Christianity is Not Well-Founded
The Messiah - Really?
At the heart of Christianity is the preacher from Galilee known as Jesus, to whom posterity has added the name “Christos”, meaning “the anointed one”. That is the Greek word for the concept, the Hebrew word being “Messiah”.
At the time that Jesus was alive the land of Palestine was under Roman rule. Most Jews were content to knuckle under and get on with their lives as best they could, but there were some who fervently wanted to change things and had high hopes that a new king would arrive who would lead his people to overthrow the Romans. Anointing with oil only applied to kings, which is why the Messiah had to be a king.
The early Christians were convinced that Jesus was the anointed one, but they saw the anointing as being a heavenly rather than earthly event. He had been anointed before he was born and therefore fitted the bill. That concept might raise a few eyebrows as it stands, as it presupposes a certain suspension of disbelief at the outset.
Fullfilling the Prophecies
The first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels, include many references to Old Testament passages that, according to the writers, proved that Jesus was the Messiah. This is where things get very suspicious indeed.
It is true that there are several references in the Old Testament to a Messiah who will come to rescue the Jews from their oppression and overthrow their enemies, but this figure was clearly a long way from the character of Jesus of Nazareth. However, that did not stop the Gospel writers from digging up dozens of references that clearly, according to them, pointed at Jesus.
However, when these references are looked at more closely, the case for Jesus as predicted Messiah is far from convincing.
Some of the quoted passages make absolutely no reference to a Messiah. One of these is the very well-known Isaiah Chapter 53 (“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … He was wounded for our transgressions , he was bruised for our iniquities” and so on). There is no indication as to who “he” is, other than “my servant”, and, although some of this chapter seems to fit the story of Jesus reasonably well, there are verses in this chapter that do not fit at all and are hence quietly forgotten about in the context of Christian prophesy.
Other “prophesies” can only be regarded as such with the application of a good dose of imagination. Passages were yanked out of context and held to have meanings that it is highly unlikely were intended by their writers.
An example of the latter is Matthew 2:14/15, which reads: “… he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying Out of Egypt I have called my son”. However, the verse from Hosea (11:1) is clearly not a prophesy at all: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt”. What could this possibly be other than a reference to the Exodus led by Moses? Trying to pretend that Hosea was predicting an incident in the life of Jesus is plainly absurd.
Both Matthew and Luke (the gospels were written anonymously and the names by which they are generally known were added later) were keen to fulfill Biblical prophesy on many fronts, one of them being the birthplace of Jesus at Bethlehem. The prophesy in this case was by Micah (5:2): “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel”.
The gospel writers felt compelled to use this prophesy to convince their audience (Jewish or Gentile) that the fact of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem was proof that what had been predicted had come to pass. But this leads to further difficulties. For one thing, Micah was talking about a military leader (no mention of a Messiah) who would sort out the Assyrians who had already devastated the northern kingdom and might well do the same to the southern one, which was where Micah lived.
The main problem, however, was that Jesus clearly came from Galilee and not Bethlehem (not far from Jerusalem). How could this circle be squared? Writing independently of each other, Matthew and Luke came up with completely different solutions. Matthew had the parents of Jesus living in Bethlehem and then moving to Nazareth, after a sojourn in Egypt, and Luke invented the absurd scenario of a census that forced a heavily pregnant woman to make a long and dangerous journey to Bethlehem from her home in Nazareth.
Efforts have been made to reconcile these two accounts and pretend that both could have happened, but these attempts are far from convincing.
There can be very little doubt that Christianity would not have got going had it not been for St Paul. For one thing, it was his idea to spread the story of Jesus beyond the realm of Judaism, which is where some factions of the early Church thought it should stay. Without Paul, Christianity would have been nothing other than one more sect of Judaism.
It was Paul who developed the theology of Christianity, with the emphasis on belief as opposed to following rules or doing good works. According to Paul, belief in the fact that Jesus was the son of God, that his death relieved the faithful from the burden of sin, and that his resurrection from the dead opened the way for his followers to go to Heaven, was all that was necessary.
Given that Paul spread his message to places outside the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem, and to people who would otherwise never have heard of Jesus, he had free rein to tell potential converts whatever he wanted about Jesus as Messiah, and with little risk of being challenged about the details.
It is well known that many Jesus stories did the rounds in the early Church, and people have always loved to hear stories, whether true or not. The four Gospels, which were written after most of Paul’s letters had been sent to the young churches, were needed to scotch some of the more lurid tales and also put words into Jesus’s mouth. If people wanted something new other than Greek mysticism and Roman emperor-worship, Paul was pushing at an open door.
But was it all a massive confidence trick based on very little in the way of firm foundations?
The Christian Legacy
I am far from convinced that Christianity is anything other than a massive cloud floating on air. The very existence of Jesus is difficult to confirm, given that the evidence outside the texts of the New Testament is extremely sketchy and dubious.
However, the teachings of Christianity do merit serious attention. There can surely be nothing wrong in loving one’s neighbour, acting justly and forgiving one’s enemies. Beyond that, I find the package as offered very hard to accept.