A Conversation for Roman Catholicism

A few questions about Christianity

Post 1

Gaggle Halgrunt

I have a few questions about Christian belief and scripture in general. I know this is an article on Catholicism, but in my view, Catholicism (along with Eastern Orthodoxy) were the original orthodox Christian religions, and so are the basis for every other denomination of Christianity (whether those other denominations like it or not!).

1. Modern Christianity (of all denominations as far as I'm aware) denounces Astrology as either hocus-pocus or as dangerous. Why then does it accept the Star of Bethlehem as a divinely created event and honours the three Kings, who were acting as astrologers?

2. Jesus' relationship (and that of his followers) to John the Baptist. In the gospels, John poclaims Jesus as the true Messiah. Followers of John (including a present day "cult" in Iraq) don't view it that way. Indeed, this proclamation of John's in the gospels may be seen as popaganda by the early Christians in order to devalue John's status with respect to Jesus. Similarly, the story of Mary's virgin pregnancy and birth can be seen as a way to trump the story of John's conception by his mother Elizabeth, who was an old woman at the time, and considered barren.
The death of John is also interesting in this respect. It is known that John was executed by Herod Antipas at the bequest of Salome, a dancing girl, whom he had foolishly promised to grant her anything she desired after dancing for him. It is interesting that the Gospel of Thomas states that a woman named Salome was one of the early followers of Jesus, but does not explain who she is or where she comes from. Is this just a coincidence?

3. The wedding at Cana. Here, Jesus was asked by his disciples and his mother to sort out the problem of having no more wine left. This miracle was the first of Jesus' miracles. Why then was he asked to sort out the problem, without any precedent? Could it perhaps be that Jesus was involved in the wedding in some way? Was it his wedding? - that would have provided him with the authority to sort out the problem.
Also, as the original wine had been drunk, it is safe to assume that everyone at the wedding was pretty tipsy. Is this a sound basis for witnessing a miracle?

4. This brings me to Mary Magdalene. The orthodox gospels denounce Magdalene somewhat as a repentant whore/prostitute. This seems far too simplistic to me. Magdalene is the only one to anoint Jesus (the meaning of Christ is "anointed one"), and she was the first to witness the resurrection. However, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene bears witness to an uncomfortable relationship between Magdalene and the rest of the apostles, who denounce her version of Jesus' teachings. It is easy to see from this how the orthodox church, based on Peter's teachings, would have incorporated this dim view of her into its canon.
The Gospel of Philip states that Jesus used to kiss Magdalene often on the mouth, and states that this incurred inquisitiveness/jealousy from the other apostles. It is apparent therefore that Jesus and Magdalene's relationship was more intimate then the canonical gospels let on. Whether this meant married, a relationship based on sacred sexuality etc is open to speculation. However, the Languedoc region of sothern France has a tradition that Magdalene arrived there after the resurrection to spread the gospel, in hand with a young "princess", Sarah, perhaps also the daughter of Jesus. This tradition incurred the wrath of the Catholic church in the 12th century and led to the Albigensian crusades against the whole population of that area, whether they were "heretics" or not, and in which thousands were slaughtered.

5. I think Judas gets a bad deal. Rather than betraying Jesus, the original Aramaic word, originally translated into Greek/Latin as betray, could equally mean "hand over". Jesus pronouncement "You will hand me over" therefore appears as a command to Judas rather than a prophecy. This makes sense. Jesus needed to be handed over for execution in order that the resurrection could occur. It's absurd that Judas would be used as a pawn, by doing the work of the devil, in order for God's miracle of resurrection to occur.

6. I find Jesus call of "My God, why have you forsaken me?" interesting. If Jesus were truly of one and the same substance as God, even if he's incarnate as a man, why would he feel that God had forsaken him, knowing that that was his destiny and that he would be resurrected? I find this calls into question the whole principle of the Trinity. The Passion in Gethsemane also questions this. Why would a true God incarnate fear his impending death and suffering?

7. I also have doubts about whether Jesus did actually die on the cross. Yes, I absolutely accept that he was flogged/tortured incessantly and without compassion. However, was he really treated that differently from other prisoners destined for crucifixion? It was usual for crucifixion victims to be left on the cross for about three days. If death didn't occur, then their legs would be broken in order to prevent the prisoners holding up their body weight, thereby increasing the load on the heart & lungs, leading to heart failure and death. Jesus "died" within less than a day. Even Pilate was surprised at how quickly he had died. Therefore, his legs were not broken by the guards, and in order to respect the Jewish sensitivity over the Passover, he was brought down from the cross on the same day. It is known that a guard stuck a spear in Jesus' side, and saw water then blood pouring out of the wound. This was taken to indicate death. Let me make one thing absolutely clear - this finding does NOT indicate that death has occurred. The pouring out of "water" indicates pleural fluid from the pleural space around the lung (a pleural effusion). This does indicate an element of (right sided) cardiac failure, but does not indicate death.
I attended an Alpha course a few years back, in which I watched a video of a sermon/gathering from the Holy Trinity Brompton. The preacher there stated with absolute authority that the finding of water and blood upon death had been confirmed by modern medicine/science as valid. Not so! Blood does not separate into its component parts of "blood" (i.e red cells/haematocrit) and "water" (i.e plasma) after death. This only happens when blood is spun down in a centrifuge at 3000 revolutions per minute. After death, stagnant blood actually congeals into a red jelly-like substance which contains a few pale yellow streaks. I could not believe that this falsehood was being preached as fact to thousands of people that were attending these Alpha courses.
In conclusion, I think it is entirely possible, and not at all beyond reasonable doubt, that Jesus was unconscious/comatose on the cross, close to death, but not actually brain dead.

I would be grateful for your comments.

Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 2

Mikey the Humming Mouse - A3938628 Learn More About the Edited Guide!

This is far more than I have time to answer all at once, so I shall try and answer a question here and there, ok?

In general, it seems that most of your questions aren't exactly questions so much, as they are examples of "See, I found another possible explanation for what you believe - what do you think of that?"

For all of those events, there's no sure way to know 100% for certain what actually happened. Christianity, however -- like most religions -- is not about proof, but about faith. For any event, anywhere in history, there are always possible alternate explanations for why something happened, or how something happened.

I have to go to work, but I will try to respond to your individual questions in detail later on.

smiley - cheers
Mikey


A few questions about Christianity

Post 3

Gaggle Halgrunt

I disagree with you. They are questions based on what I have read in the Bible and numerous other sources, and not taking the explanation offered by Orhtodox Christianity at face value. This is such an important subject I think it deserves appropriate analysis.

Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 4

Gaggle Halgrunt

Also, unquestioning faith could also be interpreted as "I believe this becuase this is what the Bible states (insert any other religious text as appropriate), just because."

I acknowledge as well that my initial sentence about Catholicism/Eastern Orthodoxy being the basis for the rest of Christianity is simplistic (indeed incorrect). I know that the Egyptian Coptic church, ancient Celtic church, and the St. Thomas church at Kodungallur in India were all established independently of the Roman/Eastern Orthodox churches. What I meant timply was that the Protestant faiths were derived from Catholicism, whether they like it or not.

Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 5

DA ; Simply Vicky: Don't get pithy with me!

Hello, Karl, I am a Christian, and although I am not a Catholic, and don't have time (like Mikey) to answer all of your questions, I have an idea about one of them...
You ask why Jesus asked "why have you forsaken me?", on the Cross, if he was God. In the Epistles, it is stated that Jesus "emptied himself" - I believe the technical term is "kenosis", and as i understand, that meant that he chose to give up a lot of his nature and knowledge as God, in order to be and live as someone fully human.


A few questions about Christianity

Post 6

Gaggle Halgrunt

Thanks Adelaide.
That explanation makes much more sense than other explanations I've heard.
Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 7

DA ; Simply Vicky: Don't get pithy with me!

Glad I could help, Karl! smiley - biggrin


A few questions about Christianity

Post 8

Gaggle Halgrunt

I am aware that my questions about Orthodox Christianity's view about Mary Magdalene and Judas may at first sight appear strange. Here is a more thorough explanation.

First of all, let's look at the case of St. Thomas the apostle. Mediterranean-derived Christianity, of all denominations, criticises Thomas for doubting Jesus' resurrection until he had seen and touched Jesus himself. Therefore he is derided as "doubting Thomas". There is an alternative viewpoint expressed by the St. Thomas Christians of Kodungallur in India, who claim to have been evangelised by Thomas himself, before the arrival of Europeans at Indian shores. The Kodungallur Christians venerate Thomas as the first of the apostles who VERIFIED Jesus' resurrection by seeing and touching him (not willing to take Magdalene's word for it). Thomas' evangelisation of the Indian coastal towns is recorded in the "apocryphal" Acts of Thomas. As an aside, this is written in the first person singular tense. How he managed to do this when he was martyred in India is anyone's guess. Maybe he wrote it first and then somebody else brought it back to Egypt (it forms part of the Nag Hammadi library of apocryphal texts). But anyway...

This is one example, which on the face of it is a minor point, but which is nevertheless a major discrepancy in a point of view.

The canonical gospels quote Jesus himself as criticising the apostles (except Magdalene) for not truly understanding what his mission was all about. Therefore, it is entirely plausible that they didn't understand why Judas was ordered by Jesus to hand Jesus over, and therefore blamed him when Jesus was crucified.

In the gospel of Mary Magdalene, the apostles first acknowledge her as the disciple who Jesus loved above all others, and asked her to share with them the secret teachings he had shared only with her (presumably as part of his "inner circle"). When she did this, both Andrew and Peter criticised her, with obvious jealousy leaping from the page of this 2000 year-old text. They couldn't believe that Jesus had said these things, but moreover couldn't accept that he had chosen to tell them to her rather than to them.

My point is that modern, orthodox Christianity is derived from the teachings of Peter, who had a dim view of Magdalene. Orthodox Christianity subsequently manged to stamp out other forms of early Christianity as "heresy", sometimes violently so. The Albigensian crusades put paid to all forms of Magdalene-based teachings in the South of France.

If anyone has any doubts about the willingness of early church fathers to cover up teachings they disagreed with, one needs look no further than the letter from Clement of Alexandria (an early Church Father) to Theodore. This letter was about a sect of early Christians called the Carpocratians. The Carpocratians practised a "heretical" form of Christianity based on a "secret" Gospel of Mark. It is thought that this secret Gospel was once part of the text of the canonical gospel of Mark, but was subsequently omitted, perhaps by the Council of Nicea. It is thought that the Carpocratians perhaps practised homosexual acts in their worship, based on the text in the secret gospel which stated that Jesus spent a whole night with a young boy who was naked beneath his linen cloth, and that night showed him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Some modern scholars think that this meant that that passage meant a baptismal rite, as a linen cloth was a baptismal dress. I'm not really that bothered about the aspects of possible homosexuality or whether or not Jesus did or did not perform such acts. The point is, that the Carpocratian homosexual acts were extremely distasteful to these Church Fathers. As a result, Clement urges Theodore to deny everything in the text, even on oath, EVEN IF PART OF IT IS TRUE, "for true things being mixed with inventions, are falsified,...so that even the salt loses its flavour."

Therefore, we have a letter existing to the present day which reveals a cover-up by the early Church Fathers, rather than trying to explain the meaning of the offending text. Why then, should we denounce the remainder of the "apocryphal" texts as less true than the canonical texts, just because the Council of Nicea decided that was so?

Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 9

Mikey the Humming Mouse - A3938628 Learn More About the Edited Guide!

Ok, here is an attempt at answering a few of your questions.

One sense that I get here is that many of your problems are with *fundamentalist Christianity*, which is quite different than Catholicism. Fundamentalist denominations believe that everything in the Bible should be taken literally and is historically accurate, and that nothing outside of the Bible should ever be consulted. Catholicism, on the other hand, along with several Protestant denominations, focus more on the Bible as "universally true" rather than "historically true" -- i.e., what's more important is the underlying message, not the details of the story. For example, while fundamentalists see the Creation story as history, other branches of Christianity (including Catholicism) tend to view it as an allegory or myth, that still has immense value in its underlying truth, and might have been especially useful in the context of a pre-scientific and largely pre-literate culture that passed down tribal history in what was essentially an oral folklore.

Catholicism in particular definitely *does* draw from many apocryphal texts -- for example, that is where virtually all of our tradition about the lives of Mary and Joesph comes from. Some of the apocryphal texts have much that is useful in them and were used by a wide section of the early Church; some others blatantly contradict the basic tenets of Christianity and were the products of splinter groups. Clearly, no one could expect Christianity or the Church to accept every loosely related tome from that time as "gospel" -- the books that were used in the formation were based on the Torah used at that point (for the Old Testament) and a consensus of what the different groups were using for the New Testament. The aim here was specificity, not sensitivity -- to make sure that the Bible included all of the important information about Christian *theology*, if not necessarily history, and that it didn't include so much controversial material that many groups would refuse to use the "standardized" Bible.

The Catholic bible differs from the Protestant bible in that it also includes the "deuterocanonical" texts. The Catholic church went back after the original "standardization", and added additional Old Testament texts after the Council of Nicea -- further research had happened, further consensus had developed. These were later pulled out of the bible by Martin Luther, but remain in the Catholic bible.

The Catholic church, however, unlike many Protestant denominations, has never condemned using all extrabibical texts -- rather, it cautions people to take them with a grain of salt, and be aware that some texts which seem to be about Christianity are actually from religious groups that were so far apart in theology as to be considered a different religion altogether (the gnostic gospels are a good example here).

More another day, must get back to work.




A few questions about Christianity

Post 10

Gaggle Halgrunt

Dear Mikey,
Thank you for your replies to my queries. I appreciate the time and trouble it is taking you. I know that it's a lot to answer properly!

The points that I made here weren't aimed at fundamentalists. I agree with you that orthodox, mainstream Christianity doesn't accept everything in the Bible as the literal truth. I think there are good scientific arguments against the literal Biblical account of Creation, which most mainstream Christian denominations would now accept. I did not raise any questions about the Old Testament, which I agree contains many myths/allegories which I think were the attempts of ancient societies to explain the meaning of the natural world they saw around them. As such, the Hebrew accounts in the old Testament are similar to ancient Babylonian and Egyptian accounts, despite these societies often being enemies of each other.

My questions are mainly aimed at fundamental aspects (if you could excuse the pun after the points mentioned above) of Christian belief, of most if not all denominations, regarding the crucifixion and resurrection and the interpretation of Jesus' teachings. In particular, why is Orthodox Christianity more valid than the heretical, apocryphal scriptures, especially when one sees the obviously bad relationship between the male apostles and Mary Magdalene and the influence that this had over the development of Orthodox Christianity?

I don't understand why you say that the Catholic church has never condemned the use of extrabiblical, apocryphal texts, especially as I have already mentioned the Albigensian crusade. This was a violent repression of the Cathars in the Languedoc region of southern France, who used many of the apocryphal gospels in their practice of their version of Gnostic Christianity. The persecution of the Knights Templar is also another example of violent persecution and repression performed on the orders of the Catholic church. There were many connections between the Knights Templar and the Cathars, including the use of apocryphal texts and Gnostic beliefs. Of course, the Knights Templar were also charged with trumped up charges of heresy, idol worship (the Baphomet head), devil worship, bestiality and other sexual malpractice in order to seal their fate.

Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 11

Gaggle Halgrunt

With regard to some of the issues I have mentioned above, this is an excellent essay I have just read regarding the relationship between Mary Magdalene, St.Peter, the "Beloved Disciple", and the authorship of the Gospel According to John.

http://www.magdalene.org/fourthgospel.htm

Karl


A few questions about Christianity

Post 12

Apollyon - Grammar Fascist

Here is my attempt to asnwer to questions from the original post...

1: Actually, they were not kings, they were wise men; slight difference. It is believed that they were Zoroastrians, the original monotheistic religion, and one which was pretty big on astrology.

As far as I know, the general argument is that the Star of Bethlehem was a sign from God, whereas astrology is an attempt to see patterns in the natural world that were placed by Satan (or something).

2: You may be right on the Elizabeth/Mary thing. Alternatively, they may both simply be corruptions of local pagan myths which became integrated into Christianity and the names changed.

As for Salome, it may very well be a coincidence (after all, there were two apostles called James), though if not, she may have fel guilty; or perhaps she simply didn't know about John's and Jesus' relationship.

3: It may not have been his wedding; he may simply have been invited along, but more people showed up than expected, and people weren't drunk enough when the wine ran out. Maybe he was a guest of honour, maybe one of his brothers was getting married, or maybe it was one of his friends.

4: People (particularly Dianic Wiccans) often complain about how Peter was a sexist pig; naturally, he would not have liked the idea of Jesus telling Mary something he himself did not get, and so would have accused her of being a prostitute to attack her credibility.

(Although if she really was a prostitute, wouldn't this prove that Jesus loved everybody?)

5 - 6: The Qu'ran actually deals with this issue in quite a few places. Basically, in Islam, God will not begat a son; indeed, that would be insulting to Him. Jesus was instead an incredibly bigshot, important prophet, whom Muslims consider second only to Muhammad. This explains why God would incarnate purely to experience suffering, since He didn't really do it, it was just that the apostles thought He did.

Good point about Judas; I've had similar dieas for a few years now. Interestingly, the Qu'ran also states that just before he died, Jesus teleported away from the cross and another man was put in his place; many Muslims believe that this other man was Judas.

7: There's no reason he shouldn't be crucified; and if he was that badly beaten, I imagine death would have come rather quickly.


A few questions about Christianity

Post 13

Gaggle Halgrunt

Hi Appolyon,
Thanks for your reply. OK...

1. Thanks, I knew they were Zoroastrians, but I didn't mention that. Thanks for mentioning it. Your point about the astrology...
As you say, Zoroastrianism, as well as being monotheistic, was heavily into astrology - not just on this single occasion on the event of Jesus' birth. This Zoroastrian astrology (supposedly) managed to predict Jesus' birth.
Why then does orthodox Christianity denounce "general" astrology (possibly as the work of the devil), whilst still revering this one single astrological event? Sounds hypocritical to me.

2. Salome - one hell of a coincidence, considering the underlying tensions between the followers of Jesus and John at the time.

3. & 4. True, it may not have been his wedding. Funny though, how the canonical gospels omit to mention anything regarding the presence OR ABSCENCE of a spouse for Jesus, even though marriage would have been the Jewish custom at the time (as part of the Jewish law/Torah) and Jesus says he came to "fulfill the law". Equally intruiging is the way the "heretical" apocryphal gospels name Mary Magdalene as the companion ("koinoinos" - more of a spouse relationship) of Jesus.

You have an interesting point on the personality of Simon Peter. "Naturally, he wouldn't have liked the idea of Jesus telling Mary something exclusively, and would have accused her of being a prostitute to attack her credibility". That's precisely my point! What a great role model that the founder of the Roman Catholic (and subsequent orthodox Christian churches) presents to his followers. Two millenia of misogyny and patriarchism.

5. & 6. I tend to prefer the Muslim viewpoint on Jesus than the orthodox Christian one. One of the very very few points in which I agree with Islamic philosophy.

7. I don't understand your statement "There's no reason he shouldn't be crucified". What's your point? He was crucified because Caiaphas convinced Pilate that Jesus was an enemy of Rome, and Pilate needed to appease the mob. You "imagine" that death would have come "rather quickly" - why any quicker than any other victim of crucifixion, who usually took a few days to die on the cross? Sink into unconsciousness? Definitely. Brain dead and start decomposing in the Jerusalem heat? I don't think so.
Another interesting point about the crucifixion that I didn't mention was about its location. The gospel of John states that it occurred in a "garden" - not the traditional image of Golgotha/Calvary. Could this possibly be the same private garden in which Joseph of Arimathea donated his private tomb to Jesus' body? The same (rich) Joseph of Arimathea who "persuaded" an incredulous Pilate that Jesus was dead and to have his body taken down from the cross? A private garden with restricted access to members of the public, who therefore wouldn't have witnessed the crucifixion at close hand?
There are far too many suspicious variables in this story to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus did actually, physiologically die on the cross.


A few questions about Christianity

Post 14

Scruff79

I understand that the Church decreed that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute in the late 60's. The 'Madonna/whore' myth was used in the past to force women to be like Our Lady, or be considered a 'whore'


A few questions about Christianity

Post 15

Gaggle Halgrunt

What, to be a virgin for the rest of your life even when you're married? That doesn't bode well for the survival of our species does it?


A few questions about Christianity

Post 16

Ménalque



I'm sorry, but I find this a particually weak argument, you seem to suggest that because the bible dosn't contain the specific phrase 'Jesus did not have a wife' we can then see this as evidence for him being married, based on some doubtful translations of words (the whole companion thing).

The bible also dosn't contain the phrase 'Jesus did not have a pet Giraffe called Tony', in other words it fails to point out Tony the Giraffe's absence. Should I then assume that Jesus did have a pet Giraffe?

Blub-blub


A few questions about Christianity

Post 17

Gaggle Halgrunt

Blub Blub,
Pet giraffe??? That's a silly argument.

It was part of the Jewish Law (Torah) at that time for people to be married. Jesus himself stated that he had come to fulfil the law.

It would have been unthinkable for a man of marrying age to be single - especially to have taken a vow of celibacy. That was not part of Jewish custom/culture. Jesus himself is never quoted as advocating celibacy.

If Jesus had not been married, the Pharisees would surely have attacked him on that point. They did not.

There is also interesting circumstantial evidence in the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary Magdalene waits sitting in mourning inside the house until she is summoned outside by Jesus. No other woman (such as Martha) is required to wait for Jesus' summons. Such an act would be compatible with a husband/wife relationship at that time.

As for "doubtful" translations, you can turn that argument on its head. Orthodox (initially Catholic) Christian doctrine could well be thought of as flawed based on its own "doubtful" Latin translations of earlier Greek (and Hebrew) scriptures.

If my argument is indeed a weak argument, take a good look at Orthodox Christianity's arguments for evidence of the virgin birth, the continual virginity of the Virgin Mary and Joseph (Catholic doctrine), evidence for Jesus' celibacy/lack of marriage, and the physiological evidence for the "death" and resurrection of Jesus (outlined previously). Who has the weaker argument?


A few questions about Christianity

Post 18

Scruff79

Gaggle, they wanted women to only have sex inside of marriage, to produce children. Not pleasure at all! smiley - winkeye

Scruff


A few questions about Christianity

Post 19

Lucky Llareggub - no more cannibals in our village, we ate the last one yesterday..

The big question as far as I have skimmed I have not seen and that is What happened to Jesus after he 'died'?
We know that he was seen a few days later by various people, so being realistic we must assume that he didn't actually die on the cross. He may have taken some drugs, passed out, or whatever - we simply don't know. He was taken down from the cross because the next day was the Sabbath and it was not allowed to crucify anybody on the Sabbath. So where did they take Jesus?
The most likely scenario is that Joseph of Arimathea, a very wealthy man and a secret follower of Jesus, bribed the Romans and pretended to place Jesus in his own (i.e. Joseph of Arimethea's) grave but in fact took him elsewhere. Much lucre was passed around in brown paper bags for this to happen.
The next news we have about Joseph of Arimethea is that he turns up in Britain with 500 followers. Presumably one of the followers is Jesus (now incognito) or they have with them Jesus body - the real holy grail.
Looking at a map of the Roman Empire in 43AD (MacMillan Encylopaedia) I am struck that there is virtually no place along the Mediterranean shore one can sail to from the so-called Holy Land that is not in the Roman Empire. Britain is the obvious bolt hole.
The next thing we know is that a church is established in Glastonbury
about 96AD, a small wooden construction. The story is that Joseph of Arimethea planted his staff in the ground on this spot and it grew into a hawthorn bush.



A few questions about Christianity

Post 20

Gaggle Halgrunt

Hi Llaregub!
I'm also intrigued by the legends of a Jewish holy man from the middle east travelling to what is now Kashmir. Local Muslims believe that Jesus' grave is there.
There is one thing that I am convinced about - Jesus did not die on the cross. Following his attempted execution, he would have had to flee Isreel, along with his family.


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