By: Henry Hasse
I have been exploring the three part Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, the canonical collection of Jewish texts compiled by Jewish Rabbis after 70 AD, following the Roman destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. (Torah [Law of Moses], Nevi’im [Prophets], Ketuvim [Writings]). These became the OT in the Christian Bible. Midrash (story fillers by the Rabbis) added much flavor and explanation to the Torah. My exploration led me to the Jewish site given below. This section on Abram is especially interesting for its Midrash because it directly connects him to Nimrod who claimed to be the “god” of Mesopotamia, something which Abram publicly opposed in favor of a gracious loving God; and it also speaks of Abram’s generosity and connects him to Noah and Shem who Abram supposedly knew personally. He sought refuge with them while on Nimrod’s hit list. And since Noah knew Methuselah who knew Adam, well, you can fill in the blanks about what Abram may have learned about the old days at the feet of Noah.
In order to escape Nimrod’s anger, Abram and his dear like-minded wife, Sarai, had to relocate along the Great Sea to Canaan, the centre of the trade route between Egypt and the Mesopotamia. But the move was a real opportunity for Abram to spread the news of his loving God to travellers and traders, all strangers, whom he welcomed at his tent door.
The Canaanites had no such god. Their gods only demanded sacrifice and retribution. Note that Abram spread his good news by simply being gracious. It was his way of life, not his mission in life. After all, he had learned the same about his God from Noah and through the gracious treatment he himself had received.
If interested, you can also discover the content of the ancient Sumerian tablets from 2500 BCE on the next two sites. You will be surprised to find very similar accounts that almost match the Genesis accounts of Creation, Fall, and the Flood, but the Sumerian accounts were written on their tablets almost 1000 years before Hebrew history began.
I am searching for a link to possibly explain when the oral accounts of the Tanakh and any additions by the Judges, – from Joshua and the 70 Elders on until they were called Master Teachers (Rabbis) of the Torah after 70 AD – (not to forget the accounts of their Kings, Prophets, the Psalms, and other accounts), were finally transferred from oral to written accounts by Scribes. I found that these accounts were indeed passed on to following generations orally long before they finally became recorded. My hunch is that this whole process of recording them was a very unorganized and piecemeal operation spread out over very many years.
The Genesis account and the Laws of Moses (Torah), and then the others, all had to harbor personal embellishments from those who told the stories that they had heard from their elders. It was only natural that the Torah and the “Midrash” of the Judges and the later Rabbis became mingled with each other and difficult to distinguish from each other.
As an example, Hammurabi’s Code in Mesopotamia was written on stone tablets about 1800 BCE, more than 500 years prior to Moses’ Laws and was no doubt well-known by Abram as well as by scholars and governing officials in Egypt long before Moses was schooled there.
Moses obviously picked up on the Code’s value to help govern a society. Consider then how Moses’ summary of the Codes which he had learned in Egypt was later recorded as coming directly from G-D on Mt. Sinai. It certainly gave the Commandments greater credibility! – more so than just etching them in stone, although that was an impressive touch to emphasize importance, stability, and longevity as well, even if it had already been done hundreds of years before with Eastern law codes.
Anyhow, although those summarizing Commandments became the basis for developing many other laws and were useful for governing the society of Israel later, the far greater thing that Moses did for Israel was choosing the right guys to help him convince his people to participate in a move to a better land where they would be free to become self-sufficient. Planting the idea in their minds was one thing, but finally getting them to actually pack up and then walk off their “jobs” was something else. Obviously, their “supervisors” were unprepared for such a mass Exodus. Maybe they overheard a few things being planned, but then thought, “Ha! No way!” And the government was too busy dealing with a string of natural disasters and diseases to even care enough to try to stop them from leaving. Besides that, the superstitious Egyptian population was happy to get rid of them, thinking that the immigrants were responsible for all the bad things that were happening. Good timing, Moses!
At this point, it is difficult to remove Charlton Heston and Hollywood’s depiction of the Exodus
from our minds. But try to do it anyhow! When things finally settled down enough for the Egyptian government to put together a show of force with chariots in order to frighten the Israelites into returning to their “jobs,” the chariot drivers got lost in the fog and stuck in the muck and reeds of a huge swamp between them and the Israelites. Embarrassing, to say the least. The chariots became useless and several occupants may have even drowned in the confusion that ensued. Moses, of course, had been through the area several times before and knew exactly where to cross the swamp on dry land. Perhaps Moses had even planned the whole disaster with full knowledge about the foggy bottom land around there and the arrogance of the charioteers who would doubtlessly drive smack into it while in hot pursuit.
All of the above, of course, was later attributed to G-D’s doing by the story tellers who added their own embellishments just as I did. I do not discount G-D’s loving care and real presence through this massive Exodus from tyranny and during the difficult times ahead. After all, G-D was no far-off sky-god like other people had. The very idea of freedom that Moses and Joshua had first inspired and led with no doubt even got G-D excited, but later they needed all the help they could muster to maintain some semblance of order and keep the trust of so many people.
Their constant reassurances that a greater G-D than the god of the Egyptians was on their side served as a most helpful banner of hope. That repeated reassurance alone must have inspired much of the hope in most of the people. Story-tellers later added the flare of a bright cloud leading them by day and a pillar of light leading them by night. Those mind pictures symbolized G-D’s comforting presence that always stayed among them.
Except for their animals, they had very limited resources on hand and depended on the local knowledge of nomads in the wilderness for basic needs, like water for example. Then Moses made a serious error in judgment when he temporarily lost hold of his dream. Instead of following through with his dream of finally entering a new land, he relented to the discouraging and hopeless words of the majority of men whom he had sent ahead to survey their new homeland. That mistake, in turn, also discouraged the people who then lost confidence in his leadership. The result was settling for a life in a desert land by comparison, at least until another dreamer came along that people could trust and follow.
Trusting the majority vote of a democratic group or society with nothing but bad information to go on is always a mistake. It is better to follow a leader in pursuit of an “impossible” dream. A younger generation that wanted something more than just a desert-life did exactly that, and they finally moved into the new land with gusto! Their military leader, Joshua, had planned this move since they were only children, and the time to move was now or never, even if by using force.
Again, the story-tellers shifted attention to a vengeful G-D as the perpetrator of all the embellished destructive accounts that followed while settling among strangers in a new land, as if that would sanction their violent actions against the inhabitants. To be sure, the residents of the land along the Great Sea did have many idols and strange rituals, but that was nothing new to Israelites so used to the same in Egypt. And by now, thanks to their Priests, they had several odd rituals of their own. The belief systems of the inhabitants were just weak excuses to explain away the violence of the new settlers who were filled with pent-up energy and zeal to move into a new land. – sort of like European settlers treating Native Americans with violence for exactly the same reasons, that is, in the name of a violent punishing God who disapproved of the savage ways among the natives.
In other words, the G-D of Joshua no longer resembled the generous G-D of Moses. Maybe it was because of his anxiousness to finally get the job done. Maybe it was because Joshua had lost respect for Moses and his weak leadership. Maybe the energy displayed by the younger generation inspired him. Worse, maybe the angry G-D that the Priests represented encouraged him. Perhaps it was a mixture of all of the above.
Concerning the credibility of the story tellers and finally the credibility of the Scribes and Priests themselves, lineage was a very big deal for them! Lineage seemed to cover a multitude of errors made in communicating and later recording or even copying previous accounts and records of their laws, their history stories, their songs, and their prophecies. It was as if the words must be authentic because the lineage was authentic. Good and trusted blood lines produced good and trusted word lines. And when good and trusted blood lines claimed that those words were actually G-D’s, well, no further questions were asked.
That claim made the words as holy as G-D himself! And it encouraged the treatment of those words as idols which no one dared to defame or defile. Every period and comma, every apostrophe and capital letter, and every “jot and tittle” that could change the meaning of the word or the sentence became important to Scribes and translators.
What about the claim that all Scripture were God-inspired? No wonder Jesus offended so many in the Supreme Council of Justice with his “heresy” of questioning the validity of “an eye for an eye” payback justice system and suggesting instead that it was really unjust when compared to the unconditional forgiving love of Abba pleading to be shared with humanity.
But back to Israel. For all their successes at taking over the land, they lost the original dream of staying free and becoming self-sufficient. They soon wanted to have their own king like neighboring countries had, one who could protect them from enemy neighbours. One could say that they gave up on G-D’s protection and their own independence and ingenuity. Before long, they had to support those kings who taxed their property and required their military service and obedience to his new laws. They had some good kings and some very bad ones over the years. Some were unable to protect them at all, and some even conspired with their enemies. Destruction, death, and captivity smothered any dreams of independence that their fathers once had.
Although Priests who had descended from Aaron were supposed to concentrate on performing sacrifices and leading the many sacred rituals, the High Priest Ezra, while captive in Babylon, recorded his own accounting of Israel’s laws and some of their history. He included how people were headed for a Persian-like (Zoroastrian) apocalyptic end unless they repented of their wickedness and followed his laws which, of course, he claimed were G-D’s.
Persians conquered the Babylonians but did not destroy everything as Babylonians had done. Instead, the Persian way was to respect the belief systems and the customs of the nations they had conquered and then learn from them. Another Persian allowed Jewish builders to return home for the purpose of reconstructing their Temple and the city walls that the Babylonians had demolished. When Ezra attempted to dedicate the results of their work, the young people celebrated but he had to settle down the old-timers who still remembered the original impressive Temple that King Solomon’s builders had constructed. There was no comparison between the two, and the old guys nearly spoiled the party with their complaining. It got even worse later. While they were standing there among the unused the rubble, Ezra got them to hush as he pulled out his scroll and began to read all the demanding laws he had written and ascribed to G-D – for credibility again. Those present broke down and trembled in fear for their lives and their future.
Fortunately, the Governor, Nehemiah, stepped up to save the day He turned their fears and sadness around with a different message which he must have remembered hearing from someone talking about the pre-captivity Prophets who had spoken of their compassionate loving G-D, ready to forgive and care for them while promising a bright future. It was Nehemiah’s message of a gracious and loving G-D that brought considerable relief to the people and caused them to finally rejoice, get rid of their Eastern idols and seductive Persian women, and leave with smiles of hope for their future on their faces.
The next question is, how long did it last? The answer is, not long. The Priests soon regained their control with their impressive rituals, required sacrifices, and demanding obedience to their laws and traditions. The hope of the people returned instead to a promised apocalyptic messiah who supposedly would save them from their Greek and Roman oppressors. Several such messiahs DID lead unsuccessful rebellions during the next six centuries. And the Jewish Sanhedrin (Council of Supreme Justices consisting of three sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) gained control of the Temple worship and the religious life of the people.
A Galilean Sage grew up in the middle of this oppressive political and religious mess! His cousin, John the Baptizer, had been publicly preaching that same old apocalyptic message of repentance. – Repent and have your sins washed away or else face destruction from an angry G-D
But Jesus quietly rejected that fearful and hopeless misrepresentation of G-D for the one he had studied between carpenter jobs with the local elders. He found personal comfort and peace in it and made the OT pre-captivity Prophet’s message his own. He became convinced that G-D was not only our generous Creator but is also our Abba/Father/PaPa who cares for us, dearly loves us, and accepts us here and now, no matter what. In spite of our prodigal behavior, Abba freely offers mercy, not required sacrifices, not punishment, and no repayment of any kind. And best of all, he exists within each of us as his temple and will never leave us or forsake us, not even in sickness and especially not in death which never was a punishment for human curiosity. Humans only surmised that it was another punishment from an angry sky-god, just like all of the natural disasters they experienced; earthquakes, eruptions, floods, storms, diseases, etc.
Jesus lived his message very much like Abram had done. Abba’s way of justice was Jesus’ way of life. He could not help but pass on PaPa’s forgiving love to everyone, even to his enemies. It brought relief to those who heard it and thought it over. It was really good news to them, the very opposite of typical “getting even” thinking. Their relief made it possible for them to get on with living and being productive.
But this message was a threat to the existence and positions of Jewish religious leaders who were oppressing the people with their required sacrifices, sacred rituals, and threats concerning the end-time. They almost caused a public riot in the courtroom of the Roman Governor while attempting to convince him that Jesus was another dangerous rebel leader who was trying to stir up the people. The Governor could find no fault with Jesus’ life, but turned him over to be crucified anyhow in order to prevent a local uprising. Injustice is like that. It takes from one to satisfy the demands of another, and that is certainly not Abba’s way.
Some 20 years later, Saul of Tarsus (the center of Roman Mithraism) came on the scene. He had earned his Doctor of Law degree for specializing in the study of the Torah. Saul was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and the ancient sect of Pharisees who were strict observers of the law and especially tradition, including a belief in the resurrection of the body prior to the the great apocalyptic end of the world. He hated the new Jesus sect, especially for its liberal interpretation of traditional law (like caring for someone’s needs, even the needs of an animal, on the holy Sabbath day), and Saul helped to round them up to be punished, perhaps even stoned to death for their heresies. Such a punishment was justified according to their law. His ideas of a payback justice would later influence his new religion’s doctrines that centred around his “Christ.”
But let’s back up a little just to remind that the Torah by now had also included the apocalyptic views of the Persian Prophet, Zoroaster. That seems obvious when compared with the writings of the Jewish Scribe/Priest, Ezra, and the writer of the book of Daniel for certain, as-well-as the post captivity Prophets who had only threatening news of things that were to come. Jewish Scribes, Priests, and Prophets who had experienced captivity in Persia, or at least were influenced by those who had been captives, soon forgot all about the pre-captivity Prophets’ words of comfort regarding their compassionate G-D. Instead, they had adapted Judaism to the religion of the Persians.
The priests returned to rituals and required sacrifices, threats of punishment, and added a final judgment of wicked humanity – the Zoroastrian prophecy of an apocalyptic event that would finally return things to the original created paradise by destroying evil and saving the believers, but also throwing unbelieving enemies into a prepared eternal fire pit. In other words, they looked for G-D’s final intervention when things had become progressively worse toward the end time. And in the meantime, they hoped for a “messiah” to save them from their oppressive enemies and return them to the glory days of their one-time warrior King David. As I wrote earlier, would-be “messiahs” did come and go for about 600 years following the Babylonian captivity, but their rebellions were always harshly put down by the Greeks and then the Romans, and the people would then suffer under even worse oppression.
Paul knew this history well and saw an opportunity to challenge the Jesus Sect. He used general apocalyptic knowledge as background material to incorporate into his new belief system and thereby sell it to the Gentiles and any Jews who would lend an ear. His adaptation explained how humanity’s salvation had supposedly been planned by God from the beginning of time. – How? – Paul taught the following: The bloody sacrificial death of Paul’s “Christ” on the cross was an atonement, a payment, for our wickedness before God. God’s Son, the “Christ,” willingly became God’s sacrificial lamb, taking our place, in order to appease God’s anger that had been set off by Adam’s disobedience in Paradise, a disposition which humanity then inherited. (In other words, disobedience to God was in humanity’s genes from then on and mankind’s punishment became a death sentence.) So God had to devise a plan to satisfy this situation. The plan must 1) uphold his justice, and 2) save humanity. Paul’s new religion supposedly did both. And the resurrection of this new “Christ” would prove to humanity that the payment was acceptable before God the Father. And it would also be the assurance for our resurrection of the body prior to the great apocalypse of the end-time.
Phew!!! What a convoluted invention of Paul’s mind! He even admitted that this salvation plan came to him in a vision from “Christ” himself while He was meditating in the Arabian desert.
It is enough to notice that upholding God’s justice clearly meant something quite opposite to Paul than what God’s justice really is, namely, an accepting, compassionate, unconditional loving and endless forgiveness. And saving humanity from God’s punishment was never an issue in the first place. Saving humanity from human injustice is what God is about. Then we also have to ask, were the resurrection “sightings” merely anticipated apocryphal visions that fit well into the narratives?
What about donning the limitations of a resurrected physical body once again, even a perfected one, in an eternal Reality? No wonder the writers described mysterious ghostly appearing and disappearing episodes. Luke even decided to include Jesus’ Ascension into heaven so that Jesus would not have to grow old and die again. And little wonder that Luke also admitted that not everyone present actually saw the “vision” of Jesus ascending into the sky. Again, what does all this mythical nonsense do as a challenge to Jesus’ teaching of Abba’s presence within us, here and now, and never leaving us? The gospel writer’s resurrection stories became even more challenging to Jesus’ message, and the challenge continued to grow later when Christian Bishops turned him into their “very God.”
Anyone interested in comparing the conflicting and dubious resurrection accounts of the final three gospel writers who were obviously unable to accept Mark’s “unfinished” account of an empty tomb found by the women can do so by detouring to this site:
Believing that God’s entire plan had been fulfilled in Paul’s new “Christ” is supposed to save us from the final fire of destruction and eternal suffering to live instead in God’s restored Paradise ruled by the “Christ” of Paul’s imagination.
The Jerusalem Church, led by Jesus’ brother James, strongly disagreed with Paul’s teaching, and the Pauline writer, Luke, attempted to smooth over this conflict in the book of Acts by saying that they agreed to the diverse mission efforts of sending Paul to the Gentiles and Peter to the dispersed Jews. Again, when still alive, Jesus himself had found the apocalyptic teaching of his cousin, John, the Baptizer, worry-some and unacceptable. Instead, he chose to teach the presence of a loving Abba/Father/PaPa within each of us as his temple. James and Peter knew this well. It was the same loving graciousness of G-D that the ancient Abram had lived. It was the same compassionate treatment, bringing relief and hope for a bright future that the pre-captivity Prophets had taught. The Prophets had even used the Exodus as an example of G-D’s generous compassion that encouraged people out of tyranny and into freedom. They knew nothing of a “Fall” or a threatened punishment of death (separation) for curiosity. Such nonsense did not fit the known loving behaviour of their G-D toward humanity!
The Jesus Clan (family) left no written record of their remembrances and views behind, that is, unless Scribes finally recorded the family’s oral musings as the Jesus’ sayings recorded in Aramaic and found hidden in Egypt in 1945 under an author’s pseudonym, “Thomas.” Even that collection has sayings that do not fit with Jesus’ main message which you know well by now. The collection was hidden by Coptic monks because all such writings had been banned by the Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, who had already burned the massive Library collection of Alexander the Great. That occurred nearly 300 years after Paul’s ministry. Athanasius was to become an outspoken leader in the early Christian Church. He became very instrumental in convincing the new Church to finally adopt a “three-in-one” God in the face of considerable opposition. Those opposing voices came from Arian and his followers who asserted that Jesus was a created Son subordinate to God and that the Holy Spirit was created to be subordinate to the Son. – Well, at least they saw the Father as the only true God.
Emperor Constantine called together a Council of some 300 bishops at Nicaea in 325 CE. They represented churches from Egypt, Asia Minor, and Europe that had considerable political power by this time. Constantine instructed them to settle this controversy and bring unity to his empire. Although the Triune God concept of Athanasius won the approval of almost all the bishops present, Constantine privately supported the Arian’s view. As we can see, his main concern was political unity, even if it had to come about through an agreement that settled a major Church controversy. I mention this only to make note of the political power that the Church already had at this time. It would soon grow to become a controlling force for Emperors and Kings to reckon with.
Remember that the NT gospel writers had bought into Paul’s theology two and three generations after his letters to the new Gentile churches, concepts which they then used in their narratives. Paul’s letters and the gospel narratives had become the basis for belief among new Christians (Jews or Gentiles). Finally, the Christian Bishops (especially the ones from Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria) also bought into Paul’s apocalyptic teaching. Or were they actually forced into accepting it by Constantine in 325 CE in order to establish a more united kingdom? Either way, it can be said that Paul, and then Athanasius, built the foundations of the Christian Church into a formidable powerhouse, first by threats and fear and then by using the force of the sword.
When the swords of the Emperor’s and/or the King’s military were added to the Church’s apocalyptic threats for unbelief, well, “heretics” either experienced gruesome deaths, or went into hiding by just going along and keeping their mouths shut. In other words, Christianity can hardly make an honest claim for the success of its salvation message over the centuries. It was a threatening and an enforced message. Although the Church claims that their salvation message is God’s gracious answer to humanity’s problems and fears, it is not a loving unconditional message at all. It is very conditional indeed!
As further proof of the Church’s conditional message, in 367 CE, Athanasius, by now Bishop of Egypt, writes and establishes the NT canon: “I must without hesitation mention the scriptures of the New Testament; they are the following:” (blah, blah, blah – You know them all.) He continues: “These are the springs of salvation, in order that he who is thirsty may fully refresh himself with the words contained in them. In them alone is the doctrine of piety proclaimed. Let no one add anything to them or take anything away from them.”
Hey, Athanasius! How about simply comparing them to the message and the life of the historical Jesus (not the Jesus portrayed by the gospel writers, and certainly not the “Christ” of Paul or the “god” that you turned him into), or what about the message of the pre-captivity Prophets, and what of the generous life of Abram? – I think I’ll remain a “heretic” and depend upon my dear PaPa who is ever-present within me. Your sacred stuff is too scary!
Here is one more dramatic result of Paul’s and Athanasius’ teaching: Although Athanasius was later credited for writing the Christian Creed bearing his name, that claim cannot be substantiated since he never mentions such a creed in his writings. It does, however, describe his formulated Christian beliefs on the Trinity and on Christology, both of which it says are necessary for salvation, something he vehemently taught. – Yikes! Little wonder that the sword of Constantine also became the sword of the Christian Church. The house-cleaning began immediately and in earnest, well ahead of their Lord’s clean-up which is predicted in their final book of Revelation, and all their unjust and violent behaviour was, and still is, done in the name of their “Christ” whom they had turned into their “God” and their “Lord.”
It is said that even the great Reformer, Martin Luther, who had fearlessly confronted the power and the threats of the Roman Church against his life, still, on his death bed, feared that his faith in Christ’s saving blood-payment may not have been strong enough for him to be saved from an everlasting punishment in hellfire dealt to him by his Lord.
Know this: It is not your faith that saves you from anything, especially not from a divine punishment, as if there even IS such a thing! Punishment and destruction coming from a loving Father is an oxymoron! What saves you is the mercy and presence of your Creator/Father/Abba/ PaPa. He saves you from all injustice, the “here and now” kind of injustice, whether dealt out by you or received from your neighbor.
PaPa’s grace is such that even in death he will never leave you because it is your graduation into his University of Reality. He will never forsake you, his dear child, no matter what! And all that in spite of what you did or did not believe, and in spite of what you did or did not do. That is his way! That is HIS justice! Amazing indeed! That was also Jesus’ message too and now it’s mine as well! And we can do no better than to pass this love on, not because it becomes our duty to do so, but rather because we cannot help accepting the responsibility to pass such a treasure forward to others, just as it was somehow, in some way, passed on to us. Once overwhelmed by such mercy, it becomes us to share it by living it with others, especially after a temporary relapse into wretchedness. Pa Pa’s unconditional love, after all, is a gift to all humanity. It cannot be
purchased through a sacrifice of human life and blood, nor can it be earned with perfect obedience to him. It can, however, be enjoyed and shared here and now, while we are in school as it were, learning a few prerequisites prior to our University enrollment.
Oh, Father! We know that because of your unconditional love you have forgiven and accepted each and every one of us just as we are, no matter what. Thank you for that, Father. And we also know that wherever we are in our understanding of your ways is OK with your everlasting patience. Thank you for that as well, Father. Many of our brothers and sisters still do not know that you are already here, patiently waiting for them to discover the great love that you have for them. Protect us from their injustice in the meantime, and may they soon experience the overwhelming generosity of your ways through another. Yes! It shall be so.
Henry (Hank) Hasse
Lakeland, Florida, USA