- Rep Power
Mankind's search for God: Chapter 7-Toaism and Confucianism- A search for Heavens way
Taoism and Confucianism—A Search for Heaven’s Way
Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism constitute the three major religions of China and the Far East. Unlike Buddhism, however, Taoism and Confucianism have not become world religions but have basically remained in China and wherever Chinese culture has asserted its influence. Though no official figures of the current number of their followers in China are available, Taoism and Confucianism together have dominated the religious life of nearly one quarter of the world’s population for the past 2,000 years.
‘LET a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools contend.’ That saying, made famous by Mao Tse-tung of the People’s Republic of China in a speech in 1956, was actually a paraphrase of the expression that Chinese scholars have used to describe the era in China from the fifth to the third centuries B.C.E., called the Warring States period. By this time the mighty Chou dynasty (c. 1122-256 B.C.E.) had deteriorated into a system of loosely bound feudal states that were engaged in continuous warfare, much to the distress of the common people.
2 The turmoil and suffering brought about by the wars seriously weakened the authority of the traditional ruling class. The common people were no longer content with submitting themselves to the whims and wiles of the aristocracy and silently suffering the consequences. As a result, long-suppressed ideas and aspirations burst forth like “a hundred flowers.” Different schools of thought advanced their ideas on government, law, social order, conduct, and ethics, as well as on subjects such as agriculture, music, and literature, as the means for restoring some normalcy to life. They came to be known as the “hundred schools.” Most of them did not produce a lasting effect. Two schools, however, gained such prominence that they have influenced life in China for over 2,000 years. They were what eventually came to be known as Taoism and Confucianism.
Tao—What Is It?
3 To understand why Taoism (pronounced dow-ism; rhymes with now) and Confucianism came to wield such a deep and lasting influence on the Chinese people, as well as on those of Japan, Korea, and other surrounding nations, it is necessary to have some understanding of the fundamental Chinese concept of Tao. The word itself means “way, road, or path.” By extension, it can also mean “method, principle, or doctrine.” To the Chinese, the harmony and orderliness they perceived in the universe were manifestations of Tao, a sort of divine will or legislation existing in and regulating the universe. In other words, instead of believing in a Creator God, who controls the universe, they believed in a providence, a will of heaven, or simply heaven itself as the cause of everything.
4 Applying the concept of Tao to human affairs, the Chinese believed that there is a natural and correct way to do everything and that everything and everyone has its proper place and its proper function. They believed, for example, that if the ruler performed his duty by dealing justly with the people and looking after the sacrificial rituals pertaining to heaven, there would be peace and prosperity for the nation. Similarly, if people were willing to seek out the way, or Tao, and follow it, everything would be harmonious, peaceful, and effective. But if they were to go contrary to or resist it, the result would be chaos and disaster.
5 This idea of going with Tao and not interfering with its flow is a central element of Chinese philosophical and religious thinking. It may be said that Taoism and Confucianism are two different expressions of the same concept. Taoism takes a mystical approach and, in its original form, advocates inaction, quietness, and passivity, shunning society and returning to nature. Its basic idea is that everything will come out right if people will sit back, do nothing, and let nature take its course. Confucianism, on the other hand, takes a pragmatic approach. It teaches that social order will be maintained when every person plays his intended role and does his duty. To that end, it codifies all human and social relationships—ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, and so on—and provides guidelines for all of them. Naturally, this brings up the following questions: How did these two systems come into existence? Who were their founders? How are they practiced today? And what have they done as far as man’s search for God is concerned?
Taoism—A Philosophical Start
6 In its early stages, Taoism was more a philosophy than a religion. Its founder, Lao-tzu, was dissatisfied with the chaos and turmoil of the times and sought relief by shunning society and returning to nature. Not a great deal is known about the man, who is said to have lived in the sixth century B.C.E., although even that is uncertain. He was commonly called Lao-tzu, which means “Old Master” or “Old One,” because, as legend has it, his pregnant mother carried him for so long that when he was born, his hair had already turned white.
7 The only official record about Lao-tzu is in Shih Chi (Historical Records), by Ssu-ma Ch’ien, a respected court historian of the second and first centuries B.C.E. According to this source, Lao-tzu’s real name was Li Erh. He served as a clerk in the imperial archives at Loyang, central China. But more significantly, it gives this account about Lao-tzu:
“Lao Tzu resided in Chou most of his life. When he foresaw the decay of Chou, he departed and came to the frontier. The custom-house officer Yin Hsi said: ‘Sir, since it pleases you to retire, I request you for my sake to write a book.’ Thereupon Lao Tzu wrote a book of two parts consisting of five thousand and odd words, in which he discussed the concepts of the Way [Tao] and the Power [Te]. Then he departed. No one knows where he died.”
8 Many scholars doubt the authenticity of this account. In any case, the book that was produced is known as Tao Te Ching (generally translated “The Classic of the Way and the Power”) and is considered the principal text of Taoism. It is written in terse, cryptic verses, some of which are only three or four words long. Because of this and because the meaning of some characters has changed considerably since the time of Lao-tzu, the book is subject to many different interpretations.
A Glimpse of “Tao Te Ching”
9 In Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu expounded on Tao, the ultimate way of nature, and applied it to every level of human activity. Here we quote from a modern translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English to get a glimpse of Tao Te Ching. Regarding Tao, it says the following:
“[There was] something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and earth. . . .
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name.
Call it Tao.”—Chapter 25.
“All things arise from Tao.
They are nourished by Virtue [Te].
They are formed from matter.
They are shaped by environment.
Thus the ten thousand things all respect Tao
and honor Virtue [Te].”—Chapter 51.
10 What can we deduce from these enigmatic passages? That to Taoists, Tao is some mysterious cosmic force that is responsible for the material universe. The objective of Taoism is to search out the Tao, leave behind the world, and become at one with nature. This concept is also reflected in the Taoists’ view on human conduct. Here is an expression of this ideal in Tao Te Ching:
“Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.”—Chapter 9.
11 These few examples show that at least initially, Taoism was basically a school of philosophy. Reacting to the injustices, suffering, devastation, and futility that resulted from the harsh rule of the feudal system of the time, Taoists believed that the way to find peace and harmony was to go back to the tradition of the ancients before there were kings and ministers who dominated the common people. Their ideal was to live the tranquil, rural life, in union with nature.—Proverbs 28:15; 29:2.
Taoism’s Second Sage
12 The philosophy of Lao-tzu was carried one step further by Chuang Chou, or Chuang-tzu, meaning “Master Chuang” (369-286 B.C.E.), who was considered the most eminent successor to Lao-tzu. In his book, Chuang Tzu, he not only elaborated on the Tao but also expounded on the ideas of yin and yang, first developed in the I Ching. (See page 83.) In his view, nothing is really permanent or absolute, but everything is in a state of flux between two opposites. In the chapter “Autumn Flood,” he wrote:
“Nothing in the universe is permanent, as everything lives only long enough to die. Only Tao, having no beginning or end, lasts forever. . . . Life can be likened to a fleet horse galloping at full speed—it changes constantly and continuously, in every fraction of a second. What should you do? What should you not do? It really does not make any difference.”
13 Because of this philosophy of inertia, the Taoist view is that there is no point in anyone doing anything to interfere with what nature has set in motion. Sooner or later, everything will return to its opposite. No matter how unbearable a situation is, it will soon become better. No matter how pleasant a situation is, it will soon fade away. (In contrast, see Ecclesiastes 5:18, 19.) This philosophical view of life is typified in a dream of Chuang-tzu’s by which the common folk best remember him:
“Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou.”
14 The influence of this philosophy is seen in the style of the poetry and painting developed by Chinese artists of later generations. (See page 171.) Taoism, however, was not to remain as a passive philosophy for long.
From Philosophy to Religion
15 In their attempt to be at one with nature, Taoists became obsessed with its agelessness and resilience. They speculated that perhaps by living in harmony with Tao, or nature’s way, one could somehow tap into the secrets of nature and become immune to physical harm, diseases, and even death. Although Lao-tzu did not make this an issue, passages in Tao Te Ching seemed to suggest this idea. For example, chapter 16 says: “Being at one with the Tao is eternal. And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.”
16 Chuang-tzu also contributed to such speculations. For instance, in a dialogue in Chuang Tzu, one mythical character asked another, “You are of a high age, and yet you have a child’s complexion. How is this?” The latter replied: “I have learnt Tao.” Regarding another Taoist philosopher, Chuang-tzu wrote: “Now Liehtse could ride upon the wind. Sailing happily in the cool breeze, he would go on for fifteen days before his return. Among mortals who attain happiness, such a man is rare.”
17 Stories like these fired the imagination of Taoists, and they started to experiment with meditation, dieting, and breathing exercises that supposedly could delay bodily decay and death. Soon, legends began to circulate about immortals who could fly on clouds and appear and disappear at will and who lived on sacred mountains or remote islands for countless years, sustained by dew or magical fruits. Chinese history reports that in 219 B.C.E., the Ch’in emperor, Shih Huang-Ti, sent a fleet of ships with 3,000 boys and girls to find the legendary island of P’eng-lai, the abode of the immortals, to bring back the herb of immortality. Needless to say, they did not return with the elixir, but tradition says that they populated the islands that came to be known as Japan.
18 During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.), the magical practices of Taoism reached a new peak. It was said that Emperor Wu Ti, though promoting Confucianism as the official State teaching, was much attracted to the Taoist idea of physical immortality. He was particularly taken up with concocting ‘immortality pills’ by alchemy. In the Taoist view, life results when the opposing yin and yang (female and male) forces combine. Thus, by fusing lead (dark, or yin) and mercury (bright, or yang), the alchemists were imitating the process of nature, and the product, they thought, would be an immortality pill. Taoists also developed Yogalike exercises, breath-control techniques, dietary restrictions, and sexual practices that were believed to strengthen one’s vital energy and prolong one’s life. Their paraphernalia included magic talismans that were said to render one invisible and invulnerable to weapons or enable one to walk on water or fly through space. They also had magic seals, usually containing the yin-yang symbol, affixed on buildings and over doorways to repel evil spirits and wild beasts.
19 By the second century C.E., Taoism became organized. A certain Chang Ling, or Chang Tao-ling, established a Taoist secret society in western China and practiced magical cures and alchemy. Because each member was levied a fee of five pecks of rice, his movement came to be known as the Five-Pecks-of-Rice Taoism (wu-tou-mi tao). Claiming that he received a personal revelation from Lao-tzu, Chang became the first “celestial master.” Finally, it was said that he succeeded in making the elixir of life and ascended alive to heaven, riding a tiger, from Mount Lung-hu (Dragon-Tiger Mountain) in Kiangsi Province. With Chang Tao-ling there started a centuries-long succession of Taoist “celestial masters,” each said to be a reincarnation of Chang.
Meeting the Challenge of Buddhism
20 By the seventh century, during the T’ang dynasty (618-907 C.E.), Buddhism was making inroads into Chinese religious life. As a countermeasure, Taoism promoted itself as a religion with Chinese roots. Lao-tzu was deified, and Taoist writings were canonized. Temples, monasteries, and nunneries were built, and orders of monks and nuns were established, more or less in the Buddhist fashion. In addition, Taoism also adopted into its own pantheon many of the gods, goddesses, fairies, and immortals of Chinese folklore, such as the Eight Immortals (Pa Hsien), the god of the hearth (Tsao Shen), city gods (Ch’eng Huang), and guardians of the door (Men Shen). The result was an amalgam embracing elements of Buddhism, traditional superstitions, spiritism, and ancestor worship.—1 Corinthians 8:5.
21 As time wore on, Taoism slowly degenerated into a system of idolatry and superstition. Each person simply worshiped his favorite gods and goddesses at the local temples, petitioning them for protection against evil and for help in attaining earthly fortune. The priests were for hire to conduct funerals; select favorable sites for graves, houses, and businesses; communicate with the dead; ward off evil spirits and ghosts; celebrate festivals; and perform sundry other rituals. Thus, what started off as a school of mystic philosophy had transformed itself into a religion deeply mired in belief in immortal spirits, hellfire, and demigods—ideas drawn from the stagnant pool of false beliefs of ancient Babylon.
China’s Other Prominent Sage
22 While we have traced the rise, development, and decay of Taoism, we should recall that it was just one of the “hundred schools” that blossomed in China during the period of the Warring States. Another school that eventually came to prominence, in fact, dominance, was Confucianism. But why did Confucianism come to such prominence? Of all Chinese sages, Confucius is undoubtedly the best-known outside of China, but who really was he? And what did he teach?
23 Regarding Confucius, we again turn to the Shih Chi (Historical Records) of Ssu-ma Ch’ien. In contrast to the brief sketch on Lao-tzu, we find an extended biography of Confucius. Here are some personal details quoted from a translation by the Chinese scholar Lin Yutang:
“Confucius was born in the town of Tsou, in the county of Ch’angping, in the country of Lu. . . . [His mother] prayed at the hill Nich’iu and begat Confucius in answer to her prayer, in the twenty-second year of Duke Hsiang of Lu (551 B.C.). There was a noticeable convolution on his head at his birth, and that was why he was called ‘Ch’iu’ (meaning a “hill”). His literary name was Chungni, and his surname was K’ung.”
24 Shortly after his birth, his father died, but his mother, though poor, managed to provide him with a proper education. The boy developed a keen interest in history, poetry, and music. According to The Analects, one of the Confucian Four Books, he devoted himself to scholarly study when he reached age 15. At age 17, he was given a minor government post in his native state of Lu.
25 His financial status apparently improved, so that he married at the age of 19 and had a son the next year. In his middle 20’s, however, his mother died. That evidently had quite an effect on him. Being a meticulous observer of ancient traditions, Confucius retired from public life and mourned his mother at her grave for 27 months, thus furnishing the Chinese with a classic example of filial piety.
Confucius the Teacher
26 Thereafter, he left his family and took up the occupation of a wandering teacher. The subjects he taught included music, poetry, literature, civics, ethics, and science, or what there was of it at that time. He must have made quite a name for himself, for it was said that at one time he had as many as 3,000 students.
27 In the Orient, Confucius is revered principally as a master teacher. In fact the epitaph on his grave in Ch’ü-fou, Shantung Province, reads simply “Ancient, Most Holy Teacher.” One Western writer describes his teaching method this way: “He walked about from ‘place to place accompanied by those who were absorbing his views of life.’ Whenever the journey took them any distance he rode in an ox cart. The slow pace of the animal enabled his pupils to follow on foot, and it is evident that the subject of his lectures was frequently suggested by events occurring on the road.” Interestingly, Jesus at a later date, and independently, used a similar method.
28 What made Confucius an honored teacher among the Orientals, no doubt, was the fact that he was a good student himself, especially of history and ethics. “People were attracted to Confucius, less because he was the wisest man of his time, than because he was the most learned scholar, the only one of his day who could teach them about the ancient books and ancient scholarship,” wrote Lin Yutang. Pointing to this love of learning as perhaps the key reason Confucianism triumphed over other schools of thought, Lin summarized the matter this way: “The Confucian teachers had something definite to teach and the Confucian pupils had something definite to learn, namely, historical learning, while the other schools were forced to air merely their own opinions.”
“It Is Heaven That Knows Me!”
29 In spite of his success as a teacher, Confucius did not consider teaching to be his lifework. He felt that his ideas on ethics and morals could save the troubled world of his day if only the rulers would apply them by employing him or his pupils in their governments. To this end, he and a small group of his closest disciples left his native state of Lu and went traveling from state to state trying to find the wise ruler who would adopt his ideas on government and social order. What was the outcome? Shih Chi states: “Finally he left Lu, was abandoned in Ch’i, was driven out of Sung and Wei, suffered want between Ch’en and Ts’ai.” After 14 years on the road, he returned to Lu, disappointed but not broken.
30 For the remainder of his days, he devoted himself to literary work and teaching. (See box, page 177.) Though undoubtedly he lamented his obscurity, he said: “I do not murmur against Heaven. I do not grumble against man. I pursue my studies here on earth, and am in touch with Heaven above. It is Heaven that knows me!” Finally, in the year 479 B.C.E., he died at the age of 73.
The Essence of Confucian Ideas
31 Although Confucius excelled as a scholar and as a teacher, his influence was by no means limited to scholastic circles. In fact, the aim of Confucius was not just to teach rules of conduct or morals but also to restore peace and order to society, which was, at the time, torn apart by the constant warfare between the feudal lords. To achieve that goal, Confucius taught that everyone, from the emperor to the common folk, must learn what role he was expected to play in society and live accordingly.
32 In Confucianism this concept is known as li, which means propriety, courtesy, the order of things, and, by extension, ritual, ceremony, and reverence. In answer to the question, “What is this great li?” Confucius gave the following explanation:
“Of all the things that the people live by, li is the greatest. Without li, we do not know how to conduct a proper worship of the spirits of the universe; or how to establish the proper status of the king and the ministers, the ruler and the ruled, and the elders and the juniors; or how to establish the moral relationships between the sexes, between parents and children and between brothers; or how to distinguish the different degrees of relationships in the family. That is why a gentleman holds li in such high regard.”
33 Hence, li is the rule of conduct by which a true gentleman (chün-tzu, sometimes translated “superior man”) carries out all his social relations. When everyone endeavors to do so, “everything becomes right in the family, the state and the world,” said Confucius, and that is when Tao, or heaven’s way, is done. But how is li to be expressed? That takes us to another of the central concepts of Confucianism—jen (pronounced ren), humaneness or human-heartedness.
34 While li emphasizes restraint by external rules, jen deals with human nature, or the inner person. The Confucian concept, especially as expressed by Confucius’ principal disciple, Mencius, is that human nature is basically good. Thus, the solution to all social ills lies in self-cultivation, and that starts with education and knowledge. The opening chapter of The Great Learning says:
“When true knowledge is achieved, then the will becomes sincere; when the will is sincere, then the heart is set right . . . ; when the heart is set right, then the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, then the family life is regulated; when the family life is regulated, then the national life is orderly; and when the national life is orderly, then there is peace in this world. From the emperor down to the common men, all must regard the cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation.”
35 Thus, we see that according to Confucius, the observance of li will enable people to behave properly in every situation, and the cultivation of jen will make them treat everyone else kindly. The result, theoretically, is peace and harmony in society. The Confucian ideal, based on the principles of li and jen, can be summarized this way:
“Kindness in the father, filial piety in the son
Gentility in the eldest brother, humility and respect in
Righteous behavior in the husband, obedience in the
Humane consideration in elders, deference in juniors
Benevolence in rulers, loyalty in ministers and subjects.”
All of this helps to explain why most Chinese people, and even other Orientals, place so much emphasis on family ties, on being industrious, on education, and on knowing and acting according to one’s place. For better or for worse, these Confucian concepts have been driven deep into the Chinese consciousness through centuries of inculcation.
Confucianism Became a State Cult
36 With the rise of Confucianism, the period of the “hundred schools” came to an end. Emperors of the Han dynasty found in the Confucian teaching of loyalty to the ruler just the formula they needed to solidify the power of the throne. Under Emperor Wu Ti, whom we have already referred to in connection with Taoism, Confucianism was elevated to the status of a State cult. Only those versed in the Confucian classics were selected as State officials, and anyone hoping to enter government service had to pass nationwide examinations based on the Confucian classics. Confucian rites and rituals became the religion of the royal house.
37 This change of events did much to elevate the position of Confucius in Chinese society. The Han emperors started the tradition of offering sacrifices at the grave of Confucius. Honorific titles were bestowed on him. Then, in 630 C.E., the T’ang emperor T’ai Tsung ordered that a State temple to Confucius be erected in every province and county throughout the empire and that sacrifices be offered regularly. For all practical purposes, Confucius was elevated to the status of a god, and Confucianism became a religion hardly distinguishable from Taoism or Buddhism.—See box, page 175.
The Legacy of the Wisdom of the East
38 Since the end of dynastic rule in China in 1911, Confucianism and Taoism have come under much criticism, even persecution. Taoism was discredited on account of its magical and superstitious practices. And Confucianism has been labeled as feudalistic, promoting a slave mentality to keep people, especially women, under subjection. In spite of such official denunciations, however, the basic concepts of these religions are so deeply embedded in the Chinese mind that they still have a strong hold on many of the people.
39 For example, under the headline “Chinese Religious Rites Rare in Beijing but Flourishing in the Coastal Regions,” the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail reported in 1987 that after nearly 40 years of atheistic rule in China, funeral rites, temple services, and many superstitious practices are still common in rural areas. “Most villages have a fengshui man, usually an elderly resident who knows how to read the forces of wind (feng) and water (shui) to determine the most propitious location for everything from the ancestral grave, a new house or living room furniture,” says the report.
40 Elsewhere, Taoism and Confucianism are found wherever traditional Chinese culture survives. In Taiwan, one man who claims to be a descendant of Chang Tao-ling presides as “celestial master” with the power to ordain Taoist priests (Tao Shih). The popular goddess Matsu, billed as “Holy Mother in Heaven,” is worshiped as the patron saint of the island and of sailors and fishermen. As for the common people, they are mostly preoccupied with making offerings and sacrifices to the spirits of the rivers, mountains, and stars; the patron deities of all the trades; and the gods of health, good luck, and wealth.
41 What about Confucianism? Its role as a religion has been reduced to the status of a national monument. In China at Ch’ü-fou, the birthplace of Confucius, the State maintains the Temple of Confucius and family grounds as tourist attractions. There, according to the magazine China Reconstructs, performances are put on “reenacting a ritual of worship for Confucius.” And in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other places in eastern Asia, people still celebrate Confucius’ birthday.
42 In Confucianism and Taoism, we see how a system based on human wisdom and reasoning, no matter how logical and well-meaning, ultimately falls short in the search for the true God. Why? Because it leaves out one essential element, namely, the will and requirements of a personal God. Confucianism turns to human nature as the motivating force to do good, and Taoism turns to nature itself. But this is misplaced confidence because it simply amounts to worshiping created things rather than the Creator.—Psalm 62:9; 146:3, 4; Jeremiah 17:5.
43 On the other hand, the traditions of ancestor and idol worship, reverence for a cosmic heaven, and veneration of spirits in nature, as well as the rites and rituals connected with them, have become so deeply rooted in the Chinese way of thinking that they are accepted as the unspoken truth. Often it is very difficult to talk to a Chinese person about a personal God or Creator because the concept is so foreign to him.—Romans 1:20-25.
44 It is undeniable that nature is filled with great marvels and wisdom and that we humans are endowed with the wonderful faculties of reason and conscience. But as pointed out in the chapter on Buddhism, the wonders we see in the natural world have caused reasoning minds to conclude that there must be a Designer or Creator. (See pages 151-2.) That being the case, then, is it not logical that we should endeavor to search out the Creator? In fact the Creator invites us to do so: “Raise your eyes high up and see. Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name.” (Isaiah 40:26) Doing so, we will come to know not only who the Creator is, namely Jehovah God, but also what he has in store for our future.
45 Along with Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, which have played a major role in the religious life of the people of the Orient, there is another religion, one unique to the people of Japan—Shinto. How is it different? What is its source? Has it led people to the true God? This we will consider in the next chapter.
Lin Yutang’s translation of this passage reads: “Being in accord with Tao, he is eternal, and his whole life is preserved from harm.”
A peck is a dry measure equaling two gallons [8.8 L].
The word “Confucius” is a Latin transliteration of the Chinese K’ung-fu-tzu, meaning “K’ung the Master.” Jesuit priests who came to China in the 16th century coined the Latinized name when they recommended to the pope of Rome that Confucius be canonized as a “saint” of the Roman Catholic Church.
One Taoist group in Taiwan, called T’ien Tao (Heavenly Way), claims to be an amalgam of five world religions—Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islām.
Pronunciation of Chinese Words
To be consistent with most scholarly work, the Wade-Giles form of transliteration of Chinese words is used in this book. The English equivalents in sound are given below:
ch j, as in Tao Te Ching (jing)
ch’ ch, as in Ch’in (chin) dynasty
hs sh, as in Ta Hsüeh (shu-eh), The Great Learning
j r, as in jen (ren), human-heartedness
k g, as in the Buddhist goddess Kuan-yin (gwan-yin)
k’ k, as in K’ung-fu-tzu (kung-fu-tzu), or Confucius
t d, as in Tao (dao), the Way
t’ t, as in T’ang (tang) dynasty
Confucianism—Philosophy or Religion?
Because Confucius made few comments about God, many people view Confucianism as only a philosophy and not a religion. Yet, what he said and did showed that he was religious. This can be seen in two respects. First, he had a reverent fear for a supreme cosmic spiritual power, what the Chinese call T’ien, or Heaven, which he regarded as the source of all virtue and moral goodness and whose will, he felt, directs all things. Second, he placed great emphasis on meticulous observance of the rites and ceremonies relating to the worship of heaven and the spirits of departed ancestors.
Though Confucius never advocated these views as a form of religion, to generations of Chinese they have become what religion is all about.
Confucian Four Books and Five Classics
The Four Books
1. The Great Learning (Ta Hsüeh), the basis of a gentleman’s education, the first text studied by schoolboys in old China
2. The Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung), a treatise on the development of human nature through moderation
3. The Analects (Lun Yü, a collection of Confucius’ sayings, considered the main source of Confucian thought
4. The Book of Mencius (Meng-tzu), writings and sayings of Confucius’ greatest disciple, Meng-tzu, or Mencius
The Five Classics
1. The Book of Poetry (Shih Ching), 305 poems providing a picture of daily life in early Chou times (1000-600 B.C.E.)
2. The Book of History (Shu Ching), covering 17 centuries of Chinese history beginning with the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.E.)
3. The Book of Changes (I Ching), a book of divination, based on interpretations of the 64 possible combinations of six whole or broken lines
4. The Book of Rites (Li Chi), a collection of rules on ceremonies and rituals
5. Annals of Spring and Autumn (Ch’un Ch’iu), a history of Confucius’ native state of Lu, covering 721-478 B.C.E.
- Rep Power
Mankind's search for God: Chapter 8- Shinto—Japan’s Search for God
Shinto—Japan’s Search for God
“Because my father was a Shinto priest, we were told to offer a glass of water and a bowl of steamed rice on the kamidana [Shinto household shrine] every morning before breakfast. After that act of worship, we took down the bowl of rice and ate from it. By doing so, I was confident that the gods would protect us.
“When we purchased a house, we carefully confirmed the auspicious location of the new house in relation to our old one by consulting a shaman, or a spirit medium. He cautioned us about three demon gates and instructed us to follow the purification procedure that my father prescribed. So we purified those quarters with salt once every month.”—Mayumi T.
SHINTO is predominantly a Japanese religion. According to the Nihon Shukyo Jiten (Encyclopedia of Japanese Religions), “The formation of Shintoism is almost identical with the Japanese ethnic culture, and it is a religious culture that was never practiced apart from this ethnic society.” But Japanese business and cultural influences are now so widespread that it should interest us to know what religious factors have shaped Japan’s history and the Japanese personality.
2 Although Shinto claims a membership of over 91,000,000 in Japan, which amounts to about three quarters of its population, a survey reveals that only 2,000,000 people, or 3 percent of the adult population, really profess to believe in Shinto. However, Sugata Masaaki, a researcher on Shinto, says: “Shinto is so inextricably woven into the fabric of Japanese daily life that people are barely aware of its existence. To the Japanese it is less a religion than an unobtrusive environmental fixture, like the air they breathe.” Even those who claim to be apathetic to religion will buy Shinto traffic safety amulets, have their weddings according to Shinto tradition, and pour their money into annual Shinto festivals.
How Did It Start?
3 The designation “Shinto” sprang up in the eighth century C.E. to distinguish the local religion from Buddhism, which was being introduced into Japan. “Of course, ‘the Religion of the Japanese’ . . . existed before the introduction of Buddhism,” explains Sachiya Hiro, a researcher of Japanese religions, “but it was a subconscious religion, consisting of customs and ‘mores.’ With the introduction of Buddhism, however, people became aware of the fact that those mores constituted a Japanese religion, different from Buddhism, which was a foreign religion.” How did this Japanese religion evolve?
4 It is difficult to pinpoint a date when the original Shinto, or “Religion of the Japanese,” emerged. With the advent of the wetland cultivation of rice, “wetland agriculture necessitated well-organized and stable communities,” explains the Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, “and agricultural rites—which later played such an important role in Shintō—were developed.” Those early peoples conceived of and revered numerous gods of nature.
5 In addition to this reverence, fear of departed souls led to rites for appeasing them. This later developed into a worship of ancestral spirits. According to Shinto belief, a “departed” soul still has its personality and is stained with death pollution immediately after death. When the bereaved perform memorial rites, the soul is purified to the point of removing all malice, and it takes on a peaceful and benevolent character. In time the ancestral spirit rises to the position of an ancestral, or guardian, deity. Thus we find that the immortal soul belief is fundamental to yet another religion and conditions the attitudes and actions of the believers.—Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10.
6 Gods of nature and ancestral gods were considered to be spirits “floating” in and filling the air. During festivals, people called upon the gods to descend to the specific sites sanctified for the occasion. Gods were said to take temporary residence in shintai, objects of worship such as trees, stones, mirrors, and swords. Shamans, or spirit mediums, presided over rituals to call down the gods.
7 Gradually, the “landing sites” of the gods, which were temporarily purified for festivals, took on a more permanent form. People built shrines for benevolent gods, those who appeared to bless them. At first they did not carve images of the gods but worshiped the shintai, in which spirits of gods were said to reside. Even an entire mountain, such as Fuji, could serve as a shintai. In time there came to be so many gods that the Japanese developed the expression yaoyorozu-no-kami, which literally means “eight million gods” (“kami” means “gods” or “deities”). Now the expression is used to signify “countless gods,” since the number of deities in the Shinto religion is ever increasing.
8 As Shinto rituals concentrated around shrines, each clan enshrined its own guardian deity. However, when the imperial family unified the nation in the seventh century C.E., they elevated their sun-goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, to be the national deity and central figure of the Shinto gods. (See box, page 191.) In time the myth was propounded that the emperor was a direct descendant of the sun-goddess. To fortify that belief, two major Shinto writings, Kojiki and Nihon shoki, were compiled in the eighth century C.E. Using myths that exalted the imperial family as the descendants of gods, these books helped to establish the supremacy of the emperors.
A Religion of Festivals and Rituals
9 These two books of Shinto mythology, however, were not considered to be inspired scriptures. Interestingly, Shinto does not have a known founder or a Bible. “Shinto is a religion of a series of ‘withouts,’” explains Shouichi Saeki, a Shinto scholar. “It is without definite doctrines and without detailed theology. It is as good as without any precepts to be observed. . . . Although I was brought up in a family that has traditionally adhered to Shinto, I have no recollection of being given serious religious education.” (Italics ours.) For Shintoists, doctrines, precepts, and, at times, even what they worship are not important. “Even at the same shrine,” says a Shinto researcher, “the enshrined god was often exchanged for another, and at times people who worshiped those gods and offered prayers to them were not aware of the change.”
10 What, then, is of vital importance to Shintoists? “Originally,” says a book on Japanese culture, “Shinto considered acts that promoted the harmony and livelihood of a small community as ‘good’ and those that hindered such as ‘bad.’” Harmony with gods, nature, and the community was considered to be of superlative value. Anything that disrupted the peaceful harmony of the community was bad regardless of its moral value.
11 Since Shinto has no formal doctrine or teaching, its way of promoting the harmony of the community is through rituals and festivals. “What is most important in Shintoism,” explains the encyclopedia Nihon Shukyo Jiten, “is whether we celebrate festivals or not.” (See box, page 193.) Feasting together at festivals around ancestral gods contributed to a cooperative spirit among people in the rice-growing community. Major festivals were and still are related to rice cultivation. In the spring, village people call upon the “god of the paddies” to come down to their village, and they pray for a good crop. In the fall, they thank their gods for the harvest. During festivals, they carry their gods around on a mikoshi, or portable shrine, and have communion of rice wine (sake) and food with the gods.
12 To be in union with the gods, however, Shintoists believe that they must be cleansed and purified from all their moral impurity and sin. This is where rituals come in. There are two ways to purify a person or an object. One is oharai and the other is misogi. In oharai, a Shinto priest swings a branch of the evergreen sakaki tree with paper or flax tied to its tip to purify an item or a person, whereas in misogi, water is used. These purification rituals are so vital to the Shinto religion that one Japanese authority states: “It may safely be said that without these rituals, Shinto cannot stand [as a religion].”
13 Festivals and rituals have lingered with Shinto despite the transformation that the Shinto religion has gone through over the years. What transformation? One Shinto researcher likens the changes in Shinto to those of a dress-up doll. When Buddhism was introduced, Shinto clothed itself with the Buddhist teaching. When people needed moral standards, it put on Confucianism. Shinto has been extremely adaptable.
14 Syncretism, or the fusing of the elements of one religion into another, took place very early in the history of Shinto. Although Confucianism and Taoism, known in Japan as the “Way of yin and yang,” had infiltrated the Shinto religion, Buddhism was the major ingredient that blended with Shinto.
15 When Buddhism entered by way of China and Korea, the Japanese labeled their traditional religious practices as Shinto, or the “way of the gods.” However, with the advent of a new religion, Japan was divided on whether to accept Buddhism or not. The pro-Buddhist camp insisted, ‘All neighboring countries worship that way. Why should Japan be different?’ The anti-Buddhist faction disputed, ‘If we worship the neighboring gods, we will be provoking the anger of our own gods.’ After decades of discord, the pro-Buddhists won out. By the end of the sixth century C.E., when Prince Shōtoku embraced Buddhism, the new religion had taken root.
16 As Buddhism spread to rural communities, it encountered the local Shinto deities whose existence was strongly entrenched in the daily lives of the people. The two religions had to compromise to coexist. Buddhist monks practicing self-discipline in the mountains helped to fuse the two religions. As mountains were considered the dwellings of Shinto divinities, the monks’ ascetic practices in the mountains gave rise to the idea of mixing Buddhism and Shinto, which also led to the building of jinguji, or “shrine-temples.” Gradually a fusion of the two religions took place as Buddhism took the initiative in forming religious theories.
17 Meanwhile, the belief that Japan was a divine nation was taking root. When the Mongols attacked Japan in the 13th century, there arose belief in kamikaze, literally “divine wind.” Twice the Mongols raided the island of Kyushu with overwhelming fleets, and twice they were thwarted by storms. The Japanese credited these storms, or winds (kaze), to their Shinto gods (kami), and this greatly enhanced the reputation of their gods.
18 As confidence in Shinto deities swelled, they were viewed as being the original gods, whereas Buddhas (“enlightened ones”) and bodhisattvas (Buddhas-to-be who help others achieve enlightenment; see pages 136-8, 145-6) were seen only as temporary local manifestations of the divinity. As a result of this Shinto-versus-Buddhist conflict, various schools of Shinto developed. Some emphasized Buddhism, others elevated the Shinto pantheon, and still others used a later form of Confucianism to adorn their teachings.
Emperor Worship and State Shinto
19 After many years of compromising, Shinto theologians decided that their religion had been defiled by Chinese religious thinking. So they insisted on a return to the ancient Japanese way. A new school of Shinto, known as Restoration Shinto, emerged, with Norinaga Motoori (pronounced Moto′ori), an 18th-century scholar, as one of its foremost theologians. In search of the origin of the Japanese culture, Motoori studied the classics, especially the Shinto writings called Kojiki. He taught the superiority of the sun-goddess Amaterasu Omikami but left the reason for natural phenomena vaguely up to the gods. In addition, according to his teaching, divine providence is unpredictable, and it is disrespectful for men to try to understand it. Ask no questions and be submissive to divine providence was his idea.—Isaiah 1:18.
20 One of his followers, Atsutane Hirata, enlarged on Norinaga’s idea and tried to purify Shinto, rid it of all “Chinese” influences. What did Hirata do? He fused Shinto with apostatized “Christian” theology! He likened Amenominakanushi-no-kami, a god mentioned in the Kojiki, to the God of “Christianity” and described this presiding god of the universe as having two subordinate gods, “the High-Producing (Takami-musubi) and the Divine-Producing (Kami-musubi), who appear to represent the male and female principles.” (Religions in Japan) Yes, he adopted the teaching of a triune god from Roman Catholicism, although it never became the mainline Shinto teaching. Hirata’s blending of so-called Christianity into Shinto, however, finally grafted Christendom’s form of monotheism into the Shinto mind.—Isaiah 40:25, 26.
21 Hirata’s theology became the basis for the ‘Revere the Emperor’ movement, which led to the overthrowing of the feudal military dictators, the shoguns, and to the restoration of imperial rule in 1868. With the establishment of the imperial government, Hirata’s disciples were appointed to be the governmental commissioners of the Shinto worship, and they promoted a movement toward making Shinto the State religion. Under the then new constitution, the emperor, viewed as a direct descendant of the sun-goddess Amaterasu Omikami, was considered “sacred and inviolable.” He thus became the supreme god of State Shinto.—Psalm 146:3-5.
Shinto “Holy Writ”
22 While Shinto had its ancient records, rituals, and prayers in the Kojiki, the Nihongi, and the Yengishiki writings, State Shinto needed a sacred book. In 1882 Emperor Meiji issued the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors. Since it came down from the emperor, it was viewed by the Japanese as holy writ, and it became the basis for daily meditation for men in the armed forces. It emphasized that an individual’s duty to pay his debts and obligations to the god-emperor was above any that he might have to anyone else.
23 A further addition to Shinto holy writ took place when the emperor issued the Imperial Rescript on Education on October 30, 1890. It “not only laid down fundamentals for school education but virtually became the holy scriptures of State Shinto,” explains Shigeyoshi Murakami, a researcher of State Shinto. The rescript made clear that the “historical” relationship between the mythical imperial ancestors and their subjects was the basis of education. How did the Japanese view these edicts?
24 “When I was a girl the vice principal [of the school] would hold a wooden box at eye level and reverentially bring it up to the stage,” recalls Asano Koshino. “The principal would receive the box and pull out the scroll on which the Imperial Rescript on Education was written. While the rescript was being read, we were to bow our heads low until we heard the concluding words, ‘The Name of His Majesty and His seal.’ We heard it so many times that we memorized the words.” Until 1945, and by means of an educational system based on mythology, the whole nation was conditioned to dedicate itself to the emperor. State Shinto was viewed as the superreligion, and the other 13 Shinto sects teaching different doctrines were relegated to being referred to as Sect Shinto.
Japan’s Religious Mission—World Conquest
25 State Shinto was equipped with its idol as well. “Every morning, I clapped my hands toward the sun, the symbol of the goddess Amaterasu Omikami, and then faced east toward the Imperial Palace and worshiped the emperor,” recalls Masato, an older Japanese man. The emperor was worshiped as god by his subjects. He was viewed as supreme politically and religiously by reason of his descent from the sun-goddess. One Japanese professor stated: “The Emperor is god revealed in men. He is manifest Deity.”
26 As a result, the teaching was developed that “the center of this phenomenal world is the Mikado’s [Emperor’s] land. From this center we must expand this Great Spirit throughout the world. . . . The expansion of Great Japan throughout the world and the elevation of the entire world into the land of the Gods is the urgent business of the present and, again, it is our eternal and unchanging object.” (The Political Philosophy of Modern Shinto, by D. C. Holtom) There was no separation of Church and State there!
27 In his book Man’s Religions, John B. Noss comments: “The Japanese military were not slow in availing themselves of this point of view. They made it part of their war talk that conquest was the holy mission of Japan. Certainly in such words we may see the logical outcome of a nationalism infused with all the values of religion.” What tragedy was sown for the Japanese and for other peoples, based mainly on the Shinto myth of the divinity of the emperor and the mixing of religion with nationalism!
28 The Japanese in general did not have any alternative but to worship the emperor under State Shinto and its imperial system. Norinaga Motoori’s teaching of ‘Ask nothing, but submit to divine providence’ permeated and controlled Japanese thinking. By 1941 the whole nation was mobilized into the war effort of World War II under the banner of State Shinto and in dedication to the “living man-god.” ‘Japan is a divine nation,’ the people thought, ‘and the kamikaze, the divine wind, will blow when there is a crisis.’ Soldiers and their families petitioned their guardian gods for success in the war.
29 When the “divine” nation was defeated in 1945, under the twin blows of the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and much of Nagasaki, Shinto faced a severe crisis. Overnight, the supposedly invincible divine ruler Hirohito became simply the defeated human emperor. Japanese faith was shattered. Kamikaze had failed the nation. States the encyclopedia Nihon Shukyo Jiten: “One of the reasons was the nation’s disappointment at being betrayed. . . . Worse yet, the Shinto world gave no religiously advanced and appropriate explanation of doubts that resulted from [defeat]. Thus, the religiously immature reaction of ‘There is no god or Buddha’ became the general trend.”
The Way to True Harmony
30 The course that State Shinto trod highlights the need for each individual to investigate the traditional beliefs to which he adheres. Shintoists may have sought a way of harmony with their Japanese neighbors when they supported militarism. That, of course, did not contribute to worldwide harmony, and with their breadwinners and young ones killed in battle, neither did it bring domestic harmony. Before we dedicate our lives to someone, we must make sure to whom and to what cause we are offering ourselves. “I entreat you,” said a Christian teacher to Romans who had previously been given to emperor worship, “to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” Just as the Roman Christians were to use their power of reason to choose to whom they should dedicate themselves, it is vital to use our power of reason to determine whom we should worship.—Romans 12:1, 2.
31 For Shintoists in general, the important factor in their religion was not the specific identification of one god. “For the common people,” says Hidenori Tsuji, an instructor of Japanese religious history, “gods or Buddhas did not make any difference. Be they gods or Buddhas, as long as they heard supplications for a good crop, eradication of disease, and family safety, that was sufficient for the people.” But did that lead them to the true God and his blessing? History’s answer is clear.
32 In their search for a god, the Shintoists, basing their beliefs on mythology, turned a mere man, their emperor, into a god, the so-called descendant of the sun-goddess Amaterasu Omikami. Yet, thousands of years before Shinto started, the true God had revealed himself to a Semitic man of faith in Mesopotamia. Our next chapter will discuss that momentous event and its outcome.
In Japan the religious buildings for Shintoists are regarded as shrines and those for Buddhists, temples.
The Sun-Goddess in Shinto Myth
Shinto myth says that far back in time, the god Izanagi “washed his left eye, and so gave birth to the great goddess Amaterasu, goddess of the Sun.” Later on, Susanoo, the god of the sea plains, so frightened Amaterasu that she “hid in a rocky cave of Heaven, blocking the entrance with a boulder. The world was plunged into darkness.” So the gods devised a plan to get Amaterasu out of the cave. They collected crowing ****s who herald the dawn and made a large mirror. On the sakaki trees, they hung jewels and cloth streamers. Then the goddess Ama no Uzume began to dance and drum on a tub with her feet. In her frenzied dance, she stripped off her clothes, and the gods burst out laughing. All this activity aroused the curiosity of Amaterasu, who looked out and saw herself in the mirror. The reflection drew her out of the cave, whereupon the god of Force grabbed her by the hand and brought her out into the open. “Once more the world was lit up by the rays of the Sun goddess.”—New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology.—Compare Genesis 1:3-5, 14-19; Psalm 74:16, 17; 104:19-23
Shinto—A Religion of Festivals
The Japanese year is full of religious festivals, or matsuri. The following are some of the principal ones:
▪ Sho-gatsu, or the New Year Festival, January 1-3.
▪ Setsubun, bean throwing inside and outside homes, while shouting, “Devils out, good luck in”; February 3.
▪ Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival for girls, held March 3. A platform of dolls, depicting an ancient imperial household, is displayed.
▪ Boy’s Festival, on May 5; Koi-nobori (carp streamers symbolizing strength) are flown from poles.
▪ Tsukimi, admiring mid-autumn full moon, while offering small round rice cakes and firstfruits of crops.
▪ Kanname-sai, or the offering of the first new rice by the emperor, in October.
▪ Niiname-sai is celebrated by the imperial family in November, when the new rice is tasted by the emperor, who presides as chief priest of the Imperial Shinto.
▪ Shichi-go-san, which means “seven-five-three,” celebrated by Shinto families on November 15. Seven, five, and three are viewed as important transition years; children in colorful kimono visit the family shrine.
▪ Many Buddhist festivals are also celebrated, including the Buddha’s birthday, on April 8, and the Obon Festival, July 15, which ends with lanterns floating out on sea or stream “to guide the ancestrial spirits back to the other world.”
- Rep Power
Mankind's search for God: Judaism—Searching for God Through Scripture and Tradition
Judaism—Searching for God Through Scripture and Tradition
MOSES, Jesus, Mahler, Marx, Freud, and Einstein—what did all of them have in common? All were Jews, and in different ways, all have affected the history and culture of mankind. Very evidently Jews have been noteworthy for thousands of years. The Bible itself is a testimony to that.
2 Unlike other ancient religions and cultures, Judaism is rooted in history, not in mythology. Yet, some might ask: The Jews are such a tiny minority, about 18 million in a world of over 5 thousand million people, why should we be interested in their religion, Judaism?
Why Judaism Should Interest Us
3 One reason is that the roots of the Jewish religion go back some 4,000 years in history and other major religions are indebted to its Scriptures to a greater or lesser degree. (See box, page 220.) Christianity, founded by Jesus (Hebrew, Ye‧shu′a‛), a first-century Jew, has its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. And as any reading of the Qur’ān will show, Islām also owes much to those scriptures. (Qur’ān, surah 2:49-57; 32:23, 24) Thus, when we examine the Jewish religion, we also examine the roots of hundreds of other religions and sects.
4 A second and vital reason is that the Jewish religion provides an essential link in mankind’s search for the true God. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Abram, the forefather of the Jews, was already worshiping the true God nearly 4,000 years ago. Reasonably, we ask, How did the Jews and their faith develop?—Genesis 17:18.
How Did the Jews Originate?
5 Generally speaking, the Jewish people are descendants of an ancient, Hebrew-speaking branch of the Semitic race. (Genesis 10:1, 21-32; 1 Chronicles 1:17-28, 34; 2:1, 2) Nearly 4,000 years ago, their forefather Abram emigrated from the thriving metropolis of Ur of the Chaldeans in Sumeria to the land of Canaan, of which God had stated: “I will assign this land to your offspring.” (Genesis 11:31–12:7) He is spoken of as “Abram the Hebrew” at Genesis 14:13, although his name was later changed to Abraham. (Genesis 17:4-6) From him the Jews draw a line of descent that begins with his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. (Genesis 32:27-29) Israel had 12 sons, who became the founders of 12 tribes. One of those was Judah, from which name the word “Jew” was eventually derived.—2 Kings 16:6.
6 In time the term “Jew” was applied to all Israelites, not just to a descendant of Judah. (Esther 3:6; 9:20) Because the Jewish genealogical records were destroyed in 70 C.E. when the Romans razed Jerusalem, no Jew today can accurately determine from which tribe he himself is descended. Nevertheless, over the millenniums, the ancient Jewish religion has developed and changed. Today Judaism is practiced by millions of Jews in the Republic of Israel and the Diaspora (dispersion around the world). What is the basis of that religion?
Moses, the Law, and a Nation
7 In 1943 B.C.E., God chose Abram to be his special servant and later made a solemn oath to him because of his faithfulness in being willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, even though the sacrifice was never completed. (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:1-14) In that oath God said: “By Myself I swear, the LORD declares: Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven . . . All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants [“seed,” JP], because you have obeyed My command.” This sworn oath was repeated to Abraham’s son and to his grandson, and then it continued in the tribe of Judah and the line of David. This strictly monotheistic concept of a personal God dealing directly with humans was unique in that ancient world, and it came to form the basis of the Jewish religion.—Genesis 22:15-18; 26:3-5; 28:13-15; Psalm 89:4, 5, 29, 30, 36, 37 (Psalm 89:3, 4, 28, 29, 35, 36, NW)
8 To carry out His promises to Abraham, God laid the foundation for a nation by establishing a special covenant with Abraham’s descendants. This covenant was instituted through Moses, the great Hebrew leader and mediator between God and Israel. Who was Moses, and why is he so important to Jews? The Bible’s Exodus account tells us that he was born in Egypt (1593 B.C.E.) to Israelite parents who were slaves in captivity along with the rest of Israel. He was the one “whom the LORD singled out” to lead His people to freedom in Canaan, the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 6:23; 34:10) Moses fulfilled the vital role of mediator of the Law covenant given by God to Israel, in addition to being their prophet, judge, leader, and historian.—Exodus 2:1–3:22.
9 The Law that Israel accepted consisted of the Ten Words, or Commandments, and over 600 laws that amounted to a comprehensive catalog of directions and guidance for daily conduct. (See box, page 211.) It involved the mundane and the holy—the physical and the moral requirements as well as the worship of God.
10 This Law covenant, or religious constitution, gave form and substance to the faith of the patriarchs. As a result, the descendants of Abraham became a nation dedicated to the service of God. Thus the Jewish religion began to take definite shape, and the Jews became a nation organized for the worship and service of their God. At Exodus 19:5, 6, God promised them: “If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, . . . you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Thus, the Israelites would become a ‘chosen people’ to serve God’s purposes. However, the fulfillment of the covenant promises was subject to the condition “If you will obey.” That dedicated nation was now obligated to its God. Hence, at a later date (the eighth century B.C.E.), God could say to the Jews: “My witnesses are you—declares the LORD—My servant, whom I have chosen.”—Isaiah 43:10, 12.
A Nation With Priests, Prophets, and Kings
11 While the nation of Israel was still in the desert and heading for the Promised Land, a priesthood was established in the line of Moses’ brother, Aaron. A large portable tent, or tabernacle, became the center of Israelite worship and sacrifice. (Exodus, chapters 26-28) In time the nation of Israel arrived at the Promised Land, Canaan, and conquered it, even as God had commanded. (Joshua 1:2-6) Eventually an earthly kingship was established, and in 1077 B.C.E., David, from the tribe of Judah, became king. With his rule, both the kingship and the priesthood were firmly established at a new national center, Jerusalem.—1 Samuel 8:7.
12 After David’s death, his son Solomon built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, which replaced the tabernacle. Because God had made a covenant with David for the kingship to remain in his line forever, it was understood that an anointed King, the Messiah, would one day come from David’s line of descent. Prophecy indicated that through this Messianic King, or “seed,” Israel and all the nations would enjoy perfect rulership. (Genesis 22:18, JP) This hope took root, and the Messianic nature of the Jewish religion became clearly crystallized.—2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalm 72:1-20; Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 9:9, 10.
13 However, the Jews allowed themselves to be influenced by the false religion of the Canaanites and other nations round about. As a result, they violated their covenant relationship with God. To correct them and guide them back, Jehovah sent a series of prophets who bore his messages to the people. Thus, prophecy became another unique feature of the religion of the Jews and constitutes much of the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, 18 books of the Hebrew Scriptures bear prophets’ names.—Isaiah 1:4-17.
14 Outstanding among such prophets were Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all of whom warned of Jehovah’s impending punishment of the nation for its idolatrous worship. This punishment came about in 607 B.C.E. when, because of Israel’s apostasy, Jehovah allowed Babylon, the then dominant world power, to overthrow Jerusalem and its temple and take the nation into captivity. The prophets were proved right in what they had foretold, and Israel’s 70-year exile for most of the sixth century B.C.E. is a matter of historical record.—2 Chronicles 36:20, 21; Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Daniel 9:2.
15 In 539 B.C.E., Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon and permitted the Jews to resettle their land and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Although a remnant responded, the majority of the Jews remained under the influence of Babylonian society. Jews later were affected by the Persian culture. Consequently, Jewish settlements sprang up in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean. In each community a new form of worship came into being that involved the synagogue, a congregational center for the Jews in each town. Naturally, this arrangement diminished the emphasis on the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. The far-flung Jews were now truly a Diaspora.—Ezra 2:64, 65.
Judaism Emerges With a Greek Garment
16 By the fourth century B.C.E., the Jewish community was in a state of flux and was thus prey to the waves of a non-Jewish culture that was engulfing the Mediterranean world and beyond. The waters emanated from Greece, and Judaism emerged from them with a Hellenistic garment.
17 In 332 B.C.E. the Greek general Alexander the Great took the Middle East in lightning-quick conquest and was welcomed by the Jews when he came to Jerusalem. Alexander’s successors continued his plan of Hellenization, imbuing all parts of the empire with Greek language, culture, and philosophy. As a result, the Greek and Jewish cultures went through a blending process that was to have surprising results.
18 Diaspora Jews began to speak Greek instead of Hebrew. So toward the beginning of the third century B.C.E., the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint, was made into Greek, and through it, many Gentiles came to have respect for and familiarity with the Jews’ religion, some even converting. Jews, on the other hand, were becoming conversant with Greek thought and some even became philosophers, something entirely new to the Jews. One example is Philo of Alexandria of the first century C.E., who endeavored to explain Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy, as if the two expressed the same ultimate truths.
19 Summing up this period of give-and-take between Greek and Jewish cultures, Jewish author Max Dimont says: “Enriched with Platonic thought, Aristotelian logic, and Euclidian science, Jewish scholars approached the Torah with new tools. . . . They proceeded to add Greek reason to Jewish revelation.” The events that would take place under Roman rule, which absorbed the Greek Empire and then Jerusalem in the year 63 B.C.E., were to pave the way for even more significant changes.
Judaism Under Roman Rule
20 The Judaism of the first century of the Common Era was at a unique stage. Max Dimont states that it was poised between “the mind of Greece and the sword of Rome.” Jewish expectations were high because of political oppression and interpretations of Messianic prophecies, especially those of Daniel. The Jews were divided into factions. The Pharisees emphasized an oral law (see box, page 221) rather than temple sacrifice. The Sadducees stressed the importance of the temple and the priesthood. Then there were the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Herodians. All were at odds religiously and philosophically. Jewish leaders were called rabbis (masters, teachers) who, because of their knowledge of the Law, grew in prestige and became a new type of spiritual leader.
21 Internal and external divisions, however, continued in Judaism, especially in the land of Israel. Finally, outright rebellion broke out against Rome, and in 70 C.E., Roman troops besieged Jerusalem, laid waste the city, burned its temple to the ground, and scattered its inhabitants. Eventually, Jerusalem was decreed totally off-limits to Jews. Without a temple, without a land, with its people dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, Judaism was in need of a new religious expression if it was to survive.
22 With the destruction of the temple, the Sadducees disappeared, and the oral law that the Pharisees had championed became the centerpiece of a new, Rabbinic Judaism. More intense study, prayer, and works of piety replaced temple sacrifices and pilgrimages. Thus, Judaism could be practiced anywhere, at any time, in any cultural surroundings. The rabbis put this oral law into writing, in addition to composing commentaries on it, and then commentaries on the commentaries, all of which together became known as the Talmud.—See box, page 221.
23 What was the result of these varied influences? Max Dimont says in his book Jews, God and History that though the Pharisees carried on the torch of Jewish ideology and religion, “the torch itself had been ignited by the Greek philosophers.” While much of the Talmud was highly legalistic, its illustrations and explanations reflected the clear influence of Greek philosophy. For example, Greek religious concepts, such as the immortal soul, were expressed in Jewish terms. Truly, in that new Rabbinic era, veneration of the Talmud—by then a blend of legalistic and Greek philosophy—grew among the Jews until, by the Middle Ages, the Talmud came to be revered by the Jews more than the Bible itself.
Judaism Through the Middle Ages
24 During the Middle Ages (from about 500 to 1500 C.E.), two distinct Jewish communities emerged—the Sephardic Jews, who flourished under Muslim rule in Spain, and the Ashkenazi Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. Both communities produced Rabbinic scholars whose writings and thoughts form the basis for Jewish religious interpretation until this day. Interestingly, many of the customs and religious practices current today in Judaism really got their start during the Middle Ages.—See box, page 231.
25 In the 12th century, there began a wave of expulsions of Jews from various countries. As Israeli author Abba Eban explains in My People—The Story of the Jews: “In any country . . . which fell under the unilateral influence of the Catholic Church, the story is the same: appalling degradation, torture, slaughter, and expulsion.” Finally, in 1492, Spain, which had once again come under Catholic rule, followed suit and ordered the expulsion of all Jews from its territory. So by the end of the 15th century, Jews had been expelled from nearly all Western Europe, fleeing to Eastern Europe and countries around the Mediterranean.
26 Through the centuries of oppression and persecution, many self-proclaimed Messiahs rose up among the Jews in different parts of the world, all receiving acceptance to one degree or another, but ending in disillusionment. By the 17th century, new initiatives were needed to reinvigorate the Jews and pull them out of this dark period. In the mid-18th century, there appeared an answer to the despair the Jewish people felt. It was Hasidism (see box, page 226), a mixture of mysticism and religious ecstasy expressed in daily devotion and activity. In contrast, about the same time, philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, a German Jew, offered another solution, the way of Haskala, or enlightenment, which was to lead into what is historically considered to be “Modern Judaism.”
From “Enlightenment” to Zionism
27 According to Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), Jews would be accepted if they would come out from under the restraints of the Talmud and conform to Western culture. In his day, he became one of the Jews most respected by the Gentile world. However, renewed outbursts of violent anti-Semitism in the 19th century, especially in “Christian” Russia, disillusioned the movement’s followers, and many then focused on finding a political refuge for the Jews. They rejected the idea of a personal Messiah who would lead the Jews back to Israel and began to work on establishing a Jewish State by other means. This then became the concept of Zionism: “the secularization of . . . Jewish messianism,” as one authority puts it.
28 The murder of some six million European Jews in the Nazi-inspired Holocaust (1935-45) gave Zionism its final impetus and gained much sympathy for it worldwide. The Zionist dream came true in 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel, which brings us to Judaism in our day and to the question, What do modern Jews believe?
God Is One
29 Simply put, Judaism is the religion of a people. Therefore, a convert becomes part of the Jewish people as well as the Jewish religion. It is a monotheistic religion in the strictest sense and holds that God intervenes in human history, especially in relation to the Jews. Jewish worship involves several annual festivals and various customs. (See box, pages 230-1.) Although there are no creeds or dogmas accepted by all Jews, the confession of the oneness of God as expressed in the Shema, a prayer based on Deuteronomy 6:4 (JP), forms a central part of synagogue worship: “HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.”
30 This belief in one God was passed on to Christianity and Islām. According to Dr. J. H. Hertz, a rabbi: “This sublime pronouncement of absolute monotheism was a declaration of war against all polytheism . . . In the same way, the Shema excludes the trinity of the Christian creed as a violation of the Unity of God.” But now let us turn to Jewish belief on the subject of the afterlife.
Death, Soul, and Resurrection
31 One of the basic beliefs of modern Judaism is that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of his body. But does this originate in the Bible? The Encyclopaedia Judaica frankly admits: “It was probably under Greek influence that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into Judaism.” However, this created a doctrinal dilemma, as the same source states: “Basically the two beliefs of resurrection and the soul’s immortality are contradictory. The one refers to a collective resurrection at the end of the days, i.e., that the dead sleeping in the earth will arise from the grave, while the other refers to the state of the soul after the death of the body.” How was the dilemma resolved in Jewish theology? “It was held that when the individual died his soul still lived on in another realm (this gave rise to all the beliefs regarding heaven and hell) while his body lay in the grave to await the physical resurrection of all the dead here on earth.”
32 University lecturer Arthur Hertzberg writes: “In the [Hebrew] Bible itself the arena of man’s life is this world. There is no doctrine of heaven and hell, only a growing concept of an ultimate resurrection of the dead at the end of days.” That is a simple and accurate explanation of the Biblical concept, namely, that “the dead know nothing . . . For there is no action, no reasoning, no learning, no wisdom in Sheol [mankind’s common grave], where you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Daniel 12:1, 2; Isaiah 26:19.
33 According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, “In the rabbinic period the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is considered one of the central doctrines of Judaism” and “is to be distinguished from the belief in . . . the immortality of the soul.” Today, however, while the immortality of the soul is accepted by all factions of Judaism, the resurrection of the dead is not.
34 In contrast with the Bible, the Talmud, influenced by Hellenism, is replete with explanations and stories and even descriptions of the immortal soul. Later Jewish mystical literature, the Kabbala, even goes so far as to teach reincarnation (transmigration of souls), which is basically an ancient Hindu teaching. (See Chapter 5.) In Israel today, this is widely accepted as a Jewish teaching, and it also plays an important role in Hasidic belief and literature. For example, Martin Buber includes in his book Tales of the Hasidim—The Later Masters a tale about the soul from the school of Elimelekh, a rabbi of Lizhensk: “On the Day of Atonement, when Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua would recite the Avodah, the prayer that repeats the service of the high priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, and would come to the passage: ‘And thus he spoke,’ he would never say those words, but would say: ‘And thus I spoke.’ For he had not forgotten the time his soul was in the body of a high priest of Jerusalem.”
35 Reform Judaism has gone so far as to reject belief in the resurrection. Having removed the word from Reform prayer books, it recognizes only the belief in the immortal soul. How much clearer is the Biblical idea as expressed at Genesis 2:7: “The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (JP) The combination of the body and the spirit, or life-force, constitutes “a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7; 7:22; Psalm 146:4) Conversely, when the human sinner dies, then the soul dies. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) Thus, at death man ceases to have any conscious existence. His life-force returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 3:19; 9:5, 10; 12:7) The truly Biblical hope for the dead is the resurrection—Hebrew: techi‧yath′ ham‧me‧thim′, or “revival of the dead.”
36 While this conclusion might surprise even many Jews, the resurrection has been the real hope of worshipers of the true God for thousands of years. About 3,500 years ago, faithful, suffering Job spoke of a future time when God would raise him from Sheol, or the grave. (Job 14:14, 15) The prophet Daniel was also assured that he would be raised “at the end of the days.”—Daniel 12:2, 12 (13, JP; NW).
37 There is no basis in Scripture for saying those faithful Hebrews believed they had an immortal soul that would survive into an afterworld. They clearly had sufficient reason to believe that the Sovereign Lord, who counts and controls the stars of the universe, would also remember them at the time of the resurrection. They had been faithful to him and his name. He would be faithful to them.—Psalm 18:26 (25, NW); 147:4; Isaiah 25:7, 8; 40:25, 26.
Judaism and God’s Name
38 Judaism teaches that while God’s name exists in written form, it is too holy to be pronounced. The result has been that, over the last 2,000 years, the correct pronunciation has been lost. Yet, that has not always been the Jewish position. About 3,500 years ago, God spoke to Moses, saying: “Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: The LORD [Hebrew: ,יהוה YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever, this My appellation for all eternity.” (Exodus 3:15; Psalm 135:13) What was that name and appellation? The footnote to the Tanakh states: “The name YHWH (traditionally read Adonai “the LORD”) is here associated with the root hayah ‘to be.’” Thus, we have here the holy name of God, the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew consonants YHWH (Yahweh) that in their Latinized form have come to be known over the centuries in English as JEHOVAH.
39 Throughout history, the Jews have always placed great importance on God’s personal name, though emphasis on usage has changed drastically from ancient times. As Dr. A. Cohen states in Everyman’s Talmud: “Special reverence [was] attached to ‘the distinctive Name’ (Shem Hamephorash) of the Deity which He had revealed to the people of Israel, viz. the tetragrammaton, JHVH.” The divine name was revered because it represented and characterized the very person of God. After all, it was God himself who announced his name and told his worshipers to use it. This is emphasized by the appearance of the name in the Hebrew Bible 6,828 times. Devout Jews, however, feel it is disrespectful to pronounce God’s personal name.
40 Concerning the ancient rabbinic (not Biblical) injunction against pronouncing the name, A. Marmorstein, a rabbi, wrote in his book The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God: “There was a time when this prohibition [of the use of the divine name] was entirely unknown among the Jews . . . Neither in Egypt, nor in Babylonia, did the Jews know or keep a law prohibiting the use of God’s name, the Tetragrammaton, in ordinary conversation or greetings. Yet, from the third century B.C.E. till the third century A.C.E. such a prohibition existed and was partly observed.” Not only was the use of the name allowed in earlier times but, as Dr. Cohen says: “There was a time when the free and open use of the Name even by the layman was advocated . . . It has been suggested that the recommendation was based on the desire to distinguish the Israelite from the [non-Jew].”
41 What, then, brought about the prohibition of the use of the divine name? Dr. Marmorstein answers: “Hellenistic [Greek-influenced] opposition to the religion of the Jews, the apostasy of the priests and nobles, introduced and established the rule not to pronounce the Tetragrammaton in the Sanctuary [temple in Jerusalem].” In their excessive zeal to avoid taking the divine name in vain, they completely suppressed its use in speech and subverted and diluted the identification of the true God. Under the combined pressure of religious opposition and apostasy, the divine name fell into disuse among the Jews.
42 However, as Dr. Cohen states: “In the Biblical period there seems to have been no scruple against [the divine name’s] use in daily speech.” The patriarch Abraham “invoked the LORD by name.” (Genesis 12:8) Most of the writers of the Hebrew Bible freely but respectfully used the name right down to the writing of Malachi in the fifth century B.C.E.—Ruth 1:8, 9, 17.
43 It is abundantly clear that the ancient Hebrews did use and pronounce the divine name. Marmorstein admits regarding the change that came later: “For in this time, in the first half of the third century [B.C.E.], a great change in the use of the name of God is to be noticed, which brought about many changes in Jewish theological and philosophical lore, the influences of which are felt up to this very day.” One of the effects of the loss of the name is that the concept of an anonymous God helped to create a theological vacuum in which Christendom’s Trinity doctrine was more easily developed.—Exodus 15:1-3.
44 The refusal to use the divine name diminishes the worship of the true God. As one commentator said: “Unfortunately, when God is spoken of as ‘the Lord,’ the phrase, though accurate, is a cold and colorless one . . . One needs to remember that by translating YHWH or Adonay as ‘the Lord’ one introduces into many passages of the Old Testament a note of abstraction, formality and remoteness that is entirely foreign to the original text.” (The Knowledge of God in Ancient Israel) How sad to see the sublime and significant name Yahweh, or Jehovah, missing from many Bible translations when it clearly appears thousands of times in the original Hebrew text!—Isaiah 43:10-12.
Do Jews Still Await the Messiah?
45 There are many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures from which Jews over 2,000 years ago derived their Messianic hope. Second Samuel 7:11-16 indicated that the Messiah would be of the line of David. Isaiah 11:1-10 prophesied that he would bring righteousness and peace to all mankind. Daniel 9:24-27 gave the chronology for the appearance of the Messiah and his being cut off in death.
46 As the Encyclopaedia Judaica explains, by the first century, Messianic expectations were high. The Messiah was expected to be “a charismatically endowed descendant of David who the Jews of the Roman period believed would be raised up by God to break the yoke of the heathen and to reign over a restored kingdom of Israel.” However, the militant Messiah the Jews were expecting was not forthcoming.
47 Yet, as The New Encyclopædia Britannica notes, the Messianic hope was vital in holding the Jewish people together throughout their many ordeals: “Judaism undoubtedly owes its survival, to a considerable extent, to its steadfast faith in the messianic promise and future.” But with the rise of modern Judaism between the 18th and 19th centuries, many Jews ended their passive waiting for the Messiah. Finally, with the Nazi-inspired Holocaust, many lost their patience and hope. They began to view the Messianic message as a liability and so reinterpreted it merely as a new age of prosperity and peace. Since that time, although there are exceptions, Jews as a whole can hardly be said to be waiting for a personal Messiah.
48 This change to a non-Messianic religion raises serious questions. Was Judaism wrong for thousands of years in believing the Messiah was to be an individual? Which form of Judaism will aid one in the search for God? Is it ancient Judaism with its trappings of Greek philosophy? Or is it one of the non-Messianic forms of Judaism that evolved during the last 200 years? Or is there yet another path that faithfully and accurately preserves the Messianic hope?
49 With these questions in mind, we suggest that sincere Jews reexamine the subject of the Messiah by investigating the claims regarding Jesus of Nazareth, not as Christendom has represented him, but as the Jewish writers of the Greek Scriptures present him. There is a big difference. The religions of Christendom have contributed to the Jewish rejection of Jesus by their non-Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, which is clearly unacceptable to any Jew who cherishes the pure teaching that “THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, JP) Therefore, we invite you to read the following chapter with an open mind in order to get to know the Jesus of the Greek Scriptures.
Compare Genesis 5:22-24, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References, second footnote on verse 22.
All citations in this chapter, unless otherwise stated, are from the modern (1985) Tanakh, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures, by scholars of The Jewish Publication Society.
The chronology here presented is based on the Bible text as the authority. (See the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of N.Y., Inc., Study 3, “Measuring Events in the Stream of Time.”)
The first-century Jewish historian Yoseph ben Mattityahu (Flavius Josephus) relates that when Alexander arrived at Jerusalem, the Jews opened the gates to him and showed him the prophecy from the book of Daniel written over 200 years earlier that clearly described Alexander’s conquests as ‘the King of Greece.’—Jewish Antiquities, Book XI, Chapter VIII 5; Daniel 8:5-8, 21.
During the period of the Maccabees (Hasmonaeans, from 165 to 63 B.C.E.), Jewish leaders such as John Hyrcanus even forced large-scale conversion to Judaism by conquest. It is of interest that at the beginning of the Common Era, 10 percent of the Mediterranean world was Jewish. This figure clearly shows the impact of Jewish proselytism.
According to The New Encyclopædia Britannica: “The trinitarian creed of Christianity . . . sets it apart from the two other classical monotheistic religions [Judaism and Islām].” The Trinity was developed by the church even though “the Bible of Christians includes no assertions about God that are specifically trinitarian.”
In addition to Biblical authority, it was taught as an article of faith in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) and was included as the last of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith. Until the 20th century, denial of the resurrection was viewed as heresy.
“The Bible does not say we have a soul. ‘Nefesh’ is the person himself, his need for food, the very blood in his veins, his being.”—Dr. H. M. Orlinsky of Hebrew Union College.
See Exodus 6:3 where in the Tanakh version of the Bible the Hebrew Tetragrammaton appears in the English text.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica says: “The avoidance of pronouncing the name YHWH is . . . caused by a misunderstanding of the Third Commandment (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11) as meaning ‘Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain,’ whereas it really means ‘You shall not swear falsely by the name of YHWH your God.’”
George Howard, an associate professor of religion and Hebrew at the University of Georgia, states: “As time went on, these two figures [God and Christ] were brought into even closer unity until it was often impossible to distinguish between them. Thus it may be that the removal of the Tetragrammaton contributed significantly to the later Christological and Trinitarian debates which plagued the church of the early centuries. Whatever the case, the removal of the Tetragrammaton probably created a different theological climate from that which existed during the New Testament period of the first century.”—Biblical Archaeology Review, March 1978.
Ten Commandments for Worship and Conduct
Millions of people have heard of the Ten Commandments, but few have ever read them. Therefore, we reproduce the major part of their text here.
▪ “You shall have no other gods besides Me.
▪ “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. . . . [At this early date, 1513 B.C.E., this command was unique in its rejection of idolatry.]
▪ “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the LORD [Hebrew: ]יהוה your God . . .
▪ “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. . . . The LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
▪ “Honor your father and your mother . . .
▪ “You shall not murder.
▪ “You shall not commit adultery.
▪ “You shall not steal.
▪ “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
▪ “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house . . . wife . . . male or female slave . . . ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”—Exodus 20:3-14.
Although only the first four commandments are directly concerned with religious belief and worship, the other commandments showed the connection between correct conduct and a proper relationship with the Creator.
The Sacred Writings of the Hebrews
The sacred Hebrew writings began with the “Tanakh.” The name “Tanakh” comes from the three divisions of the Jewish Bible in Hebrew: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings), using the first letter of each section to form the word TaNaKh. These books were penned in Hebrew and Aramaic from the 16th century to the 5th century B.C.E.
Jews believe that they were written under different and diminishing degrees of inspiration. Therefore, they put them in this order of importance:
Torah—the five books of Moses, or the Pentateuch (from Greek for “five scrolls”), the Law, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. However, the term “Torah” may also be used to refer to the Jewish Bible as a whole as well as to the oral law and the Talmud (see next page).
Nevi’im—the Prophets, covering from Joshua through to the major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and then through the 12 “minor” prophets from Hosea to Malachi.
Kethuvim—the Writings, consisting of the poetic works, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Song of Songs, and Lamentations. In addition it embraces Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and First and Second Chronicles.
From the Gentile point of view, the “Tanakh,” or Jewish Bible, is the most important of Jewish writings. However, the Jewish view is different. Many Jews would agree with the comment by Adin Steinsaltz, a rabbi: “If the Bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice . . . No other work has had a comparable influence on the theory and practice of Jewish life.” (The Essential Talmud) What, then, is the Talmud?
Orthodox Jews believe not only that God gave the written law, or Torah, to Moses at Mount Sinai but also that God revealed to him specific explanations of how to carry out that Law, and that these were to be passed on by word of mouth. This was called the oral law. Thus, the Talmud is the written summary, with later commentaries and explanations, of that oral law, compiled by rabbis from the second century C.E. into the Middle Ages.
The Talmud is usually divided into two main sections:
The Mishnah: A collection of commentaries supplementing Scriptural Law, based on the explanations of rabbis called Tannaim (teachers). It was put into written form in the late second and early third centuries C.E.
The Gemara (originally called the Talmud): A collection of commentaries on the Mishnah by rabbis of a later period (third to sixth centuries C.E.).
In addition to these two main divisions, the Talmud may also include commentaries on the Gemara made by rabbis into the Middle Ages. Prominent among these were the rabbis Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac, 1040-1105), who made the difficult language of the Talmud far more understandable, and Rambam (Moses ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides, 1135-1204), who reorganized the Talmud into a concise version (“Mishneh Torah”), thus making it accessible to all Jews.
Judaism—A Religion of Many Voices
There are major differences between the various factions of Judaism. Traditionally, Judaism emphasizes religious practice. Debate over such matters, rather than beliefs, has caused serious tension among Jews and has led to the formation of three major divisions in Judaism.
ORTHODOX JUDAISM—This branch not only accepts that the Hebrew “Tanakh” is inspired Scripture but also believes that Moses received the oral law from God on Mount Sinai at the same time that he received the written Law. Orthodox Jews scrupulously keep the commandments of both laws. They believe that the Messiah is still to appear and to bring Israel to a golden age. Because of differences of opinion within the Orthodox group, various factions have emerged. One example is Hasidism.
Hasidim (Chasidim, meaning “the pious”)—These are viewed as ultraorthodox. Founded by Israel ben Eliezer, known as Ba‛al Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name”), in the mid-18th century in Eastern Europe, they follow a teaching that highlights music and dance, resulting in mystic joy. Many of their beliefs, including reincarnation, are based on the Jewish mystical books known as the Kabbala (Cabala). Today they are led by rebbes (Yiddish for “rabbis”), or zaddikim, considered by their followers to be supremely righteous men or saints.
Hasidim today are found mainly in the United States and in Israel. They wear a particular style of Eastern European garb, mainly black, of the 18th and 19th centuries, that makes them very conspicuous, especially in a modern city setting. Today they are divided into sects that follow different prominent rebbes. One very active group is the Lubavitchers, who proselytize vigorously among Jews. Some groups believe that only the Messiah has the right to restore Israel as the nation of the Jews and so are opposed to the secular State of Israel.
REFORM JUDAISM (also known as “Liberal” and “Progressive”)—The movement began in Western Europe toward the beginning of the 19th century. It is based on the ideas of Moses Mendelssohn, an 18th-century Jewish intellectual who believed Jews should assimilate Western culture rather than separate themselves from the Gentiles. Reform Jews deny that the Torah was divinely revealed truth. They view the Jewish laws on diet, purity, and dress as obsolete. They believe in what they term a “Messianic era of Universal brotherhood.” In recent years they have moved back toward more traditional Judaism.
CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM—This began in Germany in 1845 as an offshoot of Reform Judaism, which, it was felt, had rejected too many traditional Jewish practices. Conservative Judaism does not accept that the oral law was received by Moses from God but holds that the rabbis, who sought to adapt Judaism to a new era, invented the oral Torah. Conservative Jews submit to Biblical precepts and Rabbinic law if these “are responsive to the modern requirements of Jewish life.” (The Book of Jewish Knowledge) They use Hebrew and English in their liturgy and maintain strict dietary laws (kashruth). Men and women are allowed to sit together during worship, which is not allowed by the Orthodox.
Some Important Festivals and Customs
The majority of Jewish festivals are based on the Bible and, generally, either are seasonal festivals in connection with different harvests or are related to historical events.
▪ Shabbat (Sabbath)—The seventh day of the Jewish week (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) is viewed as sanctifying the week, and the special observance of this day is an essential part of worship. Jews attend the synagogue for Torah readings and prayers.—Exodus 20:8-11.
▪ Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement, a solemn festival characterized by fasting and self-examination. It culminates the Ten Days of Penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which falls in September according to the Jewish secular calendar.—Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:26-32.
▪ Sukkot (above, right)—Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles, or Ingathering. Celebrates the harvest and the end of the major part of the agricultural year. Held in October.—Leviticus 23:34-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.
▪ Hanukkah—Festival of Dedication. A popular festival held in December that commemorates the Maccabees’ restoration of Jewish independence from Syro-Grecian domination and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem in December 165 B.C.E. Usually distinguished by the lighting of candles for eight days.
▪ Purim—Festival of Lots. Celebrated in late February or early March, in commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews in Persia during the fifth century B.C.E. from Haman and his genocidal plot.—Esther 9:20-28.
▪ Pesach—Festival of Passover. Instituted to commemorate the deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt (1513 B.C.E.). It is the greatest and oldest of Jewish festivals. Held on Nisan 14 (Jewish calendar), it usually falls at the end of March or the beginning of April. Each Jewish family comes together to share the Passover meal, or Seder. During the following seven days, no leaven may be eaten. This period is called the Festival of Unfermented Cakes (Matzot).—Exodus 12:14-20, 24-27.
Some Jewish Customs
▪ Circumcision—For Jewish boys, it is an important ceremony that takes place when the baby is eight days old. It is often called the Covenant of Abraham, since circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with him. Males who convert to Judaism must also be circumcised.—Genesis 17:9-14.
▪ Bar Mitzvah (below)—Another essential Jewish ritual, which literally means “son of the commandment,” a “term denoting both the attainment of religious and legal maturity as well as the occasion at which this status is formally assumed for boys at the age of 13 plus one day.” It became a Jewish custom only in the 15th century C.E.—Encyclopaedia Judaica.
▪ Mezuzah (above)—A Jewish home is usually easy to distinguish by reason of the mezuzah, or scroll case, on the right side of the doorpost as one enters. In practice the mezuzah is a small parchment on which are inscribed the words cited from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. This is rolled up inside a small case. The case is then fixed to every door of each room used for occupancy.
▪ Yarmulke (skullcap for males)—According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica: “Orthodox Jewry . . . regards the covering of the head, both outside and inside the synagogue, as a sign of allegiance to Jewish tradition.” Covering the head during worship is nowhere mentioned in the Tanakh, thus the Talmud mentions this as an optional matter of custom. Hasidic Jewish women either wear a head covering at all times or shave their heads and wear a wig.
- Rep Power
Mankind's search for God: 10- Christianity—Was Jesus the Way to God?
Christianity—Was Jesus the Way to God?
So far, with the exception of the chapter on Judaism, we have considered major religions that are based to a large extent on mythology. Now we will examine another religion that claims to bring mankind nearer to God—Christianity. What is the basis for Christianity—myth or historical fact?
THE history of Christendom, with its wars, inquisitions, crusades, and religious hypocrisy, has not helped the cause of Christianity. Devout Muslims and others point to the moral corruption and decadence of the Western, “Christian” world as a basis for rejecting Christianity. Indeed, the so-called Christian nations have lost their moral rudder and have suffered shipwreck on the rocks of faithlessness, greed, and self-indulgence.
2 That the standards of original Christianity were different from the permissive mores of today is attested to by Professor Elaine Pagels in her book Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, wherein she states: “Many Christians of the first four centuries took pride in their sexual restraint; they eschewed polygamy and often divorce as well, which Jewish tradition allowed; and they repudiated extramarital sexual practices commonly accepted among their pagan contemporaries, practices including prostitution and homosexuality.”
3 Therefore, it is fair to ask, Is Christendom’s history and its modern moral state a true reflection of the teachings of Jesus Christ? What kind of man was Jesus? Did he help to bring mankind nearer to God? Was he the promised Messiah of Hebrew prophecy? These are some of the questions we shall consider in this chapter.
Jesus—What Were His Credentials?
4 In earlier chapters we have seen the prominent role that mythology has played in nearly all the major religions of the world. Yet, when we turned to the origins of Judaism in our previous chapter, we did not start with a myth but with the historical reality of Abraham, his forebears, and his descendants. With Christianity and its founder, Jesus, we likewise start, not with mythology, but with a historical personage.—See box, page 237.
5 The first verse of the Christian Greek Scriptures, commonly known as the New Testament (see box, page 241), states: “The book of the history of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) Is that an idle claim presented by Matthew, a former Jewish tax collector and an immediate disciple and biographer of Jesus? No. The following 15 verses spell out Abraham’s line of descendants down to Jacob, who “became father to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” Therefore, Jesus really was a descendant of Abraham, Judah, and David and as such held three of the credentials of the foretold “seed” of Genesis 3:15 and of Abraham.—Genesis 22:18; 49:10; 1 Chronicles 17:11.
6 Another of the credentials for the Messianic Seed would be his place of birth. Where was Jesus born? Matthew tells us that Jesus was “born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.” (Matthew 2:1) Physician Luke’s account confirms that fact, telling us regarding Jesus’ future adoptive father: “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because of his being a member of the house and family of David, to get registered with Mary, who had been given him in marriage as promised, at present heavy with child.”—Luke 2:4, 5.
7 Why was it important that Jesus be born in Bethlehem rather than in Nazareth or any other town? Because of a prophecy uttered during the eighth century B.C.E. by the Hebrew prophet Micah: “And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” (Micah 5:2) Thus, by his place of birth, Jesus held another of the credentials for being the promised Seed and Messiah.—John 7:42.
8 In fact, Jesus fulfilled many more prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures, thus proving that he had all the credentials for being the promised Messiah. You can check some of these in the Bible. (See box, page 245.) But now let us briefly examine Jesus’ message and his ministry.
Jesus’ Life Points the Way
9 The Bible account tells us that Jesus was reared as a normal Jewish youth of his time, attending the local synagogue and the temple in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:41-52) When he reached the age of 30, he started his public ministry. First he went to his cousin John, who was baptizing Jews in symbol of repentance in the river Jordan. Luke’s account tells us: “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized and, as he was praying, the heaven was opened up and the holy spirit in bodily shape like a dove came down upon him, and a voice came out of heaven: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.’”—Luke 3:21-23; John 1:32-34.
10 In due course, Jesus entered upon his ministry as the anointed Son of God. He went throughout Galilee and Judea preaching the message of the Kingdom of God and performing miracles, such as healing the sick. He accepted no payment and did not look for wealth or self-aggrandizement. In fact, he said that there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. He also taught his disciples how to preach.—Matthew 8:20; 10:7-13; Acts 20:35.
11 When we analyze Jesus’ message and the methods he used, we see a distinct difference between his style and that of many of Christendom’s preachers. He did not manipulate the masses with cheap emotionalism or with hellfire scare tactics. Rather, Jesus used simple logic and parables, or illustrations, from everyday life to appeal to the heart and the mind. His famous Sermon on the Mount is an outstanding example of his teachings and methods. Included in that sermon is Jesus’ model prayer, in which he gives a clear indication of Christian priorities by putting the sanctifying of God’s name in first place. (See box, pages 258-9.)—Matthew 5:1–7:29; 13:3-53; Luke 6:17-49.
12 In his dealings with his followers and with the public in general, Jesus manifested love and compassion. (Mark 6:30-34) While preaching the message of God’s Kingdom, he also personally practiced love and humility. Thus, in the final hours of his life, he could say to his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) Therefore, the essence of Christianity in practice is self-sacrificing love based on principle. (Matthew 22:37-40) In practice this means that a Christian should love even his enemies, although he may hate their evil works. (Luke 6:27-31) Think about that for a moment. What a different world this would be if everyone actually practiced that form of love!—Romans 12:17-21; 13:8-10.
13 Yet, what Jesus taught was far more than an ethic or philosophy, such as those taught by Confucius and Lao-tzu. Furthermore, Jesus did not teach, as did the Buddha, that one can work out one’s own salvation by the pathway of knowledge and enlightenment. Rather, he pointed to God as the source of salvation when he said: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. For God sent forth his Son into the world, not for him to judge the world, but for the world to be saved through him.”—John 3:16, 17.
14 By manifesting his Father’s love in his own words and deeds, Jesus drew people closer to God. That is one reason why he could say: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . . He that has seen me has seen the Father also. How is it you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me? The things I say to you men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me is doing his works. . . . You heard that I said to you, I am going away and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:6-28) Yes, Jesus was “the way and the truth and the life” because he was leading those Jewish people back to his Father, their true God, Jehovah. Therefore, with Jesus mankind’s search for God suddenly took on impetus because God, in his supreme love, had sent Jesus to the earth as a beacon of light and truth to lead men to the Father.—John 1:9-14; 6:44; 8:31, 32.
15 On the basis of the ministry and example of Jesus, the missionary Paul could later say to the Greeks in Athens: “And [God] made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth, and he decreed the appointed times and the set limits of the dwelling of men, for them to seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. For by him we have life and move and exist.” (Acts 17:26-28) Yes, God can be found if a person is willing to make the effort to search for him. (Matthew 7:7, 8) God has made himself and his love manifest in that he has furnished an earth that supports a seemingly endless variety of life. He supplies what is necessary to all mankind, whether they be righteous or unrighteous. He has also provided mankind with his written Word, the Bible, and he sent his Son as a redeeming sacrifice. Moreover, God has provided the assistance people need to help them find the way to Him.—Matthew 5:43-45; Acts 14:16, 17; Romans 3:23-26.
16 Of course, Christian love must be manifested not just by words but more importantly by deeds. For that reason the apostle Paul wrote: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
17 Jesus also made clear how important it is to proclaim the Kingdom of the heavens—God’s rule over submissive mankind.—Matthew 10:7; Mark 13:10.
Every Christian an Evangelizer
18 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized to the crowds their responsibility to illuminate others by their words and actions. He said: “You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when situated upon a mountain. People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house. Likewise let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Jesus trained his disciples so that they would know how to preach and teach during their travels as itinerant ministers. And what was their message to be? That which Jesus himself preached, the Kingdom of God, which would rule the earth in righteousness. As Jesus explained on one occasion: “Also to other cities I must declare the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this I was sent forth.” (Luke 4:43; 8:1; 10:1-12) He also stated that part of the sign identifying the last days would be that “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:3-14.
19 In 33 C.E., before he finally ascended to heaven, the resurrected Jesus instructed his disciples: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:18-20) This is one reason why Christianity, from its very inception, was an active, proselytizing religion that provoked the anger and jealousy of the followers of the prevailing Greek and Roman religions of that day, which were based on mythology. The persecution of Paul in Ephesus clearly illustrated that fact.—Acts 19:23-41.
20 The questions now are, What did the message of the Kingdom of God offer concerning the dead? What hope for the dead did Christ preach? Was he offering salvation from “hellfire” for the “immortal souls” of his believers? Or what?—Matthew 4:17.
Hope of Everlasting Life
21 Perhaps the clearest insight into the hope that Jesus preached can be gained from what he said and did when his friend Lazarus died. How did Jesus view this death? Setting out for Lazarus’ home, Jesus said to his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” (John 11:11) Jesus compared Lazarus’ death state to sleep. In a deep sleep, we are conscious of nothing, which agrees with the Hebrew expression at Ecclesiastes 9:5: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”
22 Although Lazarus had been dead four days, we note that Jesus said nothing about Lazarus’ soul being in heaven, hell, or purgatory! When Jesus arrived at Bethany and Martha, Lazarus’ sister, came out to meet him, he said to her, “Your brother will rise.” How did she answer? Did she say he was already in heaven? Martha answered: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” That clearly shows that the Jewish hope at that time was the resurrection, a return to life here on earth.—John 11:23, 24, 38, 39.
23 Jesus responded: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26) To prove his point, Jesus went to the cave where Lazarus was entombed and called him forth alive in the sight of his sisters, Mary and Martha, and neighbors. The account continues: “Therefore many of the Jews that had come to Mary and that beheld what he did put faith in him . . . Accordingly the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus out of the memorial tomb and raised him up from the dead kept bearing witness.” (John 11:45; 12:17) They had seen the miracle for themselves, and they believed and testified to its actuality. Jesus’ religious opposers must also have believed the event, for the record tells us that the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus “because this man performs many signs.”—John 11:30-53.
24 Where had Lazarus gone during the four days he was dead? Nowhere. He was unconscious, asleep in the tomb awaiting a resurrection. Jesus blessed him by miraculously raising him from the dead. But according to John’s account, Lazarus said nothing about having been in heaven, hell, or purgatory during those four days. Why not? Simply because he had no immortal soul that could journey to such places.—Job 36:14; Ezekiel 18:4.
25 Therefore, when Jesus spoke of everlasting life, he was referring to such life either in the heavens as a transformed immortal spirit coruler with him in his Kingdom, or he was referring to life everlasting as a human on a paradise earth under that Kingdom rulership. (Luke 23:43; John 17:3) According to God’s promise, his figurative dwelling with obedient mankind on earth will bring abundant blessings to the earth. All of this, of course, depends on whether Jesus was really sent and approved by God.—Luke 22:28-30; Titus 1:1, 2; Revelation 21:1-4.
God’s Approval—Reality, Not Myth
26 How do we know that Jesus had God’s approval? In the first place, when Jesus was baptized, a voice out of heaven was heard saying: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17) Later, confirmation of this approval was given before other witnesses. The disciples Peter, James, and John, formerly fishermen from Galilee, accompanied Jesus to a high mountain (probably Mount Hermon, which rises to 9,232 feet [2,814 m]). There something remarkable took place before their eyes: “And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light. And, look! there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, conversing with him. . . . Look! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and, look! a voice out of the cloud, saying: ‘This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved; listen to him.’ At hearing this the disciples fell upon their faces and became very much afraid.”—Matthew 17:1-6; Luke 9:28-36.
27 This audible and visible confirmation from God served to strengthen Peter’s faith enormously, for he later wrote: “No, it was not by following artfully contrived false stories [Greek: my′thois, myths] that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was by having become eyewitnesses of his magnificence. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’ Yes, these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18) The Jewish disciples Peter, James, and John actually saw the miracle of the transfiguration of Jesus and heard God’s voice of approval out of the heavens. Their faith was based on a reality they had seen and heard, not on mythology or on “Jewish fables.” (See box, page 237.)—Matthew 17:9; Titus 1:13, 14.
Jesus’ Death and Another Miracle
28 In the year 33 C.E., Jesus was arrested and put on trial by the Jewish religious authorities, falsely accused of blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God. (Matthew 26:3, 4, 59-67) Since those Jews did not have the legal authority to put him to death, they sent him to the Roman rulers and again accused him falsely, this time of forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar and of saying that he himself was a king.—Mark 12:14-17; Luke 23:1-11; John 18:28-31.
29 After Jesus had been passed from one ruler to another, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, on the insistence of the religiously inspired mob, took the line of least resistance and sentenced Jesus to death. As a consequence, Jesus died in disgrace on a stake, and his body was placed in a tomb. But within three days an event took place that transformed the disconsolate disciples of Jesus into joyful believers and zealous evangelizers.—John 19:16-22; Galatians 3:13.
30 The religious leaders, suspecting that Jesus’ followers would resort to trickery, went to Pilate with a request: “‘Sir, we have called to mind that that impostor said while yet alive, “After three days I am to be raised up.” Therefore command the grave to be made secure until the third day, that his disciples may never come and steal him and say to the people, “He was raised up from the dead!” and this last imposture will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them: ‘You have a guard. Go make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the grave secure by sealing the stone and having the guard.” (Matthew 27:62-66) How secure did it prove to be?
31 On the third day after Jesus’ death, three women went to the tomb to grease the body with perfumed oil. What did they find? “And very early on the first day of the week they came to the memorial tomb, when the sun had risen. And they were saying one to another: ‘Who will roll the stone away from the door of the memorial tomb for us?’ But when they looked up, they beheld that the stone had been rolled away, although it was very large. When they entered into the memorial tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side clothed in a white robe, and they were stunned. He said to them: ‘Stop being stunned. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was impaled. He was raised up, he is not here. See! The place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”’” (Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-12) In spite of the religious leaders’ special guard, Jesus had been resurrected by his Father. Is that a myth or a historical fact?
32 About 22 years after this event, Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, wrote and explained how he came to believe that Christ had been resurrected: “For I handed on to you, among the first things, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, yes, that he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep in death. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7) Yes, Paul had a factual basis for risking his life in the cause of the resurrected Jesus, and it included the testimony of some 500 eyewitnesses who had seen the resurrected Jesus in person! (Romans 1:1-4) Paul knew Jesus had been resurrected, and he had an even more powerful reason for saying so, as he further explained: “But last of all he appeared also to me as if to one born prematurely.”—1 Corinthians 15:8, 9; Acts 9:1-19.
33 The early Christians were willing to die as martyrs in the Roman arenas. Why? Because they knew that their faith was based on historical realities, not on myths. It was a reality that Jesus was the Christ, or the Messiah, promised in prophecy and that he had been sent to the earth by God, had received God’s approval, had died on a stake as God’s integrity-keeping Son, and had been resurrected from the dead.—1 Peter 1:3, 4.
34 We recommend that you read the whole of that chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to understand what Paul believed about the resurrection and why it is essential to the Christian faith. The essence of his message is expressed in these words: “However, now Christ has been raised up from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. For since death is through a man [Adam], resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.”—1 Corinthians 15:20-22.
35 The resurrection of Christ Jesus thus has a purpose that will eventually benefit all mankind. It also opened the way for Jesus eventually to fulfill the rest of the Messianic prophecies. His righteous rulership from the invisible heavens must soon extend to a cleansed earth. Then there will be what the Bible describes as “a new heaven and a new earth” in which God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:1-4.
Apostasy and Persecution Expected
36 Shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, another miracle took place that gave strength and momentum to the preaching by those early Christians. On the day of Pentecost of the year 33 C.E., God poured out from heaven his holy spirit, or active force, upon some 120 Christians met together in Jerusalem. The result? “And tongues as if of fire became visible to them and were distributed about, and one sat upon each one of them, and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.” (Acts 2:3, 4) The foreign-language-speaking Jews who were in Jerusalem at that time were astonished to hear those supposedly ignorant Galilean Jews speaking in foreign tongues. The result was that many believed. The Christian message spread like wildfire as these new Jewish believers returned to their homelands.—Acts 2:5-21.
37 But storm clouds soon gathered. The Romans became apprehensive of this new and apparently atheistic religion that had no idols. Starting with Emperor Nero, they brought down terrible persecution upon the Christians in the first three centuries of our Common Era. Many Christians were condemned to die in the coliseums, to satisfy the sadistic bloodlust of the emperors and the mobs who flocked to see prisoners being thrown to wild beasts.
38 Another disturbing factor in those early days was something that the apostles had prophesied. For example, Peter stated: “However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1-3) Apostasy! That was a falling away from true worship, a compromising with the current religious trends of the Roman world, which was saturated with Greek philosophy and thought. How did it come about? Our next chapter will answer that and related questions.—Acts 20:30; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
By “Christendom” we refer to the realm of sectarian activity dominated by religions that claim to be Christian. “Christianity” refers to the original form of worship and access to God taught by Jesus Christ.
See also Insight on the Scriptures, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1988, Volume 2, pages 385-9, under “Messiah.”
The Bible teaching of the ransom and its importance will be clarified in Chapter 15.
The expression “immortal soul” appears nowhere in the Bible. The Greek word translated “immortal” and “immortality” appears only three times and refers to a new spirit body that is put on or acquired, not something inherent. It applies to Christ and to anointed Christians, who become corulers with him in his heavenly Kingdom.—1 Corinthians 15:53, 54; 1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6; Revelation 7:4; 14:1-5.
For a more detailed consideration of this Kingdom rulership, see Chapter 15.
“Moses” and “Elijah” in the vision symbolized the Law and the Prophets that were fulfilled in Jesus. For a more detailed explanation of the transfiguration, see Insight on the Scriptures, 1988, Volume 2, pages 1120-1.
For a detailed consideration of the resurrection of Jesus, see the book The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1989, pages 78-86.
Roman biographer Suetonius (c. 69-140 C.E.) recorded that during Nero’s reign, “punishments were . . . inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”
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Was Jesus a Myth?
“Is the life story of the founder of Christianity the product of human sorrow, imagination, and hope—a myth comparable to the legends of Krishna, Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Dionysus, and Mithras?” asks historian Will Durant. He answers that in the first century, to deny that Christ had ever existed “seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity.”—The Story of Civilization,: Part III, “Caesar and Christ.”
The Roman historian Suetonius (c. 69-140 C.E.), in his history The Twelve Caesars, stated regarding the emperor Claudius: “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ], he expelled them from the city.” This occurred about the year 52 C.E. (Compare Acts 18:1, 2.) Note that Suetonius expresses no doubt about the existence of Christ. On this factual basis and in spite of life-endangering persecution, early Christians were very active proclaiming their faith. It is hardly likely that they would have risked their lives on the basis of a myth. Jesus’ death and resurrection had taken place in their lifetime, and some of them had been eyewitnesses to those events.
Historian Durant draws the conclusion: “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.”
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Who Wrote the Bible?
The Christian Bible consists of the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures (see box, page 220), called by many the Old Testament, and the 27 books of the Christian Greek Scriptures, often called the New Testament. Thus, the Bible is a miniature library of 66 books written by some 40 men in the course of 1,600 years of history (from 1513 B.C.E. to 98 C.E.).
The Greek Scriptures include four Gospels, or accounts of the life of Jesus and the good news that he preached. Two of these were written by immediate followers of Christ, Matthew, a tax collector, and John, a fisherman. The other two were written by the early believers Mark and Luke, the physician. (Colossians 4:14) The Gospels are followed by the Acts of Apostles, an account of the early Christian missionary activity compiled by Luke. Next are 14 letters from the apostle Paul to various individual Christians and congregations, followed by letters from James, Peter, John, and Jude. The final book is Revelation, written by John.
That so many persons of diverse backgrounds and living in different times and cultures could produce such a harmonious book is strong proof that the Bible is not simply the product of human intelligence but is inspired by God. The Bible itself states: “All Scripture is inspired of God [literally, “God-breathed”] and beneficial for teaching.” Thus, the Scriptures were written under the influence of God’s holy spirit, or active force.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17, Int.
[Box on page 245]
The Messiah in Bible Prophecy
Prophecy Event Fulfillment
Gen. 49:10 Born of the Matt. 1:2-16; Luke 3:23-33
tribe of Judah
Ps. 132:11; From the family Matt. 1:1, 6-16; 9:27;
Isa. 9:7 of David Acts 13:22, 23
the son of Jesse
Mic. 5:2 Born in Bethlehem Luke 2:4-11; John 7:42
Isa. 7:14 Born of a virgin Matt. 1:18-23;
Hos. 11:1 Called out of Egypt Matt. 2:15
Isa. 61:1, 2 Commissioned Luke 4:18-21
Isa. 53:4 Carried our Matt. 8:16, 17
Ps. 69:9 Zealous for Matt. 21:12, 13;
Jehovah’s house John 2:13-17
Isa. 53:1 Not believed John 12:37, 38;
Rom. 10:11, 16
Zech. 9:9; Hailed as king Matt. 21:1-9; Mark 11:7-11
Ps. 118:26 and one coming
in Jehovah’s name
Isa. 28:16; Rejected but becoming Matt. 21:42, 45, 46;
Ps. 118:22, 23 chief cornerstone Acts 3:14; 4:11;
1 Pet. 2:7
Ps. 41:9; One apostle Matt. 26:47-50;
109:8 betrays him John 13:18, 26-30
Zech. 11:12 Betrayed for 30 Matt. 26:15; 27:3-10;
pieces of silver Mark 14:10, 11
Isa. 53:8 Tried and condemned Matt. 26:57-68;
27:1, 2, 11-26
Isa. 53:7 Silent before Matt. 27:12-14;
accusers Mark 14:61; 15:4, 5
Ps. 69:4 Hated without cause Luke 23:13-25;
John 15:24, 25
Isa. 50:6; Struck, spit upon Matt. 26:67; 27:26, 30;
Mic. 5:1 John 19:3
Ps. 22:18 Lots cast for Matt. 27:35;
garments John 19:23, 24
Isa. 53:12 Numbered with sinners Matt. 26:55, 56; 27:38;
Ps. 69:21 Given vinegar and Matt. 27:34, 48;
gall Mark 15:23, 36
Ps. 22:1 Forsaken by God Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34
Ps. 34:20; No bones broken John 19:33, 36
Isa. 53:5; Pierced Matt. 27:49;
Zech. 12:10 John 19:34, 37; Rev. 1:7
Isa. 53:5, 8, Dies sacrificial Matt. 20:28; John 1:29;
11, 12 death to carry Rom. 3:24; 4:25
Isa. 53:9 Buried with the rich Matt. 27:57-60;
Jonah 1:17; In grave parts Matt. 12:39, 40; 16:21;
2:10 of three days, 17:23; 27:64
[Box/Picture on page 258, 259]
Jesus and the Name of God
When teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus said: “You must pray, then, this way: ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.’”—Matthew 6:9, 10.
Jesus knew the vital significance of his Father’s name and gave emphasis to it. Thus, to his religious enemies, he said: “I have come in the name of my Father, but you do not receive me; if someone else arrived in his own name, you would receive that one. . . . I told you, and yet you do not believe. The works that I am doing in the name of my Father, these bear witness about me.”—John 5:43; 10:25; Mark 12:29, 30.
In prayer to his Father, Jesus said: “‘Father, glorify your name.’ Therefore a voice came out of heaven: ‘I both glorified it and will glorify it again.’”
On a later occasion, Jesus prayed: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have observed your word. And I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”—John 12:28; 17:6, 26.
As a Jew, Jesus had to be conversant with his Father’s name, Jehovah, or Yahweh, for he knew the scripture that says: “‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and have faith in me, and that you may understand that I am the same One. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none. . . . So you are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’”—Isaiah 43:10, 12.
Therefore, the Jews as a nation were chosen to be Jehovah’s witnesses. As a Jew, Jesus was also a witness of Jehovah.—Revelation 3:14.
Apparently by the first century, most Jews were no longer pronouncing God’s revealed name. However, there are manuscripts that prove that early Christians using the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures could have seen the Hebrew Tetragrammaton used in the Greek text. As George Howard, a professor of religion and Hebrew stated: “When the Septuagint which the New Testament church used and quoted contained the Hebrew form of the divine name, the New Testament writers no doubt included the Tetragrammaton in their quotations. But when the Hebrew form for the divine name was [later] eliminated in favor of Greek substitutes in the Septuagint, it was eliminated also from the New Testament quotations of the Septuagint.”
Therefore, Professor Howard reasons that first-century Christians must have clearly understood texts such as Matthew 22:44, where Jesus quoted the Hebrew Scriptures to his enemies. Howard says, “The first century church probably read, ‘YHWH said to my Lord’” instead of the later version, “‘The Lord said to my Lord,’ . . . which is as ambiguous as it is imprecise.”—Psalm 110:1.
That Jesus used the divine name is attested to by the Jewish accusation centuries after his death that if he performed miracles, it was “only because he had made himself master of the ‘secret’ name of God.”—The Book of Jewish Knowledge.
Jesus certainly knew God’s unique name. In spite of Jewish tradition at that time, Jesus would surely have used the name. He did not allow the traditions of men to overrule the law of God.—Mark 7:9-13; John 1:1-3, 18; Colossians 1:15, 16.