Category Archives: Common Questions

Like the Raj: What does ‘Christ’ of Jesus Christ mean?

I sometimes ask people what Jesus’ last name was. Usually they reply,

“I guess his last name was ‘Christ’ but I am not sure”.

Then I ask,

“If that is true then when Jesus was a boy did Joseph Christ and Mary Christ take little Jesus Christ to the market?”

Put that way, they realize that ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name. So, what is ‘Christ’? Where does it come from? What does it mean?  Surprising to many, ‘Christ’ is a title that means ‘ruler’ or ‘rule’.  It is not unlike the title ‘Raj’, as in the British Raj that ruled South Asia for many decades.

Translation vs. Transliteration

To see this, we need to first understand some translation basics. Translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning, especially for names and titles. This is known as transliteration.  For example, the Kumbh Mela is an English transliteration from the Hindi कुंभ मेला.  Even though मेला means ‘fair’ or ‘festival’ it is usually brought into the English by similar sound to Kumbh Mela rather than Kumbh Fair.  For the Bible, translators had to decide whether names and titles would be better in the translated language through translation (by meaning) or transliteration (by sound).  There is no specific rule.

The Septuagint

The Bible was first translated in 250 BC when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek – the international language at that time. This translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX) and it was very influential.  Since the New Testament was written in Greek, its many quotations of the Old Testament were taken from the Septuagint.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows this process and how it affects modern-day Bibles

The flow of translation from original languages to modern-day Bible

The flow of translation from original languages to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Old Testament (written from 1500 – 400 BC) is shown in quadrant #1. Because the Septuagint was a 250 BC Hebrew –> Greek translation it is shown as an arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2.  The New Testament was written in Greek (50–90 AD), so this means #2 contains both Old and New Testaments. In the bottom half (#3) is a modern language translation of the Bible.  To get there the Old Testament is translated from the original Hebrew (1 -> 3) and the New Testament is translated from the Greek (2 -> 3). The translators must decide on names and titles as explained previously. This is shown with the green arrows labeled transliterate and translate, showing that the translators can take either approach.

The Origin of ‘Christ’

Now we follow the process as above, but this time focusing on the word ‘Christ’.

Translation steps of 'Christ' in the Bible

Where does ‘Christ’ come from in the Bible?

We can see that in the original Hebrew Old Testament the title is ‘מָשִׁיחַ’ (mashiyach) which literally means an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person such as a king or ruler.  Hebrew kings of the Old Testament period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they became king, thus they were anointed ones or mashiyach.  Then they became rulers, but their rule was to be in submission to the heavenly rule of God, according to His laws.  In that sense a Hebrew king in the Old Testament was like the former Raj of South Asia.  The Raj ruled the British territories of South Asia, but was to do so under submission to the government in Britain, subject to its laws.

The Old Testament prophesied the coming of a specific mashiyach (with a definite article ’the’) who would be a unique king. When the Septuagint was translated in 250 BC, the translators chose a word in the Greek with a similar meaning, Χριστός (sounds like Christos), based from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil. So the Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ was translated by meaning (not transliterated by sound) to Χριστός (pronounced Christos) in the Greek Septuagint. The New Testament writers continued to use the word Christos to identify Jesus as this prophesied ‘mashiyach’.

But when we come to European languages, there was no obvious word with a similar meaning so the Greek ‘Christos’ was transliterated to ‘Christ’. The word ‘Christ’ is a very specific title with Old Testament roots, by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then by transliteration from Greek to modern languages. The Hebrew Old Testament is translated directly into modern languages and translators have made different choices regarding the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’.  Some Bibles transliterate ‘Mashiyach’ to variations of ‘Messiah’, others translate by meaning ‘Anointed One’, and others transliterate (by sound) into variations of ‘Christ’.  One Hindi word for Christ (मसीह) is transliterated from Arabic, which in turn was transliterated from the original Hebrew.  So its pronunciation ‘maseeh’ is close to the original Hebrew, while another word क्राइस्ट is transliterated from English ‘Christ’ and sounds like ‘Kraist’.  The Nepali word for Christ (ख्रीष्टको) is transliterated from the Greek Christos and so is pronounced Khrīṣṭakō.

Because we do not usually see the word ‘Christ’ in the Old Testament, the connection to the Old Testament is not always apparent. But from this study we know that the Biblical ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’ and that it was a specific title.

The Christ anticipated in 1st Century

With this insight, let’s make some observations from the Gospel. Below is the reaction of King Herod when the Magi came looking for the King of the Jews, a well-known part of the Christmas story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Christ, even though it is not referring specifically about Jesus.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

You can see that the idea of ‘the Christ’ was well understood between Herod and his  advisors – even before Jesus was born – and it is used here without referring specifically to Jesus. This shows ‘Christ’ comes from the Old Testament, commonly read by people in the 1st century (like Herod and his advisors) in the Greek Septuagint. ‘Christ’ was (and still is) a title, not a name, denoting a ruler or King. This is why Herod ‘was disturbed’ because he felt threatened at the possibility of another King.   We can dismiss the ridiculous notions that ‘Christ’ was a Christian invention or an invention by someone like Emperor Constantine of 300 AD . The title was in use hundreds of years before there were any Christians or before Constantine came to power.

Old Testment prophecies of ‘The Christ’

The title ‘Christ’ first appears in the Psalms, written by David ca 1000 BC – far before the birth of Jesus. Let’s look at these first occurrences.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Anointed One … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. …Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:2-7)

Here is the same passage but based from the Greek translation Septuagint.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Christ … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying …, (Psalm 2)

You can now ‘see’ Christ in this passage like a reader of the 1st century would have. The Psalms continue with more references to this coming Christ.  I put the Hebrew-based passage side-by-side with a transliterated Greek one with ‘Christ’ in it so you can see it.

Psalm 132- From Hebrew Psalm 132 – From Greek Septuagint
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your anointed one.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your Christ.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my Christ.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”

You can see that Psalm 132 speaks in the future tense (“…I will make a horn for David…”). This is important when understanding Christ. It is as clear as can be that the Old Testament makes future-looking predictions about ‘the Christ’.  Herod was aware of this.  He just needed his advisers for the specifics of these predictions. The Jews have always been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). The fact that they are still waiting has nothing to do with Jesus or the New Testament but rather has to do with these future-looking predictions and prophecies in the Old Testament.

This Christ (or Messiah or Anointed One) prophesied in the Old Testament was similar in one important respect to the former British Raj.  As the Raj ruled over the nations in British India, while still under the authority of the government in Britain, the Christ was prophesied to one day rule over ‘the nations’ (Psalm 2:1) within the authority of God.

If Jesus of Nazareth was this prophesied Christ as the New Testament declares, then there are also some important differences between the Raj and the ‘Christ’.  The Raj came in military power and enforced outward submission through greater might.  Jesus came in such humility and servanthood that the powers in his day, like Herod, were caught by surprise.  Jesus the Christ first meets our need for freedom from sin and death, and by loving us first, seeks, even still today, to win our loyalty inwardly from our hearts.  Only after he has won over people in this way to Himself from all nations will he establish his outward rule.  Jesus likened this to an invitation to a great wedding feast, and many with money and power had excuses to decline the invitation.  The poor, crippled, blind and lame would show up at this feast in great numbers (see Matthew 22).  Many of the wealthy, powerful and connected in this life will miss out on the benefits of His rule.  So the question of whether Jesus is this Old Testament Christ is important to consider.  Fortunately, the Old Testament can help us.

The Old Testament prophecies: Like a lock of a lock-n-key system

Since the Old Testament clearly predicts the future, it stands in very small company across the vast sea of human literature. It is like the lock of a door. A lock is designed with a certain shape so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the shape can unlock it. In the same way the Old Testament is like a lock. The specifications of the ‘Christ’ are not just in these two Psalms we looked at above but also in Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, and Moses’ Passover.  But it is in the Prophets of the period 800-400 BC in the Old Testament that the specifications of the coming Christ become even more precise, allowing us to check whether Jesus really was this prophesied ‘Christ’ – which we do next.

History of the Jews?: Across India & Around the World

Jews have a long history in India, being here for thousands of years, forming a small community within the mosaic of Indian communities.  Different than other minorities (such as Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists), the Jews originally came from outside India to make their home.  Just before the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to Israel in summer 2017 he penned a joint op-ed with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.  They recognized this migration of Jews to India when they wrote:

The Jewish community in India was always welcomed with warmth and respect and never faced any persecution.

Jewish History in India

Though distinct, Jews blended in by adopting traditional Indian attire

How long have Jewish communities been living in India?  The Times of Israel recently published an article highlighting that after ’27 centuries’ Jews from the tribe of Manasseh (Bnei Menashe) are returning to Israel from the Indian state of Mizoram.  That puts their ancestors originally arriving here around 700 B.C.  Their Telugu-speaking cousins from the Jewish tribe of Ephraim living in Andhra Pradesh (the Bene Ephraim) have a collective memory of being in India more than 1000 years, after wandering through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, and then China.  In the state of Kerala, the Cochin Jews have been living there nearly 2600 years.  Over the centuries they formed small but distinct communities across India.  But now they are leaving India for Israel.

Inscription on Jewish synagogue in Cochin. It has been there hundreds of years

How did Jews come to live in India?  Why are they returning after so long back to Israel? We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history in a timeline.

Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins

The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac.  This sacrifice was a sign pointing to Jesus (Yeshu Satsang) by marking the future location where he would be sacrificed.  Isaac’s son was named Israel by God.  The timeline continues in green when Israel’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period started when Joseph, son of Israel (the genealogy was: Abraham -> Isaac -> Israel (also known as Jacob) -> Joseph), led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they were enslaved.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history

Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt with the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses announced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow).  They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but experience a Curse if they did not.  These Blessings & Curses were bound to Israel’s history ever after.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, around 1000 BC this changed with King David.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

Living with Kings of David ruling from Jerusalem

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come.  His son Solomon, rich and famous but without satisfaction, succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC).  This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings.  They were a powerful nation; had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time.  Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. These warnings were ignored.  During this time the Israelites divided into two separate kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel or Ephraim, and the southern Kingdom of Judah (like Koreans today, one people split in two countries – North and South Korea).

The First Jewish Exile: Assyria & Babylon

Finally, in two stages the Curses came upon them. The Assyrians in 722 BC destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim and sent those Israelites into mass deportation across their vast empire.  The Bnei Menashe in Mizoram and the Bene Ephraim in Andhra Pradesh are descendants of those deported Israelites.  Then in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon

Conquered and exiled to Babylon

The Jews of Cochin in Kerala are descendants of these exiled Israelites.  For 70 years, the period shown in red, these Israelites (or Jews as they were now called) were exiled outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He permitted the Jews to return to their land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.  Though Jews were allowed to return to Israel, many remained abroad in exile.

The Period of the Greeks

Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made Israel a province in the Greek Empire for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Jews again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived.  This explains why there are Roman soldiers in the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (586 BC) the Jews had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires, similar to when the British ruled India.  The Jews resented this and they revolted against Roman rule. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple, and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since Rome was so big the Jews were eventually scattered around the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered great persecutions.  This persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Europe.  From Spain, in Western Europe, to Russia the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these kingdoms.  Jews continued arriving in Cochin to escape these persecutions.  Jews from the Middle East arrived in other parts of

David Sasson & sons – wealthy Baghdadi Jews in India

India in the 17th and 18th centuries, and were known as the Baghdadi Jews, settling mostly in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta.  The Curses of Moses back in 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:24)

And the answer:

It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:25-28)

The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that in their history the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.

The 20th Century Holocaust

The persecutions against the Jews reached their peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

Just the fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after thousands of years without a homeland was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. (Deuteronomy 30:3-5)

It was also remarkable since this state was established in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, was sometimes at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The result of the creation of the state of Israel, and the consequences from these wars has created one of the most difficult political problems of our world today.

As predicted by Moses and explored more fully here, the re-birth of Israel created an impetus for the different Jews in India to return back to Israel.  There are now 80 000 Jews living in Israel who have one parent from India and there are only 5000 Jews left in India.  As per Moses’ blessing they are being ‘gathered’ from the most ‘distant lands’ (like Mizoram) and being brought ‘back’.  The implications for Jews and non-Jews alike are also highlighted here.

Is the Bible (Veda Pusthakan) Textually reliable?

The Bible imparts spiritual truth by recording how God has acted in history. It starts at the beginning when God created mankind in His image and then confronted the first humans and spoke of a specific ‘he’ who was to come and be sacrificed. This was followed up by the specific event of the sacrifice of a ram in place of Rsi Abraham’s son and the historical event of Passover. This parallels the ancient Rg Vedas where sacrifice for our sin is required and the promise  given that this would occur with the sacrifice of the Purusa.  These promises were fulfilled in the life, teachings, death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Yeshu Satsang).  But the promises and their fulfillments are historical.  Therefore, for the Bible to be trustworthy in imparting spiritual truth it must also be historically reliable. This leads us to our question: Is the Bible historically reliable? And how does someone know if it is or is not?

We start by asking  whether the text (the words) of the Bible has changed over time or not.  Known as textual reliability, the question arises because the Bible is so ancient.  There are many books which make up the Bible, and the last books were written down almost two thousand years ago.  For most of the intervening centuries there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies. So these books were copied by hand, generation after generation, as languages died out and new ones arose, as empires changed and new powers came to be. Since the original manuscripts have long ago disappeared, how do we know that what we read today in the Bible is what the original authors actually wrote long ago?  Is there any ‘scientific’ way to know whether what we read today is different or the same from the original writings of long ago?

Principles of Textual Criticism

This question is true of any ancient writing. The figure below illustrates the process by which all writings from the ancient past are preserved over time so we can read them today. The figure shows an example of an ancient document written at 500 BC (this date being chosen solely as an example).

Example Timeline illustrate how texts go through time

Example Timeline illustrate how texts go through time

The original does not last indefinitely, so before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it is made (1st copy). A professional class of people called scribes did the copying work. As the years advance, copies are made of the copy (2nd copy & 3rd copy). At some point a copy is preserved that is still in existence today (3rd copy). In our example diagram this existing copy was copied in 500 AD. This means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the text of the document is only from 500 AD and later since all the earlier manuscripts have disappeared.  The 1000 year period from 500 BC to 500 AD (labeled x in the diagram) is the period where we cannot check copies since all manuscripts from this period are gone. For example, if copying errors (intentional or otherwise) were made when the 2nd copy was made from the 1st copy, we would not be able to detect them since neither of these documents are now available to compare against each other. This time period before the origin of currently existing copies (the period x) is thus the interval of textual uncertainty. Consequently, a principle that answers our question about textual reliability is that the shorter this interval x is the more confidence we can place in the accurate preservation of the document to our modern day, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Of course, usually more than one manuscript copy of a document is in existence today. Suppose we have two such manuscript copies and in the same section of each of them we find the following phrase (I have it in English for the sake of the example, the real manuscript would be in an ancient language like Greek, Latin or Sanskrit):

Textual Variance with few manuscripts

Textual Variance with few manuscripts

The original writing had either been writing about Joan OR about John, and the other of these manuscripts contains a copy error. The question is -Which one has the error? From the available evidence it is very difficult to determine.

Now suppose we found two more manuscript copies of the same work, as shown below:

Textual variance with several manuscripts

Textual variance with several manuscripts

Now it is easier to deduce which manuscript has the error. It is more likely that the error is made once, rather than the same error repeated three times, so it is likely that MSS #2 has the copy error, and the author was writing about Joan, not John.

This simple example illustrates a second principle we can use to test manuscript textual reliability: the more existing manuscripts that are available, the easier it is to detect & correct errors and to determine the words of the original.

Textual Criticism of Great Books of the West

We have two indicators to determine the textual reliability of the Bible:

  1. measuring the time between original composition and earliest existing manuscript copies, and
  2. counting the number of existing manuscript copies.

Since these indicators apply to any ancient writing we can proceed to apply them to both the Bible as well as other ancient writings, as done in the tables below.

Author When Written Earliest Copy Time Span #
Caesar 50 BC 900 AD 950 10
Plato 350 BC 900 AD 1250 7
Aristotle* 300 BC 1100 AD 1400 5
Thucydides 400 BC 900 AD 1300 8
Herodotus 400 BC 900 AD 1300 8
Sophocles 400 BC 1000 AD 1400 100
Tacitus 100 AD 1100 AD 1000 20
Pliny 100 AD 850 AD 750 7

These writers represent the major classical writers of Western history – the writings that have shaped the development of Western civilization. On average, they have been passed down to us by 10-100 manuscripts that are preserved starting only about 1000 years after the original was written.

Textual Criticism of Great Books of the East

Let us now look at ancient Sanskrit epics that provide much of the understanding of philosophy and history in South Asia. Prominent among these works is the Mahabharata, which contains, among other things, the Bhagavad Gita and the account of the Kurukshetra War. Scholars assess that the Mahabharata developed into its current written form around 900 BC, but the oldest manuscript portions that still exist are dated at around 400 BC, giving an interval of about 500 years from original composition and earliest existing manuscripts (wiki reference link).  Osmania University in Hyderabad boasts that it has two manuscript copies in its library collection, but these two date from only 1700 AD and 1850 AD – thousands of years after original composition (reference link). Not only are the manuscript copies rather late, but given that the Mahabharata was a popular work that conformed to changes in language and style, there is a very high degree of textual variance between the existing manuscript copies. Scholars who assess textual variance write of the Mahabharata state:

“The national epic of India, the Mahabharata, has suffered even more corruption. It is about … 250 000 lines. Of these, some 26 000 lines are textual corruptions (10 percent)” – (Geisler, NL and WE Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 1968. P 367)

The other great epic, the Ramayana, is considered to have been composed around 400 BC but the earliest existing copy, from Nepal, is dated at the 11 century AD (reference link) – giving an interval from original composition to earliest existing manuscripts of about 1500 years. There are several thousand existing copies of the Ramayana. These have extensive textual variations between them, especially between those of North India and those of South India/South East Asia. Scholars have grouped the manuscripts into 300 different families based on textual variations.

Textual Criticism of the New Testament

Let us now examine the manuscript data for the Bible. The table below lists the oldest existing copies of the New Testament. Each of them has been given a name (usually from the name of the discoverer of the manuscript)

MSS When Written Date of MSS Time Span
 John Rylan 90 AD 130 AD 40 yrs
Bodmer Papyrus 90 AD 150-200 AD 110 yrs
Chester  Beatty 60 AD 200 AD 20 yrs
Codex Vaticanus 60-90 AD 325 AD 265 yrs
Codex Sinaiticus 60-90 AD 350 AD 290 yrs

The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them all in a table. As one scholar who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”   (McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40)

A leading scholar at the British Museum corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”  (Kenyon, F.G. -former director of British Museum- Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23)

And a significant number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient. I own a book about the earliest New Testament documents. The Introduction starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text” (P. Comfort, “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. Preface p. 17. 2001 )

This is significant since these manuscripts come from the early period when the followers of the gospel were not in power in a government, but were instead subject to intense persecution by the Roman Empire. This is the period when the gospel came to South India, to Kerala, and here too the community of gospel followers were never in a position of power through which a king could manipulate the manuscripts. The figure below illustrates the timeline of manuscripts from which the New Testament of the Bible is based.

Timeline showing that from the existing 24000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, the very earliest ones are used in modern translations (e.g. in English, Nepali or Hindi) of the Bible. These come from before the time of Constantine (325 AD) who was the first Christian Emperor of Rome

Timeline showing that from the existing 24000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, the very earliest ones are used in modern translations (e.g. in English, Nepali or Hindi) of the Bible. These come from before the time of Constantine (325 AD) who was the first Christian Emperor of Rome

The estimated textual variation among all these thousands of manuscripts is only

“400 lines out of 20000.” (Geisler, NL and WE Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 1968. P 366)

Thus the text is 99.5% common across these many manuscripts.

Textual Criticism of the Old Testament

It is much the same with the Old Testament. The 39 books of the Old Testament were written from between 1500 – 400 BC. This is shown in the figure below where the period when the original books were being written is shown as a bar on the timeline. We have two families of manuscripts for the Old Testament. The traditional family of manuscripts is the Masoretic texts which were copied about 900 AD. However in 1948 another family of manuscripts of the Old Testament that is much older – from 200 BC and known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered. These two families of manuscripts are shown in the figure. What is amazing is that though separated in time by about 1000 years, the differences between them are minute. As one scholar has said about them:

‘These [DSSs] confirm the accuracy of the Masoretic Text … Except for a few instances where spelling and grammar differ between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text, the two are amazingly similar’  (M.R. Norton, Manuscripts of the Old Testament in The Origin of the Bible, 1992)

When we compare this with, for example, the textual variation in the Ramayana, the permanence of the text of the Old Testament is simply remarkable.

Timeline showing how the Old Testament manuscripts of the Bible have not changed from the Masoretic to the Dead Sea Scrolls even though these are separated by about 1000 years.

Timeline showing how the Old Testament manuscripts of the Bible have not changed from the Masoretic to the Dead Sea Scrolls even though these are separated by about 1000 years.

Conclusion: The Bible is Textually Reliable

So what can we conclude from this data? Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure (number of extant MSSs, the time spans between original and earliest existing MSS, and the degree of textual variation between the manuscripts) the Bible is verified to a much higher degree than any other ancient work. The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following quote:

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”  (Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29)

What he is saying is that to be consistent, if we decide to doubt the textual reliability of the  Bible we may as well discard all that we know about history in general – and this no informed historian has ever done. We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone since the earliest extant MSSs pre-date these events.  The Bible is a reliable book.

How to receive the gift of cleansing from the sacrifice of Jesus?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples.  This message is foreshadowed in the hymns of the ancient Rg Vedas as well as in the promises and Festivals of the ancient Hebrew Vedas.  Jesus is the answer to the question we ask every time we recite the prayer of the Prartha Snana (or Pratasana) mantram.  How is this so?  The Bible (Veda Pusthakan) declares a Karmic Law that affects all of us:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

Below I show this karmic law through an illustration.  “Death” means separation.  When our soul separates from our body we are dead physically.  In a similar way we are separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless).

Slide1

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs

We can picture ourselves as being on a cliff and God on another cliff and we are separated by this bottomless chasm of sin.

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build a bridge that will take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We offer sacrifices, perform pujas, practice asceticism, participate in festivals, go to temples, make many prayers and even try to reduce or stop our sins. This list of deeds to gain merit can be very long for some of us.  The problem is that our efforts, merits, sacrifices and ascetic practices etc., though in themselves not bad, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Slide2

Religious merit – good though that may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

Through our religious efforts we try to build a ‘bridge’ to cross the divide separating ourselves from God.  Though this is not bad, it will not solve our problem because it does not succeed in going completely over to the other side.  Our efforts are not sufficient. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating veg only and by wearing bandages.  Wearing bandages and eating veg is not bad – but it will not cure cancer.  For that you need a totally different treatment.  We can illustrate these efforts with a ‘bridge’ of religious merit that goes only part-way across the chasm – leaving us still separated from God.

The Karmic law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we often fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away – until the gravity of our situation sinks into our souls.  But the Bible does not end with this Karmic Law.

For the wages of sin is death but … (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the Law is now about to go the other way, to Good News – Gospel.  It is the Karmic Law reversed to one of Moksha and Enlightenment.  So what is this Good News of Moksha?.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Though some people today choose to disbelieve the resurrection of Jesus a very strong case can be made for it shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  The Lord Jesus entered heaven and offered himself to God.  In a sense, he performed a puja, accepted by God, by offering himself for cleansing of sin, on behalf of all people.

Jesus is the Purusa giving the perfect sacrifice.  Since he was a man he is able to be a bridge that spans the chasm and touches the human side and since he was perfect he also touches God’s side.  He is a Bridge to Life and this can be illustrated as below

Slide3

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man. His sacrifice pays our sins.

Notice in this Moksha Principle how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is given as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  This means that the sin which brought you death is now cancelled.  The sacrifice of Jesus is a bridge upon which you can cross to connect with God and receive life – that lasts forever.  This gift is given by Jesus who, by rising from the dead, shows himself to be ‘lord’.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ on this bridge of life that Jesus gives to us as a gift?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone comes and gives you a gift it is something you do not work for.  But to get any benefit from the gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So this gift that Jesus offers must be received.  It cannot simply be ‘believed’, studied, or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Slide4

Jesus’ sacrifice is a Gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and extend his gift of life to you.  You need to call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Here is a guide that can help you have this conversation and prayer with him.  It is not a magic incantation.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust that we have in his ability and willingness to give us this gift.  As we trust him he will hear us and respond.  So feel free to follow this guide as you either speak out loud or in your spirit to Jesus and receive his gift.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with the sins in my life I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all sins – even my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I can know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from these sins that hold me in a grip of karma.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

The convergence of Sanskrit and Hebrew Vedas: Why?

In my last post I looked at the similarities between the account of Manu in the Sanskrit Vedas and the account of Noah in the Hebrew Vedas.  And this convergence goes beyond these flood accounts.  As we have seen, there is a similar convergence between the Promise of the sacrifice of Purusa at the dawn of time with that of the Promised offspring given in the Hebrew book of Genesis .  So why do we see these convergences?  Is it due to coincidence?  Does one account borrow or steal from the other?  Here I offer a suggestion.

Tower of Babel – The Account After the Flood

Following the account of Noah, the Veda Pusthakam (the Bible) goes on to record the descendants of his three sons and to state that “From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.” (Genesis 10:32).  The Sanskrit Vedas also declare that Manu had three sons from whom all mankind descend.  But how did this ‘spreading out’ occur?

The ancient Hebrew account goes into detail to list and name the descendants of these three sons of Noah.  You can read this complete list here.  The account then goes on to describe how these descendants disobeyed the directive of Elohim or Prajapati – the Creator, who had commanded them to ‘fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1).  But instead these people remained together to build a tower.  You can read that account here.  This account states this was a tower ‘that reaches to the heavens’ (Genesis 11:4).  This means that these first descendants of Noah were building a tower for the purpose of worshiping stars and the sun, moon, planets etc. instead of worshiping the Creator.  It is well-known that star worship originated in Mesopotamia (where these descendants were living) and that it then spread all over the world.  A Religion Dictionary reference states that star worship:

This was certainly so in Mesopotamia in the last two millennia bce [10: i–iii ] and in Central America among the Maya [9: v ]. Star-worship probably underlies the prehistoric megalithic astronomical sites of northern Europe [9: ii–iii ; e.g. Stonehenge] and similar sites in North America [9: iv ; e.g. the Big Horn medicine wheel]. From Mesopotamia star-worship passed into Graeco-Roman culture…

So instead of worshiping the Creator, our ancestors worshiped stars.  The account then says that to frustrate this, so that the corruption of worship would not become irreversible, the Creator decided to

…confuse their language so they will not understand each other. (Genesis 11:7)

As a result of this, these first descendants of Noah could not understand each other and so in this way the Creator

scattered them from there over all the earth  (Genesis 11:8)

In other words, once these people could no longer talk to each other, they migrated away from each other, within their newly formed linguistic groups, and thus they ‘scattered’.  This explains why the different people groups of the world today speak in very different languages, as each group spread out from their original center in Mesopotamia (sometimes over many generations) to the places where they are found today.  Thus, their respective histories diverged from this point onwards.  But each language group (which formed these first nations) had a common history up to this point.   This common history included the Promise of Moksha through the sacrifice of Purusa and the flood account of Manu (Noah).  The Sanskrit rsis remembered these events through their Vedas and the Hebrews remembered these same events through their Veda (the Torah of Rsi Moses).

The Testimony of diverse Flood accounts – from around the world

This explanation does explain the convergence and similarity between these early Vedas.  But is there further evidence to support this explanation?  Interestingly, the flood account is not just remembered in the ancient Hebrew and Sanskrit Vedas.  Diverse people groups around the globe remember a great flood in their respective histories.  The following chart illustrates this.

Flood accounts from cultures around the world compared to the flood account in the Bible

Flood accounts from cultures around the world compared to the flood account in the Bible

Across the top this shows various language groups living around the world – on every continent.   The cells in the chart denote whether the particular detail of the Hebrew flood account (listed down the left of the chart) is also contained their own flood account.  Black cells indicate that this detail is in their flood account, while blank cells indicate that this detail is not in their local flood account.  You can see that almost all these groups had at least in common the ‘memory’ that the flood was a Judgment by the Creator but that some humans were saved in a huge boat.  In other words, the memory of this flood is not only found in the Sanskrit and Hebrew Vedas, but in other cultural histories around the world and continents apart.  It points to this event having happened in our distant past.

The Testimony of the Hindi Calendar

hindu-calendar-panchang

Hindi Calendar – the days of the month go top to bottom, but there is the 7-day week

It was when I worked and traveled in India that I became aware of another supporting testimony which I found to be rather remarkable – but only when you become aware of it.  It is peculiar enough to demand an explanation.  When working in India I saw the many Hindi calendars.  I noticed that they were different than western calendars.  The obvious difference to me was that the calendars were constructed so that the days would go down columns (top to bottom) instead of across rows (left to right), which is the universal way of demarking calendars in the West.  Some calendars had different numbers than the western ‘1, 2, 3…’ since they used the Hindi script (१, २,  ३ …).  I could understand, and even expect, such differences since there is no ‘right’ way to denote a calendar.  But it was the central convergence – in the midst of these differences – that struck me.  The Hindi calendar used the 7-day week – the same as in the Western world.  Why?  I could understand why the calendar was divided into years and months like the western one since these are based on the revolutions of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth – thus giving astronomical foundations universal to all people.  But there is no astronomical time basis for the ‘week’.  When I asked people they said it was custom and tradition that went far back in their history (how far back no one seemed to know).

… and the Buddhist Thai Calendar

thai_lunar_calendar

Thai Calendar goes left to right, but has a different year than in West – but still that 7-day week

I also had the opportunity to live and work in Thailand.  While there I would view their calendars.  Being a Buddhist country, Thais mark their years from the life of the Buddha so that their years were always 543 years greater than in the West (ie the year 2013 AD is 2556 in BE –Buddhist Era – in the Thai calendar).  But again they also used a 7-day week.  Where did they get that from?  Why are calendars that diverge in so many ways across different countries based on the 7-day week when there is no real astronomical basis for this calendar time unit?

Testimony of ancient Greeks on the week

These observations on Hindi and Thai calendars pushed me to see if the 7-day week was evident in other ancient cultures.  And it is.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived around 400 BC is considered the father of modern medicine and he wrote books, preserved to this day, recording his medical observations.  In doing so he used ‘week’ as a time unit.  Writing about the growing symptoms of a certain disease he stated:

The fourth day is indicative of the seventh; the eighth is the commencement of the second week; and hence, the eleventh being the fourth of the second week, is also indicative; and again, the seventeenth is indicative, as being the fourth from the fourteenth, and the seventh from the eleventh  (Hippocrates, Aphorisms. #24)

Aristotle, writing in the 350’s BC uses the ‘week’ regularly to demark time.  To cite one example he writes:

The majority of deaths in infancy occur before the child is a week old, hence it is customary to name the child at that age, from a belief that it has now a better chance of survival. (Aristotle, The History of Animals, Part 12, ca 350 BC)

So where did these ancient Greek writers, far removed from India and Thailand, get the idea of a ‘week’ such that they used it expecting their Greek readers to know what a ‘week’ was?  Perhaps there was an historical event which all these cultures had in their past (though they may have forgotten the event) which established the 7-day week?

The Hebrew Vedas describe just such an event – the initial creation of the world.  In that detailed and ancient account the Creator creates the world and fashions the first people in 7 days (actually 6 days with a 7th day of rest).  Because of that, the descendants of the first human pair then used that 7-day week time unit in their calendar.  When mankind was subsequently scattered by the confusion of languages these major events that preceded this ‘scattering’ were remembered in different ways by some of these different language groups, including the promise of a coming sacrifice, the account of the cataclysmic flood, as well as the 7-day week.  These memories are living artefacts of early mankind and a testament to the history of these events as recorded in these Vedas.  This explanation certainly is the cleanest and simplest way to explain the convergence of the Hebrew and Sanskrit Vedas.  Many people today dismiss these ancient writings as mere superstitious mythology but these convergences should cause us to reconsider.

So early mankind had a common history, and this history included the Promise of Moksha from the Creator.  But how would the promise be fulfilled?  We continue with the account of a holy man who lived just after the scattering caused by the confusion of languages.  We pick this up in our next article.

[For a further look at ancient memories that show similar kinds of convergences – but this time through the calligraphy in the Chinese language see my article here]