It’s Easter and greeting cards and emails are flying around the world, rejoicing in the death and the story of a resurrection of the Galilean Jew. These stories are based on the ideas of human sacrifice, universal sin and vicarious atonement. These concepts are entirely pagan and against everything the Galilean Jews stood for. The movement that the historical Jesus belonged to rejected the cult of sacrifice and it is very possible that it was this rejection that led to the death of their leader. It seems ironic that the world celebrates ideas, which are the exact opposite to those held by the Jewish teacher and prophet by whose blood they expect to be saved from a damnation that exists only in the minds of their own priests. It is always the priests that warn us of an imagined catastrophe and then prescribe the means of our salvation. Why is it that their prescriptions always involve someone else’s blood?
Today, the mountains of Andalucía are capped with the last of the winter snow. Outside my window, I can see an eagle effortlessly hunting in the warm afternoon breeze. Not far away I can hear the cheerful clanging of goat bells. Any journey in the sierra will inevitably involve waiting for a herd of goats to get out of the road. As much as I love horses and dogs I have to admit I have a soft spot for goats. The most cheerful and carefree animal in the world has got to be the Nubian goat.
This morning I watched Paco, our local Sheppard, whilst he tried to chase one of his Nubian goats out of the way of my car and back to the herd. The goat kept doubling back toward the bush he had set his mind on eating. Watching Paco valiantly trying not to lose his patience with his headstrong Nubian, it made me think of the Goat of Azazel.
On Yom Kippur, the Torah commands the Jewish people to choose two identical goats. Dice are thrown to decide which one will be the ‘sin offering’ and which one will be the ‘Goat of Azazel’. The goat chosen for a ‘sin offering’ has its throat cut and its blood is used to purify the altar. It also is supposed to pay God back for all the sins of the people. That was the lucky goat.
The other goat, the Goat of Azazel, has a red string tied around its horns. The priest then lays his hands on the now slightly confused goat. Magically, by the power of his prayer, the priest transfers all the sins of the people into the goat. Later the goat is sent out into the desert alone loaded down by a year’s worth of sin. (Leviticus 16) “That’s not too bad,” I hear you say.
Unfortunately, the scribe who wrote Leviticus didn’t know much about goats. The first thing you need to know about goats is that they are sociable and friendly. They like human company. More often than not, the goat used to make its own way back into town bringing all that sin back with it. To prevent over friendly goats from returning, the High Priest decided that it would be a safer idea to throw them off a cliff. Sadly for the goat, Mount Azazel doesn’t have any really steep cliffs. Priests being ever resourceful, all they did was make sure that the goat had ‘shattered his limbs’. An agonising death was inevitable.
This begs the question, did Jesus support the idea of sacrifice and did he throw goats from cliffs? After all, sacrifice is the cornerstone of Christianity. Paul based his cult on a dead Rabbi and without the idea of a sacrifice there is no Christianity, or so he says. (1 Corinthians 15:14) Most evangelical Christians revel in images of lambs, sacrifice and the blood of Jesus.
As we have explored elsewhere, Jesus was part of a movement and I will show that it was already at least 1500 years old when he joined his cousin. John the Baptist was the Rabbi to a Yeshiva that would be considered vegan today. He taught in the wilderness and did not make sacrifices. (Mark 1.6) Most Christians seem to assume that this was just his personal preference or an eccentricity, but I suspect that these facts hint at a deeper story.
After Jesus died, for some thirty years, most of his students were Jewish and they continued this doctrine of loving kindness. They believed that the books of the Torah had been forged. They rejected the cult of animal sacrifice and would not eat meat. (The panarion of epiphanius of salamis – against Nazoreans.)
So why would Jesus and his Galileans be vegetarian and against animal sacrifice while the Priests in Jerusalem were rather fond of it? What was going on? None of this is explained in the Synoptic Gospels? In fact, it is rather obvious that the church was and remains quite keen on the idea of sacrifice, if not the actual goat throwing.
So why do people throw goats off cliffs? If you are lucky enough to know a Satanist, you could always ask them why they like to ritually kill things. Failing that, the anthropological answer posits three answers that spring to mind:
- People sacrifice things in order to bridge the perceived gap between themselves and God. Killing can often make people feel closer to the divine.
- The other most popular reason is to make up for a person’s feeling of inadequacy. To put balm on our existential angst. Or as they say in Essex, “To cheer us up!”
- Grand ritual and ritual that is emotionally charged (animal sacrifice) is a great way to unite and manipulate people. If you can persuade people to bring all their sacrifices to you, it is also a great revenue stream, (more of that later). To this day, in India they have a kind of annual ‘World Olympics’ of animal sacrifice.
In my opinion the cult of sacrifice, be it human or animal, is a symptom of our relationship with God and an expression of what we perceive him/her to be. It is, therefore, an indication of the spiritual evolution of a people.
The first archaeological evidence for the Kingdom of Israel is the Merneptah Stele. This was dated to 1205 BC. I would argue that the Hyksos expulsion was in fact the basis for the exodus story and this was in the time of Pharaoh Ahmose, several hundred years earlier. El was the God of Moses (Exodus 3). El Shaddai in Aramaic means ‘The Lord of the Mountain’. The name was later pluralised and become ‘Elohim’, which hints at the idea that El was everything and everywhere. It is both singular and plural at the same time. Very similar to the Buddhist idea of ‘Lord of the House’.
(“It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here is Elohim, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 1 Kings 12:28).
The Kingdom of Israel extended from the Lebanon down to the northeast border of Egypt. It is hinted that Kind David and then his son worshiped in groves and burnt incense to this unseen God (Kings 21.3). This motif reoccurs within the Torah, in asides that have escaped the redacting pen of the scribes. Moses, King David, his son King Solomon and eventually Jesus are all, at some point, accused by the scribes of variations of ‘idolatry’, astrology, believing in Angels and Demons, praying in groves or in high places and offering incense.
When King Solomon’s son lost control of the Kingdom, several tribes rebelled and the civil war divided the Kingdom. The Tribe of Judah set up a rival kingdom in the south. They predictably called this new kingdom, Judah and its capital was Jerusalem.
The greatest threat to the Kingdoms of Israel (North) and Judah (South) was Assyria (East). It was the superpower of that time. By this time, Israel and Judah had been at war for hundreds of years.
The Assyrians attacked Israel and King Hezekiah of Judah stood by and did nothing. Israel was destroyed and its people carried off into slavery. Hezekiah decided to reform his people’s religion. He destroyed the serpent staff of Moses (one of their greatest treasures) destroyed the groves and high places where the people prayed and offered incense. He instituted the cult of animal sacrifice. Despite the King’s best efforts, the Assyrians soon turned their attention to Judah. After a bit of a battle and lots of huffing and puffing, King Hezekiah took all of the gold from the temple, even going back for the gold off the doors and offered it as a tribute to the King of Assyria, obviously hoping he might go away.
Despite the amount of gold offered, the King of Assyria (who was no gentleman) was still dreadfully rude before he left (2 Kings 18). Not surprisingly, King Hezekiah died not long after, probably of embarrassment. The worship of Elohim was reinstated and everybody jogged along nicely, but then came Josiah and the sinister priest Hilkiah who began the worship of Yahweh and the sacrifices began again. Josiah began the rebuilding of a temple that Solomon had previously built. It was during these works that the priests conveniently ‘found’ the books of Moses (whose staff they had not long ago destroyed) Kings 2.22.
These books underpinned the sacrificial system and the rights of the priesthood to control the country. They effectively create a theocracy. Judah then set about what was left of Israel in an effort to force them to adopt their new cult. The Israelis were not very keen on the idea. Jerusalem was a long way to go to kill a goat.
The books of Moses talk of Yahweh, a God of judgement, fear, sacrifice and genocide and it was these books the Nazarene movement rejected, as has the modern west. The clues are in the Bible if you can read it with an open mind.
For the alternative to this God of sacrifice, there are clues in the words of the Prophets.
In Amos 5:25-27 there is an interesting quote that supports Jewish rejection of animal sacrifice and it substantiates the charge of the falsification of the books.
“Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves; therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus.”
From this text written around 700 BC we can assume that it was common knowledge in Israel that sacrifices had not been instituted by Moses.
Jeremiah 7:12 also echoes this idea in a rant against King Josiah and the sacrifices he and his priest Hilkiah have instigated. 600 BC
“But when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt, I gave no commands about whole-offerings and sacrifice, I said not a word about them.” Obviously Jeremiah hadn’t got Hilkiah’s memo!
Genesis can be read to imply that the pre flood diet was meat free.
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”
Jesus himself, is reported as saying in the Pauline texts, “You have made the temple into an abattoir. The house of God will be a house of prayer.” (I paraphrase)
Eusebius recounts in his Ecclesiastical History 5:1.26, when a woman is invited, under torture, to save herself by denouncing Christians for eating babies she replies, “How, could those eat children who do not think it lawful to taste the blood even of irrational animals?”
Isaiah 66:3 “he that slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man.”
So much for sacrifice but what about the reason for it. John the Baptist, Rabbi Yeshua and then his brother James all taught, as had Solomon and King David, that El does not judge us; we judge ourselves. By the standard we judge, we will be judged. Bad things happen in life to those who pray and those who do not. Bad things happens to those who sacrifice and those who do not. Bad things happened before the flood and afterward.
When your relationship with God is defined by a personal relationship and repentance there is no need for sacrifice. When Rabbi Yeshua says Abba in Aramaic, the father he is speaking of is Elohim, the God of Moses, of the mountains and high places, he is the God which animates all of us.
According to the Nazarenes, where there is sin only the guilty can pay and only repentance can restore the balance.
“Every good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow cast by turning.” Epistle of James, brother of Jesus.
John the Baptist taught that it is living water that purifies not blood. Repentance pays the price that no other man can pay.
So what of the Goat of Azazel? Our cheerful Nubian goat running rings around Paco is safe for the moment but it was upon the forged books of Moses that the Prophet Muhammad based Sharia law.
The Jews of Medina had outgrown the forged books of Moses and refused its barbaric punishments. Unfortunately, Muhammad was proud to reinstate the killing – Quran, sura 5 (Al-Ma’ida) ayat 43.
The Jesus of history and everything he taught was the opposite of such arbitrary punishments and the power of a blood stained theocracy. There is no logical support for the idea that Jesus supported sacrifice or viewed himself as being one. If people would only listen to him nobody would ever throw a goat off a cliff ever again. Problem is it would destroy the Easter greeting card business overnight!