Christian Beginnings PDF
by Géza Vermès
After becoming an atheist, one of the things that fascinated me was why I, who had been studying for years to become a Roman Catholic priest, should have been once so convinced in my beliefs: how did these beliefs become so unquestionable?The obvious explanations involved combinations of complete submission to those in charge of me, brainwashing, acceptance that far greater minds than mine had thought deeply on these things so who was I to contradict them, etc.In liberating myself from these preconceptions, it was simpler to examine for myself the development of some of the ideas involving religion in general.One of the threads I followed was based on the realisation that at least the authentic epistles of Paul were all written well before
any of the traditional Gospels were written — so, for example, when Paul is talking about the gospel, he must be referring to his
gospel…What did this mean?Which ideas were the earliest? How did they influence each other?
The answers, of course are never simple.I did spend several decades reading, taking notes, and attempting to place these ‘ideas’ into some kind of chronological order, in order to help in my understanding.It soon extended to incorporate as many religious ideas as possible — I had quite some fun compiling the work — until almost 1,000 A4 pages had been accumulated. I ended up ‘publishing’ this compilation in four A4 books which can be purchased by accessing lulu.com on your computer (if anyone is interested). Faith I
covers the period from the Big Bang to 500 BCE; Faith II
covers the period 500 BCE to 500 CE; Faith III
covers the period 500 CE to 1500 CE; and Faith IIII
covers the period from 1500 CE to the Big Crunch…
I am telling you this because Geza Vermes’ book provides a similar, but limited period (from 30CE to 325 CE) chronological analysis, covering the earliest concepts of what would be later known as Christology.This book is a rather accessible introduction to Vermes’ lifetime work as an eminent Biblical Scholar, particularly relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it is essentially a re-presentation of his unorthodox take on what he calls Christian beginnings. For Vermes, the essential
qualities of the figure of Jesus, taken especially from the Synoptic Gospels, together with his understanding of pre-Christian concepts found in Jewish writings at the time of the beginning of the first century CE, is one of Jesus as a charismatic Messianic figure, a Jewish prophet, concerned about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God on earth.As such, his was a purely Jewish concern, and the idea is presented by Vermes as a continuation of a Jewish tradition in this regard — hence it is presented first in his book: even though the Synoptic Gospels, which contain extra content, had not yet been written, they do betray these Jewish concerns.
The first variation on this idea comes from Paul, writing from a Greek Platonic perspective. Even though Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he never actually met him.The first council of the new movement was held in Jerusalem in 48 CE; it was to result in its first schism, and it was generated by Paul.He ended up becoming the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (with a distinctly non-Jewish flavour — Paul argued that many if not all the Judaic requirements no longer applied) while the Jerusalem section remained tied to its Jewish roots.For Paul it was obvious that, after the alleged death and resurrection of Jesus, the earthly Kingdom of God had not eventuated, so his new urgent message was one of the (again) imminent return
of Jesus. This concept was naturally based on a ‘spiritual’ conception of a returning Jesus-spirit — a concept which was readily taken up by the Gnostics as representing a kind of ‘divinity’of the spiritual realms…This Gnostic interpretation was to develop into a major widespread popular interpretation, typified by Marcion and Valentinus.
The above then briefly establishes two distinctive ideas which were argued about for decades.The Gospel of John is so different from the first three gospels (written, in order, first Mark, then Matthew, then Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) that it represents a more ‘theological’ take, particularly based on the famous first chapter where John refers to Jesus as the ‘Word’ (in Greek logos
) and suggesting its eternal coexistence from ‘the beginning’ (despite Jesus having referred to himself as being inferior to the Father)…Vermes continues his selections of those works which dealt with the varying interpretations and implications in the early 2nd-century CE, including the beginnings of Christian anti-semitism (e.g. the epistle of Barnabas), the early apologists and scholars, then the more vociferous ‘anti heretics’ culminating in the major controversy of Arius versus Arthanasius.Arius, apparently backed by may Eastern leaders, including the emperor Constantine, believed that Jesus was initially human and only later (possibly after his ‘baptism’ by John the Baptist, or after his death and resurrection) became divine. The faction backed ultimately by Athanasius (who had the backing of the Bishop of Rome), survived, but the bickering continued… The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE officially declared that Jesus was eternal, divine, and also human: that he was a divine person (one of eventually three persons forming the Holy Trinity) but that he (and he alone) had two natures: one divine and one human.This dogma was only the beginning of the problem, and the matter would preoccupy thinkers and theologians for centuries as the consequences were fine-sifted and reconsidered over and over again.But the ‘clarification’ of Nicaea was more significant in that it permitted Christianity to be eventually declared the only
religion for the Roman Empire and its citizens, something which gave Christianity immense power and authority, and which it then went on to use ruthlessly and mercilessly against its real and imagined opponents.
Vermes limits his considerations to the bickering elements relating to the ‘official’ interpretation of the identity
of Jesus.His conclusion is that this Nicaean ‘Jesus’ figure is so far from the original Jewish conception that the two are completely incompatible.Vermes does not question other aspects and historically related issues in much depth. He assumes, for example, that the Charismatic Jewish Jesus actually existed.I have a different opinion: the Joshua/Yeshua/Iesous/Jesus figure is a composite of all those who railed against the Roman occupation of Palestine — some good-deed people (providing meals and caring for the poor and needy, for example); some warriors (zealots, sword-bearing apostles); some anti-Pharisees; some pro-Qumran; some remnants of John the Baptist’s followers; some tolerant and submissive to the Roman occupation; etc).Many of these existed in various manifestations at the time, and in turn, many of these, especially if they were perceived as provoking anti-social behaviour or involved in destabilising actions and disordering to society, were summarily put to death by the Romans.All of these different persons became a unified Messiah figure initially, then a kind of Redeemer, and in both cases it was firmly believed that the brave new world they aspired to would eventuate in their own lifetime.The ‘imminent’ coming first of the Kingdom of God, then of the Second coming of Jesus, both failed to materialise, but by the time this was fully appreciated, the blending of the differing and often incompatible narratives had become enmeshed in high-level ratiocinations which, despite ‘clarification’ at Nicaea in 325 CE, nevertheless continued to provide discord and malevolence for centuries, and contributed not only to the flourishing of Christian antisemitism but also conducive to the promulgation of much persecution, torture and suffering, not only for ‘infidels’ and ‘pagans’ but also between Christians themselves.Two thousand years later, the Second Coming is still fervently awaited. It is well past the time when we should wake up and realise that it is all a con, albeit —perhaps precisely because it is — an immensely rich and powerful one.
If you are a believer, Vermes is a good place to start: by realising that the creation of the myths of Christianity are very much the product of humans, with little if anything factual, let alone spiritual, about the arguments they engendered.For non-believers, Vermes’ work presents various elements for consideration: how unreal, unbacked, inauthentic stories are used to establish a new reality in the thoughts and ratiocinations of intelligent commentators regardless.Reason and ratiocination is a prostitute: for the ‘right’ faction it can and will be used, regardless of any real relation to facts or reality, to justify even the most outrageous claims and actions.This problem is not one specifically linked to Christianity — all religions have similar problems, and all have just as many intellectuals to ‘explain’ and ‘rationalise’ their inconsistencies and their fantasies.Although all of them might argue infallible interpretations and understandings based on these falsities, it is obvious simply through observation of the existence of many, varied and proliferating groups, sub-groups, sects, etc., that there is not, nor can there be, anything absolute or infallible about any of them.How to relieve ourselves of these delusions?Our prostitute reason provides us with the only real answer: there are no gods; everything about them that is written or discussed or promulgated verbally, in song, in art or in architecture, is man-made.
Book tags: christian beginnings pdf, download, pdf, géza vermès
Download PDF Christian Beginnings