July 3, 2013

It's Not a Myth.


Latin Cross
My friend Shirley and I met when we were about four years old. But after high school, sometime in the 1980s, we lost touch. She joined the military, traveled the world, experienced countless foreign cultures, languages, and cuisines. We finally reconnected this year.

Like myself, she was raised in a (nominally) Christian household; but during the course of her travels, she became fascinated by the religions she encountered. Some of these legends sounded like the Christian traditions she knew. And most of them preceded Jesus by several centuries. How about that?
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The more she studied, the more she became convinced that Christianity is merely a syncretic mishmash of fantastic miraculous claims borrowed from here and there. After all, there were other gods and prophets who were born of virgins; others who were called “son of God;” others who died on a cross and rose again. And so on. But the more I investigate these claims, the more I see that they’re are either slanted, misinterpreted, or just plain false.
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For example, the Egyptian sun god Horus was said to be born of a virgin. But if you investigate the legend, it turns out that he was conceived through a lewd act with a golden phallus. (Is that a miracle, or a perversion? You decide.) Not quite the same as the experience of Mary and Jesus.

Another claim that caught my attention, has to do with the symbol of the cross. Some say that it was borrowed from the Egyptian Ankh. Or the Hindu Swastika (an ancient holy symbol long before it was co-opted by the Nazis). In northern Europe, a cross represents the sun god Odin. Hence, when the Christians adopted a cross as their identifying symbol, it was a flagrant attempt to claim false legitimacy by stealing a familiar icon.
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Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, this claim only goes to display their ignorance.

First, in order to have an honest discussion, let’s be sure to compare apples-to-apples. Surely, most students of religion know that religions (including Christianity) tend to evolve and get corrupted over time. So if you’re going to compare Jesus to the others, let’s start at the beginning. That is, we should study the teaching of Scripture, and of known history (which is attested even by atheists), instead of the traditions introduced by fallible humans through the ages.

So with this in mind, we must ask: What type of religious meaning did the earliest Christians attach to the symbol of the cross? The answer: NONE. Zero. Zilch. They didn’t display it in their houses of worship, or in their homes, and they didn’t wear it as a tattoo. They didn’t argue with civil authorities to build a giant cross on top of a hill, that it might be seen by travelers on the highway below. When they used an icon at all, it was the symbol of a fish, to mark their clandestine meeting places.

Does this surprise you?

Yes, of course, these early disciples knew that their Lord died on a cross. And indeed the New Testament makes many references to it, to remind us of his sacrifice. But at the same time, they recognized it for what it was: A brutal means of torture and capital punishment, imposed by Rome for serious crimes. Public executions were common during this time; Jesus wasn’t the first “criminal” to be killed in this way, and he wasn’t the last. (Now, just imagine yourself wearing a miniature electric chair as a pendant on a gold chain around your neck. Get the idea? It would be a preposterous proposition for the early Christians to turn a "holy" symbol into a fashion accessory.)
Tau Cross

The Romans didn’t invent this practice, of course. But let us examine what a typical Roman crucifixion looked like:

First, the vertical post (called the stipes) was implanted permanently in the ground. Then, the condemned man was strapped to the crossbar (called a patibulum), forced to carry the heavy wooden beam, and then lifted by ropes into a notch atop the stipes. This method creates what is known as a (Greek-letter) Tau cross, which looks like our letter T. Hence, even if the early Christians recognized a cross as their holy symbol, this (not the more well-known “Latin” cross that we’re accused of stealing) would have been it.

This is not news. As late as 1215, Pope Innocent proclaimed "The Tau has exactly the same form as the Cross on which our Lord was crucified.” (St. Francis of Assisi, his contemporary, used it as his only signature.) Medieval and Renaissance painters gave us beautiful images of Christ carrying the entire cross; but no amount of study in Scripture or history will support this view.

For the record I’m not so na├»ve as to think that my Christian faith is entirely original. But is originality really a test of truth? Surely there are many ways in which Christian doctrine and practice resembles other religions. But does this mean that our ancestors simply fashioned a prophet and a theology by lifting bits and pieces from the other places? That's a very different question, and from my research the answer is no.

Of course, faith (by one aspect) means that I believe in things I can’t see. But the more I study world history, the more I find pagan accounts that confirm the claims of Scripture.

That Jesus isn’t just a reinvented Egyptian deity.

That under certain weather conditions, it really is possible to part the Red Sea and walk across.

That the ancient Greek sages recognized a Hebrew prophet named “Christus,” who worked genuine miracles.

That the whole earth flooded, and a righteous man and his three sons survived on a big boat.

That even the worst sinners can change and be brought to redemption, in spite of themselves.

How many other religions can truly claim that their beliefs are affirmed by the testimony of unbelievers? That their veracity is verified by witnesses who have nothing to gain by lying? I've looked, and I can't find any. 

When I see that the broad strokes have been filled in for me, it makes it easier to accept the details.


3 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! As far as I'm concerned, the proof is definitely in the unbelievers!

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  2. Really enjoyed this post! This seems to be a common pattern with many religions in how their copycats of elements of Christianity throughout the centuries. For example, the concept of three in one which is a reflection of the Holy Trinity, and one can see countless examples in nature reminding us of this vital aspect of Christianity ie the atom is made of proton, neutron, and electron (3), an egg is formed of the yolk, the white, and the shell (3), fruit has the seeds, the flesh, and the skin (3), the family has the father, mother, and child/children (3) etc etc. But other religions have also adapted the concept of the trinity for themselves. What's interesting to note, however, is the one way in which Christianity (true Christianity) is different from any other religion - a person must actually admit they need God and confess their sins. There are no steps or paths one can take in order to get to heaven. One is completely dependent on God for salvation.

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  3. The Bible says the law is "written upon their hearts"... I've always believed that the common threads of Truth that run through so many belief systems lead back to God, but there's only one true path to salvation. You can't shine a light without having it spill out all over, but reflections aren't the source.

    In my experience, Christianity is the only religion in which God reached down to Man. All others expect us to become good enough for God in some way... which, as we all know, is impossible. Christianity makes sense to me, because I don't want a God who's small enough to be reached- He would be a mere construct of my own mind. I want a God who's bigger than me, bigger than my Pastor, bigger than the fallible human nature. I won't settle for anything less.

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