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07 April 2006 @ 05:33 pm
Startling realization.

Somewhere along the line, somebody determined— probably the early state-organized Churches of both West and East— that the Bible was the single, only valid holy text for Christians. That's pretty obvious, really, but check out other religions, particularly non-Abrahamic ones. In Hinduism there are the Vedas, which are comprised of four separate collections, AND the Brahmanas and Upanishads. The Brahmanas and the Upanishads comment upon the Vedas, but are considered equally sacred. (There are also less highly revered texts like the Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, etc.) In Buddhism there is an assortment of sacred texts depending on the branch of the religion. In Judaism you've got not just the Tanakh (the Old Testament) but also the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Zohar, all of which I believe are assigned varying degrees of holiness. Islam has the Qur'an and the Hadith, plus it considers the Bible to be divine revelation (albeit slightly corrupted).

In Christianity, on the other hand, you have much commentary written upon the Bible by theologians from Roman times up until the present, and the commentary is considered important, and apocryphal gospel texts, etc. are also considered important depending what they contain, but basically, if it's not in the Bible, it's not the Word of God, directly speaking or inspired, and therefore it isn't holy. The other religions I mentioned grant importance and holiness to various texts whether or not they're considered God's word. And the unfortunate consequence of Christianity not having a similar situation is that if you want to quote the Gospel of Thomas to make a point, a biblical literalist or fundamentalist will shoot you down on the grounds that Thomas is inaccurate. Thomas is probably no more inaccurate than the other Gospels or Paul's writings or John's revelations, a decision was simply made to exclude Thomas from the New Testament. But if this were a situation in another religion, Thomas' writings might still be considered holy; they just might have been excluded from the -core- holy text because thematically they didn't fit in or something.

Why is this so? And would anybody call me crazy to eventually embark on a research project to assemble a new collection of Christian holy writings, even if I couldn't complete such a project alone?
Current Mood: surprisedsurprised
Current Music: "Sandstorm," Darude
Rose Rossroseross on April 7th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
The bible was canonized by The Council of Trent, I believe around 400AD, though I could be off on the dating. This was done by The Holy Roman Catholic Church when they gained worldly power. Emporer Constantine was a Christian and supported the religion. Till then, Christians spent most of their time laying low and being made fun of -- they were too busy staying alive to worry about what was heresy and what wasn't.

The council took years and, when they were done, The Holy Roman Catholic Church had both a gathering of approved documents that was the Bible and a set dogma for the religion. Any variance from that dogma and any book not included in the approved Bible was heresy, and they would excommunicate or kill you for speaking of them or teaching from them.

I'm afraid that's why the Bible is so "written in stone." Not because it should be, not because it contains all the wisdom in the world, but because a church that wanted world power over all religion violently suppressed any other beliefs. We still suffer from the overenthusiasm to this day.
aaron_d_w on May 15th, 2006 06:39 pm (UTC)

To be fair, Christians prior to Constantine were concerned about heresy. This is evident in numerous New Testament epistles. Moreover, there are numerous writings of Church Fathers that speak against heretics prior to Constantine and during persecution.

The 4th century was an important time for Christians when the persecution ended. It allowed them to meet openly and discuss some of these theological issues that had arisen. In fact, in some cases, the emperors forced them to come together to discuss these topics.

Another thing I wanted to point out: you jump many centuries from the time of Constantine to Western Europe during the Middle Ages. That is when and where all of these persecutions of which you speak arose. Keep in mind that by that point, the so-called 'Roman Catholic Church' was no longer Roman, but controlled by Frankish and Germanic people who considered the Romans (i.e. Eastern Christians or Greeks) to be heretics.

Finally, note that the biblical canon was determined based upon the oral and lived tradition of the church, not vice versa.
Rose Rossroseross on May 15th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
I cannot agree with you about the persecutions not starting till later. St. Nicholas hit someone at the Council of Trent because he didn't like the guy's theological outlook, and there were excommunications, riots, and all sorts of sneaky politics going on at the time.

You would enjoy "When Jesus Became God" by Richard E. Rubenstein, about Arias and his heresy in the early days of the church.

Christianity was a peaceable religion, content to argue issues of theology but not prone to a set dogma that could be used to excommunicate those who didn't adhere. The Roman Catholics took care of that.
Second Son: byzantinenaqerj on May 16th, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)
The Council of Trent was held from 1545 to 1563. St. Nicholas and the Emperor Constantine had been dead for well over a millennium by then.

You seem to be conflating Trent with the First Council of Nicea, held in 325.

Also, the first canonical list of the New Testament appeared in a letter of St. Athanasius in 367.

You may find this link of interest.
Rose Rossroseross on May 16th, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
Er... I don't mean to be rude but I have found wikipedia to be an unreliable resource, if interesting.

Interesting that it was another Nicholas that got into fisticuffs at the Council of Trent. It always depressed me to think of Santa Claus whacking someone upside the head.
Second Son: byzantinenaqerj on May 16th, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC)
I guess it depends on what one deems to be reliable. The links I provided are generally in concert with most academic works on the subject.

In any event, it is interesting to claim that Trent was in A.D. 400 and that it was the locus of the closing of the Biblical canon, claims which most students of Christian history would, I think, dispute. The book When Jesus Became God is also highly controversial in its historical claims and not generally recognized as reliable by those who study Christian history. One may, of course, choose to differ.

As for St. Nicholas (Santa Claus), tradition does record that he struck Arius at the First Council of Nicea (325). The assembled bishops deprived him of the episcopacy in response, though it was restored to him the next day after they claimed to have had a dream including a message from God that he should be reinstated.
Rose Rossroseross on May 17th, 2006 01:12 am (UTC)
Drat. I'm sorry to hear it was Santa Claus. Looking into the history of the saints can put a person's hair on end. Still, I guess I'm old enough to realize he doesn't actually stay at the South Pole planning goodies to give us. Think that's a good example, though, of exactly how worldly the discussions that resulted in the canon were. :-)

(I'm sure any book on theology is contested by some but every academic review I've read on When Jesus Became God has been praiseful. It was an excellent read, too.)
Second Son: mindthegapnaqerj on May 17th, 2006 02:48 am (UTC)
But Nicea didn't decide the canon. It was concerned with other matters.
aaron_d_w on May 16th, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)
Certainly Wikipedia may not be the most reliable source, but all of the facts presented by naqerj in his post can be corrobated by other, more reliable sources.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it was, in fact, St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) that hit Arius at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea. I am glad that you brought up this example of early persecutions because the other bishops and priests at the Council planned to defrock St Nicholas because of his behavior (showing clearly that they did not believe in any sort of 'inquisitional' behavior). However, the bishops did not defrock him because they were all warned in a dream not to do so. On a side note, the case of St Nicholas shows wonderfully that even saints are human.

To reiterate my earlier point, you cannot find any equivalent to the Inquisition prior to the Inquisition. It is one thing to excommunicate, to be political (by the way, it's not a sin to be political--we need politicians to get things done), to burn books, quite another to burn humans.

Regarding riots, the Church cannot stop certain of its members from sinning. Prior to the Middle Ages in Western Europe, such behavior was not tolerated by Christianity at large. There was no theology or 'just war' theory built around such behavior. It was considered sinful and was eventually condemned.

The people who turned part of Christianity into a non-peaceful religion were neither Roman nor Christian. They were merely politicians that used the Papacy as a temporal, worldly tool to enforce their political control. In fact, they actually murdered the Roman Christian Popes to take over the papacy for themselves. Not exactly 'apostolic succession.'
Rose Rossroseross on May 16th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)
I do not believe you are correct when you assert that prior to The Spanish Inquisition, Christians were peaceful little lambs without a thought of killing in the name of their religion. History just doesn't bear that out.
aaron_d_w on May 16th, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
Is Islam a peaceful religion?
Rose Rossroseross on May 16th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC)
May I ask what bearing that has on the subject?
aaron_d_w on May 16th, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
The question has to be answered before I can show what bearing it has on the subject. I hope that your answer and my response will help our conversation progress further.
Rose Rossroseross on May 16th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
Fine, though all I can give you is my personal opinion. Others here will each see things their individual way.

I see any theology or philosophy that proclaims itself as "The One True Faith" as dangerous and violent during hard times, when fanaticism holds sway. Since both Islam and Christianity claim that, they are particularly prone to generating wars, persecutions, inquisitions, and violent infighting.

When Christianity was founded by a man whose opening sermon declared "Blessed are the meek," I find it especially misguided when it turns violent and/or oppressive.
aaron_d_w on May 16th, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)
"When fanaticism holds sway." Here is the fundamental problem with your argument. When we (i.e. Westerners) talk about Islam we say: "Islam is a peaceful religion and it is the fanatics that have taken hold of it and used it for evil and violent means." But when we talk about Christianity, for some reason it was 'the Church' that was violent (i.e. all of Christianity).

My point is that you cannot judge a religion or a church based upon its hypocrites and fanatics. Those in the early Church who were violent were fanatics. They were not condoned by the Church at large. I would further argue that an outright rejection of Christian development during that time frame because of these hypocritical actions is not warranted.

Personally, I would love to discuss the doctrines that developed during that time frame based upon their own merits. We need not reject them because some people--a minority at that--persecuted those who thought differently.
Rose Rossroseross on May 16th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
"A minority" of Christians, would include popes, kings, and -- depending on the era and culture -- the majority of the citizenry.

I believe the OP was interested in the historical evolution of the Bible, and that's a relevant subject to these times since fundamentalists are also often literalists, as well. You breezily slough off the idea as though most Christians view the Bible as you do, but I think we all know that there is a large sect of Christian America -- far too many to dismiss as "a few fanatics" -- who believe the Bible must be enforced as law because it is literal and complete truth. I'm afraid we are living in one of those repeated periods of time when there are a LOT of fanatics. If that was not so, we would not be seeing the difficulties and turmoil arising over the concepts of gay marriage and separation of Church and State.
(Anonymous) on May 16th, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC)
Forgive, but I am dense and don't know to what you are referring by OP.

Yes, a minority includes popes and kings (or more properly, emperors). A pope is one person and, although his position is obviously important, there was no such doctrine or belief as papal infallibility in the first millenium. As for a king, think about a modern day example. Is President Bush representative of Christianity as a whole? Does he speak for the majority of Christians? I hope not--and the polls suggest he does not.

As for Christian America, when did I ever slough that off? I have simply tried to point out that 'Christian America' is not representative of Christianity, and certainly not representative of the early Church. My main point is that many in America are outright rejecting Christianity based upon a phony Christianity that they see in America. A Christianity that is more concerned that the Ten Commandments are hung in a courtroom than with actually repenting on a personal level in my estimation (may God forgive me for judging!).

We are certainly living in a time of fanaticism both from the 'right' and from the 'left.' The religious right feeds off the far-leaning left and vice versa. I can't say that I honestly believe religious fanatics are entirely to blame!
Rose Rossroseross on May 17th, 2006 12:26 am (UTC)
OP=Original Poster

I'd say you're right that many are rejecting Christianity because of the political activities of uberconservative fundamentalists. If there are as many fiery communist Christians on the way-left, it would surprise me. It's when things go out of balance, as they are today, that life gets whacky.

Are they entirely to blame for these hard times? No, they are a symptom of it. When times are rough, more people embrace religion with more fervor. So, if I see a rise in religious fanaticism, no matter the religion, it's a big warning sign that the culture is not fulfilling its people's needs. When the religion that is being fanatically embraced is one that claims it has given participants the one and only true answer to life, (and orthodox Christianity does that), it is a recipe for violent crusades.
Rose Rossroseross on May 15th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
As for the Bible coming from oral and lived tradition, as well as recorded documents at hand -- yes and no. It is an editied version of that information. Those traditions and documents that had been used by Christians but that did not fit the newly established Roman Catholic dogma were ignored, burned, and suppressed.
babydraco on April 8th, 2006 01:55 pm (UTC)
Not only would I not think you were crazy, I would ask how I can help.
the stag's daughter: Albert Einsteindoe_witch on April 8th, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC)

First I need to graduate from college, though. Get my double-degree in philosophy and theology or something so that when my findings are published people will take me seriously... >_>
(Anonymous) on April 8th, 2006 07:05 pm (UTC)
It's funny you mention this, I'm not sure if you know but the National Geographic Society just released their translation of the Gospel of Judas. A new collection sounds good, it's possible that one already exists, but I think it would be great if you looked more in to it.

Also, I think a number of other religions are the same as Christianity in that they have closed canons, or are no longer adding or changing what they include as part of their doctrine. You could also consider Christianity to have multiple books... at the very least you have the Old Testament and the New Testament... and in each of those you have more subdivisions and books of the Bible. We just group them all together and call it the Bible.
zorander22zorander22 on April 8th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
Sorry about that, it's me... I thought I was signed in already!
(Anonymous) on May 9th, 2006 09:09 pm (UTC)
all those hidden books
I love finding all the book like the ones in the apocrapha and so on. The church is Jesus and he will never be canonised. Guess what. While studying all this I was able to find out that there was not a hell for eternal torment and the lake of the fire was for correction of those willing to accept Jesus.

Romans 5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life FOR ALL people. 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. 5:20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 5:21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord

aaron_d_w on May 15th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure from where you are getting your information, but the Bible has never been considered to be the only valid holy text for Christians. This notion was born out of, or led to, the Protestant Reformation which, of course, did not occur until the 16th century.

In fact, in the early Church, there was a great importance placed on the oral tradition of the Church. After all, as St. John said in his gospel, "I suppose that if everything He did were to be written, there would not be enough room in the world to contain all of the books."

The interesting thing is that in traditional Christian thought, God cannot possibly be expressed or understood (thoroughly or completely, that is). Thus, the Bible is a book that, to the best of human ability, discusses God and contemplates God, but certainly never exhaustively describes or expresses Him.
aaron_d_w on May 17th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting post and I have given it much consideration, especially in light of other thoughts expressed by Roseross. I think that there are a couple of things that need to be pointed out about your initial post and the subsequent responses.

1. Forgive me, but I think that the post could be viewed as very ethnocentric. Christianity is not American Fundamentalist Bible-Beating Christianity. Nor is Christianity Middle-Age Roman Catholicism. It is a mistake for us, I believe, to interpret Christianity thru that narrow lense. There is at least one traditional alternative to these types of Christianity that is not at all like them (i.e. Eastern Orthodoxy). That's not to say that Eastern Orthodox people have not made mistakes, by any means, but that they offer a much different perspective within which one can grow spiritually. It seems to me that many Americans fed up with the first two types of Christianity I mentioned have chosen one of two paths: Eastern Orthodoxy or something entirely non-Christian.

2. It is interesting to note that arguably the most important Ecumenical Council--the First one in Nicea--was completed decades before the biblical canon was determined. Thus, the Council at Nicea does not fit nicely into the notion that the only authoritative holy text for Christians has been the Bible. This could also be argued about the Second Ecumenical Council since it was completed before many scholars consider the New Testament canon to be closed.

3. The heretics quoted the Bible. Every heresy that arose used what either was or later became the New Testament. They also used the Old Testament. What ultimately ended up prevailing as Christian dogma, then, was not so much what the Scriptures said, but how the Scriptures were interpreted by the Christian community at large.

Again, I appreciate your post and none of my comments are meant to be brash or offensive. I think you have given us good food for thought and hope that we can discuss these issues in more depth.