The Divine Son of God, God Incarnate, Lord, Redeemer, and Saviour of the World

by Doug Mason 18 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Half banana
    Half banana

    Augustus was larded with these messianic accolades and it makes me think how the Bible often represents a crystallization of what must have amounted to popular 'gossip' or what we might today call urban myths.

    There had been a long standing conventional view found in all peoples of the classical world including marginal people like the Jews; that a ruler blessed by the gods would rule in glory and bring peace. It was everyone's dream. The Roman Emperor Augustus whilst not entirely benign did achieve something along these lines for the people under his rule between 27 BCE and CE 14.

    Augustus was actually a modest man who also had a good sense of humour, a characteristic which was and is distinctly lacking in all earnest saviours! For example he was fond of the homely phrase, "quicker than you can cook asparagus". (As mentioned in the book I have just bought: Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarle.)

    Considering the enormous disparity in power between the patricians and the plebs, any information coming from the rulers would have been god-like to the illiterate. This notion of Augustus with the glorifying of his birth, his divinity and his rule would become a template for all "god given" leaders. This idea served the interests of Mithraism and later in the fourth century in the deliberate fusion of catholic pagan belief, it was applied to Jesus with the establishment of Imperial Christianity under Constantine.

    Doug, have you read A Short History of Christianity by JM Robertson? For me it was revelatory. JM Robertson was a journalist, writer and Liberal Member of Parliament who had become a freethinker at an early age after hearing a lecture by Charles Bradlaugh. Later he worked for Bradlaugh who was also an MP and pioneer humanist. No doubt it was this association which enabled his access to the firebrand literature which is source material in his "Short history". I cannot recommend Roberson's approach to the subject more highly, it has the historian's sensibility of what actually happened and when and also the sociologist's instinct for what people actually believed and why they did what they did.

    Everyone who wants to know the truth about the origins of Christianity should read it as a primer.

    ...And I agree, the early Church Fathers do not represent fact, instead they push the partisan Roman Catholic orthodoxy.

  • EdenOne

    The way I see it, it seems that Pauline christians shaped Christianity in a way that was pallatable to the roman world; in that effort, they assimilated elements from other two popular cults of the day: mithrainism and the cult of the emperor. However, they ended up competing and clashing with the latter.


  • OrphanCrow

    Thanks for all the information on this thread. It's great.

    Once a person starts exposing the political climate of the time around when Jesus was supposed to have been alive, it is easy to see that the New Testament was simply a justification for monarchy. The New Testament was, and is, used as a political tool.

    The Christian Church, combined with the myth of Jesus - a king to rule the earth forever - was a political movement. And it still is.

    Christians, even though they may not realize it, promote monarchy as the preferred mode of rule.

  • Half banana
    Half banana

    As of course do the GB members at Watchtower HQ...albeit a seven headed monarch!

    (would that make it a septarchy?)

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    Half Banana,

    Thanks for your feedback. I managed to download a PDF of Robertson's book and I shall see what help it provides. The epub version has too many transcription errors so I will make the PDF searchable.

    The GB claims to mimic the Jerusalem sect of the Jesus-movement. It came to an inglorious end in 70 CE, and probably resurfaced as the Ebionites. The Paulines ultimately succeeded, in opposition to the highly popular Gnostics. The success of the Paulines must be put down to the intervention of the Roman emperors, in which the religious fervour of Constantine's mother Helena played a big part. She initiated the gathering of Christian relics (bits of the original cross, etc.)

    Search the www with: Helena Constantine relics


  • Half banana
    Half banana

    I agree Helena, Constantine’s mother, played an important role in the establishment of the Roman church and hence modern beliefs, especially in setting the RC trend for relic worship.

    The key to the establishment of Christianity was not Constantine’s interest in faith, religion or morality, for an emperor perforce had neither faith nor much in the way of moral scruples to start with, nor was it the doctrinal correctness of Helena’s brand of the Jesus cult which appealed to him but instead it was his banal superstition in trusting that her religion would bring him luck... in the form of military success.

    It is essential to recognise that religion for the Romans and Greeks had been one of obligation to the gods, piety was something demonstrated by public and domestic observance of the rituals, it was not a matter of faith or morality. Superstition played an important routine part of the lives of the ancients whatever status they had.

    Constantine had the morality of a hungry tiger; he may have had a soft spot for mum but had his son murdered and his wife forced into a bath of boiling water. As far as religion went, he despaired at the bishops who obdurately wrangled over 'true' doctrine, a concept apparently alien to the emperor. Constantine saw them only as an impediment to his political ambitions for an unchallenged faction-free universal state religion and wanted to bang their heads together. Only then would it become an instrument for unity and consequently for the strengthening of his imperial hand. (qv DG Kousoulas, The Life and Times of Constantine the Great 2007)

    This ideal of pure worship in the mother church had been achieved through a deliberate syncretism or fusing of all pagan belief into the catholic or universal faith and subsequent enforcement made it a Roman’s obligation to worship in the state prescribed manner and simultaneously it denied any rights to the former religious groups which included the destruction of all available texts relating to them. Catholic orthodoxy ruled!

    The origins of modern Christianity might therefore be (rather too briefly) summarised as: the syncretizing of all beliefs, pagan and mystical, by imperial power, promoting it as the state religious cult and then proscribing all others... and all of this done for the sake of political power, superstition and family sentiment.

  • fulltimestudent

    Half banana: "a deliberate syncretism or fusing of all pagan belief into the catholic or universal faith..."

    Wow! H.b.- " All pagan belief" incorporated into early church belief? That's a very difficult position to maintain, I cannot think of any studies that I've been exposed to that would argue that. Emotively, I'd love to think so, but taking an intellectually honest position, I just could not agree.

    I think the general situation is better described if we acknowledge that second temple Judaism reflected its Mediterranean/west Asian cultural milieu and the Jewish sect that grew into early Christianity therefore also reflected the same mileu.

    Concerning Helena, we have to acknowledge her influence, and Likely her influence has been less studied that it deserves. Sometimes that's because it may be difficult to identify that influence.

    And, that's also the case in the other two people that likely had an influence on Constantine. They are Lactantius and Ossius (Hosius), of these two men, Ossius is likely to have been the greatest influence. Ossius had been elected as Bishop in the see of Cordova (Spain) circa 295 CE, and is first mentioned in one of Constantine's official documents in 313 CE. From that document we see that he had become part of Constantine's retinue. Most importantly, while Constantine opened the first session of the Council of Nicea, he (Constantine) then withdrew and Ossius presided for the the remainder of the sessions. We know a lot about them, but as far as their influence on Constantine, very little.

  • Half banana
    Half banana

    FTS, sorry, I like to be would be more transparently correct to speak of the syncretism which was forged under Constantine the Great as a fusion of contemporary “christian” beliefs. However I wanted to highlight the paradox that the doctrinal basis of these early sects of Christianity was then only recently and resolutely drawn from pagan belief... outstandingly so was the long pre-Christian history of the Christ figure himself. Even Constantine kept the Solar Invictus (unconquered Sun) image on his coinage up until about 320CE well after his purported conversion to Christianity. This was in fact a pivotal teaching of solar theology at the root of the Christ myth back in pagan antiquity, which had visible echoes in early Christian iconography.

    Think of any doctrine or NT story; it is likely that it has a pagan or a Gnostic antecedent. Odd intrusions into the NT text such as “I am the true vine” and “...upon this rock, I will establish my church” are tangible demonstrations of very pointed and specific gestures to existing cults, to that of Dionysus in the first case and Mithras in the second. Exotic words offered as a sop to the holders of these essential non-Jesuist doctrines in the on-going process of Roman Catholic syncretism; working in the familiar Roman imperial political manner of 'inclusion and assimilation'. For the sake of retaining their temple authority, It became prudent for cult leaders to make the move towards the teachings of the Imperial Roman Church.

    The fact is there is little authoritative literature if any on the subject and hence it is not on the general scholar’s radar. The whole episode of forced conformity had to be covered up and that could only be done effectively through Imperial agency to start with. Later with the dilution of Roman power after Theodosius the Church itself became so powerful it could lead the anti paganism drive.

    Overall I still cannot but think that Constantine was ever playing the role of emperor. He had his religious advisers such as Hosius and he had his publicists such as Lactantius and Eusebius but religion was for him an instrument of state. His nearly life-long tolerance of Roman cults and his ineffectual and fumbling attempts at directing the bishops towards doctrinal unison showed his heart was not in the business of Jesus-Christianity, as did his deathbed baptism. It was some of his offspring who took up the Christian banner and ran with it.

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    Half Banana,

    What interesting thoughts you present. The history of the Ancient Hebrews is one of borrowing myths, ideas, and gods from their neighbours. They did not live in isolation. YHWH was taken from their neighbours ("Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan", Day) along with the wife of EL, named Asherah ("When God was a Woman", Stone; "The Hebrew Goddess", Patai; "Did God Have a Wife?", Dever; etc).

    As for books dealing with that Roman period: "Jesus Wars", Jenkins; "A New History of Early Christianity", Freeman; "AD 381", Freeman. But I am no aware of any books that precisely focus on listing all the antecedent pagan and Gnostic influences, although it is regularly pointed out that Paul's ideas were deeply influenced by his Hellenistic environment.


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