John is a retired librarian who writes articles based on material gleaned mainly from obscure books and journals.
The Messiah - Really?
At the heart of Christianity is the preacher from Galilee known as Jesus, to whom posterity has added the name “Christos”, meaning “the anointed one”. That is the Greek word for the concept, the Hebrew word being “Messiah”.
At the time that Jesus was alive the land of Palestine was under Roman rule. Most Jews were content to knuckle under and get on with their lives as best they could, but there were some who fervently wanted to change things and had high hopes that a new king would arrive who would lead his people to overthrow the Romans. Anointing with oil only applied to kings, which is why the Messiah had to be a king.
The early Christians were convinced that Jesus was the anointed one, but they saw the anointing as being a heavenly rather than earthly event. He had been anointed before he was born and therefore fitted the bill. That concept might raise a few eyebrows as it stands, as it presupposes a certain suspension of disbelief at the outset.
Fullfilling the Prophecies
The first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels, include many references to Old Testament passages that, according to the writers, proved that Jesus was the Messiah. This is where things get very suspicious indeed.
It is true that there are several references in the Old Testament to a Messiah who will come to rescue the Jews from their oppression and overthrow their enemies, but this figure was clearly a long way from the character of Jesus of Nazareth. However, that did not stop the Gospel writers from digging up dozens of references that clearly, according to them, pointed at Jesus.
However, when these references are looked at more closely, the case for Jesus as predicted Messiah is far from convincing.
Some of the quoted passages make absolutely no reference to a Messiah. One of these is the very well-known Isaiah Chapter 53 (“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … He was wounded for our transgressions , he was bruised for our iniquities” and so on). There is no indication as to who “he” is, other than “my servant”, and, although some of this chapter seems to fit the story of Jesus reasonably well, there are verses in this chapter that do not fit at all and are hence quietly forgotten about in the context of Christian prophesy.
Other “prophesies” can only be regarded as such with the application of a good dose of imagination. Passages were yanked out of context and held to have meanings that it is highly unlikely were intended by their writers.
An example of the latter is Matthew 2:14/15, which reads: “… he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying Out of Egypt I have called my son”. However, the verse from Hosea (11:1) is clearly not a prophesy at all: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt”. What could this possibly be other than a reference to the Exodus led by Moses? Trying to pretend that Hosea was predicting an incident in the life of Jesus is plainly absurd.
Both Matthew and Luke (the gospels were written anonymously and the names by which they are generally known were added later) were keen to fulfill Biblical prophesy on many fronts, one of them being the birthplace of Jesus at Bethlehem. The prophesy in this case was by Micah (5:2): “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel”.
The gospel writers felt compelled to use this prophesy to convince their audience (Jewish or Gentile) that the fact of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem was proof that what had been predicted had come to pass. But this leads to further difficulties. For one thing, Micah was talking about a military leader (no mention of a Messiah) who would sort out the Assyrians who had already devastated the northern kingdom and might well do the same to the southern one, which was where Micah lived.
The main problem, however, was that Jesus clearly came from Galilee and not Bethlehem (not far from Jerusalem). How could this circle be squared? Writing independently of each other, Matthew and Luke came up with completely different solutions. Matthew had the parents of Jesus living in Bethlehem and then moving to Nazareth, after a sojourn in Egypt, and Luke invented the absurd scenario of a census that forced a heavily pregnant woman to make a long and dangerous journey to Bethlehem from her home in Nazareth.
Efforts have been made to reconcile these two accounts and pretend that both could have happened, but these attempts are far from convincing.
There can be very little doubt that Christianity would not have got going had it not been for St Paul. For one thing, it was his idea to spread the story of Jesus beyond the realm of Judaism, which is where some factions of the early Church thought it should stay. Without Paul, Christianity would have been nothing other than one more sect of Judaism.
It was Paul who developed the theology of Christianity, with the emphasis on belief as opposed to following rules or doing good works. According to Paul, belief in the fact that Jesus was the son of God, that his death relieved the faithful from the burden of sin, and that his resurrection from the dead opened the way for his followers to go to Heaven, was all that was necessary.
Given that Paul spread his message to places outside the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem, and to people who would otherwise never have heard of Jesus, he had free rein to tell potential converts whatever he wanted about Jesus as Messiah, and with little risk of being challenged about the details.
It is well known that many Jesus stories did the rounds in the early Church, and people have always loved to hear stories, whether true or not. The four Gospels, which were written after most of Paul’s letters had been sent to the young churches, were needed to scotch some of the more lurid tales and also put words into Jesus’s mouth. If people wanted something new other than Greek mysticism and Roman emperor-worship, Paul was pushing at an open door.
But was it all a massive confidence trick based on very little in the way of firm foundations?
The Christian Legacy
I am far from convinced that Christianity is anything other than a massive cloud floating on air. The very existence of Jesus is difficult to confirm, given that the evidence outside the texts of the New Testament is extremely sketchy and dubious.
However, the teachings of Christianity do merit serious attention. There can surely be nothing wrong in loving one’s neighbour, acting justly and forgiving one’s enemies. Beyond that, I find the package as offered very hard to accept.
John Welford (author) from Barlestone, Leicestershire on August 04, 2020:
John, Many thanks for taking the time to offer this supportive comment. It is appreciated!
John T Conway on August 03, 2020:
A bit late to this, still...
Very disappointing to see one correspondent opine that you were wrong when you stated that the land in question was under Roman Rule. I agree with you that from at least 63 BCE Romans ruled this land up to at least 363 CE & then through the Byzantine Empire until around 628 CE.
Being accused of promoting a "political agenda" based on a false premise is laughable. But being accused of being unknowledgeable because you apply critical thinking to the contradictory accounts, the first of which was likely not written until after the death of Paul in 75 CE by an unknown hand, is laughable. That these accounts were then altered & edited over 100s of years to attempt to make them into a cohesive whole - again by anonymous hands - makes them little more than fairy stories.
There is no verifiable evidence of the existence of Jesus other than accounts written by bronze age people long after he & all who knew him had died. Josephus was Jewish but became a servant to the Vespasian who became Roman Emperor & his account in his "Wars if the Jews" was written in 79 CE around the same time as the first version of the gospel of Matthew was written. That the people who wrote them were all members of a cult is ignored by those who since have proclaimed that faith is a gift only to those who believe in it all This self serving mantra is a testament only to their need to believe rather than in the essence or credibility of what they choose to believe.
Christianity could just as easily be called Paulism for the reasons that you outlined. He & Emperor Constantine are responsible for that small Jewish cult of Jesus becoming the multi billion dollar business it is today. With Paul it would have been a similar to the Gnostics in size, but without Constantine it would have remained on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
Sadly, in most countries the tenets of Christianity as espoused in those 2000 year old fables are completely ignored - except for that hour on a Sunday morning - and even then not so much. Martin Luther King Jnr said the most segregated hour in America was that hour on a Sunday morning. All Christian churches in the USA except the Catholic church split into Northern & Southern branches in the years leading up to the US Civil War - Northern ones favouring the end of slavery & Southern ones supporting the continuance of it. There just weren't enough Catholics in the country at this time for people to care much what they did.
In the USA loving one's neighbor, acting justly & forgiving one's enemies are anathema to the American way of screwing everyone for as much as you can get & then blaming the victim for being a sucker.
Even with this it seems, people will convince themselves of what they NEED to believe to live with themselves.
Thanks for a nice article.
John Welford (author) from Barlestone, Leicestershire on August 31, 2019:
In what way is the line you quote incorrect? The Roman conquest of Judaea took place in 63 BC, long before the birth of Jesus.
Readmikenow on August 30, 2019:
"At the time that Jesus was alive the land of Palestine was under Roman rule." You might want to check your historical facts on this one. I think prior to the Romans, it was the land of Israel. This one line discouraged me from reading further. What a shame. To me, you seem to be promoting a political agenda.
John Welford (author) from Barlestone, Leicestershire on August 30, 2019:
If that is what it is founded on, then it is not well-founded. I don't think my Philosophy tutors would have accepted many of my arguments if I had justified them by saying "I believe they are true, so they must be"!
Jack Jenn from Nelson Bay NSW Australia. on August 09, 2019:
You appear to be somewhat versed in the scriptures but without any real knowledge at all.
It's called faith, which is what guards salvation - and sadly, you and so many like you are far from it. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on May 20, 2019:
Christianity is not stable, but it is life. If it were a religion like Islam or any other, the story would have been different.