My friend, you seem to be appalled to learn that origins of the Judeo-Christian Bible are not what you were taught in Sunday-school; that it was compiled over a period of years from a variety of sources; that it contradicts itself; that a great many authors, editors and revisers may have been involved; and that it smacks of myth, legend, superstition and political incorrectness. Well, all of this is true, as far as it goes, and has been known to millions of men for thousands of years. The same might be said of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Code of Hammurabi and the constitution of the State of North Dakota.
That this has been kept from the chandala I must admit. Universal literacy has not been with us for very long, and I might argue that we don't have it yet, even in this glorious commonwealth of morons. The ability to decipher a printed text does not convey the ability to understand it. I will also admit that the Bible has been used by mountebanks, charlatans and damned fools for the bilking of morons for ages (recall the old saw, "The Devil can quote Scripture to his own end.") I will even admit, if forced, that oceans of blood have been spilled over the several texts therein, and not a few quarts dribbled upon the floor over the placing of a comma. None of that is to the purpose, for those bilking, those bilked, those bleeding and those cut were all human beings, prone to the universal human frailties, and anxious to exhibit them at every turn. Rational men are rare, in our world, and if one exists to-day I would like to catch him and have him stuffed for exhibition.
First, as to the Bible being the "revealed word of God". There are sects that hold to that concept. I feel sorry, somehow, for those who proclaim "God said it; I believe it; and that settles it." Their minds are closed, locked and bolted, and they are missing a good deal. It is amusing, I suppose, to think of God dictating the several books to a clutch of faithful amanuenses, and all the translators and editors down to the present day being in some way infallible, both as to linguistics and sense. A look at some of the modern translations will tell even the cat that that is not so.
The original may have been written two or three thousand years ago, yet (to give but one example) the Modern American Bible reads like a Congressional report. The language is inclusive, bureaucratic, turgid. I cannot imagine God being a bureaucrat. Now, the several authors of the various parts of the Bible may have been inspired - whether directly by God or by their own religious zeal, I leave to wiser heads than mine - but they wrote in a far different time; they wrote in a far different idiom; they were Orientals, not Westerners, and had (and have to this day) an imagery as foreign to us as the canon law of Mars. That is only one of the difficulties in translation.
The Bible holds, as we all know, poetry, myth, tradition, history, polemics and the occasional good story put in for the story's sake, and forms a lumber-room of the musings and meditations of men at different times and in different places into the nature of God and His relationship with man. Read as such, and remembering all the while that the imagery is Oriental, though the language may be influenced by Greek, it is in the main the gradual revealing of that relationship - or, at least, the Jews' understanding of it.
Certainly a good deal of it was smouched from other sources and older. It would be startling if it was not. The Jews who assembled the Septuagint (and wrote a lot of it) weren't stupid. They knew that a truth was a truth, and a good argument was a good argument, whether it was originally written in Sumerian, Hebrew, or Choctaw.
If there is a God (as I firmly believe) He will by His very nature be consistent in His ways toward all men. He will, moreover, assuming the while that he has chosen one group of people to be His messengers, ask more of them than the common ruck. You must have noticed that, allowing for differences in externals and modes of expression, almost all religions have in common the vast majority of their beliefs, myths, and folk-tales. This, I ween, is by design. Surely they differ in the details, but as some sage or another once said, the devil is in the details.
Second, let us turn to Magic (or Magick; I do not want to confuse the prestidigitations of Houdini and David Copperfield with the practice of necromancy), as much loved by modern man as it was by his arboreal ancestors. It is Magick, or something very like it, that makes us pick up a penny on the street, turn the other way when a black cat miaows at us, buy lottery tickets, court a pretty girl, or vote. It is Magick that sells astrology columns, tickets to dreadful "horror" movies, and sustains the stock market.
The reason is not far to seek. Our forefathers to the nth generation past were at the mercy of forces they could neither understand nor control. Gradually, I suppose, they learned that the seasons tended to repeat themselves; that the squishy-fruit came in season just before the mammoths came from north-away; and the rains came whenever the wind blew from the East, and there happened to be clouds. But sometimes the rains did not come, and the squishy-fruits withered on the trees, and no mammoths came...Here I shall, in the finest tradition of authors before the beneficent copyright laws, smouch a theme from the blessed shade of Henry Mencken.
Let us assume that, in a time of drought in the Old Red Sandstone period, some enterprising fellow conceived the idea of whipping the lake with sticks to wake up the water-god and make him send rain. Let us further suppose that our enterprising chap was a protometeorologist, who had seen rain before, noted the clouds and the wind from the East, and calculated on success. Well - the rains came, and we had at once the first Magician. All he had to do now to set his reputation in stone was find the mammoths, and if - as may have happened - the mammoths came to the newly-freshened water holes (as they had done in the days of their longfathers), he could sit back, smoke his pipe in tranquillity and be counted a Sage. No doubt the tribesmen came to him for advice, now; being a true human, he was never unwilling to give it; nor was he averse to accepting offerings for his advice. Other tribes may have consulted him, too, for pay; we see here the beginnings of a priestly caste - specially if he took disciples, and taught them his arts, and warned them never to tell the common men how they knew what they knew. (This is probably the birth of politics - don't let the voters know how you are going to skin them. If he had sacrificed his mother-in-law to the water-god, politics would have preceded priesthood.)
Magick, then, came first; religion later. What these early folk thought of God, or gods, or if they thought of them at all, we do not and cannot know. They did not know how to write, and left us no records; it is useless, though enjoyable in the extreme, to indulge ourselves in conjecture on the subject. All we know for sure - and even that is suspect, for reasons which ought to be obvious to the cat - is that some form of polytheism was predominant by the time the first historian appeared on the scene, and began to lie about things. It well may be that the names of gods were originally names of different aspects, or functions, of a single god, or God; it may also be that they really did believe in oodles of gods (or that tribe A, under god A, whacked the bejeezus out of tribes B and C, with gods B and C, and adopted B and C as servants to A, and went on about their business. I am not that old.).
Frazer has given as good an explanation as any; let it go at that. Monotheism, then, shall be treated as following polytheism, and was not welcomed by the pagans, because to adopt monotheism would put a lot of priests out of work. Still later came ethical monotheism - a God who could not be bribed, who cared for His people, and demanded of them certain standards of behaviour. The old pagan gods were politicians to the ichor - they could be bribed, bought, propitiated; this ethical God, the God of the Jews (and of the Christians) was above such things. If He is treated by His followers to-day as a celestial butler, to be ordered about and kicked and cuffed when He does not deliver after prayer, the fault lies not with God but with the mallet-headedness of human beings.
Before leaving the subject of Magick (and apologising for the diversion above), I also admit that the Bible is and has been used by frauds of all stripes for the bamboozling of morons. That it is so abused has no more to do with its validity than the practice of astrology has to do with the existence of stars.
Finally - for this screed threatens to turn into a book, and if it is going to do that I shall run off and have it published, so you can buy a copy from Amazon at $32.95 - let me toss in a word or two about the Gospels. It rather begs the question to carp about the ineluctable fact that the Gospels were not written until Christianity was a going concern. There was no need for them until Christianity began to grow, and the original apostles and disciples began to die off. The Gospels were originally intended as teaching documents, aids to preachers, not for conversion of the heathen but for the edification of the faithful. Since each Gospel was intended for a different group - Mark for the Jerusalem Christians (with possible memoirs of Peter as their basis), Matthew for the partially Hellenized Jews in the lands about, Luke for the Gentiles (with the interesting possibility that Mary had something to do with it), and John, last of all, as a statement of theology. These Gospels, and the other, largely forgotten, gospels of Thomas, etc, came after Paul's letters to the various Gentile churches - we can give credit to Paul for being first, though I cannot escape thinking that the Gospels may have been intended to simmer Paul down just a tad bit.
No, I cannot say for sure why only the four gospels we have now were accepted as canonical; I have read, on a time, the gospel of Thomas, and find it basically a re-hashing of Mark, with a bit of Luke thrown in. Probably the non-canonical gospels added nothing to the four, were not written as well, and passed out of use. (There were as well several false gospels circulating for some hundreds of years - written by charlatans who wanted to get a piece of the action, or just set up in the church business for themselves. Copies of modern translations of them, mostly badly printed and exhibiting a dreadful lack of literacy, can be bought from advertisers in supermarket tabloids.)
As for the charge that the Gospels contradict themselves and are stiff with discrepancies - ask four or five eye-witnesses to anything to tell you, one by one and in private, what happened. I guarantee you that you will get as many versions of the event as you have witnesses, plus one.
You may wonder why, given that I am overwhelmed by cats, I do not adopt the ancient Egyptian religion. The Egyptians were clever enough to realize that a bunch of dressed stones piled up in a pyramid would not topple over; they realised that living along a river was better than living in the middle of a howling desert; and they recognised a superior life-form when they saw one, but their religion had too many gods to keep track of. Besides, cats are self-centred enough without being worshipped.
By the by - I have much more respect for an honest heretic or pagan than I have for an orthodox believer who has never questioned what he believes in.
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