While I believe that Jesus Christ exists and that He is a valid Deity for people to worship, I do not hold to any of the exclusivist doctrines upon which most forms of Christianity are based. I reject the idea that Yahweh is “the One True God,” that people are born in a state of “original sin,” or that we all need Jesus if we wish to be “saved.” Bearing this in mind, it’s not really my place to try and “define” anything that originates from Christianity specifically; but at the same time, it’s impossible for me not to have an opinion about certain Christian ideas. I may be a Pagan and a devotional polytheist, but I’m surrounded by Christianity wherever I go; and while some Pagans are perfectly content with dismissing Yahweh and Jesus as “imaginary” (or as mere “rip-offs” of earlier polytheist Divinities), that position strikes me as being hypocritical. As a polytheist, I have no more reason to doubt the existence of Yahweh or Jesus than I do to doubt the existence of Seth or Ishtar. I also have no more reason to assume that Jesus is just a “rip-off” of Osiris or Dionysus than I do to assume that Seth is just a “rip-off” of Ba’al. These particular Deities have more than Their fair share of worshipers (as well as people who at least pay lip service to Them), so writing Them off as being nonexistent or unimportant just doesn’t seem right to me. Therefore, I thought I should take some time to offer my personal opinions on some of the most important characters in Christian mythology.
Yahweh, the Old Guy in the Sky
Yahweh was worshiped originally by the Canaanites, who called Him by the name of El. This name later made its way into the Hebrew language and continues to be used as a name for Yahweh today; you can see it in such Hebrew names as Daniel (“El is my judge”), and it may even be the phonetic root for Allah. As El, Yahweh was married to a Goddess named Asherah and had several children. He was depicted as an old man in the sky with a long white beard and long white robes, and this anthropomorphic image is still attached to most Jewish, Christian and Muslim ideas of “God” today (despite the disdain these faiths claim to have for “idolatry”). Even in ancient Israel, Yahweh continued to be worshiped beside other Divinities like Baal and Ishtar. It wasn’t until the Babylonian Captivity – after the original Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and many of the Israelites were forced to live in diaspora – that Judaism came into being. That was when the books of the Old Testament were written, and that’s when Yahweh’s priests started emphasizing the idea that only Yahweh is real, that all other Gods are false, and that the Jewish people were suffering because they had “whored” themselves to “Gentile idols.”
So why did this transition to monotheism happen? Did Yahweh just suddenly go apeshit and decide to disown His wife and kids, then declare war on all other Gods? Or did His priests just decide to scapegoat other religions as a way of consolidating their own power? There’s no way to be absolutely certain either way, but I’m inclined to accept the latter explanation. If the former explanation is true, then everyone who worships Yahweh is really serving an evil force that wants only to destroy the rest of us, and I find that extremely difficult to believe. Sure, the God of Abraham has some fanatical followers who just can’t seem to accept the rest of us for what we are (at best) or who really would like to see us dead (at worst). But then again, most of the people in my family put their faith in Him, and none of them have ever tried to hang me or burn me at the stake. I would think that if Yahweh were really such an evil creep, co-existing with His believers would be completely impossible; so it seems to me that the anti-paganism of the Bible and its authors is more a result of human politics than of any decision making on Yahweh’s part.
As a side note, some archaeologists have proposed that Yahweh might have originally been a figure in Levantine mythology called
Yamm. Yamm was a God of the sea and a member of the Elohim (i.e., the Canaanite pantheon), but he later rebelled against Them and tried to kill the storm God Ba’al. He also threatened to kill all the other Gods unless They gave him the Goddess Ashtoreth (i.e., Ishtar) in marriage. (Ba’al put a stop to this by busting the rotten sucker from gob to gullet, and when this legend reached Egypt, Seth became Ishtar’s savior from Yamm). Considering that Yahweh claims the name Elohim for Himself in the book of Genesis (and that He declares war on the Gods of other nations throughout the Old Testament), I can see why some people would be tempted to identify Him with Yamm. However, strong evidence for this link is sorely lacking, and I personally consider Yamm to be a chaos monster like Apophis (which is why I write his name in strikethrough text). In my opinion, he doesn’t even deserve to be called a “God.”
II. The Melekim
Archangel Michael defeating Satan
Whether the transition from polytheism to monotheism was decided upon by Yahweh or His priests, the impulse toward polytheism continued to assert itself long afterwards. It became quite popular to believe in the melekim (i.e., angels), and when Jewish apocalypticism first developed as a coping mechanism for living in diaspora, the melek called Michael became especially important. It was prophesied in the book of Daniel that this archangel would rise during “the end times” to protect Israel and grant it dominion over the rest of the world. In later Jewish tradition, this idea of a heavenly savior coming to rescue Israel became that of the Messiah, a holy priest-king who would rule the entire world from within a newly restored Jerusalem.
Another melek who would become very well-known is Satan, “the accuser,” whose job is to test Yahweh’s worshipers and to trick them into sinning against their God (if he can). Contrary to what’s normally believed about Satan by Christians and Muslims today, Satan isn’t the “enemy” of Yahweh in Judaism; he’s a completely loyal servant, an extension of Yahweh’s own wrathful and capricious side. It was only later that Jewish heretics started to think that Satan had rebelled against Yahweh and was cast out from His heaven. To my mind at least, Satan is still a loyal servant who can only do what his Creator wants him to do, and the same is true of all the melekim. I’m not even sure that these beings exist independently of Yahweh at all; it seems to me that they are simply aspects of Yahweh Himself, with Michael representing Chesed or “the right arm that draws near” and Satan representing Geburah or “the left arm that repels.”
Gustav Doré’s depiction of Lucifer
The idea of an angel trying to usurp Yahweh’s throne and being cast down for his pride originates from outside of Judaism and had nothing to do with Satan at first. It comes from the planet Venus, which is also called the Morning or Evening Star, and which was called Lucifer (“Light-Bearer”) in Latin. This planet has been identified with numerous Deities who are notorious for being uppity, hot-tempered celestial rebels. Each of these Venusian or Luciferian Deities are said to descend into the Underworld at one time or another, but the females at least are generally successful in achieving Their goals (e.g., Aphrodite, Ishtar, etc.) while the males are more often reported to fail (e.g., Attar, etc.). I would contend that our contemporary idea of Lucifer is derived from this latter concept, and that Lucifer is not the same thing as Satan at all. Lucifer is basically a male Venus who tries to usurp some higher God’s jurisdiction (and who, failing that, decides to rule in the Underworld instead), while Satan is simply a personification of Yahweh’s wrath when it is targeted against His own followers. In other words, Lucifer was originally a polytheist idea while Satan is really quite unique to the monotheistic worship of Yahweh.
IV. Jesus Christ
I distinguish between Jesus Christ the historical person and Jesus Christ the God. Historically, the man we call Jesus today was known to his contemporaries as Yeshua of Nazareth. He was one of several Jewish men who claimed to be the Messiah during the first years of the Common Era, and to be honest, I imagine him as being something like a benign Charles Manson. He was a far better person than Manson to be sure (not to mention a great healer, wizard and moral teacher), but he was also a charismatic antisocial cult leader who expected his followers to put him before their own family members. Still, Yeshua’s version of Judaism as described in the Gospels seems to have been far more humane and down-to-Earth than that of the priesthood in his time. While I do think he was probably crucified, I don’t believe he was born of a virgin or that he rose from the dead. I think these traits describe a separate entity that has absorbed Yeshua of Nazareth into its own greater identity, and this is the entity that I think of as “Jesus Christ.”
According to both the Gospel of John and several Gnostic schools of thought, Jesus Christ is a non-corporeal being who predates the Creation of the universe. I don’t quite accept that claim myself, but considering that Christ strikes me as being another Dying-and-Rising God like Osiris or Dionysus, I can accept the idea that He predates both Judaism and the Bible. Mind you, I say He is like Osiris and Dionysus, but I don’t believe He’s identical to either of Them. Yes, He judges the dead like Osiris; yes, He’s identified with wine like Dionysus; His cult is also preoccupied with life after death, and it involves drawing Him down into food and “cannibalizing” Him (just like many other Dying-and-Rising God cults). But there are several key differences here that people with radically hostile views toward Christianity (e.g., the makers of Zeitgeist) should remember:
Jesus first revealed Himself to a group of Jewish heretics in Roman-occupied Judea, not to the Pharaohs in Old Kingdom Egypt or to the Maenads in classical Greece. His lore is therefore shaped by a very different set of cultural, ethnic and sociopolitical factors.
Jesus has completely absorbed the life of Yeshua into His lore, and neither Osiris nor Dionysus were ever so closely identified with any one human being in history. (Osiris was identified with deceased Pharaohs during funerals, but believing that He specifically walked the Earth as Pharaoh Such-and-Such is generally not a thing.)
Jesus’ cultus is far more concerned with martyrdom, orthodoxy, sexual purity, the absolution of moral transgressions, and converting non-believers – neither of which is particularly important in the worship of Osiris or Dionysus.
Jesus seems to disregard any distinction between “religion” and “morality,” which is the opposite of how most polytheist Deities work. For example, the 42 Negative Confessions do not require anyone to worship or believe in any Gods; they are mostly concerned with civil matters like murder and theft. (In terms of religion, they only refer to not cursing the Gods or stealing things from Their altars or temples.) So you can still pass the Weighing of the Heart and be admitted to the Field of Reeds even if you aren’t a practicing Osirian; but according to the New Testament and the Nicene Creed at least, you can’t enter Christ’s paradise without being a Christian. That’s a pretty big difference.
So to summarize my views on Jesus Christ, I think He’s a Deity who pre-exists Yeshua of Nazareth and who is distinct from Yahweh, but who is allied with Him. I also think He’s a Dying-and-Rising God, but that He is distinct from all others (as one can discern from the particular constellation of terms, symbols, rituals and expectations that He’s drawn to Himself over the centuries). I think it’s possible that Yeshua of Nazareth might have been an incarnation or avatar of Jesus, but I regard the Gospel stories about his virgin birth and his resurrection as myths, not as literal historical events. (Mind you, I never use the word “myth” to mean “something that isn’t true.” As a polytheist, I believe all myths are true, but that their truth is symbolic rather than literal. I don’t believe Seth is literally a sha-headed bodybuilder who wrestles with a gigantic snake in outer space, but I do believe the meaning of this symbolic image is true, and I feel much the same way about the Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection of Jesus.)
V. The Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary, with baby Jesus
I think the Virgin Mary is a Goddess who pre-exists Christianity, but I also think She never revealed Herself to human beings until Christianity came into being. And like Her Son Jesus, She absorbed a historical human persona into Her own greater identity: that of Miriam, the mother of Yeshua. Much of Mary’s iconography has been deliberately modeled after and/or identified with that of several polytheist Goddesses (the most obvious example being that of Mary holding the Christ child, which is clearly based on earlier images of Isis holding the baby Horus). But just because a later Deity’s imagery has been influenced by that of a previous Deity does not mean They are one and the same being. Isis is a Mother Goddess like Mary, for instance, but She’s also a very skilled manipulator (like when She poisons Ra to learn Hir secret name, or when She tricks Seth several times during His contendings with Horus). Furthermore, Isis is not a perpetual virgin but a very sexual being who even performs a rite of divine necrophilia (e.g., when She resurrects Osiris to conceive Horus). The birth of the Egyptian Savior is no less miraculous than that of Jesus, but it’s miraculous for a very different reason (despite whatever Acharya S. might think).
In contrast to Isis and other similar Goddesses, the Virgin Mary has no confrontational side to speak of; She’s always gentle, non-sexual, and completely passive. She’s so passive, in fact, that She doesn’t seem to care very much about being worshiped. She isn’t even defined as a Goddess within the structure of orthodox Christianity. Aside from accepting the worship of heretical Catholics and a few Christopagans, Mary seems content to give Her Son all the glory.
VI. Antichrist and the Great Beast 666
It’s easy for non-evangelicals (including Catholics and mainline Protestants) to forget that Antichrist is an extremely important character in Christian lore, and it’s even easier to forget that he is quite distinct from “the Great Beast 666” in Revelation 13. Originally, the word antichristos was used by early Christians to describe anyone who (1) refused to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, (2) propagated a heretical version of Christianity (whatever that might mean in context), or (3) claimed to be Christian but didn’t behave like one. The first of these definitions is useless since it would mean that all non-Christians are Antichrist, and the second is equally problematic since it demonizes all Christian denominations aside from one’s own. The third, however, makes a lot of sense to me, for what else can you call someone who claims to love Jesus but who fails to treat others in a Christian manner? Forget everything you’ve seen in horror movies like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or The Omen (1976); the real Antichrist has nothing to do with Satanism but is actually the spirit of Christian hypocrisy itself. Turn the TV on to your local televangelist network and you can see the true disciples of Antichrist at work, propagating their dehumanizing political agendas and extorting money from their hapless followers in Jesus’ name.
Signorelli’s depiction of Antichrist
The Great Beast 666, on the other hand, is something completely different. This figure is based on several pagan kings who were adversarial toward the Israelites (e.g., the Pharaoh in Exodus) and toward the early Christians in particular (e.g., the Roman emperors prior to Constantine). These kings all had three things in common: (1) they ruled polytheistic nations, (2) they considered themselves to be divine, and (3) they considered Jews and/or Christians a threat to their rule. The early Christians came to believe that such rulers were possessed by Satan himself, and that they would continue persecuting Christians in increasingly horrific ways until the Second Coming of Christ. But in any case, the Great Beast 666 basically represents any human leader or social system that is both politically and spiritually opposed to Christianity. Unlike Antichrist, the Beast doesn’t try to pervert Christianity from within; it actively seeks to destroy Christianity from without.
Throughout their history, Christians have identified numerous rulers and regimes with the Beast; but I would contend that this rhetoric only works when the people or systems in question are truly hostile toward Christians. For example, it makes perfect sense to identify the North Korean government as an incarnation of the Beast, for that’s a regime where the Powers That Be really will imprison, torture and kill you just for being Christian. But it doesn’t make sense to identify the United States or any of its Presidents with the Beast (as some conspiracy theorists do), for Christians are not persecuted in this country by any stretch of the imagination. (Requiring Christians to live beside and tolerate non-Christians in the public sector is not the same thing as hauling them out of their homes and feeding them to lions.) While Antichrist represents the evil that lurks within Christianity itself, the Great Beast 666 represents the evil that can lurk within everything else (including atheism, Islam, Paganism, etc.).
Satan bestowing his power and authority to the Great Beast 666
(But when you think about it, the role of Satan as the Beast’s “guardian angel” doesn’t really contradict his earlier Judaic role as Yahweh’s “negative enforcer.” Ostensibly, Yahweh wants Christians to be persecuted so they can prove their worthiness by suffering for His cause, or so the Bible claims. So Satan and the Beast are really just doing their jobs, right?)
Well I’m sure there are other entities in Christianity that I haven’t included here, but these are the most important ones I can think of. I’m sure some people reading this will probably be very upset by some of my views, but I don’t really care. I’m entitled to disagree with the Bible as well as the Nicene Creed and to explain my reasons for doing so. At the same time, disagreeing with these dogmas is not the same thing as dismissing or invalidating Christianity altogether. Furthermore, I can honestly say that my way of interpreting Yahweh, Jesus, Mary and Satan is far more respectful to these figures than some of the ways Christians have interpreted my Gods. (Let’s put it this way: whenever I hear someone else talk about Ishtar, it’s usually an evangelical regurgitating Hislopian baloney about “the cult of Semiramis” or “the satanic origins of Easter.”)