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It is, however, widely agreed that the portrayal of Jesus in the gospels is deeply influenced by Jewish tradition. Sanders , a leading scholar on the historical Jesus, the Synoptic Gospels contain many episodes in which Jesus's described actions clearly emulate those of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. According to Sanders, the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are the clearest examples of legends in the Synoptic Gospels. Although Jesus's crucifixion is one of the few events in his life that virtually all scholars of all different backgrounds agree really happened, [27] [29] [30] [31] [32] historians of religion have also compared it to Greek and Roman stories in order to gain a better understanding of how non-Christians would have perceived stories of Jesus's crucifixion.

American theologian Dennis R. MacDonald has argued that the Gospel of Mark is, in fact, a Jewish retelling of the Odyssey , with its ending derived from the Iliad , that uses Jesus as its central character in the place of Odysseus. The Gospel of John , the latest of the four canonical gospels, possesses ideas that originated in Platonism and Greek philosophy, [74] [75] where the " Logos " described in John's prologue was devised by the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus and adapted to Judaism by the Jewish Middle Platonist Philo of Alexandria.

Davies and Finkelstein write "This primeval and universal Wisdom had, at God's command, found itself a home on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. This mediatorial figure, which in its universality can be compared with the Platonic 'world-soul' or the Stoic 'logos', is here exclusively connected with Israel, God's chosen people, and with his sanctuary. Scholars have long suspected that the Gospel of John may have also been influenced by symbolism associated with the cult of Dionysus , the Greek god of wine. The first instance of possible Dionysian influence is Jesus's miracle of turning water into wine at the Marriage at Cana in John Mark W.

Stibbe has argued that the Gospel of John also contains parallels with The Bacchae , a tragedy written by the Athenian playwright Euripides that was first performed in BC and involves Dionysus as a central character. Stibbe emphasizes that two accounts are also radically different, [94] but states that they share similar themes.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a short apocryphal gospel, probably written in the second century AD, describing Jesus's childhood. Cousland argues that the Infancy Gospel may have been originally written for a primarily pagan audience, [] noting that the Greeks and Romans told stories about their gods' miraculous doings as children [] and that miracle stories were often instrumental in converting pagans to Christianity. Around the same time that Christianity was expanding, the cult of the god Mithras was also spreading throughout the Roman Empire. Most of what is known about the legendary life of Mithras comes from archaeological excavation of Mithraea , underground Mithraic sanctuaries of worship, which were found all across the Roman world.

In the center of every Mithraeum was a tauroctony , [] [] [] a painting or sculpture showing Mithras as a young man, usually wearing a cape and Phrygian cap, plunging a knife into the neck or shoulder of a bull as he turns its head towards him, simultaneously turning his own head away. A few Christian apologists from the second and third centuries, who had never been members of the Mithraic cult and had never spoken to its members, claimed that the practices of the Mithraic cult were copied off Christianity.

For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. The devil is the inspirer of the heretics whose work it is to pervert the truth, who with idolatrous mysteries endeavours to imitate the realities of the divine sacraments. Some he himself sprinkles as though in token of faith and loyalty; he promises forgiveness of sins through baptism; and if my memory does not fail me marks his own soldiers with the sign of Mithra on their foreheads, commemorates an offering of bread, introduces a mock resurrection, and with the sword opens the way to the crown.

Moreover has he not forbidden a second marriage to the supreme priest? He maintains also his virgins and his celibates. According to Ehrman, these writers were ideologically motivated to portray Christianity and Mithraism as similar because they wanted to persuade pagan officials that Christianity was not so different from other religious traditions, so that these officials would realize that there was no reason to single Christians out for persecution. In late antiquity , early Christians frequently adapted pagan iconography to suit Christian purposes.

Early Christians also identified Jesus with the Greek hero Orpheus , [] who was said to have tamed wild beasts with the music of his lyre. Early Christians found it hard to criticize Asclepius because, while their usual tactics were to denounce the absurdity of believing in gods who were merely personifications of nature and to accuse pagan gods of being immoral, [] neither of these could be applied to Asclepius, who was never portrayed as a personification of nature and whose stories were inscrutably moral. In some depictions from late antiquity, Jesus was shown with the halo of the sun god Sol Invictus.

Christians also may have adapted the iconography of the Egyptian goddess Isis nursing her son Horus and applied it to the Virgin Mary nursing her son Jesus. Byzantine mosaic of Jesus with his head surrounded by a halo c. Sixth-century AD icon of the enthroned Virgin and Child with saints and angels, and the Hand of God above, from Saint Catherine's Monastery , possibly the earliest iconic image of the subject to survive.

The Bible never states when Jesus was born, [] [] [] but, by late antiquity, Christians had begun celebrating his birth on 25 December. Aspects of Jesus's life as recorded in the gospels bear some similarities to various other figures, both historical and mythological. Classical mythology is filled with stories of miraculous births of various kinds, [] [] [] [] but, in most cases of divine offspring from classical mythology, the father is a god who engages in literal sexual intercourse with the mother, a mortal woman, [] [] causing her to give birth to a son who is literally half god and half man.

Another comparable story from Greek mythology describes the conception of the hero Perseus. According to M. David Litwa, the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke consciously attempt to avoid portraying Jesus's conception as anything resembling pagan accounts of divine parentage; [] the author of the Gospel of Luke tells a similar story about the conception of John the Baptist in effort to emphasize the Jewish character of Jesus's birth.


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Folklorist Alan Dundes has argued that Jesus fits all but five of the twenty-two narrative patterns in the Rank-Raglan mythotype , [] [] and therefore more closely matches the archetype than many of the heroes traditionally cited to support it, such as Jason , Bellerophon , Pelops , Asclepius , Joseph , Elijah , and Siegfried.

Wills states that the "hero paradigm in some form does apply to the earliest lives of Jesus", albeit not to the extreme extent that Dundes has argued. The late nineteenth-century Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer wrote extensively about the existence of a "dying-and rising god" archetype in his monumental study of comparative religion The Golden Bough the first edition of which was published in [] [] as well as in later works. Then, in the middle of the twentieth century, the complete, unabridged, original Sumerian text of Inanna's Descent was finally translated, [] [] revealing that, instead of ending with Dumuzid's resurrection as had long been assumed, the text actually ended with Dumuzid's death.


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Frazer and others also saw Tammuz's Greek equivalent Adonis as a "dying-and-rising god", [] [] [] despite the fact that he is never described as rising from the dead in any extant Greco-Roman writings [] and the only possible allusions to his supposed resurrection come from late, highly ambiguous statements made by Christian authors. In the late twentieth century, scholars began to severely criticize the designation of "dying-and-rising god" altogether. Smith concluded in Mircea Eliade 's Encyclopedia of Religion that "The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Consequently, we have argued, high school students should be required to take at least one yearlong course in religion, and if that course is to serve the purposes of a liberal education, it must include the study of several religious traditions. Finally, it is important to note, yet again, the congruence between our civic and educational frameworks. The purpose of studying religion in a public school is not to initiate students into a religious tradition as is proper in a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple ; rather, it is to inform students about various religions, the different ways they have been understood, their relationships to one another, and their implications for how to make sense of the world, fairly.

This is what both the constitution and a good liberal education require. Schools rightly require virtually all students to read a Shakespeare play at some point; yet they usually ignore the Bible although it has been immeasurably more influential than all of Shakespeare's plays together.

No book has been so influential in the history of the world as the Bible. Indeed, for millions of Americans the Bible continues to be the source of their deepest convictions and commitments. If any book merits inclusion in the curriculum, it is the Bible. Bible courses might take a number of shapes. The Bible as Literature. Students might study the Bible in terms of aesthetic categories, as an anthology of narratives, stories, and poetry, exploring its language, symbolism, motifs, and archetypes.

The Bible in Literature. Students might study the ways in which later writers have used Biblical stories, language, symbols, motifs, and archetypes. We've already discussed these two alternatives in Chapter 6. The Bible as History. Students might study the Bible for the light it throws on ancient history.

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As we argued in Chapter 4, the sacred history found in the Bible is quite different from the secular history of academic historians. What we can learn about history from the Bible depends on how we interpret it and the criteria we use to assess the validity of historical claims—both matters of considerable controversy. The Bible in History. Students might study how people of various religious traditions have understood the Bible, and how it has influenced our social and cultural institutions, our beliefs and values.

However important the Bible is as literature or history, however great its influence has been on later literature and history, its primary importance has clearly been as a religious text, as Scripture ; indeed, this is the source of the Bible's literary and historical importance. To read the Bible simply as literature or history would be a little like reading poetry as if it were no more than prose; it would be to miss a dimension of meaning that is in Scripture. It is through the Biblical account of the Creation, God's covenant with Abraham, the moral radicalism of the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus' teaching of love and the coming Kingdom of God, and his death and resurrection, that Jews and Christians have acquired their understanding of reality.

To not appreciate the religious roots of civilization with all of the theological, moral, social, political, and scientific branches that are nourished by them, is to remain uneducated. And so we add a fifth possibility. The Bible as Scripture. Students might consider the central religious claims made in the Bible, how various religious traditions have interpreted those claims, and how those claims have influenced our history and culture. Of course, to study the Bible as Scripture, as we propose it, is not a matter of reading it devotionally, but learning about how the Bible has been understood as Scripture within various traditions.

Whatever the rubric, we must address several major issues if we are to adopt a neutral and educational approach.

Sources for the life of Jesus

Whose Bible? We've talked so far as if there were a single Bible, when, in fact, there is a Jewish Bible the Hebrew Scriptures, or Tanakh , and various Christian Bibles—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—each composed of different books, arranged in different orders. These differences are significant. Needless to say, it makes a great deal of difference if the New Testament is part of the Bible. Of course, Judaism is a religion of the Talmud as well as of the Hebrew Bible. Even the arrangement of books is of significance: for example, the Hebrew Bible ends with Cyrus's admonition to the Jews in II Chronicles to go to Jerusalem; the Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi's prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.

To adopt any particular Bible will suggest to students that it is normative, the best Bible. It will be the Bible of some students and will be foreign to others.

The Major Four World Religions

Arguably, public schools should use an inclusive Biblical sourcebook that is different from but includes the key texts of each of these Bibles though such a textbook would not itself be a Bible. If a single Bible is to be used, it must, inevitably, be the most inclusive; hence, teachers should remind students at various crucial points in the course that their Bible is different from other Bibles and the significance of this.

Students should, of course, study how the various Bibles came to be. Whose translation? Traditions and denominations often have their own authorized translations. Whatever its literary merits or religious authority for conservative Protestants, the language of the King James Bible is difficult—it was archaic even when it was translated in the 17th century—and a modern translation is essential. Many scholars prefer the New Revised Standard Version, but many conservatives object to its use of gender-inclusive language.

What is important educationally is for students to understand these controversies, read from several translations, and reflect on their theological significance. Whose interpretation? Horace Mann and his successors in the common school movement of the 19th century argued that the King James Bible should be read in school without comment or theological gloss as a way of maintaining doctrinal neutrality. Mann's approach continues to have its advocates. Of course, this was—and is—a peculiarly Protestant indeed, conservative Protestant approach to the Protestant King James Bible.

Jews have always read the Hebrew Bible through rabbinic commentary, and Catholics have always insisted that the Catholic Bible requires the authoritative interpretation of the church. Because the meaning of the Bible isn't obvious; it requires interpretation. That is, just to read the Bible doesn't avoid sectarian bias; rather, it adopts a particular sectarian approach. But couldn't one argue that reading the Bible without commentary is not simply a Protestant approach, it is a secular approach and, as such, is appropriate for public schools? There are two problems with this. First, the Establishment Clause requires neutrality between religion and nonreligion as well as neutrality among religions; that is, schools can't privilege a secular over a religious reading of the Bible any more than they can privilege a particular religious interpretation.

The other problem is that any good secular reading of the Bible or Homer or Plato or any secular text requires the use of modern historical and literary criticism; that is, it requires scholarly commentary to make sense of the text. Beginning in the 19th century the resources of modern secular scholarship in history, philology, and archaeology were brought to bear in developing a new understanding of Biblical texts.

Biblical texts such as the Noah narrative were variations on nonbiblical stories common in the ancient Near East. The Gospels were written 30 to 90 years after Jesus' death by men who did not know him but drew on various sources to develop somewhat different—and conflicting—portraits of him. In our century, liberal Jewish and Christian theologians have drawn heavily on this scholarship to interpret the Bible and rethink their traditions, while conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews have typically reaffirmed that the Bible is inerrant—at least in its essential teachings.

It is important to note that there is a difference between holding the Bible to be inerrant , and holding that it should be read literally ; theologians have often held, for example, that the true or intended meaning of a passage is allegorical, or metaphorical, and requires interpretation. And then, of course, there are the fundamental differences between Jewish and Christian readings of Scripture.

What Americans Know About Religion

Is the serpent of Genesis 3 Satan? Not if we're Jewish. Teachers must maintain some sense of tension between letting the text like any primary source speak for itself and drawing on the resources of different secular and religious interpretative traditions for understanding it. If we are to educate students about the Bible, if it is to be studied neutrally, we must expose students to the major different ways of reading the Bible in our religious and scholarly traditions. To do this effectively requires the use of secondary sources that deal with various approaches to the Bible.

Whose selections? Individuals often argue that the Bible can be quoted in support of any cause. This is an exaggeration, but there is a point to it. Some biblical texts were quoted by slave holders, others by abolitionists. Different religious traditions have valued and sometimes denigrated different portions of the Bible. Students should read enough of the Bible to acquire some sense of its recurring themes, but if they can't read all of the Bible and it's unlikely that they can , teachers must be careful in selecting the parts they assign.

The Bible and history. One of the problems with just reading the Bible is that this wrenches it out of its historical context, throwing students on their own, typically meager, resources for making sense of texts written in different languages and cultures. Students should learn about the Bible in the context of the ancient Near East, in part to understand what was common to the times and what was distinctive about the Bible. Even more important, students must study the Bible in the context of the various major historical interpretative traditions that have shaped its meaning as Scripture.

Indeed, because the Bible has been the most influential of all books, students should learn something about its historical influence on a wide variety of cultural institutions and controversies—and on people's most basic beliefs and values here and now. Required Bible courses? Given its importance and influence, schools should require all students to study the Bible in some depth, but we do not favor required Bible courses as the way of accomplishing this end, in part because this comes a little too close to privileging the Jewish and Christian traditions.

Educators should incorporate some study of the Bible into appropriate world history and literature courses at contextually appropriate places —though, as we've argued, natural inclusion doesn't get us very far. The ideal, once again, is to incorporate the Bible into a religion course in which it would be studied with other sacred scriptures. When the Wake County schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, began offering high school Bible courses several years ago, they required that each of the high schools also offer world religions courses.

Constitution, which prohibits laws establishing a national religion or impeding the free exercise of religion for its citizens. For years there was speculation that on December 21, , the world as we know it would end. Others believed that on that day in Followers of Judaism believe in one God who revealed himself through ancient prophets. The history of Judaism is essential to understanding the Jewish faith, which has a rich heritage of law, Today, with about million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam.

With about million followers, scholars consider Buddhism one of the major world religions. The religion has historically been most prominent in East and Southeast Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity, with about 1. Although its roots go back further, scholars typically date the creation of Islam to the 7th century, making it the youngest of the major world religions.

Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in the world, with more than 2 billion followers. The Christian faith centers on beliefs regarding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While it started with a small group of adherents, many historians regard Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion that may have originated as early as 4, years ago.

Zoroastrianism was the state religion of three Persian dynasties, until the