Cracking the Da Vinci Code

Older than Christ: Meat and Mystery
by Jonathan Wilson

It's true: Many Christian concepts are older than Christianity.

One approach taken in the esoteric Grail Quest by authors such as Dan Brown and Sir Laurence Gardner, is to assert that the Christian Faith does not present much that is new or original in religious thought. These esotericists point out that older faith systems had already built into them conceptions of resurrection and after-life.

This is true. Resurrection myths are woven into the pantheons of ancient Egyptian, Middle East and European religions. Belief in the afterlife played a key role in the Egyptian cults, as the ancient "Book of the Dead" and the massive pyramids attest.

The Bible people called "Israel" attest their origins to two locations: the plains of the Euphrates River basin of Mesopotamia, in what is now Syria and Iraq, and the Nile Delta in (what has been for thousands of years) Egypt. It makes sense that Israelite religious conceptualizations as attested in the Bible would have antecedent influences in the religious systems of Mesopotamia and Egypt. As the esotericists point out, these influences are not difficult to find at all.

Indeed, it plays well into the esoteric view that Moses, as the Bible states, was raised in Egypt's royal household. While this leads Gardner into all kinds of fantasy (chapter one) what we do see in the Exodus account is someone "born to rule." Literate, trained in cult practice and civil law, when Moses returned from self-imposed exile he became the conduit through which Israel could develop a religious practice that was both recognizable in the ancient world, and distinct from all others. Similarity and distinction characterize the faith of Israel.

The similarity is in the slaughter of animals. The most primitive of animistic faiths still hold the life of an animal sacred, so that human beings did not simply hunt, kill, and eat. There was recognition that the eating of meat was an occasion for solemn celebration. Our cultures today have lost much of this solemnity, as we make the eating of meat as casual as driving through Burger King.

Treating the eating of meat as a solemn occasion was true in Egypt and other ancient cultures. Animals were herded for slaughter in "appeasement" of the gods. The Bible contains laws for Israel to herd animals for slaughter, and to cut animals up in certain ways, and to offer them on blazing altars while repeating certain words of prayer.

Does Israel just recycle the practices from other lands? In a way, but not really. No one should expect the religious practice of Israel to be divorced from its own historic and cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, what God showed Israel was that the superstition of "appeasement" was inappropriate. God is not capricious and vengeful. Rather, the slaughter of animals was to acknowledge that sin needed atonement. Sin brought death into the word, and the cost of death is blood.

Atonement, rather than appeasement--this is a radical shift in religious thinking, one that Bible-believers would say came by divine inspiration. Moses was a prince in Egypt, but through the work of the Holy Spirit in his life, Moses became much more than a priest or prince in Egypt could ever be: Moses became a "friend of God."

The practice of blood atonement in Israel set the framework through which the earliest believers in Jesus understood the impact and meaning of his death on the cross. Now it is the blood of God's own son that has purchased our atonement. Through Jesus, all of us can become friends of God.
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