We promised, in our introduction, that we would make our presentation to the reader in three pieces; a look at how we got here, some consideration of what we have done, collectively, with the country the Founders put together for us, and a closing argument about where we might be headed, as a nation, if we don’t get our collective act together.
Thus far, we have traversed genealogical history, juxtaposing scholarly and historical texts with Biblical narratives stirred in, as we chronicled the evolution of cultural and socio-political systems that have been percolating for nearly five millennia.
We have taken a peek at what life must have looked like when humankind, independently, lived in harmony with its environment, in peaceful coexistence with peers, each of them able to exercise their own uniquely innate free will to pursue their primal yearning for self-determination. We have seen, as well, some of the ways in which these systems can breakdown, and collapse, and the effects of such things on the social, political, and cultural fabric of Societies.
The singular common thread running throughout our presentation to this point has been the presence of, and monotheistic relationship with, the one true God of the Hebrew people who they refer to as Yahweh and with whom they have an eternal Covenant.
As both biblical and historical narratives suggest, this Covenant was first struck between God and Abraham somewhere around 1800 BCE and, renewed between God and Moses roughly 500 years later. We have waited until now, however, to investigate the third, and final, iteration of this Covenant as it was put to the children of Israel by Jesus of Nazareth.
As we have consistently suggested, ours is not the expectation that readers ascribe to, practice, or even disavow any particular faith, religion, or dogma. Rather, our purpose is to inform and provide context and it is our contention that the belief in, and relationship with, the God of our Nation’s ancestors necessarily frames any subsequent discussion regarding what we’ve done with the country our Founding Fathers built and what we are going to do with the mess we have made of it going forward.
It was by design that we waited until now to delve into what Jesus called the “New” Covenant because, while it remains an eternal contract with God, it is otherwise vastly different from the one established by Abraham and later expanded by Moses.
At its core, the original Covenant was more or less a contract between two parties. God, on the one hand, offered a birthright of land to be held in perpetuity by the Hebrew people, an eternal and extensive succession of generations, protection of His “people” from their enemies, and forgiveness of, and redemption for, their sins whenever they drifted from the path of righteousness.
In exchange, the Israelites would circumcise themselves and their subsequent male generations (as a symbol of their fidelity), serve only Him as the one true God, and “live their lives in such a way as to show the world that God actually was the one and only all-powerful God, whom people should follow and worship.”
The currency of this agreement, between God and Man, was exchanged not in silver or gold, but through faith, each in the other. It was understood that humankind is inherently imperfect which provided the caveat between the parties that there would be times of transgression followed by prayers for forgiveness and redemption. Beyond this, it was otherwise understood that the lamb, offered to God in sacrifice, would symbolize the faith and fealty to the God of the Israelites.
After the biblical period of the Judges, the period of the Kings began, first with Saul and then King David who was born somewhere around 1000 BCE. The biblical narrative tells us that Jesus was his direct descendant, through the ancestors of his mother Mary. Somewhere between 200 and 300 years after David, and about a century or so before Israel would fall to Nebuchadnezzar, a prophet known as Isaiah would foretell of the coming of a messiah, or savior, of the Hebrew people. Christians believe this savior would be born in Bethlehem and come to be known as Jesus.
Born in approximately 4 BCE, when Caesar Augustus was the Roman Emperor and Herod the Great was the appointed King of the Hebrews under Roman authority, it is written that news of Jesus’ birth spread quickly across the region. The faithful believed this was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy all those centuries earlier.
As it had been with Abraham and Moses before him, the birth of Jesus, when announced to Herod, was considered a threat to Herod’s rule and, according to the biblical narrative, because none of his advisors could precisely locate Jesus, Herod called for the death of all Hebrew male children under the age of two.
His father, Joseph, was able to escape to a town called Nazareth, along with Jesus, his mother Mary, and the rest of his family. It is said that he lived most of his life in Nazareth, despite very little details about his youth and what led him to the ministry he would develop before dying, by crucifixion, at the age of 33.
Not much is known about the life of Jesus in the historical record and there is only a limited amount more that can be found in the New Testament. It is said that, in many ways similar to Abraham, Jesus was deeply spiritual at a very young age. It is said that he was extensively trained in the Hebrew scriptures and religious texts and, starting very early in life, he debated often with the religious leaders of his time about the deeper meanings of the teachings.
As always, we encourage readers to look through at least the gospels of the New Testament, even if only for personal education, regarding his experiences and his teachings once his ministry began. For our purposes here, in order to provide some context before moving on to part two of this treatise, we need to take a closer look at two main pieces of the biblical Jesus narrative.
Let us first consider that during his ministry, Jesus traveled widely across much of the region, performing miracles and delivering a great many sermons. He was a teacher, to both his disciples and the crowds that followed them, and he had a very simple message for them which is that they should live “a life of discipline based on a new law of love, even to enemies, as opposed to the old law of retribution.”
Arguably the most significant of the sermons from Jesus, known as The Sermon on the Mount, occurred early in his ministry and took place “on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and the archeological site of Gennesaret (Ginosar), on the southern slopes of the Korazim Plateau” (according to Wikipedia). This story is reflected not only in the Christian Bible but also in a number of historical texts.
It is said, for example, that the “miracle of the five loaves and two fish” took place not very far away from this location and that the Lord’s Prayer first originated during this event. Unsurprisingly, the debate continues as to what Jesus said in his sermon, specifically, but there are a few takeaways that we need to carry forward.
Although there have been many interpretations of its contents, and its deeper meanings, it is widely held that the purpose of this particular sermon was to affirm God’s Covenant with the Israelites through Abraham and Moses while, at the same time, renewing it through Jesus and his message of love, mercy, and forgiveness.
It was also during this sermon that Jesus introduced what would come to be known as the “Beatitudes”. These are significant because they emphasize “the humble state of humans and the righteousness of God. Each beatitude depicts the ideal heart condition of a citizen of God’s kingdom. In this idyllic state, the believer experiences abundant spiritual blessings. The biblical record indicates there were nine Beatitudes presented at The Sermon on the Mount:
1- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2- Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3- Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
4- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
5- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
7- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
8- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
9- Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Referred to in some places as the “Ethics of the Kingdom”, the sermon on the Mount gave instruction to both religious and moral thinkers and is said to have been a primary source of Christian pacifism. It was intended to provide both spiritual and temporal benefits, encouraging followers to do “good works”, have mercy in your hearts, love one another, be humble and kind and fair (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), seek love over vengeance, no matter the cost, and in all things (“Turn the other cheek”).
Monotheistic Humankind had come a long way since the free and self -determinant days of Abraham, and throughout the period of Moses and the Ten Commandments under the laws and governance of the Judges, by the time Jesus arrived on the genealogical timeline. The New Covenant, offered for consideration by Jesus, brought with it an opportunity for people to take a big step back and consider the possibility that, in many areas of their lives, perhaps they were going about the business of living their lives and serving their God in ways that were, perhaps, self-defeating and counterproductive.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, four centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus, summarized it, better than we ever could, when he said “If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life.”
On the matter of the 2nd, and perhaps most important element of the biblical Jesus narrative, and in contrast with the elements of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant, consider the final days of his life and the event that came to be known as “The Last Supper”. Arguably, it was this event in Biblical history that would fundamentally transform Monotheism and, ultimately, provide the final foundation stone upon which The American Nation would be built.
It is written that Jesus had foretold of his death to his disciples, on three separate occasions, beginning relatively early in his ministry, and said that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again”.
Biblical and historical narratives tell us that, just before his life’s last Passover celebration, Jesus went into Jerusalem with his disciples. As he approached and ultimately entered the city, cheering crowds started to gather as they followed him inside. After a number of days teaching in the temple, Jesus and his disciples would eventually gather for the Passover meal.
Unsurprisingly, the debate continues over whether Jesus was crucified before or after Passover, but sufficient evidence exists, in the biblical narrative, to suggest the gathering of Jesus and his disciples was, in fact, a Passover meal. It is also written that the meal took place in what is said to be an upper room of King David’s tomb.
For readers that may not be familiar with the Passover tradition, Passover is said to have originated when Moses brought the tenth plague to Pharoah, as instructed by God, which was a cloud of death that would pass Ober every home in Egypt killing the firstborn son of every family. The Israelites were instructed to sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood over every doorway as a sign to God to pass over their home and stare their children. It is said that Pharaoh’s son died during this plague and was what ultimately led to him allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt.
Once the Israelites were safely out of Egypt they celebrated Passover to give thanks to God for freeing them from bondage. Because they had left Egypt in such a rush, they had been unable to bake leavened bread (made with yeast) to adequately prepare for their Exodus from Egypt so they were forced to use unleavened bread, along with a lamb for the sacrifice, for their feast. This tradition continues today and was the tradition followed on the night of the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples.
What made this particular Passover historically significant, and fundamentally transformative with regard to God’s covenant with the Israelites, was what Jesus said and the way he conducted the feast.
There are a number of resources publicly available that provide an account of the exchange between Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper, but we chose “Learning Religions” purely on the basis of it not being founded in religious dogma. This is their narrative about the moment:
[“Then Jesus took the bread and the wine and asked God the Father to bless it. He broke the bread into pieces, giving it to his disciples, and said, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Then Jesus took the cup of wine and shared it with his disciples. He said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you — an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.” He told all of them, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”]
Thus, according to the religion of Christianity that formed after his crucifixion, would the New Covenant, foretold by Isaiah and consummated with the body and blood of Jesus himself, become the sacrificial “Lamb of God”, and be given in sacrifice on the altar of Man.
It is easy enough to suggest that, in this way, Jesus essentially martyred himself in the name of what he believed. But that is, we think, too narrowly focused, and misses the larger point of how this separates the men of the original Covenant with God from the New Covenant Jesus struck, not just with God, but with all of mankind through his physical and very personal sacrifice.
The currency of this “new” agreement, now between Jesus and all of Humankind, was the sacrifice of his own body and blood, and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, in exchange for their faith in him, adherence to his teachings, and an eternal commitment to love one another as he had loved them.
He knew he was going to die and he knew he was going to suffer greatly as he was beaten and tortured and scourged and ultimately nailed to a cross. His faith in God, and his belief in the prophecies that came before him, shaped his passion and informed his commitment to giving his own life in sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity.
As we will see in the pages ahead, keeping in mind our already established three-generation rule, humankind continues to show us that we are innately predisposed to fail at keeping our promises if we are given sufficient time to avoid suffering the consequences for breaking them.
After the death of Jesus, his disciples and his followers would eventually leave Jerusalem and spread out in multiple directions. By and large, they were considered by much of the leadership in the temple that had stood against Jesus as co-conspirators or outright criminals against the establishment. Although impart motivated by fear, by and large, they set out to “spread the good news” of the Resurrection of Jesus, and all his good works, along with his promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. This would lead, over the course of many years, to countless new churches and converts to Christianity across much of the region.
As the numbers of the faithful grew they became an ever-increasing threat to the Roman empire as growing numbers of Romans began to put down their gods and their idols and convert to the new ways of Christianity. Many of the disciples would be persecuted or jailed or even crucified. The biblical narrative tells us that Peter, himself, was eventually crucified in Rome by Emperor Nero some 60 years after the death of Jesus. It is said that he specifically asked to be crucified upside down because he did not believe he was worthy enough to die the same way as Jesus had died. And although the Vatican would not be established for a thousand years after his death, the Papacy began with Peter and has continued, uninterrupted, ever since.
Less than four centuries after the death of Jesus the Roman Empire splintered into two pieces; the Western Empire, which began its final death spiral around 396, and the Eastern Empire… Byzantium… which would survive another thousand years before being overrun by the Ottomans in 1453.
There are plenty of opinions about the reasons the great Roman Empire fell, but there are several, in particular, that directly relate to our narrative here.
Western Rome, after centuries of extravagance and largesse within the deeply corrupt Ruling Authority and the Elite Class, saw its economy begin to fall apart. It spread itself too thin, over-invested in expansion activities it could not afford and relied too heavily on its slave labor forces to do the work of the empire. The Roman Legions were stretched too thin and weakened by endless wars and incursions by the Barbarian horde. Finally, porous borders, overrun by Barbarians fleeing the war zones and the mass migration of Germanic tribes, the Huns, the early Slavs, and the Eurasian nomads may well have been the final nail in Western Rome’s coffin.
The historical record tells us that Rome had first conquered the British Isles somewhere around 15 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. This occupation continued for more than four centuries. During that time, struggling to fend off incursions from the Saxon, Angle, Jute, and Frisian tribes who came from northern Germany and Denmark, the genetic makeup of the local population became more or less a combination of these tribes and the descendants of the occupying Romans that were already there.
The last of these, Constantine III, was a Roman general and the self-declared Western Roman Emperor. He withdrew his remaining army and retreated to Rome somewhere around 409 and the vacuum left behind would give rise to what would become known as the Anglo-Saxons and, eventually, the British Empire from which the ancestors of America’s Founding Fathers would arise.
As we have seen, looking back over pieces of the history of humankind since we first stood upright all those years ago in Africa, ours is a species with an almost limitless capacity for strength and power and conquest. At the same time, unfortunately, we have also routinely endured unimaginable pain, suffering, occupation and slavery, and crushing defeats at the hand of tyrants and conquerors from other lands.
With very few exceptions, sadly, these things in our history have been almost invariably a direct result of our inherent malleable morality and innate human frailties. Further, we recognize that our worst times are almost always the product of our own vanities while the best of our times are routinely the direct result of our unselfish determination to exercise our free will in the interests of not only our own self-preservation but the preservation of our families and our larger communities.
The better parts of us, as Jesus was trying to articulate during his ministry, are the voices in our heads we should be listening to rather than those voices encouraging us to give in to the temptation our inner demons work hard to convince us we should be serving. This is the fundamental human conundrum… That endless war between the devil on our one shoulder and the better angel each of us is born with on the other… And whenever we put our heads and our hearts and our backs into doing the heavy lifting of “good works”, our world becomes a better place, our future becomes brighter, and our reward at the end of our days will be the satisfaction of knowing we will leave this world a little better, hopefully, then how we found it.
Sadly, we rarely long-remember, or put to productive use, the hard-fought and hard-won knowledge and wisdom our ancestors accumulated on our behalf. There are plenty of examples throughout history but consider for a moment, keeping in mind the fall of Egypt and, later, the fall of Rome as we look back to the final collapse and defeat of God’s endowment to the Hebrew people.
Found in both the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible is the book of Lamentations. It is widely held that it was written by the Prophet Jeremiah and is described as his first-hand observations of the death and destruction of Jerusalem which was, at the time of the city’s collapse, the capital of Judah.
Biblical experts suggest this book of the Bible “is actually a funeral dirge that depicts the suffering and sorrow” of the Hebrew people. The historical record tells us that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, somewhere around 600 BCE, and would mark the end of the reign of Israelites over what was left of the Promised Land. Perhaps more significantly, however, is the extent to which the author first observes the destruction and then lays out the extent to which the Hebrew people really had no one else to blame but themselves for what happened.
He laments the destruction of the city and its Temple, he weeps for the lives lost and the forced exile of survivors and accepts God’s wrath and punishment for the sins of Israel and their disregard for the ways of the Lord. And, after all of that, he still offers an expression of hope that God will one day forgive them and provide deliverance from their shame and chastisement.
We believe the story behind the book of Lamentations lays bare a few fundamental truths about our species, not all of which portrays us in a good light, even as it leaves us with perhaps the most important feature behind what has allowed us to continue to avoid Extinction: Hope.
Consider, as we move on now to part II, that by the very nature of our design we are incapable of ever achieving true and pure perfection. Standing in the way of such a goal is the reality that, equipped with free will, it is inevitable that, sometimes, we will choose poorly even when we are driven by the purest and most righteous of intentions. Accordingly, and as the historical record has repeatedly borne out, poor choices lead to poor outcomes, and poor outcomes are always closely followed by deep regret.
The old cliche which suggests that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results” is really, we think, more appropriately placed on page 1, in bright red block letters in 40-pixel font size, of the “Homosapien User’s Guide For Living A Productive and Worthwhile Life”. Needless to say, if such a book was ever put together we believe it should be mandatory reading for all children before they enter the primary grades.
God knows such a requirement would have made the world a much better place in the nearly three centuries that have passed since America gained its independence.