Throughout my life, I’ve waxed and waned on my belief about religious syncretism through the lens of Christianity. Not so much as adding different beliefs from other faiths into Christianity, but the belief that it’s illogical to me to think God never reached out to humans throughout our history until a few thousand years ago to one group of people and no one else. It’s always sounded more logical that this god reached out to humanity in many ways teaching love and justice. That he reached out to ancient Indians through Hinduism, to ancient native Americans through indigenous beliefs and to various European cultures as various gods and goddesses. I believe they also reached out to ancient Jews through the god El/Yahweh. I also believe that all these faiths can be fulfilled by Christ.
I believe there is some evidence of this in the Bible through the understanding of accommodation. That he accommodated the Jewish community in a way that made sense to them as evidence that the creator will in fact reach out to people in a way they can understand.
Started listening to a book called “ Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys” by the late Richard Twiss who is an a Native American Christian. He talks about it quite a bit. I was wondering if anyone knew of any scriptural arguments, or biblical expressions that support syncretism. Any other books/podcasts that focuses on Christian syncretism.
I think our problem stems from not appreciating the processual nature of our development. We tend to assume that truth is the same in the past, present, and future, although it depends very much on our perception and cognitive capabilities, and our habits when thinking or doing anything. This has changed over time, and we can identify when changes occurred by observing the expression of human art and literature, which tend to reveal the inner workings of the human mind. Owen Barfield, a friend of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, came to the conclusion that ancient scriptures reveal how humankind felt themselves caught up in a cosmic drama, and their mythology reveals that perspective, which continued for thousands of years until a time now called the axial age, when across civilisations, people seemed to take a step back and analyse their stories, feelings and make a comparison to what they really knew.
This was also approximately when the major Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and others, who lived between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE appeared. The united kingdom of Israel, established under King Saul and continued under King David and King Solomon, had eventually split into two separate kingdoms: the southern Kingdom of Judah (including the tribes of Judah and Benjamin), and the northern Kingdom of Israel (also referred to as the “ten tribes”), which was more vulnerable to invasions and was eventually conquered by the Assyrians in the late 8th century BCE (around 722 BCE). This conquest led to the exile of many Israelites from the northern kingdom, and over time, these tribes assimilated into the cultures of the lands where they were resettled. The conquerors brought in other people from their empire to inhabit the region, which further contributed to the mixing of populations.
The southern Kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was located, endured longer but also faced its own challenges. It was eventually conquered by the Babylonians in the early 6th century BCE (around 586 BCE), leading to the Babylonian Captivity or Babylonian Exile, during which a significant portion of the population was taken into exile in Babylon. The messages of the classical prophets often dealt with themes of warning about the consequences of moral and spiritual decay, calls for repentance, and messages of hope for the future restoration of the people and their relationship with God. These prophets were one significant factor in shaping the religious and ethical beliefs of ancient Israel and they had a lasting impact on the development of Judaism.
However, during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, around the 7th century BCE, a scroll containing the laws and teachings found in the Book of Deuteronomy are said to have been found in the Temple in Jerusalem during a renovation project and prompted a religious reform under King Josiah’s leadership. The story of the discovery of the Book is described in the Bible itself, particularly in the Book of 2 Kings and the Book of 2 Chronicles. Deuteronomy is notable for its emphasis on religious laws, ethical teachings, and instructions for the Israelites’ relationship with God. It emphasizes the importance of monotheism, adherence to God’s laws, and the exclusive worship of God in a central location (the Jerusalem Temple).
Scholars generally agree that the Book of Deuteronomy was likely written or compiled during the late 7th century BCE, though it contains some earlier material as well. Its discovery and subsequent influence on religious reform during King Josiah’s reign were significant events in the religious history of ancient Israel. It played a key role in shaping the religious and legal framework of Judaism and had a lasting impact on the development of Jewish theology and practice.
The words of Jesus in the New Testament of the Christian Bible are often associated with the teachings and themes found in the writings of the Hebrew prophets from the Old Testament. Jesus frequently referred to the teachings and prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. He saw himself as fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament and often quoted or alluded to passages from the prophets in his ethical and moral teachings. The Hebrew prophets often called for social justice, compassion for the poor and marginalized, care for widows and orphans, and the pursuit of righteousness. Jesus’ teachings emphasize similar principles, and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) shows how Jesus’ teachings echo and expand upon themes found in the prophetic writings, such as justice, mercy, humility, and righteousness.
His understanding of the Messiah was, however, a new humanity for which he was a role model, but his example, although calling on the prophets as his witnesses, included a degree of syncretism that the theological teachers of his day didn’t accept. The “us and them” distinction that Israel made was questioned on many occasions, and he even called his people to love their enemies. This was, as many comparative studies show, an example of non-dual teaching in which the Shema of Israel, that God is One, receives a poignantly different meaning, just as his Messiah was not the warrior that they had expected, but the suffering servant, with whom his followers should “be one” just as he and his “father are one.”
As an indication of this syncretism, many Hindus of the Advaida Vedanta tradition resonate with the Sermon on the Mount. It can, of course, also reflect common spiritual and ethical themes that can be found in various religious and philosophical traditions around the world, such as teachings that emphasize concepts like humility, compassion, non-violence, and the pursuit of inner purity. Obviously, when individuals from the Advaita Vedanta tradition resonate with the Sermon on the Mount, it’s often because they interpret the teachings through the lens of their own philosophical framework, but evidence of syncretism lies in the past rather than in the present.
Later, there were influences and interactions between Neoplatonism and Christianity, which emphasized the existence of a transcendent reality, the hierarchy of existence, and the concept of the One (or the Good) from which all things emanate, and also discussed the relationship between the material world and the divine. The need to articulate and defend Christian beliefs in the context of the Greco-Roman philosophical and religious landscape was probably an important factor, but also the fact that Christianity left its Semitic semantic origins meant that a shift occurred culturally. As Christianity spread across various regions and encountered diverse cultures, it naturally underwent adaptations and transformations that were influenced by the cultural, philosophical, and linguistic contexts of those regions. This process had a profound impact on how Christianity was understood, practiced, and expressed.
The adaption to the cultural norms, languages, and practices of those regions was often necessary to make the teachings of Christianity relatable and understandable to people with different cultural backgrounds but incorporated a degree of syncretism as well. We see it particularly in the Christian celebrations and festivals, which often overlapped with existing local festivals, and over time, elements from both traditions became intertwined, as well as how existing religious sites were repurposed for Christian worship, imbuing these sites with new meanings while retaining some of their original significance.
with those words I meant that evidence of past syncretism is overlapped by newer examples, and so the case for non-dualism is only implied by the Gospels and Epistles, rather being openly observable. However, it seems to be the case.
I think many Christians are worried by the thought that their ideas about the world could end up being so much more complicated, and on one occasion in conversation with an elderly person, he told me that it occurred to him that “my” God was some much larger than his, and much of our speculations were anthropomorphic, “but,” he said, “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and so that is probably the only way we can approach him.”
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6
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