Category Archives: Religion

Commentary on religion and religiosity.

December 25 is a Day to Think about Jesus

Knowledge of the life of Jesus comes to us from the Gospels, so we need to accept them as written for what they are, a post facto rendering of history. Historians place the birth of a male child called Joshua, who is considered to be the historical Jesus, in either 4 BCE or 2 BCE. His death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Procurator of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, takes place when Jesus is thirty to thirty-three years old. What is certain, is that there was a man called Joshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) who played a significant role in the history of the Jewish people at that time in Roman Judea.

Before continuing, I should make two points clear to the reader; this blog is written by a very Secular Jewish person who views Jesus as a co-religionists who was a courageous advocate for his take on Judaism at that time. Jesus was a well-educated Jewish person who was raised in the Pharisaic tradition of the Oral Law. The Pharisees followed a more personal form of Judaism which did not depend in the Temple or the priestly class represented by Sadducees. The importance of a personalized form of Judaism independent of the need for a Temple in Jerusalem was critical, since it would be destroyed in 70 CE.

Why then, should a Jewish person, advocate for the importance of Christmas as a time to recognize the birth of an important leader of a significant Jewish sect? As such an advocate for the memory and respect for Jesus as a person, and as a Jew, there is no room in my heart for the mythology of Jesus which forms a significant part of the four gospels. There is no room in my head for the idea of an Immaculate Conception or miracles or resurrection or even a Messiah. These ideas are impossible to accept as anything other than a significant mythology because of my focused study of the history of the Jewish people and a rigorous education in the sciences. Now let’s continue with these points clearly stated.

Jesus is important to me because:

1.  He was a scholar, a thinker and a leader of an important Jewish sect.

2.  He, and those who followed him maintained the essentials of Jewish practice, including all the celebrations of holidays, dietary laws and the rite of circumcision, but decried the idea of sacrificing animals as a part of religious practices.

3. He had the courage of his convictions, and was willing to accept the consequences of his actions knowing that the High Priests and the Sanhedrin were the puppets of the Roman State in Judea.

4. He advocated a belief that is based on all that was good in Judaism and was a kind a gentle leader. He truly led with the consent and support of his followers.

Jesus had the audacity to challenge the practice of ritual sacrifice by attacking the practice of changing foreign currencies to the coin of the realm. This service was required by those who came to the Temple, so they could purchase animals for sacrifice by the priests of the Temple. This has to be true, because such people as money changers operated in the Hall of the Gentiles, the first great courtyard inside the Temple where commerce of various sorts was allowed by all peoples, Jews and non-Jews alike. When he attacked these activities within the Temple, Jesus knew he was attacking the dominance of the priestly class as well as the Roman State that controlled them. Jesus was not naive politically. He knew exactly what he was doing and why.

There was nothing Jesus did as a sect leader that would have bothered either the Jews or the Romans, because he was simply the leader of another of the many sects of Judaism that were common throughout Judea and the Jewish diaspora that existed in those days. He only became a problem when he attacked the practices of the Temple. At that point he became a threat to stability in Judea, after all, he had a growing following which might begin agitating against the practices advocated by the Sadducees. They might had fomented rebellion, all be it a minor one, that would undermine the authority of the Temple and the Sanhedrin. Since there had been several revolts and rebellions by the Jews in Judea, Rome was not going to allow the possibility of any disruptions to peace (under the strict control of Rome) and law and order in Judea.

I won’t go into the matter of the trial and punishment of Jesus in this post since the intent is to honour his birth and his importance as a Jewish person in the history and evolution of a religion. There a few interesting ideas to present before ending this post, including the role of the Essenes in this story, and the matter of Jesus’ lost years.

1. The Dead Sea Scrolls informed us that the Essenes practiced Baptismal rites and held a strong belief in resurrection and the idea of a Messiah as early as 200 BCE.

2. The Essenes were apolitical and had no place for all the arguments between the Pharisees and the Sadducees or the struggle for power between the Priestly class and the Roman government. They separated themselves from all of that by retreating from society.

3. It is likely that Jesus spent some time with the Essenes. Jesus disappears from the Gospels at the age of 12 and reappears when he is baptised by John in the river Jordan. John the Baptist was a Jew and his practices were very clearly influenced by the Essenes. That is exactly why Jesus accepted baptism.

4. Jesus is supposed to be of the House of David. He had twelve disciples. King David ruled with the consent and assent of the Twelve Tribes and their leaders, a striking parallelism. Initially the power was in the hands of King Saul who came from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul was not the popular choice. When Saul died as a result of his failed attempt to conquer Philistia, David was announced king. David came from the tribe of Judah and had been the popular choice all along.

The idea of the popularity of Jesus and the modified Judaism he espoused, makes him a significant person in my mind. Has the followers of Jesus continued as a Jewish sect without the pressures of persecution, would it have survived as a sect? Would it have grown into the major streams of Christianity, Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the all the manifestations of Protestantism that exist to day is a good question with no answer? Of course that’s not the way history unfolded.

Have a great Christmas, and let’s all celebrate the birth of a great man, Joshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

As always, your faithful blogger, L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com

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Trade Routes, Religion and The Way

The Way continued…

I ended my last post with the thought that the basic precepts of Eastern and Western religions and philosophies are the products of social evolution and trade between diverse peoples. As this line of reasoning continues, the term ‘The Way’ is used in a generic sense to represent positive social and personal behavioural attributes, not in reference to any specific religion or philosophy.

Ancient trade routes are present by the 3rd Millennium BCE. Trade routes between the civilizations in Asia, Asia Minor, Africa, India, the Mediterranean civilizations and major trading centers in each, are all very well established by the 1st Millennium BCE, thus providing ample opportunity for proponents of different Eastern belief systems to share ideas. This time frame neatly encompasses the period when the world’s great Eastern religions and philosophies took form; namely Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Taoism.

The Vedas of Hinduism are pegged at about 1200 BCE. The origin of Judaism is reputed to begin with the migration of Abraham and his family from the city of Ur to Canaan in about the beginning of the 2nd Millennium BCE, but the Pentateuch (Five books of Moses) only took shape between the 9th and 5th Centuries BCE. The origins of Buddhism and Taoism are traced to somewhere in the 6th Century BCE. All of these peoples were involved in the exchange of goods and materials through trade. At the same time traders must also have exchanged ideas including codes of behaviour. Social organization beginning with primitive hunter-gatherer groups, continuing with the formation of permanent settlements, transitioning to city-states, the great empires of antiquity and extending to modern society, all depend on workable codes of behaviour.

All animal life must satisfy basic needs for food, protection from the elements, the opportunity to procreate and protection from harm. Stone Age man provided for those needs by forming small groups of cooperative hunter gatherers. Positive social evolution is driven by forces; basic human needs, the natural world, human emotion and interaction between and among people. With the discovery of edible plants and grain types that could be purposely cultivated, human communities began the transition from nomadic hunter gatherers to settlement dwellers about ten millennia ago. The socio-behavioural characteristics of altruism, respect for the property and person of other, nurturing and protecting the young and cooperating in all manner of ways, were prerequisite for the success of even the most primitive of human social organization.

Thus, The Way, becomes a path to survival and success for humanity. Difficulties and conflicts arise between peoples become an issue when one form of The Way is held to be superior to any another, or one or more precepts are subverted or ignored. Corruption, bribery, aggression, greed and whichever other of mankind’s negative behaviours are all the consequence of deviation from acceptable codes of behaviour. Unfortunately, such behaviours have not been extinguished from human society despite the best efforts of well-meaning people.

Until next time, as always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss –Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness – Release date TBA

Please visit me at my author website at   www.lalanweiss.com

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THE WAY

This past Saturday, my wife and I turned to Netflix for some movie entertainment and came up with a movie called The Way starring Martin Sheen, based on a screenplay written by his son Emilio Estevez. I’ll leave it to the reader to investigate the details of the story line. At its heart, It is a ‘journey’ or ‘quest’’ story about a man that follows the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, which is called The Way. Coincidentally, the previous morning, I was discussing the possibility that ‘The Way’ adopted by the Nazarene sect, the early followers of Jesus, might have arisen from much earlier influences.

Many centuries Before the Christian Era (BCE), there are two significant groups that are dedicated to following The Way; namely the Buddha Way and the Tao. Research related to the content of my soon to be released book, Through a Lens of Emptiness, delved deeply into Eastern religions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Taoism. Even the Hindu caste system specifies a way of behavior that defines each caste.

Buddhism is grounded in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to enlightenment, and Taoism is defined by precepts, the most important of them are ten in number. The Nazarenes, initially a sect of Judaism was based on the Ten Commandments and the practices of Judaism. It was the ideas of Saul of Tarsus (Paul) that influenced the evolution of the Nazarenes into a group whose beliefs resemble Christianity today. When the foundational precepts of Buddhism and Taoism are examined and compared to the Ten Commandments and the purported teachings of Jesus, one is struck by the similarity in theme and prescription. Judaism is also essentially an Eastern belief system since it originated in the Near East.

In addition to the similarity in theme, I believe there is a similarity in purpose. Each of these systems of basic precepts represents the end product of millennia of social and behavioural evolution. They are all fundamentally moral codes of and prescribed behaviours that foster stability in human society. Even the description of the characteristics of a true pilgrim following The Way to Santiago de Compostela resemble aspects of the basic moral and behavioural characteristics of Eastern belief systems.

That’s enough deep thinking for tonight. In my next post, I plan to examine the role of trade routes in the interchange of religious and philosophical ideas.

What would Jesus think about this post? Please comment…..

As always, your faithful blogger . . .L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness

Visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com

 

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