Question: Do you think that Jesus was the example of a perfect Christian?
Narasiṅgha Maharaja: Historically and ontologically speaking, Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who studied the Jewish scriptures (the Torah) and taught Halakha, or Jewish law, as given in the Torah. Jesus was for many the perfect Jew, but for others he was a heretic.
Christianity as we know it, began significantly after the time of Jesus. Gradually preachers such as Paul of Tarsus and others downplayed the importance of Jewish law. This, among other things, eventually led to rejecting the observance of the Sabbath on Saturday. Since the time when Moses had received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the Jews observed the Sabbath on Friday/Saturday.
The commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Early Christians observed the Sabbath according to Jewish tradition, starting on Friday at sunset and lasting until Saturday at sunset. By the 4th century however, when a strong Romanization of Christianity took place, the observance of the Sabbath was shifted to Sunday. Sunday, as it turns out, was the day Romans worshipped the popular Sun-god, Mithras.
The Sabbath issue did not die so easily and rose up strongly amongst Christians in the 16th century. A split from Unitarianism in Central Europe, in favour of adopting Mosaic Law and customs, including the Judaic Sabbath, was founded in Transylvania at the end of the 16th century by Eossi Andras. Unitarianism, however, strongly condemned observing Saturday as the Sabbath, as an innovation forbidden by law. By the 19th century the remaining Christians in Transylvania and Hungary, who clung to observing the Saturday Sabbath, eventually abandoned Christianity completely and joined the existing Jewish communities in those countries.
Observance of the Jewish Sabbath in Christian communities also expanded to Russia, where they were called Subbotniks. Some of the Russian Subbotniks maintained a Christian identity, whereas many of them eventually formally converted to Judaism and were assimilated within the Jewish communities of Russia.
Observance of the Jewish Sabbath among Christians also spread to other countries. Saturday Sabbath was practiced among the English Dissenters, under the leadership of John Traske, in the early 16th century. In Eastern Europe and the Netherlands, the Saturday Sabbath observers met with emphatic resistance. Nonetheless, small numbers of Christians gradually adopted Saturday as the day of worship and these sects finally abandoned Christianity for orthodox Judaism. For some, the search for the roots of Christianity became their conversion back to mainstream Judaism.
The influence of Saturday Sabbath observers did not enter among mainstream Protestant Christians until it was revived in England by the English Baptists – thus giving rise to the Seventh Day Baptists, founded by Dr. Peter Chamberlin in 1653. Through them the doctrine spread to a few churches in other denominations. These new churches were consequently persecuted as heretics by the Trinitarian and Sunday-observing establishment in England.
The Seventh Day Baptists originated in the 17th century and arrived at the height of their influence on other sects in the middle of the 19th century, in the United States. Their doctrines were instrumental in founding the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Seventh-day Church of God.
For most 21st century Christians it would be the post 4th century Christians, who kept the Sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday that would be your prototype of a good Christian, and not Jesus.
Jesus was a good Jew who kept the Sabbath on Saturday and by so doing has become an inspiration for some lapsed Christians or Christian cults and heretics in modern times.
Question: Do you think that the early Christians were vegetarian or that Jesus was a vegetarian?
Narasiṅgha Maharaja: Historically speaking there are some clear evidences to show that some early Christians were strict vegetarians, but there is no compelling evidence to demonstrate that Jesus himself was a vegetarian.
One of the earliest Christian communities that we know of were the Ebionites. Only in hindsight can we refer to the Ebionites as Christians, for in fact they were Jews who kept the Jewish law, but thought that Jesus was an empowered personality adopted by God at his baptism, to deliver the Jewish race.
The Ebionites populated areas of Judea from the 1st to the 5th century. The Ebionites were known to have been vegetarian. As Jews the Ebionites knew that the only meat to be eaten was meat that had been offered to God in blood sacrifice or kosher meat.
One might deduce that the Ebionites were vegetarian because Jesus had been a vegetarian and had taught vegetarian practices, but this was not the fact. The Ebionites considered that God had made the ultimate blood sacrifice by sacrificing his own son (Jesus) and thus no further blood sacrifice was required. Thus, no animals were offered in worship and thus no animal flesh was eaten – Ebionites were vegetarian by default rather than by the example of Jesus.
We would be hard pressed in our times to find any Christians willing to accept the Christian views of the Ebionites. The Ebionites rejected many of the central Christian views of Jesus, such as the pre-existence, divinity, virgin birth, atoning death, and physical resurrection of Jesus. The Ebionites are described as emphasizing the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus as the biological son of both Mary and Joseph, who by virtue of his righteousness, was chosen by God to be the messianic “prophet like Moses” foretold in Deuteronomy 18:14-22, when he was anointed with the holy spirit at his baptism. By the end of the 5th century however the Ebionites had vanished.
In the Old Testament Bible, after the creation of man, God himself first outlines a vegetarian diet for his human creations: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, … and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat…” (Genesis 1:29-30)
Later however, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God requests sacrifice from their sons, Cain and Abel. Cain tilled the fields and made an offering to God of grains and vegetables, while Abel tended the herds and made his offering a blood sacrifice. God favoured Abel’s blood sacrifice but rejected the offering of grains and vegetables made by Cain (Genesis 4:5). A strange paradox indeed, considering that God first issued a vegetarian edict to his created beings.
Again, after the Great Flood that destroyed all but those in the Ark, God ordained the full-fledged eating of meat: “Every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” (Genesis 9:3) Subsequently, Jews were non-veg.
So in my opinion, Jesus the Jewish Rabbi was probably not what any of us would have considered a strict vegetarian. There is no strong evidence to support that he was a vegetarian, at least not for any scriptural reason.
Question: Do you think that Jesus chanted bona-fide names of God and taught his followers to do so? Some devotees say that Jesus was an incarnation of Lord Brahmā, so he must have taught his followers to chant the names of God.
Narasiṅgha Maharaja: Whoever Jesus might have been, one thing is for sure and that is that he was not an incarnation of Lord Brahmā. There is no support to such an idea other than speculation.
If Jesus had been Lord Brahmā, then certainly Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu would not have neglected to make some contact with the Christians that were living in South India at the time. Mahāprabhu made contact with all the important sects representing different philosophies, yet it becomes obvious when one looks at the histories that Mahāprabhu neglected to make any contact with the Christians or the Jews, that had been living in South India for centuries.
It could be said that by preaching to the Muslims (that were the prominent rulers in India) that Mahāprabhu simultaneously dealt with all the Abrahamic religions, all of which were cow killers. To these cow killers, Mahāprabhu assured them that for such actions they would go to Hell. Mahāprabhu said, “Cow-killers are condemned to rot in hellish life for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of the cow.” (Cc Ādi-līlā 17.165)
Furthermore, Mahāprabhu criticized their scriptures as being full of mistakes and illusions. Mahāprabhu said, “There are many mistakes and illusions in your scriptures. Their compilers, not knowing the essence of knowledge, gave orders that were against reason and argument.” (Cc Ādi-līlā 17.167)
Mahāprabhu was speaking directly about the Koran but what most of us do not know is that the Koran contains significant portions of both Jewish and Christian scriptures. When considering Judaism, Christianity or Islam, we are more or less talking about six of one and a half dozen of the other.
As for Jesus chanting the names of God and teaching his followers to do the same, that is highly unlikely. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and Jews are prohibited from speaking or writing the name of God, what then of chanting the names of God? Nor did Jesus teach his followers anything about the process of self-realization, other than common morality and social decency.
In addition, there are actually no bona-fide names of God in the Jewish scriptures. Of course, there are names in Jewish scripture intended to represent the attributes of God, but that is not to say that such names are bona fide. To understand how bona fide such names are, we would have to look more closely at their origin and who gave them. When doing that we once again arrive at contributing influences in Judaism, from such places as Persia or worse yet, we arrive at the yodelling of pagan desert nomads, but not to what meets the criterion of being bona-fide.
The most important name of God in the Jewish scripture is YHVH or Yahweh. Yahweh was the God of Abraham, the father of the tribes of Israel and Yahweh simply means the God of the mountain – the favourite God of Abraham among the many pagan Gods of his time.
Elohim is also another important name of God found in Jewish scripture but the name Elohim appears to have been derived from the father God (El) of the pantheon of the Canaanites. According to the Bible, the Canaanites were the enemies of God’s chosen people (the Jews) and God ordered the Jews to kill the Canaanites down to the last man, woman and child, even beasts were not to be spared. Having done God’s bidding and conquered their enemies the Jews then appear to have absorbed the principle God of the Canaanites into their tradition.
Some persons will say that Jesus did not follow the Jewish law of not speaking the name of God and that is what made Jesus so controversial. But for this argument there is no substantial evidence, only interpolation.
Question: Having looked at various sects of early Christianity, it seems that the Gnostics and the Essenes were the most authentic or the purest forms of Christianity and thus the closest to being what we would call Kṛṣṇa conscious. What is your consideration?
Narasiṅgha Maharaja: Both the Gnostics and the Essenes were present long before the time of Jesus or the advent of Christianity, so in that sense neither are purely Christian. A main source of information on the Essenes comes from the Jewish historiographer Flavius Josephus. Essenes were a disgruntled sect of Jews who, although having lived in other places, had been living at Qumran on the Dead Sea for at least 200 years before Jesus. Qumran was only 14 miles (22 kilometres) from the gates of Jerusalem. Like many Jews of their time the Essenes were dissatisfied with the ‘Breakers of the Covenant’ and thus they chose to live separate from mainstream Judaism.
The Essenes proclaimed that the ‘Breakers of the Covenant’ had concocted the books known as the Laws of Moses and thus preferred a solitude life of prayer, celibacy, austerity, communal life and ritual bathing. They, as later did the Ebionites, would not make animal sacrifice or eat meat. They were however armed with weapons in case the necessity arose (most were zealots) and were waiting for a great battle in which the ‘Sons of Light’ (as they called themselves) with their blazing spears would do battle with and defeat evil.
The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal most of what we know about the Essenes living at Qumran and their history and beliefs in the Dead Sea Scrolls were recorded over a period of almost 300 years from 200 BCE until around 70 CE. Although it has been suggested by many that Jesus of Nazareth was an Essene, the Dead Sea Scrolls make absolutely no mention of him.
The great battle with evil for which the Essenes at Qumran had so patiently awaited finally arrived around 70 CE and in a blaze of glory the Qumran Essenes were totally destroyed down to the last man.
The Gnostics or Gnosticism was popular in the Mediterranean and Middle East before the 1st century BCE, paralleling the Essenes, but they were not at all Jewish. In fact, Gnostics and later Gnostic Christians considered the Old Testament (Torah) to be the work of an evil deity and not the work of the one true God.
The Gnostics did not consider this world to be the creation of a benevolent God, but rather the outcome of a cosmic disaster in which an evil deity somehow captured sparks of the divine and imprisoned them in this material world. Quite a contrast of opinion when compared to the teachings of Christianity as we know it today.
The Gnostic tradition generally refers to secret knowledge, the secret knowledge of life that will liberate one from material bondage. Based on numerous Gnostic texts, many of which were Christian Gnostic texts, found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt – Gnosticism has visible elements of Buddhism and some hazy elements of Vedic thought as well.
Christian Gnosticism has practically nothing that a modern Christian would identify as being anything less than heresy. These heresies of the Gnostics are what gives the Gnostics some semblance of Vedic knowledge (not directly but recognizably). For these heresies, however, the Gnostics were eventually suppressed – not by Roman politics but by Christian politics. In the 4th and 5th centuries CE the Gnostics were destroyed along with their literature and Gospels. Whatever the Gnostics may have been, authentic or not, was eradicated from the face of the earth.
There are indeed some areas of semblance in the Essene Christians and Christian Gnosticism that a stretch of the imagination can compare to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but that is like comparing jute cloth (Christianity) to silk (Kṛṣṇa consciousness). Silk is always pure, whereas jute is never pure, not even after washing.