Strange bedfellows... The Old and New Testaments
"Without the Law of Moses, would we all be running around like little gods, stealing, raping, and spilling blood ...?"
- Dan Baker:
Losing Faith in Faith
Who or what is God? This remains a mystery beyond sensory perception and human imagination.
We can only speculate, fathom this sentient, creative energy with our faulty point of reference - our subjective experiences.
Intuitively short-handed, and short on reason, the raconteurs and scribes of the Old Testament have fashioned, for posterity, a god with human attributes - only bigger, stronger and angrier; and on the other spectrum, kinder, more compassionate and more protective, but of only those he favours.
The superman, the anthropomorphic being that we have grown to love and fear is as inscrutable and paradoxical as his human designer.
We entreat this creator as children beseech a parent. We are punished when recalcitrant and rewarded when obedient.
And it is through this constricted prism that we read and interpret the Old Testament, a book that is nothing more than a cultural chronicle of a people seen through their skewed lens.
True to form, we have adopted their god, out of fear, lest we be terrorised. And not unlike ancient gods, he is no different - jealous, quick to anger, despotic, narcissistic, with a love for burnt offerings.
That the supposed creator cherry picks a people and raises them above all other nations is beyond reason.
It gets more troubling. The god of the Old Testament validates slavery: "As for your male and female slaves whom you may: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations around you." (Leviticus 25:44).
The Old Testament god also promotes the most egregious land grab: "The Lord said to Abraham, 'Lift up now your eyes, and look from the plane where you are, northward, southward, eastward and westward, and all the land you see ... I will give it to your seed forever'." (Genesis 13:14-16).
He also engineers multiple genocides (Genesis 7: 21-23), (Chronicles 13:15-18), (Exodus 12:29), and (Joshua 6:20-21). It gets bloodier in 1 Samuel 15: 1-19, where he orders the slaughter of every Amalekites, including babies and cattle.
In good conscience, this terror just cannot be explained away as "the wages of sin", as many preachers advance. We get a clear picture when we translate the name of this god - Yahweh, the abbreviated form of Yahweh Sabaoth, that means "he that muster armies" - a warrior god to be exact.
In the Origins of Biblical Monotheism by Professor Mark Smith, Yahweh is called "a divine warrior-god from the south".
Smith later writes that both Yahweh and Baal coexisted and competed as warrior-gods."
Dr Yosef Ben-Jochannan's groundbreaking African Origins of the Major Western Religions, offers an in-depth look at Yahweh, a god that savours blood offerings.
This begs the question 'Is this the God of love, the God of all peoples, the merciful God of whom the New Testament speaks?'
Still, Christian apologists believe that there is a nexus between the Old and New Testaments. They convinced themselves that the advent of Jesus and his crucifixion were long predicated in the Old Testament, citing Isaiah 53, part of which reads: "Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all ... . He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth."
But the person of whom these verses speak could be anyone of the throng of messiahs that graced Jewish history.
Messiahship was rooted in the Jewish religious archetype. Before Jesus there was Simon of Perea. And after him (Jesus), there were many, including, Anthrongs, Simon bar Kokba, Moses of Crete, Moses Botarel, Soloman Molcho and the inimitable Zevi, still followed by a large community in Turkey.
Clearly, the so-called common thread in the Old and New Testaments is inconclusive at best.
Undeniably, these books have been hoisted on us as one, stuck together - like Siamese twins, although they are worlds apart.
Early Christians in Jesus' 'era' dismissed the crude, uneasy accommodation of these two theological positions.
Marcion of Sinope (144 CE) stands out. A son of an influential bishop, he was excommunicated from the Church. His Gospel of the Lord and Ten Epistles of Paul attracted a huge following, especially among the Gnostics who saw little need for Yahweh's culture of fear.
In fact, many at the time argued that the Father upon whom Jesus called was not Yahweh. But this leads to a discourse on Gnostic cosmology that is not the intent of this article.
The New Testament
What is certain is that the ethos of the New Testament resounds with the philosophical precepts of the East. Its message of compassion, forgiveness, and inclusion sets it apart from the tribal overtones of its older counterpart.
When Jesus intones in Luke 17:21 - "Lo here! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you," and "turn the other cheek," (Matthew 5:39), and "he that is without sin among you, let him first cast stone at her" (John 8:7), the mystical, esoteric nature of the New Testament is clearly defined.
The wise have always taught that God is unchanging and immutable. There just cannot be two versions of this infinite, eternal energy.
Jesus, the Gnostics, and early Christians gave up on the warrior-god of the Israelites, an architect of the very violence that every civil society must guard against, They articulated the same, unified, timeless message: God is love.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @glenvilleashby