Background to the Gospels
Prophecy of the Messiah
originating in Egypt and spreading to the Greek world, Isis was the Sorrowing Mother, the Loving Comforter, the bearer of the gift of eternal life.” She was married to Osiris who died and had risen from the dead. It spread to each of the great cities in pre-Roman times. It was one of the closest pagan cults to Christianity that followed. Will Durrant’s’ Caesar and Christ, the Hellenistic revival, Caesar and Christ page 523
Well before the time of the birth of Jesus, “Egypt, Asia Minor, and Hellas had long since believed in gods – Osiris, Attis, and Dionysus – who had died to redeem mankind. Caesar and Christ page 523
Judas Maccabeus and revolt of the Jews
in 143 BC, Simon Maccabee obtained the independence of Judah from Roman rule. Romans laid siege in 63 BC. The Romans perceived that the Jews would not fight on the Sabbath, they were right, and they took control of Jerusalem and the Temple. They then exacted an expensive indemnity from Judea.
Thereafter, Judea was ruled by Herod the Great, appointed by Rome to rule it. Herod was not himself a Jew, but he sought a cultural unity, encouraging Greek ways dress, and ideas.
Thereafter, Rome was very cautious to limit the possibilities of a further bid for independence of Judea.
The Roman Empire
Attributes of Caesar and other Roman rulers, Caesar and Christ, Will Durant:
Augustus himself became one of the chief competitors of his gods.… Caesar had been recognized by the Senate as a deity, and his worship spread throughout the empire. As early as 36 BC some Italian cities had given Octavian a place in their pantheon; by 27 BC his name was added to those of the gods .… And after his death the Senate decreed that his genius or soul, was thereafter to be worshiped as one of the official divinities.
When Augustus visited Greek Asia in 21 BC he found that his cult had made rapid headway there, dedications and orations hailed him as “Savior,” “Bringer of Glad Tidings,” “God the Son of God”; some men argued that in him was the long awaited Messiah, bringing peace and happiness to mankind.
Caligula’s final pleasantry was to announce himself as a God, equal to Jupiter himself.… He set up a temple to his Godhead, with a core of priests and a supply of select victims, and he appointed his favorite horse is one of the priests. Caesar and Christ P.268
The Pharisees and the Sadducees – taken from the International Version
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the two major religious groups in Israel at the time of Christ. The Pharisees were more religious minded, while the Sadducees were more politically minded. Although the groups disliked and distrusted each other, they became allies in their common hatred for Jesus.”
Characteristics of each group taken from notes of the New International Version:
The Pharisees were committed to obey God’s commandments; they were admired by the common people for their piety, they believed in bodily resurrection and eternal life, they believed in angels and demons; however, they behaved as though their religious rules were just as important as God’s commandments. Their piety was often hypocritical. They believed salvation was attainable by perfect obedience to the law and was not based on forgiveness of sins. They were obsessed with their laws, which deflected their attention from God’s mercy and grace.
The Sadducees believed strongly in the Mosaic law and in Levitical purity. They were more practically minded than the Pharisees. They relied on logic, placing little importance on faith. They did not believe that all the Old Testament was God’s word. They did not believe in bodily resurrection or eternal life. They did not believe in angels nor demons. They were often willing to compromise their values with the Romans to maintain their status and position.
The contribution of Paul, Caesar and Christ the Apostles at page 588
“Paul created the theology of which none but the vaguest warrants can be found in the words of Christ: that every man born of woman inherits the guilt of Adam, and can be saved from eternal damnation only by the death of the Son of God.… Egypt, Asia minor, and Hellas had long since believed in gods – Osiris, Attis, Dionysus – who had died to redeem mankind; such titles as Savior and Deliverer had been applied to these deities; and the word Lord, used by Paul of Christ, was the term given in Syrian – Greek cults to the dying and redeeming Dionysus.
The contribution of John: ibid., at 595
… John, having lived for two generations in a Hellenistic environment, sought to give a Greek philosophical view to the mystic Jewish doctrine that the Wisdom of God was a living being, and to the Christian doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah. Consciously or not, he continued Paul’s work of detaching Christianity from Judaism.
A distinction between “Jesus” and “the Christ.”
Jesus refers to the earthly human: Jesus. “The Christ” refers to the religious meaning of Jesus’ life, i.e. The Son of God, the Sacrificial Lamb.
Of early Christianity and paganism, Caesar and Christ the Apostles, ibid. at 595 writes:
Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it.… The Greek language… became the vehicle of Christian literature and ritual; the Greek mysteries passed down into the impressive mystery of the mass. Other pagan cultures contributed to the syncretistic result. From Egypt came the ideas of a divine Trinity, the Last Judgment, and a personal immortality of reward and punishment; from Egypt the adoration of the Mother and Child.… From Phrygia came the worship of the Great Mother; from Syria in the resurrection drama of Adonis; from Thrace, perhaps the cult of Dionysus, the dying and saving God. From Persia came millenarianism, the “ages of the world,” the “final conflagration,” the dualism of Satan and God, Of Darkness and Light; already in the fourth Gospel Christ is the “light shining in the darkness, and the darkness has ever put it out.” The Mithraic ritual so closely resembled the Eucharistic sacrifice of the mass that Christian fathers charged the devil with inventing the similarities to mislead frail minds. Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world.
Will Durrant describes the agape love feast of the early Christians, Caesar and Christ apostles, 598:
On a Sabbath evening the dinner began and ended with prayer and scriptural readings, and the bread and wine were blessed by the priest. The faithful appear to have believed that the bread and wine were, or represented, the body and blood of Christ; the worshipers of Dionysus, Attis and Mithras had entertained like beliefs at the banquets where they ate the magical elements or symbols of their gods. The final ritual of the agape was the “kiss of love.”… Tertullian and others denounced it as having lead to sexual indulgences. [This would have been typical of the right of Dionysus] The Church recommended that the lip should not be opened in kissing, and that the kiss should not be repeated if it caused pleasure. In the third century the agape gradually disappeared.