The Omega Interpretation


By Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Lynch

Talk given to the UU Church of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

August 5, 2007 and San Juan, Texas, October 14, 2007


Many Christians see God as an ATM machine. You know how it works. You swipe a prayer in a machine possibly called church, punch in your secret code that says that Jesus is God, and you enter your material wish for the moment. Instantly, out pops your money or other material wish. I believe that interpretation, which I call the Alpha Interpretation, is a terrible misunderstanding of why Jesus is important for humankind.

In my opinion, Jesus was a sage and maybe even a prophet, but he was not God. If we are to create for ourselves a better world in which to live, I also believe we need to learn and appreciated what he really taught us rather than accept as gospel this ATM understanding of God.

In this talk, I shall address three questions. First, most likely, where did Jesus get his remarkable ideas that he brought to the world? Second, where did Christianity really get the idea that God is an ATM machine? Thirdly, what really was the message of Jesus, what I call the Omega Interpretation; and why is it a more reasonable interpretation than the Alpha Interpretation?

Where Did Jesus Get His Remarkable Ideas?

For those who believe in the Alpha Interpretation, the answer is that Jesus got his ideas directly from God, as he was the Son of God. In my Omega Interpretation, the answer is that Jesus got his ideas from the same place that you and I get our ideas, as Jesus was just as human as you and I. Each of us is a product of a combination of our DNA and our environment. Thus, our ideas come from our cumulative experiences that are mixed in the pot of our personage that is largely determined by our DNA. Our experiences can lead us to embrace or possibly reject the ideas of those around us, but our ideas result from a reaction to our environment, the intelligence to observe and process information, and a level of awareness or discernment.

If my theory is correct, then one can expect that Jesus should have been anti-Roman Empire, very sexist, and accepting of the religious leadership of the temple in Jerusalem. From the New Testament and what we know about the Galilee as well as the whole Jewish area of the Roman Empire in his time, this theory of how we got his ideas does not match the views that Jesus advocated. Thus, apparently, the theory I announced does not apply to Jesus and the Alpha interpretation is correct. Not really. Sorry, I am just not going there.

In this talk, I shall argue that Jesus does fit this theory if we make a few assumptions that are possible but are not commonly made by the institutions we call the “church.” I shall also argue that my alternative view of where Jesus got his ideas is more reasonable than the Alpha Interpretation we associated with the Jesus story.

Before I begin, I must stress, as an academic, that we historically have very few undisputed facts and know very little about the person called Jesus Christ. Clearly, his life or what people believe was his life has had a remarkable influence on humankind for the past 2,000 years. H. G. Wells said, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”

In spite of the fact that Jesus is the dominant figure in history, only one historical document exists that even mentions him. That work was the history of Josephus. Interestingly, some even argue that someone other than Josephus inserted that brief discussion about Jesus in his history many years after Josephus wrote his work. Thus, as of today, maybe there is no real historical evidence that Jesus even existed. Who knows?

I make this point only to stress that my work here is merely speculation, as is the work of others who comment on the life of the historical Jesus. However, I think by the time I am finished today that you will agree that my version is not only a reasonable speculation but that it is more reasonable than the speculation that we use to argue for the Alpha Interpretation and what we literally treat as gospel today.

The New Testament says very little about the background of Jesus. It tells us that he was born in the Bethlehem, which is in the Judah portion of Israel. He was illegitimate and he was born into a poor working class family. The Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament tells us that he and his family moved to Egypt very early in his life and then eventually they moved back to Israel. The other New Testament gospels imply by silence on these matters that nothing like that happened.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that as a young boy that he had an exceptional experience in the Jewish Temple, which we believe was in Jerusalem because most of us think there was only one Jewish Temple and it was in Jerusalem. That is about all we know from the New Testament until the story picks up again when he was a grown man in the Galilee beginning his brief but amazingly effective ministry.

Now, let me take a few liberties in my speculation. Let us say that he was born in Israel and that he and his family did move to Egypt. Now, I took no liberties with those assumptions. However, my further speculation is that he lived in Egypt until he was a man and he did not return to Israel until he visited his mother possibly to attend an important family wedding. I also speculate that the Jewish Temple he attended as a boy was the Temple of Onias in Egypt.

Kadokite Jewish priests, who were direct descendants of Aaron and who had to flee the Jerusalem Temple in a period when Jerusalem was occupied, ran the Temple of Onias, which was located near what is the Cairo airport today. Kadokite priests argued that the priests in Jerusalem were not legitimate under Jewish law because they were not descendants of Aaron and thus the Kadokite priest were the true Jewish priests based on the requirements clearly set out in the Torah.

Beside the experience of Jesus in the Temple of Onias, I also speculate that the Therapeutae Jewish community of Alexandria trained him for many of his most formative years. How he became a part of that community is impossible to say. Possibly, he ran away from home. Possibly, his parents realized that he was remarkably smart and that giving their son to the Therapeutae community was a way that Jesus could get a proper Jewish education from the most outstanding Jewish center of thought outside of Israel.

We cannot know, as no record of the membership of the Therapeutae community exists. In fact, all we know about this community comes from the writings of the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who was affiliated in someway with that community. If you are interested in that community and want to know more, just go to Google and lookup both that community and Philo. It was a community that many scholars at first thought was Christian until historical information clearly proved that it was not only Jewish but that its origins pre-dated Jesus by hundreds of years.

By Jewish standards, the Therapeutae community was unique. It was a cloistered Jewish community that was centered very near Alexandria but that had other centers in every district in Egypt. Jewish monasteries are almost non-existent in Jewish history, but they existed in Egypt a few hundred years prior to the time of Jesus and were probably started by Jews who were heavily influenced by Buddhist missionaries that had traveled to Alexandra.

These communities consisted primarily of retired Jewish men and women who turned over their assets to the communities. In some ways they approached what in the 1980s and 1990s were called Century Villages in South Florida. Those more contemporary communities were condos bought primarily by retired New York and New Jersey Jews that were seeking an active inexpensive retirement life with like-minded people in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

The earlier communities were a contemplative order where individuals not only prayed following Jewish practices but also studied in individual isolation for much of their week. Philo tells us that they would come together once a week in a joint session with the men and women separated by a small waist high wall with joint men and women singing, study, and religious services. Their efforts focused on Torah studies but many also became expert in medicine, Greek philosophy, and Egyptian mystical knowledge.

Although my life is quite different from their existence, I find what occurs in my life at 65 in San Miguel to be somewhat parallel to what occurred near Alexandria. In this community of San Miguel and although my wife and I are not Jewish, we spend a great deal of time with our Jewish friends studying Torah, Talmud, and Kabala. We volunteer with Dr. Haywood Hall to help make his training program for emergency physicians be a successful venture and with Hospices to help them build a useful organization for San Miguel. In addition, we are regular participants in a philosophy group, where we learn a great deal more about the Greek and other great philosophers of this world.

Thus, what happened in the Therapeutae community so many years ago seems very reasonable to my wife and I. Indeed, I can see a very bright Jewish boy being brought to such a community to learn and grow in Torah. I know my Jewish friends and I can easily see this community taking responsibility for the education of such a boy. They would teach him their understanding of what it meant to be Jewish and what it meant to be in a relationship with God. They would teach him the art of healing as the Greeks and others knew it, the mysteries of Egyptian magic, and the great works of the Greek philosophers. Thus, Jesus would become a very educated man for his or any era.

When he eventually went back to his homeland of the Galilee as a young man, he would be very unusual to his many brothers, cousins and fellow Galileans. His knowledge of his religion would be equal to and even beyond that of the most religiously informed persons in Israel. Although very devout, he would focus not on the letter of Jewish law, as was common in Israel; but rather on the spirit of that law that was more consistent with Alexandria Jewish thinking.

At the time, Israel, like other nations in the region, was a very sexist society; but he would believe women were quite capable of the rigors of intellectual thought and would treat them accordingly. When he saw one or more persons needing healing, he would heal them. Although Jewish thought instructed Jews not to engage in magic, he would consider it quite natural and would use it if it seemed appropriate for the occasion.

More significantly, he would think differently and even talk differently than his peers. He would think on a much deeper philosophic level and then he would speak in a way that would recognize the difference in his thought processes and those who listened to him. For example, he would use the Greek method of speaking in stories and parables to explain his philosophic points. He would realize that he had much greater knowledge than his “students” and he would only explain his lessons in ways that he felt his “students” could understand and would wait to teach them more advanced lessons when he felt they were ready for those lessons. He would also impart more advanced lessons to those students close to him and provide others more simple and general lessons to those unfamiliar with his teachings.

He would also have different political views than the average person from the Galilee, but he would have enough sense to not create hostility with those around him. The typical Galileans experienced remarkable hardship under Roman occupation and their Jewish pride made most of them very anti-Roman. This large set of Jews was called Zealots. However, Jesus would be pro-Roman because of his association with the Egyptian / Jewish Therapeutae community.

Philo of Alexandria, a probably leader in that Therapeutae community, was very much a part of the Roman establishment in Egypt. His brother was the very wealthy Treasurer of the Egyptian Roman province and his nephew was a Roman General, who later was a key leader in the destruction of Jerusalem.

As noted earlier, Jesus spent some of his youth near the Temple of Onias. Thus, Jesus would naturally think the temple leaders in Jerusalem were fundamentally wrong. He would be against their religious leadership and would logically disagree with their point of view while not advocating rebellion against Roman rule. For example, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” From historical records we know that the Alexandrian Jews had even given the very expensive front bronze doors to the Temple in Jerusalem, but they did not agree with the religious positions taken by the priests of the second temple in Jerusalem.

We know that Jesus was a teacher of spiritual wisdom and he did not engage in open discussions about theology. First and foremost, Jesus was Jewish and we can say that he was a “Reform Jew,” that is he focused on the spirit of Jewish law rather than on the dicta of the letter of the Jewish Law. He might have been an unusual Jew for his time, but his message was truly Jewish in character.

So, Where Did the Alpha Interpretation Come From?

Later Christian theologians interpreted primarily the events around the life of Jesus to give us what we call today Christian theology and what I call the Alpha Interpretation. The most important early Christian theologian was Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons toward the end of the second century. He was committed to achieving narrative integrity between the Old and New Testament in which the New Testament complemented and fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament.

To him, the consistent Bible theme was that God created and then redeemed the world first with creation and later with life and eventually the death of Jesus. Irenaeus felt that Jesus fulfilled the Bible prophecies and thus restored humankind to communion with God. Essentially, Christ reversed Adam’s disobedience (i.e., original sin) with the sacrifice of his life on the cross. By mere belief in Jesus as the Son of God, a person becomes part of the redemption earned by Christ.

The Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong refers to this redemption as the rescuer mentality and notes it is related to the Jewish Yon Kippur, which was designed to be an occasion to pray for atonement or restoration. The concept of scapegoat came from this holiday. Essentially, to be human meant that you needed atonement from your past evil acts or sins. Building on this concept, Paul, who was a devote Jew, said, in First Corinthians that “Christ died for our sins.” Somehow, this came to mean that our sins required the death of Jesus and thus the concept grew that the sacrifice of Jesus was made on the behalf of humankind. The Gospel of Mark continued this theme by using the word “ransom.” Although I think Bishop Irenaeus was wrong, I can easily see how he reached his conclusion.

In arguing against the rescue mentality, Bishop Spong questions the underlying assumption of Bishop Irenaeus, who believed that the Garden of Eden at one time was a perfect place rather than a work in progress. Spong reasoned that if there was no fall from perfection, then the sacrifice of Jesus could not restore something that was never lost. To make his argument, Spong cites the theory of evolution that makes the Adam and Eve story at best a legend. Spong further argues that even as a symbolic story, the Adam and Eve story does not work because there never was a perfect creation and thus there could not be a fall from perfection into imperfection or sin. Thus, the logic of Bishop Irenaeus fails, as does the Alpha Interpretation.

In summary, early Christian Roman theologians connected the story of Abraham and Isaac from the Torah to somehow interpret that Jesus was God’s sacrifice for the original sin of humankind committed by Adam and Eve. Interestingly, the Jewish community felt that God clearly outlawed human sacrifice in the Torah. Thus, the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross makes no sense to the Jewish mind even if it did make sense to the Roman mind of Bishop Irenaeus.

In addition in Jewish thinking, calling Jesus God or the Son of God was another remarkable theological leap of logic, but again it was not much of a leap for the Roman mind that even called their emperor God and Son of God. To Jews, there is only one God and the Roman Christian concept of a three in one God is foolishness and possibly idolatry. To the Roman mind that was used to worshipping many Gods, the three in one God was quite reasonable.

From the New Testament, we know that Jesus used the terms “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” Thus, a literal use of language can lead someone, especially in the Roman context, to infer that he was saying that he was the Son of God. In addition, he continually spoke about the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God.

I believe that Jesus was well schooled in Greek and was quite familiar with the Platonic concept of the ideal. For example, to Plato the reality was not any given physical chair but rather the ideal concept of chair. This manner of thought is very hard for today’s college philosophy student’s to understand and would be nearly impossible for the average uneducated Aramaic speaker to understand. Nevertheless, Jesus was working with that concept when he spoke about Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Man, Son of Man, and Son of God.

For us in the twenty-first century, I think his notion of Kingdom of Man and Kingdom of God corresponds to what we would call mind-set in English. For Jesus in his time, there was no parallel word in the very simple Aramaic language that he had to use. Thus, Jesus would have a very difficult time presenting his message to his people and furthermore the chance his message being misunderstanding would be great, especially when you realize that the recording of his message took place decades after his crucifixion.

To Jesus, when a person was acting with a mind-set that was ego desire centered, he was in the Kingdom of Man mind-set and was the Son of Man. When a person was acting with a loving and concern for the oneness of all mind-set, he was in the Kingdom of God and was the Son of God. Thus, due to his own advanced inner development, Jesus was almost always in that Kingdom of God mind-set and thus he was the Son of God. However, so was anyone else with such a mind-set. His choice of words was merely a description of how one thought.

Although this interpretation is reasonable for the twenty-first century mind, one must understand the use of the term “Son of God” in the Roman context. Roman emperors used such language to declare themselves a God and above any law. Thus, in reaction against the notion that an Emperor could be God, Christian theologians used such language to argue that Jesus was a God of greater stature than Roman emperors and thus worthy of being worshipped. This language became so important that it became the centerpiece of the 325 CE Nicene Creed that set the dogma for the newly Emperor recognized Roman Catholic religion.

In the Jewish context, the phase “Son of God” was very provocative. Only God was God. To imply that any human was God was fundamentally not Jewish. Thus, when Jesus used such language to his Jewish audience, he was almost asking for a misinterpretation of his words by his enemies. A reasonable guess is Jesus used such language to provoke his audience to think and carefully consider what the Kingdom of God or Heaven meant. Unfortunately, his use of such language was the primary argument against him by his enemies at his trial.

The death of Jesus on the cross was central to the Alpha Interpretation of the Bible. Of note is the simple fact that almost every detail of the resurrection of Jesus differs from one gospel to another. The Alpha Interpretation says that Jesus was the willing scarify of God for the redemption of humankind. Let us assume that Jesus did not die, but somehow survived the cross.

If that were true, the logic of the Alpha Interpretation fails. Furthermore, if he had survived much of what is said in the New Testament gospels was merely a cover story to discourage the Jewish and Roman authorities from seeking Jesus and putting him back on the cross. Think about it: once experiencing the pain of the cross, would you not create a story to discourage your enemies from crucifying you again?

Clear evidence exists that Jesus did not die on the cross if you are willing to disregard the discussion of miracles and adopt a more scientific perspective. First, Josephus said in his history that Jesus was alive after his crucifixion. Secondly, we know from the New Testament that Jesus said himself that he was alive after his crucifixion and his disciple Thomas even place his hand inside of the wound of Jesus.

Do you need more proof? He was on the cross significantly less time than was normal for a Roman crucifixion and the Roman guards did not break his legs, as was the normal practice. The sponge given him could have been a drug to render him unconscious and the Roman guards could have been a part of the conspiracy to save his life, as Jesus had saved the life of Roman Centurion’s slave a few years earlier. Of note from the Gospel of Mark, a Roman solider standing at the cross did say, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The events after the crucifixion also indicate Jesus survived the cross. According to the New Testament as already noted, he appeared alive several times to his friends for several months, while he was recovering. The very fact that a fiction was created to say he ascended into heaven confirms that he was alive and eventually fled Israel to a place such as Edessa (now Urfa) outside of the Roman Empire, where the king of that city state had invited him to come and where they spoke his language. Edessa was the first entire city in history to convert to Christianity.

In summary, there are reasonable grounds to doubt the Alpha Interpretation in spite of its extreme popularity. The Alpha Interpretation was clearly the invention of those that lived after Jesus and it was based on a highly questionable set of assumptions that tried to connect the statements of the Old Testament with those of the New. Clearly, the Alpha Interpretation is not consistent with Jewish thought and the fact that Jesus was Jewish raises very serious questions about the correctness of this Roman Christian theologian’s interpretation.

What Was the Message of Jesus?

When Jesus went to Israel, he was profoundly impressed with the devotion and religious practice of his less educated first cousin John. Jesus was not seeking any political power but he was disgusted with the treatment of his cousin by the Jewish King and the improper use of power by the religious leaders of his time. He had no fundamental quarrel with Roman rule because he saw flawed Jewish leadership and he saw the value of the Roman peace in Egypt.

Jesus was not rebelling against the Roman Empire, as many of his countrymen were doing. Instead, he wanted reform in how his fellow Jews approached their religion. His actions clearly showed his desires. He was a Reform Jew, who brought a remarkable message directly to his people and indirectly to humankind.

As I mentioned before, I call my understanding of the New Testament and related documents the Omega Interpretation. I must confess that these are my ideas based on my own and my wife’s inquiries. My studies tell me that the spiritual wisdom taught by Jesus was not new and in fact it was quite parallel to the other great Axial Period religious thinkers throughout the world. In my mind this does not lessen the importance of the message brought to the world by Jesus but rather makes it even more important for us to learn and follow.

Jesus argued that essentially goodness can exist in each of us and that we need to develop our inner love so that we deeply care for everyone and everything. In the Aramaic language of his time with its extreme use idioms and of only the present tense, the concept was difficult to explain to his people. His solution to this language problem was to talk idiomatically and in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in order to help them understand how to developing their inner self.

He then argued that as each person develops their inner goodness, that their subsequent actions toward others would bring goodness into the world. In the Jewish tradition, these acts are called mitzvot. When we perform them, we help create the Kingdom of Heaven outside us and our goodness comes back to us in the positive actions and reactions of others toward others and even ourselves.

This concept of a present Heaven within and outside us is the central message in the spiritual wisdom of Jesus. It is simple and has nothing to do with a Heaven as a place to go after death, but it has everything to do with creating a state of consciousness here and now. He was just trying to get his simple but profound concept across. Unfortunately, few understood then, as evidenced by the subsequent Jewish War; and few understand now, as evidenced by the religious tensions and wars today. His message had nothing to do with his experience on the cross and the fact that he might have or might not have died on that cross. His message had nothing to do with him being some sort of human sacrifice for the redemption of original sin.

To Jesus, what was heaven? It is helping a child learn and grown into what he or she can be. It is making peace and protecting the environment. It is you growing into the best person you can be. It is you helping others grow into the best persons they can be. It is your gift of yourself to others, such as merely playing beautiful music for others or making someone laugh. Heaven is a process of you giving of yourself to others because of your love that extends beyond yourself to everything around you and beyond. Heaven returns your love many times over and in ways you cannot imagine. However, you should never give your love with anticipation of reward, as it must be a pure and unconditional gift of yourself.

Heaven is always in the present and only the present exists in heaven. That is the message of Jesus. It is so simple and yet so complex that many of us do not understand it and fewer of us put it into regular practice. Although his Axial period teachings were not new, his teachings remain universally profound and timeless.

Unfortunately, his views were misunderstood and reinterpreted by later Christians to mean that a person could find salvation and have an after life by merely accepting Jesus as God. Somehow the cross came to mean that Jesus died for the sins of only those humans that accepted him as God.

Overtime, the spiritual wisdom message of Jesus was forgotten and a theology replaced his message. Eventually that theology became a dogmatic loyalty oath and a religious practice that was designed to politically support the Roman Empire. Today, this Alpha Interpretation continues long after the fall of the Roman Empire and still defines what we corruptly called Christianity.

The message of Jesus was so simple: Develop your inner spiritually. Then you must let that spirituality with its spiritual wisdom guide your actions, as you live your life.

Why do I think the Omega Interpretation is superior to the Alpha Interpretation? There is a rule in logic called Occam’s Razor that says we should always use the simplest explanation that requires the fewest remarkable assumptions when we select a theory or interpretation to use. To accept the Alpha Interpretation, we must make some highly questionable assumption that there are some linkages between the Hebrew Bible prophecies and the New Testament. In addition, we must believe some remarkable miracles took place such as the ascent of Jesus into a place called Heaven that Jesus himself asserted did not exist.

I need to emphasize that last point. The Gospel of Luke clearly quotes Jesus as saying that Heaven was not a place. However, later in that same gospel, it says that Jesus ascendant to a place called Heaven. Either Jesus was wrong about Heaven or some one making up or repeating the cover story did not understand the teachings of Jesus. Either way, the Alpha Interpretation is logically an absurdity.

I also believe that Jesus got his idea of the soul / body dualism from Plato and the form of the soul from Aristotle. Like Plato, Jesus felt each living human had a body and also a soul. Plato is considered the father of psychology because of his views on the soul and many of the views of Jesus about the soul are also of a psychological nature. Like Socrates and Plato, Jesus felt the soul was immortal and at death the soul is released from the body.

I also suspect that Jesus may have believed in reincarnation as did Plato and that is why one reads of so many references to re-birth in the New Testament. From Aristotle, Jesus got the idea that when the soul was in the body and only when it was in the body that the soul could with a conscious effort actually grow and mature. For both Aristotle and Jesus, the soul of more inner developed persons contained an increasingly strong rationality capable of reasoning.

The Omega Interpretation assumes that Jesus was brought-up in a Jewish community in Egypt to be a well-educated Jew and that he somehow survived the experience of Cross. Given the facts we know, both of my assumptions are reasonable and do not require us to accept leaps of faith grounded in miracle stories. Thus, my conclusion to my argument is that the Omega Interpretation is superior to the dominant and widely accepted Alpha Interpretation.

In addition, which version – Alpha or Omega — is likely to be more useful to our world? If we accept the Alpha version, we are told to merely accept Jesus as God as our savior and we can go to the ATM machine with our prayer card any old time and request our favors and gifts. If we accept the Omega version, we are told that if we want salvation we must do the hard work of developing our inner self and move away from being ego centered and desiring material goods.

With the Alpha version, we are told we must separate ourselves from the rest of humanity who are by definition lesser people. With the Omega version, we are told that we are merely part of the larger oneness that we must always love and support.

With the Alpha version, we will find Heaven tomorrow if we espouse our faith today. With the Omega version, we can find Heaven now because of our active effort to create and uncover our better inner self.

The Omega Interpretation does not call on us to convert others to Christianity as each of us is on our own path called life. However, it does encourage us to help others that wish and seek our help. The Omega Interpretation tells us that God gives each of us two important gifts: life and free choice. We are not to subvert those gifts of God either for ourselves or for others. As we move down the path called life, each must make his or her choices and hopefully they will always include being willing to help others.

Call me a liberal. Call me a conservative. Today, I just wish all of us could first hear and then merely live what I believe is the true message of Jesus. If we could, this would a less tortured world. If we could, we would be one step closer to achieving what I believe Jesus meant when he preached about having heaven on earth in his and now in our time.

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