A Voice of Reason (Dialogues with God)
One

Dear God ...

Yes.

... oh!

What?

Well ... I wasn't really expecting you to reply.

Well I have.

Yes ... I see.

So ... ?

Well ... I ... urmmn ... I have a few questions. I wondered whether we might chat?

Sure, what's on your mind.

Well ... let me see. Crikey, now we're talking, my minds gone blank.

Do you mind if we start with something really basic while I sort myself out?

Take your time, we have awhile.

Ok then. Well I suppose the first question has been answered – you exist.

I suppose so. It all depends how you would define exist. I am here for you but as you can probably see, not actually anything you can reach out and touch.

Well actually I turned the lights out, so I can't see a damn thing. Thought it might make communication easier ...

Ha ha ... well, you might be right, nice idea. But if you turned on the lights would you see me?

I doubt it ... so where are you?

You are missing the point. Do not worry so much about where I am, just that I am. We will come to the where later, I suspect.

Okay, Sorry.

Don't apologise.

Well .. I don't want to ... like offend you. I have read some bad things ...

Have you now?

Yes .. floods, plagues, blighting whole civilisations from the face of the earth. That sort of thing.

Oh dear. The impressionable human mind. You don't want to believe everything you read, you know!

Well ... I didn't really believe them, for what it's worth. But then I didn't really think I would be sitting here talking to you! It has kind of thrown me a little.

Well here we are. Take a breather. I would lead, I can see where you're heading with this, but it is your conversation. So take your time.

Ok. So I am talking to god. You're here ... I know that because I am now talking to you.

As a matter of fact. We have been talking all your life.

We have?

Yes. You have just never realised.

Okay ... ?

As an example. Do you remember that time you nearly killed yourself from smoking?

No ... ?

Every night you would wake up gasping for breath, desperately hanging onto life and then the next morning pull on your dressing gown and immediately light-up.

Urmmn ... yes ... crikey, I had almost forgotten!

Do you remember that night when you really thought you would die and wept through to the following morning, pleading desperately for the strength to stop smoking. Do you remember that?

... yes

What did you do?

I chose to live.

You did. Who do you think gave you that strength?

Oh my god!

Exactly.

And that is just one example. We talk all the while. You either do not listen or do not realise.

Wow, this is amazing. Can I ask you something else then?

Fire away?

Did you create mankind?

Did I create mankind .. ?

That's kind of a tough question. What made you think that?

Well. I was taught at school that god created Adam and then Eve and that they embraced original sin by eating the apple.

Ha ha ha - brilliant ... I am amazed you guys still think that could be true.

Well ... I didn't. But like I said, my whole point of view has been thrown a little.

... those stories were written thousands of years ago? What possesses you to think they are factual?

Well ... I guess because that is what we have always been taught!

So is that it? You read that I created man and therefore believe I created man?

No ... Anyway, isn't it me whose supposed to be asking the questions?

That was brave of you!

Sorry ...

No ... you are right. Continue.

Okay. You have to admit, the human body is a pretty clever design?

Is it?

Well yes. It is amazing ...

It sure is. Designed though? You ever swallowed a chicken bone?

No?

Good.

Why .. ?

Well if you had, chances are you wouldn't be here right now.

Oh ..

If this is such a brilliant design, how come you breath and consume food down the same single tube? Do you know how many humans have died because of this single 'design' flaw?

Uh .. no ... I hadn't really thought of it like that?

Guess you didn't.

Well, I didn't really think we were designed but it is another one of those things we are taught.

Jeez ... I would have a word with whoever does the teaching.

Well actually I went to a Catholic school ... But you have to admit, we could be forgiven for thinking we are very well designed.

You could. Your existence is almost a miracle. So do you think you were designed?

Well ... popular science seems to think we have evolved over millions ... or even over hundreds of millions of years.

And ... ?

Well ... it seems the most likely, but I really struggle imagining the starting point of a cell and ending here ...

So what's the problem then?

Well I can go with evolving from primates and us now walking upright. But all life starting as a cell and everything on this planet derived from that ... it's just mind blowing!

It is, kind of ...

For instance the human eye. What makes something that cannot see craft something like the human eye?

I see ...

I just find that really hard to understand.

I see ...

It feels like believing evolution requires just about the same leap of faith that I would need for religion.

I see ...

Although it seems more probable than religion, I think?

You know what your problem is don't you?

... ? no ?

You left your sense of humour behind when you came for a chat!

You know what your other problem is?

... no ?

Perspective.

Why?

Okay. What was the last major event in world history that springs to your mind?

urrmnn ... England beating Germany 5-1?

Mmmmmnn – think bigger, think major world wide event?

Oh .. you mean like 9/11

Well no, but that will do. How long ago was that?

Seven years?

Seven years ... and then, what is the very first thing you remember?

What ever?

Yes, ever!

Urmmmnn ... I think it was walking in the garden with my uncle ... maybe it was my dad. Think I was about four. I can remember the feel of the mud beneath my feet, the feel of his cotton shirt, the texture of his braces and I think, the smell of his aftershave ..

Okay, okay. So we have an early memory. So how long ago was that?

About thirty six years I would guess.

Thirty six years?

Yup, I am forty, so that would be right.

Thirty six years, I guess a lot has happened in that time?

You sure are right there!

Okay then. What would you say was the major event of the last century?

Well there were loads ... I guess the two wars, more so the second because of how it subsequently impacted western civilisations.

Were you alive for any of these wars?

No ..

Do you know anyone that was?

Well my dad was born just before but really only has memories as a child of life after the war. Mother was born during the war. My granddad was born in 1897 and ended up fighting in and surviving both wars.

Now that's interesting. Bet there were loads of stories?

Yes there were ...

Can you think of any other major events of the 20th century?

Well medical science I guess. One hundred years ago there was so little known that it seems incredible that we know now, what we do.

You are right there. That is quite a lot to happen in just one hundred years. Can you think of something that happened two hundred years ago?

Urmnn ... well I guess Darwin's theory of natural selection, it kind of threads in with what we were talking about earlier.

It is what we are talking about now.

Is it?

Yes! I am trying to answer your question and explain to you how evolution works, so stay with me.

Okay ...

I will save myself some time and you some precious brain cells ...

A lot happened in the 19th century although we would probably have to agree that Darwin was the most significant. Did you know that it was about this time that western scholars really started to investigate the Bible historically, rather than as the literal word of god!

... urmmn well I did, but I kinda didn't think it appropriate to mention ...

Ha ha .. you're funny. You think I would take offence?

Well yes.

You have me all wrong.

Sorry, I didn't mean ...

Don't apologise.

Did you know that just two hundred years ago popular belief held that the earth was less than 7,000 years old and that fossils were the remnants of the flood that Noah survived. Pretty amazing huh?

Yes ..

Are you interested in the Bible?

Of course!

We should talk about it sometime.

Okay.

But not now, I think evolution is enough to be getting on with ...

You are probably right.

I am. So do you think two hundred years is a long time?

It is, I guess when you compare it to the lifespan of your average human.

Exactly ... at last we are starting to get there. So what about two thousand years, how long ago does that seem to you?

Well of course it is a huge amount of time.

And can you imagine all that has happened in that time? Of all the lives, the generations of living and surviving. Imagine all that has happened to you in forty years, and think about that repeated in every life, through every generation, generation over generation for two thousand years ...

It is difficult, it almost defies comprehension ...

It sure does. Do you think that you could imagine how life played out two thousand years ago?

Well we have quite a lot of information about that time ...

Think! Can you imagine what life was like two thousand years ago?

Hard! I would say.

You're right. Women had at least five children just to maintain population levels, mouth ulcers were a common cause of death and soap was almost two thousand years away from being invented!

Wow!

So in two thousand years has much changed?

Of course ... loads.

So how long would it take you to count to two thousand?

What?

If you started counting to two thousand, how long would it take?

Well ... I guess if one count was per second it would take me about ... urmmn well. There is 300 seconds in five minutes ... I guess that must be ... just over thirty minutes?

Well actually about thirty four minutes ... what about if you counted to one million?

A million!?

Yes!

Crikey .. I would be counting for hours!

Hours! More like days! I will make it easy as I can see I am losing you. We are counting to one million. There are 86,400 seconds in a single day and 604,800 seconds in a week. That means you would be counting for eleven days, thirteen hours and forty six minutes. Give or take a few seconds.

Wow! So what you're saying is that we have difficulty imagining what happened in the history of mankind just thirty four minutes ago, when the actual history of mankind is actually almost twelve days old!?

no, No, NO! Jeez, you humans. It is no wonder you guys struggle with the concept of evolution and love the comfort of religions, it allows you to not think!

I am really sorry, I didn't mean to offend.

Pay attention then!

But god you don't understand!

I don't understand?!

Yes. Without any intended disrespect, I didn't really think I was going to be actually talking to you. Now that I am, I find myself sitting here galloping through the finer points of evolution, and it is you doing the explaining. This just isn't what I was expecting.

I see ... I get your point ...

Sorry.

Stop apologising.

Urmmnn .. okay.

So. You get that what mankind knows about the history of mankind starts to trail off about the time Jesus was born?

Jesus ... !?

Look ... stay with me. We will get to Jesus some other time, concentrate.

Okay.

You can imagine everything that happened in the last two thousand years as a timespan of thirty four minutes.

Yes.

Ok, and then you can compare that thirty four minutes with a timespan of eleven days and thirteen hours, for the sake of ease.

Urrmnn ...

... eleven days and thirteen hours being our equivalent of one million years?

Oh yeah or course ...

So what strikes you when considering thirty four minutes against eleven days and thirteen hours?

That there is a lot of time between two thousand years and one million?

Correct, you're getting there.

Phew!

So how long do you think there has been life on earth?

Two years!

You're funny. But you have the right idea. Using our analogy, there has been life on earth for roughly 111 years. As you're only human we will round that down to an easy 100 years.

Okay, I can handle that.

That's good then. So life on earth started?

100 years ago

.. and Jesus was born?

Thirty four minutes ago.

That's good. Now we are getting somewhere. Now can you tell me what evolution actually is?

Urmmmn isn't it the ... urmmn isn't it the evolution of a species through survival of the fittest?

Ha ha ha ... oh deary me. Evolution is defined as evolution! Try Again.

... urrmmn ... isn't it the progression of a species to better cope with the environment through the strongest surviving?

... closer. Evolution is simply a species changing from one simple form to one very slightly more complex, continuously repeated. The complex form then becomes the standard and changes over time to something more complex.

That simple?

That simple. So what is natural selection?

The propagation of the complex form through its ability to survive, to become the standard.

Hoorah, now you really are starting to work those brain cells. Spot on!

Cool, cheers.

So are you still having problems imagining your human eye?

Urmmn ...

Lets take it from the beginning. We start with a bunch of cells 100 years ago. All they do is constantly copy themselves into new cells and then die. This copying process involves copying across the DNA, which I hope we both know is the rulebook these cells use for creating each other.

This is all getting a bit deep, DNA?

Deep? This is simple. Just because you have programmed yourself to be ignorant, does not mean you will not comprehend if you try. You know that DNA is the build instruction for any organism?

Sorry ... yes.

Okay. Did you know that cells survive by making new copies of themselves and in that process they copy the whole DNA to this new cell so it can grow and in turn copy itself?

Well I guess I did know, hadn't really thought about it like that!

Really ... what were you thinking?

About surviving I guess?

There we go, you're playing an active part in evolution yourself. Well done. Now back to these cells.

... okay

The copying of DNA is a very efficient process. Mistakes are very rarely made in the copy process but occasionally and inevitably mistakes are made. Got that?

... okay

Now imagine these cells wherever they may be in their basic form. Probably part of an organism made up of many different types of cells, sitting either on the surface of the earth or beneath the oceans. The important point is that these organisms have no current ability to see .. ?

Yup, got that.

These cells will in-turn be impacted by their environment and what element do you think every organism and its cells have to contend with every day?

Predators?

Possibly. But that's not the point when discussing the evolution of your eye? What does your eye do very efficiently?

See ... pass images to my brain?

And how do you think it does that?

Urrmmmn ... be decoding light rays?

Hoorah ... top of the class. So what are these cells being confronted with every day?

Light?

Exactly. And say for instance, one day the cells in our organism with no ability to see are happily sitting on the surface of the earth and busy copying themselves, when a mistake is made in the DNA copy of a single cell. But this new version of the DNA allows the new cell to absorb light? Absorption of this light actually allows this cells to function better and this function is now part of the cells DNA, which is busily copied over and over. Got that?

Think so ... ?

So before long all these hereditary cells in the organism can absorb light. And then at some time in the future when cells absorbing light is the standard in these organisms another error in the coping of the DNA is made in a cell in one of the organisms. This doesn't allow better absorption of light, but this new cell takes the absorbed light and can channel specific light rays.

Over time errors in DNA copying mean that cells get better at absorbing light and associated cells better detect the difference between light rays. So much so that the host organism can make out shapes. Which in turn does help it to avoid predators. Not like you or I, but it has a better chance of surviving than the organism that has not developed cells that react to light.

Wow ... I think I am getting there.

Its cool huh?

Sure is. Is that it?

Of course not. And this analogy is taking hugely bigger steps than would happen in reality. But you can imagine the evolution of your eye?

I think so. It would take a huge amount of time then for anything like our eye to develop?

And ... ?

Well I was just thinking ... could it have evolved like that ... you know from that to the human eye in such a short time? Wouldn't it have needed a helping hand?

You mean like divine intervention?

Well god, now you come to mention it ...

Look! We are talking evolution, small simple steps over hundreds and hundreds of millions of years. Capiche?

I think so ...

You're not certain! Okay. Life started on earth about 100 years ago in our analogy, yes?

Yes.

You remember why we are using the analogy .. ?

Because the human brain finds it difficult to imagine time frames much greater than our own lifespan?

Correct!

In reality, 100 years ago is 3.5 billion years ago. But we are using seconds here to equate as years, which is why 2000 years only takes 34 minutes. 34 minutes equates to the birth of Jesus and 100 years is the beginning of life on earth. Yes?

Yes, I am with you?

Good.

Do you know how long life had been evolving on earth before evolution branched off to create our lineage, your human ancestors?

What using our analogy?

Yes, using the analogy!

Fifty years?

Nope?

Seventy five years?

Nope, keep going higher!

Eighty seven?

Keep going ...

Ninety three?

Nope ..

Lower?

Nope .. higher.

Ninety six?

Nope

I give in ... you tell me ..

Really?

Yes, really!

In the hundred year history of life on earth evolution had been busy for ninety nine years and forty two weeks before it branched out towards what would eventually be known as human. Which of course gave it an adequate amount of time with which to come up with all the components, in a roughly ready state that is, that now constitute your human form! Which would include limbs, eyes, intestines, fingers, the liver, kidneys, toes and lots, and lots of hair

Wow! So man has only been about for ten weeks?

Yup. It is actually a little less, more like nine weeks, six days, ten hours and forty minutes ... roughly speaking that is.

Shit!

I know. Pretty amazing huh?

... it is hard to comprehend.

Of course it is ....

God ...

Yes?

I still don't understand why YOU are telling me this?

Why?

Well, isn't it a little against your own interests?

Really, who says so?

Well religions for a start. They have a number of long standing publications that seem to indicate this whole evolution thing might not be your thing!

They do, do they?

Yes ... in fact I have one here.

You do?

Yes ... the Bible.

The Bible, so who do you think wrote that?

Well ... you allegedly.

Ha ha ha ... very funny, you do have a wonderful knack for the sublime.

But can I talk to you about it, it is very important.

Can't see why not my friend, but another time aye?

Okay.

Adious for now then.

'Amen'

Very funny.

www.johniebg.net
Two

Dear God

There really is no need to be that formal you know ...

You're here ... !

Of course I am.

I was beginning to think that the other day was maybe like a dream?

Really?

Yes ...

And was it?

I don't think so, we are here talking again.

We are. Which means?

That I am either dreaming, this is real or I am on a verge of a mental breakdown ...

Ha ha ... and which do you think is the most likely?

Well, I don't tend to remember dreams but remember all of our last conversation, so dreams are ruled out.

And ...

Mental breakdown is a possibility, life really is a bitch sometimes you know! But I kind of feel that I am just about hanging onto sanity.

Possibly ...

So I guess this must be real?

I am glad we sorted that out. What's on your mind my friend?

Well, since we last spoke I have been thinking quite a lot.

That makes a nice change ... how is that working for you?

Well ... I have been reading my Bible quite a lot more ...

Oh dear ... things were looking so promising!

What do you mean?

It doesn't matter ... so what have you learned from your Bible?

Well ... this is my point. Now that I am actually reading the Bible, it all seems a little confusing?

No kidding!

You are not taking me seriously!

Oh I am .. trust me.

Okay then ...

So what's confusing you?

Well for a start, from our conversations you seem fairly benign and dare I say, pretty secular?

What's a secular?

Oh .. you don't know?

Would I ask .. ?

... it's kind of like a world view. A view that sees everything without religion's blinkers?

Religions are blinkered ?

Urrmnnn ... well yes that is the thought. One religion sees the world from its own perspective, while another religion will see it from another. A secular view sees everything for what it is ...

Very interesting.

Why?

That this word secular even happens to be in your vocabulary for a start.

I don't understand?

Well surely, if religion is a product of god's intentions you would imagine that religion would be considered secular by its very nature!

Ummn ... that's a very good point!

I have obviously been slacking!

You obviously have ...

Obviously ... now continue.

I have forgotten where we were ?

You were telling me how kind and caring I am, and that I apparently have a surprisingly global view of all things ...

Right ...

So go on ... the confusing Bible ?

Oh yes! Well ... the Old Testament makes for pretty desperate reading. I am not really sure how to put this ... it's kind of difficult to verbalise ...

Why don't you just spit it out and we will worry about the semantics later ...

Okay then ... well, it seems like, well it just seems like you spent the whole of the Old Testament beating up on Jews ... and they were the only ones worshipping you.

INFIDEL! I command the ravages of the worlds plagues be visited upon your mortal flesh, that the predators of this earth hunt down your kin and their kin, and their kin after that and of those that survive, may Satan tempt them towards the fires of damnation ...

... !?

...

... ??

You there?

Yes God, I am truly sorry, I meant no offence and beg your forgiveness ...

Get up!

What?

GET UP!

Sorry ...

For the last time stop apologising!

You can hardly blame me!

I was joking ... !

Well it wasn't funny!

Yes it was ... it has been a long time since a human hit the deck so fast ...

.. !! you're mean!

I suppose so, a little bit ...

So you didn't visit predators upon my kin?

Nope.

... so my mum is still happily painting landscapes?

Sure is!

And my dad reading Yachting monthly?

Well actually he is busy coming to terms with computer technology, joysticks and flight simulators.

Really?

Yup ..

Crikey, I should visit them more often.

Guess you should. So where were we ...

Well ... urrmnn .... beating up on Jews?

Oh yes. It looks like the Jews have had a pretty hard time of it, don't you think?

I would say so ...

Do you know who wrote the Old Testament my friend?

Urrrmnn ... you?

Okay! We have a problem.

What do you mean?

You really think I sat down and penned the bible?

Well yes, that is kind of the popular thought ..

You mean mankind has been invested with reasoning, which I might add is very unique in the whole evolutionary scheme of things, and the best you can come up with – is that something written over 2000 years ago must have been written by a supernatural being?

Well not you specifically maybe ... but by men commanded by your will!

Commanded by my will! You're kidding right? If you don't start thinking, and I mean real soon, plagues might start becoming a reality!

God!!?

No I am serious ...

I am really sorry ..

Well start thinking then!

Well ... you would have to admit, this is all just a little hard to comprehend!

Is it?

Well yes ...

Am I going to have to spell this out, as well?

I ... think so

Do you know what amazes me about humans?

What's that?

Six million years of human evolution, 2000 years of oppressive religious doctrine and you are still looking to the faeries for answers when they are staring right back at you from every page of that damn book!

... !??

Well think about it! What do you know about life 2000 years ago?

... it was hard?

You are right! And how hard?

Very ... women really were seen as conduits for the propagation of the species, five children were the minimum number to maintain population levels, and childbirth often meant the death of the mother ...

Don't stop ...

There was also no soap, no vaccinations, and bacteria would only be discovered 19 centuries later with the invention of the microscope. Which meant that at least half of all children born would be dead by the time they were ten and minor ailments in today's terms were common causes of their deaths.

You have been paying attention ...

... I thought it might be wise.

Mmmnnnn ... so, life 2000 years ago was ...

Hard!

So ...

Yes god ... ?

What do you think was the cause of this hardship?

In hindsight, it was just mankind's battle to survive with little actual knowledge of the world about them.

And what do you think it was like 2500 years ago?

The same ... even harder?

And in the absence of any knowledge of this world, what do you think the Jewish forefathers did?

Invent stories that explained this hard life?

Yes ...

.. and because they had no control over the world around them, they imagined it must be at the will of some supernatural force ... ?

Go on ...

So they came up with the idea of a god ... ?

There you go! How difficult was that?

Wow! I never thought of it like that .. !

Guess you didn't! So is that it?

I think so .. ?

You sure .. ?

What have I missed .. ?

Imagine yourself a male in this world 2500 years ago. You are fifteen. How long have you been a working adult?

Urrmnn .. crikey ... I don't suppose they had higher education in those days ...

Nope ...

So they would have been working at least two years?

And hard with it, usually following in the fathers footsteps. By the time you were fifteen you would probably be a skilled tradesman with 2-3 years experience, probably a wife and at least one child.

Wow!

How old do you think the wife would be ?

Guess she didn't get to collage either? Fifteen as well?

The minimum age for marriage was twelve, but it would probably be dependant, but not necessarily based on whether she had hit puberty!

Bloody hell! It's hard to take in ...

So imagine this male at thirty. Wife number one died when she was nineteen giving birth to their fifth child and he has had three by his second wife who is currently seventeen.

He must have been exhausted!

That's not the half of it!

No .. ?

Of his eight children only three have survived over the age of five and one of the three has reached the ripe old age of ten!

Hell ... !

So with these three children and second wife, what do you imagine his overriding emotion is?

... that's a tough one to drop on me. I would guess he would be devastated, but grateful that three had actually survived!

Actually death was an everyday occurrence! One dead wife and five dead children by the time you are thirty and he is grateful! Says a lot about how difficult it was, don't you think!

It's hard to comprehend.

Sure is. So how do you think our male is faring at the ripe old age of forty five?

Urrmmn .. Third wife, fourteen children, seven surviving?

And the male?

I would say looking forward to his pension ...

I would say probably dead at least two years. By the time he reached forty his body would have been so ravaged from work and scraping enough food to feed hungry mouths, and from disease he would die for no better reason than having worn out this body ...

Kind of takes the breath from you ...

So think about the stories of the Old testament now ...

Okay ...

And .. ?

What .. ?

What do they tell you?

That they detail the hardship of life in that time .. ?

And ...

That they offer some explanation for that hardship?

Go on . .. ?

... urrmmn that's it I think.

Really?

Well yes ...

So how do you factor in the human emotion of hope ?

Hope?

Yes ... you are not telling me that hope is not a key concept of your perception of life, are you?

Well, I ...

My friend, I sometimes wonder!!

What do you mean?

You really don't get it do you?

Well .. no.

If the Old Testaments details the hardship of life, what does it promise?

Life after death?

Nope, I think you will find that was popularised by Jesus.

Really?

Well Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, so he would have been preaching his version of the Jewish doctrine, but Jesus was not an orthodox Jewish rabbi. So his concept of life after death was somewhat at odds with the traditional thoughts.

Jesus was Jewish?

Of course, What? Surely you didn't think he was English?

Well no ... but I didn't think Christians liked Jews, so I kinda thought ...

Oh the ironies of religion ... don't you worry yourself about Jesus right now, we will come to him in due course.

Okay.

So ... back to hope.

Right ...

What do you think kept people going?

Hungry mouths and a desire to live?

You're right ... but civilisations need more than that ... they need some mechanism to believe that it will be better for their children, that future times will not be so hard ... they need hope!

You mean salvation?

I suppose salvation is hope by another name.

This is amazing ... !

Is it .. ?

Totally!

So how do you think hope was manifested as a Jewish salvation my friend?

Urmmn ... I don't really know. I would have said that it was life after death, but you shouted at me last time!

I did ... So what salvation might the oppressed, struggling Jews have in mind?

I don't know?

What does the Old testament say?

Well typically it has figures like Moses: great men, warriors that lead the Jews from oppression?

And ..

Well ... are we talking about salvation through the Jewish Messiah?

We are ...

My spine is tingling ?

That's probably too much information.

No .. I mean like this has all been like some dark void before, a void that you are told to believe but nobody wants you to understand ... just to believe. And now I am standing here, learning all this, and it is like, like, it's like you that's teaching me!

You're standing?

What?

Why are you standing?

I wanted to be nearer you.

Oh for heavens sake, sit down and shut up!

Oh ...

Look. If you're going to start acting stupid and heaven forbid start worshipping me I am afraid you're going to spend the rest of your days on your knees praying to a patch of wallpaper, or even worse, the back of a wooden pew!

.. ??!?

Got that ... ?

Well I ...

Lets get on ...

Okay ...

Do you know what the Jewish messiah was meant to do for the Jews?

Wasn't Jesus the messiah.

Forget about that for the moment ... what was the Jewish Messiah in the Old Testament supposed to do for the Jews?

Urrmnn ... Wasn't he supposed to be a great leader like Moses. And lead them from oppression and vanquish their foreign oppressors?

And ...

What ... ?

So who was oppressing the Jews?

Life, the world, their lack of understanding for the world?

And?

And, what?

So when do you think the Old Testament was written?

Crikey ...

You have no idea do you.. ?

Not really, it is just kind of there. I think because it is subconsciously thought to have been your handy work, we kind of imagined it was always there .. !

You know … this is really hard work.

You think! … Imagine what it’s like for me. At least you have the advantage of being omnipresent!

Funny!

Thanks.

You're still sitting I hope?

Yup ...

Good, now stop congratulating yourself and answer the question.

What, you mean who was oppressing the Jews?

No, that follows. The question was, when was the Old testament written.

Well … there is lots of it ..

Sure is …

So it would have taken awhile … ?

…!!?

Do you think it would have been written by more than one person?

You kidding?

No ..

I am getting bored of this, you’re so brainwashed by all this nonsense you can’t see the wood from the tree’s …

Sor…

!! … The Old testament was written by a whole bunch of people over a period of centuries and then the stories as written were passed down to the authors via oral traditions ….

Oral traditions … ?

Yes. Many of these stories existed prior to the invention of alphabet, at least that used by the Israelites. So they were passed by word of mouth down from generation to generation, from mother to son, son to brother, to sister, to child.

Can you imagine how these stories survived over the generations via word of mouth only?

Urmmn ... tales around campfires.

Well, possibly. What do you think people did in an age of oppression, of constant strife, no TV, no Playstation, nor Video. There was no written word?

Tell tales .. ?

Yes. Just like humans still do. Except their stories were for the longest time told from memory.

What do you think the stories were about?

I suppose ... like you said. Of their past heroes, of god's will, how the good survive and I assume how one day god will provide a warrior to lead them to freedom again?

Well done my friend.

And do you suppose that in a time with no written word, people were better at remembering stories and retelling them word for word?

I guess not, they are human like us?

Exactly. So ...

The stories changed, became embellished, details altered, names changed?

Yes. And like Chinese whispers or Telephone, the story at the end, when it was written down would have been degrees different than the original. Not a conspiracy just a consequence of the medium.

Cool!

What's cool?

This ...

Mmnnn. So the Old Testament is the word of god?

Well technically it was inspired by their concepts of god but not actually god's word?

And the stories you read in the Old Testament word for word duplicates of the originals?

No ... I get that. It's amazing if you think about it, logical really.

Of course.

And then one day there was alphabet and people started writing down the stories .. ?

Yup! Best guess the Old Testament was written about 800-300 BC

What do you mean best guess?

Well it was along time ago, the finer details get a little fuzzy!

Fuzzy, but you're god!

You should try it sometimes, it bloody tough, you can’t even remember what you did 37 years ago so don’t come all high and mighty with me!

Point taken …

So who was oppressing the Jews?

What about 300 BC … ? Well wouldn’t that have been the Romans?

Nope, they didn’t turn up till about 60 years before Jesus ..

Cripes … so who was it?

Well, it’s kind of interesting. But not surprising when you look at the history of mankind as a whole ....

Why … ?

Well apart from feeling like every foreigner they came into contact with was oppressing them, the Israelites wasted much of their time fighting each other. Twelve tribes go to war and all that .. ?

Wow …

Which is why many of the old testament stories depict the plight of the Israel nation through legendary stories about one man?

Jesus?

Give me strength!

What … it wasn’t Jesus?

No it was David you lummox … as in David and Goliath!!

But I thought David killed a giant, that sounds improbable .. ?

Only if you think of the giant as a single being … try thinking of the giant as a larger nation, or tribe. And that the Israelites went to war and won against the larger nation! David might even have led them in that war. Does it sound more probable?

Wow .. !

It is debatable whether David actually existed. Many of the key stories about David are thought to be analogous to Israel as a nation, or parts of it at least.

I don't get it, one man as a nation?

Whether he existed or not, he soon became legendary. Can you think of one man that has become legendary, personifying the strength and accomplishment of your nation?

David Beckham .. ?

!!? … I suppose that’s a thought. But for this point we will probably go with St. George .. !

Oh .. right, of course.

Do you think he existed?

What St. George … not sure?

Do you think he was a slayer of Dragons?

Didn’t think Dragons existed?

So there is a possibility that this character that embodies the spirit of England is just that, a representation of a nation's spirit?

I guess?

And the same with your brothers the Scots, all those screaming painted faces rushing headlong across a field behind Braveheart: A normal man, made legendary as a personification of a nations spirit!

I think you're over estimating the sense of brotherhood between neighbouring nations. But you’re right, I hadn’t really thought about it like that!

Don’t suspect you did.

So you can see how David (not Beckham) might have become the personification of the Jewish spirit, their triumphs and ultimately their angst.

Sort of .. ?

Have you heard of Jason and the Argonauts?

Yes .. are they in the Bible as well?

No ... ! What do you know about Jason and his Argonauts?

Urmmn didn't they go on a long journey looking for the Golden Fleece.

Yes ... and is the story real?

Well no, it is a Greek myth .. isn't it.

Yes. Do you think Jason existed ?

Well I guess not ...

You are probably right. It is thought that the Jason story, like many of those in the Old Testament are a conglomeration of peoples adventures. In this case from stories accumulated by traders working along the Mediterranean coast line. But these stories are built around a common theme!

Theme?

Yes ... does this sound familiar?

What?

Well I haven't started yet ..

Sorry ...

Listen! .. Jason was the son of the real King of Iolcus but Pelpias usurped the throne and ordered all children heirs to be murdered. But the mother deceived Pelpias, hiding Jason in caves while mourning as if he had died. A centaur tutored Jason before he came of age and then he went on many adventures, that included great deeds, including on one occasion parting the rocks barring the way to an ocean!

... that sounds a little like the Moses story?

Yes ... and why do you think people think the Moses story to be real but not the Jason story?

I don't know ... ? Because we are told it is real and that Jason isn't?

Correct ... do you think the Moses stories are real?

Well ... it's a bit soon for me to say, this is all rather, like in your face!

Mmnnn.

So can you see how David might have come to symbolise Israel?

You mean that stories about Israel would over time come down to a single common denominator, and that was David?

Good .... what does it feel like to be enlightened?

You have enlightened me ... oh lord thank you!

No stupid ... I mean figuratively!

Oh ...

You really do have completely the wrong idea about me you know!

Do I?

Yes, you do. I can see we will need to address it soon, but not right now. I am growing weary again.

Sorry ... but I am not quite sure where we are heading with this ..

You have the attention span of an algae!!

Sorry …

Don't apologise!!

Okay ... you're kind of making that difficult though!

Enough! Let us continue ...

Right.

So we already have the hardship of life in ancient times, dating way before Jesus. And that this hardship was explained away as a test at the want of a god's will and the promise of hope through salvation ... ?

Yes …

And now we are trying to understand the concept of a messiah? I hope you can see how that might be important for our future discussions?

What you mean about Jesus?

Yes, about Jesus!

Right .. am back with you then.

Okay … so it was through stories written about men like Moses and David, that were ultimately idealized conglomerations of the plight endured by many people, their triumphs and failures. That the legend of the messiah came to be!

How come .. ?

Heaven help us!!

Sorry, carry on, just having a little trouble keeping up that's all …

No kidding!!

With all these stories – Of Moses, David, the great leaders of the Israelites and the warriors that had led them through the worst and best of times … the Jews fully expected and repeatedly prophesied that this warrior leader would return one day as their messiah.

Oh …

This messiah, the anointed one, who would once more lead them, unite the tribes of Israel from their own bloody conflicts, free them from foreign oppressors and to a better life in the future … it gave them the promise of HOPE!

Right … this all makes sense now. I think.

Glad to hear it.

But didn't they realise that Moses and David might not be real?

No! Don't you remember that whole bit about the stories changing through word of mouth over time?

Oh yes ...

Eventually these stories about David, that were conglomerations, handed down through generations would just be accepted as the truth.

Crikey ... yes, I get that!

And hope .. ?

The messiah?

Yes ....

... wasn’t Jesus the Messiah .. ?

You mean Jesus of Nazareth?

Well yes .. ?

I am just about all done in … tell you what, have a read of Isaiah and Psalms and if you get a chance the four gospels of the New Testament and we will talk about Jesus and his legacy next week … what do you think?

Well, I have a couple more questions?

Oh good. Quickly then ...

Well. Is that all there is to the Old testament?

What do you mean is that all there is?

What about Genesis, Noah, the prophets and all the other stuff in the Old Testament. Is it all about hardship, hope?

Look my friend. I am not going to tell you what to think about individual scriptures. You now have a context for how and why these stories were written, of their purpose. The rest is down to you!

But ... what do you think of them?

Me?

Yes? You don't seem to have much time for them? That they are a waste of time?

Do I now ... that is what you have come to think ... is it?

Urrmnnn ... that was the impression.

Well my little friend ... Do I believe the Old Testament is a history of all mankind, that it chronicles the one god and his chosen people and provides a template for us to lead a religious life? Of course not and I have no time for those that would.

So ... ?

The Old Testament is a work of magnificence, admittedly hard to get into, but worthwhile never the less. Where else will you find such detail on the thoughts and plight of a peoples so ancient, dating to almost 3000 years? It is glorious in its attempt to explain a hard world, and brilliant in its imaginative myths and mighty legends. Dangerous in its desire for obedience and faith. It is the chronicle of nations, their joys and laments and hopes. Nothing more.

Wow! That was stunning.

Thanks ... now are we done?

Okay … I really appreciate this you know … it has been really enlightening.

Funny. Now get to reading and don't stop that thinking … Psalms and Isaiah remember!

Yes god …

Till next time then …

Laters …

!!? …

www.johniebg.net

Three

What are you doing?

Oh, hello god ... just thinking and enjoying the view.

It is amazing huh?

Beyond that ... you just cannot believe so much intricate beauty could be poured into one place!

... it is the power of devotion.

You can understand how people feel so much closer ... to god here.

You can, it has been designed with that very purpose in mind. This one was originally built in the 14th Century, but was largely re-built twice after two fires during the 16th and 18th centuries.

And still there is so much love lavished in every brush stroke, each chip of stone and carving of wood?

Wouldn't you if you believed your path to eternal life was being earned with each stroke?

Hadn't thought of it like that.

Don't suppose you did, what's on your mind?

Well ... it's just that, that you would have me believe it was all for nothing?

All what?

This! 2000 years of worship and faith apparently ... all for nothing!

Would I?

That is the impression I have!

Perhaps that is just your mind coming to an inevitable conclusion?

What do you mean?

Your mind must have been asking some questions for us to begin speaking ...

And I still have many ...

Have we not reasoned answers together?

We have, and I feel like these answers are drawing me away from who I am!

Or towards what you really are!

But this, all this feels like me!

So when was the last time you came here?

Urmmn ... after Liverpool won the Milk Cup against Tottenham.

Ahh yes I remember. That prayer in the conservatory next to the radio and that last minute goal!

You remember that ... ?

Of course, and that was how long ago?

I would guess about twenty five years.

At least ... so you probably would not claim to be an active follower of this faith?

Well ... no. But I think about it a lot ...

... I know you do.

It's just that ... just that it's the very foundation of our culture, the history. It is part of me and it runs deep.

And after our first two conversations you are now finding it hard to let go ...

Very hard. It is difficult to step away from, to discount and then say: 'what do I believe in?'

And there are very good reasons for that my friend ...

Are there?

Yes ... because you are right. It is part of you, part of your sense of self. And this is derived from your mind's grounding in who you are, which was largely formed during early childhood.

I remember ... every day; hymns, prayers, giving thanks, every year; harvest festivals, Easter, nativity, Adam and Eve ... Noah, Jonah.

But as an adult it is your minds desire for answers that drew us to these conversations ...

It was ... I have had enough of the uncertainty, the moral guilt.

So my friend ... does this mind of yours now think it likely man was created by a supernatural being or through millions of years of evolution?

... evolution.

Does your mind now consider the stories of the Old Testament to be the literal word of a supernatural god tracing the fortunes of his chosen people?

... no.

Or the written history and myths of a peoples that had no concept of how the world around them functioned, a hard world they explained by attributing it all to a supernatural god?

... a hard world attributed to a supernatural god.

Right ... but?

But ... where does that leave Christianity?

Where do you think?

Well this is my problem ... it is why I came here in the first place. If the Jewish god of the old testament is explained as a myth, how can Jesus be the son of god?

Now isn't that the catch 22 of all time!

It is!

So what do you think?

I could discount Christianity and just move on.

But that's not your style is it my friend ...

No ... I want to know about Christianity, whether it has validity for this hold on my sense of being.

Good ... good. So did you do as I asked last time?

You mean read Psalms and Isaiah?

Yes ...

I did.

So ... go on.

Well, I assumed you asked me to read them because they would explain Jesus the Jewish Messiah ... !

But .. ?

I couldn't find anything in Isaiah or Psalms that sounded like Jesus the messiah!

Couldn't you now ... !

No ... there were many references to the 'anointed one' but none seemed to be talking about Jesus, or anyone like Jesus.

So who are they talking about?

Well the anointed one is the King of Israel, or the messiah, is he not?

He is.

I read Matthew and Mark as well ...

... and?

They both have several passages about Jesus that sound like Psalms and Isaiah, but those passages in Psalms and Isaiah are not talking about the messiah ...

My oh my, you have been a busy little soul. So what do you think of that?

What do I think? ... I want to know how Jesus' followers come to think of him as the messiah, does Christianity have merit of its own regardless of the Old Testament?

Very good ... and where do you propose we start in this quest?

Well ... I talked to Father Santia.

Did you now, prey tell!

I thought what better place than a church to find some answers!

And here we are, how wonderfully naïve of you. Did you get your answers?

That is the problem. I talked to Father Santia and that just confused me more!

Did it, what did you ask him?

Well, first I said that I had been talking to you and you had recommended I read Isaiah and Psalms.

And he said?

I have to say he looked rather taken aback when I said how specific you were but he did say I had been directed well.

But then you said to him ....

.... then I said to him I couldn't find any reference to the Messiah as relating to Jesus in any of the two.

To which he replied ...

... that it was plain for all to see, right there in gods very own words.

Brilliant!

I left out the part where you didn't actually write the bible ...

Of course ... probably would have confused matters.

So what else did Father Santia have to say?

Well he said that Jesus was the suffering Messiah.

And when you asked him where it said that ...

... he said Isaiah and Psalms.

So now what do you think?

That there is a lot of suffering in all the Old Testament but nothing when predicting the future messiah that sounds anything like Jesus!

And when you mentioned this to him ...

... he told me I was thinking too much and looking too hard. That god's will was not to reason but to accept ...

... and that you should relinquish to the will of god and glory in your faith, to believe and not think.

Well ... yes, that's almost exactly what he said. How did you know ... ?

You need to ask?

Oh yeah, forgot about that!

So is not thinking, not reasoning and just accepting all this as a truth, an option?

Not for me.

So my friend ... if we are going to understand how a Jewish Rabbi and convicted criminal that was crucified for his crime, somehow become the 'messiah' and linchpin for a religion that would shape culture for nearly half the world for two thousand years ...

Yes .... ?

Then we need to start with something fundamental, simple.

Like ... ?

... like if you want to understand the origins of Christianity, you better start with understanding where the word Christ came from?

Urrmnmm ... god?

Ha ha ... funny!

What do you mean then?

The term Jesus Christ would have meant very little to Jews in the time of and after Jesus.

Really?

Do you know why?

Urrmnn ... No. I don't get it ... you mean like 'Christ' wasn't a Jewish word?

That's exactly what I mean ...

So if Christ isn't a Jewish word, what is it?

The answer is pivotal to understanding the propagation of the Jesus legend – 'Christ' is a Greek word. Christos literally means 'the anointed one'.

Greek? Where does Greek come into the frame?

... let us take this step by step.

Okay.

What are we doing here?

Talking?

No I mean, why are we talking?

So that I can understand how Jesus came to be the suffering messiah?

And why might that be important?

Because it will help to explain to me how Jesus fits into what seems like a godless ancient world ...

But more importantly ... ?

Put Christianity into its proper context ...

... by understanding its history.

Cool ... so when do we start?

We have already. You know that Christianity derives its name from a Greek word ...

... so the question is: How did the purported Jewish messiah come to carry the Greek title 'Christ'?

And for that we need to look at what happened immediately after the death of Jesus.

We do?

Yes! After the death of Jesus his Jewish followers remained devoted, do you know why?

Urrmmnn Because they thought he was the messiah?

Well they would have thought he was until he died on the cross, then that would have kinda dashed their hopes, don't you think?

Well as Jews, yes. They thought Jesus was going to free them from Roman rule, not die by Roman hands.

So what else about Jesus' death do you think might have given his followers hope?

... his resurrection!

Correct. They believed he had been resurrected! And that meant he must be ...

... the messiah because god had raised him!

Well done!

So did Jesus really get resurrected then?

Who by?

Oh ...

Don't you worry too much on the how or who right now. We will come to that a little later. For now, let us just assume that his followers believed he was resurrected ... Okay?

Okay!

So this handful of followers believed he was the messiah, which had been demonstrated through his suffering, death and his subsequent resurrection.

Really? That's a hell of a leap! Resurrection to suffering messiah?

Paying attention I see ... Jesus' followers truly believed that he had been resurrected ...

Right ...

So they started leafing through the old testament for confirmation that he was the messiah. When they found none they paralleled his suffering with the suffering of the old testament and as we know there was lots of that!

So they believed he was the suffering messiah just on that basis?

You are not thinking about this in the context of the time!

No I guess I am not!

Claims of resurrection were fairly common and were meant to demonstrate the messenger of god...

Or a demonstration of gods powers?

... exactly!

So you're saying that resurrection was a common miracle in the time and was seen as an act of god?

Not exactly common ... but thought to happen frequently enough that it was a known phenomenon.

... and as soon as they had the resurrection – Jesus touched by god and references in the Jewish texts to suffering they put two and two together and came up with the messiah!

Especially with the crucifixion suffering they found in Psalms.

But that passage in Psalms wasn't talking about the messiah, was it?

No of course not ... and crucifixion in the time was as common as jail sentences are today. At one stage the Romans even ringed Jerusalem with crucifixions and ran out of wood in doing so!

Phew – kind of makes you think.

When realising Jesus the messiah though, we also need to factor what a few Jews, in particular Jesus believed in that time.

I don't get it, we know what they believed?

You know what you have been told they believed but I doubt you have studied the gospels enough to know the main theme of Jesus' message!

Urrmnn ... go on.

The Jewish nation had been faithfully following gods law for over a thousand years but still they were suffering ...

And they didn't understand why?

No they didn't. Being human of course they began developing their theories.

Which were ... ?

A portion of Jews believed god had deserted them ...

... which was why they were suffering?

Yes. But they truly believed their god would one day return. In the process smiting all those oppressing the Jews!

And Jesus' followers believed that?

Well a version of this, yes. Like I say, it was the key message that Jesus preached. In Jesus' version, there would be an apocalyptic event wiping out all, and taking all those that remained faithful into gods own eternal Kingdom.

What ... the end is nigh and all that?

Yes. In fact Jesus believed that god would come and reclaim his people, within his own lifetime.

How do you know that?

Because it is written in the gospels on multiple occasions.

Is it?

Yes. You simply understand it today as eternal life in gods kingdom after death because of course god never came to claim his people in anyone's lifetime, so the prophecy eventually changed.

Wow! And that's in the Bible.

In the Gospels ...

So that explains why his followers would really buy into the resurrection!

Go on ...

Because Jesus like the Jewish nation had suffered on the cross, god had forsaken him on the cross and then resurrected him ...

Gathering Jesus into his eternal kingdom.

Oh my word ... so they would have totally believed.

Absolutely.

So ... what happened next?

What do you think happened?

I suppose they tried to spread the word of the suffering messiah amongst the Jewish community as a whole?

And you would have thought the Jewish nation would have accepted this with open arms?

Well yes ... based on the message Jesus preached they had their messiah!

But the problem is of course, Jesus wasn't an orthodox Jewish rabbi, so his teachings were at odds with the establishment and majority of the time.

So his followers and their message of the suffering messiah was universally rejected.

Of course ... like I said he was not in any way representative of what the Jews were expecting as a messiah ...

... only he was the messiah to a handful of Jews that interpreted his death and perceived resurrection as a fulfilling of Jesus' own preachings!

Exactly ... contrary to popular belief this was not a world where this one event took everyone by storm. There were groups of people everywhere coming up with theories and solutions to the ongoing suffering, many claimed to be the messiah.

And Jesus was one of them ...

Yes ...

So how come the message of Jesus become universally accepted then?

What do you think these devoted followers did?

Tried to find someone that would believe them?

They sure did. They migrated, spreading out while passing on the story of Jesus.

So who did these Jesus followers convert then?

Well, who do you think might have listened and found the stories of Jesus compelling?

Not Jews.

Like I say, not in the main, no.

So who ... ?

Do you know what a Pagan was in the time of Jesus?

Urrmnn ... a heathen?

Oh how history favours those that write it. The word pagan, despite the modern derogatory forms, used to simply mean someone that wasn't Christian.

I never knew that!

It is actually a turn on the Jewish word: 'Gentile' which simply means not Jewish.

Crikey ...

So a pagan was simply someone that wasn't Jewish or Christian. Pretty much everyone was pagan and that would include the Romans.

So you're saying the beliefs of early Christians were rejected by Jews so the followers spread out and started to convert gentiles ...

... to be more specific, Pagans.

Wow ...

And why do you think Pagans would have converted more readily than Jews?

I suppose they didn't have a defined concept of the messiah, so the story of Jesus the suffering messiah would have seemed perfectly plausible?

And the key to believing the whole messiah thing ...

... was the expected apocalyptic return of god and the resurrection of Jesus demonstrating eternal life. People believed.

You bet they did, especially the eternal life bit - who wants to die!

No one I suppose.

So how do you think the stories of Jesus spread as far as they did?

Well I imagine some people would have written them down and others would have passed them on through word of mouth?

Do you know how many people were literate in that time?

Urmn – not many?

Probably one in ten, more likely closer to one in fifteen.

Right!

So when was the printing press invented?

16th century ...

Which means that any written word, on the rare occasions people actually could write them down, was spread by?

Jees! You don't think of these things? I suppose they must have copied each one by hand.

Yes ... right up to the invention of the printing press one thousand five hundred years later!

So then, how do you think the Jesus stories primarily spread during the 100 years following his death?

Word of mouth, oral traditions?

You bet they did. Initially propagated by his followers to anyone that would listen.

Who were Pagans.

Correct. Converts would be wives, businessman or traders visiting a town. They would hear the stories and then return to their home villages and relay these to their wives, families, and friends. Who would then pass them onto their husbands, who would then pass them onto fellow travellers.

Oh my word!

And what do we know about stories told through oral traditions?

That they change!

They certainly do.

Now then ... pay attention as this is the interesting bit!

This isn't already interesting?

I mean really interesting!

Cool ...

So ...

... yes god?

During the 100 years after Jesus died we gradually start to see a number of Christian writings.

Such as the Gospels ...

Nope ... the gospels were actually some of the later writings as people already had the word of mouth stories, the earliest writings were interpretations of Jesus' message ...

Such as Paul?

Yes, probably about twenty years after the death of Jesus. The gospels followed some time later but within the 100 years.

So why didn't they start by writing down the gospels?

They didn't need to, it wasn't until different interpretations of the Jesus message started to appear that people started writing about Jesus to substantiate what they believed!

Oh wow ..

And getting to the point ... what language were the early Christian writings written in?

I am assuming the point to this must be that they were written in Greek?

Hallelujah!

Do you know why Greek?

Urrmmn ... they were written in Greece?

Funny!

I wasn't joking!

I know, now pay attention. The reason these early writings were in Greek goes back to the 4th Century BC and Alexander the Great.

It does?

Yes. Alexander was a legendary Greek king that conquered much of Asia. As a result we subsequently had centuries of Greek settlement and cultural influence over a very wide area around ancient Palestine.

So you're saying that many Pagans would have been Greek educated?

Exactly. Christian followers appeared over a wide area by the nature of the message ...

... oral traditions passed on through traders and businessmen.

And these same Greek speaking pagans would have been early converts, and of course when they did write their Jesus stories they did so in Greek!

The book of the Jewish messiah written in Greek? It just doesn't sound right, how can you be so sure it wasn't originally written by Jews?

Because the language used to write the gospels was unequivocally Greek!

Well that's like Father Santia telling me Jesus was unequivocally the messiah. How do you actually know?

You can tell the difference between English and German can't you?

Yes, of course!

So ... Greek!

But how do you know what you're reading isn't Aramaic translated into Greek!

Because written vocabulary was a lot less expansive then than it is now. Greek translated from Aramaic would simply read different than a document originally written in Greek, which is what we have with the texts, specifically the Gospels.

Oh ...

... but that is not the only evidence!

It is not?

The gospels are the only books in the New testament that actually discuss the life and preaching of Jesus ...

They are?

Yes ... and the gospels describe a Jewish world.

As you would expect ... Jesus being Jewish.

But you ask any Jew about the traditions and Jewish life described in the gospels and they would point out a whole bunch of errors.

They would?

Yes ... if the gospels were written by Jews or even via Jewish eye witnesses you would expect the detail of Jewish customs to be correct!

But they are not, because they were not written by Jews ...

And then of course we have textual analysis ...

We do?

Yes. If I gave you a book written by Stephen King how would you tell me when it was written?

Because it says so on the inside?

Mmnnn smart arse! What else would tell you when it was written?

Urrmnn ... references in the text to society, history and events?

Excellent ... and?

And what was culturally acceptable, within the framework of the story?

Good man .. and?

... I don't know, what?

The writing style!

Oh ... !

If I was to hand you a book by Charles Dickens you could glean a great deal of information about the time, the culture and social nuances, yes?

Yes, that's for sure.

So then ... over time societies evolve as do the tools of culture such as writing and its constructs. We compare Dickens with ...

... late twentieth century authors and a whole lot has changed?

Absolutely. The world the characters live in is different. Society, customs, references to past events and then we have the writing style. Sentence structure, paragraphs.

All that and they can tell who and when?

Well not just with two books, but by cross referencing all the materials we have between the two times you can build up a fairly accurate timeline.

... so you're point is?

The point is that modern scholars use these techniques to determine where and when the texts of the New Testament were written.

... and the language used in books such as the gospels places them as Greek.

Yup, language and writing style!

Okay ... so when were the gospels written?

Mark is judged to be the first Gospel written sometime between 65-70 AD

70 years after Jesus died?

No ... ! AD means 'In the year of the lord' It supposedly dates from the birth of Jesus, but is almost certainly wrong. Jesus was probably born in 4BC!

... that's funny.

It is. So he would have died about 30AD.

Which makes Mark written at least thirty five years after the death of Jesus?

That's a long time for stories to be passed via word of mouth don't you think?

Sure is. When was Matthew written then?

Matthew and Luke were probably written at the same time as each other, albeit separately, which was likely about 80-85AD.

Fifty years after Jesus died and twenty after Mark!

And John probably about 95AD.

Wow!

And what should seem obvious to you now you know this?

What, now I know the gospels were written in Greek between thirty and seventy years after Jesus died?

Yes .... ?

Urrmnn ... that, well ... I guess it would have been unlikely that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

Why?

Well apart from the fact that they would have been old for that time, even by the time Mark was written, they were Jewish. Which means gospels would have been written in their first language: Aramaic?

And these were written in Greek!

You say so ...

I do say so ... and I think you're right there with me!

Almost. ... so what if Mark dictated his gospel to a Greek speaker.

Possible I suppose. But if these gospels were written by who they say they were, you think that they would use their name as some indication of authenticity ... wouldn't you?

I suppose ...

Mark was Peter's secretary but never states he wrote the Gospel via the testament of the first hand witness Peter. While Matthew never declares himself an eyewitness and talks about Matthew in the third person, always as if he is describing another person.

... because Matthew was another person because he never wrote the gospel?

Correct. Nor would you expect Matthew, who was with Jesus for most of his preaching days, to require copying a gospel allegedly written by Mark to detail the preaching of Jesus?

Matthew copied Mark?

Yup and Luke ... !

Matthew copied Luke as well ?

No! Luke and Matthew were both written independently but copied chunks right out of Mark and probably one other source nobody has ever found!

So what do we call the gospels now then?

Nobody knows who wrote them, so there is really no point in calling them anything other than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, is there!

I guess not. So is all this, the gospels, the New Testament a lie?

No, no my friend ... The books that comprise the new testament, just like the old testament were written by people that really believed.

... so whoever wrote Matthew and Luke would have done so with the utter conviction that their belief was total and correct!

Yes .. and as I said to affirm what they believed about Jesus, confirming him as the suffering messiah ...

... which takes us right back to the beginning - Isaiah and Psalms.

Exactly ... justifying Jesus as the messiah has always been the biggest problem for Christianity. Absolutely nobody other than Christians have ever thought he was the messiah.

So early Christian authors set about confirming Jesus the messiah in their own writings!

And how do you think they did that?

Like those that preceded them I guess they spent endless hours leafing through the Old Testament for evidence that Jesus was the messiah?

And ...

When they found none, but totally convinced that he was the messiah they started looking for parallels ... such as the crucifixion in Psalms.

Excellent! And then they started pulling prophecies for the messiah from the Old Testament and layered them into their own gospels.

As well?

Yes ... and they used the David prophecies especially.

David being the last person Judaism collectively acknowledged as the messiah?

Absolutely. Who ever wrote the Matthew gospel didn't waste any time either. Starting the gospel by actually tracing Jesus' genealogy back to David through Joseph ...

Crikey ... that must have been a long list. Wasn't David supposed to have lived about 1000 years earlier?

Yes he was. Can you imagine tracing your family line back 1000 years today, with modern records?

No ... mum tried. I think she got back about six generations – just over 200 years.

Matthew tells us there are fourteen generations in the 1000 years of lineage since David, the number fourteen being another David prophecy. In the process he actually only lists thirteen.

I didn't even notice ...

... probably because like most people you didn't read it properly.

Well I ....

Don't worry it's what you have been conditioned to do. It is what Father Santia there is employed to do ...

You mean tell me what to think so I don't need to.

Precisely.

What I don't understand is, why would they trace Joseph's lineage back to David if Jesus wasn't actually his son?

It kinda makes the whole genealogy redundant huh?

So what do you think Matthews point was?

To simply create another link to David, even if it was through Joseph.

Well done.

That's it?

Like I said, the gospels were written to affirm Jesus' message and that he was the messiah, Matthew and Luke more so than the others set out to do this.

What else is there then?

Literally too many to cover in the time we have, so we can look at some of those in the nativity story if you want?

Cool ...

So we also have Jesus being born in Bethlehem, the guiding star, the massacring of all children ...

The star of Bethlehem wasn't real?

You mean a roving star in the sky that directed the wise men directly to the crib of Jesus?

Mmnnn ... I guess that does sound unlikely?

Can you tell me how many written sources of the time detail the star and the journey of the wise men, considering a roving star must have been fairly widely recorded?

At least the four gospels I would guess?

Guess again ... Matthew is the only writing in ancient history that describes the wise men or the star ...

Wow ...

And of the many studies of the stars we have from the time, there are none that detail anything like the star of Bethlehem, not even a convenient comet.

Is the star significant then?

Of course ... the star is another David prophecy from the Old Testament.

And further evidence Luke and Matthew were written independently, otherwise you would think they might have confirmed stories.

You would have thought ...

I suppose the massacring of children is mythical as well - a link to Moses and an echo of other legends like Jason and the Argonauts.

Keep going ...

So ... even Jesus being born in Bethlehem is up for debate?

Jesus' birth is only detailed in two of the gospels, Luke and Matthew. The others start with him as an adult. Jesus being born in Bethlehem is about the only thing Luke and Matthew agree on towards the beginning of their gospels.

And they had Jesus born in Bethlehem because it was the city of David?

Interesting huh?

You can say that again. So where was Jesus really born?

Where do you think?

I don't know!

So what was Jesus's last name?

Christ?

Funny!! He wasn't just called Jesus before someone thought up Christ was he!

Oh ... Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth.

Right ... so there is your answer.

What ... ?

Jesus was very probably born in Nazareth, that would be why he was called Jesus of Nazareth and not Jesus of Bethlehem!

Oh ... hadn't thought of it like that!

So how do you feel about the Jesus legend now ... ?

A little confused ... ?

It's not surprising ... but you have enough detail now with which to begin reasoning your own conclusions?

I think so ..

You only think ... !

It's a lot to take in!

So what was the message of Jesus?

That god had forsaken the Jewish people but would be back avenging, only those that submitted to the will of god would survive in gods eternal kingdom!

Excellent ... and when his followers thought he had been resurrected?

They truly believed he must be the messiah and began spreading the word.

But their word was largely rejected ... ?

... because most Jews didn't see the messiah as someone that would suffer or die on the cross.

Jews were looking for a David or Moses like character, so ... ?

So the followers of Jesus spread out, migrated and found believers in Pagans who found the stories easier to believe ...

... because the had no real concept for who the messiah was supposed to be, so accepted it as the truth.

And the stories travelled ...

... via word of mouth, changing in the process, which meant after some thirty to fifty years there were many different interpretations ...

So the early Christians started writing down their version of Jesus' life and preachings ...

... to affirm?

Their particular belief and an opportunity to confirm him as the messiah, by weaving lots of back references to the Old Testament messiah.

But in the process ...

.. because they were written independently, at different times these confirmations as Jesus the messiah are inconsistent.

Often telling the same story differently, or not at all ...

... or detailing reasons for messiah events that we now know they just made up.

Not as a conspiracy ...

... but out of utter faith for something they totally believed in!

There you go, not that confusing huh?

So basically the New Testament gospels have evolved just like any other story man has to tell. It is just that for two thousand years people have been believing this as a truth!

As the word of god, in fact. Can you imagine a god would get something so muddled ... ?

... no ... only humans.

So you can see the whole bible now for what it really is ...

... mankind trying to explain that which they did not comprehend.

Right ... which makes it a remarkable snapshot of the minds and people in their time ...

But I suppose stunning that people still think these as valid explanations for life and god, to actually be gods very word ...

When they were written by people who knew very little about the world around them ...

But apparently had a hotline to a god ...

... who since seems to have vacated premises earth!

I am exhausted ...

Really ... I'm just getting warmed up. But you are right ...

Right ... ?

We do need to finish up.

But ... ?

There is one last thing that we need to look at right now.

There is?

Yes ...

... I suppose you're now going to explain why Christianity still appeals to so many.

Well ... I think we should look at one critical question.

Which is ?

Ignoring everything we know about the migration of Jesus stories away from ancient Palestine, the origins of Christianity, the suffering messiah, oral traditions, the contradictory gospels and layering of messiah links ...

... there is still the question of the resurrection!

See ... you're not asleep yet!

Not yet ...

The resurrection is the cornerstone of the whole Jesus legend. Without it he would have died the failed messiah at best, and take it from me there were lots or those in and around the time of Jesus!

So could Jesus have been resurrected?

Do you believe the Jewish god existed?

No. I am pretty sure on that front ...

... would be kind of hard then for Jesus to get resurrected don't you think?

But, just say for instance he does ...

That the Jewish god exists?

Yes!

So why would Jesus be resurrected by the Jewish god?

Apart from being Jewish there was nothing in the stories of Jesus to indicate he was the messiah?

Right ... being just another man, probably charismatic and with devoted followers but he wasn't the Jewish messiah ...

And I think we have covered the messiah angle extensively!

We have. So why would the Jewish god resurrect Jesus then?

If the Jewish god existed he would have no better reason to resurrect Jesus than anyone else!

So my friend, who do you think resurrected Jesus?

Well ... what if he didn't actually die and just woke up later?

That might have been difficult if you believe the passion stories, he took quite a beating, which culminated in a spear through the ribcage!

But ...

But say for instance he never died, what problems do you think that gives Christians.

Ummn no resurrection, no demonstration of the eternal kingdom, no suffering messiah ...

No Christianity!

So what do you think really happened?

Ummn ... I don't know?

Think about it!

Assuming of course there was a god willing to resurrect Jesus the very act of the resurrection would have to be a ...

... miracle.

Right ... and what would that make the god that did this?

God by his nature would have to be a supernatural being!

He would ... miracles by their very nature are events that can only be undertaken by supernatural beings.

Which I guess is different from the miraculous?

... such as a man surviving in the crumbled remnants of a building for three days after an earthquake. Which would be ...

... within the capabilities of human endurance but not at the want of a supernatural being! Miraculous but not a miracle!

Right ... !

So ... ?

So do people claim miracles actually happen?

Yes ... all the time!

But when the facts are investigated ...

... they are proven to be bogus or at best miraculous!

So the resurrection!

Yes ... ?

Miracle ... ?

It would have to be, being brought back from the dead by a supernatural god!

And do miracles occur.

Not once in all recorded time, where man can apply reason to the events!

Exactly!

So the only time we do actually have miracles ...

... is when man had no information about the world about them, no information with which to reason, so anything they didn't understand was a miracle ...

... or an act of god.

So Jesus resurrected?

No ... either a mis-understanding or another fabricated story by someone that believed so hard, they wanted Jesus to be the messiah.

And without a resurrection where does that leave Christianity?

A collection of myths that have been born out of peoples need to believe something other than mainstream Judaism.

Interesting huh?

Very ... but even now this, still I find it hard to let go.

It will be difficult ...

So much faith over so many hundreds of years. All for nothing! It just doesn't seem feasible, it feels too real not be true.

I suppose if you want it to be real it can be ... Father Santia will welcome you with upturned palms.

I know ... I don't want to make it real, it's just ...

It's just that if so many people have worshipped for so long, how could it not be true!

That's exactly what I feel!

Then it is for you to decide. If you feel that the ancient Jewish god of the Old Testament actually existed, and for some reason not mentioned once in any of his Old Testament scriptures, designated Jesus the Messiah ...

Then ... ?

Then you have come to the right place and have no more need for me.

Oh but I do ... there are so many more questions!

Then you better have a think about where your mind and sense for reason will take you!

Okay ... I will. Can I ask one more quick question?

Sure, why not.

Now that you have almost convinced me of a truth around man's desire for faith through constructed religions ...

... go on!

Where does that leave you god?

Ah ha! ... what a difference three blinks of times eye will make!

What do you mean ... !

Take a long hard look at yourself my friend ... a long hard look.

I am ...

Then don't stop looking.

I don't understand, is that it, what does it mean?

For now .... you need time to think this all through, we will talk again.

Okay!

Then we will look at finding the truth of 'god' and through this you will discover where your belief must lay.

Now come, we should leave this place.

To be continued ...
Submission: 5 July 2007
Revision: none
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