Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In the beginning...

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." This is Genesis 1:1, the very first verse of the Bible. Children memorize it. Adults repeat it. Everybody knows it. The only problem is it's incorrectly translated. The original Hebrew doesn't say "God". Rather, it says "gods" (plural). So in fact, the original is: "In the beginning, the gods created the heavens and the earth."

The Old Testament has been rewritten and reinterpreted so many times over to match the expectations of the Christian religion. But how can the religion be true when its sacred document has been rewritten and fixed up and changed?

Christians today pride themselves on their supposed monotheism. But are its roots of the ancient Hebrew religion even monotheistic? When you let go of your pre-programmed notion that the ancient Hebrews were monotheistic and begin reading the Old Testament with an open mind, you start to find that this notion of "monotheism" is anything but true.

In fact, the ancient Hebrew people did believe in multiple gods. Officially, they only *worshipped* one of those gods. But they believed many, many existed. In fact, many of those other gods they believed in are gods from other religions, carry-overs from the religions of the surrounding people that influenced the beliefs of these ancient Hebrew people. People of the time quickly and easily absorbed the religions of others. Their superstitious beliefs let them easily think that other people had their own gods, gods who really existed but were looked down upon by their own god.

These other gods are mentioned at times in the Christian Bible. (Baal is one. There are others.) But while the ancient Hebrew people actually believed these other gods existed, they simply "demoted" them to the level of demon. But the belief was there.

As you read the Old Testament, you'll see many bizarre sentences that become more clear when you accept that the Hebrew people believed in multiple gods. There are many places where God is supposedly talking to others. For example, in Genesis 11, God is worried about the people building the Tower of Babel, and he has a conversation with somebody (it doesn't say who) and refers to "us" in plural: "Come, let us go down...". In other places he warns people of worshipping other gods, and the assumption among most Christians today is that these other gods existed only in the minds of those worshipping them. But when you let go of that assumption and read the stories at face value, it starts to become clear that the authors of the Old Testament (and the people being described in the stories) actually believed these other gods were *real* -- just not to be worshipped, that's all. In other words, they believed in competing gods. Look at how the God character warned the people that he's a jealous god. It was as if he was suggesting these other gods existed and were real.

And indeed today many Christians who are particularly superstitious often believe in demons and other evil beings (Satan included) who have supernatural abilities, but aren't gods per-se. But regardless of whether they're to be called a "god" or not, they are the same thing.

And thus, the opening verse of the Bible tells much more than people today seem to realize. The ancient people believed in multiple gods, and the Hebrew people from whom the Jewish and subsequent Christian faiths emerged believed in multiple gods, just like all the other people of the time. And they believed that these gods worked together to create the universe.

It's interesting how people will spin this, however. In my book I spend some time explaining how people will rationalize such difficulties and spin it in their own minds to "make it work." I mentioned Genesis 1:1 to somebody yesterday, a Christian, and his response was that the word "gods" in plural here simply refers to the different aspects of the one true god. That's an example of completely making up a rationalization to fit what one wants to hear.

And it's totally absurd. Sphere: Related Content

8 comments:

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sunnyskeptic said...

I think it's fun how it's in the 10 commandments. If there was only one god, there wouldn't be concern about worshiping another, would there?

Eric Haas said...

I think the OT retains bits and pieces of the transition of the ancient Israelis from polytheism, through henotheism, finally to monotheism. In your post, you’ve pointed out several instances of henotheism. There are numerous verses about trying to stamp out the worship of Asherah, who was at one time believed to be the consort of Yahweh (no point in spilling so much ink over her if people weren’t still worshiping her). And in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, the chief god, El Elyon, divides up the people of the Earth amongst his children, and Yahweh inherits Israel. Modern translations make El Elyon (the Most High) and Yahweh (the LORD) different names for the same god, which leaves us with the curious event of God inheriting a portion of his own people from himself.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

Interesting topic here...

Yeah, the Old Testament does allude to a plurality of Gods in Genesis, (and in other places). These are actually references to what is called the Trinity (and I'm sure you're familiar with that concept). It is monotheism, in the sense that the 3 are 1, but the 1 is also 3. (and yeah, I know, no matter how long you try and wrap your head around that one, it's just gonna give you a headache...)

The other "gods" such as Baal and Asherah were indeed worshipped by the Israelites throughout their history, but every time, God (the the God) showed up to point out that they were guilty of idolatry...

Like you mentioned, the bible does attribute demonic forces behind these false gods, who are real, and have supernatural power. But it was not the people of Israel who "demoted" them to the level of demon, it was God himself who made that distinction. The people themselves were constantly following after other false gods, because they were constantly losing their faith in Yahweh....

To recognize that the Israelites were often guilty of worshipping other, false, pagan deities, doesn't translate to the Bible teaching that there is a "plurality" of gods, (in a way that would be similar to the pantheon of Greek, Roman or Egyptian gods...)

Anyway, whether or not you think it's all absurd, the fact remains that Christians who respond to your take on Genesis 1 by trying to explain the Trinity, are not "rationalizing" things to make them fit. It is the bible itself which teaches us this, (and seriously, who could even come up with such an idea on their own?) and so the reality of the Trinity stands or falls with the reality of everything else in the Bible, like the resurrected Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of God. It's a package deal.

Man did not make this stuff up. What people make up is the religion, the institutions, and all the outward junk which obscured the raw truth of the gospel of Jesus. I believe it is these institutions, this religion, that you are aiming to knock down. In that regard, I pick up my sledgehammer to knock them down with you. I would challenge anyone to knock down "Christianity", and see if Christ himself still stands...

Daniel

Anonymous said...

the Hebrew, 'elohiym, has more translation than 'gods' or 'God'. It is a plural-intensive with a singular meaning. Translation: yes, the word is plural (aka: gods) but at the same time, those multiple 'gods' are one in the same. The basic concept of the Trinity.

BlueLetterBible.org is a good resource for the original Hebrew and Greek translations.

Matt said...

Daniel, you sound like quite the polished christian apologist, there, though you don't explicitly say so, or proclaim that christianity is true. Why is this so, Mr. "like a mustard seed"?

"(and yeah, I know, no matter how long you try and wrap your head around that one, it's just gonna give you a headache...)"

Three persons, or distinct entities are somehow one god...?
You don't have to try and wrap your head around that one for very long to come to the conclusion that it is as asinine as a concept can be.

You say: "...it was God himself who made that distinction. The people themselves were constantly following after other false gods, because they were constantly losing their faith in Yahweh"

Firstly, why wouldn't Yahweh just smite the other 'demons' and 'gods' out of existence?
Also, WHAT is with this sick obsession of Yahweh with *faith*? Why wouldn't he smite the other gods, make his majesty indisputable and irrefutable for all peoples in all ages, so as to prevent a myriad of human suffering (with no deficiency of creativity, might I add) for thousands of years to come...? What is this cat and mouse bullshit he calls *faith* such an important requirement and why does he delight in it so?

You say: "To recognize that the Israelites were often guilty of worshipping other, false, pagan deities, doesn't translate to the Bible teaching that there is a "plurality" of gods"

You're right, it's waaaay too ambiguous to make any concrete claims as to what it actually saying about the existence of "pagan" deities, especially in this, the 21st century, C.E.

You say: "Anyway, whether or not you think it's all absurd..."

Fully.

You say: "the fact remains that Christians who respond to your take on Genesis 1 by trying to explain the Trinity, are not "rationalizing" things to make them fit."

You're right. It is an impossible task, for there is nothing rational about the trinity and there is nothing can be rationalized to fit into the bible, because it is an ancient book of superstitious fables pathetically documented by a stupefied nomadic people who were stuck in a desert. These are superstitious people who lived in a superstitious age where EVERY little natural occurrence had some kind of SUPERnatural explanation and underlying meaning. This flies in the face of reality. The more we learn about REALITY through the application of SCIENCE, the less need we humans have for supernatural explanations. Now, look at the middle east and the united states. Obviously we still have along way to go.

You say: "(and seriously, who could even come up with such an idea on their own?)"

hmmmm...that *is* a good point, hahaha...

You say: "and so the reality of the Trinity stands or falls with the reality of everything else in the Bible, like the resurrected Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of God. It's a package deal."

You're right again. It *is* all nonsense. And the supposed 'authority' of *one* ancient 'holy book' is not even a remotely rational option to consider as evidence for a claim as incredible as a resurrection from the dead.

You say: "Man did not make this stuff up."

yes, he did

You say: "...I believe it is these institutions, this religion, that you are aiming to knock down."

No. I want to lay waste to *faith* itself, and in all forms. It is unnecessary in this, the 21st century, C.E.
Your supposed 'truth' of the "raw gospel of Jesus" directly leads to all the crap that you listed. It's a package deal.

You say: "I would challenge anyone to knock down "Christianity", and see if Christ himself still stands..."

The entire story of Jesus'very existence has absolutely no historical verisimilitude and everybody knows this.

T.J. said...

This is a very interesting discussion, however, the fact that the Hebrew word elohiym which literally means gods is translated into English as God in the Bible, only reinforces my Christian understanding and confirms my belief that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are 3 separate beings.

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) and I believe in the Bible as far as it is translated correctly. I appreciate this clarification on the incorrectness of biblical translation and I agree that most Christian's understanding of the Trinity is irrational and contradictory to the original Biblical text.

I respectfully disagree with the assumption within your argument that because Christians misunderstand their Bible, Christ doesn't exist. That is not a rational conclusion. Just because your understanding of Christianity is clearly wrong doesn't mean that God doesn’t' exist. Have you considered that Christianity as a whole is simply wrong about the true nature of God? I agree that we should "escape Christianity" in the sense that we should escape the blindness of the false theological traditions of Christianity.

Let's consider for a moment where most Christian's understanding of that verse and the nature of God comes from. Christians as a whole did not always agree with the Trinity doctrine. It wasn't until around 400 AD when the Nicene Creed was made that this false Trinity doctrine came into common belief. Hundreds of Christian leaders were summoned by the Emperor to vote on the nature of God, and ever since then nearly all Christians have blindly followed this vote, not stopping to consider why they think there is a Trinity in the sense of one being. Their minister said so, because he was told so by his minister, who was told by his minister, and so on back to this ridiculous vote.

I agree. Let every man think for himself and search out truth for himself, not blindly follow tradition.

I say that the true conclusion to your argument that Christians misunderstand the Bible is that the true understanding of Christianity does exist and so does God.

The truth was long gone by 400 AD. The Apostles rejected and dead, the world had twisted the words of Jesus, and continues to do so, but His church is restored today in its pureness, and fullness. He and angels have once again visited the earth; prophets have witnessed this and have once again been commissioned to lead His church. It bears his name and is for these last days before he comes again: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I say that I know for myself that there is a God and his Son is Jesus Christ, two distinct beings of flesh and bone, yet immortal, glorified, and perfect, and that there is a Holy Ghost, a personage of Spirit only. I testify that they are one in purpose, work, and glory, and that purpose, is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man. God wants for us to return to him and be like him and so he sent his Son. That is truth, and the correct translation of the Bible supports it time and time again.

Levi Nunemaker said...

Actually, yes, the word is "elohim", and this IS a plural noun. However, it is used with the singular verb "bra", meaning that "elohim" is not being used as a plural noun, and, rather, is being used as a PROPER noun. I.e. "gods" with a plural verb or "God" with a singular verb. You are mistaken.