Essay:The Origin of Christianity

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Contrary to popular belief Christianity did not begin suddenly with the birth of Christ. Rather it evolved as a result of the social and theological climate of its time.

Christianity owes much of its heritage to Hellenistic pagan religions, which distributed myths of virgin-born, died and resurrected savior gods. Furthermore "mystery" cults of the period offered properly initiated disciples the secrets to realizing paradise in the afterlife. Judaism in fact has a mythology of its own that had a significant influence on the formation of Christianity. Elements of Jewish mythology, to include original sin, judgment, apocalypse, and atonement, can be discerned from the writings of Jewish prophets. It cannot be denied that much of the origin of Christianity can be traced to Judaism.

As Jews were exposed to Hellenistic culture, the fusion of the two mythologies was reflected in the countless works of their authors. Two such literary products of the Jewish Hellenistic period were the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. Considered part of some Old Testament canons and written a few hundred years before any recognized Christian writings, scholars can nonetheless identify messianic allusions and numerous other themes in these two books that were subsequently incorporated into those of the Christian New Testament canon as well.

The first efforts to be ultimately allowed into the New Testament were the epistles of Paul. Paul's theology, as inferred from his authentic letters, reflects a synthesis of Judaism with the mystery cults. From his works, one can surmise Paul's belief that initiation by baptism into death and resurrection with "Christ Jesus" allows one to escape the effects of sin. For further clarification, in Paul's own words, see Romans 6:1-10. Additionally, Paul, in Romans 16:25-26, mentions the "mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God." Conspicuously absent in this passage, as in all of Paul's philosophizing, is any sense that Jesus actually existed as a recent historical figure, despite Paul's having recorded these thoughts only 20 to 25 years after Jesus was alleged executed.

In fact the first New Testament book to relate any details about the deeds and teachings of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark, appearing roughly 40 years age Jesus' alleged death. However, the usefulness of Mark as a factual account is seriously questionable. The gospel makes no claim to have been written by an eyewitness and its traditional attribution to Mark, an assistant of the Apostle Peter, is doubtful. It demonstrably contains historical and geographical errors and internal inconsistencies. With its omniscient point of view and emphasis on miracles, it reads more like a work of fiction, even in contrast to works left by notable historians of the age.

An open-minded analysis of Mark reveals that every passage is a collection of verses taken directly from, or inspired by, Old Testament verses. Because of the author of Mark's heavy reliance on scripture, Christian fundamentalists have reached the backward conclusion that the older works actually prophesied the gospel events. Convincing evidence has been presented that the author drew upon Old Testament themes to create a fictional work for the sole purpose of imparting a moral. Additionally the Gospel of Mark appears to be based on oral tradition that preceded it. Furthermore, the curious references to understanding parables and the "secret of the kingdom of God" in Mark 4:11-12 may indicate influence of the mystery cults.

Three subsequently written gospels were also awarded canonization, each with a reasonably obvious theological agenda. Scholars are nearly unanimous in their belief that the gospels of Matthew and Luke were mere reworks of Mark and that that of John is strongly influenced by it too. It is worth noting the significance of this observation: nearly everything we know about Jesus is derived from a single story. In fact the followers of Jesus are described 17 times by use of the word "multitude" in the Gospel of Mark alone (KJV), yet there is not a single reference to Jesus written by a historian during his lifetime and all remarks by historians in the centuries immediately following appear to be based merely on oral testimony from Christians at the time.

Christian authors wrote prolifically during the 200 years or so after the Gospel of Mark to expand traditional knowledge of characters referenced within and to further particular theological points of view. Often books were fraudulently ascribed to perceived authorities in order that their contents would be better received, although some were considered inauthentic even in antiquity. During a period of approximately 300 years the books constituting the New Testament canon were settled on.

In reality, the choice of which books to canonize was a direct result of pressure within the fledgling Christian Church to adopt a collective and universal set of beliefs. To illustrate, there had been factions within the church that denied the existence of an earthly Jesus as well as those that believed in a Jesus of history but who was inferior to God. Due to various motives, several of these factions desired that their view be decided on as representing the official position. Ultimately the Roman emperor ordered doctrinal consensus within the Christian Church. Christian bishops convened councils to vote on the issues and subsequently issued creeds of faith. New Testament canonization would soon reflect the decisions of these councils as well.

To summarize, Paul and other self-proclaimed "apostles" were influenced by Jewish and Hellenistic mythologies, conceiving a "Jesus mystery religion." Subsequent authors expanded upon this philosophy by adding details of a historical Jesus. Those believing in Jesus' historicity successfully defended their position, and it eventually became accepted by the entire church. In other words, in the struggle to dictate Christian Church doctrine, history was determined by the winners.