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Syncretism

Syncretism was part of one module I studied at university a while ago. It is a fascinating subject and part of the arsenal of many atheists when debating the historical Jesus argument.

Syncretism is a standard process religions go through when societies come into contact with other religions. It happens when sects break off from mainstream religion and adopt practices of another religion into their own. In the case of Christianity, the main components are Judaism and other Hellenistic salvation-type religions.

There were many salvation cults in the Middle East during and up to the date that a person called Jesus was supposed to exist. These salvation cults had similar components that make up Christianity, such as the son of God on Earth. They had members initiate and teach the secrets and knowledge that would lead them to a resurrection. These cults, like Christianity, include:

They are all the son/daughter of God.
They all undergo a passion (struggle).
They overcome victory over death and share this with their followers.
They all have stories set in human history here on Earth.

By researching some of these cults, we can see a clear pattern where the main components that make up Christianity are derived from both Judaism and pagan cults available in that region. Such a cult was still active when the supposed Jesus visited the city of Tyre. From the Pagan cults, we have the saviour, the son/daughter of God. This son overcomes an ordeal and has victory over death. They share this victory for personal salvation with their initiated followers. This is done because they have become part of the universal brotherhood. This brotherhood is obtained through an initiation baptismal ceremony and communal meal.

There are many elements from Judaism, a messianic resurrection cult that Christianity kept. Blood atonement was a substitution for a sacrificial element kept. They adopted Passover and Yom Kippur into Christianity using a long-term sacrifice through the son of God. Early Christians used circumcision, then removed by Paul later. Ironically, Egyptian religions used circumcision long before Judaism. The baptismal initiation is similar to the Jewish cult of John the Baptist.

The early Christians even practised the food dietary kosher laws. Yet, again, until Paul, a Roman citizen, taught they were no longer required. It is believed Paul was an old religion junkie at that time, of which there were many. Paul was one of those Romans who wanted to belong to an ancient religion like Judaism. The problem was that it required an adult to remove their foreskin and adapt to strict dietary and religious laws. So Paul came up with a better idea: to adopt a Jewish breakoff cult to his own simplistic version fit for a Roman audience.

This has been done many times since and ironically with breakoff sects of Christianity in the last few millennia: Anglican, Mormonism, Jehova Witness, and many, many more. Therefore, we can see that even in our time, syncretism is taking place. I once participated in a spiritual church service during my academic studies. During that session, the spiritualists had many former religious images around the church, such as Jesus, Budda, and Hindu demi gods. A real pick and mix of former religious leaders through the ages.

In other articles, I will go into some of the salvation cults around the time of the invention of Jesus and early Christianity.

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