Is Catholicism the “religion of the mystery of Babylon”? – World Catholic Report
As we last saw in this space, the idea that Christianity is “really” warmed paganism is contradicted by the fact – abundantly evident not only in the New Testament but in the writings of the Fathers and the liturgy. of the Church – that, well, the early Christians did not care much about pagan things, while the New Testament and the Fathers positively drown in pictures, words, ideas, forms of thought, questions and the concerns of Old Testament writers. Read the New Testament in the hope of discovering the secret paganism that he is the real root of Christianity is like reading Shakespeare with the unwavering belief that sufficient scrutiny will reveal his massive debt to Korean literature: it simply won’t happen. The New Testament is obsessed with the Old Testament, not with paganism. He only refers to paganism very occasionally, and to pagan literature only a few times.
Meanwhile, the New Testament is steeped in Hebrew thought, imagery, poetry, prophecy, law, and wisdom. The early Christians did not care too much about paganism, seeing it as, in various ways, 1) a vague intuition about things that Jews and Christians were privileged to know by revelation from God; 2) demonic deception; 3) a source of human wisdom, but no divine revelation. For this, they turn with an obsessive fascination to what Paul calls “the oracles of God” (Romans 3: the early Christians will turn to them to illustrate a point, as when Paul quoted one or two Greek poets in this regard. as a native speaker might mention the local football team in an attempt to connect with their audience). Likewise, even today modern Christians offer pun riffs on current cultural phenomena (“Jesus: he is the real thing”, “Christ: do not leave the earth without him”, etc. ).
But exactly what these Christians did not to do was to take passages of scripture that referred to Jesus and apply them to Apollo or some other pagan deity. Nor did they turn to a pagan deity to tell them about Jesus; they knew perfectly well that Jesus could be represented as the Sun of righteousness and the Light of the world long before Aurelian invented his pagan feast. This is because the early Christians behaved in a perfectly scriptural manner, becoming “all to all” (1 Cor. 9:22), not “holding the form of religion while denying the power of it. here ”(2 Tim. 3: 5).
This is extremely important because it relates directly to the first time the early Catholic Church really borrowed something from the pagans. And not just any pagans, notice, but real followers of the Babylonian mystery religion. And most astonishingly, the decision of the early Catholics to do so receives full approval from, and even warm defense by. . . Christians who believe in the Bible!
We, the three kings of the East, are astrologers crossing the distance
As a young evangelical, one of the things I regularly heard from critics of Christianity was that “everyone knows” that the story of the Magi in Matthew 2 is a pious fiction invented by the evangelist. Since evangelicals have a very high opinion of Scripture and believe (in the words of Dei Verbum) that “Scripture must be recognized as teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted to put in sacred writings for salvation,” it mattered to me whether Scripture preserved the truth or was only ‘a bunch of legends. And since my first investigation, subsequent reading has only added to my belief that there are many historical bases for the story of the Magi.
The first – and often overlooked by moderns who have an irrational prejudice against treating the Scriptures as a source of ancient historical testimony – is Matthew 2 himself, which says “of the wise (in Greek: magoi) from the East “appeared one day in Jerusalem, seeking” him who was born king of the Jews. “They claimed to have” seen his star in the east “and came to worship him. Matthew tells us that they brought from gold, frankincense and myrrh as a gift and that their visit caused the paranoid Herod to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two. Matthew also notes that they returned to their own country in secret after being warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
Not that there is no trace of legend attached to the mages, of course. Matthew does not tell us how many magi there were, nor does he claim that any of them were royalty. So how did they achieve their legendary crowns and fixed number three?
The digital part is quite simple: three gifts, three mages. Moreover, as Christians reflected on their importance as the first Gentiles to worship Jesus, it was natural to relate the Magi to the three biblical races of humans descended from the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth – and thus representing all of humanity. .
As for their alleged royalty, it is more complicated. Beyond the biblical account, there is other evidence about them. magoi seem to have been a priestly caste in the eastern lands. The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the Magi were the sacred caste of the Medes. And Jeremiah refers to one of those oriental priestly figures, a Nergal Sharezar, as Rab-Mag, “Chief Mage” (Jer. 39: 3, 39: 13). The Magi had long been involved in the various religious and political struggles of Persia and their influence continued through the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Parthian empires. In Jesus’ day, they had long supplied priests to Persia and exercised a major religious influence in the region. An ancient writer named Strabo says that the Magi priests formed one of the two councils of the Parthian Empire.
Magoi is, of course, related to our English word “magic”, but it is not really correct to speak of Magi as “magicians”. They lived in a time that had not yet distinguished between the attempt to understand and control nature by what we now call “science” and the attempt to understand and control nature by what we now call. Magic “. We could therefore say that the Magi practiced the basics of astronomy and the basics of astrology.
We don’t know exactly which star they saw and whether it was a natural or a supernatural event. We know that Jupiter joined Saturn three times in seven months in 7 BC. We also know that Mars joined them and produced a very striking setup around this time. Additionally, there is speculation that the Star of Bethlehem may have been an occultation of Jupiter by the moon that occurred in 6 BC. We even have an ancient Chinese chronicle, the Ch’ien-han-shu, which indicates that an object, probably a nova, or a new star, was observed in March 5 BC and remained visible for 70 days.
Those who assume that any contact between biblical and pagan beliefs can only lead to the paganization of biblical teaching should note that there is very good reason to believe that the beliefs of the Magi were a mixture of Persian astrology. and of messianic ideas floating in their country, thanks to the large Jewish community. population that lived there since the time of Nebuchadnezzar, five centuries before. An American culture quite familiar with violin on the roof or the tales of Isaac Bashevis Singer should come as no surprise that after 500 years, stories far more sacred to Jews than these folk tales would be widely known among the educated elite in Persia. And a magical knowledge of the sacred Jewish texts certainly matches Herod’s behavior in slaughtering the innocent of Bethlehem.
Some critics have found this story of Herod’s brutality absurd. Yet we know from unbiblical sources that Herod was indeed deeply paranoid about rivals to his throne. He had his own children put to death to protect him (whereupon Augustus, who had granted Herod his puppet kingdom, remarked that since Herod observed the kosher laws to appease his Jewish subjects, “it is better to be Herod’s pig than the son of Herod ”). But beyond this psychological evidence, there is in Scripture itself a tantalizing suggestion as to why Herod would react so fiercely to the news of a newborn baby “King of the Jews” – one reason that fits. remarkably well with what we know about mages.
You see, Herod – the “King of the Jews” – was not a Jew. He was an Edomite, or Idumean, as they had become known in Christ’s day. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. Jacob, you will recall, received the blessing and birthright of Isaac that Esau was supposed to receive (Genesis 27). From that point on, rivalry existed between the brothers (and their descendants). Centuries after Jacob and Esau, when Israel escaped from Egypt and headed for the Promised Land, Moses requested passage through the land of the Moabites (a people closely allied with the Edomites) and was refused. In fact, the Moabites tried to destroy Israel. As part of their plan, the Moabite king, Balak, hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24). However, despite his best efforts, Balaam discovered that he could only bless the chosen people.
What is significant about this is Balaam’s third blessing on Israel. For he declared, in a prophecy which was, in Herod’s time, widely regarded as messianic:
I see it, but not now;
I see it, but not up close:
a star will come out of Jacob,
and a scepter will rise from Israel;
he will crush Moab’s forehead,
and break all the sons of Sheth.
Edom will be dispossessed,
Seir too, his enemies, will be dispossessed,
while Israel does it valiantly.
Through Jacob will rule,
and may the survivors of the cities be destroyed!
(Numbers 24: 17-19; emphasis added)
“Edom will be dispossessed” with a “star.” . . of Jacob. Would a paranoid Edomite king with the psychological background of Herod be pissed off by the magi’s report on a star and their question, “Where is he who was born king of the Jews?” Such a king, who had shown himself ready to assassinate his own son to protect his throne, would he hesitate to slaughter the children of nameless peasants in an obscure village if he thought it would prevent him from being “dispossessed”? ? To paraphrase Augustus, in such a situation it would be better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s subject. So it turns out that there are good reasons, both biblical and extra-biblical, to think that at a time particularly inclined to look for signs and omens in the stars and holy books, Persian astrologers would have seen such signs and portents in the heavens and sacred places. the books of Israel and Herod would have worked on them.
So are there other examples of zodiac mysticism in the scriptures? Yes. Don’t do it next time.
If you appreciate the news and perspectives provided by Catholic World Report, please consider making a donation to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers around the world for free, without subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.