Reforming Christianity I - Moving Past the Old Testament
Dedicated readers of the blog will know that I do not put much stock in the Old Testament and routinely take shots at it. I believe that the last two hundred years of scholarship have put to rest many of the claims that are advanced by the Old Testament itself and the traditions around it. For example, the claim that Moses wrote the Torah hasn’t been taken serious in the scholarly community for centuries and also simply makes no sense when one considers that his death is referenced by the writers. As for the origin date of the Old Testament, the claim that it is the first monotheist or at least the first document promoting monolatry is absolutely absurd. There is no way that it was written 6000 years ago, and, while the extreme minimalist view is new and still fringe in the academic community, I believe that scholars like Russel Gmirkin who date the writing of the Old Testament to either 2nd and 1st centuries BC have made a convincing argument that’s worth considering as well.
Now, the problem with dating is that our chronology is all wrong. We can only definitively date the last 600 years, and push our timeline back to 1000 AD before things get murky. The Russian chronologer Anatoly Fomenko famously pointed out that most of our history was invented by Jesuit chronologers and used astronomical data to prove his thesis. The new, revised timeline that he proposed got Fomenko into hot water, and there are valid criticisms of it, but the first part of his thesis, that the official chronology was wrong, is irrefutable and it opened the floodgates of historical revisionism. Some claim that the entire first millennium has been “faked” or “invented” out of whole cloth, while others claim that 300, 500, or 600 years have been invented. What sets these revisionists apart from standard historians is that they use different methods to arrive at their conclusions such as soil analysis or astronomy instead of simply taking the chronology of experts from the past on faith.
Point being, dating is a tricky thing and history is written with an agenda in mind.
Gmirkin’s (and all our dates) might be wrong, but the relative position of certain historical events can be figured out. Like, by pointing out all of the Greek texts and ideas that are cribbed by the authors of the Old Testament, Gmirkin is able to say that the Old Testament was almost certainly written after the spread and proliferation of Greek philosophy and metaphysics through the ancient world.
That’s a powerful revelation and it deals a powerful blow to the narrative surrounding the Old Testament, namely, that it is an ancient document chronicling the creation of the Earth and the beginning of mankind. Humans naturally ascribe value to old things. Age lends a gravitas and authority to any document, which is why forgers throughout history have been incentivized to claim that they have found ancient documents, statues, cities and so on. When you really take a critical look at all the “ancient” stuff that we have floating around in our museums you might find yourself huffing into a brown paper bag at the realization that many of these artifacts on display are actually copies of copies or a copy of a lost original that was found in dubious circumstances to begin with. Check out the story surrounding the finding of the supposed ancient city of Pompeii if you want to ruin your next planned vacation to Italy.
But we have to move on.
There are alternative narrative of the events surrounding the Jews’ stay in Egypt and the exodus that followed. For example, we have the Helleno-Egyptian historian Manetho’s account of what happened.
Put simply, he tells a starkly different story that goes something like this: the Jews took over Egypt through bribery and graft, impoverishing the people and driving the country to civil war. Eventually, a strongman pharaoh rose to power and freed his people from the Jews’ yoke, expelling and then chasing them out into Syria. I guess we all have to decide who to believe here - the people who have been expelled from 109 countries (and counting) or one of their many victims.
In fact, much of the Old Testament narrative appears to be a direct attempt to address the “libelous” claims of the Greeks and Egyptians leveled against them. Funny enough, it still manages to portray the Jews in a negative light. I mean, their god literally tells them to become loan-sharks in Egypt and by doing so, to steal the lands of the Egyptians and bring the country under Jewish control. Does this square with our idea of justice and morality? Well, only if we take the approach of the faithful and assume that blindly doing whatever “God” tells us to do (whatever Jewish priests tell us to do, basically) is the definition of morality, then OK. Otherwise, it is a head-scratcher for sure.
But there are other strange stories that we have to come to grips with.
The first takes place in the garden where knowledge is juxtaposed to blind faith in Yahweh. That is, acquiring knowledge is portrayed as a bad thing, an evil act - Luciferian, in fact. This is a claim that most priests no doubt agree wholeheartedly with, as any critical thinking about their house of cards religion constitutes a grave threat to its continued existence. And then Yahweh goes a step further, denying Adam and Eve everlasting life, which, correct me if I’m wrong, is what Christ goes on to offer humanity. Strange, no? Furthermore, Yahweh manages to “lose” Adam and Eve in the garden. How an omnipotent god loses anything makes little sense to me, but then, I guess that’s just proof that I don’t have enough faith to understand metaphysics, I suppose.
But there are many other instances of Yahweh not being omnipotent in the Bible. My favorite example occurs in Judges, when Aryan chariot-riders trounce Yahweh’s army.
And then there are also copious examples of Yahweh demanding human sacrifice in Exodus and later, in the infamous story of Jephthah's daughter, which dedicated Bible-thumpers never seem to notice or bring up. Curious.
Anyways, let us assume that the Old Testament isn’t as old as it claims to be. And let us consider that the world isn’t flat and under a snow globe as the Old Testament claims i.e., that the information presented by the Jewish priests who wrote it isn’t infallible either. Finally, let us examine the predominant narrative of the text.
The main point worth stressing here is that the Old Testament is not about God, but about a god - the god of the Jewish people. It is not a universalist text, even though it has been reinterpreted as such by the post-Nicene Church. The Old Testament is, put simply, about Yahweh bringing the entire world under the control of the Jews through deceit and conquest.
Here, I can do no better than Laurent Guyenot’s analysis of the Bible, which I encourage people to go and read:
I concluded an earlier article by what I regard as the most important “revelation” of modern biblical scholarship, one that has the potential to free the Western world from a two-thousand-year-old psychopathic bond: the jealous Yahweh was originally just the national god of Israel, repackaged into “the God of Heaven and Earth” during the Babylonian Exile, as part of a public relations campaign aimed at Persians, then Greeks and ultimately Romans. The resulting biblical notion that the universal Creator became Israel’s national god at the time of Moses, is thus exposed as a fictitious inversion of the historical process: in reality, it is the national god of Israel who, so to speak, impersonated the universal Creator at the time of Ezra—while remaining intensely ethnocentric.
The Book of Joshua is a good eye-opener to the biblical hoax, because its pre-exilic author never refers to Yahweh simply as “God,” and never implies that he is anything but “the god of Israel,” that is, “our god” for the Israelites, and “your god” for their enemies (25 times). Yahweh shows no interest in converting Canaanite peoples, whom he regards as worth less than their livestock. He doesn’t instruct Joshua to even try to convert them, but simply to exterminate them, in keeping with the war code he gave Moses in Deuteronomy 20.
However, we find in the Book of Joshua one isolated statement by a Canaanite woman that “Yahweh your god is God both in Heaven above and on Earth beneath” (2:11). Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho, makes that statement to two Israeli spies who spend the night with her, and whom she hides in exchange for being spared, together with her family, when the Israelites will take over the city and slaughter everyone, “men and women, young and old” (6:21). Rahab’s “profession of faith” is probably a post-exilic insertion, because it doesn’t fit well with her other claim that she is motivated by fear, not by faith: “we are afraid of you and everyone living in this country has been seized with terror at your approach” (2:9). Nevertheless, the combination of fear and faith is consistent with Yahweh’s ways.
The French Catholic Bible de Jérusalem—a scholarly translation by the Dominicans of the École Biblique, which served as guideline for the English Jerusalem Bible—adds a following footnote to Rahab’s “profession of faith to the God of Israel”, saying it “made Rahab, in the eyes of more than one Church Father, a figure of the Gentile Church, saved by her faith.”
I find this footnote emblematic of the role of Christianity in propagating among Gentiles the Israelites’ outrageous metaphysical claim, that great deception that has remained, to this day, a source of tremendous symbolic power. By recognizing her own image in the prostitute of Jericho, the Church claims for herself the role that is exactly hers in history, while radically misleading Christians about the historical significance of that role. It is indeed the Church who, having acknowledged the god of Israel as the universal God, introduced the Jews into the heart of the Gentile city and, over the centuries, allowed them to seize power over Christendom.
Modern churches actually don’t really know what to do with the claims advanced by the Old Testament, but, if you push, say, Orthodox priests on it, they will concede that the faithful have to believe the creation narrative, among many other outlandish claims related to history and, well, the religious narrative that is advanced by the Old Testament.
Does this mean that we have to keep the Old Testament to be Christian though?
Well, post-Nicene Council, we do, sadly.
There are many elements of Christianity, namely the Christian parts, that are good and life-affirming. The Jewish parts … not so much.
The Jewish parts gave us Capitalism and Calvinism. Calvin, himself Jewish, reread the Old Testament and realized that Yahweh was actually just preaching the prosperity gospel. After all, Jews with many goats and slaves were blessed by Yahweh - wealth denotes godly blessing and therefore the doctrine of the Elect and the pursuit of amassing wealth makes sense if you’re serving a Jewish god. Yahweh is a Capitalist, basically.
Nationalists throughout history have struggled to come to grips with the legacy of the Bible and seem to either reject Christianity and metaphysics entirely or they go the way of Christian Identity, which is a radical CIA-created doctrine that says the Old Testament is about a lost European tribe. Even with this creative reinterpretation of the Old Testament, we still are left with the basic teachings of the Jews (sacrificing people and animals, lending at interest and doing away with all actual spiritual practice) and worshipping a Jewish entity.
There is, however, a third, better way.
It was at the Nicene council that the Church decided to create the Bible as we more or less know it now. They also decided to destroy an earlier bible, by the so-called heretic, Marcion of Sinope, and go to war with his movement. In fact, it seems that the main impetus of the Nicene Council was to address and counteract the influence and power of Marcionite Christianity in much the same way as the writers of the Septuagint (Greek version of the OT) seemed to be writing with Manetho’s narrative in mind. They were Correcting the Record (tm) before it was cool, basically.
Marcion and his teachings will be the subject of the next post. In short, he correctly perceived the Old Testament as a work of derivative Jewish supremacist literature and rejected it. The first Christian bible consisted of the letters of the unedited first 10 letters of Paul, which Marcion first brought to light and his own gospel.
I believe that Marcionism provides a spirituality that is more attuned with our own culture and history and doesn’t force us to accept the schizophrenic claims of a hostile desert tribe as the foundation of our metaphysical understanding of the world. It also provides a neat transition - many Christian elements of Christianity can be kept, while the Jewish parts jettisoned with an untroubled heart. If anything, that is clearly the goal of the original Jesus Christ that Mark and Paul wrote about - to free us from the “curse of Moses” and the despotism of our Jewish overlords.