Over the past couple of years, I have been speaking and writing on the subject of "Rescuing Jesus (and America) from the Religious Right" (which was the subject of the "Rescuing Jesus" podcasts [which can be found on iTunes or linked to from this site]). As evidenced by the 2008 elections, we have made some progress toward that goal. The enormous influence that the Religious Right has wielded for the last eight years has, indeed, waned considerably. However, we still have a very long way to go before we can even begin to think about lowering our guard.
One of the major problems that we face going forward, is that many moderate and liberal Christians are unsure about how they should deal with the fact that almost all of the positions that are held by the Religious Right (positions that the moderate and liberal Christians oppose) can find support in the Christian Bible. The 2004 Senate campaign between Barack Obama and Alan Keyes is an excellent example of this problem.
Here is an excerpt from Barack Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope":
"Alan Keyes presented the essential vision of the religious right in this country, shorn of all compromise. Within its own terms, it was entirely coherent, and provided Mr. Keyes with the certainty and fluency of an Old Testament prophet. And while I found it simple enough to dispose of his constitutional and policy arguments, his readings of Scripture put me on the defensive."
"His readings of Scripture put me on the defensive." President Obama is an excellent example of a moderate or liberal Christian, while Alan Keyes is the quintessential representative of the Religious Right. The ability of Alan Keyes to put Barack Obama on the defensive in this manner, presents us with a very serious problem. The ability of the Religious Right to back up their positions with quotations from the Bible gives them a perceived legitimacy in the eyes of moderate and liberal Christians that I do not believe that they deserve.
President Obama continued in his book:
"What could I say? That a literal reading of the Bible was folly? Unwilling to go there, I answered with the usual liberal response in such debates--that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my religious views on another, that I was running to be a U.S. senator from Illinois and not the minister of Illinois. But even as I answered, I was mindful of Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation--that I remained steeped in doubt, that my faith was adulterated, that I was not a true Christian."It is my intention to demonstrate that the defensiveness that is described by President Obama in his book and that is likewise felt by numerous liberal and moderate Christians, is both unnecessary and harmful.
There are currently two vastly different versions of Christianity being practiced in the United States. One version stresses the "Born Again" experience (the acceptance of Jesus Christ as a personal Lord and Savior) and is practiced by such people as Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin. The other version stresses what has come to be known as the "Social Gospel" and is supported by, among others, Bishop John Shelby Spong and Barack Obama. The first group believes that the way to get to heaven is through a belief in the sacrificial death and supposed resurrection of Jesus the Christ, while the second group believes that the proper path is defined by the admonition to "Love your neighbor as yourself" as presented by Jesus of Nazareth. It is commonly held that these differences are the result of differing interpretations of the same religion. It is my contention, however, that these differences are the result of two completely different religions being inappropriately thrown together in what we now call the New Testament. In conversations that I held with Dr. Carl Sagan, he expressed this idea very eloquently:
"My longtime view about Christianity is that it represents an amalgam of two seemingly immiscible parts?the religion of Jesus and the religion of Paul. Thomas Jefferson attempted to excise the Pauline parts of the New Testament. There wasn't much left when he was done, but it was an inspiring document." (A letter from Dr. Sagan to myself.)The document that Dr. Sagan referred to has become known as the "Jefferson Bible." As Dr. Sagan stated, "It is an inspiring document." Unfortunately, it and similar works are all too often effectively dismissed by conservative Christians as merely being examples of "liberal revisionism." Utilizing my two decades of research into the teachings of an early group of Jewish followers of Jesus and the Original Apostles (often referred to as the Ebionites), I will present evidence that shows that Jefferson was right on target. Rather than being an example of "liberal revisionism," Jefferson's work presents an accurate view of the life and teachings of Jesus as reported by the Original Apostles who traveled with and learned from Jesus himself. I will trace how the emphasis of the religion was changed over time from the Sermon on the Mount to the Cross, from the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth to the death and supposed resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
I will utilize information from the Bible, the writings of the original Jewish followers of Jesus, the Didache, the so-called "Q Document," and the insights of great minds such as Thomas Jefferson, Jeremy Bentham, and Carl Sagan, to show how the original compassionate religion OF Jesus of Nazareth was distorted almost beyond recognition (by the "self-appointed" apostle, Paul, and his followers) into a "me-oriented" religion ABOUT Jesus the Christ (a caricature made up of bits of Jesus, that were combined with and corrupted by the addition of material from the mythologies of Dionysus, Mithras, and other Greco/Roman Deities). Moderate and Liberal Christians, who wish to actually honor the life and follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, need to weed out and totally discard all of the misinformation that Paul, and those who have followed in his footsteps, have added to the original message of love and compassion that was at the heart of Jesus' teachings. Thomas Jefferson (who called Paul "the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus") did most of the work for us already. Utilizing two copies of the King James Bible, a pair of scissors, some glue, some blank pieces of paper, and his own incredible intellect and moral sense, he cut out all of the material that he considered to be corrupting fabrications that had been added to the New Testament by Paul and those who followed after him. He threw all of that material away, and pasted what remained onto the blank pieces of paper. Thus creating a book that he called: ?The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazreth? but is now more popularly known as the Jefferson Bible. What I hope to accomplish is to provide detailed supporting evidence that shows that the historical record backs-up the choices made by Jefferson, and that his "Jefferson Bible" is both the best book and the only book that is needed by people who wish to honor the life and follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
We have made some significant progress in the task of Rescuing Jesus from the Religious Right. We must now begin the next stage of the journey . . . Rescuing Jesus from the Bible.
My research has led me to the very strong belief that those who are so often berated as being "liberal revisionists" are in fact the True Fundamentalists, because they base their beliefs on the original teachings of Jesus whereas the so-called "Fundamentalist Christians" base their beliefs on the revisionist teachings of the "self-appointed" apostle, Paul.
There are three distinct stages in the development of the story of Jesus and his teaching (found both in portions of the Bible and in other documents).
The earliest stage is that described by those who actually had a personal relationship with Jesus (the Original Apostles and their followers, known here as the Ebionites).
The second stage is presented by Paul, and those who learned their Christianity from him (remember that Paul never actually met the historical Jesus, but rather claimed [as did David Koresh and Jim Jones] to have been visited by Jesus in a "vision").
The third stage is an attempt to smooth over the animosity that existed between those who followed the Original Apostles on the one side, and those who followed Paul on the other, by giving the impression that Paul was accepted by the Original Apostles as their equal (most evident in the Book of Acts written by Paul's friend, Luke).
Dr. Carl Sagan referred to the resultant New Testament as: "An amalgam of two seemingly immiscible parts--the religion of Jesus and the religion of Paul." (A letter from Dr. Sagan to Ken Schei)
Unfortunately, the Pauline Church was very effective in their effort to destroy the Ebionite writings (gospel, acts, letters, etc.). However, the early Church Fathers recorded many of the Ebionite's beliefs in the Church Father's own writings (from an adversarial standpoint, of course). Here is a brief list of Ebionite beliefs and the Church Fathers who recorded them:
They believe in one God and one God only, they do not accept Jesus as God. (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus)
They use the gospel of Matthew only (a different version than the one found in the New Testament). (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Epiphanius)
They reject Paul as an apostate from the law. (Irenaeus, Origen, Epiphanius)
They practice circumcision. (Irenaeus, Origen, Epiphanius)
They observe the Sabbath. (Eusebius, Epiphanius)
They live according to the Jewish life style and the Law. (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius)
They hold the observance of the Mosaic Law (the corrected version presented by Jesus) as necessary for salvation. (Hippolytus, Eusebius)
They reject the virgin birth of Jesus. (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius, Epiphanius)
They believe Jesus to be a mere man. (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Eusebius, Epiphanius)
They maintain that Jesus had to merit his title, Son of God, by fulfilling the Law. (Hippolytus, Epiphanius)
They believe that Jesus came to do away with sacrifices. (Epiphanius)
They give up all goods and possessions. (Epiphanius)
They admit Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, but none of the prophets (David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Elijah, Elisha) (Epiphanius)
They claim that Jesus alone is the true prophet. (Epiphanius)
Here is a brief history of the period as seen by the Original Apostles and their followers (the Ebionites):
The Ebionites describe a doctrinal battle following the death of Jesus between the Original Apostles and Paul over primarily (but not exclusively) the deification of Jesus.
The Original Apostles are based in Jerusalem while Paul sets up churches in the Greek and Roman Empires.
The Original Apostles send out emissaries to Paul's churches telling them that Paul is teaching false doctrine (Paul's letters are primarily aimed at countering these visits. The "So called special apostles" [2 Cor 11:5] that Paul defended himself against were none other than the original apostles (Peter and John, [and James the brother of Jesus]).
The Original Apostles ALMOST prevail. Paul himself admits that his followers are leaving him: "All deserted me" [2 Tim 4:16]. Even his closest friends (Barnabas and Demas, see 2 Tim 4:10 and Gal 2:13) return to the side of the Original Apostles.
Just when it seemed that the Original Apostles (and, in my honest opinion, the true story of Jesus) would win out, the Romans conquered Jerusalem and the Original Apostles were (along with much of the Jewish population) scattered into the desert.
With the Original Apostles no longer able to counter Paul's preaching, Paul's version becomes accepted among his churches.
When it comes time to choose the canon of the church, it is chosen by people who have been raised in and are practicing Paul's religion. It is only natural that they will view anything that attacks Paul's credibility as being heretical.
I realize that this is a very bare-bones description. On the Blog Page (and in podcasts that can be accessed from the Blog), I will present these ideas and more in much greater detail.
I will be attempting to present convincing evidence that the Ebionites were who they claimed to be (the Original Apostles and their followers), and that they presented the most accurate picture of the life and teachings of Jesus that is available to us today. If I am successful, the major effect will be to show that Jesus taught that the way to get to Heaven was the difficult path of working to live a good life (the position held by the Original Apostles) rather than the easy path of simply believing in a salvation provided by Jesus' death (as presented by the followers of Paul). However, it is not really necessary for people to accept that the Ebionites were who they claimed to be in order to accept their teachings. Ample evidence to support their major claims can be found in the New Testament. For an example of this evidence, please go to the "Works vs. Faith" article that is found on the Podcast Page. (Click on "Why the Right is Wrong" on the right side of the page.)