I have come increasingly to the realization that most people have this “head up in the sky” attitude about religion. What I mean by that is that most people appear to think that the religion they believe in or practice has some direct, unbroken, connection to the ancient past. Basically, they see their own religion as either unchanged, or changed very little, from the ancient past. And that includes people from all religious persuasions, denominations, sects, cults, or whatever. And, obviously, all think they are perfectly right.
What really prompted me thinking about this more than usual was the looming possibility of another war, perhaps a world war. We are dangerously close to a war that would be very, very costly in many ways. But few ever stop to think about how war itself tends to change religion, and that this is one actual cost or casualty of war. For those who either don’t know already where I am going with this, or who only vaguely see where this is leading, the blunt point is that war changes religion and that it really does not remain intact in its given form following major armed conflicts.
Now, obviously, there are many reasons for a religion to evolve, so war is only one of them. But my point today is to emphasize the role of war in changing religion precisely because few seem to think about this. And also the fact that war can be one of the greatest reasons why a religion would find it necessary to change and evolve in order to survive. Are there those who tenaciously hold to a given religious perspective or persuasion regardless of circumstance? Yes. However, the historical trend is that these people wind up as a distinct minority, very often virtually forgotten by the rest of the world. The Mandaeans might be one example of such a trend.
Anyone who has done very much study and scholarly research on the subject can readily attest to the fact that, following the Roman occupation of Greece, the temples and oracles, along with the sacred mystery enactments, tended to slowly decline. Whereas once upon a time the Oracle at Delphoi, for example, was THE place to go to consult about just about everything, for all practical purposes, after Roman occupation it became less and less sought until it virtually ceased to function prior to being forcibly closed by Christian tyrants. And the polytheistic religious practices of old had also deteriorated until laws were enacted making participating in any of them punishable by all sorts of cruelties.
This same general trend took place, not just in Greece, but practically everywhere else too. And the real initial cause for it was simply war. When Greece was in the ascendency, Greek/Hellenic religion flourished, albeit in an already changed fashion following the conquests of Alexander the Great. But once Greece was defeated and subjugated, her religion went into decline. And because of the genocidal repression of her religion and people by late Roman and Byzantine despots, her religion became virtually non-existent. In some ways it morphed into the type of Christianity found there today. But the actual religion really no longer existed.
Having stated these things, it is not Greece or Hellenic religion that is my focus here, precisely because that ancient religion did cease to exist. Some of us are working to sort-of recreate it today, but it will never be the same religion no matter what we do. It can’t be exactly because, to recreate it, one would necessarily have to rebuild all of the ancient religions centres in Greece, for example. It saimply can’t be done, at least within our lifetimes.
No, in this blog I wish to actually focus on Judaism primarily, and American Christianity to a lesser degree. And the focal point from which I wish to draw will be 70 CE. Those who have studied even a little bit know that Christianity was a nascent religion at that time. In fact, it had yet to fully break away from Judaism proper. It was literally still a branch of Judaism. Of course, internal religious conflicts and squabbles led to a slow break-away.
All that said, one should already be able to discern (even without previous study) that I have alluded to the fact that Judaism itself was hardly monolithic. People today have a bad tendency to see both Christianity and Judaism in this stage as monolithic religions without much, if any, dissent. But that was far, far from the case. Still, regardless of these facts, whatever it was that existed of both religions, as it were, prior to 70 CE basically no longer exists today, no matter what some purists or fundamentalists may think. And that is exactly because the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, which was the center of both.
Because of this, both religions had to evolve, and do so separately – the split already taking place in any case. Frankly, the only reason that Judaism itself likely survived is exactly because the Romans allowed it to happen. Their genocidal effort toward wiping out Judaism and the Jewish people was really almost successful. And whereas it wasn’t so much successful in 70 CE under Vespasian and Titus, it was later in 135 CE under Hadrian. As I stated, the Romans essentially allowed its survival, though, because a certain Jewish Rabbi managed to persuade Vespasian to allow him to leave in peace and establish a religious school elsewhere. It is from THIS that most of modern-day Judaism springs, and it is NOT very much like that which existed in Jerusalem and elsewhere prior to 70 CE.
As for nascent Christianity, it had already taken root in so many other places that it had an advantage on survivability (not that Judaism had not done the same, but Christianity was, in a way, better able to continue to function mostly intact without Jerusalem. Christianity had almost outgrown Jerusalem by then). But it was still forced to change even more because of this war.
Now, over the past two-thousand plus years, both religions have changed a rather great deal. Actually, that is an understatement. If someone from 70 CE were to observe either today, they would hardly recognize them. Oh, some sects and denominations do somewhat of a better job at reproducing whatever they deem as “original” than others, but no one gets it quite right, trust me. But, in the greater scheme of things, that in and of itself really doesn’t matter anyway. It only matters to the purist and the fundamentalist.
But, let’s be clear. Both Judaism and Christianity changed after 70 CE. Frankly, Judaism itself changed following both the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests too. That which existed in 70 CE was quite unlike what we are finding via archaeology existed prior to either of these conquests. After all, YHWH no longer had a consort or was represented by a bull.
In conclusion, to get to the real point of all of this, the spectre of war that looms over us today – if it happens – could very well not only seal the fate of our nation, but also of American Christianity itself. And it is my opinion that American Christianity, in whatever form it may survive, will likely be even more radical than that which exists today. The reason for this is because the survivors will be able to point to their so-called “prophecies” of doom and gloom and say that they were right.
I have often said that it really didn’t take a prophet (or prophets) to predict that the Assyrians or Babylonians would come down and destroy Israel or Judah. Anyone should have been able to see that. But, since their predictions were put down in writing, they get credit for having warned those people. Today, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that some war or another, probably a major one, will likely soon break out. It may even be one that will spell our own demise. But, since there is a parade of people claiming to be prophets predicting such, they will inevitably get the credit for having warned everyone. And from this the new form of Christianity will spring. This will be necessary for its survival. And in one or two hundred years, it won’t even look like whatever we have today. But it will still calim direct, causal descent from that which exists today. Trust me on this.