Yesterday, a self-described “spiritualist” claimed that I had psychological problems and that I selected sources for my book by scholars who were out to destroy Christianity. I admit that I must be a little crazy to spend so much time exploring ancient religions; but, my sources run the gamut of religious belief and I really doubt that any of them are as anti-theist as I am. Regardless, the charge that my book represents a radical view deserves some explanation. Here is an overview of my methods in composing a description of the religious background of Christianity.
It is well accepted in the scholarly community that West Asian myths were primarily star stories, with the characters traveling through the Babylonian zodiac. I explain a few Mesopotamian and Canaanite myth cycles, with events in the stories illustrated by constellations in sequence around the star chart. There is nothing radical about this method of understanding myths. Gavin White, a prominent expert on Babylonian star lore, and others, recognize the zodiac as providing the outline for myths, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. Greek myths have also successfully been described as star stories. The most obvious Greek star story is the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
It is also well accepted amongst scholars that Bible stories, such as Noah’s Flood, were based on older Mesopotamian myths. I discovered that many Bible stories follow the same path through the zodiac as other West Asian myth cycles. I explain some of the Bible myths as star stories in my book; but, there are others. Once you learn the method, you too can decipher Bible stories as star stories. Far from being far-fetched, this is the most rational method for interpreting ancient mythology. By contrast, it is extremely far-fetched to go in search of an actual flood as the inspiration for Noah’s Flood.
It is also well accepted in the scholarly community that sex rituals, drug use, and human sacrifice were features of Canaanite/Phoenician religion. Most scholars also no longer believe that the Israelites migrated to Canaan; but, were in fact indigenous to the region and were also Canaanites. And, the Bible is full of references to rituals including sex, drugs, and human sacrifice. In fact, the reason archaeological sites containing the remains of Canaanite/Phoenician human sacrifice are called “tophets” is because of the Old Testament usage of the word.
Absolutely no one denies that the Old Testament is relevant to the story of Jesus. But, I illustrate that the book of Mark was a star story and also contains references to sex rituals, drug use, and human sacrifice. And, it is clear that the author of Mark knew that he was telling a star story with references to those rituals. It is also the consensus that Mark is the oldest of the gospel stories; so, represents the oldest beliefs of the Early Christians. I also describe Paul in the context of 1st century CE Roman culture and he is the oldest Christian who spoke for himself with his letters. His letters also expose the origins of Christianity in the pagan traditions of Palestine.
Where I do depart from the majority of American scholars is in stating that the Old Testament was written primarily during the Hellenistic Period, rather than compiled during the Persian Period. The difference of opinion amounts to about 100-200 years. There are a number of scholars, primarily European, who share my view. No one denies that the stories in the Old Testament were based on very old tales, many originating during the Iron Age. Particularly the stories of human sacrifice were based on Iron Age practices in the Levant, because that ritual began sometime around 1000 BCE. But, I explain that the way the stories were told reflect cultural and political changes that were unique to the Hellenistic Period. Even those who claim that there was a compilation of the stories during the Persian Period agree that the stories were edited during Hellenistic Period. So, the biggest difference of opinion is just how much the Hellenistic Period editing affected the theological message of the stories.
However, the reason the dating of the Old Testament is such a hotly debated topic is firmly footed in modern religious belief and Zionism. Religious believers and many Zionists do not want the culture of ancient Judeans described as polytheistic (pagan) until well into the Greco-Roman Period. But, they simply have no archaeological evidence to support their claims and there is a lot of evidence challenging their position. In this sense, I represent the conservative view, basing my opinion on evidence rather than tradition. My book is radical in that it does not agree with the Christian and Jewish religious traditions that evolved over the last 2000 years. However, those traditional interpretations were composed by people who took the Bible as a literal history book, and believed many wrong things about the ancient world, including that the Noah’s Flood story was absolutely true. Many modern well-intentioned scholars fall into the tradition trap when they accept Bible stories as essentially true without supporting archaeological evidence. They tend to assume that the stories are based on legends rather than myths and think that real historical events inspired the heroic tales. Just because the majority of American scholars fall into that category does not make their view superior to mine. And, I clearly demonstrate that Bible stories were based on star lore mythology and refer to rituals including sex, drugs, and human sacrifice.
Diana Agorio is the author of Sex Rites: The Origins of Christianity