On Biblical Standards and Natural Understanding

The Bible is a volume of writings which were hand selected (and in some cases hand edited) by the early Roman Church in the 4th century CE, and subsequently deemed as the exclusive and sacred word of God. About a thousand years later, these same writings were divided and organized into chapters, verses, and into a two fold division of an “Old” and a “New” Testament. The earlier major section of these writings reflects the personal, social, and religious values of a relatively isolated, desert people of an era of some two millenniums past; whereas the latter section reflects the ethical values of the Greco-Roman era of a slightly later time. The latter section likewise seems to serve as the subtext for a 2nd CE struggle between two general factions of the then recently conceived religious movement known as Christianity.

Each of the two major sections of the Bible center upon creative tales and embellished claims of the development of a select chosen people of God into an influential and powerful collective. In the first major section, that collective was visualized as the great and powerful nation of Israel. In the latter section, the collective so visualized was the institutional Church. There is a sense of validity to the existence of the respective collectives themselves, though in each case the chronology of the claimed circumstances are debatable, and the actual extent of influence and affluence are seemingly overstated, that is if taken literally.

The writings of the former major section are primarily composed of ancient Hebrew mythology, poetry, preaching, and the biased, fanciful tales of the over exaggerated national empire heretofore mentioned. The humble state of the allegedly once significant people is attributed to sin and faithlessness of the people themselves.

Meanwhile, the latter major section (evidently written primarily in the 2nd century CE) opens with the narrative of a wildly popular itinerant preacher who captured the interest and following of the local peasants, who conversely drew the ire of the religious establishment of the day, and who eventually was executed as a blasphemer. This young cleric’s claims of an impending apocalyptic crisis, coupled with the conclusion to the narrative being an empty grave and a claim that he was resurrected, lead to ever evolving claims of immortality, ascension, and even deity.

Although the content of the biblical narratives are primarily mythical tales, nonetheless there is no denying their worldwide influence even to this day. The first major section of the Bible is the forerunner for and serves as the foundation of the three major global monotheistic religions; namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The latter major section though is primarily the domain of the numerous sects of the Christian religion. In this respect, the influence of these texts in a variety of cultures simply cannot be overstated or underestimated.

Perhaps the most profound such influences have been realized in the realm of social relations. The adaptation of ancient thinking and harsh standards to modern societies has involved a predictable share of problems and unfavorable influence. Unfortunately, a number of unseemly social and systemic issues which plague contemporary cultures have precedent in and therefore may be founded upon biblical ideology.

Such include:

Patriarchy, Sexism, and Misogyny.
State sanctioned murder (aka Death Penalty, Capital Punishment)
Theocratic justifiable murder
Infanticide
Genocide
Religious Bigotry
Institutional Slavery/Exploitation of Labor
Sex Slavery
Militarism
Imperialism
Colonialism
Homophobia
Xenophobia

This list is not necessarily totally exclusive, and by all means some the of cited issues may overlap with each other. For example, the Old Testament authorized (even commanded) that non virgin newlywed wives should be executed for crimes against Israel. Such would constitute both Misogyny and Capital Punishment, which are each social issues to themselves, but in this case, they clearly overlap. There are several other such instances, but this example suffices for the moment.

The presumption then that biblical writings are of a sacred nature unfortunately can leave the false impression that the thinking of the people and the way of life of those depicted in biblical literature are somehow just and correct simply as a matter of record. And so to many people, mere biblical statements and examples are their basis to justify debatable social practices. And so, one might quote “an eye for an eye” to justify Capital Punishment, or “if any will not work, neither let him eat” to justify cutting funding for Food Stamps, with no need for further deliberation or alternative considerations. There is undoubtedly a “the Bible says it, that settles it” mentality among a large demographic of our society, but such is based upon the heretofore mentioned presumption that biblical writings are sacred in and of themselves.

Now, to be certain as to the matter; not all Jews, Muslims, and/or Christians are bigoted, homophobic, or misogynists; and for that demographic of religious monotheists I have the utmost respect. It is not easy for a Christian to take a “live and let live” perspective with regards to the LGBTQ community while they hear homophobic propaganda from their Preachers, nor is it easy for peaceful Muslims to conduct their lives while being slandered for the deeds of extremists Islamists. But the fact remains that the social values of many monotheists; especially here in the Southern region of the US, are based upon the social values of a desert people from an isolated region of over 2,000 years ago.

And thus the conclusion of the matter at hand:

Shall we, as individuals and as collective societies, base our standards upon our own natural understanding of “right and wrong”, or shall we allow our natural senses to be influenced by ancient writings from harsh and somewhat barbaric cultures? Shall we trust our common sense and natural sense of compassion as a moral guide, or shall we trust the harsh standards of a people of antiquity?

I suggest that such queries are not so much a matter of faith or religious ideology, but a much more basic reality of natural existence and common sense.

As for me, I choose to trust my own natural understandings.

But to each their own.

Dying/Resurrection God Myths

Death and resurrection myths were common to several cultures some 2,000-3,000 years ago:

The Greeks had their Dionysus, the half god/half mortal who was ripped to shreds by angry and agenda driven Titans, only to be reassembled and resurrected to become one of the most revered and influential gods of the Grecian culture; as well as being the only Greek god who ever descended to the realm of death and successfully raised another from the dead; when he rescued his deceased mother from the underworld.

Asia Minor had Attis, who castrated himself on his wedding day and bled to death under a pine tree, only to be raised from the dead before and without suffering decay.

Egypt had Osiris, who in spite of being suffocated to death in a box, floated “down the river” in his coffin, and mutilated; was nonetheless reassembled in order to reign as the king of the underworld and to serve as the Judge of the eternal fate of the deceased.

Canaan had Baal; the son of God (El, aka Dagon); who was killed, banished to the netherworld; presumed dead; raised up and restored to his throne and rightful position as Lord and Master.

The Hebrews had Jesus; the half god/half mortal son of God who was executed by crucifixion; only to be raised from the dead before his body suffered decay; and soon thereafter to ascend to heaven in order to reign at the right hand of God before eventually judging the eternal fate of the deceased.

Observations:

Every god listed above; without exception, was alleged to have died and subsequently spent time in the underworld/realm of death, before being resurrected to live again.

Every god listed above; with one exception, served as the god of fertility/vegetation of his respective culture.  The lone exception being the Hebrew dying/rising from the dead god Jesus.

Every culture listed above; with one exception, associated the mythical tale of the miraculous death and subsequent resurrection of their respective dying/rising gods primarily with agricultural and natural experiences such as the annual dying and seasonal revival of crops, and the daily departure and cyclical return of the sun.  The lone exception being the Hebrew culture with reference to their dying/rising from the dead god Jesus.

The Hebrew culture in fact have seemingly “flipped” the perspective in that they associate the natural death and rebirth of crops with the miraculous death, burial, and resurrection of their dying/rising from the dead god Jesus (John 12:24,27); as opposed to vice versa.

The primary concern then of most of the cultures listed above seems to have been the natural practical matter of survival based upon the fertility of agriculture and the stability of the environment.  The exceptions being the Hebrew culture, and to an extent the Egyptians.

The primary concern of the Hebrew culture on the other hand seems to have been the supernatural spiritual matter of salvation based upon faith in the details of their myth of the death, burial, and miraculous resurrection of their god/man Jesus; and furthermore faithful obedience to set doctrines relative to the myth itself (namely; baptism and ceremonial worship).

The Egyptian culture seems to have assumed a hybrid perspective with regards to their mythical dying/rising god tale in that they associated Osiris with both the natural practicalities of survival based upon the dying and returning of crops; and yet likewise associated Osiris with one’s supernatural afterlife state by portraying Osiris as the judge of the deceased in the underworld.

Speculations:

The fact that these tales of dying/rising gods are usually associated with practical natural matters leads me to view such as cultural myths whose agenda related to everyday “here and now” affairs.

The fact that the Hebrew dying/rising god myth seems to be somewhat uniquely a primarily and fundamentally supernatural/afterlife agenda based tale, leads me to view such as a party driven myth, as opposed to one whose concerns represented any given culture as a general whole.

History would seem to indicate that the party(s) so referenced would be the early Christian movements (Gnostic Christian, Marcionite Christian, Jewish Christian, and early Catholic Church come to mind.  Early Christianity was split into a variety of philosophic factions; 1 Cor 1:12).

Regardless of whether the agenda be practical or philosophical, the nature of the tales and the scope of the exercise of mythical creation and circulation leads me to conclude that no one dying/rising god myth is in fact historic and/or true.  (This is not to say that any claims of historicity relative to any such myths are efforts to deceive or are lies as such; this is merely to say that all such myths are creations of the human imagination for a variety of heretofore mentioned reasons, and therefore not to be confused as fact. Or so it seems to me).

Conclusion:

It seems that the value of any given cultural/party agenda based myth would surely be for the most part specific to the demographic of the given culture and/or concerned party who maintained a vested interest in each respective tale.

Clearly, most of the dying/rising god myth tales taught reverence for and respect of the earth and the environment; if for no other reason than one’s own survival (A lesson which would do our society an element of good in my personal opinion).

The Egyptian Osiris and the Hebrew Jesus dying/rising from the dead myths no doubt counseled a degree of respectable lifestyle and social engagement, as each involved a post life judgment relative to how the deceased had conducted their earthly lives.

Regardless then of the alleged historicity of a given cultural/party agenda based myth, suffice it to say that the value of such is somewhat relative to the perspective of the individual.

Dave Henderson

Denison, Texas