Thursday April 6 2023
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant. Mathew 26: 26-28
Tonight is the full moon after the spring equinox and therefore in the Christian calendar it is referred to as Good Thursday, the commemoration of the start of the four day drama that would result in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Thursday was the evening of his last meal with his closest disciples, and was the night before his execution. During the meal he metaphorically handed them his body, in the form of bread, and poured his blood, in the form of wine, instructing his disciples to continue to perform this ceremony in memory of him; and Christians continue this ritual to this day. In the gospels, there is no deeper explanation of the meaning; it simply manifests the message that Jesus wished to to be remembered for. It bears, however, an uncanny reference to an event that was recently discovered written on clay tablets dating back to 1650 BCE, buried in what was ancient Babylon.
In 1840 a French Consul in Mosul (now Iraq) who had been filling in his days riding in the desert, had came across mounds that contained pottery shards and on further excavation discovered a huge number of clay tablets containing cuneiform writing. At first he regarded them as nothing more than a curiosity, but a couple of years later he showed them to an Englishman he had befriended, Henry Layford. Layford was convinced this was a major archeological find. It subsequently became a serious archeological site as a joint Anglo-French dig, albeit a clear demarcation line was drawn. Eventually the first Assyrian palace built by King Sargon 11 near Ninevah in 709BC was uncovered along with tens of thousands of clay tablets which were removed for translation and preservation. The texts, written around 1650 bee, 250 years before Moses, were slowly decoded and eventually published in 1965 by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard. The texts actually contain an account of the sacrifice of a God in order to create man. The first tablet wrote of an uprising by minor gods against the major gods protesting the heavy workload that was demanded of them:
When the gods were man, they did forced labor, they bore drudgery. Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods, the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much. The seven great Anunna-gods were burdening the Igigi-gods with forced labor. The Igigi-gods were digging watercourses; canals they opened, the life of the land. The Igigi-gods dug the Tigris river and the Euphrates thereafter. Springs they opened from the depths, wells … they established. “Everyone of us gods has declared war;…We have set … the excavation, Excessive drudgery has killed us, our forced labor was heavy, the misery too much! Now, every one of us gods has resolved on a reckoning with Enlil.”
The solution agreed was to sacrifice the flesh and blood of one of the gods and blend it with that of primate beasts so these beasts would gain sufficient intelligence from the god’s dna to be useful as slaves:
“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.”
Of significance, these clay tablets were written in Babylon from which region (now Persia) the three Magi (astronomer-priests) of the biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus, set off because they observed the star of David. According to medieval scholar Rabbi Abarbonel, the Star of David is the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. The scriptures trace the Magi origins back to Babylon at the time that the Jews were exiled there around 800 bce. It was there also that the Zoroastrian religion was founded around 600 bce; Zoroaster means ‘Dawn Star”. The Bible does not provide a purpose for that long journey to Galilee, other than to bear witness to the birth of Jesus under the Star of David; nor does it mention any further involvement that the Magi may have had in Jesus’ life. But it is a most interesting link between Jesus the Jew and high priests of a Persian religion with its own links back to Israel and its own historical account of the sacrificial mixing of the body and blood of a junior God so that man might serve the Gods.
For a Church that believes that Jesus’ resurrection and physical ascension into the heavens demonstrated the triumph 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 forty 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.
Jesus’ death, recovery and subsequent ascension into a cloud in the sky from the Mount of Olives is the primary basis of the Christian religion. For it was based on witnessing this event that his followers had the unyielding conviction and courage to face persecution, torture and death to publicly endorse his teachings. 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, but any cult had to be headed up by a specific God. And so, Christianity was established to eventually become one of the three great religions of the modern era. It also slightly adjusted the original Christians’ Judaic 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 as man, and on the third day was resurrected as God, pause to recall the choice of Jesus’ birth day celebration as the third day after the 22 December winter solstice, when the sun is reborn after having descended onto the Crux (Southern Cross) constellation.
So the question that challenge me on this Easter Thursday is whether the Council of Nicea was 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 seasonal feasts 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 role of the Roman Governor in the execution of Jesus was carefully redrafted. It was ‘agreed’ at the conference that Jesus 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 Jesus 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.
In Rome at the time of Emperor Constantine, the Spring Equinox festival honoured 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, ten to seven 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 woolen 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 so uncanny we must presume it is based on it, which raises its own questions about the ancient links between paganism and original Christianity. 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 and so was an established Roman god at the time of Nicaea. 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.
The Spring equinox celebration in paganism today is now 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 so it has come about that the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Galilean into a cloud in the heavens was melded firstly with the Pagan narratives of the official Roman Cybele-Attis cult celebration of the rebirth of Spring, and after the Germanic tribes conquered Rome in 476 CE, the festival adopted the Germanic name of Oeste.
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 the Christian interpretation is that this sacrifice renewed the covenant between God and man.
How much do we really now know, then, about the early Christians who took the teachings of Jesus beyond Galilee and Judea? We know this caused a division with the Christians who remained in Jerusalem, led by Jesus’ brother James, and who 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.”
Very clear Judaic messages, but the moment the new Christian dogma was signed off in Nicea, all links of Christianity with Israel and Judaism were severed. But if any of Jesus’ followers had ever believed that God was promising to finally deliver the Jews from the yoke of Rome and give them peaceful sovereignty over Judea, and that Jesus would return to accomplish that, 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”. 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 Christian mission, both religiously and militarily, to control western Europe and then onwards to the new world. The narrative created by the Romans when Constantine rebranded Christianity is that obedience to the official Christian Church of Rome is the only path to resurrection after death and eternal life with Jesus in heaven. Disobedience will lead to eternal damnation in the hell fires tended by Satan. Political control through spiritual terrorism.
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. When Jesus said he came to remind Israelites of the laws of Moses he was challenging how far the high priests had drifted away from the fundamentals of Moses’ teaching. Moses had written that Yahweh guided them through the wilderness by way of a “cloud” hovering over them during the day and that cloud becoming a pillar of light for night travel. (Exodus 13:21). Periodically the “cloud” would land beside the tent of meeting and God would meet with the leaders of the Hebrews. He also wrote that Yahweh was also responsible for an aerial drop of a bread substance, six days a week for forty years to feed the travelling Israelites in the desert. The bread appears to have arrived frozen: “in the morning there was a coating of dew all-round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted there was a thing delicate, powdery…that, said Moses is the bread Yahweh gives you to eat…..And when the sun grew hot, it dissolved” (Exodus 16:21). Had the high priests of the first decades of this common era simply forgotten about the technology that had been involved in bringing the Hebrews from Egypt to occupy Canaan. And had they forgotten the teachings that were recorded on ancient clay tablets telling of the mixing of the body and blood of a God with that from a primate beast to create man. Teachings that may very well have travelled with the Jews when they were sent into exile in 800 bce and which were preserved over the millenia by the Magi.
Devout Christians today take most comfort from what Jesus’ disciples witnessed on the Mount of Olives after the resurrection: “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 the heavens? Jesus has been taken from you into the heavens, but someday he will return from the heavens in the same way you saw him go!” Acts 1:9-11.
It was witnessing the physical ascension of Jesus into a cloud in the sky and communicating with these mysterious beings dressed in white that gave the disciples the evidence to connect what they had witnessed on the Mount of Olives with the records of what Moses’ people had witnessed on their journey through the desert, and so have the belief to fearlessly continue Jesus’ mission. That mission was to tell the Jewish nation what Jesus meant with the ritual at the last supper: that man was created by a covenant with the Gods involving the mixing of primate’s flesh and blood with that of a God who’s life had been sacrificed for that purpose. It explains our ‘original sin’ as being no more nor less than the bestial nature of the primates that we were. And that sacrifice was made to engineer primitive beasts into intelligent humans so they could now serve their creator:
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.