In other areas of this Web Site, I have spoken strongly in favor of the God-given validity of a particular group ofnine religions. I have dismissed all other forms of worship which have been superceded by the long-established current practice of worship of One God (or, in India and to the East, One Enlightenment).
Now, I am going to backtrack somewhat, and raise the possibility that ancient idolatrous religions were not completely invalid. This is not to promote their revival in the world today -- God forbid! -- but merely to consider the possibility that some of them may have originated with religious experience of a meaningful variety.
In order to put this into perspective, let us consider the case of the "Book of Balaam", which is not really a separate book, but rather a name sometimes attached to a section of the Biblical Book of Numbers, Chapters 22-25.
Balaam - The LORD appears as an ass!
The story is well-known to all Bible-reading Jews and Christians. It concerns one Balak, the King of the tribe of Moab (this being the tribe of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, the progenitor of the line of the Messiah).
Now Balak saw the Children of Israel encamped on the plains outside his district, and he feared greatly. The Israelites were at the tail-end of their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and had already overpowered two small Kingdoms in the process (the Kingdoms of Og and Sihon). They were very numerous. According to the Biblical census, Israel had over 600,000 fighting men, which means that, counting women, children, and the elderly too old to fight, the population of Israel in the wilderness was in the neighborhood of 2,000,000! Two-million hungry, homeless people, bound together with a spiritual bond, in the belief that the land we now call "Israel" was theirs by a Heavenly decree.
No wonder Balak was scared!
Recognizing that he was militarily insufficient to overcome this mass of Jewish humanity without help, he employed a method which was apparently common in those days: He hired a prophet to curse them. The prophet he hired was Balaam (actually pronounced more like "Beelam" in Hebrew; I don't know where the King James folks got "Balaam" from).
Balaam is a very interesting character. In the Bible, and in our Judeo-Christian tradition right up to the present day, Balaam is considered to have been a pagan magician and soothsayer, worthy of death (he is, in fact, killed in one of Moses' military campaigns at the end of the story). However, he prays to our God, the God of Abraham, and his prophecies have been permanently enshrined into the Hebrew liturgy. Strange, is it not?
One of Balaam's sayings, which, in Hebrew, begins "Ma tovu...(etc.)", and which, in English, reads "How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your sanctuaries O Israel", is the opening prayer in the standard Jewish prayer service, and has been so for unknown centuries. The Hebrew inscription "Ma tovu..." is often embroidered into the curtains covering the Arks of the Torah scrolls in modern synagogues. Now remember, Balaam was, and still is considered to have been a pagan soothsayer, worthy of death. Strange, is it not?
Balaam also made the prophecy that "there shall step forth a Star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17), a saying which is critically important to both Jewish and Christian Messianic belief. Again I remind you that Balaam was, and still is, considered to have been a pagan.
Strange, is it not?
So who was he? We shall never know, since the Bible is the only source of information we have about him, and the biographical detail is scant indeed.
A more important question, however, is "what was he?", and to this latter question we can perhaps provide an answer.
And the answer is that Balaam was probably a "Muslim", by whatever name that faith was called before the prophet Muhammad re-shaped the religion into its current form. There is abundant evidence that the nations surrounding Israel knew of, and -- albeit in their own strange ways -- worshipped the God of Abraham, since the beginning. Consider, for example, the famous episode of Melchizedek, King of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem), who, after Abraham's victory over the army sent by Babylon to punish the Canaanites for failing to pay tribute, blessed Abraham in the name of "God, the Most High, Maker of Heaven and Earth" (Genesis 14:18-20). Since modern Jews and Christians consider Abraham to have been the first "Jew", who was Melchizedek, that he should be revered? And he is revered, especially by Christians (because of Psalm 110:4, which is said, by Christian commentators, to establish the superiority of Jesus over Abraham).
It would appear to be self-evident that Melchizedek was a "Muslim" also.
Similarly, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was a priest of the same God to whom Moses prayed. He prayed to God, and blessed Moses in God's Name, offering animal sacrifices as well (Exodus 18:10-12). However, Jethro also made mention of "the gods", presumably a reference to the local pagan deities worshipped in the area, saying "Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods". This is also consistent with a pre-Islamic form of Islam, since it was not until Muhammad that Muslims finally abandoned their minor deities and "intercessors", whom they worshipped along with Allah.
A thousand years later, the prophet Jonah went to Nineveh, at God's command, to preach against the city. Now the ruins of Nineveh are 200 miles north of the modern city of Baghdad, which itself is a stone's throw from the ancient city of Babylon. All three are in the nation currently called "Iraq". These days, we westernized Jews and Christians delight in pretending that the people of ancient Nineveh were primitive pagans -- compared to our own spiritually "lofty" selves -- and we identify strongly with Jonah when we read this story. But ask yourself this: If the people of Nineveh, then the seat of a mighty military empire, knew nothing of God, what in the world would make them listen to a wild-eyed Jewish prophet wandering their streets, uninvited, ranting and raving about their coming doom?
Impossible! No such thing could ever have happened. Clearly, the people of Nineveh knew perfectly well who God was. They must have been "Muslim" -- again, by whatever name that religion was known back then -- or they never in a million years would have paid any attention at all to a wild man like Jonah. This means that they clung to their pagan minor deities, but knew that God (Allah) was supreme in their pantheon.
Now, let us return to Balaam. We are presuming that he was a prophet of the God of Abraham, and that, as a pagan, he must have been an early form of what we would today call "Muslim", which meant that he respected and sacrificed to idols, as well as to God.
Balaam was summoned twice by the embattled King Balak, for the purpose of cursing the Children of Israel. The first time, God, in a dream, ordered him not to go. The messengers of King Balak then returned, bearing great gifts and incentives, and God, again in a dream, gave Balaam permission to go. "But", said God, "only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do" (Numbers 22:20).
Subsequent events prove that God was very angry at Balaam for going. On the way down, the strangest thing happened. God spoke to Balaam directly (i.e., as opposed to a dream) -- through the mouth of an ass!
This is one of the more famous episodes in the Bible. Balaam was on the road, riding his ass, which then sat down, and wouldn't move. Balaam smote his ass, and eventually it moved. This happened three times, and the third time Balaam evidently hit the animal rather hard, at which point it opened its mouth and spoke!
At first, the animal chided Balaam for his cruelty, in view of all the service the ass had provided during his life. Balaam defended himself, and threatened to kill the ass for his rebelliousness, but then "the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand" (Numbers 22:31). This straightened Balaam out quickly.
This episode reveals that God may appear in many ways, including in the form of an animal.
Did God Appear to the Ancients in Various
Animal and/or Human Forms?
Have you ever considered the possibility that some of the animal-like deities of the ancient (and, unfortunately, even modern) world, may have begun their "careers" with a vision like that of Balaam?
That is, suppose God had indeed appeared to some ancient prophet as an ass, and did not, for His own good reasons, reveal His true form to said prophet. Might that prophet have then gone home and built an image of an ass, and worshiped it?
There is abundant evidence both past and present, that whenever people have a true religious experience (or a false one, for that matter), they have a tendency to "enshrine" the place, the objects, or the people involved.
It is very easy to see how that can turn into an idolatrous religion.
This could have been the origin of any number of ancient religions. Was it? We shall probably never know.
One might ask "Why -- if God only accepts worship of Himself in His own form -- why would the same God appear as an animal, encouraging what we now perceive as idolatrous and sinful forms of worship?"
The answer is, first of all, we don't have any documentation that our God ever did appear to the ancients as an animal, with the exception of Balaam. Therefore, this discussion is sheer speculation. But it is speculation with a worthwhile end.
Thus, if God did appear as an animal, he may have done so, at least in part, to test the subject to whom he thusly appeared -- to see whether the subject would now turn to Him with the whole heart, or rather build a statue of the animal, and worship the statue instead.
If God actually did this, then we know the answer: Mankind did indeed build a statue of the animal, and, before long, wound up worshipping the statue instead of God. Whereupon God set forth to exterminate these forms of false worship.
It is my opinion that God did indeed appear to the ancients as an animal, but that -- as in the case of Balaam -- He made it known that He was not actually "in" the animal, but was merely using it as a "stage" to speak from. He then "sat back" to see what the ancients would do. They enshrined the animal, and worshipped it.
So God destroyed these ancient forms of worship, and raised up Abraham, who worshipped God in theabstract, without any idolatrous crutch to lean upon.
There is no scientific proof that God made a practice of appearing to the ancients in animal form, nor shall there be. Nevertheless, I strongly suspect that He did. I think this because it makes a great deal of sense to do so. But even if proof emerged that God never appeared to the ancients in this manner, and that the ancient idolatrous religions were pure fraud, fiction, and fabrication, it would have no effect on my religion. Whether the ancients worshipped idols with or without an "excuse" is irrelevant, because -- one way or the other -- God drove those false religions out, and they are now mere "history".
Similarly, ancient forms of worship involving multiple "gods" in human form, from Isis and Osiris to Nimrod and Tammuz, and from Zeus to Jupiter, may have begun with real visitations by the God of Abraham, appearing to these ancients in the form of a man -- or woman. Then God may have sat back to see whether these would now worship Him at long last, or rather build a statue of the man or woman in whose form God had chosen to appear. When mankind did the latter, and built statues, God was not pleased. When they did worse, attributing their own greedy and evil personality traits to the "gods" they had invented (!), God said "enough is enough", and drove them out.
Consequently, I am strongly inclined to take ancient religions very seriously, PROVIDED that such consideration is for the purpose of better understanding why it was that God drove those religions out. This point of view is particularly relevant with respect to the modern-day "Afro-centric" point of view, wherein it is reiterated that such religious writings as the Ten Commandments of the Bible can be found inscribed onto the walls of the ruins of ancient Egypt.
If there is One God who rules in all places, then it shouldn't be surprising to find His sayings inscribed in more than one place. That, however, does not obligate us to fall back upon false forms of ancient worship which rose up, fell flat on their backs, and were rejected. The religion of ancient Egypt had its day, and its day is over. Whatever of value God put into it has been moved into Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There's no turning back.
Is the Story of Jesus Merely Recycled Egyptian Myth?
In ancient Egyptian mythology -- and in other ancient mythologies -- stories of saviors being murdered and rising from the dead apparently abound. It is said that the parallels between the Christ "legend" and these ancient legends are "striking".
Just how "striking" these "parallels" are will depend upon which version of the ancient mythology one accepts, since each of them comes in multiple forms. It will also depend upon how the ancient stories are told, since a good story-teller can choose to either emphasize or de-emphasize apparent similarities.
A good source of information about this particular subject is the book by confirmed atheist John G. Jackson, "Christianity Before Christ" (American Atheist Press, Austin, Texas, 1985). This dedicated and devoted antichrist writer glorifies and extols the "virtues" of everything under the sun which is against God, whether He be thought of as the God of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. The ancient idolatrous religions, while admittedly not being portrayed as necessarily "true" by Jackson, are nevertheless presented as being very healthful for their respective nations, while Christianity is presented as being out-and-out fraud.
Gnosticism, and secular "humanism" in general, are portrayed by Jackson as being the veritable salvation of the human mind, and worship of God is portrayed as brain-death.
Jackson forgets entirely that in ancient Athens there were more slaves than freemen, and that in ancient Rome anyone who complained about the stomach-turning behavior of the ruling class had his hands or feet cut off, or got crucified. Anyone who looked different, or worshipped differently, was at peril of being fed to lions, or of being turned into a human torch so that the light of the burning of his innocent body could better enable the blood-thirsty audience to see others being thusly eaten.
The secular humanism Jackson advocates may be roughly equated to the worship of science and technology. Are we to believe that the reincarnation of the depravity of ancient "civilization" is the fair and necessary "price" for scientific knowledge? I, for one, would rather forego the next fast computer microprocessor than to see the mental disease called "Rome" brought back. But watch out -- it's coming nevertheless. And the Bible predicted that it would. In the end, "Rome", the ten-horned beast of Revelation, will indeed return. But only briefly.
There was no "christ" before Christ
The title of this section is speculative, because I don't really know that there wasn't a Bel, or an Osiris, or a Prometheus, or an Adonis (i.e., Tammuz). Mind you, I don't believe in any of them, but how can I really know?
Yet, somehow I do know. They're myths -- they never lived.
Even the devoted atheist John G. Jackson, who lists these four -- and makes mention of 26 others(!) -- in his compendium of "christs" whose lives bore "striking similarities" to the life of Yeshua (Jesus) -- even Jackson himself does not seem to believe in them. His interest seems to be the discrediting of them all, especially, of course, Jesus.
Why, then, does human mythology seem to come up with the same basic story over and over again? The atheists give two alternate explanations. One is the "myth theory", which presupposes that the tendency to invent this story arises from our own biological natures, almost as if it were an inherited genetic trait. This might mean, for example, that we observe the annual deaths of plants in the winter, and their "resurrections" in the spring, and our minds automatically generate a human equivalent by imagining the death and resurrection of a human "savior".
This first theory strikes me as being too ridiculous to warrant any lengthy consideration.
The alternate explanation is that all the "christ" myths stemmed from a common historical character whose real identity has long been forgotten.
This second explanation is essentially correct, except that the identity of the common historical character is hardly forgotten. The common historical character is Yeshua Messiah -- "Jesus Christ".
"But", you will protest, "Christ lived after all these myths were invented! How can a myth be based upon a human being who has not yet been born?"
I'll tell you how.
"Beyond the Cosmos"
"Beyond the Cosmos" is the name of a book by the God-fearing Christian astronomer Hugh Ross (Navpress, P.O. Box 35001, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80935). Dr. Ross' theory -- which I believe to be entirely correct -- is that God works extra-dimensionally.
Thus, time, which we humans are prisoners of, is merely another navigable dimension to God. What we call "past", "present", and "future" all exist simultaneously in the Mind of God.
That is why, for example, His prophets "know" the future. It is not really the prophets who "know" the future, but their God, who both knows the future, and informs them of it.
I would like you to consider a well-known episode in the New Testament, and give you an explanation for it which may seem novel to you. When Jesus was on the cross being murdered, he yelled out "eli, eli, lama sabachthani?", which is a good English transliteration of the Hebrew words meaning "my father, my father, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).
It is commonly supposed, among Christians, that he was quoting scripture, namely Psalm 22, which opens with these words, almost exactly. This, however, is not entirely correct. This implies that Jesus, in the throes of death, was, in effect, leading a Bible study class, which is a particularly unpersuasive theory.
Scripture required that the Son of Man die on the cross ("And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death...")[Isaiah 53:9]. He could not have died if the Spirit of God was in him, since the Spirit of God is life. Therefore, the Spirit of God had to leave him.
This Spirit entered Jesus at some prior time. Traditional Christianity holds that the Holy Spirit entered Jesus at the moment of his conception, and that he was therefore "divine" from the very beginning. This is entirely possible, and accounts satisfactorily for all the extraordinary occurrences surrounding his infancy. Whether the Spirit remained conjoined with him throughout his childhood, however, we cannot know, since we know next-to-nothing about his childhood. If there came a time when the Spirit became persistently conjoined with Jesus, it may not have been at birth, but could also have been later. This could have occurred, for example, at the time he successfully resisted the temptation of Satan in the wilderness, or at the time he was baptized by John the Baptist (at which time the Spirit descended "like a dove...lighting upon him" -- Matthew 3:16).
Regardless of when the Spirit entered, it surely left at the last moment on the cross. If it had not left, he could not have died, because the Spirit of God is life.
Therefore, when, as he faced the moment of death, he yelled out "my father, my father, why hast thou forsaken me?", it was surely because his Father had, indeed, forsaken him. If not, scripture could not have been fulfilled.
Therefore, it was not Jesus who -- like a teacher teaching Bible class, or like an actor reciting lines on the stage -- was quoting lines from David, but the reverse: David was quoting Jesus.
How? Easy. God works extra-dimensionally, and stands entirely outside of time. God showed David the crucifixion, or part of it, or at least the terrible suffering of it, and David, servant of God, dutifully reported on it -- 900 years before it actually occurred.
In the same way, the writers and fabricators of ancient mythology were not lying when they reported on the deaths and resurrections of their gods. They were simply describing, from their pagan perspectives, an event which already existed in the mind of God Almighty, even though it had not yet occurred in the "real" world.
This is why the Bible says, of the Son of Man:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from days of old, from everlasting.
Since, therefore, the life and ministry of Jesus was the visible manifestation of the eternal living Spirit of God, we should not be surprised to see David quoting him before he was physically born, and we should not be surprised to see pagans -- in all ages -- fabricating myths which bore a distinct resemblance to his story. However, the difference between myth and Gospel is that the characters of mythology were fiction at the outset, whereas the Gospel was the truth.
We may conclude, from all of this, that pagan idolatry is not "fraud" per se, but rather a distortion of the real truth. When the falsehood of idolatrous religion is revealed, each one, in turn, is swept away, never to rise up again -- no matter how authentic its root may have been.
In this regard, it is well to remember the old saying "the Devil quotes scripture". In the Garden of Eden, the Devil perpetrated recorded history's first deception. "Hath God said Ye shall not eat of any tree in the Garden?", he asked Eve. She replied by quoting the commandment to steer clear of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, lest, if she should eat of it, she would surely die. "Ye shall not surely die", said the snake.
So Eve ate of the Tree, and gave to her husband with her. Lo and behold, they did not die! At least, not immediately. But they died -- later.
Do you know anyone who didn't die?
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"Did Abraham Worship God Only In The Abstract?"
We treat Abraham as if he were special, because he experienced God purely in the abstract. He made no mention of any physical forms from which stone idols could have been made and worshipped. Is this really true?
Well, not exactly.
In Genesis 18, the Bible teaches -- rather explicitly -- that the LORD appeared to Abraham in the form of a man. Who was this man? Some Christian commentators presume the man to have been Christ. Others say he was the archangel Gabriel. The Bible does not give us an answer.
Regardless of who the man was, the fact remains that Abraham did not make a statue of him, or of anything else under the sun. Even though God appeared to him in the [form of] flesh, he continued to worship God exclusively in the abstract.
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