Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Gospel of Judas Debate

Here are several differing views about this recently revealed Gospel:
Christianity Today
LA Times
Catholic News Service

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Is Paul Part of the Birth of Christianity?

John Crossan in "The Birth of Christianity" does not consider Paul part of the birth of Christianity. He believes Paul is part of the growth and development of Christianity. Addtionally, he states that Paul is not as important theologically and historically in the first century as he is in the sixteenth century. "If you begin with Paul, you will interpret Jesus incorrectly; if you begin with Jesus, you will interpret Paul differently." (p. xxi)

Did Jesus' Resurrection Begin Christianity?

John Crossan in "The Birth of Christianity" asks why was Jesus' resurrection, as distinct from all other resurrections, considered as the beginning of Christianity? According to Crossan, during the early first century, the knowledge of resurrections was not not completely unique. Why wasn't Jesus' resurrection like that of Elijah, who was taken up individually to live with God. Crossman points out that Paul and others believed that Jesus' resurrection was considered the beginning of the end - the beginning of the general resurrection at the end of the world. (pp. xxviii - xix)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Does John Contradict Matthew, Mark and Luke?

Elaine Pagels in "Beyond Belief" believes the Gospel of John is very different and contradictory to the other Gospels in significant ways. Matthew, Mark, and Luke makes the act of Jesus disrupting the merchants doing business in the Temple as Jesus' last public act. John makes it his first act. The three other Gospels say that the attack on the money changers is what finally drove the chief priest to arrest Jesus. With John placing this act in the beginning of his version, there was no immediate reprecussions for Jesus' actions. John accounts for Jesus' arrest by inserting a scene that doesn't occur in any of the other gospels: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead which was so alarming to the Jewish authorities that they became determined to kill Jesus. According to Ms. Pagels, even Origen, a father of the early Christian church, admits that John doesn't always tell the truth literally, but he always tells the truth spiritually.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Historical Seeds of Religious and Racial Bigotry

As you can tell by now, I'm also reading "Democracy Matters" by Cornell West. In the book he describes the debates about Jesus in the first century mostly between Christian Jews and non-Chrisian Jews. Of course Jesus was the Jew who challenged the Jewish elites as well as the Roman authorities. West states that the phrase, "the Jews" is used 87 times in books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Thus, the writers of the synoptic Gospels - all Jews as well - were mostly engaged in discussions between themselves and non-Christian Jews. However, beginning with the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire in the 4th century, all other religions became illegal and were persecuted. Thus the Gospel phrase, "the Jews" became the foundation for "Christian anti-Judiasm." Consequently, Christian anti-Judiasm (a religious bigotry) became Christian anti-Semitism (a racist bigotry). Jews who converted to Christianity avoided the religious bigotry, but all Jews suffered the racist bigotry.

Fundamentalist Christians

In Cornell West's book, "Democracy Matters," West defines fundamentalist Christians in American today as Constantinian Christians. He links today's fundamentalist Christians with the emperialism that grew out of Constantinian Christianity. He believes that most of America's fundamentalist Christians see no link between the Roman empire that ultimately put Jesus to death and America today. West admits that most American fundamentalist Christians are "sincere in their faith," but are ignorant of the role they play in furthering America's imperial political ends. Since their understanding of Christian history is incomplete, they are vulnerable to being manipulated by government and Christian leaders. "As long as they [fundamentalist Christians] can worship freely and pursue the Amercan dream, they see the American government as a force for good and American imperialisn as a desirable force for spreading that good."

In contrast to this fundamentalist view, West introduces his readers to William Sloan Coffin, Chaplain of Yale University during the Vietnam war. Coffin is described as one of the many prophetic Christians that have added moral arguments to the American democracy. One quote attributed to Coffin is, "No nation, ours or any other, is well served by illusions of righteousness. All nations make decisions based on self-interest and then defend them in the name of morality." (p. 152-153)

Constantinian Christiananity

In the book, "Democracy Matters," Cornell West describes a theology battle between prophetic Christians and Constantinian Christians that dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. He asserts that much of Christianity in America today is a form of Constantinian Christianity. When Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 C.E. and decriminalized it in 313, the cojoining of church and state became institutionalized. West believes that this began an increasing corruption of the Christian church by state power which is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus and Paul. He asserts that this joining of church and state has been behind many of the church's worst transgressions: from the crusades against Jews and Muslims to bigotry against women and blacks (p. 146-149).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Prophet Portraits

A piece in the March 3 issue of The Week states that depictions of the Prophet Mohammed are forbidden in Islam according to Paul Richard of the Washington Post. He believes that this is why the Danish cartoons have enraged Muslims. He states, however, that no ban is explicit in the Koran. For an explicit ban he tells readers to look in the Book of Exodus: man must not make "any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth below."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

African Historical Link to Christianity

Talk about someone challenging conventional wisdom....In the book "New Dimensions in African History, " Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan (scholar and Egyptologist) asserts that Africans along the Nile River were already into their 13th dynastic period before Abraham was born (p. 55). Check out his chronology of history and the various versions of the Bible here. In the book, he suggests that conventional biblical beliefs have been driven by colonialism: "...colonialism brings to us...history written by the conqueror for the conquered to read..." (p. 60).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Gospel of John vs. Gospel of Thomas

Following up on my last post, the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas discovered at Nag Hammadi, were written for different groups of Jesus' followers near the end of the first century according to Elaine Pagels in her book, "Beyond Belief." Per Ms. Pagels, John says that we can experience God only through the devine light embodied in Jesus. In contrast, Thomas states that the image of God is hidden within everyone. Obviosly, John's view prevailed, and has shaped Christian thought ever since.