Behind The Myths
If this book gets the exposure and publicity it richly deserves it should attract major controversy and debate and not a little enlightment. This is a thoroughly researched and painfully detailed review of the origins of Judean/Christian/Islamic belief set against the actual contemporary evidence of the period based upon archeological evidence, historical documentation and neighbouring comparative histories . It looks at the material conditions &, class and economic forces drawing out the theological and sociological background to the rise of the respective religions and their keystone myths and histology. Based upon the evidence of hundreds of historians, the latest archaeological discoveries, and remaining contemporary documentation and commentary of the period. What is new and totally revealing is that John does this outside of the premise of accepting at face value, Torah, Biblical or Islamic accounts of their own history. This is something which no other writer to the best of my knowledge has done hitherto, since they have all to greater or lesser extent accepted the basic historic reliability of the Bible, the Torah or the Qur’an. John demonstrates with utter clarity and overwhelming evidence that the bulk of these texts are historic nonsense , forgeries or simply invented accounts of events made up as the respective religions developed and adapted to changing social conditions and class pressures. They were too, set down hundreds of years after the events they proport to describe as conscious attempts to steer the religious authority of their creeds in directions which suit the prevailing demands of the ruling class and religious elite.
His analysis of the early history of the Jews and the development of their mythology knocks huge holes in the story as writ, which forms the underlying basis for current Zionist politics and social justifications . This is particularly true when tracing the origins of who they were and how in fact if at all they differed from other people in the region. It looks at the story of exodus, of battles, and characters and sets the tale against independent accounts and histories. The stories of Creation and the Flood are legends common to all ancient cultures of the east. Nearly all the historical evidence of the first five books of The Old Testament is myth. There is no evidence whatever of a mass flight of Hebrew slaves under the leadership of Moses,or evidence of forty years traveling by masses of Hebrews in Sinai. That at the time when Canaan was supposed to have been captured by the armies of Joshua it was in fact an Egyptian province. I found his exposition on the rise of the full time priesthood particular amusing and illuminating as the holy book is bent to support the rise of this new level of hierarchy and what payment they received. Moses is made to say “This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of sanctuary..an half a shekel shall be the offering of the Lord.
And it goes on in the Book of Numbers
Jesus , fact or fiction ?
The most dramatic argument offered in this book is that Jesus as a living individual did not in fact exist, in this John refutes the notion of Kautsky that he probably did, this latter having been based upon nothing but sentimental wishful thinking. He did however identify that the gospels are not a historic source “these activities are so full of impossible and obviously fabricated material and has little that can be borne out by other evidence..” (pg 177) There are no references to Jesus in any non-Christian contemporary sources. Neither are there any references to a real Jesus in the earliest Christian writings including those of Paul, the founder of what became ‘The Church’. There was certainly a Christian movement and its message initially was radical and challenging, but Jesus himself was an amalgam of hero’s and legends. The Church as it became an established state religion of the empire weeded out hundreds of early Christian texts, and either selected small sections of others or rewrote and invented others.
John identifies the cult of Joshua as the source of the Jesus story, among a communistic radical commune movement which was anti empire, anti hierarchy and for the poor and exploited. It was messiahistic and Jewish in ritual and theology. ‘Jesus’ was a generic construct based upon legends of the movement and the embodiment of early real leaders. The story of a living real Jesus was invented hundreds of years after the development of the movement and real events, turning him from a radical albeit messiahistic embodiment of good work and radicalism into a God. That the biography was invented laced with real events and legends, carried solely in oral tradition for over a hundred years, added to and adapted to new events.and the influx of non Jewish culture and mythology taken from Greek and Roman traditions. There was no story of a biological Jesus until Mark. “It was Mark’s composition that gathered together the earlier traditions, used recent history of Jerusalem to set the stage for Jesus’s time, crafted the plot, spelt out the motivations and so created the story of Jesus which was to become the gospel truth for Christianity.” (207)
Incidentally, “It is more than likely that the name of the town of Nazareth is also fictitious…there is no reference to it in ancient sources although every other city, town and village is mentioned.” John argues that the author of the name rationalized it as the birth place of the ‘Nazarene’ (i.e. Jesus), but a ‘Nazirite’ was actually a way of life characterized by ascetism and simple life style. John quotes the Old Testament reference to Samson as Nazirite. He informs us that the root of the word is linked to the concept of separation, as a religious hermit might stand apart from the majority of people. The Old Testament also sees Moses instructed by God to insist that any Nazirite also separate themselves from wine and strong drink or vinegar, or anything from the vine of a tree. (pg 207) It was a concept of behaviour not a place.
An important development in the trajectory of the Church was the growing predominance of the Church of Rome, the capital of the empire. There is ,what John calls, equivalence in terms of status and authority in the bishoprics of the largest cities of the empire with Rome claiming the pre-eminence. “Roman Christians promoted a hierarchical structure insisting that each church should have a single bishop.” (pg 236)
There is no evidence during his life that Peter existed let alone that he held primacy over the Church of Rome as befits Catholic history. It was 160 CE before a modest memorial was built over a grave in a cemetery in the Vatican. Paul like Peter had been adopted by the Roman Church, although there is no evidence he was ever in the city. The vast bulk of church historical and theological scripture was ditched in favour of just four. Re-writing in the process an orthodox history of Christianity which gave their own version sole dominance with all other older and less orthodox versions banned and destroyed. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Nag Library and early heretical gospels of Philip and Judas among others despite all efforts to suppress them show an alternative Christianity and history.
The orthodox gospels were written and amended time after time as the theological guidelines of the Church hierarchy and the class it served.
As the Church was led away from its narrow Jewish roots it had to become easier for those of non Jewish religious cultures to join it, with the adoption of many local Gods as Saints and to local religious holidays as new Christian ones. Christmas is a prime example. The birth of Jesus was assigned to the date of the winter solstice (Dec 25th) in the Julian calendar, January 6th in the Egyptian because this is the day the Sun began its return to the northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithras (an early rival to the Church) Celebrated The Birthday of the Invincible Sun. ‘The Sun’s Birthday’ Emperor Aurelian had proclaimed The Sun God the principle patron of the empire, the Christians were to highjack it as the Birthday of the Son of God.
Following a temporary and relatively small scale persecution of the Christian faith, the Roman state moved over to its wholesale acceptance as the religion of the empire, by Constantine and his successors. It would be Christian Gods which rationalized their system and order. This was more politics and pragmatism than theology. As John says “ It was the political and social environment of the church and the needs of the Roman state which created the Theology.”
The Foundations of Islam
Johns treatment of the mythologies of Islam are no less thoroughgoing and frank than his treatment of Judaism and Christianity, but they probably require a lot more guts to make. This is true on two levels, the first being that the liberal-Left has now persuaded itself that any criticism of the beliefs and practices of Islam is ‘Racialist’, the second more importantly is that critics of Islam can wind up seriously dead. This is one of the reasons why serious theological and historic challenges to the Islamic dogma are so rare.
Like the story of Jesus there is no contemporary or archaeological evidence to support any of the story of Mohammed as a prophet of Islam. The Qur’an contains little in the way of a narrative which links the character of Mohammed or the events and theology he is alleged to have espoused. The book now is very largely composed of hadith none of which is written before the ninth and tenth century and is basically added as they went along to justify whatever law or practice the ruling class wished to evolve as the social system changed. The Qur’an by legend is believed to have been memorized word for word by several different people and carried by word of mouth alone for centuries. Given that the book is supposed to be the word of God and Mohammed his prophet, one has to ask, why in a thoroughly literate culture was that so? We all know from Chinese whispers and from folk legend and even from our own memories how quickly real events change in the telling and retelling. Yet still the book is held as perfect in every way. Whatever is NOT in the Qur’an can be put in the Qur’an by a Hadith, which is an interpretation of a saying, or event which is discovered took place or the Prophet , according to one of thousands of reliable witnesses is said to have made., these can then be projected forward as judgment on contemporary events. In this sense the Hadith far outweighs the Koran itself.
In the same way many historians take as their starting point history as it is declared in the bible, most historians of Islam accept the official accounts as contained in these Hadith even though they are contradictory and were written down centuries later. “Ameer Ali goes on to cite what purports to be a five or ten minute speech of Mohammed, word for word. This verbatim speech is only one of many quoted in his book, using sources written two hundred years after Mohammed. This re-heating of ninth century accounts of seventh century events as history is by no means unusual and is in fact the norm for most historians of Islam.” (299)
The main scientific problem for the traditional account of the life of Mohammed is there are no contemporary writings, inscriptions or any other evidence to support it. Unlike the Jewish tale, there is no contemporary historian, or personal writer from first century Judea with which to make a comparison or cross check. “In fact there is no material now in existence that was written prior to the ninth century.” (301) and of that material they are all based on recycled and re-written and edited earlier material, which may itself have been secondary or terriary.
The traditional account, therefore, is not seventh century history. The best that one could say about it, including the biography of Mohammed is that it is an account of what ninth century writers wanted to think was true of the seventh century. (304)
The traditional story of the life of Mohammed is not based upon contemporary historical evidence at all, and is in all probability entirely fictional or legendary.
He also shows quite forcibly the rise of the Arab Empire was not the rise of an Islamic Empire in accord with modern myth. At the time of the alleged life of Mohammad in the seventh century there is no mention of him or the Koran during the rise of spread of the Arab empire. These stories and the centrality of the Koran were added hundreds of years after the events and are unsupported or contradicted by archaeological evidence. There is no narrative of Mohammed’s life until the ninth and tenth centuries. The book itself has been called a “fantastic reconstruction” made up of fragments of other work, mostly non Arab, based upon snatches of other cultures and histories and badly and inaccurately translated into Arabic. This has posed Islamic scholars, for whom the text is the word of God and perfect to devise a complicated tradition of literature to account for the missing fragments and meanings of what remains. The truth is the Koran is pre-Islamic, it was only partially translated into Arabic and is unintelligible in any language, it was greatly added to with amendments and endless explanations and Hadith before being canonized as the holy book of the Arab empire. It isn’t written in any chronological order but placed in order of chapter length, original copies vary in order of lay out and content. Islam came to define itself as a specifically Arab form of monotheism through a lengthy period of polemic with Christian and Jewish scholars. The new layer of Arab theological scholars was used to consolidate an Arab ruling class and institute a state religion to consolidate the empire.
The entire Muslim tradition about early history of the text of the Koran and the life of Mohammad is manufactured. References to Mohammed as the highest authority of Islam and the law only became the norm from the mid eight or ninth century. “Chains of transmission (isnads) that purport to authenticate the words or deeds of Mohammed down the centuries were mostly fabricated.” (355)
To summarize such a work, or give more than a glimpse of the depth and scope of this is well nie impossible. This is a profound body of scientific research and historical enquiry. It ought to blow the lid off all the central myths of these three great religions, it ought to have Priests and Mullahs and Rabbi’s of all descriptions chuntering into their prayer beads , but I fear that despite the scholarship and insights of this book it will not achieve the widespread publicity it deserves. It ought actually to be summarized for schools from Primary level onward, it ought to stand as Humanist, materialist alternative to what passes as religious education but is more often than not a presentation of alternative myths as actual explanations of the world and existence. As we will see from John’s work too much of historical myth from the Torah, the Bible and the Hadiths are now starting points for historical construction and explanation without serious challenge as to there veracity.
I think my friends and comrades might find lots of these in there xmas stockings..from Santa of course.