Violence- Getting ultimate inspiration and validation from bad religious ideas; Bad ideas promoting bad behavior; Christianity and violence in the Western tradition; Jewish Christianity shapes Islam; The great Contradiction- the unconditional theology of Historical Jesus contrasted with the supremely conditional theology of Paul/Christianity (or non-retaliation versus retaliation); The great scandal at the heart of Christianity; Chronology of the contradiction; James Robinson quotes on the contradiction.
(Note- It is understood that there are many diverse elements that are employed to incite terrorism, including political issues, economic issues, ideological or social issues, and personal issues. There is also the contributing influence of the inherited animal brain with its impulses to small band mentality, to separate and exclude the outsider, and to dominate and destroy the competitor. And there are varied critical responses to solving terrorism such as diplomacy and military action. One often neglected but important element in the mix is the religious element. This must be dealt with if solutions to violence are to be thorough and long term.)
Additional note: Someone asked me, “Are we heading for World War Three?” My response- Always maintain a view of the larger historical context and the long-term historical trend. That shows an overall decline in violence across the millennia. Violence has no long-term future. James Payne and Stephen Pinker are right that violence causes revulsion in most people and that results in more endeavor to encourage moderation and peace. The evidence affirms this optimistic view. While there will be more outbursts of violence, the trend is clearly toward lessening violence over time. The big picture and the long-term view solidly affirm hope.
New comment below: Bad religious ideas promote bad behavior; Christianity and violence in the Western tradition; The Christian influence on Islam; The great Contradiction: the unconditional theology of Historical Jesus contrasted with the supremely conditional theology of Paul/Christianity (non-retaliation versus retaliation); the great scandal at the heart of Christianity; an outline of the chronology of the contradiction; James Robinson quotes.
The horror continues. We’ve just seen another eruption of terror, and it churns our guts again with disgust, intense concern, and helpless rage. Humane consciousness is traumatized repeatedly by such horrific suffering. Years ago it was the Trade towers in New York. Then public transit in Spain and Britain. Then Charlie Hebdo in France. And recently marketplaces in Beruit. And previously the school girls of Northern Nigeria. And how often in Afganistan, Pakistan, or India. Our TVs bring into our homes the scenes of slaughtered innocents in cafes, theatres, marketplaces, and schools. We see the blood-stained sidewalks and bodies of people whose lives were ended while they were simply engaging the same activities that we all do in our daily rounds. We then watch our governments committing themselves anew to undertake military responses that take the fight directly to areas that spawn terrorists. And no one questions that we must fight this war on terror.
But there is more to be done to combat such violence…
This page continues to argue, as others have, that it is long past time to shed any remaining hesitancy about confronting one notable contributing factor behind the ongoing insanity of violence. I am referring to statements from Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Heretic) and Sam Harris, and others, who have been trying to tell us that one significant pathology remains at the inciting basis of this violence- the pathology of “bad religious ideas”.
And for years (going into decades now) I have argued repeatedly on this page that there is one singularly prominent bad idea behind religious violence. It is the single worst idea ever embedded in human minds- that of a violent God that demands revenge and destruction of enemies, and promises eternal torture in Hell for unbelievers. This horrific idea of divine violence toward “bad people” (outsiders to one’s belief system, heretics, enemies) has long incited religious people to treat their perceived enemies, the unbelievers, just as their God would treat those people. The result over history has been “rivers of blood” (James Payne). People have endlessly appealed to these pathological religious ideas to validate the worst treatment of others.
Pay careful attention to the varied features that constitute this most prominent bad idea of punishing, destroying deity. There is anger/rage at human imperfection and difference, violent vengeance or payback punishment, and exclusion and ultimate destruction of the other. Where is the humanizing inspiration in these ideals?
Remember, deity has long served as humanity’s highest ideal and authority. It ought to express the ultimate of humane ideals.
And when is it going to be enough? When are religious people going to cease defending or explaining away these pathetic ideas of divine violence (e.g. they are just metaphorical), bad ideas that feed the worst impulses in people to harm others? It is difficult enough to counter and overcome the base drives that come with our inherited animal brain. Bad religious ideas only further incite and fraudulently validate the expression of those base drives to exclude, oppose, dominate and destroy the other that is different from us.
If you are going to solve any problem properly and for the long term then you must understand the real nature of what you are facing. You must unflinchingly recognize all aspects of the problem that you are trying to deal with if you are ever going to thoroughly solve it.
(Note: Some will react to my mention of Islam just below. Carefully note that I view Islam as just one more recent historical example in a long line of mythologies/religions that have repeatedly adopted the very same core ideas. I am not picking on any one expression of these ideas and I am not discounting the many good people that belong to these religious traditions. I am taking my ire out on the bad ideas in these traditions. Note carefully these distinctions.)
The current wave of religious violence across the world originates consistently from Islam. And the terrorism of today is not the result of some extremist distortion of Islam. Just as past Christian violence was not aberrational to that religion but was inflamed by some of the core ideas of the religion. So with Islam today. The violence that we see is not an aberration to an otherwise “peaceful religion”. No. The Islamic terrorists are actually being faithful to central elements in the teaching of the religion. This was the response of the radical Muslim cleric of London to a CNN interviewer (Smerconish, Spring 2015) who argued that ISIL did not represent Islam. The cleric disagreed strongly and said that, to the contrary, the members of ISIL were just being faithful to the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad and their holy books. He was right. He understood his own religion and what it demanded of its adherents. Violent destruction of the differing other was obligatory from the clear teaching in Islam’s holy texts. So also with violence in Christian history incited by the teaching of its Bible, or Jewish history and its scripture. Literalist minds take such teaching seriously as divine imperative.
It will be disorienting for many religious people to hear these things. But it is time for religious people to set aside any discomfort and to recognize what the bad ideas of their religious systems actually represent. As with the rest of human thought and society, the less-than-humane ideals in religious belief systems must be confronted and purged. To state it most bluntly but clearly, religious adherents must fully humanize their gods, the gods that have long served as the highest ideals and authorities of humanity. You must go after the real inciting Beast behind religious violence and then replace that with something far more humane by any common standard of contemporary decency. This is fundamental to ending the river of blood that endlessly flows from a long history of religious violence.
Anthropology (see Geertz below) recognizes that people have always looked to divine models to inspire their lives and actions. We must then make sure that the divine models that we follow are fully humane, in order to ensure that they inspire the humane treatment of others. If our gods are vengeful, violent, punishing, and destructive, then is it any wonder that such gods inspire the same behavior in their followers? Nasty gods have always incited nasty behavior in their followers.
Also, projecting inhumane features onto deity, onto the Transcendent, then elevates those features to ultimate extremes. It is the worsening of the bad idea to infinity.
Harold Ellens has stated it bluntly, “Any God is a monster if he cannot behave at least as well as the average human in his or her better moments would like to behave. Monster gods make monster people” (Honest Faith for Our Time, p.91). He went on to argue that we must destroy the monster God that reigns subconsciously in people’s hearts. It is damaging to human well-being to worship “a God whose behavior is sicker than that of the world’s most demented and vicious killers” (p.160).
I have also noted further below the linkage between perceived threat, the consequent fear of that threat, and then the aggressive defense in response to the threat. We saw this in WW2 Germany (fear of the polluting influence of the Jew), we saw it in Bosnia (fear of the Muslim enemy), and now in Islam (fear of Western culture and values). People, acting out of fear of some threat, feel obligated to take pre-emptive defensive action against those perceived threats, and will appeal to ultimate authorities for validation, often religious ideals and authorities.
I am arguing that you must also purge human consciousness of the element of religious threat that continues to play a major role in stirring fear and aggressive defense among people. We are today spectators, once again watching the outcome of people inspired by threat in the ISIS movement. We also see less violent, but still aggressive defense, from those in other movements inspired by some great threat (Hint- see comment below on the offspring of Declinism).
Note on material below: I have repeatedly traced on this site the core bad ideas of historical mythology/religion, and the line of descent of these core bad ideas down through the main world religions of history, from Sumerian mythology, to Akkadian and Babylonian mythology, to Zoroastrianism, to Judaism, to Christianity, into to Islam, then to a lesser extent into Declinism, and then into contemporary Green religion. It is a strikingly similar template of core ideas that has infected all these religions, as well as related secular ideologies (i.e. see Landes on Marxism and Nazism). Detail below.
The Christian role in historical violence
Navigating this page: Here is another brief summary of some of the main ideas on this page. One of my central points is expressed in the material on the Great Contradiction between the Historical Jesus and the Christian Christ (Paul’s Christ myth). This is about cognitive dissonance gone extreme- people trying to hold opposites in some tension (i.e. good ideas/ideals held alongside bad ideas/ideals). Unfortunately, the bad ideas have a history of distorting and burying the good ones. Christianity has engaged this cognitive dissonance more intensely and profoundly than other systems of belief. The result is what Thomas Jefferson refers to as “diamonds buried in a dunghill”. Jesus said it was putting new wine into rotten, leaky wineskins.
Let me insert a qualifier here to alleviate the natural defensive reaction of Christian readers to any challenge to their religion. I am not picking on Christianity in particular. Repeatedly below I have recognized that there are many good people in the Christian religion and they do a lot of good in life. They hold admirable ideals and ideas also derived from their belief system. But I am arguing that there remains a significant stock of residual bad ideas in the Christian religion that have yet to be confronted, purged, or properly humanized. Many of these bad ideas are lodged right at the core of the Christian belief system, notably in the Christian God and the related Christ myth. My additional argument is that Christianity bears major responsibility for bringing these bad ideas into Western consciousness and society where their pathological influence continues to cause much harm (e.g. shaping Western justice as retaliatory and punitive). I recognize such comments are profoundly disorienting to Christian readers. Hear me out and note the good research on this issue from writers like Lotufo, Garcia, Ellens, Nelson-Pallmeyer, Landes, and others noted below.
Here are some of the basic mythological themes and contrasting ideas…
The Historical Jesus introduced a stunning new vision of Ultimate Reality (God) as “absolutely no-conditions love”. In his new theology he eliminated entirely the worst features of past deities. Putting all hyperbole aside, his discovery is the single most profound insight or discovery ever made. He tied his new theological discovery to a similar ethic of the unconditional treatment of all people, both good and bad (i.e. “love your enemies”). He provided humanity with an entirely new divine model for behavior and life.
He stated that God was entirely non-violent, non-retaliatory, did not engage any vengeance (no more eye for eye), and would not judge, punish, or destroy anyone. Instead, God loved even enemies and treated all with the same unlimited generosity (i.e. sun and rain were given to both the good and the bad- see Matthew 5:38-48). The new theological vision of Jesus eliminated entirely the perception that conditions had to be met for forgiveness, inclusion, and salvation. God, according to Jesus, was “absolutely no conditions” love. What a death blow to all conditional religion.
And we were to do the same and be just like God- treating everyone with no conditions love (loving enemies the same as we loved family and friends). The Nelson Mandelas of the modern world have given us great examples of what this unconditional treatment of all people means in real life situations, and its potential to liberate from violence and misery.
But then the great Contradiction…
Paul out-rightly rejected the non-retaliatory God of Jesus and retreated to a vengeful, violent, and punishing God that demanded an ultimate condition first be met before he would forgive anyone (i.e. the blood sacrifice of an innocent victim- see detail in his Romans letter, the statement of his basic theology and beliefs). Anyone not believing Paul’s gospel would be ultimately rejected and destroyed by a vengeful and violent Christ (see further biblical references below). Paul reversed back to the same old primitivism of past mythology. His ideas formed the foundation of the new Christian religion. Yes, Christianity is Paul’s religion, not the religion of Jesus (see Tabor comment below).
The brilliant breakthrough of Historical Jesus was included in the Christian New Testament but it was effectively distorted and buried by the larger context of bad religious ideas that were developed to contradict his great insight (notably those bad ideas embodied in Paul’s Christ myth).
The ultimate expression of violence and vengeance from deity is found in the myth of apocalypse- that an angry God will punish and destroy humanity in a final apocalyptic purging of the world, in a world-ending destruction. Paul’s Christ is the central figure in this pathological myth. As Tabor notes, apocalypse shapes all that Paul said and did.
The Historical Jesus had eliminated entirely the long-standing belief in some great Threat behind life. He went to the very foundation of human fear and anxiety to purge consciousness of the primitive belief in a threatening deity. He stated that there was only Love at the core of reality and life. And no one, good or bad, was excluded from that Love. No one was separated or in need of some reconciliation/salvation. All were ultimately safe and included, despite the scale or depth of their imperfection. The new theology of Jesus was a death blow to the old monster of threatening deity.
Tragically, Paul created Christianity by reverting to the foundational belief in some great divine Threat behind life. Divine threat became the very core of his Christ mythology and his Christian religion. Divine threat has always been the driving core of all forms of Salvationism- that people must appease some threatening, angry God with blood sacrifice, or be excluded and punished with everlasting damnation. People must be reconciled and saved from divine wrath. Divine anger and violence permeate Paul’s writings (again, see the early chapters of Romans and his other letters). Also note again- threat stirs fear and aggressive defense. Threat, and the fear it incites, primes the way to religious violence.
The result of Paul’s contradicting theology is that the diamonds of Historical Jesus are buried in a dunghill of entirely opposing themes.
This great contradiction in Christianity (Jesus versus Paul) highlights the greater story of humanity trying to leave its barbaric animal past for a more human future, and the ongoing resistance to that exodus into the freedom to be fully human.
I have repeatedly urged readers to look behind the varied mythologies/religions of humanity, and ideologies, to see that the same core themes have re-emerged endlessly in new versions across history. There is excellent research available today to help us see the commonality of the core ideas that have too often driven some people to behave violently and to treat others inhumanely, just as ISIS is doing today with its unique religious version of those ideas. See below the research of Landes, Cook, Herman and others on the similarity between the core themes of ideologies like Marxism, Nazism, environmentalism, and the mother religions like Christianity that have provided those themes. I have repeatedly traced here the historical lines of descent.
My argument is that unless you purge those core bad ideas from religions and ideologies, you will never solve problems like violence for the long-term. Those bad ideas will continue to re-emerge in ever new versions of human belief systems. They will continue, as they always have, to incite and validate violence and other destructive behavior.
Unfortunately, too many religious people react defensively to any challenge of the core themes of their belief systems. This is due to ingrained attitudes like Biblicism or dogmatism, both affirming the viewpoint that the ideas in religious belief systems are somehow given by God as some final truth, and are therefore sacred and untouchable, and must be unquestioningly defended. No matter that the bad ideas are clearly inhumane by any modern standard of human decency, and their presence creates profound cognitive dissonance- by contradicting the better ideals in the belief systems (e.g. God is love but will punish, destroy and then send people to hell… Huh? What the ___?).
(Note: A fundamental baseline for evaluating “truth”- any recognizable pathology does not come from God, from ultimate Goodness or Love. This is common human sense, despite the claims of the founders of great religions to have been inspired by God or given visions and revelations from God. Paul did this with his Christ myth, claiming that it was a direct revelation from Christ. Moses claimed that he was given tablets directly from God. So also Muhammad claimed that his visions and revelations were from the heavens. But whatever the claimed origin of such visions, human religious writing must be evaluated in terms of what we understand to be common human decency today (note: some suggest these religious visions may come from schizophrenia- see Joseph Campbell on the shamanic experience). If any sacred text does not meet some basic level of common humanity, then we reject it as simply inhuman and wrong. It is not worthy of respect, despite its being considered divinely inspired or “sacred”.)
Ellens again… “Any God is a monster if he cannot behave at least as well as the average human in his or her better moments would like to behave”. Wow.
Other material below on the contradiction between good and bad ideas includes comment on the core themes or ideas found in the old and new grand narratives of humanity. The old mythical narratives present such ideas as the myth that the past was better and the present is a degeneration from the past. And the future will be a worsening state with some catastrophe looming that will end life or civilization. This pathology in new secular versions like environmental alarmism continues to stir endless fear and defensive aggression.
The new scientific narrative contradicts such mythology and tells us that the past was actually a much worse state of things, the present is clearly improving, and the future is wide open for far more improvement. Progressing life is open to improvement that will be “infinite in all directions” (Dyson).
More on the present danger…
As multiple nations continue to combat ISIS-type insanity, there is a wider recognition that a critical component to successful defeat of such violence is to engage ideology or the “battle of ideas”, meaning the bad religious ideas that incite or validate religious violence.
See below for a list of these bad religious ideas that are common to the major world religions, just as they have been common to most mythology down through history (see “Human Narrative” below, and further below “Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas”). These bad mythical themes have even resurfaced in contemporary secular traditions like Environmental Alarmism.
Any project to reform religion must confront these foundational religious ideas and purge them entirely if we are ever to solve the problem of violence properly and for the long term.
Be very clear on just what those bad ideas are. I refer repeatedly to the Jesus/Paul contradiction to highlight the core bad idea. Jesus had introduced the single best idea ever (most humane) in his argument that God did not retaliate but was unconditionally generous toward all people, both good and bad. In doing that Jesus eliminated the foundational idea that had long validated much bad behavior among people (i.e. religiously or theologically-inspired violence). But Paul rejected that new view of God and retreated to the worst of all bad ideas- that an angry God would punish and destroy unbelievers.
I do not deny that there are many good ideas and ideals in the great world religions like Christianity. But my argument is that those better ideas are too often distorted in a larger context that maintains the bad ideas. The resulting mix is, once again as Thomas Jefferson described it, a situation of “Diamonds in a dunghill”. And again, Jesus said it was like putting new wine in a rotten wineskin.
Defensively protecting those bad ideas does not work. It leads to cognitive dissonance- the holding of entirely contradicting things in tension. The outcome is that the bad only distorts or undermines the good.
To repeat, the worst of all bad ideas is that of an angry god that takes revenge on people, punishing and destroying the differing outsider. The close second bad idea is that of apocalypse- that an angry, vengeful god will destroy people in a great world-ending catastrophe. The outcome is endless fear, fear, and more unnecessary fear. People, acting out of exaggerated and baseless fear, do not make good decisions. They can even become destructively aggressive.
I have repeatedly traced these bad ideas as they have flowed down through history, infecting the great systems of mythology and religion, and continuing into secular ideological traditions. Always the same core themes just given ever-changing expression in new versions. Always causing alarm and inciting the worst impulses in humanity. Impulses to separate from and oppose differing others, and even impulses to dominate and destroy others that are viewed as threatening.
Summary Comment: Paul created and shaped Christianity (a highly conditional religion) as a stunning rejection of the central teaching of the historical Jesus (that God was unconditional love).
Another element in the violence mix: The differing other:
We wonder at what can drive a human mind to such intense hate of the “other” that it will mercilessly torture and destroy the other. One element of that hate involves people inciting themselves with fear of the different other- the unbeliever, the foreigner (xenophobia). And we have often seen this accompanied by dehumanization of the other as demonic, satanic and threatening (differences exaggerated to “evil” extremes). This is how Islamic apocalyptic literature portrays the Jews today. They are not just unbelievers, along with other Westerners, they are something far worse- they are demonic and threatening (see Cook’s “Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature” for detail).
We also saw this hateful dehumanization in Nazi Germany (the Jew as vermin), and in Rwanda (Hutu propaganda of the Tutsi as “cockroaches”- defiling, dangerous, and deserving elimination).
And so fear and disgust of the other as dangerously threatening is incited (vile insect, demon), and this is followed by the demand for aggressive action to protect oneself, to save one’s community from the threat.
In this incitement to hate the different other, you see the primitive tribal opposition that has far too long been promoted by religious belief- true believers in opposition to unbelievers. This has long been a central strain in Western religious traditions (i.e. the Zoroastrian dualism- the good versus the bad- that was passed down through Judaism, Christianity, and into Islam).
The Lines of Descent of Bad Ideas- Christianity and Islam
Here is something to consider that will be entirely disorienting to the minds of moderate Christians today. The very ideas that inspire ISIS terrorists to violence, those ideas were more than likely fed to early Islam (Muhammad) from Christianity.
Whoa. You have to be kidding.
No. Unfortunately not. Here is the line of descent based on research from sources such as Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and The Prophet, or David Cook on Muslim apocalyptic belief.
The links are roughly as follows: The gospel of Matthew repeatedly presents the violent themes of divine vengeance and the destruction of unbelievers in Hell (cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth). Matthew’s gospel is also notably apocalyptic (see list of references from Matthew, included elsewhere).
Early Jewish Christians known as Ebionites (or Nazarenes) produced their own gospel- the gospel to the Hebrews- that was quite similar to the gospel of Matthew. Also, Matthew’s gospel was translated into Arabic around the time of Muhammad.
Now, a prominent religious influence on Muhammad was his Jewish Christian mentor named Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, a Nazarene or Ebionite, and the cousin of Muhammad’s first wife. Waraqa provided Muhammad with the foundational Christian ideas that would shape his later visions and revelations. Revelations that resulted in the Quran and related Islamic writings. Consequently, the Quran is also permeated with the same threatening violence as Matthew. From the very opening chapters, the Quran repeatedly and frequently threatens the destruction of disbelievers in Hell. There is more to the Jewish/Christian influence on Islam but I want to focus in particular on this theme of divine violence.
Note carefully this established linkage or line of descent- the teaching on violence in the gospel of Matthew, the Ebionite Waraqa (Jewish Christian) with his gospel to the Hebrews roughly similar to Matthew, Waraqa’s familiarity with other Christian scriptures and teaching, Waraqa mentoring Muhammad, and the Islamic scriptures with similar calls to violence as in Matthew. In this linkage I am most interested in the theme of divine violence in Matthew and the Quran, how this theme has descended through world religions, and its impact on the minds and lives of the people in these traditions.
While there are all sorts of debates over the Jewish/Christian influence on Muhammad, the above basic line of inheritance is quite clear.
Add here, as commentators note, that if people believe that God is going to destroy people in Hell, then they will more likely feel obligated to help God along by sending the unbelievers on their way to Hell. Bad ideas inspire bad behavior. Violent religious ideals inspire violent religious behavior.
This is upsetting historical information. But consider these established lines of descent and note that these violent ideas are still embedded at the very core of religions like Judaism and Christianity, the historical sources of Islamic theology. I have traced often on this site the line of descent of “bad religious ideas” over the larger span of history. It begins with Sumerian mythology (punishing, destroying gods), and continues down to Zoroaster (the mother of all Western religion, with its divine destruction via apocalypse), down to the violence of apocalyptic in Judaism, Christianity, and then Islam, and even further into secular traditions like Declinism and its offspring- Environmental Alarmism or Green religion.
Original bad religious ideas are modified for expression in subsequent belief systems, but the core themes remain the same.
My takeaway from this? Its time to thoroughly and properly end the religious validation for violence. Religious violence has been protected under the sacred far too long (i.e. in untouchable or unquestionable religious scriptures). Anyone planning to commit violence against another should not have any recourse to some divine idea or authority that validates violence toward others. Violent offenders must be left naked in the stark barbarity and animalness of their violence.
Quotes from Josepth Azzi’s The Priest and The Prophet showing that Islam is the offspring of Jewish Christianity and repeats some of the core bad ideas from Christianity.
Azzi asks the question- “From where does Muhammad get his revelation?” He then sets about providing the answer from historical evidence, including quoting Muhammad himself. Before his revelations, Muhammad had received significant religious instruction from the Jewish Christian Waraqa and his Jewish Christian scriptures, notably the gospel to the Hebrews that was an early rough version of the gospel of Matthew.
Azzi notes the hallucinations and fainting spells that Muhammad was suffering as he received “revelations”, and Azzi says, “(Muhammad) expects answers from Waraqa in order to obtain some helpful guidance”. After one incident of receiving visions, Muhammad reported the details to Waraqa who responded, “It is the same law transmitted to Moses” (p.35). Overall, Azzi says, “Muhammad has been incorporated into Waraqa’s plan” (p.36).
Azzi notes that it is Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah who established the link between Waraqa (her cousin) and Muhammad. Waraqa, Khadijah, and Abu Talib played a preeminent role in Muhammad’s life and mission, according to Azzi. The extent of this role is evident in that “With Waraqa’s death revelation dried up” (p.37). Azzi goes on to show that “religious authority was transmitted by the Nosrania sect (Nazarene Christian) to those following Islam” (p.37).
Another interesting side note- Azzi says that Muhammad understood his task was to warn people about the coming judgment from God. He knew his task was essentially, “Warn. Thou art only a warner. His book is a warning or a recalling of the gospel of the Hebrews that was in Waraqa’s hands. Muhammad was present for the transmission of this book into Arabic” (p.38). Muhammad begins his mission as a warner. You do not warn people about good things coming. This affirms my point that Muhammad embraced some of the darker material from Matthew, such teaching as the 79 references to Hell in the Quran.
Continuing: “The Ebionite priest Waraqa translated the Hebrew gospel into Arabic…This little known apocryphal gospel eventually became embedded in the Arabic Quran, making it an important link…from which the Quran emanates” (p.41). Commenting on the origins of the gospel to the Hebrews, Azzi quotes early church Fathers who stated that the Ebionites “were only attached to the Gospel of Matthew and called it the gospel according to the Hebrews. The gospel of Matthew…is not perfect, but it has been altered (in the gospel to the Hebrews)… Ebionites only use the gospel of Matthew” ((p.42).
Azzi continues, “The Hebrew gospel….is a version of the Aramaic gospel of Matthew…The Hebrew gospel will play a significant role in the transfer of both heterodox and orthodox doctrines into Muslim beliefs and practices” (p.43). Quranic references follow notable themes from Matthew such as ‘the last judgment, and the final destination of human beings (Hell)’” (p.43).
Further, “The only useful and meaningful trail which remains from Waraqa’s lifetime is the Arabic Quran itself…Muhammad admits that a guide….who informed him about the ‘faith and scripture’ revealed to him the right way…he would never learn the book’s content without the aid of a master who had taught him what he did not know…The truth of Muhammad’s book issues from the truth from a prior book. This is the knowledge that will reappear in the Quran (p.44)… The Quran expands, elaborates, and details the teachings of the foreign book by taking into account the situation in Arabia at the beginning of the seventh century…its teaching continues to confirm that of the original book (p.46) … Muhammad makes every attempt to confirm that the Quran is really an authentication (tassidiq) of the Hebrew book… a confirmation of what was at your disposal… Muhammad has within his grasp at least part of the Pentateuch and the Gospel. He expanded on the original Hebrew gospel for his Arabic listeners” (p.47).
“These references that the Quran is an easy digest, as well as a competent summary of the Pentateuch and the Gospel (p.48)… indicate that the present Arabic book, the Quran, is extracted from a former book…What is often ascribed to Muhammad must be ascribed to Waraqa, who has faithfully dispensed the book’s teachings and facilitated it in a clear Arabic language (p.50)… What the Quran extracts from the previous Scriptures is done to prove that there is a single purpose linking all the holy books together… He (Muhammad) does not bring a new revelation from nothing…he possesses the same message brought by former prophets (p.51)”.
And finally, “Muhammad’s scriptures proceed from a pre-existing book (p.52)… Muhammad became familiar with the prior revelation by means of a wise expert who taught him what he did not know… Muhammad learns much from the prior revelations which Waraqa, the wise expert, shares with him (p.57)… It is a problem for the Muslim community to recognize behind the Quran another book to which it refers. Even as the priest of the Mecca Ebionite church (Waraqa) is behind the prophet and blew on his ears the message from God, there looms a former book that is the source of much of the teachings and narratives of the Quran itself… the recognition of the now lost Hebrew gospel could become apparent as it is firmly embedded in the Quran… the Meccan revelations are closely aligned with the Hebrew gospel that was translated into Arabic by Waraqa (p.59)”.
Further comment from Azzi:
“Muhammad’s grandfather (was strictly devoted) to Nosranian Ebionism” (p.63), the Jewish Christian sect in Mecca at the time Muhammad grew up, received his visions, and produced the Quran. “At the death of his pious grandfather….His uncle Abu Talib takes charge of the boy’s education and introduction to the Hashemite wing of the family that would include the clan’s religious legacy…. (Abu Talib’s) virtues are much more part of the straight path associated with the monotheistic Ebionites…” (p.64). Noting the monotheism of the Nosranian sect, Azzi says this is further evidence of “the friendship and reverence expressed by Muhammad towards this Christian sect (that) is also embedded in the Quran” (p.66).
Azzi is answering these questions: “Is Islam a new religion and Muhammad its first forerunner, or did it exist before him? Is there a divergence between the Nosrania teachings, which Muhammad learned from Waraqa, and Islam’s teaching as found in the Quran? Has Islam been created out of nothing or is it a new Arab form of prevailing Nosrania beliefs?”
He goes on, “The word Islam and its cognates are repeated seventy-one times in the Quran. It never describes a religion that is independent of the other revealed books” (p.68). “The Quran evokes a certain vision of God and his attributes that stems directly from the older holy books and is filled with events and characters that can only be understood with knowledge of the Bible” (p.81). “The Quran borrows heavily from the earlier scriptures. But this borrowing… actually preserves a missing text called the ‘gospel to the Hebrews’” (p.101).
The Quran is filled with graphic detail on Hell. Azzi summarizes this teaching, “Instructions concerning the Last Day, Resurrection, Paradise and Hell are foremost teachings of Muhammad. While in Mecca the subject of doom and heaven and hell became the main items of his preaching” (p.122). Azzi then goes on to detail this teaching in the Quran.
Azzi then does a section on Christian apocalyptic belief that was passed into Islam and again details this from verses in the Quran, “Quranic and Christian beliefs form the strongest linkages when it comes to the discussions of the last days…and the future of humans beyond death. Common subjects such as the Last Day or Doomsday, Paradise, Hell, Resurrection and Judgment are descriptively portrayed in sometimes identical images, vocabulary and expressions. This close affinity means that the Quran draws its material from the Pentateuch and the Gospels… (this shows) the debt that Muhammad owes Waraqa, the Nosranian who, among other endeavors, translated a gospel of the Hebrews into Arabic. That gospel provided Muhammad multiple eschatological issues that are embedded in the Quran” (p.123).
Azzi’s conclusion states, “The teachings of al-Qiss Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, are thoroughly embedded in the Quran. This embedding process means that the faith of the early Meccans played a major role in forming Islam as a definite people of the book who were instructed by this heterodox priest” (p.135). “Along with several Old Testament books and the gospel of the Hebrews and the Jewish Talmud, it becomes evident how much was available to the Arabs in the early seventh century. My hope is that the reader will be convinced as I am that the Quran drew its content from these previous sources that ranged from Arab tribal stories to specific Christian authors…” (p.136).
Best ever- the wisdom saying of Matthew 5:38-48
I have not found anywhere in human thought or literature such a profound statement of how to think and act humanely, as authentically human. It is beyond the highest understanding and expression of love anywhere. It is a shame that Paul immediately set about undermining and rejecting it. He confronts it generally in his attack on the wisdom sayings tradition (1 Corinthians 1-3) and specifically in his Romans 12 attack on the Jesus insight. More below.
This new material continues as part of the larger project on this page to counter alarmism of all types, whether religious or secular environmental alarmism. I am going after the foundational mythological underpinnings of alarmism, the great mythical monsters that reside in the human subconscious.
Countering the damaging impact of alarmism is critical to unleashing human creativity and progress toward the better world that we all want. Alarmism has long undermined hope and promoted pessimism, resignation, and even despair. It has hindered human development and progress.
Behind most alarmism is a long history of bad mythology (e.g. angry, punishing gods, revenge of Gaia, angry planet). Those bad mythical ideas were then embodied in the great religions, and now continue in secular traditions like 19th Century Declinism (see Arthur Herman below), and its offspring of environmental alarmism, a dominant mythology of our time. Alarmism, both religious and secular, has always been anti-science and anti-humanity (anti-development and anti-progress).
A pat on the back, sort of…
Christianity, as with other religions over the past few centuries, deserves commendation for moderating the brutality of its past (i.e. Councils, Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms against Jews, burning/drowning/torturing heretics). But it has not yet removed the nasty core beliefs that have incited and validated past brutality. Most important, it has not yet fully humanized its God. To properly moderate behavior for the long term you must also moderate the belief foundation of the behavior, or the behavioral changes will not be sound and lasting.
The Christian example illustrates the greater human story of struggle with progress toward a better world and opposition to that progress. This struggle is located in the profound contradiction between the historical Jesus and the entirely opposing theology of Paul, the creator of the Christian religion.
Its time to end the cognitive dissonance that has always dominated Christianity. The outcome of that contradiction has been horrifically damaging to Western consciousness and society. Detail below.
Certainly, I recognize that many people have expressed the best of the human spirit through their religion. They have found space in their religion to hope for something better, to wonder at transcendence, to express love toward others, to find help for their own struggles in times of trouble. But my quibble is this- all these more humane impulses are mixed within a larger context that contains a lot of dehumanizing stuff that undermines the better impulses. I am talking about those foundational religious beliefs that orient consciousness to tribalism (us versus outsiders to our belief system), vengefulness, judgment, punishment, demand for payment, and ultimate destruction. That is all foundational stuff in religious belief systems.
Even the religious hope for some day of deliverance or salvation (a great apocalyptic ending to life and transport to utopia or paradise), this hope is pair-bonded to the correlated destruction of one’s “enemies”, the unbelievers, which is most of the human family that are not in your belief system. That inhumane element of destruction of others defiles the hope of the believer.
You get my point- a lot of great human ideals are mixed in with some of the most barbaric features of primitive mythology. So much of religion continues as a situation of diamonds in dunghills, or new wine stored in old, rotten wineskins. We can do much better.
The Stunning Scandal of the Christian Religion
As noted above, the new material below is part of the ongoing project to get to the foundational ideas behind alarmism, to those mythical themes that have endlessly re-emerged over history, including in recent secular versions. Close examination of what undergirds alarmism shows that it is the same old primitive ideas that have always retarded human consciousness in subhuman stages of development (Lotufo, Ellens, and others noted below, back me on this argument).
The new material looks at the single most profound human breakthrough ever made and the ongoing opposition to that breakthrough, notably the opposition from Christianity. The breakthrough insight was made by the person that Christianity claims as its founder, the historical Jesus. But to claim that Jesus is the founder of Christianity is entirely misleading because he did not found Christianity, Paul did. And Paul rejected outright the breakthrough of Jesus. This is the great scandal of Christianity.
Jesus presented an insight that was entirely unprecedented in history. I have repeatedly called it the single greatest discovery or insight ever. It cannot be found anywhere in previous mythological, religious, philosophical, or general spiritual traditions. Some traditions presented a close proximity to his ethical insight but none have gotten anywhere near his theological breakthrough.
(Note: Beliefs are critical to support behavior. People act on or according to what they believe. This belief/behavior link is notable in the Jesus breakthrough.)
Jesus tried to fully humanize people’s understanding of God, to make deity fully humane. This is clear in his brilliant theological statement in Matthew 5:38-48. Jesus stated for the first time ever that deity was entirely non-retaliatory, and exhibited unconditional generosity toward all, both good and bad. God, said Jesus, did not retaliate or punish (no “eye for eye” justice) but was generous toward all, both good and bad (loved enemies). Never before in history had any deity been expressed as unconditionally loving. Yes, there had been more human features projected onto ancient gods but the old features of anger, punishment, and the destruction of outsiders were also retained in those deities.
This new theology of non-retaliation, or the unconditional treatment of all people, was an entirely new theological basis for human behavior. Jesus argued that we should not retaliate against our offenders but, instead, we should love our enemies- and here is the critical theological basis- because God did so. He went on to explain that God gave the good gifts of life (sun and rain) to all people alike, both just and unjust. God treated every person with the same generous love and mercy.
(Anthropology notes that people have always based their behavior on their beliefs about greater realities. Most people instinctively embrace some belief/behavior link. Belief has always shaped human behavior, and beliefs about deity are the most influential of all ideas on behavior.)
No previous mythology, religion, or spiritual tradition had ever fully humanized God in the manner that the historical Jesus did. No previous mythology or religion had ever presented an entirely non-threatening deity. Again, previous gods had been given more humane features like kindness, forgiveness, and mercy but had also retained the darker elements of judgment, punishment, and destruction of the bad person, the unbeliever. Past traditions had projected more humane features onto their gods but never the feature of a radical unconditional love. Unconditional meaning that there was no threat, no condemnation, no exclusion of anyone, no tribal opposition between good and bad (true believers versus unbelievers), and no ultimate destruction (no Hell). To the contrary, most previous religion had embraced a clear conditional orientation in the varied requirements to appease and please the gods. That conditional orientation continued into the secular traditions of more recent history.
But then in a “stunning shift” immediately after Jesus’ death, emerging Christianity rejected and buried the new non-retaliatory theology of Jesus. Paul in particular, rejected the unconditional/non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and returned to the retaliatory and punishing deity of all past primitive religion. He then created Christianity based on his rejection of the gospel of Jesus. His basis for human behavior was a retaliatory God (for example, see Romans chapters 1, 2, and 12). His punishing deity would repeatedly affirm the base impulses of Christians to retaliate, to punish, and to destroy outsiders, despite Paul’s mild urging not to do so. That Pauline ideal of vengeful deity has too often incited the worst of human behavior. Subsequent Christian history reveals this harsh outcome (e.g. the outcomes of Councils, Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms against Jews, and so on).
This stunning reversal of Jesus’ core non-retaliatory theology is also evident in the book of Matthew where subsequent to including the Jesus breakthrough (chapter 5) Matthew then reverts back to angry, punishing, and destroying deity. Matthew repeatedly states that unbelievers will suffer divine retaliation and be cast into outer darkness to suffer weeping and gnashing of teeth (see references below).
(I will interject here that Paul dominated the early Christian movement and his ideas about Christ- called “Jesus Christ” in the Christian scriptures- became the gospel of Christianity. Paul dismissed the actual teaching of Jesus and developed a theory about what Jesus meant, and elaborated on this in his teaching about Jesus Christ. Paul shaped the thinking of later writers like Matthew and Luke who repeated his ideas about Christ.)
Early Christianity, as a general movement, then rejected the unconditional God of Jesus and chose instead the wrathful, punishing God of Paul. Paul oriented his Christian religion toward highly conditional themes such as his core myth that Christ had to die a brutal death in order to pay for sin before his God would forgive. That core Christian belief expressed the supreme condition of a sacrifice that must first be met. It was a complete reversal of the unconditional theology of Jesus.
And so Christianity became a profound statement of cognitive dissonance, of massive contradiction. We can sum up the basic Christian message as “God is love but demands a sacrifice to pay for sin. Believe this or you will be sent to hell”. That is a bit harsh on Christian ears but it sums up the core message.
The cognitive dissonance is evident most clearly in the contradiction between the opposing gospels of Jesus and Paul- that God treats all unconditionally (historical Jesus) but demands that a supreme condition first be met before anyone can be forgiven (Paul). God must first pour out his violent anger on an innocent victim (i.e. a child sacrifice at that) in order for people to be saved from wrath and destruction (Romans 1-5).
This contradiction between the theology of Jesus and the contrary theology of Paul/Christianity illustrates the greater human story and humanity’s struggle to embrace authentic love, and the ongoing opposition to that unconditional love. It is more than scandalous that the strongest opposition to the unconditional insight of Jesus comes from the very religion that claims to represent him.
I have repeatedly urged Christians, that after two millennia of rejection and opposition, it is time to take Jesus seriously and embrace his unconditional gospel. But I recognize that would spell the end of conditional Christianity. And that is simply too disorienting for many Christians.
Note: The reference in this material to the historical Jesus is not an appeal to authority, and especially not an appeal to religious authority. Humanity has made no bigger mistake than to kowtow to the domination of religious authority over history.
In this material I appeal directly to unconditional love as the ultimate human ideal because it resonates with common human consciousness and the common human spirit. We intuitively get it that the unconditional treatment of all people is true and right. It is the human thing to do. We see it in a Mandela or in the forgiveness of the Charleston Church people after the murder of their fellow church members, and we get it that such unconditional treatment of offenders is right and true in itself. Unconditional needs nothing more to affirm it. It does not require some outside authority, certainly not conditionally-oriented religious authority. Unconditional is true because you cannot imagine anything better, anything more humane. It is the best of being human. It is ultimate goodness, or love.
But if it helps the religious mind, I offer the fact that unconditional is taught clearly by the historical Jesus, someone entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus. And I refer repeatedly to Jesus’ statement of unconditional in Matthew 5:38-48 because that is the clearest statement of unconditional anywhere in human literature. I also highlight that passage because Jesus got the belief/behavior link right for the first time in history.
Note also the anti-authority practice of the historical Jesus. He directly rejected religious authority for his unconditional insight. He referred to the religious authority of his day- Judaism and the Jewish scripture (Old Testament)- and noted that it taught a retaliatory view of justice (eye for eye). But he then rejected that Old Testament justice and taught an entirely contrary justice of “love the offender/enemy”, because God did so. God was generous to all alike, both good and bad. Jesus presented his new unconditional theology by appealing to his own personal consciousness of what was right and true, not based on any known religious teaching or authority. When asked what his authority was, he refused to acknowledge any authority except to state, “I say to you…”. He offered only his personal view of what was the human thing to do.
Other new comment…
There is one singularly transcendent reality and truth to this human experience. We summarize it in our highest ideal- love. This separates us from our animal past as nothing else does.
Humanity’s struggle with love over the millennia is illustrated graphically in the stunning contradiction between historical Jesus and Christianity. Historical Jesus advocated a radical new version of love as unconditional, but Paul/Christianity rejected that breakthrough and reversed to primitive versions of love as highly conditional and ultimately punitive and destructive.
The human struggle with love is set within the greater story of our long-term exodus out of an animal past and our long-term journey toward becoming authentically human or humane. This is a much greater exodus than just the exodus out of Africa some 100,000 years ago.
In our progress toward a more human future, our dominant battle has been against the residual animal impulses still emoted from our inherited animal brain. These are impulses that orient people to tribal opposition and exclusion (e.g. religious, ideological, racial, or other forms of exclusion), domination/subservience relationships, and destruction of the competing other, the enemy. These impulses are about base drives that retard us in subhuman stages of development and they drag us back toward animal existence and behavior.
Note that the great world religions have often sided more with the animal and against the human. How so? By embodying the above noted features of animal existence- the small band or tribal dualism of protected/saved insiders (true believers) as against damned/excluded outsiders (unbelievers); the domination of Alpha gods and priesthoods, and the final exclusion and destruction of “enemies”. These features are nowhere as prominent as in the Christian religion. Hence, my argument that the profound contradiction between the historical Jesus and Christianity summarizes the greater human story. It is a story of struggle for authentic human love against the residual conditional mentality of an animal past. (See also comment on Garcia’s book Alpha God, further below)
Despite ongoing opposition, our primary human impulse to love has enabled us to resist and conquer these residual features of our animal past. Love has now become the core ideal that defines us as human, in all its facets- i.e. forgiveness, inclusion, kindness and generosity. We see love conquering the animal in the gradual progress of humanity away from violence and toward developing and spreading empathy and compassion.
And we have further discovered the ultimate way to define love- that in its ultimate humane form it is limitlessly unconditional. Unconditional takes us to the absolute height of being human. Nothing liberates us more from our animal past than this feature. Unconditional is the most humane understanding of our purpose and meaning, our goal and future. It most potently defines us as authentically human.
Quote from discussion group:
“Unconditional is the broad term I use to define the core theme of Jesus’ message and life. In the wisdom sayings of Jesus you find the following elements that elaborate on the unconditional treatment of all people: for instance, he said, do not engage payback (eye for eye justice), but instead love enemies; forgive all offenses endlessly (seventy times seven, or unlimited); engage unconditional generosity (give expecting nothing in return); include all without conditions (evident in Jesus practice of fully embracing/including all people, both good and bad); and more. These are all features of what is rightly termed unconditional love. Absolutely no conditions. None. Unconditional is the cohering central theme of the message and life of Jesus.”
On to new Intro:
The redefining of ultimate reality as “absolutely no conditions love” is the single most profound breakthrough in all history. It is the single most important insight in human thought and literature. It overturns the entire history of inhumane themes that have shaped most historical mythology, religion, and ideology.
Overwhelmingly, human thought and explanation across history has concluded that there was some form of anger, threat, retaliation, retribution, or punishment at the core of reality and life. Ultimate reality has long been viewed in terms of such things as deities that demand appeasement with offerings and sacrifices. Conditions that humans must fulfill in order to obtain benefits from the greater forces behind life, or to avoid negative outcomes. And so human thinking and behavior has long been oriented to harsh conditional existence. The no conditions reality at the core of all is buried beneath such perception.
The harsh conditional ideas of religious traditions have had a powerful influence on human behavior by influencing similar harsh conditional treatment of others. The relationship here is that people model their lives on their beliefs. Beliefs powerfully shape human behavior. Hence, the dismal history of religious violence (e.g. “meet the demands of our God, our religion, our lifestyle, or else”). The evidence is that nasty, retributive views of gods produce nasty, retributive human behavior. Look at ISIS for a contemporary example, as well as past Christian history for a similar “endless river of blood”.
Fortunately, as we have learned to be more human in our treatment of others, so we have also correspondingly humanized our ideas or beliefs to support more humane behavior. We have gradually added more humane features to our belief systems.
Unfortunately, we have too often maintained the inhumane core features of past belief systems and those have distorted and weakened the new human ideals. The consequence is that “absolutely no conditions love” has never been able to clearly break forth into human consciousness in all its wonder and scandal. It’s full liberating and humanizing potential has never been fully unleashed in human existence.
The struggle of no conditions love to revolutionize human existence is a fascinating innovation to follow down through history. We first see it in the Akkadian Father’s advice to his son where he urges an embryonic form of no conditions treatment of offenders- “Do not return evil to your adversary; requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, maintain justice for your enemy, be friendly to your enemy”. But he then misses the critical supporting belief that would affirm this new behavior. Later in his advice, he tells his son to “make sacrifice to your god”. The Father still viewed the gods as demanding that conditions be met- i.e. sacrifice. The gods (ultimate realities) were still viewed as threatening, retributive, punishing and demanding appeasement. The darker features of his belief system still dominated, distorted, and buried the full potential of the unconditional ethic that he was trying to promote. His theological belief did not affirm his new ethic.
And so it was down through subsequent history. More humane features were added to human belief systems, and to the gods- the highest of all human ideals and authorities. There was often some element of humanizing going on in the distant past. The ancient gods were also viewed more and more as kind (e.g. the Pharaoh gods, the Jewish God), merciful, protective of their followers, and even forgiving. But in the background, within the larger belief framework, there were still those features of threat, anger, retribution, and punishment. You could still smell the stench of sulphur amidst all the nicer stuff being added. And that sulphuric smoke clouded the full wonder of the newer humane features. Such cognitive dissonance has always plagued human minds- trying to maintain opposites in distorting and contradicting tension. Cognitive dissonance is often the outcome of “Biblicism”, the felt need to maintain all the elements of an inherited belief tradition, both human and inhuman features.
In response, I would argue that it is critical to break the spell of this protective Biblicism and then fully humanize all human thought and behavior. Most critical, we must fully humanize the gods of humanity, the ultimate ideals and authorities. Religion must not be spared the general humanizing impulse that has engaged all the rest of human thought and life.
Another side note before proceeding: Engaging the “metaphysical” is critical to improving the human condition, because belief has always shaped human behavior. You will never purge human consciousness of its awareness of greater realities, what has long been termed the “spiritual”, despite ongoing attempts by the materialist community to do so. Such realities have always been central to the fundamental human impulse for meaning and purpose.
Further below I have noted that anthropology (e.g. Clifford Geertz) recognizes that people have long based their behavior, communities, and overall existence on divine models. Unfortunately, the divine models of people (the will, word, or law of some god) have too often been oriented to inhumane features. Hence, my argument to fully humanize all areas of human thought and life. The humanizing endeavor needs to be rooted in contemporary freedom from religious ideals and authorities, and be fueled by the freedom to question, challenge, and refute all things that are less than fully human.
Further side note: I take the approach that it is best to reason from the best in humanity out to theology. We take the ever-improving understanding of what it means to be authentically humane and use that to properly define Ultimate Goodness, or God. This “humanizing” venture (making even the spiritual more humane) reaches its ultimate summit with unconditional love, the unconditional treatment of all people. We achieve this unconditional insight not from any religious holy book, as those traditions have too long embodied the worst of ancient pre-human thought. We get this unconditional insight from general human understanding and experience, though one notable spiritual tradition has given us a good jump-start on unconditional (see below).
Reaching for the ultimate Humane- Comment on Historical Jesus research
A note on the material immediately below: Around the early 1700s theologians and scholars became more aware that there were serious contradictions in the New Testament gospels. They recognized that there were some sublimely humane ideals being expressed by the historical Jesus, but much other material in the gospels seemed to out-rightly contradict his more humane sayings. There appeared to be a core message (i.e. Matthew 5-7) but then later additions by the gospel writers that were quite contrary to the core material. To illustrate, Jesus in Matthew 5 advocated that we should “love enemies”. But then later in Matthew 11 he pronounces woe, judgment, and destruction on the towns that did not repent and believe his message. What happened to “love your enemies”?
Thomas Jefferson, in his own unique manner of expression, referred to this apparent contradiction in the gospels, stating that the sublime moral teachings of Jesus were like “diamonds buried in a dunghill” of contradicting material. Later researchers would argue that Matthew 5-7 (and the similar Luke 6 statements) contained the main diamonds in the larger dunghill context.
Scholars then began the search for the “Historical Jesus”, the authentic person and message of the original Jesus. They believed that an original, authentic person had been buried under layers of later interpretation by the gospel writers and other New Testament (NT) authors like Paul. These later writers had put many things into the mouth of Jesus that contradicted an original core message. And the varied NT authors created a growing mythology of “Jesus Christ” that on many points was opposite to what the original person had actually taught. Paul especially contradicted Jesus with his elaborate, other-worldly Christ myth. That myth of Christ became the foundation of Christianity, which is Paul’s religion. It is noted by scholars that Paul paid little attention to what Jesus taught.
(Note: Scholars point out that Jesus’ teaching was about life in this world, acting humanely toward others here and now. Paul’s gospel was about a future utopia, an other-worldly paradise. And where Jesus never said anything about himself, Paul and the gospel writers went on endlessly about the person of Jesus Christ. Also, Jesus never saw himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Paul’s Christ is primarily about the sacrifice of Jesus. These are a few of the contrasts between the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul/Christianity.)
One sub-category of search for the historical Jesus was Q research. This is based on the following facts: Mark wrote the first gospel. Luke and Matthew wrote their gospels later. Scholars noted that Luke and Matthew both borrowed a similar set of sayings from Mark. But scholars also noted that Matthew and Luke contained many other related passages that must have come from some other common source. They named that other source Q after the German word “quelle”, for source.
The Q research argues that the original Q sayings are a “wisdom sayings” tradition (“sapiential” sayings). That is the ultimate original gospel of Jesus. That Q gospel went through several editions or revisions. The original Q (Q1) was a collection of sayings oriented to non-retaliation and love of enemies, what we rightly term the unconditional treatment of all people. Later versions of Q (Q2 and Q3) became harshly retaliatory and threatening, more apocalyptic in tone and substance. This is the background for the material right below.
More on the great breakthrough and reversal– the Jesus insight versus the Christian contradiction.
I will offer this at the start- if you get this fundamental contradiction between Jesus and Christianity you will then understand the key issue and problem in the greater human story- what it means to be human and what is holding humanity back from full liberation and potential. Like Adam indulging his curiosity in Eden, understanding this contradiction will offer the key to the knowledge of good and evil, to understanding the authentic human from the inhuman. Its all about absolutely no conditions reality and existence, versus conditional reality and existence. So go ahead and taste the fruit that opens the understanding of this contradiction. You won’t be punished by any god.
The historical Jesus, a person entirely opposite (in his theology) to the Christian version of Jesus, put together a link between the best of human behavior and the best of human belief, for the first time in history. He made the most powerful connection of behavior to belief ever stated. And he overturned entirely all the darker elements of the previous views of ultimate reality, all those features that had to do with anger, threat, retaliation, punishment, and destruction. He rejected entirely all the demanded conditions of traditional religion for sacrifice, correct belief, religious precepts and ritual, and obligated servitude to mediating priesthoods.
Others, like the Akkadian father long before him, had got the more humane ethic right- that we should treat others unconditionally, by forgiving, including, and exhibiting unlimited generosity toward all. But no one had ever got the supporting theological belief right- that God also treated all people unconditionally. Jesus finally did it. He stated that we should reject retribution, retaliation and punishment (no more eye for eye justice, no more getting even or engaging payback), and instead we should love our enemies. And we should do this because God does this… God loves enemies and gives the good gifts of life (sun and life-giving rain) to all alike. Be kind to all because God is kind to all. Be merciful just as God is merciful. Jesus made the most powerful link between belief and behavior that has ever been made, in his core gospel as stated in Matthew 5:38-48. He linked the best possible behavior to the best possible belief. He linked the most humane behavior to the most humane belief ever conceived by a human mind. In doing this, he severed completely the influence of previous bad belief on human behavior.
Give the Matthew 5:38-48 statement careful consideration. There isn’t a more humane statement of ethics and ideas, behavior and belief, anywhere in human thought or language. It is simply the most profound insight in all of human history.
But then the stunning contradiction. Paul out-rightly rejected the unconditional insight of Jesus and created the Christian religion as the formal rejection of Jesus’ unconditional breakthrough. Paul created his myth of Jesus Christ (the Christian Jesus) as the very opposite to the actual historical Jesus. Paul’s gospel of Christ is known as his Christology, or his Christ myth. Be clear- it is the very core and foundation of Christianity. Christianity is Jesus Christ as presented by Paul. And Christ is all about intense and supreme conditions.
This contradiction between the actual teaching of the historical Jesus and Paul’s Jesus is a far greater scandal than even the discovery of the ossuary of Jesus. This fundamental contradiction over the unconditional Jesus (non-retaliatory theology) and the conditional Jesus Christ (retaliatory theology) has rarely been treated properly by historians and scholars of religion.
Bob Brinsmead has suggested that this contradiction between unconditional and conditional reality is the Big Bang of religion and mythical traditions. It is the quantum mechanics of the spiritual, the thing that challenges and overturns all past religious thought quite entirely.
I have devoted this site to the discovery of unconditional (absolutely no conditions love) and its liberating and humanizing potential. And I have thoroughly treated the opposition to this discovery, notably from Christianity, but also from all forms conditional religion, including contemporary secular versions like Green or environmental religion.
Chronology of the Contradiction:
Jesus presented his wisdom sayings somewhere around CE 27-36, roughly over a 3 year period. His main teaching, his gospel, encompasses basically Matthew 5-7 (see also Luke 6), along with some other sayings and parables (see James Robinson’s books for detail on the content of the Q Sayings gospel). Jesus’ core theme was that it was humane to treat all people unconditionally because this is what God does. He said, do not retaliate against offenders but love your enemies because God does not retaliate against offenders but loves all, both good and bad. Jesus based his new unconditional ethic on a new unconditional theology. I will spell it out plainly so the meaning is not missed. A God that does not retaliate against offenders, but treats every person unconditionally, means that there is no judgment, no condemnation of imperfection, no discrimination or exclusion (sun and rain are given to all alike), no punishment (no eye for eye payback), and no destruction. All are safe, accepted, and loved. Forever.
Wow and yikes together.
Is this unconditional love toward all people offensive to conventional understanding of proper justice as payback of some form? Of course it is. It is scandalous to most human conception of justice as retribution in some manner.
To those who counter that they don’t believe this religious mythology anyway, so what does it matter to them, I would question: But do you perhaps hold some secularized version of these very same myths? For instance, do you believe in karma as some form of payback from greater forces? Do you believe, with the ancient Greeks, that there is retribution at the core of reality? Do you believe the “revenge of Gaia”, or angry planet mythology? Then welcome to the retaliatory mythology club. In the Western tradition it all traces right back to religious and mythically-minded Paul, the single most influential person in history and the most prominent shaper of Western consciousness.
Note particularly that a God that does not retaliate means that there will be no apocalypse. Apocalyptic mythology presents apocalypse as a great divine act of retaliation against corrupt humanity. It is a great history-ending punishment and destruction of “bad/sinful/disobedient” people.
The original historical Jesus did not teach apocalyptic as the gospel writers claimed that he did. Gospel writers like Matthew shamelessly put those harsh statements about some final judgment and retaliatory destruction into the mouth of the historical Jesus, against his clear teaching that God did not retaliate (Matthew 5:38-48). The actual historical Jesus had firmly stated that God was a non-punishing God. God did not engage eye for eye justice, or get even with offenders. Jesus’ God would not engage apocalyptic retaliation and punishment.
The call of Jesus to “love your enemies” was not just the hardest saying ever stated. His follow-up point that God did not punish bad people, but instead loved all the same, was an even harder saying for early Christians to accept. It did not sit well at all with their sense of justice as demanding payback. So they eventually rejected it and returned to Paul’s retaliatory gospel instead. That gospel of divine vengeance and punishment satisfied their felt need for retaliation against enemies. Instead of the Jesus breakthrough, they chose to embrace the core theme of Christianity that God would retaliate and punish all sin in Christ. This is commonly heard in the Christian summary statement that “Jesus died to pay for our sins”.
Note that James Robinson and other Q scholars have argued that the original wisdom sayings gospel of Jesus went through several revisions (redactions), perhaps 3. The first Q was basically the Matthew 5-7 sayings. That is the ultimate original gospel of Jesus. It expresses a generous spirit of unconditional treatment of all people. But the following versions of Q made a “stunning shift” toward harsh, retaliatory apocalyptic threat. There was a distinct shift away from the non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and toward a retaliatory emphasis.
Fortunate for us, Matthew and Luke felt obligated to include that original wisdom sayings gospel of Jesus even though they subsequently distorted it in their larger contexts. They most likely included the original gospel as it was an oral tradition too widely known by early Christians for them to deny it outright. But they successfully buried it in their larger mythology about the Christian Jesus Christ, putting all sorts of contradicting retaliatory comments in the mouth of their version of Jesus, comments that contradicted utterly the original teaching of Jesus. Matthew even made revisions to the core teaching of Jesus in chapter 5-7, weakening Jesus’ unconditional theme with religious conditions.
But back to the contradiction…
Paul was a dominating personality and did not tolerate disagreement with his views (see, for instance, Charles Freeman’s “The Closing of the Western Mind”), cursing those who disagreed with him, including his fellow Christian leaders Peter and James (see Galatians 1:8-9 for an example). Ultimately, his ideas and his interpretation of Jesus shaped the early Christian movement to the exclusion of all other versions. His gospel won out over other gospels, such as the Jewish gospels of early Christianity (e.g. Ebionites).
Paul created his myth of Jesus Christ to explain what he thought Jesus was all about. His myth of Christ did not embrace the actual teaching of Jesus but was shaped according to his own heavenly visions of Jesus. His Christ myth was oriented to vengeance, retaliation, and punishment. The Christ of Paul would return to judge and destroy all unbelievers in a great final day of punishing justice- the apocalypse. Paul embraced a theology that was entirely opposite to the core non-retaliation theme of the actual historical Jesus.
(Note: New Testament references show the orientation of Christ to vengeance, punishment, and retaliatory apocalyptic: see, for instance, Romans 2: 5,8,9,16, 12:19; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:8; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:25; Philippians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 2:16, 4:6, 5:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; also the writing of Peter, and John’s Revelation.)
The apocalyptic retaliation of Paul’s Christ was already clear when Paul wrote the first New Testament books, the letters to the Thessalonians. Scholars note further that Paul eventually wrote over 50 percent of the New Testament. The New Testament is Paul’s book, not the book of Jesus.
Paul’s Christ was most prominently about blood payment for sin which is the appeasement of an angry, retaliatory God. His Christ embodied the supreme condition of appeasing an angry God with a blood sacrifice (see Romans 1-5). Paul’s primitive conditional logic argued that all sin must be punished in Christ’s death. Paul’s God was all about eye for eye justice- demanding payment for all wrongs, getting even, punishing all sins. His Christ and Christianity were all about conditions, supreme conditions that had to be fulfilled. Once again, the unconditional insight of Jesus was entirely rejected and buried in Paul’s Christian religion.
Further, Paul directly refuted the wisdom sayings tradition in 1 Corinthians chapters 1-3 (see Stephen Patterson’s The Lost Way for comment on this).
While scholars are generally right that Paul ignored the actual teaching of Jesus, there appears to be an exception in Romans 12 where Paul seems to engage the Matthew 5:38-48 breakthrough. Paul tackles the behavior/belief link that Jesus made, but note that he does so in order to reject it and to reverse it entirely.
At first blush it appears that Paul got something of Jesus’ breakthrough on non-retaliation where he urged Christians to not return evil for evil that was done to them (Romans 12:17). But then, in an entirely oxymoronic disconnect, he based that ethic of non-retaliation on the contradicting and opposite theology of retaliation (“Leave room for God’s wrath…Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”). He was playing with the belief/behavior linkage but got it all wrong. It does not work to urge a humane response that is based on an inhumane belief. It is simply oxymoronic and contradictory. It does not work. The belief will undermine the behavior, if it is contrary to the behavior. Paul was tackling the Jesus insight but was contradicting it in the most basic manner, by reversing its theology from non-retaliation to retaliation. Huh?
And a closer look at Romans 12 shows that Paul even got the ethical part wrong. He urged that non-retaliation should be done in a retaliatory manner. Your non-retaliation should be engaged in order to “heap coals of fire”- to ensure fiery judgment- on the heads of your enemies. Do not retaliate against evil so that you will ensure ultimate divine retaliation against your offenders. If you don’t retaliate then you make certain that your offenders/enemies will get far more severe retaliation from God (i.e. punishment from a God who claims that “vengeance is mine, I will repay”). Paul gets both the ethic and the theology wrong, completely wrong. He missed the theology and the spirit of Jesus. He missed both the belief and the behavior of an authentically unconditional spirit.
Most important to understanding this great contradiction between Jesus and Christianity is to note that Paul clearly states in Romans 12 that he rejects the non-retaliatory God of Jesus and embraces the retaliating God of all primitive mythology and religion.
So in an unprecedented historical rejection and reversal, Paul retreats entirely from Jesus on this issue of non-retaliation, or the unconditional treatment of all people. And Paul’s rejection of non-retaliation is Christianity. Once again, Christianity as we know it is Paul’s religion, not the religion of Jesus. James Tabor makes this case in his book ‘Paul and Jesus’.
This rejection of the gospel of Jesus by Paul is a stunning contradiction and scandal at the heart of Christianity. Yes, Jesus’ unconditional insight is still there in the gospels, though buried by the larger context. Fortunately, its leavening presence has helped moderate the worst of Christian impulses to punish and destroy enemies over the millennia.
Just to summarize again the chronology of this Jesus insight and Paul’s rejection of it. Jesus taught his wisdom sayings around CE 27-36. Paul began to present his contradictory and retaliatory apocalyptic views in his first letters sent to the Thessalonians, around 50 CE. Researchers affirm that Paul influenced all the other New Testament writers. His views dominated all others. So when Matthew wrote his gospel later around 70 CE, he was already presenting Jesus in strongly apocalyptic terms, similar to Paul’s writings. Matthew was busy contradicting and burying Jesus’ core teaching of Matthew 5-7 in his larger context. This is cognitive dissonance writ large as Matthew reversed entirely the central theme of the original gospel of historical Jesus.
To get the full impact of how severely Matthew rejects and buries the spirit and message of Jesus note these verses in his gospel that relentlessly emphasize the threat of judgment, condemnation, and destruction in hell: Matthew 11 (pronouncing woe on unrepentant towns), 12:31 (refusal to forgive all offenses), 12:36-37 (judgment and condemnation), 13:40-42 (burning in hell), 13:50 (weeping and gnashing of teeth), 18:8-9 (eternal fire), 21:44 (crushing enemies), 22:13 (throw into outer darkness), 23:15 (become a son of hell), 23:33 (condemned to hell), 24:51 (weeping and gnashing of teeth), 25:30 (weeping and gnashing of teeth), 25:46 (eternal punishment). Matthew abandons entirely the spirit, ethic, and theology of Jesus’ original gospel (do not retaliate but love your enemies). Like Paul, he reverses back to the primitive apocalyptic threat of punishment and destruction of enemies. This illustrates exactly what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said that the diamonds of Jesus were buried in a dunghill.
Instead of the all-forgiving God of Jesus, Matthew’s Christ/God would destroy and burn in hell all unbelievers, sending all those who refused to meet the conditions of the Christian faith “into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth”. His threatening Christ was entirely opposite to the non-threatening Jesus of Matthew 5-7.
And so the rest of the New Testament goes. The unconditional God of Jesus is buried in the “dunghill” of apocalyptic Christianity with its repeated threats of looming judgment, punishment, and destruction. The New Testament is permeated by these themes of retaliation, vengeance, punishment, and destruction (see earlier lists of New Testament references).
This is a huge scandal that Christianity needs to confront and resolve. The Christian religion has yet to begin to take the historical Jesus seriously. And of course, Christianity cannot embrace the original unconditional Jesus because it would mean the end of the Christian religion with all its conditions of required sacrifice to pay for sin, and the obligation to submit and believe this myth of a sacrificed Christ. Unconditional spells the end of, not just Christianity, but of all conditional religion.
The Christian myth of Christ has also shaped the rest of Western consciousness and religion. It has influenced Islamic theology (see The Priest and the Prophet by Joseph Azzi) and other movements. For detail, I refer readers to the excellent research of David Cook (Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature), Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth), and others.
Until we resolve this reflexive impulse to protect and worship retaliation at the heart of the Christian religion, it will continue to stir alarm and defensive aggression toward offenders, as it has already done over history. This has been especially true in Western consciousness and history. It also continues to stir alarm in apocalyptic movements like environmentalism, an offspring of 19th Century Declinism, a new secularized version of Christian apocalyptic mythology.
It is time to take Jesus seriously on God as unconditional love- his greatest contribution to the history of ideas. The single greatest human insight or discovery ever made.
James Robinson, one of the more prominent researchers of the Q Sayings Gospel, known as the original wisdom sayings of Jesus (the wisdom teaching of Jesus- “sapiential” in theological terms). This original gospel of Jesus consists of mainly Matthew chapters 5 to 7, with some other parables and sayings.
Robinson’s comments below note the amazing breakthrough of Jesus that God was unconditional love (“non-retaliatory” is Robinson’s term), and that Christianity later rejected this breakthrough and returned to the pagan view of God as vengeful and punishing. The rejection of Jesus’ original gospel occurs in books like Matthew, in Paul’s letters, and throughout much of the rest of the New Testament.
I have not found anyone else who so clearly presents the contradiction between Jesus’ teaching, and the contrary Christ myth of Christianity, and how this contradiction developed in early Christianity (the rejection of Jesus’ gospel of unconditional). Robinson also suggests why this stunning reversal may have occurred. Unfortunately, Robinson did not seem to fully grasp how explosive this Jesus/Paul contradiction was and what the full implications were for religions like Christianity, or for human liberation in general. And he ends his book on the confusing note of facing possible judgment. Still, his comments are valuable.
Quotes from Robinson’s “Jesus: According to the Earliest Witnesses”, with paraphrased bracketed sections:
“(In the wisdom sayings gospel of Jesus, he taught)… how one should think of God and how one should act accordingly…there is an explicit correlation between Jesus’ teaching about God and Jesus’ ethic…’Be full of pity just as your Father is full of pity’…Here Jesus explicitly appeals to God’s pity as the model to be followed by God’s people. This he does again and again…”
“Love of the enemy…the highest that one can ever expect from a person, as something that elevates the disciples of Jesus high above the sphere of the generally human, and makes them like God himself…the requirement of love of enemies had assumed the dominant position…had come to stand at the head of a whole series of exhortations…”
“Jesus’ vision of a caring Father who is infinitely forgiving and hence shockingly even-handed in dealing with the bad as well as the good, may have been lost from sight a generation later, as a result of the grueling experiences of the Jewish war, understood as God’s quite judgmental punishment of Israel… the Q people had originally been sons of God in loving their enemies, imitating God originally understood in a quite a different way, as giving sunshine and rain to the bad as well as the good. It was in this sense that they had sought to be God-like…(Albrecht Dihle) has laid out the dramatic extent to which this transcended the common-sense justice of reward and retaliation that pervaded antiquity… ‘the proclamation of Jesus … has eliminated that concept of retaliation as the basis for or ingredient in an ethical order’…Yet already the Q redaction (a later edition of the Q sayings gospel) had come to envisage the Q people again as God-like, but quite differently, like a judgmental God, sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel…Jesus’ basic insight into the ever-loving and forgiving nature of God would seem to have been lost from sight as the age-old view of God undergirding retaliatory justice again reasserted itself…(the Matthew 5 statement that God was non-retaliatory was) the most important theological contribution by Jesus to the history of ideas ( but it was abandoned by the early Christian movement)… (Dihle notes) this basic shift in the doctrine of God at the basis of ethical conduct (that took place between the original Q gospel with its non-retaliatory deity, and a later revision that returned to retaliatory deity)”.
Robinson then comments on the development of Christology- the later Christian development of beliefs about Jesus as the Christ. He notes that Paul did not build his theology of the Christ on Jesus’ teaching but on his own heavenly visions of Christ. Paul’s Christ myth, with its features of divine anger, vengeance, payback punishment, and eternal destruction, contradicts the fundamental non-retaliatory theology of Jesus’ gospel.
“Paul literally and figuratively so outshone Jesus as to leave Jesus out of sight…Paul knew very few sayings of Jesus and did not have a kind of religiosity, much less a theology, built on Jesus’ sayings; he even argues that knowing Jesus according to the flesh, is not really necessary (2Cor.5:16)…he rather explicitly said that the idyllic, unreal world of Jesus has been put behind us, for we must now come to grips with reality, buy a sword, become the church militant…”
“Jesus’ teaching about God and Jesus’ ethic are indeed correlated to each other…’Be full of pity, just as your Father is full of pity’…Jesus explicitly appeals to God’s pity, as the model to be followed by God’s people…. the central appeal of Jesus to love one’s enemies is based on God’s conduct…Thus, at the core of the archaic collections behind the (later versions) of Q there is a striking correlation between the actual conduct that Jesus exemplified and advocated in his sayings, and the way that he conceived of God as a forgiving Father…It is not surprising that Jesus’ shocking view of God has been largely ignored, as has his corresponding ethic…”
“(Dihle) has detailed the dramatic extent to which this new ethic of Jesus derived from his new understanding of God and transcends the common-sense justice of reward and punishment that pervaded antiquity…the proclamation of Jesus and early Christian theology connected to it have eliminated that concept of retaliation as the basis for, or ingredient in, an ethical order…The love of enemies, as the highest ethic of Jesus and the Q people, was indeed very unusual. And it was rooted in an equally unusual vision of a God who gives sunshine and showers to the bad as well as to the good. It is striking that Jesus, at this most central point, did not derive his unusual vision of God, and his highest ethic, from the Hebrew scriptures or indeed from anywhere in the culture of the Ancient Far East…”
“Love of enemies does indeed fly in the face of the common-sense every day judgment that the punishment should fit the crime. It is surprising indeed that Jesus’ rare view of God, and its resultant radical ethic, is derived from his experience of the world of nature around him…Jesus, (drew) such a radical ethic from this simple observation of nature…God… is kind to all, to the bad as well as to the good… (Jesus taught) a vision of God higher than what had been understood before…God’s amazingly impartial love for the bad as well as for the good”.
Robinson then comments that Matthew abandoned the theology and ethic of Jesus (non-retaliation as in Matthew 5:38-48) and returned to a vengeful gospel with his themes of apocalyptic punishment and destruction (he also quotes others on this point). “Matthew’s vengefulness…like most apocalyptic…he deals with the ultimate fate of the wicked. (He) depicts the fate of this group (the wicked) in the harshest terms. One important function of this motif is to satisfy the desire for vengeance on the part of himself and his readers… note (Matthew’s) abundant material relating to the horrific punishments awaiting the wicked. Matthew emphasizes this particular element and uses it to satisfy his apocalyptic community’s psychological need for vengeance on those who are responsible for their suffering…”
(Note: I assume as researchers have noted that Matthew was influenced by Paul’s harsh theology of God retaliating with apocalyptic punishment and destruction of enemies/unbelievers. Paul wrote the earliest New Testament books of Thessalonians and his theology shaped the thinking of the other NT writers).
“(Sim continues) The righteous can take heart that God (or Jesus as Son of Man) will balance the ledger at the (end of history) and exact vengeance on their behalf…Jesus amazing vision of God seems to have been completely lost from sight by the (later versions of the Q sayings gospel) and hence in the gospel of Matthew…”
“What is it that caused Jesus’ vision of God to be replaced by its reverse?… (Sim suggests the early Christian church) ‘was prohibited from taking its own revenge upon its enemies…These demands must have posed some problems for Matthew’s community and raised doubts in their minds about the justice of God. How can God be just when he allows the righteous to suffer and the wicked to prosper and does not allow the former to take revenge on the latter?’”
Robinson here notes that the early Christians then engaged in a great reversal of the new unconditional ethic and theology of Jesus. The early Christians shifted their understanding of God away from a Father who loved enemies and back to a God of vengeance. It was not just an ethical shift but a theological shift backwards. Their doubts about the justice of God (i.e. forgiving and loving enemies, helping the bad and unjust) led them to return to an ethic of revenge against enemies. But they did not just reverse their ethics. They could not do that and leave in place Jesus’ new view of God. “That sublime doctrine of God must (also be reversed)”. So even in later versions of Q, Christians replaced love of enemies with vengeance. The question remains as to why they did this?
Robinson suggests the following reason… it had to do with the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. This was viewed in the same way as the destruction of the earlier temple in the Old Testament. That was understood by Jews as God abandoning and punishing his people for their sin. “(In the destruction of the temple) God revealed himself as a vengeful God, by punishing Israel again with this second destruction of the temple. Thus the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, experienced as a new devastating punishment by God, in effect replaced Jesus’ revelation of God for the Q community. Accordingly, in the (later version of Q), God no longer shines his sun and rains his showers also on the bad and unjust, but throws them ‘out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth’, as victims of impending rage whom he will burn on a fire that can never be put out…What was left of the… Q community, produced a vision of God that replaced that of Jesus, together with an ethic of vengeance to replace his (ethic) of the love of enemies, after having envisaged the destruction of the temple in 70 CE as an act of God”.
Robinson notes that the early Christian movement lost its resolve and gave way to Paul’s retaliatory gospel. He adds that the earliest version of Q, the original sayings gospel of Jesus, was a collection of wisdom sayings that contained no harsh retaliatory themes such as apocalyptic retaliation. But Q was redacted or revised and later versions became strongly apocalyptic. “Certain elements (e.g. apocalyptic Son of Man sayings) belong to a secondary compositional level and that compositionally and literarily the wisdom sayings, and the wisdom-gospel format, are foundational and formative for the document… the emergence of Christology is not at the oldest layer of Q but only at the redactional level…Christology (Paul’s retaliatory Christ myth) only emerges at this secondary level… Thus the relative absence of Christology from the first edition of Q and the relative prominence of Christology in the second edition of Q is striking”.
He is arguing that the original Q is non-apocalyptic while the later revision of Q is apocalyptic. Robinson adds that the original Q document was not yet corrupted by Pauline theology and was a reliable source for Jesus’ teachings. That original Q contained a core of authentic sayings of Jesus roughly comparable to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This, says Robinson, represents the “epitome of Jesus’ teaching”. That sermon is the nearest we can get to the authentic historical Jesus. Unfortunately, that earliest Jesus tradition moved “toward a more moralizing, spiritualizing, christologizing, domesticating way of imaging Jesus, an amazingly successful enterprise that produced the image of Jesus that most Christians till have today. “Thus Paul provided the core of our Christian faith, not Jesus”. As Paul warned early Christians, if you believe any other gospel than his you were cursed. And we did not need to know the human Jesus any longer, or his teaching. Paul further derided and dismissed the wisdom sayings tradition of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1-3.
Despite his excellent treatment of these issues, Robinson then ends his book with the confusing suggestion that “doing Jesus’ word is what acquits in the day of judgment”. Huh? What the ….?