Which Religion is Right? Part 1 The Holy Books

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         How can someone believe in something so whole heartedly and be wrong? What makes my religion right and another religion wrong? How could someone believe in something to the point of dying for it and my faith says they are headed to Hell? What if I am wrong and they are right? Any of these questions sound familiar? Many people, if not all of them, have asked these questions about different religions of the world. There is a saying about politeness, never bring up politics or religion. It seems these two topics can quickly divide a room and turn a nice social event into a battlefield. However these questions need to be answered because eternity is too long to be wrong! Below I have given three reasons why following Jesus is the way of salvation for everyone who believes. I want to make clear that I am not an expert at the history of these religions. However I will compare the fundamental beliefs of each of the four most populous religions, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism to the best of my ability.
The Holy Books
          Every major religion of the world has had a founder who created the core belief system of that religion. Their wisdom was written down and put in books or passed through orally from person to person. Either way, the main purpose of spreading their teachings was so that their followers could continue in their footsteps. It only makes sense that the leader of a religion would gather disciples to follow them in order to continue the faith. Then those disciples would teach others and a domino effect would soon take place and what started as a small belief soon turns into a worldwide phenomenon.  This is the case with all 4 major religions of the world. Christianity had Jesus Christ. Islam had Muhammed. Buddhism had Siddhartha Guatma (the Buddha). Hinduism is unique in that there is no one founder of Hinduism. However the main belief is that the god of the Hindus used Rishis (a hindu sage or saint) to create the Vedas, which are the Hindu Holy Books. All of these main teachers from Vedas to Jesus had their teachings put down on actual parchment or paper so that disciples could be taught and the teacher’s message could be spread throughout the entire world. Let’s examine these four main teachers and their holy books.
         While focusing on these books we will focus on five main questions. Who wrote it? Where was it written? When was it written? Is there historical evidence to prove its validity? Is there proof of a divine influence on it? As a historian whose profession is the study of historical events and people, I will apply the basic practices of seeing if something in history actually happened based upon evidence or are merely fables or myths. To prove something is historically accurate, three things must be presented. These three things are witnesses, original manuscripts, and archeological evidence. In our law system these three things are called, testimonies, documentary evidence, and physical evidence.
          For example, in order to know what the forefathers actually wrote in the Declaration of Independence, we will apply these three practices. 56 delegates signed the declaration; there are your witnesses. 200 copies were made which 26 still survive today; there are your original documents. The building in which it was signed and the country that it created still exists today; there is your physical evidence. If the declaration never took place, then we would still be English and an English colony. There is no doubt about what the forefathers wrote in our Declaration of Independence. There cannot be a case for anything historically or in our law system without these three things. We will apply these principles when discussing these four main religions.
          Let’s start with Islam. Islam is one of the world’s youngest religions and has only been around since the beginning of the 7th Century. According to most traditions, the Islamic Prophet Muhammed was born in 570 AD in Mecca. At the age of 40 Muhammed, while in a cave and meditating, said he had a vision from the angel Gabriel. He states he received the first revelation from god from Gabriel and began to preach these revelations as the prophet of Allah. He soon wrote the Quran which are regarded by the Muslims as the word of Allah. Through many conquests and wars, Muhammed eventually conquered Mecca and by his death, Islam had spread to most of the Arabian Peninsula. Now let’s focus on the book of the Muslims, the Quran.
  1. Who wrote it? A young boy from a merchant family that was orphaned and raised by nomads on caravans and learned the ways of a business man from a young age. He liked to escape to a mountain cave to meditate and had a vision from the angel Gabriel in 610 AD. In 613 AD he began preaching in Mecca and acknowledged the prophets of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. After different crusades and capturing Mecca he died in 632 AD. The teachings of Mohammed were finalized in 650AD and are called the Quran.
  2. Where was it written? The Quran was recited orally and eventually written down in the present day Middle East.
  3. When was it written? Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed by Allah verbally to Muhammad through Gabriel the Angel. Gabriel did this for a period of 23 years concluding in 632 AD, the year of Muhammed’s death. The Quran we see today was collected by Uthman, the political leader of the Islamic government of the time, around 650 AD.
  4. Is there Historical Evidence to prove its validity? two documents are claimed to be linked to the original Quran. Below I have attached a link to a website that discusses the earliest found Quran and if it is actually the original text from Muhammed. http://www.bible.ca/islam/islam-myths-koran-manuscripts.htm Overall, most scholars believe that the earliest recorded document of the Quran is 750 AD, 118 years after Muhammed’s death. There are currently only two original manuscripts Muslims claim are the original writings of Mohammed. Both are dated to be written around 750 AD and are secondary sources meaning they were written based upon other writings that do not exist today. The original writers of these two documents did not physically see Muhammed or listen to his teachings, but rather copied them from other texts. http://www.debate.org.uk/debate-topics/historical/the-bible-and-the-quran/the-qurans-manuscript-evidence/
  5. Is there proof of Divine Influence on the Quran? When Muhammed received his revelation from Allah, there were no witnesses or proof of his encounter. Throughout his entire life he is the only one who encountered Allah and received his will. There are only 14 miracles listed in the Quran and many if not all are based upon Old Testament prophets like Abraham and Moses. Some Quran writers even confirm Jesus was raised from the dead but that Allah not Jehovah raised Jesus from the dead. However some have translated the Quran to say that Jesus was not even crucified! This debate is still going on today.
         Now let us apply the three principles of Historical accuracy. Were there any witnesses to Muhammed’s divine appointment? No. Muhammed resided in a cave and received all his instruction from Allah completely alone. He also is the lone writer of the entire holy book of the Muslims, the Quran. The entire faith of the Muslims is completely dependent on one man and his vision. Are there any original manuscripts of the Quran? Possibly two documents that were written 118 years after Muhammed’s death in 750 AD by secondary sources. This is hardly a sound argument for the validity of Muhammed’s words. Remember we have 26 original copies of the Declaration of Independence and only two of the Quran. Physical evidence, there are Greek and Armenian documents that are written describing Muhammed as well as the Quran itself describing Muhammed as a real person. The growth of Islam is also a testament to his actual existence. However do to the gap of time between Muhammed and the official writings of the Quran, there are many doubts as to who he actually was and there is little to no evidence to support any of his claims. Overall, although it would be foolish to doubt Muhammed was a real person, it does become extremely difficult to prove what his actual teachings were and if the Muslim faith today is actually following Muhammed’s original intent. It is also impossible to prove Muhammed’s divine communication with Allah or Gabriel being that there is no physical evidence or witnesses of these encounters. This religion is truly dependent on blind faith based upon two documents.
          Hinduism mainly exists in the regions of India and Nepal. There are around 900 million adherents of the Hindu religion world wide. Hindus holy books are called the Vedas, which is the world’s most ancient scriptures. The religion of Hindu is based on the Santana Dharma which is the eternal religion with neither beginning or end. Hinduism believes there is one supreme being who created the universe and is transcendent. One of the main teachings of the Hindu faith is the belief that the universe is an endless cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. The law of karma is an important teaching in which a person creates their own destiny based upon the law of cause and effect by their words, deeds and thoughts. Hindus believe the soul reincarnates through multiple births until all karmas are have been resolved and moksha has been attained. Moksha is the liberation of the reincarnation cycle because the soul has attained spiritual knowledge. The reincarnation cycle will continue until all souls have reached moksha.
          Hindus believe there are divine beings in the unseen and that through worship at temples, sacraments, rituals and devotionals one can be put in contact with gods or devas. Hindus believe all life is important and sacred and should be loved as well as practice ahimsa with means, “non-injury.” Hindus also believe no one religion teaches the only way to salvation but rather all genuine religions are all avenues to god’s pure love and light, deserving tolerance and understanding. The 4 holy books of the Hindus, Vedas, can be traced back to 1500 BC with no specific authors. These Vedas contain the Knowledge of Hymns or Praise, Knowledge of the Melodies, Knowledge of the Sacrificial formulas and the Knowledge of Magic formulas. A better in depth study of the Vedas can be found here at Ancient History Encyclopedia, www.ancient.eu/The_Vedas/ Now let’s take an in depth look at the Hindu Vedas in which Hindus pull all their religious practices from.
  1. Who wrote it?  No one knows. The Vedas were established around 1500 BC by unknown authors from a nomadic tribe focused more on the ideas of the texts rather than the authors. Many generations of the teachings from the Vedas were orally passed along util eventually being written down. It is almost impossible to know exactly when that was and by who.
  2. Where was it written?  The main area the Vedas were recited orally and later written down was in present day India from 1500-1000 BC.
  3. When was it written? The oral teachings of Hindus started by the nomadic group called the Aryans somewhere around 1500 BC. However the earliest writings of the Hindu faith don’t come into existence until around 1200 BC. However some scholars have even stated that a complete collection of all Vedas didn’t come into existence until 200 BC. This leaves a gap from the original oral teachings into written form of about 300-1300 years.
  4. Is there Historical Evidence to Prove its Validity?  There are 30 written manuscripts about Rig Veda, said to be one of the first teachings in Hindu, that still exist today. They are written on birch bark and paper. The oldest of these is dated to 1464 AD. With the teachings of the Hindu faith starting orally around 1500 BC, that is a gap of 2,964 years of what the original orators intended. Most scholars believe a complete composition of all Hindu teachings wasn’t even composed until somewhere around 200BC. The problem is we have no idea who wrote these holy texts. No authors means  there is nothing to validate. Historically the only evidence we have of the Hindu religion is a document that is dated almost 3000 years after its creation.
  5. Is there proof of Divine Influence on the Vedas? No. There is no historical evidence proving divine influence on the Vedas. We don’t even have historical evidence proving what person wrote the Vedas. The gap between the original teachings and the written teachings is so vast that we have no idea what the original authors intended or what divine creator told them what to write.
         Now let us apply the three principles of historical accuracy. Were there any witnesses to the Vedas divine appointment? No. Being that we have no idea who the original authors of the Vedas were, we can’t have any witnesses to see if there was a divine appointment upon them. There are no witnesses because we have no original authors. There is also no evidence of a messiah or one main teacher of the religion. The Vedas were taught orally by a group of nomads that was later written down. No messiah, no teacher, no god that can be seen. Are there any original manuscripts of the Vedas. Yes, 30 manuscripts, the earliest dating around 1464 AD. Original Veda Texts There are thousands of manuscripts of the Vedas but the earliest we have is the 15th century. So we cannot deny the existence of the Vedas or the teaching of them. However we cannot be certain that what the original orators taught is actually what was written down in the manuscripts of today. There is almost a 3,000 year difference from original teachings to oldest written manuscripts. Is there physical evidence of the Vedas and Hindu religion? Yes. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world and the archeological evidence of that religion is very evident. Some temples, shrines and statues are over 1,000 years old and beyond. No one would ever doubt the existence of Hinduism as a world religion or that it is also one of the oldest. The archeological evidence is overwhelming. However do to the gap of years between original teachings of Hindu and our oldest dated manuscripts, there is definitely room for discrepancy on what the original authors intended and what Hindus practice today.
          Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) in the late 6th century BC. The Buddha was born in 624 BC and was the warrior son of a king. He lived with many luxuries that accommodate royal life until, while riding around the countryside, he saw old age, illnesses and corpses. This suffering of the people had an extreme impact on Siddhartha and he realized that all the pleasures of life were just masking the suffering that was the real reality of man’s existence. He soon left his wife and son and renounced all pleasures including food which almost led to death by starvation. Siddhartha soon realized this only led to more suffering, so after eating he sat under a tree and began to meditate. Soon he reached Nirvana (enlightenment) which provided truths, the causes of suffering and how to escape them. He soon became the Buddha (enlightened or awakened one) and began to teach these truths to followers. The most important of these teachings was the four Noble Truths and the Eight fold path. The four Noble Truths are, life is suffering, suffering is caused by craving, suffering has an end, and the fourth can bring that end to fruition, the eight fold path.
         The eight fold path includes, the right views (noble truths), right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right concentration. The point of all Buddhist is to find balance between the pleasures of this world and the peace of not having or wanting them. This can be achieved by morality and meditation. To be at peace with the life they have been given and to not allow cravings for pleasures into their mind because of the suffering it will create. When this can be achieved, the person will have reached Nirvana and be at complete peace. Since the death of the Buddha in 480 BC, there have been divisions in the Buddhist faith on different doctrines and teachings. Many Buddhists visit the place of death of the Buddha as well as the tree where he was enlightened. The holy book of the Buddhists is called the Tipitaka which contains the teachings of Buddha and some of his pupils. Almost all of Buddha’s teachings were memorized by monks and orally passed down through the generations. There are multiple dates which scholars debate on when the Buddha’s teachings were written down. They range from anywhere between the 3rd to 1st century BC. Now let’s look at the Tpitaka and use our historical accuracy to analyze its beginnings.
  1. Who Wrote it? No one knows for sure. The Buddha’s teachings were orally passed down for generations until eventually they were compiled into written from anywhere from the 3rd to 1st century. That is a difference of more than 300 years between Buddha’s actually teachings and the written texts Buddhists use today.
  2. Where Was it Written? Buddhism spread to many different countries in Asia after Buddha died. As far as the written documents it is unclear where they were exactly written and by whom. Historians think who after centuries of orally passing down Buddha’s teachings, they were eventually written down by his followers and translated into multiple languages.
  3. When was it Written? The written Tpitaka’s original date is up for debate. We are not sure who wrote them, where they were written or when exactly they were written down.
  4. Is there Historical Evidence to prove its Validity? No. For centuries the teachings of Buddha were passed down orally from disciple to disciple. There is no hard evidence to prove what is taught today is the actually teaching of Buddha himself. Since the original writers of the manuscripts are unknown and the gap between the original documents with Buddha’s life span is such a large gap, it is impossible to check its validity. We are not even sure if the original Buddha’s teachings are in the manuscripts that are studied today.
  5. Is there proof of Divine Influence on the Tpitaka’s? Honestly in the religion of Buddhism there is no deity to worship. In fact I would not call Buddhism a religion at all since the point of it is to find inner balance and peace. This can be accomplished without a deity at all. The goal is to seek inwards and find balance in your life regardless of outside influence or circumstance. This is more of a mindset and lifestyle as opposed to a religion following a god. There is no proof of divine influence because there is no divinity.
         Now let us apply the three principles of historical accuracy. Were there any witnesses to the divine appointment of the Tpitaka’s? No, not only are we not sure exactly when they were written, we don’t even know who wrote them. There is no way to find out who decided to take Buddha’s oral teachings and write them down. Therefore there is no evidence from witness’s testimonies that the teachings were directly from Buddha or that they were divine in anyway. Are there any original manuscripts of Buddha’s teachings? Yes but they were written somewhere between 300 to 500 years after Buddha’s life depending on which expert you listen to. This span of years between the original teachings and written manuscripts is such a large gap that it is impossible to know if they actually contain Buddha’s original teachings or intent. Is there any archaeological evidence of Buddha and his teachings? It would be hard to disprove the existence of Buddha as a real person. His influence can be seen all over the world and there there multiple sites and manuscripts proving he did once exist. However it is nearly impossible, due to the gap of years from his life and the Tpitaka, to know if what Buddhists follow today are the same teachings as Buddha originally intended. Once again Buddhism is not really a religion at all but rather a journey into ones self to find peace and harmony in this world. There is no god or deity, only a teacher who reached Nirvana and taught how others can reach it as well. There is no answer to the divine questions of life only an opportunity to find peace through disciplining the mind and body.
         Christianity began 2000 years ago in Israel with the man named Jesus Christ. He was born the son of a carpenter in a Jewish family. At a young age he began teaching the kingdom of God in the synagogues to the elders, teachers and all who would listen. Not much is know about his early years, however near the age of 30 he began his ministry, gathering 12 disciples and teaching the forgiveness of God through his own sacrifice. Through many sermons and travels, all of Israel began to hear of Jesus and many gathered to hear his teachings which recorded in the thousands. However most of the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, called him a heretic and began plotting his death from the the beginning of his ministry.
         Jesus claimed that he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets and old testament writers. Many times he referenced himself to the son of man which was called heresy by the religious leaders. He claimed he and the Father were one, referring to himself as God in human flesh. Many miracles are recorded in the scriptures including his virgin birth, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and even raising the dead to life. However his greatest miracle occurred after his death in 33AD in which he was resurrected from the dead proving his power over sin and death and giving eternal life to all who put their faith in him. Jesus then walked and taught forty more days after his resurrection before ascending into Heaven after giving the great commission to his disciples instructing them to take his gospel into all the world. All of Jesus’ teachings were recorded in letters by his disciples and followers and were eventually compiled together into what we know as the New Testament today. Now let’s look a the four main gospels containing the life of Jesus and his teachings.
  1. Who Wrote It?  The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by a tax collector, young teenager at the time of Christ, a doctor and a fisherman. Each of these men either saw Jesus alive or interviewed those who did see Jesus alive. Since these are first and second hand accounts, we will break them up accordingly.
    • Matthew-The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the tax collector. He was a disciple of Christ and was involved in all of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. It is interesting a tax collector would be called by Christ being that they were despised by the Jews for their allegiance to the Romans. The gospel of Matthew was written around 50-60AD.
    • John- The Gospel of John is one of the youngest gospels written around 80-90AD. John and his brother James were fisherman who were called to follow Jesus personally. John was probably one of the youngest of the disciples due to when the gospel was written, around 60 years after Jesus’ death. John would have know Jesus on a very personal level being that he was with him from the beginning of his ministry. John was the only disciple that stayed in public eye during Jesus crucifixion.
    • Mark- The Gospel of Mark was written my John Mark who was a much younger follower of Christ. He was not one of the twelve disciples, however his mother was a fervent follower of Jesus and even used her house as a meeting place for the early church leaders. He may have heard some of Jesus’ teachings as a young man in Israel. In his book, Mark wrote down the observations and memories of Peter, one Jesus’ main disciples. Therefore this is considered a second hand account. Mark was probably written around 55-70AD.
    • Luke- The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician therefore he is considered a second hand account. He is interesting because he never actually saw Christ but rather interviewed those who did see Jesus and wrote down their stories in his gospel. Luke became a believer after meeting Paul and has a unique perspective on Jesus’ life including a few stories not included in other gospels because of his unique perspective. The gospel of Luke was written around 60 AD.
  2. Where were they Written? Most of the gospels were written in the middle east around the Mediterranean area.
  3. When were they Written? All four gospels were written anywhere from 45AD to 90AD. That is a span of 12-57 years after Jesus’ death. There is a theory that all the gospels were written before 70 AD because no writer mentions the destruction of the temple in their gospel. This would have been extremely important since the destruction of the temple was one of Jesus’ main prophecies for the future. Regardless, the longest span from Jesus’ death to the last written gospel is no more than 60 years.
  4. Is there Historical Evidence to Prove its Validity? Yes. There are over 25,000 total New Testament manuscripts supporting the scriptures that we read today. These texts are in multiple forms including Syriac, Latin, Coptic and Aramaic languages. All of these texts range from 50-130AD. A difference of 12-103 years from the time of Christ’s death. The next closest historical document backed by manuscripts is Homers The Iliad. There are 643 copies. The gap between Homer’s life and these manuscripts is 500 years. As you can see, the Gospels and New Testament are one of the most accurate and historically valid documents in the history of mankind.
  5. Is there Proof of Divine Influence on the Gospels? Yes. Witnesses are the key to prove events in history. Almost every miracle recorded about Jesus has multiple witnesses watching the event and recording it. Dozens of miracles are recorded in front of large crowds and leaders in order to show Jesus’ divinity. However the greatest miracle is Jesus’ resurrection. After being dead for three days, Jesus was brought back to life and walked amongst the living for 40 days. It would be hard to disprove a resurrected dead man when he was talking with you with holes in his hands, feet and side after he had been crucified a few days earlier. Any man who said a crucified man was alive would be called crazy. However every New Testament writer confirms this miraculous event. There must be truth to it.
         Now let’s apply the three principles of historical accuracy. Were there any witnesses to confirm the Gospels and their events? Yes. Thousands of witnesses saw Jesus and listened to his teachings. His miracles spread through the region and were even noticed by foreigners from Rome and Greece. All of Jesus’ recorded miracles had witnesses by his side watching as he showed he was God in human flesh. All of the writers of the Gospels were men who either saw Christ personally or interviewed those who did. Are there any original manuscripts proving the validity of the Gospels? Yes. Over 25,000 manuscripts that validate the New Testament today. These manuscripts are all first or second hand accounts to Jesus himself and his teachings. There can be no debate on the validity of the original authors writings. Is there any Archaeological evidence proving the existence of Jesus and his followers? Yes there are multiple sites, buildings and other archeological evidence proving Jesus and his followers. The expansion of Christianity itself is one the greatest testaments to Jesus and his followers. There are also historical manuscripts from Rome speaking about the Christian movement as well as the atrocious events of Christians being martyred in the Colosseum.  It would be foolish to say Jesus or his followers did not exist.
         Overall I think it is clear, when it comes to the Holy Books, Christianity is the religion that has the most evidence proving its validity. Purely from an historical standpoint, the Bible has more witness accounts, manuscripts and archaeological evidence proving itself more than any other major religion in the world. You can be certain when you read the Bible that you are reading the exact words the original writer intended. You do not have that certainty with any other holy book.
                                                                                            Your brother in Christ
Jacob Rowe
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