The origin of Christianity is the Jewish religion, Judaism. Christianity is a development of Judaism and the fulfilment of the Jewish Messiah prophecies of the Old Testament. That the new religion achieved fast and widespread popularity was mainly the workings of a well-organized and effective Roman empire and the emperor Constantine, or rather his mother.
Constantine’s mother was a Christian and she had a huge impact on her son. When Constantine embraced Christianity in the beginning of the fourth century, the religion suddenly found itself in the middle of the administration of the world’s biggest and most influential empire with a very effective bureaucracy. Soon Christianity expanded from Rome to the whole of the Mediterranean area. During the reign of emperor Theodosius the Great, Christianity became official state religion in 381 AD, and the basis of the unified Christian culture was established.
The foundation of the religion is the collection of different texts called the Bible (from greek tà biblía – the books), the scriptures of a small Semitic nomadic tribe, the Hebrews. This tribe was part of a larger Semitic union of tribes, and emerged in the area called Canaan, later Palestine, probably sometime in the 13th or 14th century BC. The exact time is unknown since there is little archaeological evidence after them from this period.
The Bible’s texts are divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testament. The Old Testament claims to tell the early history and religious myths of the Hebrew/Jewish people. Actually the Old Testament is a collection of propaganda texts, made by Jewish priests to give the Jewish people a great and glorious history they never had. Palestine, and the nomads living there, had up through history usually been occupied, ruled and influenced by the mighty civilisations surrounding them. By Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece and the Romans.
The original petty state of Israel formed 884 BC existed for just a few decades until overtaken by the Assyrians. After being oppressed and ruled by their mighty neighbours for centuries the Jews developed a strong nationalism, and messianic prophecies and unrealistic dreams of political and military power flourished in the last centuries BC.
In this atmosphere, the texts of the Old Testament emerged, and could suddenly “prove” that the oppressed Jews once had had just as a glorious past as their mighty neighbours and occupants. The texts told the story of a powerful Israel and how they together with their tribal God Jehovah/Yahweh had won one glorious victory after victory against their many enemies.
These megalomaniac fantasies, now told by the new written evidence, culminated in the presumptuous Jewish rebellions in the first century AD. The uprisings were swiftly crushed by the formidable Roman army, and after the last Jewish uprising in 70 AD, the Romans said enough is enough, and levelled Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground. It seem futile and strange that the Jews thought they could fight the mighty Romans, but fuelled by the stories of their glorious past and almighty God, and actually believing in the Messiah prophecies, counting on the warrior king Messiah should come from the skies with his divine army and wipe the Romans of the face of the earth. It was written that their God had given his chosen people glorious victories over superior enemies numerous times in the past, - pity that these stories were mere fiction. It must have been quite a disappointment for the survivors.
The Myths in the Old Testament (OT) were borrowed from the surrounding cultures. OT was written in Hebrew and canonized as the Palestinian Jew’s Holy Scriptures, - Tanakh. The final form and content of both the New- and the Old Testament was not clear from the beginning but was subject to different resolutions on church councils in the first centuries AD. A first version of OT was agreed upon some time between 90 and 100 AD. This version contained 24 books, equal number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Today’s Old Testament with its 39 books was not agreed upon until in the 15th century AD. This is also the version of OT which Protestantism accepts as authoritative.
Up through history different Christian sects had different Bibles. Texts held as holy and authoritative by one congregation were considered highly suspicious by others, and was thus not a part of their Bible version. During the reign of Ptolemaios 2 of Egypt (283-246 AD) OT was according to tradition translated from Hebrew to Greek, since the Jews of Alexandria no longer understood Hebrew. According to tradition the texts were translated in the library of Alexandria during 72 days by 72 scholars. Therefore the translation is called Septuaginta, which means seventy and is usually referred to as LXX (70 in Roman letters). The story of the 72 scholars is by the way only a myth, too.
The Jews divided OT in three parts, the Law (thora), with the Pentateuch, the Prophets (nebi’im) with the eight prophet books, and the Scriptures (kethubim) with the remaining 11 books. In addition we have the Apocrypha, texts which never made it into the Bible (Apocrypha means ‘hidden’ in Greek). The opinions on the Apocrypha have varied through history. The catholic church counsil in Trient in 1545-63 AD decided that the Apocrypha, with exception for 3rd and 4th book of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, was of equal value with the canonical books. The protestant church only accepts the Palestinian canon, and sees the apocrypha more as a kind of dubious supplement to the Bible.
Judaism and Christianity are today strictly monotheistic religions, but they didn’t start out as such. In the societies where the stories of the Old Testament emerged there were numerous gods. The Jews and other tribes in the area were originally polytheistic and worshipped several gods and spirits. Traces of this is still in the Bible (1 King 8,5 f). One of their god figures was the Semitic El (Dagan), a dude with a very big penis. And his son Baal (the son of Dagan) was a fertility deity worshipped by the Jews. Over time El and the local tribal god Yahweh/Jehovah became one god.
The Hebrews also worshipped celestial objects, nature gods, house gods, animal gods (calf, snake), holy trees, holy springs and rocks. All the different tribes in the area had their own tribal deity, who was part of a larger pantheon and the common mythology of the area. Yahweh/Jehovah was originally a insignificant local tribal god for the Hebrew tribe. When these tribal gods were treated correctly with proper offerings, they protected the tribe, and could help the tribe when they waged war on their neighbouring tribes. The relation with the tribal god was considered as a pact, a pact between the male part of the tribe and the deity (Bultmann 1970). The deity brings victories on the battlefield and protects the cattle and sheep, the crops and even controlled the weather. In return the tribal god demanded blood offerings, the slaughter of an animal or a child (see below) now and then. Blood was considered as the life force for both Jehovah and the Jews, without spilling of blood no forgiveness and no divine services (Heb 9,22; Lev 17,11.)
According to the Old Testament, Jehovah is an especially bloodthirsty deity, and he is usually not exactly portrayed as a jolly amiable figure. He demanded blood, and for a long time he demanded human blood, to be precise: the blood of children. (Edwien 1958:27). Traces of the Jews’ child sacrifices we find in the stories of Abraham willing to sacrifice his son Isac (Gen 22,1), in the story of the daughter of Jefta (Judg 11,1 ff) and in the Mosaic laws where the sacrificing of children is compared to sacrificing animals (Ex 13,1, see also Ex 22,29-30; Mic 6,7; Ezek 20,25f).
All the first-born, both of humans and animals should be given to the Lord as sacrifice. Over time, this changed to replacing the sacrificing the first-born children with animal- or money sacrifice. (Ex 13,13; Num 18,15). To sacrifice children was probably practiced until the sixth century BC. (Edwien 1958:27).
Other Gods than Jehovah?
In the Old Testament, it is clear that the Jews believed there existed other deities than Jehovah, but these are of no concern for the Jews. Even St.Paul think there exist other gods than Jehovah (1 Cor 8,5-6). The first commandment also indicates that it is possible to choose other deities than Jehovah as your favourite deity. It says: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex 20; Deut 5,7). It doesn’t say “Jehovah is the only God there is”.
Anyway, over time the once small tribal god Jehovah became an almighty overlord God, an omnipotent creator god who doesn’t tolerate any other gods. He demands total submission and undivided attention from his people. The obviously most important thing to Jehovah, something repeated time and time again in the texts, is not to worship any other deity than him. The Jewish religious monotheism and the idea that they were Gods specially chosen people, result in the most extreme nationalism in antiquity (Deschner 1986:82). The Roman historian Tacitus writes that the Jews will be remembered for their hardcore superstition (pervicacia superstitionis) and as a people hated by the gods (genus hominum…invisum deis) (Deschner 1986:82).
The Pentateuch claims to be written sometime around the 13th or 14th century BC, and the Church claims that the inspired author is Moses. In reality the Pentateuch is far younger, most texts are probably written in the last five centuries BC, and by anonymous writers. It is in the Pentateuch we find many of the favourite myths from Sunday school, the two different creation myths, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Noah and the great flood (two versions), the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses and the exodus, the plagues of Egypt and more. The Pentateuch also contains numerous strict rules and regulations for the Jews; among these the famous Ten Commandments (Read more about them here).
Both the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament is very much a work of propaganda, made up by Jewish priests to give the Jews a great and glorious past. None of the stories in the OT are supported by any other sources or by archaeology. Many of the stories are clearly myths borrowed from other and older cultures in the area. There is no evidence of the great empires of king David or his son king Solomon. The Exodus never happened, nor did the great battles were the Hebrews and their god eradicated their enemies by the hundred of thousands.
What about Moses?
According to Biblical chronology Moses lived some time in the 13 th or 14 th century BC. The oldest parts of the OT are, according to old traditional biblical research, written at the earliest in the 9 th century BC. Moses can then hardly be the writer of any of it, even though the Church still claims that Moses is the inspired author of the Pentateuch. It is then strange, to say the least, that Moses should write about his own death and constantly speaks of himself in third person. That Moses probably never was a real person, does not help the case either. There is absolutely no historical evidence for this greatest Jewish leader of all times. No inscriptions on whether stone, bone, bronze, clay tablets, papyri or any mentions in place names or in traditional legends in the area, other than in the Bible. Even though Moses is far younger than well documented Egyptian, Assyrian and Sumerian rulers who have left us monuments, statues, pictures/hieroglyphs and an abundance of inscriptions. (Read more of Moses, the man of Myth, here.)
Most of the Pentateuch was written and compiled by Jewish priests at the earliest in the fifth century BC. Ca 60 of the chapters of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers was compiled in the fifth century BC, but the final editing and composition of the Pentateuch was first done early in the third century AD. In these centuries there were produced a large number of holy texts which were edited, compared and interpolated through several different versions before they finally ended up as the Jewish Tanakh, which then again became the Christian Old Testament. At this time writing “prophetic” texts was a very popular activity among the religious literalists. The “prophecies” were often based on events already happened, and the trick was to claim the texts older than they really were.
The writers of the Old Testament texts incorporated oral traditions, legends and myths from this part of the world, and mixed it together with Jewish nationalism and the associated megalomaniac fantasies. They also incorporated historic figures and place names in the stories to suggest historical authenticity.
The texts were meant to give the Jews their own glorious past, just as glorious as the great civilizations surrounding them. The Jews and Palestine had for centuries been controlled by these great civilizations, Egypt, Greece, Babylon, Assyria and lastly the Roman Empire. Through most of their known history they had been occupied and ruled by others, and this was probably the cause why the extreme nationalism and megalomaniac fantasies thrived in the Jewish society. Finally they also led to their demise. With the Jewish uprisings the Romans crushed so hard that it led to the Jewish diaspora.
The varied processes of the Old Testament’s creation are evident in the inconsistencies of the contents. There are two creation myths, two accounts of the great Flood (with different duration), two different family trees of Adam, and tree different durations for the exile in Babylon to mention a few inconsistencies. There is a multitude of inconsistencies and contradictories in the Bible. Todays version of The Old Testament is based on Medieval translations not older than the ninth or tenth century AD. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls (dated to 100 BC – 50 AD) at Qumran in 1947 revealed many text of the early Jewish/Christian sect the Essenes, commentaries and texts with regulations for the sect and fragments from the Hebrew bible. A version of Isaiah and a commentary on Habakkuk is the only text that is directly related to the canonical Bible.
The analysis and study of the Old Testament in the nineteenth century challenged the “holiness” of the texts. As a countermove the pope Pius 10 issued a declaration (”De mosaica authentia Pentateuchi”) the 27. of June 1906 where the Catholic Church maintains that Moses is the inspired author of the Pentateuch. This view is not supported by any serious scholars on the Bible today.
The Sumerian Legacy
One of the cultures the writers of the Old Testament texts have used extensively as “inspiration”, is the Sumerian culture of southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerians invented writing and were the world’s first great Civilization as we know it. The civilization flourished in the valleys between the two great rivers Tigris and Euphrates, the area known as southern Iraq today. The Sumerian civilization existed for ca 3000 years, between the fifth and the second millennium BC. They reached their golden era 3-2000 BC. The Sumerians invented the wheel, the plough, irrigation, sailing boats, the keel, potter’s wheel and were the first to build stone arcs and multi-storeyed buildings. They had an advanced juridical system, developed mathematics, astronomy and the calendar. Still today our definition of time is based on the original Sumerian number system based on 6 and 60, and also our division of the circle in 360 degrees. But their most important invention, the very basis of all later civilizations and cultures was done late in the 4 th century BC: – the art of writing.
The Sumerians wrote on clay tablets with straw of reed cuneiform script. Hundred of thousands of these clay tablets are found in archaeological excavations. The more of these tablets are found and interpreted, the more of the original stories and motifs known from the Old Testament stories emerges in their original form. (Read more here). Most of the clay tablets are at least a thousand years older than the earliest texts in the Old Testament. The Sumerian culture had a huge impact and formed the casting mould for the later great civilizations.