Intuition, Belief and Lostness

by Ankur Betageri (October 2015)

A fact that never ceases to amaze me is how some of the most celebrated religious texts of the world, which claim to be the very word of God, borrow many of their central percepts, doctrines and ideas from the founding texts of anti-theism, atheism and deism! Many important verses of The New Testament[i] for example and the Seven Deadly Sins of the Christian church[ii] are either directly taken from, or at least inspired by, Lucretius’ The Nature of Things, the anti-theist, materialist poem which actively denounces belief in the gods and the supernatural.  more>>>


One Response

  1. This strikes me as simply bizarre.

    Yeshua of Nazareth, he who quotes the Psalms as he dies on the Cross, would not and could not have read Lucretius. It seems to me to be drawing a long bow to claim that the parable of the Sower is ‘borrowed’ from Lucretius (or to claim that in the first century AD – for a very good case can be made that the Gospels as we have them were complete by the end of the first century – one of the Gospel writers took it from Lucretius and put it in the mouth of Rabbi Yeshua?). By contrast, there is a LOT of the Old Testament – the Hebrew scriptures – underlying the NT. Perhaps *the* touchstone of Christian ethics – “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” is a verbatim quote from the Torah – the book of Leviticus. In any case, that one parable, told in each of the synoptic Gospels, is NOT by any means the most important or even ‘the main’ part of the NT. The most important part of the Gospels, taking up large amounts of space, is the account of *events* not of teachings – the Passion and the Resurrection. And I very much doubt that Jesus’ disciples – the Apostles – were particularly influenced by Lucretius, etc, either. The very idea is bizarre. The Gospels were in fact written and in circulation very, very early; before the end of the 1st century; and they were created within a Levantine Jewish, not a Roman, milieu, by persons who had been raised as observant Jews and whose first language was not Latin but Aramaic/ Syriac and whose sacred scripture was written in Hebrew. (Luke was a proselyte; and a Greek, not a Latin; which meant that he had studied the Hebrew faith and scriptures). Scholars have discovered that it is possible to ‘back-translate’ most of the sayings of Jesus into Aramaic, and that in Aramaic they flow better and are easier to remember.

    The New Testament was not written by persons steeped in Latin literature. (and it is not, in fact, poetry, strictly speaking; it comprises four biographies and a bunch of letters full of a/ theology that is being hammered out as the author goes along and b/ practical advice about personal conduct within the faith community). Yes, Saint Paul knew *something* of Greek thought. He quotes one or two lines from Greek poets when he is attempting to make a point to to pagan Greeks, or to believers who have come from a Greek background.

    But the fundamental thought-world of the Gospels is profoundly Hebraic. Indeed, the language itself very often makes most sense if one assumes that the authors are *thinking* either in Hebrew or Aramaic even if they are writing in Greek (there is even a theory that the Gospels that we have are *translations* from a Hebrew or Aramaic original). A couple of examples: when St Paul speaks of ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’ he is thinking in terms of the Hebrew alphabet in which the consonants are ‘bones’ and the vowel markings are the ‘breath’ (as well as thinking of the trisyllabic consonantal ‘roots’ of the Semitic languages); the metaphor is not fully comprehensible from a Greek or Latin point of view, whether one thinks in terms of words or how they are written; only from the POV of someone familiar with the way Hebrew people thought about their own script and their own language. When Mary is told that the power of the most high will overshadow her, what she is being told is that the Shekhinah, the cloud of the divine Glory, the divine Presence, will overshadow her as it overshadowed the Tabernacle in the wilderness during the Exodus; she will *be* for nine months the Holy of Holies. IF one wishes to understand the early Christian icons of Mary holding the infant Christ one should not look at pagan images of Isis with Horus; rather, one should think of the Hebrew/ Jewish festival of Simchat Torah, giving of the Word, and the rabbi dancing whilst he holds the Torah – the Word of G-d – in his arms. Miriam of Nazareth – a real flesh-and-blood first-century Jewish woman in an obscure village in Eretz Israel during the reigns of Augustus and then of Tiberias Caesar – *is* All Israel, presenting to the world the living Word of the living God.

    Yeshua did not quote pagan Latin poets on the Cross; he cried out verses from the Psalms.

    The verse in the Gospels that says, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ is a *direct verbatim quote* from the book of Leviticus…which is *ancient*.

    I would encourage the author to read Tom Cahill’s “The Gifts of the Jews” and David Bentley Hart, “The Beauty of the Infinite” (the chapter entitled “The Consolations of Tragedy, the Terrors of Easter’) and “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies”, the chapters entitled “A Glorious Sadness” and “The Death and Birth of Worlds”, before trying to force Christianity – which is born from a Jewish matrix – into a procrustean bed of pre-socratic philosophy.

    *The* single most consistent and massive source of concepts and texts in the Gospels and Epistles is…the TaNaKh. And the more one studies Judaism, the more one begins to see just how profoundly Jewish Jesus is, in all sorts of ways that are not necessarily immediately obvious or even ‘labelled’…they are taken for granted.

    I have a friend who teaches classes in comparative religion. One of her students, one year, had grown up in an observant Orthodox Jewish household and had never read the New Testament. My friend set the class the task of reading the Gospels and teasing out ‘Hebrew/ Jewish’ from ‘Gentile/ pagan’ elements.

    The Jewish girl went away and read the Gospels and dutifully tried to do the assignment. But at a certain point she came to my friend and said, “But there is nothing here that is NOT Jewish!”

    The Resurrection stories do not recount mystical intuitions of the meaning of things. The Gospel witnesses proclaim at the tops of their voices that a very specific individual who was killed and dead – dead and *buried* – was, shatteringly, NOT dead *now*. That he was not a ghost, nor a dream or a vision, but – as Hart puts it – ‘light and flesh and form’, eating and drinking with his disciples – with multiple witnesses – after he had risen from the dead. “A ghost hath not flesh and bones as you see I have”.

    One might add that writers such as Augustine, steeped in the classics, are much more struck by the *dissimilarity* – both in content and style – between the Bible (both OT and NT) and the pagan literature with which they were thoroughly familiar.

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