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Monday, March 08, 2004

Passion

By Robert Wolf

Mel Gibson’s new movie “Passion” is an interesting gamble. The dialog is entirely in Aramaic and Latin, two of the languages spoken in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Those who haven't mastered those languages are out of luck because there are no subtitles, but Gibson feels that the story transcends the need for a literal translation. The Greek language also widely spoken in Palestine at the time, and the mother tongue of St. Paul, is not represented.

But, as this project nears completion, the controversy arises yet again about whether or not the New Testament is anti-Semitic. The simple answer is that in the story presented in the Gospels, the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy and turned him over to the Romans for crucifixion, so the Jews are guilty of, at least, framing him. But do the Gospels present an accurate account of the events surrounding Jesus’ life?

Jews as ‘Christ killers’ is a belief of very long standing in Christendom. It was not only the medieval church that persecuted Jews. As late as the late 19th century, Catholic publications, with the unofficial endorsement of the Pope, trumpeted anti-semitism. These publications wer influential and propagated despicable lies, including conspiracy theories about Jewish plans to control the world and the medieval idea that Christian blood was needed for crucial Jewish religious ceremonies. The Vatican gave both covert and overt support to such virulently anti-semitic political movements as the Christian Socialists in Austria. This reinforced widespread anti-Semitism led, over the centuries, to millions of Jews being burned at the stake or murdered in pogroms throughout Christian Europe.

But to get to heart of this controversy, we have to ask the question who do we mean when we say ‘the Jews’. The main sects of Judaism at the time of Jesus were the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. The Bible barely mentions the Essenes, although there is some indication that John the Baptist may have been one. They were a sect of separatists or hermits living in caves near the Dead Sea, and played no part in the day to day events of their time, somewhat akin to the Amish behavior of today. The Sadducees were the well-placed, well-compensated collaborators of the Rome. The largest group the Pharisees made up the majority of the ‘Jewish’ population.

Logical would tell us it should be predictable from reading the New Testament that the Roman sympathizers, i.e., the Sadducees, would be the villains of the piece. They are not, although they play a role as facilitators, they are not the betrayers of Jesus. The Gospels go to extraordinary lengths to prove that Jesus was at odds with the Pharisees and that it was they who betrayed him. Yet this makes no sense. If true, why, for example, is Jesus greeted warmly, triumphantly by Pharisees strewing palms when he enters the gates of Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion? If he was a blasphemer shouldn’t they have been throwing stones? The crowd had nothing to fear from the Romans or the Sadducees, as evidenced by the martyrdom of Stephen. There is something wrong with the account.

The difficulty with resolving such questions is that many Christians argue them from New Testament study alone, ignoring or ignorant of historical documents e.g. Josephus, Heroditus, commentaries on the Torah, the Mishnah, and other ancient religious and secular writings. Despite centuries of scholarship surrounding the life and death of Jesus many Christians still do not know, that even in the first century, there were rival sects of Christians with competing and conflicting scriptures. Many Christians are also blissfully ignorant of the rancor that existed between the gentile churches established by Paul in Asia Minor and the Jerusalem church lead by James, the brother of Jesus (James the Just). They are equally oblivious to the existence of Gnostics, Ebionites and the followers of Peter, all of whom the Roman Christians persecuted as heretics, killing them and burning their texts. Christians, even those who should know better, can not resist envisioning their Bible as a comprehensive, cohesive document dictated by God in a single sitting from beginning to end.

Few Christians have any idea that the collected works called the New Testament were not assembled until the 4th Century with changes made as late as the 5th Century. The Bible, as we know it is the work of committees; bargains were struck, and deals worked out, ‘We will accept that Gospel into the Cannon, if you’ll support the inclusion this book which is important to us’. The result of this wrangling is that the New Testament omits The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Hebrews, The Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel of Mary, Instructions of the Apostles, Dialogs of the Savior, various Apocalypses (other than John’s Revelations) and many, although mostly spurious, biographical texts.

In the face of this, founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote in exaspiration to John Adams, “The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”

Did Jesus exist at all? Why kind of person was he? What was he was trying to accomplish? Who killed him, and why?

These questions have engaged scholars for sometime and here is some of what they have discovered. There is sufficient empirical evidence to prove that Jesus existed, and even assemble a short biography. Jesus was a Jewish scholar, a Rabbi (meaning teacher). He was from the town of Nazareth in Judea in the province of Galilee. He was the son of Mary and Joseph, and had many brothers and sisters. He was most likely a descendant of the House of David although his lineage is unclear owing to the differing lists of ancestors quoted in Matthew 1 and in Luke 3. The poverty of his upbringing is greatly exaggerated. (Could his father have been the mysterious Joseph of Arimathea who claimed the body of Christ for burial?1) The depth of Jesus’ knowledge, the clear simplicity of his arguments and his ability to spin words into gold are certainly impressive. Although these skills are attributed to the miraculous, they more likely derive from a good education, costly then as it is today.

Judea, the place of his birth was an occupied nation, a province seething with repression and anger and a hot bed of sedition and rebellion. Judea because it was not under direct Roman rule owing to a Jewish Tetrarch, allowed for more latitude to the organizers of the resistance. The province of Galilee, in particular, was a tinderbox, perhaps because of its proximity to Jerusalem.

During this period, many Jews from Galilee died. When Jesus was still a child, an insurrection over taxes resulted in the crucifixion of four thousand Jews. Ostensibly any Jew from Galilee in those times might meet his end on a Roman cross, and especially one claiming to be the Messiah. This meant claiming the throne of Israel which was considered sedition in the eyes of the Romans.

Romans had abolished the monarchy and they dealt with quickly and violently with claimants to the throne. The Jews, on the other hand, had no religious objection to a claim of Messiahship. All Jews lived in hope of the coming of the Messiah. Every Jewish king of the Davidic dynasty had this title. While it was reckless to make the claim, with Romans crawling about, it did not constitute blasphemy.

Some Messiahs had the limited aim of liberating the Jews from Rome. Others like Jesus expected this liberation to be the beginning of an era of peace and liberation for the whole world, when ‘swords would be beaten into plough shares’, ‘and the lion would lie down with the lamb’. These beliefs were an integral part of Judaism, and none carried even a tinge of blasphemy. There were Messiah-warriors, like Bar Kokhba or Judas of Galilee, and non-militants like Theudas or 'the Egyptian', who gathered a crowd of believers to await a miracle like the 19th century Millerites. Jesus was of this latter type.

Fundamentalist Christians refute the argument that Jesus was just another contender by claiming Jesus had a secret ‘Messiahship’ that was different from the other Messiahs. But, even were this credible, why would his fellow Jews be alarmed at something he never disclosed, let alone bring a charge of blasphemy. The argument is spurious on its face, so, why is there so much confusion?

Late in the first century, when the end of the world and the Second Coming did not occur as promised, Christians were on the horns of a dilemma. They could not safely survive within the Empire while blaming Rome for the death of their God and portraying the Romans as oppressors of countryside in rebellion. This was particularly true after the Jewish rebellion of 66AD. So, they looked for a way to ‘cook the books’ that would make someone other than the Romans the villain in the death of Christ. They needed a scapegoat, and the Pharisees, were the perfect choice.

Pharisees were not only unpopular with the Romans and a thorn in the side of Paul; but they were by this time stoning Christians and competing with them for parishioners. Altering the books was easy. Often, all that was needed was to substitute Pharisee wherever the word Sadducee had stood. Making the ‘crime’ blasphemy rather than sedition took slightly more ingenuity. The murky scriptures that resulted are responsible for the hatred and slaughter Jews have faced in the intervening centuries.

But why edit at all? Why not just blame the Sadducees, with whom Jesus constantly quarreled anyway. Because, inconveniently, the Sadducees were the privileged class, rich, influential, politically powerful and the protected associates of the Roman oppressors. The Romans protected them.

Some scholars mistakenly conclude that the Sadducees were the representatives of ancient Judaism, protecting the purity of the faith against Pharisee innovation. If so, the Sadducees were defending a very recent tradition. Their position of privilege dated from the 3rd century, when the Ptolemaic Greeks of Egypt ruled Judea. It was under the Greeks that the High Priest was given central status and power. Sadducees were not heroes protecting their religious tradition; they were the instruments of occupation and foreign rule, like Vichy France during WWII. This was the role they continued to play for the Romans in the time of Jesus.

The real centers of Jewish authority were the synagogues and religious schools over which Pharisee leaders presided. They were below Roman radar, too humble and decentralized to be noticed, even if Roman authorities had suspected they were the real key to controlling the Jews.

The fundamental disagreement between Sadducees and the Pharisees was the validity of the Oral Law. The Sadducees saw no need for Rabbis to reinterpret scripture in light of new ideas and circumstances, and so they rejected the Mishnah or oral law. The Pharisees regarded the Sadducee priests as ignorant functionaries who had no authority in matters of religion. The Priests were not leaders or spiritual guides, but toadies and ceremonial officiators who had the job of maintaining the Temple and keeping the sacrifices going. They were the ritualists that Jesus so often derided as being more concerned with the size of their phylacteries than with spiritual debate.

It is impossible to understand the events of the time without a clear understanding of the role the High Priest played in Jewish society. The ordinary Christian assumes that the High Priest corresponded to the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. This mistake rises from the fact that in the Christian religion the ceremonial role is always combined with the teaching role. The Christian priest/pastor performs the mass/service and also teaches through sermons and lessons. But the High Priest had no such religious authority, he lead parades and pageants celebrating the Temple.

The Pharisees cooperated with the Priesthood because they did not regard it as important, and the High Priest’s ceremonial duties were actually supervised by the Pharisees. As long as the Service was valid, the shortcomings of the officiator did not matter to them. As long as he performed his ceremonial duties without tripping over his robes, he personal inadequacies did not concern them.

His civic duties, however, were a different matter. In his greater function he was akin to a Chief of Police, reporting directly to Roman authorities. He had more in common with the Sheriff of Nottingham than with John Paul II. Politically, he was a formidable foe and Saul of Tarsus was one of his henchmen; a fact obscured by the New Testament. It is not until after the death of Jesus, when Saul becomes Paul, that we learn much about his activities, although Acts does record his presence at the stoning of Stephen. The Sadducees were Roman-appointed bloodhounds. They had a nose for anti-Roman activities and took great interest in any and all messianic claimants, which they delighted in turning them over to the Romans for punishment.

Sadducee religion focused on three institutions: the Bible (Torah), the Temple and the priesthood. In their mind, the Torah needed no complicated interpretation, and the Priesthood needed no lay scholars to augment it. The Temple provided all the atonement that was required; so a clutter of synagogues devoted to preaching, prayer and study were unnecessary.

If any are in doubt about how far the early Christians were willing to go to alter scripture and pander to the Romans, one only has to read Romans 13: 1-7. Paul (or a forger) explains in these verses that rulers and petty bureaucrats hold office by the grace of God; opposition to them is opposition to God, no matter how egregious their conduct. It's difficult to justify any involvement for Christians in present day politics in light of these verses; a paradox that will have to be explained by Falwell or Robertson.

The following story appearing in the three synoptic Gospels (but not John) is clear evidence that violent scenes were redacted from the Gospels. “At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.” (Matt 12:1-3) Jesus and his followers were being accused of breaking Sabbath law by eating grain from a field through which they passed on the Sabbath. Jesus defends their action by citing the case of David, who violated the sanctity of the Temple by eating the showbread. David and his soldiers were dying of starvation in their flight from King Saul. To David and his men, it was a matter of life and death, and under those circumstances ritual observances of Sabbath and Temple are suspended by Pharisee law.

But as we have the narrative today, Jesus and his disciples seem to be idly skipping through the fields on a Sabbath plucking grain for their amusement. There is no danger to human life that excuses ignoring Sabbath law, as the story now exists. The case of David was one of dire emergency, and Jesus was no idiot! It would have been absurd of him to use this reference unless his circumstances were equally desperate.

For the safety and survival of first century Christians living under Roman rule, the everyday elements of conflict and rebellion in Judea were removed from the Gospels. Instead of a Judea sheltering zealots and festering with resentment, we are presented the pastoral imagery of an itinerate Jesus roaming a peaceful countryside healing and teaching.

This is quite simply wrong, not by ignorance but by design. Had the truth of the turmoil been allowed to remain in the texts, it would have been clear that Jesus was a hunted man, wanted by Herod and the Romans for rebellion and sedition. These were not religious charges. Once the element of emergency is restored, the narrative makes perfect sense. Jesus and his followers were in flight from Herod Antipas and the Romans. Hungry and exhausted they arrive at the field. Judging the situation to be an emergency, Jesus permits his disciples to satisfy their hunger. When questioned about the incident, he explains how he came to rule that the Sabbath law should be broken. (To take the grain is also theft. But in cases of danger to life, the laws of theft were also regarded null and void. In fact, Pharisee law regards it as a duty to steal in order to save a life.)

The version in Mark ends with “And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.” (Mark 3 6-7) This is a total impossibility. The Pharisees and the Herodians were sworn enemies.

Despite the effort to turn Jesus into an iconoclastic miracle worker his identity as a Pharisee is unmistakable. His use of parables, for example, often thought unique, were typical of Pharisee preaching. Expressions such as 'a camel passing through the eye of a needle', or 'take the beam out of your own eye' are found in the Talmud. The Pharisees were one of the most creative groups in history.

The rabbis without any accusations of heresy held a wide variety of views. Although Pharisees regarded the Bible as the inspired word of God, they did not insist upon a literal interpretation. They understood the linguistic tools of metaphor, simile and allegory and permitted elucidation based upon them. This contrasts strongly with the bitter factionalism in Christianity through the centuries; that has resulted in many being tortured or burnt at the stake for having differing views

It is clear that Jesus was numbered among the Pharisees. There could have been no real conflict between them; small disagreements perhaps, but disagreement was permitted. Other fragments that have escaped the censors and remain in Gospel narrative provide further evidence for amicable relations. Here for example: “The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him (Jesus), Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod (Antipas) will kill thee.” (Luke13: 31) If the Pharisees were campaigning for Jesus' death, why would they give him a warning intended to save his life? And, if the Pharisees were Jesus' deadly enemies, how could they expect him to heed the warning?

We find in Mark (the earliest Gospel) a conversation between Jesus and a "lawyer' (Pharisee),”Then one of the lawyers . . . had noted how well he (Jesus) answered, came forward and asked him, 'Which commandment is first of all?' Jesus answered, 'The first is "… love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ There is no commandment greater than these. The lawyer said to him, 'Well said, Master…that is far more than any burnt offerings or sacrifices.' When Jesus saw how sensibly he answered, he said to him, 'you are not far from the kingdom of God.'” (Mark 12:28-34) The version of this same story found in the later Gospel of Matthew reads: “Hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees met together and one of their number tested him with this question: 'Master, which is greatest commandment in the Law?'” (Matthew 22: 34-40)

In this version of the story, the friendliness of the exchange is gone. The questioner is not motivated by admiration, he merely wishes to 'test' Jesus. All courtesy is omitted. This does not mean that the Gospel of Mark is an unbiased picture of the Pharisees, but as the earliest gospel and widely read by the faithful; it was not as easily to tamper with.

Elevating these verses was not a revolutionary idea or the complete breaking with Judaism that Christians believe. The central feature of the Jewish liturgy is what is called the Shema. It is the same passage from, Deuteronomy cited by Jesus: 'Hear O Israel, etc.' It was created by the Pharisees and is still in use by Jews today. The other verse quoted by Jesus is from Leviticus, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' and was regarded by Rabbis Hillel and Akiba, as the great principle of Judaism on which everything else depended.

Jesus clearly had charisma and presented the scriptures in clever, poetic and innovative ways, but it was never his intention to reject Judaism or found a new religion. Later Christians believed, incorrectly, that Jesus by honoring these verses was dismissing the rest of the Torah.

Another so-called blasphemy was Jesus’ threat to destroy the temple. Yet again, this charge is represented as a religious offence instead of a threat against the High Priest and the Temple. Because the Pharisees had no superstitious veneration for the Temple, they would not have been horrified at the idea that Jesus, like Solomon, intended to build a new one. This is just what anyone seriously claiming to be the Messiah would do. For a Pharisee, a Temple built by Herod would not be welcome in the Messianic age. (At the time of the Jewish War in AD 66, the first thing that the rebels did was to get rid of the High Priest and appoint a new one from a family uncontaminated by collaboration with Rome.) The only people who would have been upset by such an intention would have been the High Priest and his entourage of sycophants.

Yet, in the face of all reason, the Gospels as they exist today insist the charges against Jesus were not political, but religious. They assure us that Jesus had no political aims; he was a pacifist who had no desire to end Roman rule. When he claimed to be 'King of the Jews'; he did so in some innocuous spiritual sense that in no way conflicted with Roman occupation. They insist Jesus was a rejected Messiah, a blasphemer, who arrogantly proclaimed his divinity.

Matthew tells us that, “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing …he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24-5) Could a Roman prelate, a member of a culture that believed compassion to be a despicable weakness, and Pontius Pilate, in particular, who was considered ruthless even by his fellow Romans, have felt sympathy for Jesus? It is not likely.

In the 4th and latest gospel, that of John, the authentic Jesus disappears entirely. He is transformed into the Christos, an archtypical deity befitting the Greek mystery cults; existing before existence, announcing his divinity, accepting the yoke of martyrdom and subsequent rebirth and prescribing for posterity the ritual of drinking his blood and eating of his flesh as repugnant in his own time as it is today. This is pure fiction by the author of the Gospel of John. The desire to found a new religion with 2 divinities or 3 divine aspects of a single deity never occurred to Jesus. Time and again in the synoptic gospels he proves himself an observant Jew.

The nearest Greek equivalent of the word Messiah, 'Christ', implied deity. Redactors reading this meaning back into Jesus' lifetime were delighted to foster the belief that Jesus' claimed to be God justifying the spurious charge of blasphemy. John has Jesus, now ‘the Christ’ announcing his divinity to a nation that had rejected polytheism. John’s Christ may have made sense in Ephesus or Corinth, but would have been totally incomprehensible in Israel or Judea. Gone from John’s Gospel are the beautiful parables and quaint colloquial expressions of the Jewish countryside; replaced by grandiose mystical themes and claims of the divine.

As we have discovered, Jesus was not the only Messianic claimant of the period, and yet he alone, none of the others, was accused of blasphemy, a capital crime punishable by stoning to death. Why, if John’s gospel has credence was Jesus not stoned, as was the requirement under Jewish law? The editors of the Gospels can not have it both ways. They can not portray Jesus as a blasphemer yet not stoned, and not a threat to Rome, yet crucified.

For Jews, separation of Church and State was not a desirable goal. In ancient Judea, there was no such separation, except in the minds of the Romans. In Jewish society, in Biblical times lawbreakers of all sorts appeared before religious magistrates, much the way they do in certain Muslim countries today. Although often engaged in endless debate, when it came to matters of law the Pharisees were all business. They felt decisions should to be reached without delay, so that both they and the accused could get on with their lives.

Decisions were made by a majority vote. Once a consensus had been reached, dissenters were required to accept the result, not because they were wrong, but for the principle of ‘rule of law’. The opposition could complain after the vote, but had to abide by the decision as the law of the land unless and until it was reversed by another majority vote. Differences of opinion were an essential part of their concept of the religious life, not a danger to it. It was only in religious law that disciplinary measures were taken. The usual punishment consisted of social ostracism for a time, not unlike the shunning practiced in some Christian churches today.

There is much obfuscation in the Bible concerning Jesus' trial. Acts (by the same author as the Gospel of Luke) makes a great show of Gamaliel defending Peter when he was on trial before the religious Sanhedrin. The trial is summed up in a powerful defense by Gamaliel concluding with “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” (Acts 5:38-9) Why was it that Gamaliel did not also defend Jesus? It is because Jesus was not tried before the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees were not present at Jesus' trial. He was hauled before a political tribunal over which the High Priest presided.

Not everything is known about the august group known as the Sanhedrin, but what is known is this: a. the majority of the members were Pharisees, b. meetings never took place at night, c. meetings were never held on feast days, and d. meetings were always held in the Chamber of Hewn Stone within the Temple. These facts alone prove that the charge against Jesus was not a religious one. Jesus’ trial took place at night, at the home of the High Priest on the eve of Passover, perhaps with Paul in attendance as one of the ‘false’ witnesses. Jesus did not claim to be divine, as John suggests. His crime was political. The charge is indisputable, a sign above his cross proclaimed it clearly for all the see, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'; a capital offense against the Romans who had abolished the Jewish monarchy.

The Romans cared nothing about religious dogma, and they had no compunction about crucifying rebels. It was the standard form of execution for rebellion against their rule. But, instinctively they knew that chaos was the only result of killing a sage or prophet; they were very careful when it came to holymen. The Romans knew from experience that religious fanatics were a greater threat to their rule than any army was. As strict policy, the Romans permitted captive nations to retain whatever religious belief they liked as long the Emperor was added to the pantheon. The policy was universally successful, except in Palestine where there was no pantheon. The Jews worshiped a single, very jealous, God. If the high priest thought that by ‘Messiah’ Jesus meant that he was a God, he would have dismissed him as a harmless lunatic. He would not have risked the anger of Pilate by alerting him to the activities of a madman.

What was Jesus hoping to achieve? Jesus' main concern was religion, not politics. Like ‘the Egyptian', he expected a great miracle to take place. It would be a mistake to think of Jesus as a later day Bin Laden. He was a preacher proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God like a prophet, and announced himself King in the religious tradition of David, Solomon and Hezekiah. Sweating blood in a superhuman effort to bring about the miracle prophesied in the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah, he was arrested and subsequently nailed to a cross by the Romans. In his despair at having failed, he remarked bitterly from his cross, My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

Whether or not you believe Jesus survived the cross (and there are several credible ways he could have done so2) he now belongs to the myth and mischief-makers. After Jesus’ death, no man had a greater influence on the fledgling Christian sect than did Saul of Tarsus.

St. Paul was born in Greece a nation steeped in the eastern mystery religions. He was physically deformed and suffered from an unnamed affliction (perhaps epilepsy, in light of the events on the road to Damascus). He was born Saul of Tarsus, a city in present day Turkey, and somehow became a Roman citizen. Although he apprenticed as a tent maker, his adult career began in the employ of the High Priest, tracking down and jailing or murdering the followers of Jesus, and later as a bounty hunter chasing down 'Nazarenes' who were fleeing to Damascus.

On his journey to Damascus, overcome by a bright light, he fell from his horse, and (temporarily) blinded told of a vision of the risen Jesus. In his vision Jesus chastens him for persecuting the followers of the way. Paul converts to Christianity and, henceforth, pursues a campaign of converting the Gentiles to the faith. (Were the atrocities Paul committed for the High Priest the framework for the betrayer myth of the mystery religions that grew up around the figure called Judas? Was this betrayal the great sin Paul was constantly atoning for? Was the betrayal of Jesus the cause of the open hostility of the Damascus Christians toward him, and his difficulties with Peter and James the Just?)

A great effort has been expended by the editors of the Bible to amplify Paul's 'conversion' and transform him into a Pharisee. But there is nothing in Paul's style of preaching to suggest that he was. He employs no parables, his circular logic is manifestly Sadducee (Galatians 2: 2, 2: 5) and he wholeheartedly shares Sadducee focus on the three tenets of belief, the Bible, the Temple and the priesthood. Do these tenets sound familiar? They are also the tenets of Christian belief.

Paul and his successors took a spiritual quest based upon law, democracy, charity and individual responsibility and turned it into a cult. Individual responsibility has been stripped away, so that all that is now required is a belief in Christ. Commit any depravity you like. This is the legacy of Paul.

The greatest irony in history is that the religion named for Christ is the religion of Paul and of Rome.

l. Joseph of Arimathea or Aramathea is an enigma. Aramathea did not exist as a place name in the ancient world. The name has the same etymology as Aramaic meaning Jewish. Aramaic was the language of Jesus, and so: of Aramathea may be a deliberate attempt to mask Joseph’s identify by not identifying him. The name would translate Joseph of the city of the Jews, or Joseph the Jew. This vagary has led to much speculation about Joseph, most of it silly. For example, there are many apocryphal tales from Britain about Joseph carrying the Holy Grail to Glastonbury.

2. Jesus was on the cross for only 6 hours, while most victims of crucifixion suffered the cross for days. The strongest argument against his survival is the thrusting of a spear into his side. However, this incident occurs only in one Gospel, John’s.

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