Pagan Influences in Christianity & Judaism

Beth Alpha synagogue mosaic
Beth Alpha synagogue mosaic

Many people have disparaged Judaism as being filled with paganism, particularly orthodox Judaism’s rabbinic leadership. Some even claim that it is satanic at the root (G-d forbid). Many people have had similar remarks about Christianity, especially when they discover Messianic Judaism and discover all that Christianity has forgotten over the last two thousand years in relationship to it Jewish origins. Everything is then questioned, and its origins suspect. For instance: What is the origin of the Christmas tree? Was it originally an asheroth pole? What about the Easter bunny, and the name “Easter” itself? Are they connected to Ishtar, the pagan goddess of fertility? Was the star of David originally a magical symbol used by the pagans? Questions such as these continue to pound away at both Judaism and Christianity.

Biblical Archaeology Review recently published an article examining pagan symbols in Jewish worship, specifically looking at the various synagogues unearthed in Israel which portray zodiac symbolism in their floor mosaics. The most famous is the Beth Alpha synagogue, which sports a very large floor mosaic (28×14 meters, roughly 90×30 feet) whose central panel shows the complete zodiac. It is described as follows:

Figures of four women were at the four corners, with inscriptions (in Hebrew) identifying each as a season of the year. Inside the square was a wheel, 3.12 meters in diameter, with a smaller circle (1.2 m) in its center. The wheel was divided into 12 panels, each with a figure and a name identifying it as a sign of the zodiac. And in the center, a man was pictured driving a quadriga (four-horse chariot) through the moon and stars. Rays of the sun were coming out of his head; it was clear that he was Helios, god of the sun.1

This article continues to describe in detail several such synagogues found in Israel with this type of imagery. Although there is still some mystery surrounding the use of these symbols (particularly in a house specifically designed for study & worship), I feel the author’s explanation of them plausible.

This brings a lot of questions to mind (for which I do not have the answers). When and how were pagan symbols introduced into Judaism and Christianity? What do we “accept” and what do we “reject”? Where do we draw the line? How far is too far? Are there such things as coincidence? What are the “majors” and what are the “minors” in all of this? If others believers continue to unknowingly incorporate pagan symbolism in their sincere worship, what is our responsibility? These are a lot of difficult questions. Fortunately, someone has done a lot of homework on the subject.

What About Paganism?

First Fruits of Zion has recently published a 4-disc audio teaching on this very subject. It’s called “What About Paganism?” Toby Janicki tackles this subject and brings in a ton of information relating to both Christian and Jewish practice which may or may not be pagan in origin and gives suggestions as to our response. This is a good starting point to get some honest discussion on the table in regard to this topic, rather than living on our assumptions. It is based on historical evidences and the teachings of Yeshua. When we abide in the teachings of our Master, Yeshua, we will “know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

  1. From the BAR article.

For the Record…

In case there was any confusion with my last post, here is my “official” stance on the Messiahship of Yeshua. I believe (with perfect faith) that Yeshua of Nazereth is the long awaited Mashiach proclaimed by the Torah and the Prophets. The evidence within the Apostolic Scriptures is overwhelmingly convincing when viewed with the proper linguistic and cultural understanding to conclude otherwise. Yeshua is HaMashiach.

In the days ahead we (a group of my colleagues and I) will be making available a large repository of conclusive evidences of the validity of his messiahship from both classic perspectives as well as fresh, scholarly insights. If you have insights you would like to include, please contact me in this regard as we are in the compilation process.

shalom chaverim,
-Darren

ps. Happy Hanukkah! Yeshua is the Light of the World! (And YOU are the light of the world…Matthew 5:14-16… Flip the switch!)

Holy Blood, Holy Lies

It seems dubious author Michael Baigent has thrust his pen into the side of Yeshua again in his new book The Jesus Papers. A followup to his 1982 hit and miss Holy Blood, Holy Grail in which he has Jesus escape the cross through drug use and elope to France with Mary Magdalene. This was the inspiration behind Dan Brown’s overwhelmingly popular, over-hyped, fraudulent and highly imaginative DaVinci Code. (As a matter of fact, Baigent filed a lawsuit against Brown for “stealing” his material.) It “just so happens” to fall right on the heals of the publication of The Judas Gospel and the DaVinci Code blockbuster hit. But he claims it is only “coincidence.”

Baigent’s premise in The Jesus Papers is the same as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, only this time he takes it a step further. He claims to have found what he calls the “Jesus Papers,” written letters from Yeshua to the Sanhedrin uncovering the “truth” about Yeshua’s feigned death and the ensuing details of his “life after death.” Hershel Shanks has a good time poking fun at this wasted ink called a novel in his recent review of it. Take a peak and have a few laughs, and don’t worry about it shaking anyone’s faith but those who have none.

Gospel of Judas

Yawn…

Yet another Gnostic “gospel” has surfaced and gained immediate praise from the media. I don’t want to spend much time on it, but for the “inquiring mind” I must address this, if ever so briefly.

In brief, the “Gospel of Judas” is a pseudopygraphal, Gnostic account of the life of Jesus in which the tables are turned on the authentic rendition of the teachings of Jesus. The good guys are the bad guys, and the bad guys are…well…you guessed it—good. It was originally composed some time around the end of the second century, and discovered in the early 70’s in the Egyptian desert. After several years of trying to be sold, it finally ended up in the hands of those who would be able to fund its restoration and translation. As of this year, the translation was completed, and the entire text (of what was not damaged beyond recognition) is publicly available from National Geographic.

This particular gospel begins by letting us know that it is giving us a “secret” account of Jesus that has previously never been told. The reader then learns that only Judas, of all of the disciples, really has intimate fellowship with the Master. He is the only one truly on the “inside” of Jesus’s agenda. As a matter of fact, at the onset of the narrative, he is told to remove himself from the others, because he alone is on the path to enlightenment. Several other amusing tales are told, such as Jesus often appearing to them in different form—a little child.

In conclusion, there are sure-fire ways to know whether this “gospel” has any credibility or not. The first of which is if it has the word “Gnostic” or “secret knowledge” tied to it in any shape, form or fashion, then it’s bogus. The Gnostic teachings that spread rampantly in the early second century forward ruthlessly attempt to strip Jesus from his Jewish context. If this were the case, he would definitely not be the Messiah. The second is its lateness in composition. The mere fact that it was composed so late, tells us that this could not be an eyewitness account, nor transmit accurate information from the time of Jesus. While the Gospel of Judas might be great for Hollywood, it’s only bird cage liner for true followers of the Master.

For further study, check out the following resources:

The Gospel of Judas and the Da Vinci Code
An audio teaching by Daniel Lancaster of Beth Immanuel (and FFOZ).

National Geographic
Read all of the details of the discovery, the timeline of the events related to the Gospel of Judas in conjunction to the events of Church history, and even download the text of the Gospel of Judas in PDF format.