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Christmas: facts, fantasies & fabrications (3)

By Douglass Anele
Despite the fact that he was a missionary, he was bold enough to aver that: “The Jesus who came forward publicly as the messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven on earth, and died to give his work final consecration, never had any existence.

He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in a historical garb.” Schweitzer, along with one of the most eminent researchers into New Testament history, Johannes Weiss, believe that the critical importance of Jesus does not lie in his historicity but in the eschatological and messianic teachings attributed to him.

The renowned playwright, Bernard Shaw, proclaimed that although there was probably a man called Jesus, his relevance lay in the political, economic, and moral ideas which he espoused.

In Androcles and the Lion, Shaw argued that: “there is a man here who was sane until Peter hailed him as Christ, and who then became a monomaniac…his is a common delusion among the insane…and such insanity is quite consistent with argumentative cunning and penetration which Jesus displayed in Jerusalem after his delusion has taken complete hold of him.

He was a communist…he regarded much of what we call law and order as a machinery for robbing the poor under legal forms.” Josiah Royce, the American philosopher, suggested that the significance of Jesus of Nazareth is attributable to “the vital impetus” his teachings and activities had given to a powerful event, the emergence of Christianity.

According to Royce: “in answer to the challenge, either you must believe that the founder of Christianity was only a man, or else you must accept Jesus as the Christ, the divine man; we must fairly reply…Whatever may be the truth about the person of Christ, and about the supposed supernatural origin of Christianity, the human origin of the christian doctrine of life, and also the human source of all the latter Christologies, must be found in the early christian community itself.

The christian religion in its early form is the work and expression of the christian church. Meanwhile, since the human founder Jesus gave the stimulus, the signal…the vital impetus, without which the christian community…would never have come into existence, we can indeed say that the man Jesus was in this sense the founder of Christianity.

But we cannot say that, speaking of Jesus as an individual man, we know that he explicitly intended to found the Christian church.” Now that we have looked at Christmas and the views of some scholars concerning the status and historicity of Jesus, let us harvest the main fruits of our discourse. First of all, whatever the historical status of Jesus of Nazareth, it is incontrovertible that Christmas, as it is being celebrated worldwide, has no biblical warrant.

It is the crystallisation of superstitious ideas and practices drawn from ancient Rome and other Mediterranean communities, spiced up with some narratives in the Gospels. The Bible does not contain a precise statement of the actual day and month when Jesus was born.

It follows that Christmas celebration is not based on actual historical event. We have noted already how Pope Julius 1 imposed that date on Christendom, although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently refused to mark the birthday of Jesus on December 25, or on any other day, because he never commanded his followers to celebrate it.

A devout Christian is likely to consider it sacrilegious if anyone expresses scepticism about whether Jesus of the Gospels actually lived. But Christian dogmatism and sentiments apart, there is no solid evidence to back the claim that he did, or that the narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are historical records of real events. Indeed, there is abundant evidence indicating that Jesus is a composite figure created from the synthesis of ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman mythological traditions, blended with some strand of the messianic tradition in Judaism.

These facts, and more, are well-known to serious students of the New Testament. Therefore, as believers celebrate Christmas, they should bear in mind that the event is more of mythology and fantasy than reality. And no matter how sacrilegious it might appear to them, they should know that there are good reasons for thinking that Jesus Christ, as depicted in the New Testament, is a myth as well.

There might well have been a bohemian Jewish rabbi born around 4 B.C., who taught a form of Judaism different from the conventional version. But all the supernatural attributes and occurrences attributed to Jesus in The Bible were derived from, and are analogous to, superstitions and legends in ancient Mediterranean and Oriental worlds.

Take the story of virgin birth, which is very popular in many antiquated communities. In ancient Egyptian mythology, for instance, the ibis_headed god, Toth, was said to announce the forthcoming birth of a son to the virgin_queen Mautmes.

In Parsee mythology, Saoshyas, the future savior of mankind and conqueror of death, was miraculously conceived by his virgin_mother from the seed of Zarathustra, who himself was born of a fifteen year old virgin, Dughdova, after the latter had been visited by a shaft of light from the supernatural realm.

Indian mythology proclaims that Krishna was born from the rib of a virgin who belonged to the royal line of Devaci. Even Buddha was said to have been born through divine intervention, not through the natural process. In short, the myth of the virgin birth of Jesus is not unique to Christianity.
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