If Christianity is your faith then the Easter story is one of death and despair, followed by rebirth and hope for all mankind.
Otherwise, tales of crucifixion and resurrection may seem just a little far-fetched.
For millenia people have not based their religious beliefs on historical facts – for they are scarce – but on faith instead.
What, then, if the evidence that is available casts doubts on the commonly held beliefs of those who follow Christianity?
Two such pieces of evidence have in fact been found in modern times –
THE GNOSTIC TEXTS
In 1945 a cache of Gnostic texts was discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.
The texts were buried at the very beginning of the Christian era as the Gnostics were being persecuted for their individualism, or were simply dwindling in number in the shadow of the Church of St. Peter.
The texts contain works such as ‘Pistis Sophia’, ‘Thunder, Perfect Mind’ and the ‘Gospel of Philip’ which paint a picture of the Resurrection as being solely a spiritual occurence rather than a physical one.
The Gnostic texts also portray Jesus very differently to those books that appeared in the modern day Bible, describing how he was married to his favourite disciple – Mary Magdelene.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Just two years after the Gnostic texts were recovered in Egypt there was another discovery of significant importance.
A Bedouin herder, Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed, entered a cave near Qumran on the north-west shore of the Dead Sea whilst looking for a stray goat.
Within the cave he found an ancient jar containing scrolls.
After he sold some of his findings word spread and eventually an archaeological expedition discovered over 800 scrolls spread between 11 caves.
Amongst other things, the scrolls contain the first versions of all but one of the books of the Old Testament and are some 1,200 years older than the next oldest known version of the Bible.
Subsequently, most of the scrolls that were discovered were published quite promptly.
However, publication of around 40% of the find which was located in ‘Cave 4’ was entrusted to a predominantly Catholic team of scholars knows as the ‘International Team’, led by Father Roland de Vaux.
It wasn’t until 1991 that pictures of Cave 4 emerged, leading many people to believe that the Catholic church had found the contents to be of grave concern.
Indeed, the delay in publication of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls led some to theorise that –
- Christianity was founded by James (Jesus’s brother)
- Paul (Saul) was an agent provocateur designed to disrupt the emerging faith
- Jesus did indeed marry Mary Magdalene and may have had children (as per a famous Dan Brown book)
- That Christianity pre-dated the birth of Jesus by 200 years
THE CHURCH OF PAUL
The theory about Paul (Saul) is perhaps the one that I find to be most interesting.
There are two trails of thought here – one is that Paul’s aim was to deliberately undermine anti-Roman messianic cults and the other is that he actually ended up hijacking the religion to such a degree that it would be more accurate to call it Paulianity.
Whether, as a Roman agent or otherwise, it was his intention to subvert, derail or steal Christianity is debatable.
However, Paul did indeed reinterpret Christianity, spreading a masculine-focused message rather than the original one of sexual equality.
He was also responsible for influencing Bishop Clement of Alexandria such that Gnostic influences were removed from the Gospel of Mark, thereby leaving mankind with the physical Resurrection that is celebrated at Easter, rather than the intended spiritual rebirth of the original texts.
IS CHRISTIANITY A HOAX?
Personally, I think that the Gnostic texts and Dead Sea Scrolls certainly provoke some questions and the answers to those may not be simple to come by or comprehend.
That, my friends, is why faith is such an important concept within religion.
Do you believe that the Bible offers the gospel truth about Christianity?
Or perhaps the Bible is, in essence, true but with some slight changes and distortions courtesy of Paul?
Or, lastly, is Christianity totally bogus, a hoax?
What do you think?