By Douglas Anele
In the preceding two essays, we have presented facts that indicate without any patina of doubt that everything about Christmas, from the date itself to Christmas tree and Santa Claus, originated from paganism. In otherwords, contrary to what ill-informed Christians believe, Christmas is an adaptation of rituals, observances and festivals which have no connection to Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings. It is interesting to note that Christmas celebration and everything it stands for cannot be justified from passages in The Holy Bible.
Therefore, Christians celebrating the birthday of Jesus on December 25 cannot genuinely claim that they are following the teachings or example of Jesus and that of his twelve disciples because Christmas is a crystallisation of Emperor Constantine’s shrewd attempt to unify and solidify his hold on the vast Roman Empire at a time when rebellion from any of its constituent parts could break out anytime.
Most church-goers do not know the profound influence paganism has had on the evolution of Christianity, and those that know treat the issue cavalierly as if it does not matter without realising that the pagan origin of some fundamental beliefs and practices of their religion detracts from its claim of theological superiority to other religions. Logically speaking, if the ontological, epistemological, moral and spiritual claims of Christianity are founded on mythology just as in other religions, its claim to be the only true religion is pointless and loses credibility completely.
Meanwhile, the clergy in all Christian denominations that celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Christmas, beginning from the Pope down to the lowest rung of the ecclesiastical ladder, must maintain the Christmas charade because of the benefits they derive from it, especially money, together with the power and influence they exercise over the faithful during yuletide. Not only that, business people and entrepreneurs promote Christmas because rampaging global capitalism and modern advertising fuelled by self-indulgent materialism has glamorised the orgiastic frenzy to buy and consume for the occasion. As I said earlier, the purported spiritual essence of Christmas is now a faint echo overshadowed by the deafening sound of debauchery and revelry. Consequently, reasonable and enlightened people should avoid the self-induced stresses and strains of yuletide by not taking it seriously.
To other matters now, and the first one to be dealt with is the fundamental question concerning Christianity: Was there an individual named Jesus (the grecianised form of the Hebrew name Yeshua or Joshua) whose existence was foretold in the Old Testament and whose activities were accurately recorded in the gospels? Simply put: Did Jesus of Nazareth actually exist? For most Nigerian Christians, questioning the historicity of Jesus is sacrilegious, an abomination. But such sentiment or reaction is beside the point because the question of the truth of religious beliefs has absolutely nothing to do with the degree of faith or trust in that belief.
Logically, faith or degree of belief is irrelevant to the question of truth, which can only be settled wherever possible through proper investigation into the matter at hand. Going by the mass of literature accumulated in the last two centuries or thereabout when Christological research actually became a valid and mature academic discipline, there is enough reason to doubt the accuracy of the New Testament stories about Jesus of Nazareth. For example, in Alfred Reynold’s highly informative analysis of leading scholars in Christological and New Testament research entitled Jesus Versus Christianity, there is enough evidence to suggest that biblical accounts of Jesus are highly distorted narratives about an obscure Jewish religious teacher or rabbi that probably lived from 4 B.C. to A.D. 33 whose teachings deviated from the major traditions of Judaism.
Reynolds affirms that the record we possess about Jesus’ life and his ministry is “pieced together from the often contradictory statements made by not too reliable witnesses.” His painstaking analysis of relevant documents and works of many renowned scholars such as Bruno Bauer, George Brandes, Johannes Weiss, Albert Schweitzer, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell among others point to the impossibility of disentangling or distilling the true story of a historical figure called Jesus from the thick mud of myths and legends heaped on it by his earliest followers.
For instance, in his classic work, Quest of the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer proclaims that “The Jesus of Nazareth 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 its 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.” On the other hand, the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, in Why I am Not a Christian, insists that “Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if he did we do not know anything about him.”
Another scholar, Joachim Kahl, assumes tentatively that the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, actually existed, but was later deified and raised to the level of a celestial being by his followers after his incomprehensible death. In his book, The Misery of Christianity, Kahl presents arguments against the belief that stories about Jesus in the New Testament are true. First, he says, the earliest gospel was written about forty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, during which Jesus’ words and actions were handed down orally – and completely anonymously as well. Second, Jesus probably spoke an archaic dialect of the Hebrew language called Aramaic, which had no well-developed literary tradition.
But the original texts of the gospels were written in Greek, and there is no evidence that they were translations from earlier Aramaic texts. Given that men who spoke a different language passed on the Christian message, it is clearly impossible to verify the information they disseminated or “suppress the suspicion that misunderstandings and distortions crept into the original message.” Finally, using the method of form criticism as a foil, Kohl argues that the framework of the history of Jesus was largely invented by the evangelists who compiled it for the first time for religious purposes, not as a historical document. They composed the discourses of Jesus, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount, by collecting them together from separate sayings. Similarly, “they invented the times, the places and the circumstances – a house, a road…a mountain, a boat, a meal, a crowd of people, opponents or followers.
Above all, they placed all the traditions that they used in the right theological light.” As a result, it is impossible to establish from the gospels the actual sequence of events in the life of Jesus, to write a biography of Jesus and to provide a picture of the figure of the Nazarene. Christians who read the stories of Jesus as God-inspired true accounts of actual events are seriously mistaken because the primary aim of the gospels is not historical accuracy but stimulation faith in Jesus the Christ who is present in Christian worship.
Even if one concedes that a simulacrum of spiritual enlightenment can be extracted from Christianity, a little reflection and research will show that most contemporary Christian teachings and practices are either based on pure ignorance of relevant critical literature that has accumulated over the years that provide a solid counterweight against Christian apologetics or on deliberate distortion of the intention and circumstances behind certain biblical passages for personal gain by members of the clergy, especially those that belong to the so-called Pentecostal churches.
Some examples will be enough to make the case. One, tithing has been deployed by pastors and general overseers to extort money and other priced assets from members of their churches. These extortionist and wily money-mongers premise their demand for tithes on passages of the Old Testament such as Gen. 28: 22, Lev. 27: 30-32, Deut. 14: 22-24, 2 Chron. 31: 5-6, and Neh. 13: 5 & 12. Specifically, tithes for the Levites (the Israeli priestly class) were stipulated in Num. 18: 21-24, and the Levites, in turn, were to give a tenth of what they got to the chief priest (Num. 18. 25-28). Those who failed to give tithe were threatened with a curse, while those who did were promised blessing (Mal. 3: 8-10).
To be continued…