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Christspiracy – A Movie Review

Updated: Apr 18

In the spirit of  Easter, I want to tell you about a movie that was recently released in theaters—Christspiracy. A friend of mine had been following the filmmakers on social media and was looking forward to its release. Normally, this is not the type of movie I would intentionally watch, but, because she invited me, I figured why not?


I had no idea what the movie was about other than what I had seen in the trailer. It was a Da Vinci Code type documentary where the filmmakers were claiming they had uncovered a massive conspiracy within the church. Indeed, the trailer intimated that their lives were in danger because of the information they were trying to release to the public.



Honestly, I went in with low expectations. When the movie concluded, I immediately thought, “I want to write about this on my blog.” Therefore, I set aside my other topic for the month and I’m dedicating my time to talking about this documentary.


If you are interested in seeing the film, I would say not to read further because there will be spoilers. However, if you don’t plan on seeing the film, which I am sure many of you will not, I would encourage you to read on because there’s a number of interesting issues I want to address.


The Plot


The documentary begins with the filmmakers trying to answer a basic question: How would Jesus ethically kill an animal for consumption? This question is derived from the motto that has developed in the Christian faith over the last few decades: WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) The notion being that Christian ethics revolve around Jesus’ teachings and Christians should always ask themselves, “How would Jesus approach this situation?”


Hence, the filmmakers are asking this question about food and the killing of animals. Is there a Christian way to ethically kill an animal and eat meat? Initially, they interview pastors and scholars about this question and the answers are what you would expect: Jesus lived in ancient Palestine where meat was a part of their diets. However, as to the question of how Jesus would have slaughtered animals for meat, there were no definitive answers.


Image by Kurt Bouda from Pixabay

Until they interview a scholar at Oxford University who studies food and religion. The interview leads down a rabbit hole into an entirely different way of understanding the person of Jesus and the purpose behind his ministry. I will admit, this was a version of Jesus I had never heard before. Needless to say, it piqued my interest.


Jesus of Nazareth


I’m going to lay out the claims of the film concerning Jesus and then I’ll fact check the various assertions. The crux of this film hinges on one very specific claim: The title Jesus of Nazareth is a misnomer. His actual title is Jesus the Nazarene. What’s the difference, you might ask? Well, the first title (the title with which we are familiar) conveys Jesus’ association with his hometown of Nazareth. The second title is a sect in Judaism from the first century of which I was unaware.


One of the major reasons why the scholars featured in this film say that Jesus of Nazareth is a misnomer is because they claim there was no village of Nazareth at the time Jesus was alive. They confirm this by referencing the 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who describes all the various villages, towns and cities in Galilee. In his list, Josephus never references Nazareth. Given that Jesus hails from Nazareth, this would seem to be a massive omission, which these scholars claim is evidence that Nazareth didn’t exist. They suggest the village of Nazareth would be founded centuries after Jesus’ death.


The Nazarenes


This means that Jesus was associated with this sect of Judaism known as the Nazarenes. The term appears in the book of Acts when Paul finds himself before Governor Felix of Caesarea. In Acts 24:5, the accusation is made against Paul: “We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”


According to the scholars in the film, this sect of Jesus’ followers were vegetarians and did not eat meat. They trace the Nazarene lineage of vegetarianism back to John the Baptist, whose followers claim he did not eat meat. Since Jesus was likely a disciple of John the Baptist before launching off on his own, Jesus would also have been a vegetarian and against the sacrifice of animals.


Evidence for this perspective in the scriptures of the New Testament can be found in the events of Palm Sunday, when Jesus storms the Jerusalem Temple. During this event, Jesus not only overturns the tables of the money changers and the sellers of the sacrifices, but he also releases all of the sacrifices.


Christ Driving the Moneychangers from the Temple by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

What most Christians don’t realize is the act of freeing the animals is the real reason why Jesus has entered the Temple. Jesus vehemently opposed the sacrificial system because he opposed the killing of animals. Indeed, this is why Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself. Jesus wanted his sacrifice to end the need for animal sacrifice so that these animals would no longer need to be slaughtered for the forgiveness of sins.


Jesus’ sacrifice would allow humans to return to how we existed in the Garden of Eden, when humans did not eat meat: God said, “See, I have given [humanity] every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food." (Gn. 1:29)


Other Evidence of Vegetarianism


These scholars claim that the last supper is evidence of this motive. The last supper was the celebration of Passover, which normally required the consumption of lamb. However, when Jesus meets with his disciples in the upper room, he does not use the lamb to symbolize his body, but rather, bread.


Another hint of Jesus’ true intentions is from the gospel of John when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11) We often read this as a metaphor for Jesus laying down his life for all of us. One scholar suggests this is far more literal. Jesus is willing to sacrifice himself so that no more sheep have to die in the name sacrifice, nor for the purpose of feeding humans.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The reason why Christians generally do not adhere to this interpretation is because of the Apostle Paul, who disagreed with the leaders of the early church (James, Jesus’ brother, Peter and John) all of whom were vegetarians. Paul saw vegetarianism as weakness and, when he spread Christianity, did not include Jesus’ teachings on vegetarianism. Since Paul is the reason why Jesus’ movement survived, his version of Christianity is what persisted, suppressing the true message of the Christian faith.


The ultimate point of the film is to make the assertion that, to be a true follower of Jesus, one must adopt Jesus’ ethics towards animals. This means that to be Christian is to be vegetarian. The original followers of Jesus eschewed the killing of animals and consumption of meat as sinful and so should you.


Fact Check


Now that I’ve provided the primary religious assertions of the film, I want to take a moment to fact check each of these points. As with a lot of documentaries claiming to have uncovered a vast conspiracy, there are grains of truth that are surrounded by conclusions that are half-truths or, sometimes, outright falsehoods.


Jesus of Nazareth: It is true that the Jewish historian Josephus does not mention the village of Nazareth by name. However, this is not because Nazareth did not exist. As I discuss in Restorative Faith, Nazareth was located in the hill country of Galilee. I compare Nazareth to the small communities nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia where Google Maps doesn’t even register their existence.


There have been archaeological digs of 1st century Nazareth. There were probably between 50-100 families who lived there during Jesus’ lifetime. It was a very small, inconsequential community of people, which is why Josephus never mentions Nazareth in his list. Josephus was not concerned with producing an exhaustive list of every community in Galilee. Just the ones that really mattered.


The Nazarenes (1st Century): As I mentioned earlier, I had never heard of the Nazarene’s prior to this film even though they are referenced once in the book of Acts. Similar to the term Christian, the term Nazarenes seems to be utilized as a way of identifying followers of Jesus’ movement. However, from what minimal research I can find, the 1st century Nazarenes were a sect of Jewish followers of Jesus. They believed in Jesus’ divinity and the virgin birth, but also strictly followed Jewish laws and customs.


This explanation seems odd to me. The earliest Christians were almost exclusively Jewish men and women who still adhered to Torah and worshipped in the synagogues. What made them different from other Jews was their belief that Jesus was the messiah who would return from heaven to establish God’s kingdom. We know that James, Jesus’ brother, and the leader of the mother church in Jerusalem, was very clear that any Gentile (non-Jew) who wished to become part of Jesus’ movement needed to first convert to Judaism. This means eating kosher and, if you’re a male, being circumcised.



James’ perspective would become a big point of conflict with Paul, who claimed that Gentiles only needed to have faith in Jesus to become part of Jesus’ movement. Therefore, this notion that there was a group of Jews called the Nazarenes who followed all the Torah laws, but also believed in Jesus’ divinity, is redundant. This was Jesus’ movement after his resurrection and there is no indication that their diets would have varied greatly from the traditional Jewish diet, which included the consumption of meat.


The Nazarenes (4th Century): Most of what we know about the Nazarenes comes from documents written in the 4th century by the church leader Eusebius. Although this group is supposedly connected to the Nazarenes from the 1st century, the first time they are mentioned is nearly 300 years after Jesus’ original movement, which seems like quite a large gap.


Could they have been around all that time and eluded notice from every major writer until Eusebius? My guess is that the Nazarenes emerged from a group who wanted to reach back to Jesus’ roots as a Jewish male, kind of like modern Messianic Jews. Again, I found nothing about their diets that would support the film’s claims of vegetarianism.


However, as I was reading, I came across a gnostic sect of Nazarenes called Nasoraean Mandaeans. Stay with me, this is where things get a little complicated. The Mandaeans are a group in the Middle East who proclaim John the Baptist as their true messiah. Interestingly, this group still exists to this day in places like Iraq and Iran. Most importantly, within their scriptures, they portray John the Baptist as a vegetarian.


John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Image by Didgeman from Pixabay

The Nasoraean Mandaeans are followers of Jesus, but since they believe Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist (which is likely historically true), this small sect of Nazarenes believed Jesus would have been vegetarian because Jesus would have followed in the footsteps of his mentor, John the Baptist.


The problem with this claim is the source material. When it comes to gnostic Christians, most of their earliest scriptures were written starting in the second century. Books like the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Mary (gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament canon) were written more than 100 years after Jesus’ death and are almost entirely fictional accounts of Jesus’ life. In other words, they have no basis in factual history.


Unlike the gospels in the New Testament, which were written in the 1st century within 40-60 years of Jesus’ life, the scriptures of the Nasoraean Mandaeans were written in the 2nd century or later, which suggests the historical accuracy is unreliable at best or, more likely, non-existent.


Palm Sunday: Let’s move onto the claim that Jesus entered into the Jerusalem Temple to release the animal sacrifices because he opposed the sacrificial system and the killing of animals. In Restorative Faith, I spend a good amount of time discussing the events that took place at the Jerusalem Temple. What I make clear is the Temple was not only the center of Jewish worship, but it was also widely considered the most corrupt institution in the Jewish faith.


The priests who ran the Temple had been installed by the Roman government and were loyal to Rome’s interests. To add insult to injury, these same priests were gouging the Jewish people who worshipped there by charging exorbitant prices for the sacrifices, meaning the average Jew would have to go into debt to worship God.


For context, Jesus’ movement came on the heels of one of the worst economic recessions in decades. Many people in Galilee were struggling financially. This is why apocalyptic movements like Jesus’ were so popular. The core of Jesus’ teachings revolved around the corrupting influence of wealth and the Temple had become the ultimate symbol of that corruption: “You cannot worship God and wealth.” (Mt. 6:24)


When Jesus releases the sacrifices, he does so, not because he was an animal rights activist, but because the sacrifices were the economic lifeblood of the Temple. By releasing the sacrifices, he was trying to hurt their pocketbooks.


The Passover: The idea that Jesus utilizes bread as opposed to the Passover lamb to represent his body at the last supper as a statement against animal cruelty is an interesting claim. My problem is that many of the details from this dinner are likely fictional. Again, you will want to refer to Chapter 8 of Restorative Faith (Section 5: Jesus’ Master Plan), but the rendition of the last supper we read about in the gospels was a reflection of the eucharist tradition that had already started among Christians in the first century to remember Jesus as they awaited his return.


The Good Shepherd: This made me laugh. This scholar is taking the passage of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep very literally by saying Jesus is the shepherd and the sheep are actual sheep. In reality, John’s gospel is highly metaphorical and the metaphor within this particular passage is pretty clear: Jesus is the shepherd and his followers are the sheep. He will lay down his life for his followers.


The Apostle Paul: The final point of the film is that Jesus’ vegetarianism was suppressed by Paul who saw vegetarianism as weakness. This is a bit of an overstatement. Paul does talk a lot about food in his letters and wants to do away with kosher laws for Gentile converts to Christianity, but to say that he sees non-meat eaters as weak is inaccurate.


A good example of this is in the book of Romans: Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. (Rm. 14:20-21)


Trajan's Market: These ruins are an example of the Roman markets where early Christians would have bought meat sacrificed to Roman gods. NikonZ7II, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here Paul is speaking about members of the church in Rome who converted to Christianity from worshiping the gods of the Roman pantheon. The meat sold in Roman markets were sacrificed to Roman gods and these new converts have not fully released their belief in these gods. Therefore, Paul is telling the other members of the community to abstain from eating meat. He encourages them to only eat vegetables so that it doesn’t cause the other members of the church to stumble in their faith.


What this indicates is that Paul was not a strict meat-eater. He was fine with vegetarianism and even encouraged it in certain contexts. However, if the movie was correct that there was a battle over vegetarianism in the early church, the issue would stand out more prominently in the texts of the New Testament. The fact that the authors don’t argue over vegetarianism tells us that it wasn’t a major issue among early Christian communities.


Verdict  


If you’ve watched the documentary Game Changers on Netflix, which promotes vegetarian and vegan athletes, Christspiracy is like a spiritual Game Changers. That said, I don’t think that the premise of Christspiracy is accurate or historically valid. Jesus was not a vegetarian and this was not suppressed by the church.*



I say this, by the way, as a vegetarian myself. I became a vegetarian four years ago because of Game Changers. However, I don’t think one can assert that being a Christian means becoming a vegetarian. Like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, you cannot make the claim that Christianity, like Hinduism, is a faith driven by vegetarianism.  


That said, I do agree with their underlying premise that we do need to take a hard look at the ethics of meat consumption, particularly the way we grow and slaughter animals today. Cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys are sentient beings. Perhaps one of the most disturbing scenes in Christspiracy is watching a cow shed literal tears as it’s being led to slaughter because it knows it’s about die. Honestly, that scene broke my heart and made me thankful I stopped eating meat.


Moreover, I think it’s important to make your diet an important part of your spiritual journey. My new book Restorative Beauty talks about the interconnectedness of all things and how one’s diet can be a great way of recognizing that connectedness, not just by what you eat, but by what you choose to abstain from eating.


Conclusion


Why have I taken all this time to break down the claims of a film you will probably never see nor care about? Well, the truth is that a lot of people get their information about history from documentaries. They take the filmmakers at their word because they aren’t specialists and assume the information is accurate because the filmmakers are interviewing scholars.


What I wanted to demonstrate is that there’s usually a ton of nuance that goes into each claim, so as they build their arguments, you have to determine if each of those claims holds water, which is a lot of work. This is my area of expertise, so I could very quickly determine fact from fiction.


All this to say, whenever you watch a documentary, before you buy whatever they’re selling, rebuild the arguments for yourself and see where they lead. You might still end up agreeing with them, but you’ll be more knowledgeable about where they blur the line between fact and fiction.



 

 

* A Note About Church Conspiracies: Something that most people don’t know is that almost all of these church conspiracy claims (like Christspiracy or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) are based in Gnostic scriptures. Often, they make it seem like the Roman Catholic Church has been trying to suppress these gospels for centuries because, if the “real” truth about Jesus got out, it would destroy the foundations of the church.


For those who have never studied the history of Christianity, what they often leave out of this narrative is that, by the end of the first century, Christianity had started to branch off into all kinds of different sects. One that caught on and became popular was what is commonly referred to as Gnostic Christianity (which I should clarify, was never an organized movement, but represented dozens of different variants of Christianity with different beliefs).


The Gnostic movements of Christianity were based in the idea that, after Jesus’ resurrection, he brought back hidden knowledge from the afterlife (hence the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge). This caught on, particularly in the Greek world, where the desire for hidden knowledge was highly valued. In the end, Gnostic Christianity burned out towards the end of the 2nd century and the more “orthodox” version of Christianity we follow today dominated.


Therefore, it’s important to understand, this isn’t some big cover-up by the church. It’s just two competing versions of Christianity. The fact that the gospels we utilize in the New Testament are considered the “correct” version of Christianity is simply a byproduct of how history panned out. If the Gnostics had become the dominant form of Christianity, there would be books and documentaries made about how the gospels currently in the New Testament were suppressed by the church.


My opinion is that the gospels in the New Testament (all of which were written in the 1st century) are more accurate to Jesus’ actual life than the Gnostic scriptures. That said, they are, by no means, a perfect historical rendition of Jesus’ life. No such document exists, which means, there will be many more of these types of documentaries in the future!

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9 comentários


B V
B V
2 days ago

it doesnt surprise me that you want to cherry pick, you are a vegetarian afterall, a psycho murderer for pleasure of taste. if you were vegan i doubt your cognitive dissonance would be so strong

Curtir

V C
V C
11 de mai.

Why make vegetarianism a religious issue? It reduces animal suffering, is good for the environment and has scientifically proven health benefits. It is simply a rational choice.

Curtir
B V
B V
2 days ago
Respondendo a

its not making it a religious issue, its validating that it is a religious issue among other issues.

Curtir

I adore posts like this, and it reflects what I enjoy about your writing in general. I think now, more than we've seen in a long time, there's a perception that conspiracy theories are everywhere and that people are just clinging to them. Whether it's part of how much disinformation/misinformation is now prevalent, or how extreme peoples' view have become in general, or some combination of the two is the catalyst is up for debate, but studies suggest that the percentage of people with a "conspiracy mindset" hasn't really changed all that much. However, the interest in people that believe conspiracies have. So, when you get yourself a catchy title and a pre-written narrative, it's really very easy to exploit…

Curtir
Alexander Lang
Alexander Lang
31 de mar.
Respondendo a

Thanks for laying all of this out. I think you're right on with our obsession with conspiracies. There is definitely something inherently magnetic about the idea that we've had wool covering our eyes and, once we know the truth, we feel like we've seen reality and are privy to something that very few people know about. That sense of being enlightened is intoxicating to many, which is why something like this movie, which does have a high production value, will easily convince people the church has been covering up Jesus' vegetarianism for millenia!


Funny enough, I just watched another movie about a conspiracy called The Octopus and that one felt more like what I was watching was plausible, but then…

Curtir

I'm a vegetarian too! But not an "ethical" one. Years ago, when single and living alone, meat would go bad in my refrigerator before I ate it. Then when I went out for a hamburger, I wouldn't feel well afterwards. So I just gave it up.


The result is, that when it's discovered, that I don't eat meat, people often start apologizing and tell me how much they love animals. I am not an animal lover myself, but at least I don't eat them.

Curtir
B V
B V
2 days ago
Respondendo a

because youre a frugivore by design. vegetarians arent ethical either, they torture and murder babies for dairy and eggs

Curtir
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