About 32 years ago I read a little book that changed my life. I do not remember its title or its author. It was probably self-published. I’ve tried googling it all over the place, but I can’t identify or find this little book.
It was the first time I read Gnostic Gospels. According to Wikipedia: “Gnosticism (from ancient Greek: gnostikos ‘to have knowledge’) is a collection of religious ideas and systems that coalesced in the late 1st century AD among early Jewish and Christian sects. These various groups emphasized personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) above orthodox teachings, traditions and the authority of religious institutions.
“Gnostic writings flourished among certain Christian groups in the Mediterranean world until about the second century, when the early Church Fathers denounced them as heresy. Efforts to destroy these texts have proven largely successful, resulting in the survival of very few writings by Gnostic theologians.
Constantine I, aka Constantine the Great, was Emperor of Rome from 306 to 337. According to Wikipedia, he “was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which produced the statement of Christian belief known as the Nicene Creed.
According to Daily History.org: “Choosing the actual texts that now make up the New Testament was no short or simple process. The deliberation spanned several decades, beginning with the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE and ending with the Council of Carthage in 419 CE, where a complete listing of the Old and New Testament canon was ratified.
This little book that I read claimed that the early Roman Catholic Church chose harmful books for the New Testament. They rejected gospels that portrayed a more human Jesus, and they included gospels that portrayed a powerful, miraculous, and divine Jesus – because the Romans wanted a powerful religion with which they could conquer and rule.
According to Wikipedia: “Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, a historian, states that Constantine was marching with his army…when he looked up at the sun and saw a cross of light above, and with it the Greek words ‘( éν) τούτw νίκα’ (In this, to conquer), an expression often translated into Latin as in hoc signo vinces (“in this sign you will overcome”).
“At first Constantine did not know the meaning of the apparition, but the following night he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign of the cross against his enemies.”
The supernatural elements of the New Testament were largely unoriginal. For example, Jesus was a demigod – his father was a god (or God) and his mother was a mortal. Greece’s Golden Age had passed, but Greek culture and Greek myths had been co-opted by the Romans who ruled the Mediterranean region, including Judea.
There were at least 50 Greek demigods. Heracles, known as Hercules to the Romans, is probably the most famous. He was the son of Zeus, the father of the gods, and Alcmene, a mortal bride. (Mary was engaged to Joseph when she conceived with God through the Holy Spirit.)
Achilles was another famous demigod. He was the son of the sea nymph Thetis (daughter of the sea god Nereus) and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons. The demigod Dionysus, known as Bacchus to the Romans, was the son of the supreme god Zeus and Semele, the daughter of a king.
The idea of the resurrection was not new or new either. According to Wikipedia: “A dying-and-rising, death-rebirth, or resurrection deity is a religious motif in which a god or goddess dies and is resurrected. Examples of gods who die and later come to life are most often cited in the religions of the ancient Near East, and traditions influenced by them include Biblical and Greco-Roman mythology and, by extension, Christianity. .
“In Greek mythology, Dionysus, the son of Zeus, was a horned child who was torn to pieces by Titans who lured him with toys, then boiled him and ate him. Zeus then destroyed the Titans by lightning as a result of their action against Dionysus and from the ashes humans were formed, however, Dionysus’ grandmother Rhea managed to reassemble some of his parts (mainly from his heart who was spared) and brought him back to life.
“The oldest known example of the ‘myth of the ascension of the dying god’ is the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s descent into the Underworld. The Sumerian goddess Inanna travels to the Underworld to see her sister Ereshkigal. There she is ‘stricken’ and turned into a corpse. For three days and three nights Inanna died, until she was resurrected…”
The Apostles’ Creed is used liturgically by Catholics and many Protestant denominations. He states: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. , who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, descended into hell, rose from the dead on the third day…”
Joe Glaser, a (retired) professor emeritus of English at Western Kentucky University, confirmed my suspicions that virtually all New Testament miracle stories were “borrowed” from some other source, such as the Greeks or the Sumerians.
So, I wondered what the synoptic gospels (of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) would look like without the miracles and the supernatural. I copied and pasted the Gospel of Matthew into a Word file with the intention of removing miracles and the supernatural.
But before I could begin this task, I discovered that Thomas Jefferson had rather preceded me.
According to Wikipedia:The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazarethcommonly referred to as the Jefferson Bible, is one of two religious works constructed by Thomas Jefferson…[It] was completed in 1820 by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue many sections of the New Testament as excerpts from the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition excludes all of Jesus’ miracles and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels that contain the resurrection and most other miracles, and passages that describe Jesus as divine.
Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Adams: “In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] taught, we should get rid of the artificial clothes in which they were smothered by the priests, who disguised them in various forms, as instruments of wealth and power for them. We must reject Platonists & Plotinists, Stagyrites & Gamalielites, Eclectics, Gnostics & Scholastics, Logos & Demi-urgos, Male & Female Aeons & Demons, with a long line of Etc. Etc. Etc. or, shall I say at the same time, of Nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even among them, only the very words of Jesus…”
I don’t believe in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. Like Jefferson, I believe in the “only words” of a very human Jesus. I believe in loving your enemies as much as your neighbors. I believe in the teachings of Jesus on love, compassion, charity and forgiveness.
Mark Heinz lives at Lac Nolin. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.