The Pagan Origins of the Memorial Observed by Jehovah’s Witnesses

by David_Jay 30 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Phizzy

    Just to play Devil's Advocate, a JW would argue that the Memorial instituted by Jesus was a separate thing from the Passover, and Jesus used what was to hand, the Passover bread and wine. They would then argue that although these "emblems" may have their origin in pagan practice, they are somehow sanctified by Jesus' use of them.

    This is an argument used by Cardinal Newman about 150 years ago to justify all the strange garb and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, that they are sanctified by being accepted by the Church. An argument directly derided by the JW Org.

    It is an argument that, if JW's accepted, would allow boundless possibilities for them. LOL

  • David_Jay


    You are absolutely right. It would allow them to be practically identical to mainstream Christianity. Someone earlier on this thread started toward that argument from a JW perspective but it fell apart before even getting there.

    As you are likely quite aware, the argument that I am presenting is not that there is anything wrong with the Passover having both pagan and human origins. Jews don't teach that. We acknowledge this truth and embrace our celebration wholeheartedly without excuse for how it began. There is no Devil that inspires pagans to worship him through false religion in Judaism, so adapting something from the Gentile world isn't necessarily wrong. Purim, for example, is celebrated using almost exclusively Gentile and pagan elements.

    The idea that something has to be "sanctified" because it had origins in pagan society or because it came from a human tradition is a Christian way of dealing with the paradox they often create for themselves. Teaching that the world is under a curse due to Adam's sin and that the Devil is real and inspires paganism, they create a problem when they develop and engage in celebrations and observances that come from this "cursed world." They aren't breaking a real rule, but they are going contrary to their own when they do this.

    The answer? You said it. "Jesus sanctifies!" Simple answer, no? They need to use Jesus as this type of answer because they tend to contradict themselves when they say "pagans are evil but we like their celebration elements that we adopt for ourselves." Thank God for the "Jesus-solution," then, huh? They reduce Jesus to a talisman almost by saying what is tantamount to "Jesus touched it so now it's good."

    The reason that didn't even did start to work before here is that Jesus is not considered to be an answer to anything in my discussion. Remember, I'm Jewish. While I do believe and recognize that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish sage of the first century, I also recognize him as an imposter to messianic claims and dead...and probably long eaten away by worms. Whatever Jesus "touched" doesn't change the historical origins of anything.

    Jews don't see the world as "cursed under sin due to Adam" or "under the control" of "the Devil." (As mentioned before we don't even believe in the Devil.) We see the world as innately good. Thus we have adapted practices from other cultures and attached new meanings to them, but we don't teach that such things were in some mire of evil that required Jesus to declare them "sanctified." And whatever new meanings we give these practices doesn't erase their origins.

  • Pistoff

    The idea of sacrifice predates Judaism.

    It is a vestige of animism, the idea that killing an animal, or a human, to appease the gods is acceptable.

    The 'ransom sacrifice' is only ancient ritual killing dressed up with a 1st century cloak.

    The central tenet of christianity is based on pagan practices, a brutal one at that.

  • David_Jay

    Pistoff wrote:

    The idea of sacrifice predates Judaism.
    It is a vestige of animism, the idea that killing an animal, or a human, to appease the gods is acceptable.
    The 'ransom sacrifice' is only ancient ritual killing dressed up with a 1st century cloak.
    The central tenet of christianity is based on pagan practices, a brutal one at that.

    You are exactly right.

    Even the Jewish Tabernacle/Temple system was not unique to Torah or invented by God and sent down from Heaven. It was the way ancient societies butchered meat, in a system where they honored their national deities for the life of the animal they were taking, acknowledging where the life came from by ceremonially pouring out or "offering" the blood "back" to their god, and then giving a gratuity from the meat to the priest/butcher for their services.

    The only difference in the Jewish sacrificial system was that Torah allowed for such an offering to coincide with the act of repenting from a "sin" or erroneous action or crime. This got abused by the Jews so greatly (merely offering the animal but not repenting) that by the time of the Prophets a new theology developed that taught that God did not require sacrifices or eat the blood and flesh of animals offered at the Temple. The Prophets also taught that the sacrifices wouldn't work without actual repentance, and introduced the current Jewish view that God forgives not by animal sacrifice but by heartfelt repentance and practical reparation.--See for example Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 1:11-14, and note especially Jeremiah 7:22-24 and compare Psalm 50:12-15.

    Christians have never bothered to learn what the Jews did about the lack of value of the priest/butcher system.

  • OutsiderLookingIn

    Interesting post, David Jay. What I took this post to be about was something that I have thought of before-- that the JW arguments of "we don't do anything pagan" is actually quite foolish. It's something that I've seen as a critique on this site, possibly because that's a good critique against JW's generally, but the fact that something was once pagan doesn't necessarily make it un-Christian. Almost everything has a pagan origin if we look back far enough. JWs back themselves in a corner with the simplistic "once pagan = bad" stance. They don't practice what they preach because they can't.

    Once again, JWs go beyond what is written and have no leg to stand on because that's not required by God. There are a lot of things discussed on this site--baptism, wedding customs, pants as the clothing of the warrior, perhaps even the Passover as mentioned in this OP that have pagan, not specifically Jewish or Christian origins. Non-pagan origin is not necessary for Christianity or for God more generally who can use what people are familiar with and redeem it for His own purposes.

  • Phizzy

    Surely if the JW's knew their Bible it would be difficult for them to rail against anything as being "pagan" and therefore unacceptable to Almighty God.

    I was thinking of the Melchizedek figure of Genesis, called a Priest, yet of what Temple ??

    yet he is used by Paul as an acceptable pre-figuration of the Messiah, if I remember correctly.

  • David_Jay


    Both Melchizedek and Jethro were high priests of the monotheistic God that Jews worship today. They were also partial contributors or at least represent those peoples who contributed to the concept of "God" as recognized by the Jews.

    Historically and according to anthropology, it appears that the Israelites adopted labels and some facets of God from the people living around the Fertile Crescent area and the areas referred to as Horeb or Mt. Sinai in Scripture.

    Jewish theology and tradition agree that Abraham rejected the notion of the existence and worship of all deities, coming to see life and creation as the "effect" of a "Cause" greater than the human-made deity concept. In Abraham's mind it was this Cause and only this Cause that was responsible for the universe he could witness.

    By likely attaching the monotheistic concept Abraham learned from his meeting with Melchizedek (whoever that was or represents) and Moses' meeting Jethro generations later, the Hebrews attached the words and labels these peoples used in their particular version of monotheism and we Jews attached it to what eventually we now call "God."

    The God of Abraham that we Jews worship is therefore not a god in the traditional religious sense, but being greater than gods worshipped and invented by people we have attached some of the more common labels and words used for "deity" to this Cause. For exmple, the word ELOHIM in Hebrew is actually the word for a mighty wind storm or tempest. Since heathens often worshipped a storm god, Jews merely transferred the term to show that they attributed all such things to the First Cause of all that we worshipped.

    Melchizedek is one of those clues in Scripture by which critical analytics can tie in with history and science to provide a clearer picture for understanding a more accurate evolution of the Jewish Revelation of God.

  • John_Mann

    This pagan paranoia is a Protestant thing.

    Protestants seem to forget Abraham was not a Jew but a Sumerian.

    Certainly he kept the Sumerian rituals and philosophy that were compatible with his unique monotheistic view.

  • TheWonderofYou

    ---and without understanding the pagan roots we are missing a valuable source to understand the reason why those pagan parts became part of the jewish/christian/muslim religion and why they are expressing and bearing important messages for us. We cant understand our religions without accepting the pagan roots.

  • myelaine

    Wow David_Jay...

    you've been over quite a twisted path. It seems you're in a better place in your life now. I'm happy for you.

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