Religion & Spirituality

The Race is Run: An Indictment of Creedal Christianity

By

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Synopsis

This work demonstrates that the core teachings of the major denominations of Christianity such as the Virgin Conception/Birth, the Incarnation and the Trinity are not based on either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament but rather are drawn from the Hellenist-Latin theologies and philosophies of the Church Fathers as expressed in the Christian Creeds.

Ignorance of Israelite thought, concepts, cultural norms and literary styles, together with the Fathers’ existing predilections, facilitated the creation of the cult-like figure “Jesus Christ” fashioned according to their image and their values.

This work also demonstrates that the Christian teaching of Supersessionism contributed to the centuries of Jewish persecution which ultimately led to the Holocaust. Responsibility for this descent into the abyss must be attributed in large measure to a multi-generational failure by those many teachers who did not distinguish between the various categories of persons designated "Jew" in the New Testament.

In addition, the work challenges the concept of Immortal Souls, soul destinations called Heaven and Hell, and re-contextualises many other teachings and concepts such as Sin, Salvation, Atonement, Faith, Works, Justification and Grace.

The Context

Setting the Scene

The Biblical Narrative

The House of Jacob/Israel consisted of twelve tribes, descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, who was renamed Israel (Genesis 35:10).

These tribes were allotted various homelands in Canaan after the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the Canaanites. (The males of the tribe of Levi were set apart for priestly and administrative duties so they and their families were distributed amongst the other tribes.)

After the allocation of tribal lands, the Israelites lived in a type of confederate system and, at times of crisis, were governed by military/judicial leaders known as “Judges”, some of the most notable of whom were Deborah, Samson and Samuel. Following a period of extreme threats from non-Israelite neighbours, Samuel, the last Judge of Israel, was forced to “anoint” Saul of the tribe of Benjamin as the first King of Israel.  

It is unnecessary for our purposes to recount the long and complicated story of how and why Saul was overthrown by David of the tribe of Judah, or the events of David’s reign, so we will content ourselves by noting that the twelve tribes were united under David’s kingship and that they lived in peace and prosperity during the reign of his son Solomon who built the First Temple in the capital Jerusalem. 

After the death of Solomon, the Kingdom fractured into two sections. The ten northern tribes became known as the northern House of Israel while the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin (with its requisite number of Levites), became known as the southern House of Judah. The territory of Judah included the city of Jerusalem which had been previously captured by David from the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe. 

Just to add to the complexity, the ten northern tribes were known specifically as the “House of Israel”, but when general reference is made to the collective of the twelve tribes, they are also known as the “House of Israel”. For example, when Jesus referred to the “House of Israel”, he intended to embrace the twelve tribes because he appointed twelve disciples as a representative number.

Centuries before Jesus was born, however, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had both been defeated in war and some of their populations deported to the East: Israel by the Assyrians circa 720 BC:

In the ninth year of the reign of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried away the Israelites to Assyria, where he settled them in Halah, in Gozan by the Habor River, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6 NIV).

and Judah by the Babylonians circa 586 BC:

But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house (the Temple of Solomon) and carried away the people to Babylonia (Ezra 5:12 ESV).

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah came to an end with these conquests and deportations but that did not serve to quell the people’s yearning for a restored monarchy ruled by a king of Davidic descent. 

Whilst it can be difficult to grasp Israelite tribal particularities, the effort will be well rewarded in the long run as we will encounter references to these different groups in the New Testament. If we keep in mind the following benchmark provided by Paul, it may help to dispel the confusion. Even though he was born in a Diaspora community outside the land of Judea, Paul described his ancestry in three different ways. Let us proceed, then, from the general to the particular:

As a member of the “people of Israel”. That is, in a general sense, he belonged to the twelve-tribed House of Jacob/Israel. 

As a “Jew”. That is, in a more specific sense, he not only belonged to the two-tribed southern House of Judah but also followed the customs and practices of the Judeans who worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem. 

As a “Benjamite”. That is, in the particular sense, he belonged to one of the two tribes which originally comprised the House of Judah. 

Note that all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews.


Centres of Israelite life in the 1st Century AD 

Although readers may find it tedious, we must take a necessarily brief and incomplete journey through the geography and demography of the ancient Near East if a full understanding of some vital aspects of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament is desired.

In addition to the people of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin then living in the land of Israel, there were also many Jewish communities scattered around the shores of the Mediterranean. By far the largest groups, however, lived beyond the sway of Rome in various locations controlled by client kings of the Parthian Empire, the successor of the previous Achaemenid (Persian) and Seleucid dynasties.

According to Pliny the Elder, the Parthian empire consisted of 18 kingdoms (or satrapies), 11 of which were called the upper kingdoms, while 7 were called the lower kingdoms, meaning that they were located on the plains of Mesopotamia. The centre of the lower kingdoms was ancient Babylonia. 

We will concern ourselves with the three Parthian satrapies of Media, Elam and Babylonia in which were situated the three great cities of the former Persian period, known to contemporary Greeks and Jews as Ecbatana, Shushan, and Babylon.

Ecbatana in Media

The modern city of Hamadan is located in North-West Iran and is identified with ancient Ecbatana (Biblical Achmetha), capital of Media Magna. According to the Book of Ezra, an edict by the Persian King Cyrus to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem was discovered in the fortress of Ecbatana during the reign of Darius who decreed that the edict be honoured. This Cyrus Edict (see Ezra 6:1-12) was found in Ecbatana in 1879. 

Ecbatana had been the summer residence of Persian royalty and, according to Josephus, also the burial place of the kings of “Media, of Persia, and of Parthia”. Also in Ecbatana is a little mausoleum, supposedly containing the remains of the biblical figures Esther and Mordecai.

The detailed accounts of two celebrated twelfth-century Jewish tourists—Benjamin of Tudela and Petahiah of Regensburg—are among the most crucial sources of geographic and demographic information about ancient Jewish communities of the Persian and Parthian periods. 

Benjamin of Tudela reported that by the middle of the 12th Century AD, the descendants of the Jewish populations of various towns in ancient Media, such as Hamadan, Fars and Isfahan, numbered into the many tens of thousands. In addition to these Jewish communities of Media were also thousands of Israelites who had been deported to “Halah, in Gozan by the Habor River, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6) circa 720 BC by the Assyrian Sargon II after his capture of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Prior to the discovery of the Khorsabad Annals of Sargon in 1847, most historians had regarded the following biblical story of this Israelite deportation as mythical:

In the ninth year of the reign of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried away the Israelites to Assyria, where he settled them in Halah, in Gozan by the Habor River, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6 NIV).

Josephus, a contemporary of both Peter and Paul, confirmed that these ten tribes were still an identifiable group in his own time, dwelling beyond the Euphrates and not subject to the Romans:

Wherefore there are but two tribes (the Jews) in Europe and Asia subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes (Israelites) are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers. (Footnote in Book)

Shushan in Elam

The ancient city of Shushan (Susa) was the capital of Elam. It lay in the northern portion of the modern province of Khuzistan in the South-West corner of Iran. The city proper lay to the North-East of the head of the Persian Gulf. We find reference to Shushan in the biblical books of Daniel, Esther and Nehemiah:

In my vision I saw myself in the palace of Shushan in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal (Daniel 8:2 NIV).
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him (Esther 1:1-4 KJV).
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace…(Nehemiah 1:1 KJV).

Our 12th Century Spanish globetrotter, Benjamin of Tudela, gave an account of his visit to Shushan and the reputed place of the tomb of Daniel the prophet:

The River Tigris divides the city, and the bridge connects the two parts. On one side, where the Jews (7,000) dwell, is the sepulchre of Daniel. (Footnote in Book) 

Babylon in Babylonia

Although we can discern a measure of status enjoyed at certain times by the Jewish communities scattered throughout the Persian and later Parthian Empire, such as those in Media and Elam, those communities never attained the status, wealth, power and influence possessed by the 1st Century descendants of the Jewish elite class of royals and nobles who had been deported to Babylon after the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple of Solomon by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.

The wealth and influence of Babylonian Jewry 

The head of the Jewish community of Babylon—who was officially recognized by the Persian authorities—was called Resh Galusa in Aramaic, which means Rosh Galut in Hebrew, and Head of the Diaspora in English. The Jewish community in Babylon was the “mother” of the world Diaspora.

Both Philo and Josephus inform us that, in the apostolic age, Babylonian Jews were very numerous and very wealthy and every year sent large amounts of silver and gold to the Temple in Jerusalem, whereas Jews were comparatively few in Rome, about eight thousand according to Josephus.

Hillel the Elder

Hillel the Elder, one of the Jewish elite of Babylonia, re-located to Jerusalem during the reign of Herod the Great, became prominent circa 30 BC, and died circa 10 BC. Hillel was the renowned sage and scholar who founded the school named after him, was head of the Great Sanhedrin and, according to Rabbinic tradition, the ancestor of the patriarchs who headed Palestinian Judaism till about the 5th Century AD.  

High Priest Hananel

Herod the Great was sole ruler of the Roman province of Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC. His first appointment to the position of High Priest in Jerusalem was Hananel, a Jew from Babylonia. (Only two years later, Hananel was deposed as High Priest by Herod at the behest of the Roman Triumvir, Marc Antony.)

Herod the Great

So influential were those Babylonians who could claim royal descent from King David that Herod himself, although an Idumean by birth, tried to insinuate himself into this royal Babylonian stock in order to increase his honour status. It was conventional at this time for any claimant to legitimate power in Israel to allege Davidic lineage, as is evident by the entire New Testament’s insistence on Jesus being a descendant of David “according to the flesh”.

Connections

A constant flow of correspondence passed back and forth between the Jerusalem establishment and the heads of Babylonian Jewry right up until the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD: 

For example, Gamaliel I, a ‘teacher of the law,’ a Pharisee, and member of the council of the Temple (Acts 5:34) sent letters to Jews in other parts of the world, including specifically Babylonia, concerning tithing regulations and intercalations of the calendar, as did R. Johanan ben Zakai and R. Simeon ben Gamaliel afterwards. They addressed themselves to ‘our brethren in the Exile of Babylonia’ as well as to those in Media and elsewhere…Thus through pilgrimages, through correspondence on matters of law and doctrine, and through exerting authority over the designation of the sacred days (intercalation of the calendar), as well as through collections of Temple funds, frequent and normal relations were maintained between Jerusalem and the diaspora, including Babylonia, and the influence of Palestine was exerted throughout the golah (diaspora). (Footnotes)

It is important for our purposes to note here that the centre of the lower Parthian satrapies was Babylonia, which was located on the plains of Mesopotamia. Thus the Babylonian Jews were included among the Mesopotamian Jews whom Peter addressed specifically at Pentecost (Acts 2:9). 

From all the foregoing we can determine that, in addition to the many Jewish communities scattered around the shores of the Mediterranean and under the control of the Roman Empire, there were also many Jews and Israelites living beyond the sway of Rome in the various locations previously mentioned. These particulars become important when the missions of the Apostles Peter and Paul are addressed in Part IX: The Papacy.


About the author

Vynette has a university level background in the Classics, Ancient History and Ancient Semitic Languages. This work is the culmination of intensive investigation into the documents of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament utilising knowledge gained in these fields and associated disciplines. view profile

Published on July 15, 2020

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200000 words

Genre: Religion & Spirituality

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