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The Immortality Key forgets that Jesus was a Jew
This veils the nature of the Religion with No Name
Brian Muraresku’s Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name makes a good case that Jesus is a reincarnation of Dionysus, and early Christianity was a continuation of the millennia-long Mediterranean tradition of psychedelic mystery cults. Drawing on linguistics and archeological chemistry, his central thesis is that the “Religion with No Name” was practiced in a network of connected mystery cults, all of which came from the same root cult, perhaps hailing back to Gobekli Tepe. Essential to the practice was a secret initiation that involved ritual death and rebirth via a psychedelic concoction. Christianity democratized this cult, extending the ritual to the masses and removing it from the priest-controlled temples. Originally, the Christian Eucharist would chemically induce ego death, Muraresku holds.
He doesn’t say in so many words, but this requires a conspiracy. Four Gospels were written. If the New Testament is an effort to set up a new mystery religion, then the gospel writers must have been in cahoots. After all, when converts showed up to worship, someone would have to brew the psychedelic Eucharist; the whole operation could not happen by accident. Technically this doesn’t require Jesus being completely made up; a preacher by that name could have lived and died. But it does seem to require coordinated fabrication of essential elements of the story.
Originally, I was going to review Immortality Key. But it struck me that a more informative exercise would be to accept Muraresku’s premise and use that as a lens to view the Bible. Surprisingly, this is an under-theorized space partly because of cultural taboos. Connecting the Greek Mysteries to psychedelics ruined Professor Carl Ruck’s career in the classics as recently as the 1970s. He was deposed as Chair of Classics at Boston University after publishing The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries. His Dean did not want to be associated with those damn hippies soiling the good name of the people that invented logic. Christianity is a more delicate subject still, as many believe Jesus literally rose from the dead. Treating Jesus as a myth has traditionally been an attack. One advantage of Muraresku’s idea is that it casts the Christian project as a conspiracy but in a good way. They originally intended to share ancient knowledge of the key to life (or immortality, as Muraresku puts it). I am sympathetic to the idea that myths and rituals can preserve important psychological truths for thousands of years. And surprisingly, after 2,000 years as the most important book in the world, there is an open lane to interpret the New Testament as a noble conspiracy aware of its deep roots.
Now, Muraresku speaks ancient Greek. The people he cites all have immaculate pedigrees, sprouting forth from Divinity Schools at Harvard and Edinburg. I don’t have any of that. My training is in electrical engineering. But I did spend two years knocking doors as a Mormon missionary, arguing about the Bible. I can play street ball.
In this post, I accept Muraresku’s claim that some essential elements of the New Testament were fabricated references to mystery cults. Given that, I argue the architects of the New Testament were:
a group of Jews that had deeper issues with the Sanhedrin1 than the Romans
who believed they had the ultimate truth and wanted to share it with the world.
In doing so, I hope to show that Muraresku understates the Jewish continuity of his posited Religion with No Name. Establishing this link is vital to understanding it.
I want to emphasize there is no conflict between the New Testament being a conspiracy and it containing ultimate truths. Indeed, the Romans had just razed the Jew’s Holy of Holies; this may be the best way to preserve the mercy seat. Jesus himself answered why one must sometimes speak in parables. Matt 13: 10-17:
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them…For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
The Religion with No Name
In the first few centuries BC, there were a handful of mystery cults throughout the Mediterranean, the most famous of which were the Eleusinian Mysteries. These were held annually in Eleusis, dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone. The rituals were cloaked in secrecy and known only to initiates who took a vow of silence. However, we know from inscriptions, like those found on the Sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis, and from the writings of historians like Herodotus and Plato, that these rituals were of great religious importance in ancient Greece. Initiates include Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, and possibly Julius Caesar.
In his dialogue, "Phaedrus," Plato suggests that those who participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries were granted visions and experienced a mystical death and rebirth, allowing them to live blissfully in the afterlife. He wrote, "Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom."
There were similar cults in Egypt, Carthage, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Anatolia. These may have shared a common root or have developed due to lateral communication. Muraresku refers to this melting pot of religious ideas as the “ancient cultural internet” that linked a diverse network of Greek speakers “in multi-voiced conversation.” In total, they comprised his Religion With No Name and held the key to life, the Immortality Key.
This post accepts Muraresku’s claim that:
The core feature of the mystery cults was spiritual death and rebirth via a psychedelic sacrament
Jesus and Dionysus were democratizations of these cults
It’s beyond the scope of this post to defend those propositions. I encourage you to read the book. You can also get much of the argument in his interview on Rogan; Muraresku is a lawyer by trade and goes over each archeological find like an exhibit building the case. If that’s not your speed, he’s also interviewed at the Harvard Divinity School (start here for some pushback). And for those short on time, he narrates a 14-minute animated summary emphasizing spiritual aspects. But to understand I do not joust a straw man, consider this quote from Immortality Key.
“When we look at The Last Supper, maybe we’re not looking at Christianity’s founding event. Maybe we’re getting a glimpse of the mysterious religion that was practiced by Plato, Pindar, Sophocles, and the rest of the Athenian gang. And just maybe this is how our identity crisis comes to a dramatic end: with a psychedelic plot twist. Rather than starting a new religion, was Jesus simply trying to preserve, or copy, the “holiest of Mysteries” from Ancient Greece? Or, more precisely, is that what his Greek-speaking followers wanted to believe? If so, that opens up a can of worms, making Jesus more of a Greek philosopher-magician than a Jewish Messiah. It means that the Jesus behind Leonardo’s table really belongs on the steps of The School of Athens with his fellow initiates. Because the earliest and most authentic communities of paleo-Christians would have looked to the miracle worker from Nazareth as someone who knew the secret that Eleusis tried so desperately to conceal for millennia. A secret that could easily win new converts to the faith. But a secret the Church would later try to suppress, according to the theory. And a secret that would render all the infrastructure of today’s Christianity virtually obsolete, uprooting 2.42 billion adherents worldwide.”
His project is more ambitious than upending the faith of billions. Muraresku would like to connect the sacrament to the search for transcendence worldwide. In contrast to the Buddhists’ pursuit of the ultimate Truth:
“[the Greeks] figured out how to bypass a lifetime of meditation and preserved it in the Eleusinian Mysteries. What Cicero called the most “exceptional and divine thing” Athens ever produced. And what Praetextatus said was crucial to the future of our species. Eleusis held “the entire human race together.” Without it, life would be “unlivable.””
A final caveat is that it’s unclear how much of a conspiracy Muraresku’s position requires. The psychedelic Christians could have been cavorting against the wishes of the Gospel writers. Indeed there are letters from Paul2 that Muraresku interprets as, “Don’t drink the Greek’s spiked sacrament.” However, the more fundamental the Greek Cults are to Christianity, the more likely the authors were in the know. The next sections provide motive for a conspiracy.
The Case for Jewish Continuity
Christianity may be a syncretism of Judaism and the mystery cults, but it does not make sense to think of Jesus as a Greek philosopher-magician more than a Jewish Messiah. I will make the case from the text of the New Testament: specifically its treatment of politics, covenants, and the Temple.
The New Testament as Political Propaganda
If the New Testament is made up, what is the political message? Let’s start with the Good Samaritan.
25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
A lawyer is a scholar well-versed in Mosaic Law. In this passage, he is not concerned with living a good life or knowing the truth. He is playing gotcha with God, who indeed instructs him. The individuals who neglect their duty are both connected to the temple. Priests judged disputes and offered sacrifices. The Levites were a tribe among the Israelites who had special responsibilities in the temple. (The term Jew comes from the house of Judah, one of the twelve tribes. The Levites were another.)
It was a Samaritan who helped. During the time of Jesus, there was significant tension between Samaritans and Jews. The two groups had different interpretations of the Torah, maintained separate religious practices, and worshiped at different temples. Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim, while Jews recognized the Temple in Jerusalem as their holy site. Samaritans were viewed as heretics by mainstream Jewish society.
The parable is a pointed message against the Jewish authorities. And if that’s not enough, who killed Jesus? Technically, the Romans. But in this period of subjugation, the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling body) did not have the authority to administer capital punishment and therefore had to ask the Romans, who did so somewhat unwillingly in the case of Christ. (Pontius Pilate symbolically washed his hands of the whole affair.)
If his relation to the Jews isn’t obvious enough, a helpful plaque is placed above Jesus’s body on the cross: “King of the Jews.” Or consider his birth. Muraresku points out that Jesus’s first miracle at Cana is at the possible birthplace of Dionysus. But Jesus himself was born in Bethlehem.
What did the authors mean by all these details if the Gospels were fiction? Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. He was a Jew throughout his ministry, not a Greek magician. When non-Jewish politics are brought up, they are evaded. Another lawyer tempts Jesus on whether one should support the Roman occupation by paying taxes. His rejoinder, “Render that which is Caesar’s unto Caesar,” sidesteps the question; it is beyond the scope of his narrative. More important than the Jew’s political humiliation by the Romans is the status of their souls. Sometimes you must go along to get along in the material world. This story is about the Jewish authorities and how they murdered God.
The Old Testament is a history of god’s relationship with his Covenant people, a thousand-year story of a promise between the chosen people and the one true God. God outlines the terms with Moses at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19:5-6: "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation."
If the Israelites keep the commandments, then they will be blessed to prosper in the land. The relationship is mediated by prophets and priests authorized to perform rituals. They stand as intermediaries between God and his people.
For most Gentiles, it is hard to understand how seriously such an idea is taken. Luckily for you, I was raised Mormon, part of another covenant people, and I can explain. In fact, according to Mormon doctrine, my blood has been purged to physically become that of an Israelite. You may think I am joking, but ctrl-F “purge” on this live page of a Mormon handbook to see how Joseph Smith described it3. Not just symbolic!
The Mormons’ big message is that prophets are BACK. Just as Moses spoke with God, the Mormon leadership can do the same (and are sustained each year by the membership as “prophets, seers, and revelators”). While I was a missionary in Upstate New York, the prophet sent us a messenger with a promise straight from God: converts in our area would double if we were “obedient with exactness.” This became our refrain, and over the next few months, baptisms went…down. Now the instructions were clear, so the result could either be God’s fault or our fault. Our Mission President4 certainly had an opinion on the matter. When we next convened, he read us two stories from the Old Testament to illustrate the situation.
Achan’s Sin (Joshua 7):
The guidelines for clearing the Promised Land are given in Deuteronomy 20 16-18: "However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you."
After the Israelites had successfully conquered the city of Jericho, God instructed them to destroy everything and keep no spoils except for precious metals, which were to be dedicated to the Lord's treasury. However, Achan disobeys this command and takes a beautiful Babylonian garment, 200 silver shekels, and a gold wedge. When the Israelites subsequently attempt to conquer the city of Ai, they suffer a surprising and humiliating defeat. Joshua asks why god has forsaken them, to which god says, “It’s not me; it’s you.”
“Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.”
Knowing it’s a personnel issue, Joshua identifies Achan through a process of divination involving lots. Once his sin is exposed, Achan and his family are stoned, and their bodies burned in the Valley of Achor.
It is the people who carry out the punishment. So there is still a question of whether this was mob justice going too far. The mission president provided another passage to help us understand how God felt about breaking promises administered by his prophets.
Korah's Rebellion (Numbers 16)
In this story, Korah, along with Dathan and Abiram, and 250 others, challenges the leadership of Moses and Aaron, accusing them of elevating themselves above the rest of the Israelites. Moses proposes a test: each man is to bring his censer with burning incense before the Lord, and God will show whom he has chosen. The next day, when they all gather with their censers, God's glory appears, and He instructs Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the rest of the congregation. Moses warns the people to move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. As soon as he finishes speaking, the earth opens up and swallows the three men, their families, and all their possessions. The earth then closes back up, and fire comes out from the Lord, consuming the 250 men who had presented their censers. This serves as a stark warning of the consequences of rebellion against God's appointed leaders.
The Mission President then asked us, “Who has touched accursed things?” and proceeded to interview us one by one, asking us to confess5. I still wonder how purposeful the phrasing of “touch” was, given this word does not appear in the bible but reoccurred in his rousing speech.
I am not just having a go at the Mormons for sending me on a mission. I’m trying to explicate the Old Covenant worldview I lived a small part of. If God says (through an Apostle or Prophet) that baptisms will double and they do not, then we must have failed to live up to our agreement as a group. The Mission President believed this enough to say, very pointedly, that God could command us to commit genocide—he has in times past—and we were lucky he just wanted us to follow mission rules. As always, god remains harsh but fair.
The New Covenant
Central to the New Testament is the introduction of the New Covenant, which fulfills and expands the Old. This is very obvious when you are trained to think in terms of covenants. The Old Covenant is a promise tied to blood and soil. The Israelites will prosper on their land if they follow the Law. Prophets and priests mediate this relationship between God and his people. This is their religion. On the other hand, the New Covenant is defined by personal contact with god and is available to anyone.
The New Covenant emphasizes a personal relationship with God. Instead of being mediated by priests, it is mediated by Jesus (who is also God6). The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews describes how the New Covenant adds to the Old, which required the blood sacrifice of animals. Hebrews 9:14-15: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
In Hebrews 4:14-16 Paul explains: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Jesus is to replace the priests. Instead of human intercessors, the middle man is now the Son of Man. In the same letter, he argues that this fulfills the Old Testament prophecy of Jeremiah7. There is no way to understand the New Covenant or New Testament without reference to the Old.
Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant is available to all, contingent on their (symbolic) death and rebirth8 through Christ.
To opt into the New Covenant, one simply has to have faith in Christ and be baptized, as Paul explains in Galatians 3:26-28: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
While the Old Covenant sets forth rules governing actions and conduct, the New Covenant elevates the mandate, focusing on the condition of the heart and mind, reflecting a higher, more interior law. Jesus' teachings extend and deepen the meaning of the Old Testament laws, such as in Matthew 5:27-28 where He reframes the prohibition against adultery to include even lustful thoughts, saying, "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." This shift from external actions to internal dispositions is indicative of the transformative power of the New Covenant. The old law demanded animal sacrifices. Christ is the ultimate and last sacrifice ushering in a higher law.
In the Old Covenant, ritual activities centered around the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple served not only as a religious center but also a living representation of the covenant, housing god’s divine presence amongst the Israelites. This presence was symbolically located within the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the Temple, which could never be viewed (good thing Indiana knew this). There was one exception each year on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. The High Priest was allowed to enter the inner sanctuary and offer a blood sacrifice, beseeching God's mercy for the collective sins of the people.
In 70 AD, Roman forces led by General Titus quashed a major Jewish revolt and razed the Temple in Jerusalem, plunging the Jews into a period of debate over the future of their religion. To say this was a fractious time would be an understatement. Even during their revolt, they did not show a united front. The Jews had enough food to survive for years, but the Zealots, a radical Jewish group, torched the city's food reserves. Intending to compel all to join the fight against Rome, this extreme act intensified internal conflicts, worsened the siege's hardships, and hastened Jerusalem's fall. There was a lot of finger-pointing to go around.
While some Zealots clung to the hope of restoring the Temple and their sovereignty, the Pharisees began laying the groundwork for what would evolve into Rabbinic Judaism which centered the study and interpretation of the Torah in religious life. The Sadducees, closely linked to the Temple's priestly functions, saw their influence greatly diminished, while the Essenes, a monastic and apocalyptic group, largely faded from prominence. It was during this time of upheaval and uncertainty that the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were authored, articulating the teachings of Christianity, which was still in its formative stage and entangled with these Jewish debates.
Remember, Jesus’s ministry is dated to about AD 30, forty years before the temple was destroyed. According to the Gospels, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and goes to the Temple to prepare for Passover. He finds it filled with money changers and merchants selling animals for sacrifices. The Temple was supposed to be a place of worship, but it had become overrun with commerce and profit-making activities. Reacting to this, Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. He drives them out, declaring that they have turned the house of God into a den of thieves. They ask him on what authority he can say such a thing, to which he replies in John 2:19-21:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.”
This is a remarkable thing to have said 40 years before the temple was in fact destroyed and Jesus ushered in a New Covenant to replace the temple which was also symbolized by his body9. It was on another passover that Jesus shared his Last Supper with his twelve disciples. He again spoke of his body, telling them that the bread and wine were his body and blood. Christians to this day renew their covenants with god by partaking in these sacraments. Muraresku claims that this was a continuation of the sacraments of Dionysus and Demeter—the wine was spiked with psychedelics. If one accepts that claim, I contend that the early Christian Mysteries were still understood as a continuation and replacement of the Jewish temple.
The incident at the temple is brought up as evidence against Jesus at his trial by the Sadducees and Pharisees. Mark 14:58 “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.” This was supporting evidence for his blasphemy. It was an important claim to the Gospel writers.
If the connection was not explicit enough, at the moment Jesus draws his last breath on the cross, the temple veil, separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, was torn. This event symbolizes a shift from the Old Covenant's restrictive access to God, mediated by priests, to the New Covenant's direct access, facilitated by Jesus' sacrifice. The torn veil signifies the breaking of barriers and the 'Holy of Holies' availability to every believer.
I remind you again why Jesus said he spoke in parables “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them…For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
My interpretation is not particularly esoteric. The body of Christ—the sacrament—replaced temple worship. Given the political realities of the time, an extended parable may have been the best way to advertise a new syncretic religion. Many preachers were crucified, and the price of bootlegging the Eleusinian Mysteries was death.
The Grand Jewish Conspiracy (Christianity)
With that refresher on Judeo-Christianity, we are ready to talk about the myth-makers. Who would have had the will and ability to pull something like this off? I think it must have been:
a group of Jews that had deeper issues with the Sanhedrin than the Romans
who believed they had the ultimate truth and wanted to share it with the world
Now, I don’t mean to solve the whodunit right here. But for the sake of argument, imagine you’re an Essene Jew with fundamental disagreements with the priests, who you believe corrupt the temple. The theological chasm runs so deep that you go to live in the desert, purifying yourself while you wait for the world to end. You debate the true nature of religion with your brothers for decades. And then, in AD 70, the Jewish world does end. This is your chance to argue forcefully for your vision of the future. The Gospels are born, inviting all those with ears to hear the New Covenant. You immortalize one of the many preachers who had been killed and place the allegorical events two generations back, just out of memory.
Or imagine you are a Hellenized Jew, integrated with the outside world, and your people launch themselves into war with the greatest empire on earth. Might you create a syncretic religion that safeguards the temple's mysteries, castigates the Sanhedrin, and is written in Greek? Top shelf conspiracy right there.
The Jew’s fractured politics are a Monty Python skit 2,000 years later. After the temple was destroyed, it would have been the perfect time to advertise a way forward with the New Covenant. More than that, the Jews believed they had a special relationship with God that stretched back thousands of years. The New Testament takes the celestial truths the prophets had grappled with and lays them bare for all. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it! The Holy of Holies had been unveiled; anyone with eyes to see could draw from the Living Waters. If the myth was drafted, it stands as the most effective conspiracy ever. A mere 300 years after the temple was razed, Roman Emperors bowed to Jesus, king of the Jews. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World contends that the roots of modernity are embedded in Christianity. It asserts that Western principles, such as universal human rights, the notion of equality, the rise of individualism, the advent of science, and the process of secularization, are all fundamentally shaped by the Christian worldview. They laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Strange to think this world may hinge on a plot to spread the Good Word.
I am persuaded by Muraresku et al.’s work connecting Jesus to the Mystery Cults, but my account also works without psychedelics. I am more interested in how early Christians re-imagined humanity’s relationship with God and introduced a higher moral code. The desire to syncretize Greek philosophy and purify the faith, coupled with the destruction of the temple, are sufficient motives for a conspiracy. Coming from the other direction, if one accepts Muraresku’s account, then my two claims about the conspirators hold.
During his journey to Samaria, Jesus conversed with a woman about a critical disagreement: the rightful location for worship. Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim, and Jews in Jerusalem's Temple. Recounted in John 4:21-24:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.
There it is in black and white salvation is from the Jews. John, the Gospel writer who makes the most explicit references to Greek thought, still holds that the New Covenant is a Jewish project. Even in internecine Semitic conflicts, he claims the most direct line back to God is through the House of Israel. Muraresku tries to cast the New Testament as fundamentally Hellenistic. But the text does not support this, even if he can show significant continuity with the Mysteries at Eleusus. The authors believe that the Religion With No Name is Judaism, practiced correctly. Jesus even begins his ministry claiming to be the self-existing God that communed with Abraham and Moses and had led man from the beginning of time10. His body and the sacrament that symbolizes it are a replacement of the Jewish Temple. The thread to Christ runs straight through the Old Covenant.
Many people don’t believe that Jesus was resurrected but also want to treat the accounts of miracles as a sort of Jesus Fish Story. He was a fine preacher whose followers later claimed he was God; you know how these things go. I wonder how this crowd interprets Jesus’s line: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” John writes this, and the same story is referenced in Mark’s Gospel, thought to be written the year the temple was destroyed. If Jesus was not divine, was this retrospective prophecy an honest mistake? And if they spoke in parable, what does it mean?
The idea that Jesus is a myth is as old as the Bible itself. The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr explained the similarities of Jesus to a host of pagan deities by “diabolical mimicry.” Sensing the coming of the Messiah, the devil made counterfeits among the pagans to make it seem like he was a retelling of one of the poet’s tales. Similarly, he used this to explain the similarities of the Eucharist to the Mysteries of Mithras.
Even so, I find the space under-theorized. Treating Jesus as a myth almost always codes hostile. But it doesn’t have to be so. Consider this possibility. Some Jews saw profound connections between the Old Covenant and Greek philosophy, including the mystery cults. They experienced ego death at Eleusis and had a come to Jesus moment “This is what the prophets were talking about all along!”. When their temple was destroyed, they created a parable to advertise their syncretism. It included the greatest hits of moral philosophy and the Torah, as well as hints that the sacrament was after the order of Dionysus. John was even bold enough to rewrite Genesis: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God.” This turned out to be the most powerful meme the world has ever seen, eventually defeating the pantheon of Roman deities. I don’t think it was constructed so masterfully by accident. In the future, I’d like to write more about how, other than a literal belief in resurrection, this is the most positive account of Christianity. Out of the ashes of the temple sprung a democratization of the mystery cults, a new personal God, and a clearer understanding of creation.
This framing may answer Muraresku’s ultimate question of the nature of the Religion with No Name. He hints that it may go back to Gobekli Tepe. If so, might I suggest it was the Snake Cult of Consciousness?
The Sanhedrin was the supreme religious, legislative, and judicial body in Judea during the time of Christ, a part of the Roman Empire. Made up of 71 members, including priests, elders, and scholars, it exercised significant influence over Jewish society, handling both religious matters, such as interpreting Jewish law, and secular issues, including negotiating with the Roman authorities.
Not a Gospel writer, but the author of many letters to various congregations. He was one of the most important figures in early Christianity and, incidentally, used to work for the Sanhedrin before his conversion to Christianity.
For posterity to avoid link rot: “This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, though it may not have half as much visible effect upon the body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by the Holy Ghost. In such a case, there may be more of a powerful effect upon the body, and visible to the eye, than upon an Israelite, while the Israelite at first might be far before the Gentile in pure intelligence” (Smith, Teachings,149–50).
The man tasked by the Apostles to lead a hundred or so young missionaries across a geographic area. In our case, this was most of Upstate New York.
This phrasing, along with “kill anything that breathed,” was a touchstone of the speech.
Don’t blame me for the tension of a “mediator” with God also being God. It’s baked in to the Bible
Jeremiah was a prophet during the Babylonian captivity (600 BC). As the New Testament was written during Roman captivity, it makes sense to look back to those days for guidance. Jeremiah 31:31-34: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."
As it so often happens, death is wrapped up in life. Romans 6: 3-6: "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his."
Catholics take this literally. Not sure how it happens, but when they bless the bread, there is a physical transformation. And they say the Pagans are cannibals!
Bit of a deep cut, but one of my favorite bible verses is a response to lawyers. John 8: 58 “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” This refers to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals his name to Moses: “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Another common English translation is "I AM WHO I AM," but it could also be translated as "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE" because the Hebrew root word "hyh" can mean both "to be" and "to become." The phrase suggests an ongoing, dynamic presence.
"Yahweh" is derived from the same Hebrew root "hyh." It is often translated as "He Who Is," "He Who Exists," or "He Causes to Be." This name suggests an ongoing, self-sustaining existence.
You can see why the lawyers at the temple tried to kill Jesus when he said he was “I am,” God, the self-existing one. This was the highest order of blasphemy. I find the recursive definition profound, particularly in the context of a conspiracy re-imagining god's nature. As it happens, recursion is also essential to the human condition and likely a recent human ability.