Around 20 thousand years ago, hominids learned to grow things and became sedentary. 5 thousand years ago, writing started, and those who mastered the art were considered superior beings, and wanting to improve the human condition, they started putting religion to paper. Some 1700 years ago, as the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapsing, a few wise men decided to invent and create the most successful religion the world has ever seen. The New Testament, the document that served as a basis for this religion, created a ‘God made Man’ figure that was based on the life of Apollonius of Tyana.
Apollonius was born at the start of the Common Era (CE) and lived to be around 100. Very early on in life he opted for continence and abstinence, as opposed to pleasure and gratification, as a way of achieving enlightenment and freeing his spirit. He followed the teachings of Pythagoras, great philosopher, mathematician, ascetic and vegetarian, born in 569 BCE. Later Apollonius travelled and studied far and wide, including India, in order to further his knowledge. He was an avowed philosopher, social leader, moral teacher, religious reformer and healer, and from one end of the Roman empire to the other, he was honored by all, from slave to emperor. Many referred to him as ‘the master’ or the ‘savior’, for he healed the body as well as the soul.
After travelling to India where he was greatly influenced by Krishna, he became a naturopathic healer. He healed by ‘the laying of hands’, and by the use of hydrotherapy. The idea of baptism likely originated when he decided to clean the bodies of the poor wretches who came to consult him. He would rinse out their colon in order to rid them of worms, clean their whole bodies, insist on their getting a lot of clean air and sunlight, and above all, strongly urge them not to consume anything that Mother Earth did not directly produce. He was a strict vegetarian who did not drink wine and respected the life of animals as much as that of humans.
In India he was introduced to the doctrines of Krishna, and the doctrines of Pythagoras and Krishna became one in his mind. In Judea and Egypt, he preached to the Nazarenes and the Therapeuts, and converted many. The Nazarenes and Therapeuts were also known as Essenes, individuals who belonged to a Jewish sect that had split off from the main body of Judaism. The Nazarenes lived near the Dead Sea and are the presumed authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, while the Therapeuts lived near Alexandria where they were known as healers. Upon his return from India, Apollonius, already a famous teacher of moral, became known as a great healer, and he was no doubt the one responsible for spreading the Essene doctrine throughout the Roman Empire. Though not Jewish, he became known as an Essene, and converted many ‘new’ Jews, Romans and others, to his way of thinking. The Essenes were soon seen as a threat to the foundering Roman religion.
In 325CE, faced with an Empire on life support, Emperor Constantine had an idea. Constantine had been made Augustus of the Western Roman Empire in 313 CE. A previous Emperor, Diocletian, had split the Empire into three parts in order to better rule, but it hadn’t helped, for thereafter the Empire had been torn apart by civil war more than ever. Constantine lost no time in defeating and killing Emperors Maxentius and Licinius, in order to become sole ruler. Wanting to establish peace within the Empire before leaving for Byzantium to the east, Constantine proceeded to replace an ineffective impersonal Roman religion with the very popular and widespread Essene religion based on the teachings of Apollonius. Instead of massacring the Essenes like Diocletian had done, he decided to use them. He would rule through a religious network instead of a military one. He would make the Essene religion the official state religion, and have bishops infiltrate the existing Roman Empire infrastructure. In 325 CE, he convened the Council of Nicaea.
Constantine may be revered as a saint by the Greek Christian Church, and somewhat so by the Latin Christian Church which doesn’t quite know what to think of him, but regardless, he was a sanguinary. The Roman Church claims he was baptized on his deathbed, but that is questionable and irrelevant. Constantine was a brutal man who butchered his enemies and executed his own wife and son. It’s clear that whatever this cruel man did was seeped in raw ambition.
As he convened the Council of Nicaea, Constantine must have insisted on having a few changes made to the about-to-be-created state religion. Apollonius, an Essene who had existed more than three hundred years before, was the acknowledged messiah, a holy man who had not only preached peace and goodwill among men, but also abstinence and respect for all living things. Understandably, a religion that condemned meat eating, wine drinking, lasciviousness and profit making, was out of the question. If it was to be declared the official state religion, it needed a few nips and tucks; it needed to be more in tune with Roman reality.
As it turned out, the revamped messiah not only drank wine and ate fish but was declared Son of God. The prelates kept inventing Christ by saying that he had been conceived by a virgin who had been visited by a holy spirit. All the scriptures that have come down to us were either created or adjusted at that time in order to give credence to the God-made-man concept. Contrary to Apollonius, the real messiah figure, the alleged messiah accomplished a lot of miracles, miracles that were never corroborated by any historian. No matter, presenting the new Christ as the Son of God was something the superstitious hominids would readily believe. It wasn’t much of a stretch for them to believe their Messiah was actually the Son of God who had been sent down on earth and made man in order to save them.
In pursuing their goal, the Church fathers were quite wise in keeping some existing myths. One such myth was a convoluted story where Adam and Eve, the first human couple, had been caught playing house in the Garden of Eden. The deed was so horrendous that God reacted violently and banned the couple and their descendants from the Garden of Eden for all time. Very odd behavior for a master creator who wanted to create a human race! Nonetheless, the Christian gurus’ stroke of genius was to have everybody believe that God changed his mind and sent his son down on earth to die on the cross in order to redeem humans from their ‘original sin’, a curse that was sending hominids straight to hell. From then on, if one wanted God to accept him into the Garden of Eden after death, all he had to do was to have that dreadful first sin washed away from his soul through baptism and to live according to the teachings of the revamped Christ. This transformed the lowly hominids into godlike creatures, and more importantly, they now knew where they came from, why they were here, and where they were going after death. They were relieved from the ‘original sin’, ‘existential sin’, or ‘sin of the flesh’, depending on one’s interpretation.
As for setting Christ’s birthday, it was rather easy. Because he was now considered the giver of eternal life, it was quite logical to have his birth coincide with the greatest event in the sun’s cycle. What happens on the 25th of December is a phenomenon that’s unique and unchanging in the northern hemisphere; the sun stops dropping off the horizon and can be observed reversing itself. Since the increased amount of sunlight is tantamount to a promise of new life, many ancient gods are said to have been born on this day. And since the Romans were used to celebrating Sol Invictus, why not continue the tradition and celebrate Christ’s birth instead?
Christ’s birth year was another matter. The prelates wanted to make it coincide as much as possible with the birth of Apollonius in order to make the imposture credible. So, in Roman Era 1279 (525 CE), a monk called Dionysius Exiguus introduced the Anno Domini calendar. Since the Easter calendar used during the Roman Era was a calendar referring to emperor years, Dionysius said it was intolerable to continually refer to Diocletian, the Emperor who had persecuted and massacred the Essenes, and he set about creating the Gregorian calendar. So, with imaginative arithmetic, he arrived at the conclusion that the Messiah was born in 753 of the Roman Era, and decided that January 1st of year 754 of the Roman Era would be known as January 1st of Year One of the Anno Domini Era (AD). It was much later, in 1582 CE that Pope Gregory, in spite of the dubious arithmetic used by Dionysius, made it official. Ever since, when dating historical events, the whole world uses BC or AD, acronyms that are tied to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a fabricated messiah. That’s why some people today prefer to use the acronym CE (Common Era).
As for Christ’s birth place, it was established when Emperor Constantine made a stop in Palestine with his mother Helena on his way to Byzantine. The idea was to break all possible ties between the new Christ and Apollonius, the Essenes and the Jewish religion. Helena determined that Christ had been born in Bethlehem, a harmless out of the way place, and that’s where she had a church built. In the meantime, Constantine had workers excavate the area where the demolished temple of Jupiter Capitolinus had been in Jerusalem. When the workers allegedly discovered the remains of the tomb that was reported to be that of Christ, Constantine had a new shrine built on the spot, and it still stands today as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The temple of Venus had also been demolished, thereby exposing the site where Christ was allegedly crucified. Emperor Constantine had arrived at this conclusion after ordering the Bishop of Jerusalem to make a search for the cross which produced a few pieces of wood found in a cistern. Constantine and his mother may have had the holy places built for their own reasons, but Jews and Muslims have never quite agreed with the accuracy of their geographical positioning.
The Council of Nicaea was indeed a momentous event in our history. Because the Christian Church was now the official Roman religion, it grew exponentially, and went about converting the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, and Vandals, the Arian ‘barbarians’, with the help of Clovis, the Frankish warlord. After being baptized in Reims in 496 CE, Clovis had become the first of many absolute kings of divine right, and he had started doing his godly chores by changing the minds of those who believed Christ was a prophet and not the Son of God. In enforcing the Nicene Creed untold numbers of Essenes, or barbarians as we are taught, were accordingly slaughtered.
Having gotten rid of all opposition, the growth of the new religion knew no bounds, and the church made good use of the Roman Empire infrastructure, especially in the Latin half. Having a church and a holy man in every small town fostered a feeling of solidarity and the poor hominids felt secure for the first time in all of their existence. To the east, in the Greek half, it was another matter. The Greek Church refused the authority of the Latin Pope and divided up in parts controlled by separate Patriarchs. And because it also had to face the pressures of the Muslim world, the Greek Church never attained the power and influence of the Latin Church.
The Christian Church very quickly became a considerable financial power. After Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by Pope Theo III in Reims, France, in 800 CE, tithing throughout Europe took on a new dimension. Because 10% of everybody’s revenue represented mindboggling amounts, and because many Christians bequeathed their estates to the Church in order to ensure their passage to heaven after their demise, the Church owned as much as one third of all the wealth and property in Europe.
But no matter how we look at it, the enormous success of the Christian Church was also due to just plain psychology. When humans broke the time barrier, they were not only scared out of their wits upon becoming aware of their mortality, but they were also deeply ashamed of having to behave like animals, especially with regards to fornication. 3 million years later, Judaism, the original branch of monotheism, found ways to sooth both concerns. The Adam and Eve story helped make fornication acceptable by referring to it as the original sin, and that was followed by the 10 Commandments that told the faithful what they had to do in order to go to heaven. The Church Fathers were telling the faithful that God had sent His son on earth to show them that He cared, and that He had chosen them as His people. Morphing Apollonius, a mere mortal, into Christ, the Son of God, was a very astute move, for it made heaven accessible. Later, at the Council of Trent in 1545 CE, when the Church Fathers made confession a sacrament, the success of Christianity was assured. The local priest figure was thereafter perceived as being in direct contact with God and as the one who could heal the penitent’s soul by forgiving his sins in His name.