Good observations, CH.Pre-Christian Churches of the Mediterranean
In his epistles to the various "churches" around the Mediterranean, the apostle Paul is clearly speaking to established
gathering places or ἐκκλησία/ecclesia
, the Greek word for "church" in the New Testament. This word ecclesia
, however, was used frequently in pre-Christian Greek or Hellenized writings, referring to "assemblies" and "gatherings." The word or one of its cognates/derivatives is used a dozen or more times in the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint
Lev 8:3; Num 20:8; Deut 4:10, 31:12, 28; 1 Chr 13:5; Est 4:16; Ecc 1:1, 2, 12, 7:28, 12:8, 9, 10
Indeed, there's a biblical book by this very title: Ecclesiasticus
, deemed "apocryphal" by Protestants and also called, "The Wisdom of Jesus." Thus, in this pre-Christian text named "Church" we have "Jesus sayings" or Logia Iesou
, centuries before Christ supposedly lived. (Interestingly, according to the Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, to ecclesiastikon
refers to "pay received for sitting in the assembly.")
Thus, we can see that pre-Christian Greek speakers - including many Jews, such as those who read the Septuagint ("LXX") - would have been quite familiar with the word ecclesia
, and that such gatherings and places and assembly were not only established but also common.
Interestingly, in certain places in the LXX (e.g., Lev 8:3; Num 20:8) the Israelites are told to "gather the assembly," in which verses both the words "ecclesia" and "synagogue" (συναγωγὴ
) are used. Hence, not only would these terms have been abundantly familiar to pre-Christian Hellenized Jews but they also appeared within the specific context of a religious
At Deuteronomy 4:10, we find a reference to "the church":
ἡμέραν ἣν ἔστητε ἐναντίον κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν ἐν Χωρηβ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς ἐκκλησίας ὅτε εἶπεν κύριος πρός με ἐκκλησίασον
This passage is often translated so as to exclude the noun ecclesia
, as the verb ecclesiazo
is used shortly thereafter:
the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together (KJV)
Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, "Assemble the people before me..." (NIV)
how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, "Gather the people to me..." (RSV)
A more literal translation would be:
the day when you stood opposite the Lord our God in Horeb the day of the ecclesia/church when the Lord said gather before me
So, the gathering of the Lord in the Septuagint is called ecclesia
or "the church," some 200 or more years before Christ supposedly walked the earth.Paul and the mystery schools
In consideration of the fact that in the NT, "Paul" is depicted as following a route around the Mediterranean similar to that of the Greek sages Pythagoras and Apollonius of Tyana, as well as the mythical proselytizer of Dionysus, Orpheus, to the seats of important and famed mystery schools, it would be logical to suggest that "Paul" was touring said mystery schools or "ecclesias." His epistles reflect a possible formulaic documentary tradition, and I am reminded of the fact that Apollonius likewise allegedly shared epistles with important wisdom teachings. The similarities between Paul and Apollonius are intriguing
As concerns a possible influence on the shape of a church, this Egyptian sacred "house of goodness"
could not be more striking:
Note that this fascinating image contains the hieroglyph for "goodness," which resembles a cross with a sacred heart at the bottom. Churches of Chrestos
Moreover, one word for "good" in Greek, among others, is χρηστὸς or chrestos
. Hence, if these Egyptian "houses of goodness" were still in existence after Alexander the Greek's conquest of Egypt, when that nation began to be Hellenized and Greek became the lingua franca of the Mediterranean, these sacred buildings might have been called ecclesias
or "churches of Chrestos," centuries before Christ purportedly lived.
In this regard, the word χρηστὸς or chrestos is used numerous times in the Septuagint
, and the earliest church in Egypt is a Marcionite building, above the doorway of which appeared the words "Jesus the Good" or Iesous the Chrestos
- the earliest dated Christian inscription.
Interestingly, the site Marcion.info makes some very pointed statements in this regard:
Even more important than the fact that Marcion's Bible was very short are the number of radical political differences between Marcion's Bible and our modern day Bible. Firstly the hero of Marcion's Bible was called Isu Chrestos - not Jesus. An important point here is you don't see "Jesus Christ" in second century texts. So in the Bible of Marcion of Sinope "Isu Chrestos" appears instead of "Christ" and "Jesus". Also in the archaeological fragments mentioned earlier the scribes used the letters "IS" wherever Jesus Christ now appears. The inscription "Isu Chrestos" can still be seen on the oldest surviving Christian "Synagogue" in Syria.
The next difference is that Isu Chrestos was a ghost. The first three chapters of Luke where "Jesus" was born are missing. When you think about it they are missing in two of the synoptic Gospels too. There were no Gospels of Luke, Mark, Matthew or John in the second century. There was only "Euangelion" - the "Good News" of Marcion's single Gospel.
We would argue that the canonical gospels as we have them appeared at the end of the second century, but most certainly the rest of this paragraph ranks as meritable.
Furthermore, in the earliest extant copies of the Bible, such as the Codex Sinaiticus, the words translated as "Christ" and "Christians" are, in the original Greek, Chrest
. There is more about this fascinating discussion elsewhere on this forum.