to Jesus after his resurrection, Acts1:6-8, and asked him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.”
Very clear Judaic messages with a direct reference to the freeing of the kingdom of Israel from the Romans. But the moment the new Christian dogma was signed off in Nicaea, all links with Israel and Judaism were severed. This was now the Church of Rome. “Bethlehem’s family bakery, serving bagels since 33AD” had sold out to “Romano’s Pizza Temple – global franchise enquiries welcome”. And when the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century, it was the Church of Rome that continued the Roman mission, both religiously and militarily, to control western Europe and then onwards to the new world.
Devout Christians today take comfort in the promise of the two men in white who spoke to the apostles of Jesus when he was taken up into a cloud and assured them that “he will return in the same way you saw him go.” Jesus was flesh and blood but if they had flying craft technology 2,000 years ago they also had an understanding of the technology of holography or even cryonics.