Christian History

Christianity Uncovered

A century ago when this magazine was first launched, views on Christianity were considered to be on solid ground, and to have emanated from the origins of the religion almost two thousand years ago. However, in the years to come, a number of new dis- coveries were to shatter some myths, and to cast doubt upon the pillars of the modern religion. The Review of Religions has also shown how these discoveries have come to light from God at the appropriate time to justify the claims made by the Promised Messiah(as), and even science has further backed up these claims. Let us now examine a few of these discoveries which have opened up new avenues of research into Christianity. Turin Shroud The Turin Shroud was a well known cloth thought to have been the shroud covering Jesus(as) in his tomb after the crucifixion. It had been held in Turin, Italy for hundreds of years, and periodically, pil- grims would visit the city to view the shroud. In 1898, the city decided to again display the Shroud to commemorate 50 years of the new Italian constitution and hesitatingly, agreed to allow the cloth to be 36 Review of Religions – December 2002 Christianity Uncovered – Discoveries of the Last Hundred Years Since the publication of the Review of Religions in 1902 and the advent of the Promised Messiah(as) at the end of the 19th century when he declared part of his mission to be to uncover the truth behind Christianity and the great prophet Jesus(as), there have been numerous discoveries in the last hundred years to vindicate his claims and shed new light on the origins of Christianity. This article chronicles and summarises those new findings, and their impact on our understanding of the faith. It points the readers to other articles published in the Review of Religions which cover the subjects in greater detail. By Fazal Ahmad – UK photographed for the first time. Secondo Pia, Mayor of the town of Asti and a well-known amateur photographer was chosen for the task. His first attempt on the 25th May was aborted because his lighting failed. His second and last chance was on the 28th May. He coated a glass plate and then managed to expose it to the cloth for 14 minutes. While developing the plate himself, he became satisfied as the image of the cloth began to emerge. But to his aston- ishment, the image that emerged on the negative was not the usual mask that visitors saw, but rather a real face! This is the image which is now so well known worldwide. Before the advent of p h o t o g r a p h y, it would have been impossible to see this image, as it only appeared on the negative image. Since then, the Church author- ities have been under pressure as research has shown that if the cloth were the actual shroud of Jesus(as), then traces of blood would suggest that he was not dead when taken down from the Cross. In a series of experiments in 1988, scientists commissioned by the Vatican thought that they had managed to convince the world that the cloth was a medieaval fake, so removing this threat. However more recent research suggests that the experiments were flawed, 37 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 Shroud Image on the negative © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz or possibly even falsified, and that those theories of how a negative image could have been manufactured hundreds of years ago are absurd. Some recent theories have even tried to suggest and justify that Leonardo da Vinci forged the image. The debate rages on. [See the Review of Religions from July 1997 for a more detailed analysis]. Tomb in Srinagar The Promised Messiah( a s ) h a d been Divinely Guided through revelations to the concept of the survival of Jesus( a s ) from the crucifixion and the conclusion that his eventual resting place was in India. This formed the core of his book Jesus in India which resulted in widespread interest ever since. His beliefs were at odds with the commonly held views of the orthodox Christians and Muslims of the time. He showed how the great Prophet had a wider mission than just to the lost sheep of Israel the Jews of Palestine as most of the Jewish tribes had scattered in eastern lands following waves of slavery under the Persians. Jesus( a s ) therefore intended also to preach to the Jews in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and ultimately to India. Had he stayed in Palestine, Jesus( a s ) could only have conveyed his message to the remaining Hebrew tribes, and not to all of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. With time, many scholars including the Germans Ke r s t e n and Gruber have followed his lead and have also been drawn to the ancient tomb of the prophet prince Yuz Asaph in Khanyar Street in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar. A Wo r l d 38 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 Tomb of Jesus(as) in Srinagar, Kashmir Conference on the ‘Deliverance of Jesus from the C r o s s’ held in London in 1978 ignited further debate amongst these scholars. It attracted outside scholars such as Andreas Faber-Kaiser, Dr Ladisjav Filip and Pr o f e s s o r Hassnain amongst others. Research has shown such similarities between Yuz Asaph and the Jewish Messiah that at the very least, it warrants more serious research by world scholarship. We shall see what happens on this subject in the coming century. Findings of New Testament Fragments Over the years, it has been the major discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls which were to hit the headlines, but there were several other discoveries which are also proving extremely significant. One such discovery was the Oxyrhinchus Papyrus discov- ered in Egypt in 1897. It contained some unknown verses of Christian nature (they appeared to be sayings of Jesus( a s )) which remained unidentified until the later discovery at Nag Hammadi at which point they were identified as verses from the Gospel of Thomas. In 1958, Dr Morton Smith discovered a Secret Gospel at Mar Saba in Palestine which he attributed to Mark. In the century before the Review began, Tischendorf had discovered the oldest com- plete Bible text from the 4th century at St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, and 39 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 Conference Programme from 1978 this is known as the Codex Sinaiticus. Examination over the last century revealed some startling facts about the difference between modern Bibles and the Sinaiticus. There are sections of the Bible such as the ending of the Gospel of Mark (the account of the Resurrection) which are not in the older Bibles, and even the references to Ascension could not be found [see Review of Religions of 8/1994 for details]. Dead Sea Scrolls In 1947, a bedouin in the Judaean desert near the Dead Sea came across a cave with ancient scrolls hidden in earthen jars. More scrolls were discovered in the years to 1956 across 11 caves. Prior to the appreciation of the signif- icance of these scrolls, many attempts had been made to sell them as relics. In the fifty years since, scholars have tried to translate and under- stand the scrolls. Much more is known about them now, but the fact remains that although they are clearly related to Judaism and the hope for the arrival of their Messiah, it is not certain whether these documents belong to mainstream Jews or sects such as Essenes and Ebionites, or may even be the earliest documents of the early Jewish-Christians. The discov- ery has ignited debate around the subject. Scholars have started to remember that Christians were originally Jews and therefore that the two traditions share the same root. A more detailed analysis of the scrolls has unearthed an account of a Teacher of Righteousness who was trying to bring Jews back to God, and a Wicked Priest who betrayed him and led people astray. To this day, scholars argue over the identity of these characters with candidates being Jesus( a s ), James (described as his brother), Paul, John the Baptist or even the earlier Jewish Hasmonean priests. The Review of Religions has contributed to the argument to such an extent that some of 40 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 the leading scholars such as Eisenman have been drawn to discussion and debate with Ahmadi scholars [see issues of 11/1995, 4/1997 and 8- 10/1997 for details]. Nag Hammadi Library In 1945, at much the same time as activity focussed on Qumran, some scrolls were unearthed in a cave in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. It is thought that they were stored in the cave in the 4th century. The texts contain unauthorised works such as the Gospel of Thomas and other works not in the approved New Testament Canon, but which potentially shed new light on the views and beliefs of Jews and Christians of that period. Dwellers of the Caves Another subject of growing interest is in relation to Chapter Al-Kahf in the Holy Q u r’an which covers the subject of those Christians who took shelter in caves over a period of some 300 hundred years to avoid persecution. It was commonly accepted that such verses would refer to the Catacombs of Rome. However these were largely under- ground cemeteries. The Review of Religions has in recent years covered this subject also, and considered several possible sites including the caves where the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi documents were discovered. There is still much research to be done on this subject, and there are other candidate sites such as Emesa in Syria or even the caves of Cappadocia in Turkey which were inhabited by Christians and could be can- didates for the site. Visitors to Ephesus in Turkey are told a very similar story about caves near the old ruins which were used for worship and meetings as well as burials. The depth that the Qur’an covers this subject in would seem to suggest that there will be more discoveries in this area which will also shed new light on the beliefs and practices of those early Christians [see 4/1994 for details]. 41 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 Judaeo-Christians The last hundred years has seen a growing body of scholarship reviewing the nature and beliefs of early Judaeo- Christians (Jews who accepted J e s u s( a s ) as their Messiah). Research has led to the con- clusion that early Christians were Jews, and that because they followed Jesus( a s ) as their Messiah, they were in fact Judaeo-Christians. These groups were well known and include sects such as the Ebionites, Elchasaites and Mandaeans. Of particular interest are the facts that these groups regarded Jesus( a s ) as their Jewish Messiah or Prophet, and not as any form of d e i t y. Moreover they regarded Paul as their enemy for diluting the message and taking it to non-Jews in Europe. During the last hundred years with the other discoveries, sects such as the Essenes and Ebionites are now being linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds [see issues of 11/1993, 12/1994, 7/1997, 3/1999 for details]. Trinity and the Bible The subject of Trinity has also been under scrutiny in the last c e n t u r y. The Review of R e l i g i o n s has been instru- mental in examining the earlier Christian philosophers such as Origen and Arius. There has also been more in- depth research into the Council of Nicaea which was held in 325 CE in Turkey under the auspices of the Ro m a n Emperor Constantine. It was at this forum that the concept of the Trinity was established and promulgated around the Christian world. Research has shown that many of the churches disagreed, but were forced to adopt the Creed for the sake of the unity of the Empire, hence there was perhaps a political motivation behind it. Scholars such as Origen and his contemporaries had been debating the nature and essense of Jesus(as) for many years, so for the whole church to suddenly adopt the Creed with certainty was surprising. There was also a significant 42 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 pagan influence on Christianity which led to the adoption of the winter solstice (used by Romans to worship their sun god) as Christmas Day. Further research is showing the make up of the Bible and links between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and other non- canonical texts such as the Gospel of Thomas [see issues of 1/1994, 2/1994, 2/1995, 3/1995, 4/1995, 12/1995, 9/1996, 8/1999 for details]. John the Baptist(as) The subject of John the Baptist arouses debate between Muslims and Christians. According to Christians, he was beheaded at the orders of Ki n g Herod having acted as a forerunner for Jesus( a s ). According to Islam, a prophet of God would never suffer such a fate, and the Qur’an contains the true account of Pr o p h e t Ya h y a( a s ), the same character. The Review of Religions ran a long 14 part feature on this subject in the issues from March 1996 to June 1997 which 43 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002 Timeline of Discoveries 1889 Promised Messiah(as) makes his claim to be the Messiah and initiates the first Ahmadi. 1898 Secondo Pia takes the first ever photo of the Turin Shroud, and sees the image of the face on the negative! 1899 Compilation of Hadhrat Ahmad’s book ‘Jesus in India’. The book pointed to the survival from crucifixion, and the Tomb of Srinagar. 1902 First publication of the Review of Religions magazine 1934 John Rylands fragment deciphered and found to be oldest fragment of the New Testament. 1945 Discovery of a library of Gnostic documents in Egypt near Nag Hammadi. 1947 Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Judean Desert. 1958 Evidence of a secret Gospel of Mark at Mar Saba in Egypt. 1978 Conference in London on ‘Deliverance of Jesus from the Cross’. 1988 Claim after tests by the Vatican that the Turin Shroud is fake. covered the character, mission and life of John the Baptist( a s ) and compared him to other known characters such as John the Elder of Ephesus and John the Divine who wrote the Book of Revelations while living on Pa t m o s . Conclusions The range of different finds in the last century have created a whole new generation of researchers no longer willing to accept any of the ‘facts’ and challenging long-held concepts such as Tr i n i t y, Crucifixion and Ascension. Not only has the new evidence cast doubt on some of the basic tenets of Christianity, the timing has been crucial. For so much evidence to appear just at the time that the Promised Messiah(as) was looking to break the false doctrines of the Church and unite religious people world- wide under a single banner of peace would seem a strange co-incidence, or perhaps even an act of God. The Review of Religions has been ideally placed over the last hundred years to accommodate the evolving scholarship on these subjects and to challenge established wisdom based on the guidance provided a century ago by the Promised Messiah(as). References 1. Jesus the Evidence, Ian Wilson, Pan Books 1984. 2. The Jesus Conspiracy – The Turin Shroud & the Truth about the Resurrection, Holger Kersten & Elmar R Gruber, Element Books 1994. 3. Jesus in India, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Islam International Publications 1989 (original 1899). 4. The Nag Hammadi Library, E. J. Brill Publishers, Leiden 1988. 5. Christianity – A Journey from Facts to Fiction, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Islam International Publications 1994. 6. The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, Corgi Books 1991. 7. The Lost Gospel, Burton Mack, Element Books 1993. 8. One Jesus – Many Christs, Gregory J R i l e y, Harper San Francisco 1997. 44 Christianity Uncovered Review of Religions – December 2002