Historical questions about God and the Bible

Forgive me if this OP is a bit disjointed…I’m currently heavily medicated. I wanted to ask some questions though and hope that someone will be able to decipher my OP and answer them.

The other night I was in a rather long, rambling discussion with a fundamentalist Christian concerning the bible and certain passages. There will be multiple questions, some of which are probably more GQ answers…but given the subject I thought this would be a better forum.

First question. According to the guy I was talking to, Islam was founded on the story of Isac? I’ve read (parts) of the Koran…and I find this complete bullshit. True?

Next question: Biblical historians think the Book of Revelations is allegorical or symbolic to Rome during the persecution of Christians during that period. I realize this is an interpretation (his of course is that it is literal…i.e. it’s prophesy of the end times). My question here actually is…how wide spread is my assertion with Biblical Scholars? Or do I have it completely wrong? What IS the non-religious interpretation of the Book of Revelations…what is the most widely accepted theory? What historical facts back up that theory?

Next question: This is an easy one…when was the Book of Revelations written historically? My understanding was that it was written during the Christian persecution period…but the guy I was talking with seemed to think it was written shortly after Jesus supposed death.

Next question: There was some dispute on exactly when the persecution of Christians by Rome (i.e. the formal, systematic persecution) began. The guy I was talking with seemed to think that it started before Christ was killed and was continuous. My own (fuzzy) recollection was that it didn’t happen until long after Christs death…sometime after 100 AD from my own memories.

Next question: Was Jesus seen by the mainstream Jewish religious community as a break away faction, as an internal (schism) force, or an outsider? The point here I was making is that Jesus was seen as a threat because by the mainstream church leaders of the time is because they feared schism within the church…not because they perceived him as starting a new religion. My faithful friend disagreed.

Last question: I asserted that the biblical episode where Pontius Pilate supposedly when to the crowd to ask if Jesus should be killed was essentially a Christian white wash in order to (in a later period) not make Rome the bad guy of the drama, but instead to shift that to the Jews. Additionally, I argued that Roman governors rarely, if ever, worried about what ‘the people’ thought, or pondered long and hard on the possible fate of folks they thought were either criminals or rebels. Am I off base here? What is the prevalent view by historical scholars on this?
Hope my OP isn’t too convoluted and that some folks care to wade through to try and answer some of the questions.


Others can expand on this, but Muslims believe that Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Ishmael; and so Ishmael serves the role in Islam that Isaac serves in Judaism.

As far as I can tell, he was viewed by the mainstream Pharasaic Jewish community as a lone heretic, and was considered to be guilty of sorcery as well. I don’t think he was considered a serious threat, the Pharasees were already dealing with Saduccees and more powerful heretical sects that he probably didn’t even register as a nusiance. He didn’t have all that many followers during his lifetime; the fact that he became a “superstar” after his death due to Paul’s aggressive marketing to the gentiles would have come as a surprise to his contemporaries.

I’ll try to answer some of your questions.

  1. Islam was founded in the 7th century by an Arabian merchant named Muhammed, who’s beliefs were probably influenced by Jews and Nestorian Christians in Arabia. One of Muhammed’s claims was that the biblical figure Abraham, along with his son Ishmael, founded Mecca, Muhammed’s home city, after Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice Ishmael (God stopped him from doing it). It’s basically the Abraham/Isaac story in the bible, but with Ishmael standing in for Isaac.

  2. Most biblical scholars do think that the Book of Revelation is at least partly an alegory of Rome and Roman persecutions. It condemns a city built on seven hills (like Rome). There’s a leader who demands to be worshiped as a god (the emperor), and persecutes those Christians who won’t. He tatoos a mark on his followers (the legionary tatoos) and so on. Similar to this is the “preterist view”, which is the general position of the Catholic church.

  3. Revelation was either written around 95, during the persecution of Domitian or 68-69, during the persecution of Nero.

  4. Persecution of Christians was on and off. The religion was generally frowned upon, but active persecution came and went. The first big persecution of Christians came during the reign of Nero. A fire had burned much of Rome, and Christians were blamed. There was a maller perscution under the reign of Domitian. Things sort of quieted down until the beginning of the third century, where Christians were suppressed for not sacrificing to the Emperor. There was another big persecution during the reign of Diocletian, at the beginning of the 4th century. That was the last major official persecution.

From the Staff Report Who wrote the bible? - Part 4:

You might also find Straight Dope Staff Report: What’s up with 666, the " mark of the beast"? to be amusing, it goes into the Nero-interpretation.

In terms of Pontius Pilate and the alleged hand-washing, this one Straight Dope Staff Report: Who killed Jesus? is kind of long, but does address the issues around Pilate’s role in the New Testament:

According to Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong, Mohammed believed – and apparently it was a tradition even among the pagan Arabs of his time – that the Jews were descended from Abraham through his younger, legitimate son, Isaac, and the Arabs were descended from Abraham through his elder, bastard son, Ishmael; therefore, in Mohammed’s view, both groups were “sons of Abraham” and took part in Abraham’s covenant with God.

That’s the only non-religious theory, AFAIK, though there is some dispute as to whether the Beast represents the Emperor Nero or the Emperor Domitian. (Both persecuted Christians, and you can make either name add to 666 by the numerical value of the Greek letters if you’re clever enough.)

Estimates range from 68 to 95 A.D. The more interesting question is where John of Patmos got his mushrooms (or maybe it was rye ergot).

Depends on how you mean “persecution.” Early Christians were perceived as troublemakers by the Roman authorities right from the get-go, as you can read WRT St. Paul’s legal problems in the Book of Acts. But the first formal, sytematic oppression almost certainly was undertaken by Nero.

Jesus was seen as a threat by the priests because they were afraid he would stir up a political rebellion and they were certain Rome had the power to crush it. (The outcome of the later Jewish Revolt proved them right.) The broader question of whether Jesus saw himself as the (purely human) Messiah in the Jewish tradition or whether he meant to bring a whole new revelation with the Messiah as Son of God and sacrificial sin-redeemer is . . . really unresolvable, in historical terms. Either you buy his quotations in the Gospel of John as authentic or you don’t.

There is, at any rate, no evidence whatsoever that the Roman governor of Judaea customarily released a prisoner of the mob’s choice at Passover. Which does not mean Pilate might not have done so on that particular occasion – certainly it would have been within his discretion. (Nor is there any record, BTW, of an Empire-wide census at any time during which Jesus could have been born, nor did the Romans ever require people to travel to their ancestral homes for census purposes – that would have been flatly imcompatible with Roman goals of public order.)

The empire-wide census is a bit off-topic, but: Straight Dope Staff Report: What did the census at the time of the birth of Christ accomplish? Stronger than “lack of evidence,” it’s illogical and incompatible with what we know of Roman censuses.

Thanks for all the answers guys! As always, I learned a lot…and got a lot of ammo for my next discussion. :slight_smile:

Appreciate it!


John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus-but is the chronology given in the Bible right? John was executed by King Herod-did Herod die long before Jesus began his ministry? Finally, is there any record of Herod ordering such an execution?

There were more than one Herod. You may be confusing Herod the Great and Herod Antipas.

Only if you believe Luke. There is no real corroboration for that.

JBap was executed by Herod Antipas, the Tertarch of Galilee (and the guy who wanted to see Jesus do magic tricks) who was the son of Herod the Great who Matthew says killed all those babies.

The mainstream scholarly view (including most Christian scholars) is that the book is about Rome during the reign of Domitian. It contains a number of coded images which are references to Rome and the Emperor.

Most likely it was written near the end of the 1st Century during the reign of Domitian (~95-98 CE).

Tacitus says that Nero started persecuting and executing Christians in Rome after the fire of 64 CE. Tacitus says that Nero did this to distract public ire away from himself and that Christians were an easy target because they were despised (for unspecified reasons) by most of the public. Nero’s campaign was only confined to the city of Rome itself, though and was not Empire wide. There is no evidence of real, systematic, wide scale perscution of Christians before Nero.

Nobody knows how Jesus was seen by mainstream Jews in Palestine at the time. We have no contemporary writings about it. It is likely that he was not particularly well known in his own time. It is highly unlikely that Jewsh authorities would have perceived him as a threat. He was killed by Pilate, not by the Jews. Mark’s account of Jesus going on trial before the Sanhedrin contains a great number of procedural and factual errors which indicate that the trial - as the synoptics depict it – is probably fiction, but something like what GJohn describes (an informal detainment and interrogation, followed by quickly turning him over to the Romans) is not historically implausible.

Flavius Josephus does record the Herodian execution of JtB, and I think FJ’s passage is basically accepted as authentically written by him, while controversy continues over FJ’s “Jesus” passage.

All this is true. The only mild bit of dissonance between Josephus and the Gospels is that Josephus seems to imply that JBap was killed in 36, a few years after the Gospels date the event (and would mean that John the Baptist outlived Jesus), but the wording in Josephus is not explicit enough to be sure if there is a contradiction.

Was that his hip hop name?

To this day, BTW, there is a small sect in the MENA, the Mandeans, who reject Jesus as a false messiah and honor John the Baptist as a true prophet.

I’ve heard Jacob and Esau, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah as founding the anointed tribes (Judah/Israel) though Jacob and the unanointed tribes, some of which evolved into Islam.

You can check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Revelation which goes over some of the theories.

I’ve heard various numbers, but this book is sort of unique, St John was ordered to write down the revelation in the revelation itself. It may be the book that was written down the soonest after the event happened.

The early Church got some limited protection as it was considered part of (accepted) Jewdism.

I would say the early church would understand the true enemy - Satan

A couple corrections here- the Twelve Tribes of Israel (including Judah) were from the sons of Jacob/Israel. Jacob’s brother Esau was the ancestor of the Edomites/Idumeans which seemed to have a ongoing love-hate relationship with the people of Israel and eventually seems to have been assimilated into Israel.

It may well be that some unassimilated-by-Israel Idumeans instead mixed with the Ishmaelite tribes & indeed became part of the Islamic peoples.

And the word is “Judaism”.

I was too late editing this is…
RE the dating of REVELATION- Ken Gentry’s BEFORE JERUSALEM FELL make a persuasive (to me) case for a AD 60’s dating, and a perspective on Revelation as about the upcoming desolation of Jerusalem, the persecution of the Church, and the eventual victory of Christ through the Evangelising of humanity.

The Roman persecution of Christians first occured under Nero in the mid-60s. Before then, there was occasional persecution by Priestly authorities in Jerusalem and Synagogue authorities scattered throughout the Empire.

And Herod the Great was an Idumean.