Caveat: There is one legitimate flaw in the following article which was noted by Albert Mcllhenny in his response, which has been addressed by myself in my response to Albert. It was careless of myself to state that the idea that Celsus may have read Justin was absurd, as this possibility has indeed been considered by patristic scholars. However, this small error does not detract front the truth of my conclusions on the topic (as discussed in the 2nd part to this article in response to Albert), and everything else here still stands as correct. The following has been carried over from my last blog, and is slightly cleaned up. For honesty’s sake, I have not made any major changes to this article from the original, and for the time begin at least the original can still be viewed on my previous blog.
Summary: Critics of Christianity have over the past few centuries pointed out that there are significant similarities between the things that Jesus was claimed to have done and myths of Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods that predate Christianity. This argument is commonly called the “pagan parallel thesis”. Christian apologists and many secular scholars object to these claims, and have a range of counter-claims and arguments in response to the pagan parallel thesis. One frequent claim made by proponents of the pagan parallel thesis is that there were a number of writers in the first four centuries of the Common Era that noted these similarities. In particular, the church father Justin Martyr writing in the mid 2nd century CE referenced these parallels and used a particularly absurd argument in attempting to reconcile his faith in Jesus with the obvious fact that the relevant pagan myths predated Christianity.
Justin argued that the pagan myths had been inspired by demons who were aware of prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed to Christ and the things he would do. Hence, Justin’s argument is often referred to as “diabolical mimicry”; in essence the argument that Satan attempted to imitate Christ in advance, through a (slight misreading) of Old Testament prophecy. Christian apologists have been quick to attempt to counter this argument, claiming that critics are quote-mining Justin and taking his words completely out of context. A number of critics have claimed that Justin literarily admitted that the things Christian’s said about Jesus were “no different” to things that pagans said about their gods. Christian apologists have been quick to point out that in fact, Justin was actually arguing that Jesus was completely different from pagan gods, as he was arguing that Jesus was actually God and had really done the things said about him, and that the pagan gods were demonic spirits, and the things said about them were mere myths.
Several notable Internet apologists have argued further that Justin wasn’t responding to claims made by pagans or Jews that Christians had copied pagan myths and transferred them over to Jesus, but that Justin had in-fact invented the idea that there was parallels between Jesus and these pagan gods, when (according to these Internet apologists) there were no real significant parallels. Rather, these apologists have argued that Justin was attempting to draw parallels between Christian and pagan beliefs solely in an attempt to point out the hypocrisy of pagans for persecuting Christians, when in-fact pagans believed somewhat similar things and were not persecuted for their beliefs.
In this article I have pointed out that whilst Justin’s 1st apology (in which he made the diabolical mimicry argument) took the form of a letter written to the Emperor to plead for an end to persecution of Christians, the work was clearly circulated in Christian circles as well. Therefore, it is legitimate to conclude that even if it was an authentic letter that was literarily sent to the Emperor, it was still written as an apologetic work intended for circulation in Christian communities, to be used to in dialogues and debates with pagans. Furthermore, the assertion by modern apologists that Justin was actually inventing parallels where there was none and where pagans did not see any themselves is completely false.
Firstly, the parallels are indeed legitimate, and I have included pre-Christian evidence for the pagan myths in question, along with a brief discussion of the significance of the differences between parallel motifs. Likewise, the earliest surviving pagan critique of Christianity (from Celsus), which dates only a few decades after Justin wrote his 1st apology does in-fact reference the parallels in question, and argue that Christians copied pagan myths and applied them to the Jesus. Likewise, pagans had a long history of practicing syncretism and noting parallels between the gods of different nations. Furthermore, in Justin’s other major work “Dialogue with Trypho” (written just after his 1st apology) he also used the diabolical mimicry argument, this time directly in response to an accusation made by an archetypal Jewish antagonist named Trypho, that Christians had invented the belief in Jesus’ virgin birth in imitation of the myth of Perseus.
Hence, we do indeed have direct evidence that pagans and Jews did in-fact accuse Christians of borrowing pagan myths, and Justin did in-fact present his absurd diabolical mimicry argument in response to these allegations. It is indeed true that there have been cases whereby critics of Christianity have misquoted various church fathers, and these passages from Justin have been abused in some examples (and I have discussed this in detail). However, one can make a careful and legitimate argument that Justin Martyr’s contorted argument is indeed strong evidence to support the conclusion that many of the things said about Jesus were indeed copied from older pagan sources.
For those of you unfamiliar with this topic, I will give a quick explanation of why I chose to write an article on this particular subject. Orthodox Christianity is quite different to the Perennial Philosophy that I subscribe to, in that it rests heavily upon historical claims. Conservative Christians are frequently making wild claims about the resurrection of Jesus being the most well attested event in all of western history, and they likewise claim that the New Testament documents are well established as being the most reliable historical works that have survived from the ancient world. These claims in themselves are quite ridiculous, and I am not going to be responding to them today (although I do give them far more time than they deserve in my book), however they are used by religious conservatives to justify their extremely exclusive beliefs, and the quite morbid worldview that accompanies it. Secular scholarship rejects most claims that are made by Christian apologists, but rather accepts the reality of a historical Jesus; albeit one that is quite different from the one of faith. There are also a handful of radical scholars (along with many hobbyists in the field) that propose that Jesus is a wholly mythical figure, and that the Gospel narratives are entirely fictitious. One of the sub-streams of this radical theory attempts to draw parallels between various motifs and other features found in Christianity, and those also found in the religion and mythology of the wider world (what we would call paganism), both contemporaneous to the beginning of Christianity and well before its time. This pagan-parallel thesis therefore asserts that Jesus was largely created in a similar line to older pagan gods, and it is in context of this thesis that I have written this article.
I am not going to be discussing arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus today, nor am I going to go into too much detail on the pagan parallel thesis. I do not even wish to make a case whether or not any of the claimed parallels are legitimate, and whether or not there is likely to be any causal relationship between Christianity and older pagan traditions. Rather, I am going to write on the sub-topic of diabolical mimicry and Justin Martyrs 1st Apology. I hope to clear the air on this often-misunderstood topic and correct some quite erroneous opinions that have been pronounced on the topic of late. I would also like to make it well clear before starting that whilst my book will feature much original material, which I do not believe has been represented before, the portions dealing with the Bible and Christian origins are heavily dependent upon the work of many, many people that have come before me. Hence, in this article I should credit those whose work has helped me present the material I will touch on today. I am heavily in debt to Richard Carrier and Robert Price, as well as to the now defunct YouTube video series from an anonymous individual who went by the title GodAlmighty. There are countless other people who have come before me and whose work I have benefited from (such as Earl Doherty, Dorothy Murdoch, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy and Kenneth Humphreys, although in some of these cases I would recommend that my readers be “cautious” in checking their claims), and I have made an effort to discuss most of them in my book. So, what is “diabolical mimicry” I hear some of you ask? Well, the thesis is that several major early Christian writers were aware of the parallels between Christianity and paganism and were likewise aware that the pagan versions were much older. Hence they tried to blame it on the devil, as if the devil had had imitated Christ in advance. Whilst Tertullian and Irenaeus were stated as being supportive of this thesis by Freke and Gandy in their book “The Jesus Mysteries”, the vast majority of passages cited in support of this thesis come from Justin Martyr, and in particular his 1st apology to the Greeks.
Before I get stuck in, I also want to let you know why I chose this small sub-topic from all the subjects relevant to my book for this article. Many proponents of the pagan-parallel thesis believe that this argument is a trump card in their theory. On the other hand Christian apologists claim that their critics are twisting the sources and taking them completely out of context, quote mining ancient writers and displaying a complete ignorance to the larger works from which they cite. A while ago whilst doing some research I watched a series of YouTube videos by Christian apologists on this topic, as well as reading several written articles on the subject. After seeing what Christian apologists were saying in response to their critics on this topic, I just couldn’t help myself but write a response to clear it up and bring some much needed clarity to the topic. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing from several of these apologists, and in light of the confidence with which they expressed their conclusions and the venom of which they showed towards their critics, I felt compelled to create my own videos to bring some light to the subject. One of the main apologists, which I will be responding to today is the big-dog of Internet apologetics; James Patrick Holding, formerly known as Robert Turkel. J.P. Holding is a huge deal in the world of Christian apologetics, and whilst many professional scholars scoff at his work, it unfortunately gets a significant amount of exposure. Google just about any topic related to criticism of some aspect of Christianity, and Holding’s tektonics website comes up right at the top of the list every time.
It is also not just evangelical Christians that read and use Holdings work, rather I have frequently seen Catholics and Anglicans refer to his work, although as I noted previously I have also seen Christian academics making fun of his “scholarship”. I would argue that the amount of attention his work receives is completely out of proportion to the quality of his work, and on this topic (as with many others) I believe he is deceiving the general public, whilst being an ass about it at the same time. As well as his short video on the topic of diabolical mimicry, Holding also devoted an entire chapter to the topic in his book “Shattering the Christ Myth”, which itself was written for him by a colleague (Don Harper). As well as Holdings work, there are two other apologetic videos on the topic that I will be responding to today, one by an apologist by the name of Albert Mcllhenny which is along a very similar vein to Holdings (except much longer), and another by an apologist named James White, which is more simply in response to one particular use of one particular passage from Justin, by a critic by the name of Dan Barker. After going over the responses made by Christians apologists on this topic I will start giving my response, which will include discussion of a number of other relevant issues, including the sources for a number of parallels and the process of syncretism, the pagan writer Celsus and a final trump card which alone refutes the claims of Albert and J.P, which I will save till the very end. After doing so, I hope my viewers will have a good understanding of the topic, and will understand the importance of this particular thesis.
Justin Martyr was a prominent early Christian writer and church father in the mid-2nd century CE. Through his work titled “The 1st Apology to the Greeks” we have a topic we may call diabolical mimicry, which is an argument that states that early Christians were well aware of the fact that pagan religions had believed similar things to themselves well before their own time, and that they attempted to respond to this by simply stating that “the devil did it”. Much like how some modern-day Creationists have used a similar argument (the devil did it) in response to fossilized dinosaur bones. This argument is seen by many as the true trump card of mythicism or at very least of the pagan parallel thesis, in that if it is valid it is an extremely strong argument in favor of this controversial theory. This argument was used as a major part of the best-selling book “The Jesus Mysteries” by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, was likewise mentioned in the highly popular movie “The God that wasn’t there” by Brian Flemming (where it was presented in conjunction with commentary from Robert Price), and was briefly mentioned in the religion section of Peter Josephs’ internet conspiracy sensation “Zeitgeist”, as well as being used by practically every single other author in this field. Christians on the other hand have argued that critics are simply “quote mining” these works and taking them completely out of context, often twisting the passages to mean something completely different to what the author intended. Let us begin by looking at some of the passages from Justin’s apology which are most commonly brought up in this context:
“And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter…” Justin Martyr, 1st Apology to the Greeks, Chapter 21.
“But those who hand down the myths, which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they (the demons) heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain.” Ibid, Chapter 54.
There are two similar quotes from Justin relating to Dionysus, the first of which is also in chapter 54 of his 1st apology:
“The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discover of the vine, and they number wine (or, the ass) among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven. Ibid.
Elsewhere in his other work “Dialogue with Trypho”, noting that many writers have used a paraphrase of this passage rather than quoting it in full, Justin had this to say in regards to Dionysus:
“For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by (Jupiter’s) intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that (the devil) has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?” Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 69.
Many critics of Christianity have argued that Justin was effectively admitting that Christians and pagans believed similar (if not identical things), and that the pagan variants had preceded Christianity. Some critics have gone so far as to claim that Justin was conceding that Christianity was effectively the same as paganism, and it this last unfortunate stretch of Justin’s words that some Christian apologists have focused their responses upon. There are three particular Christian apologetic responses to this general argument that I will be discussing in this article, those being those from James White, Albert Mcllhenny and of course James Patrick Holding. I will go through their arguments in full shortly, after which I will respond to each of their conclusions. In his first apology Justin appeals to the Roman rulers to grant him and other Christians the same freedom of religion to which they grant everyone else, arguing both that they have no legitimate grounds on which to persecute Christians, and also in seeking to justify Christian exclusivity. He makes many arguments in his apology in trying to make his case, but what is relevant here is that he argues that the beliefs of Christians have many similarities to those of pagans, both in motifs, teachings and beliefs, whilst he also relies heavily upon Old Testament prophecy as the scriptural authority for his argument. It is important to carefully define and explain his arguments and the context in which they are given, as I have heard many Christian apologists attempt to dismiss all critical use of his work on the grounds that they were misrepresenting him, and taking his arguments out of context.
In a nutshell, Justin effectively argues that the pagan religions are demonic, and that they were created by evil spirits out of imitation of prophecies of the coming of the true faith. Hence he seeks to justify the disgust of Christians against the popular pagan cults of his day, and their refusal to take part in the public rites dedicated both to pagan gods and to the emperor. He acknowledging that the pagan cults with parallels to his own faith preceded Christianity and that their motifs and teachings predated the Christian equivalents, yet he explains this by arguing that evil demons had understood to some degree the prophecies given in the OT about Christ (although he explains further that they effectively failed to understand these prophecies in full). He goes on to argue that the devils had thus sought to institute false religions with similar motifs to what Christianity would teach once it arrived on the scene, in order to fool people into thinking that the claims made by Christians were merely “mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets”. He asks why Christians are persecuted for believing in virgin birth, when pagans believe the same things. He likewise asks why they are persecuted for believing in the death, resurrection and ascension of their god, when pagans do the same and are not persecuted. He also acknowledges that various teachings from pagan philosophers parallel Christian teachings very closely, and that these philosophers predate and precede Christianity. He seeks to explain this by arguing that the Greek philosophers learned philosophy and theology from Jewish patriarchs. So, just to be clear, he does not argue that Christianity is the same as paganism; rather he argues quite explicitly that they are fundamentally different.
What he does acknowledge is that Christians share many of the same beliefs as pagans, and that these beliefs predate Christianity, only that he explains this by accusing evil spirits of seeking to deceive mankind and by attributing the origins of Greek philosophy to Jewish patriarchs (as did many other Jewish and Christian writers from the period). Furthermore, we should be very clear to note that whilst he openly and repeatedly acknowledges that paganism developed these motifs prior to Christianity, he also argues that the motifs in question still ultimately belong originally to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as he argues that they were present in prophecies in the Old Testament, and that these prophecies were written before the pagan cults in question (unfortunately for him he was unaware of the development of religious ideas, which shows that the motifs in which Justin produces Greek examples often have much older counterparts in Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology, both of which significantly pre-date the Hebrew Bible). I should note that the question of whether or not the Hebrew Bible contains prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus is not one, which I am going to go into in this video series. Anyways, he also acknowledges that as Christianity teaches very similar motifs, teachings and beliefs to much earlier pagan religions that the natural tendency of those hearing the claims of Christians would be to view them as myths (as with similar pagan stories), and likewise dismiss any Christian claims that they were a literal historical narrative. There are obviously many problems with Justin’s arguments, however I would now like to turn our attention to the videos by Christian apologists who have claimed that their critics have been misusing and abusing passages from Justin’s apology. After considering these Christian views on the topic I will then given my response to the arguments given by modern Christians as how to properly understand Justin’s comments.
The first video by a Christian apologist which I wish to discuss here is one created by James White titled “The Abuse and Misuse of Justin Martyr”, which can be found on his YouTube Channel “Dr. Oakley” at a link at the end of the article. White’s video is basically a response to Dan Barker, whom he had recently debated and who had quoted from Justin in his closing remarks. Whilst White does make references to general use of Justin’s 1st apology by other critics, the video is almost entirely written as a response to a brief remark by Barker in the aforementioned debate. White then goes on to give a brief summary of the overall content of Justin’s apology and the context of the passage, which Barker quoted from, and to which White mentions “atheists” apply in their attacks on Christianity (noting that White seems to be under the impression that all critics of Christianity are atheists. I most certainly am not an atheist, yet I would share many of the criticisms of Christianity that are frequently given by atheists). Anyways, in the first part of the video White spends some time discussing his debate with Barker, of which I have no need to respond to. A little later in this section I will mention a few of Whites comments that he made in relation to the debate, as I find them quite humorous and I think they are quite ironic. Anyways, White goes on to discuss why he made the video, which was to point out the erroneous way in which Barker had quoted Justin in their recent debate. He shows a quick clip in which Barker states “if early Christians claimed that Christianity was nothing different from paganism, who am I to disagree?” which he prefaces by paraphrasing Barker as saying that Justin was saying that ‘pagans should all convert to Christianity as it was no different to paganism’. White then gives a brief summary of the apology, in which he points out that Justin was not saying that paganism and Christianity were the same, but that paganism was created by wicked devils. He explains that Justin was trying to argue that the Romans were wrong to persecute Christians for what they believe, and that Justin was pointing out similarities between what Christians and pagans believe in the context of trying to reason with the Romans to stop persecuting Christians.
He points out the context of the passage cited by Barker, that Justin was simply calling the Romans hypocrites for persecuting Christians for believing in a god that was born of a virgin, suffered, resurrected and ascended to heaven, when pagans believe similar things yet are not persecuted for them. White discusses how Justin makes parallels between Christian beliefs about the afterlife, divine justice and God’s sovereignty over all life and similar things taught by various philosophers. He points out however that Justin did not make this argument in order to concede that Christians had picked various doctrines from different places, but rather to argue that various peoples had perceived portions of God’s truth, but that only Christians had seen it in its fullness. White legitimately points out that the true context of the passage mentioned by Barker was that Justin was arguing that the Romans had no grounds for persecuting Christians on the basis of the things that Christians believed, as they did not persecute pagans who in some cases believed similar things. He also notes that Justin pointed out that Christians were persecuted for not believing in the same things as what pagans believed, yet there was enormous diversity between different pagans, and they did not all believe in the same things. White again goes on to note that Justin is effectively differentiating between the beliefs of pagans which he believed were demonic, and those of Christians which he claimed were exclusively true, and that Justin even goes as far as to state that he pities pagans, as they are under the influence of these demons.
White basically argues that anyone who cites from Justin without mentioning the greater context of his work is being dishonest. In fact, he actually states right at the beginning of his video that he believes only Christian apologists attempt at being honest in their arguments, whilst apparently critics of Christianity will resort to anything as they have no reason not to, as their worldviews lack any inherent moral values. Certainly these last comments are good for a laugh, but we should note that there certainly is much legitimacy in what he had to say. If we take the words of Dan Barker as displayed in White’s video as they read, then it does indeed appear that Barker had used Justin’s words in such a way as might mislead his listeners; particularly as in the cross-examination Barker confessed to not having read Justin’s whole work, and appeared to be unaware of the greater context of the passage he had quoted. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I would necessarily back White in criticizing Barker here, rather simply to point out that at least in the way that White has portrayed it, it certainly appears that Barker may have misquoted Justin. Whilst I get the impression that Dan Barker was using the passage slightly tongue in cheek, his use of the quote might appear to imply by itself that Justin was indeed stating that Christians believed “nothing different” from what pagans themselves believed. Obviously, whilst there is some truth in the matter that Justin was drawing parallels between Christianity and paganism, he most certainly was not saying that they were identical. Furthermore, I have also seen and heard others quote this passage from Justin in a similar way to which I can agree with White is misleading, as the greater context of the work as a whole does change the true meaning of Justin’s words.
However, we should note that White’s apologetic video by no means makes any attempt at responding to all uses of Justin’s 1st apology by critics (which he calls “enemies of the Christian faith”), neither did he mention all of the relevant passages from Justin’s apology, nor the accompanying passage in Justin’s Dialogue. Hence Whites video could not possibly be seen as any attempt at dealing with the topic as a whole, but rather it is a very direct response to one particular application of it by Dan Barker, in the debate to which he took part. One does get the impression that White views his video as being a thorough response to the topic as a whole as he speak in general terms about the use of the aforementioned passage by general “atheists”. However, it should already be well clear that his work could not be considered a thorough refutation of the use of Justin by critics of Christianity, but rather a quick response to Dan Barkers use of Justin in the aforementioned debate. Next up is the three part video series by Albert Mcllhenny on his YouTube channel “Labarum312”, titled “Pagan Parallels and Justin Martyr’s First Apology”. Albert has a very unique style in his videos, typified by starting off by giving his audience his full conclusion up front in full confidence that it is merited, before going forth to give his explanation of why he feels his judgment is justified. In relation to pagan parallels Albert generally considers his opponents to be ignorant fools, and makes no attempt at hiding the fact that he views the topic as a big joke. Accordingly, he clearly sees himself as an educated man who is simply trying to clear up many common misunderstandings on topics relevant to Christianity. I will certainly concede that he has pointed out many legitimate flaws in the arguments of his critics, and I myself have benefited somewhat by some of his videos. However, I think by the end of this article you should be able to see that the joke is on him. Albert makes mention of most (but not all) of the aforementioned relevant passages from Justin’s 1st apology, and unlike White, he attempts to rebut general uses of these passages in various sources.
Albert begins by stating that Justin’s apology is “one of the single most abused works of pagan parallel proponents”. He claims that none of the critics that cite Justin have ever read his full work nor understand its true context, and he states that once you understand the true context of the work, all claims made by critics about Justin simply “fall apart”. He states that the first popular misconception about Justin’s apology is that it was written to promote the Christian faith. Rather Albert points out that Justin’s apology was written to appeal to the Romans to stop persecuting Christians, rather than to attempt to get pagans to convert to Christianity. He points out that Romans were accusing Christians of being atheists for denying their gods, and worshipping a shameful man in place of the gods, hence Justin’s work was an attempt at getting Romans to understand that Christians believed that they were not simply worshipping a man, but were worshipping God incarnate in the flesh. Albert goes on to make reference to the same passage from chapter 21 that was discussed in James White’s video, and points out that whilst Justin does say that Christians “propound nothing different” from pagans as to Christ, that in the following passages Justin goes on to point out various differences between Christ and various pagan gods. Albert considers that these differences cancel out any similarities and make any parallels mute, and he points out that Justin’s general argument was that Christ was superior to the various aforementioned pagan figures. From here Albert goes on to give a hint of the parallel raised by Justin between the virgin birth of Jesus and Perseus, claiming that when it is discussed later in his video series he will show that “pagan parallel proponents obviously don’t know Greek mythology”, that they are just cutting off quotes too short to make them appear to say something that they don’t, and that when seen in its fullest context it will be apparent that there is no real parallel at all.
From here he accuses critics of framing Justin’s comments as if Justin was saying that the devil had gone back in time after Christ, in attempting to get his devilish imitations placed before Christ. We may call this idea the “time travelling Satan thesis”, or TTST if you prefer, and he accuses Robert Price of making this erroneous claim in his interview for the film “The God Who Wasn’t There”, and accusing Price of being “blatantly dishonest” as he “should know better”. He then goes to state that Justin did not make such a stupid argument, but rather made another argument which is similarly stupid, but not quite in the same way. He points out that Justin’s actual argument was that through prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, the devil knew that Christ would have a miraculous birth and would undergo trials, after which he would be resurrected and ascend to heaven. However, Justin argued that God hadn’t yet revealed it fully and thus there were so many discrepancies between the devil’s creations and Christ, hence Justin’s argument is that the devil was trying to imitate Christ in advance but he messed up. Albert then points out that Justin’s view of the pagan gods was one of three general views amongst Christians with relation to pagan gods, the others being that they were simply dead idols or that they were mans blind attempts at seeking God, as God had placed a portion of his truth in the hearts of all men. Moving into Albert’s second video Albert points out that Justin also mentioned various elements in which Christians and Hellenistic philosophy had common ground, in their beliefs of the sovereignty of God, belief in divine justice and heaven and hell. However, Justin did not raise these issues in the context of conceding that Christians took a little from here and a little from there, but rather in an argument that the philosophers had understood a portion of Gods truth, but that only Christians had understood God’s truth in it fullness.
Albert then makes his argument in which he really seeks to address the general use of Justin by critics, to which he says that reading the work in full reveals a great lie of critics, that Justin was responding or reacting to claims by pagans that Christians had ripped off pagan mythology. Albert claims that Justin clearly was doing no such thing, but was rather in fact himself creating parallels that had no causal relationship, in order to point out the hypocrisy of the Romans. Albert states that Justin stretched and generalized various myths in order to argue that the Romans were hypocrites for persecuting Christians, as they themselves held similar beliefs. This is the real crux of Albert’s argument, which tries to really address the overall way in which critics use Justin, and this is the main part of his argument that I will spend most of my time addressing. Moving into Albert’s 3rd and final video, he states that when you actually read Justin’s work as a whole the whole critical argument falls apart. He then goes to preface his upcoming dissection of several of the aforementioned passages from Justin’s apology by stating that if these passages fall, critics have “nothing, zero, nada…”. He then moves into a discussion of the “propound nothing different” passage, and explains that Justin’s mention of crucifixion as an element paralleled in paganism needs to be understood in light of the following statements, in which Justin then corrects himself and states whilst many pagan gods went through various trials, that no pagan god was ever crucified.
Albert states that Justin’s point was simply to point out to the Romans that Christ was not merely a mortal crucified criminal, but was rather a god very much similar yet superior to their own, hence Christians were not mere atheists. From here Albert goes on to discuss the parallels of miraculous birth, resurrection and ascension that Justin makes. He argues that the parallels of resurrection made by Justin are completely different and ultimately unrelated, and he states that the Greeks generally believed in a spiritual afterlife in contrast to the bodily resurrection of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In mentioning the claimed resurrection of Dionysus, Albert basically implies that it was simply a spiritual ascension as opposed to the typical Hellenistic belief in the soul passing to Hades after death. Albert therefore concludes that Justin was simply drawing the parallel for the purpose of his argument that the Romans were hypocrites for persecuting Christians for believing in a resurrected God. Finally, Albert states that when you actually look at Justin’s example of a virgin-birth parallel between Perseus and Jesus there is actually no parallel, again implying again that Justin was simply just making the parallel as part of his argument that the Romans shouldn’t persecute Christians. Albert gives a brief explanation of the birth narrative of Perseus, after which he concludes it has no real parallel to that of Jesus, and says that Justin was simply using it as an analogy, and that pagan parallel proponents that cite Justin in favor of their theory “have nothing”. At this point Albert concludes his video, believing that his cases has been made, and stating that this whole idea of diabolical mimicry is simply baseless as the people that believe it never check the facts.
Therefore unlike James White, Albert has made an attempt at dealing with the general argument as a whole, rather than one specific example of it. I will however place emphasis upon the words “an attempt”, as he hasn’t even mentioned the two passages from chapter 54, nor the corresponding passage in Justin’s dialogue which as we will discover is of immense importance. Obviously, I have a lot to say about his treatment of the topic, but we will get to that shortly. Moving onto to J.P. Holdings, he has a rather humorous video titled “Famous Fundy Atheist Legends 2: Justin Martyr-dumb and Diabolical Mimicry”. When I say this video is humorous, I unfortunately mean in a different sense to that which Holding intended, but we will get to that. The video itself is all over and done with in only 3 minutes and is done as a cartoon parody, attempting to basically make a joke of the topic and portray critics of Christianity as worthy of nothing more. He opens the video by stating that he will address the “legend” that certain church fathers were so desperate to explain away the obvious parallels between certain pagan figures and Jesus, that they invented the idea that Satan did it. Holding quotes the passage “For when they say that Dionysus arose again and ascended to heaven, is it not evidence that the devil has imitated the prophecy”, and points out that Justin was saying that the devil got the idea from the Hebrew Scriptures. He goes on to claim that Justin’s comments about the devil getting it wrong show that the pagans of Justin’s day saw no relationship between Jesus and paganism, and that Justin was actually the one trying to make the parallels.
Holding then states that Justin was actually on the same side as modern-day pagan parallel proponents in trying to make parallels, and that the pagans of his day were actually on the same side as he is today in saying that the parallels are all either forced of fraudulent, to which he adds “and they are”. To finish his video he uses his cartoon medium to allude to the use of Justin by pagan parallel proponents as simply being a load of bullshit. Ok, so firstly there is nothing further that I need to say about White’s video that wasn’t said during my brief overview. There is however much to be said in response to Mcllhenny and Holding, and I will place most emphasis on the conclusion that they both reached that it is was Justin himself that was making the parallels, not responding to them. I will start off by stating that I completely disagree with Albert in his claim that he made both at the beginning and end of his video series, that understanding the true context of Justin’s 1st apology as a whole makes the claims by critics fall apart and count for nothing. Certainly Justin has been quoted out of context before, but I think that understanding the context of the apology as a whole does nothing to diminish the validity of the claims by critics in this topic. To understand why, we first need to look at Albert’s statement about the misconception of Justin’s 1st apology being a work written to promote Christianity, as I think that this is not necessarily a black and white situation. There are many precedents of early Christians using various situations as pretexts for their apologetic works. One particularly relevant case is that of Justin Martyr’s other major work “Dialogue with Trypho”. In this work Justin presents himself as writing down the debate he had undertaken with a Jew by the name of Trypho, in which they had debated the relative merits of their individual faiths.
In the case of Justin’s dialogue, it is apparently quite a common conclusion amongst scholars that it was not truly an accurate representation of a genuine dialogue, but rather Justin had used the concept merely as a literary technique. There are many reasons for suspecting that the use of the dialogue is in this case simply a literary technique, which Justin has employed to give his apologetic arguments for Christianity in favor of Judaism. One of the things that struck me straight away when I first had a look at the dialogue a while ago is how explicitly anti-Semitic it is, and how unrealistic his Jewish opponents responses to Justin’s quite offensive generalizations about the moral nature of the Jewish people are. I will point out that I am careful to differentiate between criticism of Judaism and anti-Semitism. I believe it is perfectly acceptable to voice ones criticisms of Judaism and its holy scriptures (and there are many legitimate reasons to do so), however claims that the Jewish people are themselves racially and/or culturally inferior and/or wicked are something completely different, and this last category of claims I find quite abhorrent. In his dialogue, Justin makes frequent anti-Semitic statements to his literary opponent such as in chapter 16 where he states that the Jews are fully deserving of all bad things that come to them for their wickedness in killing Christ. Nowhere does his Jewish opponent respond in anger at Justin’s comments about the Jews and their wickedness, and at the very end Trypho states that he has benefited much from the conversation and wishes to remain friends. The whole thing seems completely unrealistic, and is best understood as a fictitious dialogue used a pretext for Justin’s apologetic response to common Jewish objections to Christianity.
Now obviously, revealing that one particular portion of a text cannot be taken at face value should not necessarily imply that the same is true of the entire text. However, this itself is a good indication that Justin’s use of the dialogue here may simply have been as a literary technique from, which to present his case for Christianity over Judaism. Likewise, there are countless Christian texts which should perhaps be considered to be theological works framed as letters, some of which made their way into the New Testament, and others that are considered part of the large volume of patristic writings, of which the letters ascribed to Ignatius are the perfect example. In the case of Justin’s 1st apology, the work is framed as a personal letter from Justin to the emperor, yet we have copies of it today! A simple letter is generally written by one person and sent to another, after which it remains in the hands of the person that received it. Simply reading Justin’s apology shows quite clearly that it wasn’t simply a personal letter, but it is also a work of religious apologetics. Whilst we need not outright reject the context in which it presents itself in order to imply that it is also something else, it is quite clear that Justin wasn’t simply writing something that he intended on sending off in the mail and leaving be, but rather something that Christians would use in ongoing debates with pagans. Even if we concede that Justin did originally write his 1st apology as a letter to the emperor and had a copy of it sent to the emperor to personally read, it is clear that Justin took the opportunity to write a work which would remain in circulation in Christian communities to be used in ongoing clashes with pagans.
The work itself is mighty long for a simple letter, and the fact that if Justin did send it off to the emperor he obviously made himself another copy implies that he wrote the apology as much as a book as a letter. It is not really stretching the subject to state that Justin’s 1st apology is as much an apologetic work designed for Christians to use in their continuing dialogues with pagans, as much as it was written for the context in which it presents itself, that being a work designed to appeal to the Romans to stop persecuting Christians. Hence in light of this, we can understand how Justin could have taken the opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone”, in discussing issues that were relevant to the ongoing dialogue between Christians and pagans, as well as address persecution of Christians at the same time. Albert made a point of accusing Robert Price of deliberate dishonesty in misrepresenting Justin’s argument, stating that he deliberately neglected to mention the fact that Justin ascribed the devils inspiration to the Hebrew Scriptures, and implying that Justin had argued in favor of the time traveling Satan thesis. Price’s exact words in the film are as follows:
“The early Church fathers understood this (parallels) was a problem because they were already getting the same objections from pagans. They said ‘what you say about Jesus we’ve been saying about Dionysus and Hercules all the time. What’s the big deal?’. I mean they didn’t believe in them either anymore. And so Christian apologists the defenders of the faith would say, ‘Well, yea, but this one is true. And you see Satan counterfeited it in advance because he knew this day would come. Boy, I’ll tell you that tells you two things right there, that even they didn’t even deny that these other Jesus-like characters were before Jesus or they never would have resorted to something like that: Satan knew it would happen and counterfeited it in advance?” The God Who Wasn’t There (22:30).
There is nothing in the above that is in any way dishonest. Sure Price has not mentioned that Justin argued that Satan inferred the imitation from the Hebrew Scriptures, however it is not necessary in the context of what Price is saying. The point of Justin’s argument is not that Satan simply copied the Hebrew Bible, but rather that Satan attempted to copy Christ, and in attempting to explain how Satan could have done so before the time of Christ, Justin uses the idea that there were prophecies of the coming of Christ in the Hebrew Bible as a means of explaining this fact. Albert’s confusion here is most likely derived from the fact that in the film there is a time-line showing the devil going backwards in time, hence one can see how Albert got confused, as he obviously didn’t look back at the video to check. Furthermore, the movie actually flashes a quote from Justin where he states: “is it not evident the devil has imitated the prophecy”. This alone makes Albert’s accusation against both Price and Flemming false. The timeline showing Satan moving backwards was simply a means of making fun of a frankly stupid argument, and simply pointed to the fact that Justin was indeed stating that the devil had imitated Christ before Christ had even come. The fact that Justin placed the devils inspiration as being the Hebrew Scriptures still does nothing to change this fact, and Price and Flemming thus did nothing wrong. Hence Albert is simply posturing about this and he wrongly blamed Price for a mistake he never made, indicative of the fact that Albert did not really pay attention when he watched the movie, nor did he make an effort to check it before making his own videos. His accusations against Price of misleading viewers and relying upon the ignorance and laziness of his audience are baseless; hence Albert’s posturing here ends up reflecting poorly upon himself.
Having addressed those minor points, lets get to the real major part of Albert and J.P’s arguments; that being that Justin was himself the one that was making up the parallels, that he was not responding to the accusations of pagans, and that he had to stretch the facts in order to make the parallels himself. The fact remains that Albert and J.P. have absolutely no grounds at all upon which to state that pagans of Justin’s day were not making claims of Jesus being similar to pagan gods. They have absolutely no evidence for pagans of Justin’s day denying any relationship between Jesus and their own gods. Rather, both Mcllhenny and Holding have conveniently inferred this conclusion from the fact that Justin uses the argument about similarities between Jesus and pagan gods as part of an argument to deter the Romans from persecuting Christians and accuse the Romans of hypocrisy for doing so. That Justin uses the argument in this context by no means precludes the possibility that pagans were making the same claim of parallels between their gods as part of an argument that Christians had copied features of their gods. In fact quite the opposite is true, there is in fact considerable evidence that pagans and even Jews of the day were in fact making this argument, but we will get to that in a moment. I will ask my readers to be patient, because I will be saving the knockout punch for the very end of this section, to show just how erroneous the statements by Albert and J.P. are. We should remember that Justin’s use of the form of a letter written to the emperor for his apology by no means is mutually exclusive with viewing the work as an apologetic work designed for Christians to use in their debates with pagans. Not only does Justin’s apology argue that Christians shouldn’t be persecuted, but it argues that Christianity is the one true religion and that it is superior to all other faiths. Hence, Albert’s claim that understanding the true context of Justin’s apology makes its use by critics mute is simply false.
One may ask if Justin was simply creating the parallels as a means of pointing to the hypocrisy of the Romans, why he would have felt a need to explain them via his highly convoluted argument of pre-cognitive, prophetic diabolical mimicry? At other points in Justin’s apology he is willing to concede points of contact between Christianity and Hellenistic philosophy as being due to these philosopher having glimpsed a fraction of God’s truth. However, when dealing with pagan gods that were born of a miraculous virgin birth, suffered, were resurrected and ascended to heaven he feels the need not only to relate this parallel to the work of demons, but then to give a truly ridiculous explanation as to how the wicked demons managed to imitate Christ before he had even been born. Furthermore it is extremely noteworthy that despite the fact that Albert talked for approx. half an hour, and that the article in Holdings book and corresponding online articles by Don Harper covered several pages, neither Mcllhenny, Holding or Harper mentioned the passage in chapter 54 of Justin’s apology in which Justin stated that the demons had created the parallels in advance “to deceive and lead astray the human race”, with the hope that they could create the impression that “they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets”. I find it extraordinary that multiple Christian apologists could devote significant time to discussing the topic in claiming to be clearing up popular misunderstandings, and yet fail to mention this passage.
Justin most certainly is stating that the natural conclusion that people would reach from seeing parallels between Jesus and pagan gods was that the things said about Christ were myths, just as with the pagan gods. If Justin was simply trying to create parallels for the purpose of halting persecution of Christians, than one may wonder why on earth he would not only go to the length of arguing for pre-cognitive, prophetic diabolical mimicry, but also why he would concede that it would make people reject the things said about Christ as being mere myths. Now let me be very clear here, the passages that directly follow those that I quoted from are directly followed by statements by Justin about the wicked devils failing to get the details correct. Given their arguments elsewhere, I would presume that if Albert and J.P. were to respond to this passage they would argue that these passages therefore cancel out the previously quoted verses about people coming to see the things said about Christ as myths. However, this theoretical response for J.P. and Albert again rests on the idea that differences cancel out the similarities, and also fails to explain why on earth Justin would incriminate himself only to rely upon ridiculous responses to counter arguments that he himself was creating. It just makes no sense. Sure, we cannot expect to understand exactly what Justin was thinking. However outright rejecting the possibility that Justin was taking the opportunity to respond to some common objections from pagans, and claiming that rather Justin was the one making up the parallels Ex nihilo is completely unwarranted and unsupported by and positive evidence. And to the contrary, we do indeed have positive evidence that others were accusing Christians of plagiarism, to which we will raise shortly, and of which Albert and J.P. must certainly be well aware.
Ultimately, Albert and J.P.’s conclusions rest solely on the idea that the differences between Jesus and the pagan gods outweigh and make mute any apparent similarities. This idea is behind their emphasis on Justin’s insistence that the wicked devils did not entirely succeed in imitating Christ fully, as well as their rejection of the parallels raised by Justin as being legitimate parallels. I mentioned at the start of this video that I do not wish to make an argument in favor of pagan parallels here in this video. There simply is too much to cover, and I devote a pretty significant amount of time to the topic in my book. Christian apologists have written huge volumes on the topic of resurrection alone, and there is also secular scholarship on the topic to deal with. Hence, I simply only wish to cover enough ground to give those new to the topic an understanding of why some people would claim that there are parallels between pagan gods and Jesus. I’m only going to cover enough information so that we can at least see that there are some parallels, from which we can leave the question open as to whether they are indicative of a causal relationship, or merely superficial and coincidental. I will briefly discuss some of the sources for the parallels mentioned by Justin for Perseus and Dionysus, as well as a very quick summary of syncretism. I should also mention that aside from the parallels in the passages that I have highlighted, Justin raises quite a number of apparent parallels throughout his apology. Many of these are indeed incredibly weak by anyone’s standards; however again this does not take away the legitimacy of pagan parallel proponents quoting Justin in favor of their arguments.
Here’s the thing, some of the parallels between Jesus and pagan gods are quite strong whilst others are weaker. However, as Justin tries to claim that the devils had created their gods after a reading of Old Testament prophecies, he draws some absurdly weak parallels between pagan gods and various Old Testament passages. One can see that the pagan gods clearly have nothing to do with the Old Testament passages Justin quotes, and his argument is just plain stupid. On the other hand, the parallels between Jesus and the pagan gods he mentions are much stronger, which makes Justin’s attempt at retaining Judeo-Christian primacy for the relevant motifs all the more ridiculous. For those unfamiliar with the story of the birth of Perseus, here is a quick summary. Perseus was the son of Danae, and was impregnated by Zeus via a golden shower. Danae had been locked in an underground chamber after her father had been told by an oracle that her son would grow up to kill him, hence he wished to avoid Danae becoming impregnated. Hence, you could argue that Danae was a virgin as she had been locked away from human contact, and hence would have been a virgin at the time of conception. The method of impregnation via a golden shower is certainly non-sexual in a literal sense, although it is commonly understood to be a form of Zeus and his mighty seed. Hence, Zeus did have sex with Danae, but it was through a supernatural kind of non-sexual way, if that makes any sense.
In case you were wondering when this story dates there are allusions to it in the work of Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BCE, where he writes:
“Perseus was the son of Danae, the daughter of Akrisios, and Zeus”. Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 4, 9:1.
We also have the passage from Ovid around the turn of the Common Era:
“I (Perseus), who am the son of Regal Jove (Zeus) and her whom he embraced in showers of gold, leaving her pregnant in her brazen cell”. Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 697ff.
However, whilst we can be certain that the story is pre-Christian in origin some of the most explicit sources are in the Common Era, such as this one from Pseudo-Apollodorus somewhere around the 2nd century CE:
“When Acrisius inquired of the oracle how he should get male children, the god said that his daughter would give birth to a son who would kill him. Fearing that Acrisius built a brazen chamber under ground and there guarded Danae. However, she was seduced, as some say, by Proetus, whence arose the quarrel between them; but some say that Zeus had intercourse with her in the shape of a stream of gold, which poured through the roof into Danae’s lap…”. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library 2.4.1.
Albert seems to be under the impression that the differences in the details of this birth narrative from those found in the New Testament nullify any apparent similarities, and he mocks anybody that claims different as apparently being ignorant as to the nature of Greek mythology. Unfortunately for him, the case of Perseus birth has three significant points of contact with the birth narrative of Christ. For any viewer that didn’t get it they are; non-sexual conception, being fathered by the Supreme God via a mortal female, and finally and most importantly, explicit virginity in the case of the mother at the time of the impregnation. For Albert and J.P. to state that there is no real parallel between the births of Perseus and Jesus ignores the reality of syncretism, and the fact that commonly causal relationship exists between two sources even when there are startling differences between them. Causal relationships do not necessitate that the new source takes on all the exact details of the earlier source. Rather, what is more common is that a general motif is transferred into a new context with differences in the details, revealing both their relationship and the uniqueness of both sources. There are numerous other examples of similar miraculous births in pagan mythology, most of which involve non-sexual conception, many of which feature a male god as the father (often the Supreme God such as Zeus) with a mortal female, and several that explicitly state that the mother is a virgin.
In the case of Dionysus, we can indeed match up every single feature that Justin claimed was parallel with Christ; that being miraculous (but perhaps not virgin) birth, death and resurrection, along with a final ascension to heaven. For those unfamiliar with the mythos of Dionysus, I shall give a quick explanation as to the relevant myths and their sources, and it would be wise to briefly discuss the definition of resurrection and summarize the contention surrounding it amongst critics, scholars and apologists. Starting with his birth, one common story of the birth of Dionysus had him born by Semele, conceived through non-sexual means of a bolt of lightning by the Supreme God Zeus. One source for this account comes from Euripides in the 5th century BCE:
“I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus, come back to Thebes, this land where I was born. My mother was (the king) Cadmus’ daughter, Semele by name, midwifed by fire, delivered by the lightning’s blast. And here I stand, a god incognito, disguised as a man.” Euripides, The Bacchae, verses 1-5.
One may certainly argue that the bolt of lighting was a divine seed, however it is still a miraculous birth (as with Perseus, kind of a non-sexual, miraculous intercourse), conceived by the union of the supreme God and a mortal female. There are several different stories of Dionysus being “twice born”, one of which is as follows:
“In the compulsion of birth pains, the thunder of Zeus flying upon her, his (Dionysus’) mother (Semele) cast from her womb, leaving life by the stroke of a thunderbolt. Immediately Zeus Kronides received him in a chamber fit for birth, and having covered him in his thigh shut him up with golden clasps, hidden from Hera.” Euripides, The Bacchae 90 ff.
In this example Semele is killed, and Dionysus is then given a second birth through the thigh of Zeus. Hence Dionysus here could be said to be reborn but he does not really die first though, hence it is not resurrection. There is another version of the “twice-born” motif that is related by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BCE:
“And though the writers of myths have handed down the account of a third birth (of Dionysus) as well, at which, as they say, the sons of Gaia tore to pieces the god, who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him, but his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time, such accounts as this they trace back to certain causes found in nature.” Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book 3, 62:6.
This passage gives us pre-Christian verification for the myth of Dionysus being torn to pieces and brought back to life by being reborn. In contrast to the previous rebirth narrative, this version explicitly contains a death and hence the rebirth is also a resurrection. If this wasn’t already enough, there are also the myths about Dionysus descending to the underworld and returning to the land of the living. Diodorus again wrote the following in the 1st century BCE:
“The myths relate that Dionysus brought up his mother Semele from Hades, and that sharing with her his own immortality, he changed her name to Thyone.” Ibid, Book 4, 25:4.
A more detailed version can be found in the writing of Pseudo-Hyginus, generally thought to have been written somewhere between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE:
“When Liber (Dionysus) received permission from his father (Zeus) to bring back his mother Semele from the lower world, and in seeking a place of descent had come to the land of the Argives, a certain Hypolipnus met him, a man worthy of that generation, who was to show the entrance to Liber in answer to his request. However, when Hypolipnus saw him, a mere boy in years, excelling all others in remarkable beauty of form, he asked from him the reward that could be given without loss. Liber, however, eager for his mother, swore that if he brought her back, he would do as he wished, on terms, though, that a god could swear to a shameless man. At this, Hypolipnus showed the entrance. So then, Liber came to that place and was about to descend, he left the crown, which he had received as a gift from Venus (Aphrodite), at that place which in consequence is called Stephanos, for he was unwilling to take it with him for fear the immortal gift of the gods would be contaminated by contact with the dead. When he brought his mother back unharmed, he is said to have placed the crown in the stars as an everlasting memorial.” Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica, 2.5.
Ancient people held a variety of opinions in regard to the natural course of the body and/or soul after death. Likewise, there were different conflicting views on whether one could pass to the underworld alive, or whether simply entering the underworld was naturally indicative of death. In the case of the Sumerian god Tammuz, women wept at his passing into the underworld, even though he did not necessarily die in doing so. The ritual mourning for him entering the underworld is very similar to what we encounter in the later Hellenistic mysteries, which we will discuss briefly in a moment. Another closely related example is that of Tammuz’ consort Inanna, who passed into the underworld alive, was killed and brought back to life in the underworld, and then returned to the land of the living. In this case Dionysus descends into the land of the dead and then returns to the land of the living. In doing so there is an allusion to death and resurrection, although he passes into the underworld voluntarily. Anyways, the point is that this story of his descent to the underworld could potentially be seen as related to death and resurrection, and could be used as the inspiration for death-resurrection rites. There is also another source for Dionysus’ descent to the underworld, and that is of course Aristophanes comedy “The Frogs” from the late 5th century BCE. In this play Dionysus descends to the underworld to bring back a famous writer of tragedies. Hence, we have another example of Dionysus descending to the underworld and returning which is again well and truly pre-Christian. Then we have the ascension of Dionysus to heaven, which has been associated by some with resurrection, as the normal course of a person after death would be to descend to the underworld. In this case almost all the explicit written descriptions of Dionysus’ ascension are post-Christian, for example:
“There are paintings here (in the temple of Dionysus at Athens) – Dionysus bringing Hephaistos up to heaven…”. Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, 20:2.
We do however have another mention of the above story from Pseudo-Hyginus (Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 166) somewhere between the 1st and 2nd century CE, which claims to have quoted Corastae of Epicharmus from the 5th century BCE. We also possess multiple vases paintings which depict the myth and which date from as early as the 6th century BCE. There are however also a number of written allusions to Dionysus’ ascension from around the turn of the Common Era. For example:
“Dionysus, conqueror of India, worshipped in the new-built shrines of Greece…was placed among the gods of heaven.” Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4. 605ff.
“Not alone has Bacchus himself or the mother of Bacchus attained the skies…”. Seneca, Hercules Furens 16ff.
And in the same work:
“Nor will he (Herakles) come to the stars by a peaceful journey as Bacchus did”. Seneca, Hercules Furens 65ff, ibid.
Given the testimony of Seneca and Ovid, along with the citation from pseudo-Hyginus as to the work of Corastae and the corresponding vase paintings, there is no question that this narrative is pre-Christian. Christian apologists often claim that the word resurrection has explicit Judeo-Christian meanings and that it is not appropriate to use it for pagan gods who were brought back to life after being killed. Such an argument falls apart however when we realize that the New Testament texts used exactly the same Greek words for resurrection as did pagan texts describing their gods coming back to life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the exact understanding of how these pagan gods were thought to have come back to life was identical to that of Jesus in the New Testament, only that the claim to there being a special word for rising from the dead in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a false claim. The word resurrection is simply an English word for bringing something back to life that was formerly dead, and we use it for all manner of circumstances from saving a dying business from going under, to a football team winning again after struggling for a period of time. Hence, we should not necessarily expect the ancient Greek conception of resurrection to be identical to that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but neither is it necessary for it to be to use the same word for both examples.
We should not that Albert attempted to conflate the resurrection and ascension motifs for Dionysus, and there is indeed some truth to what he says. However, to imply that there was no specific concept of resurrection in the Dionysus mythos is greatly mistaken as already shown, and ignores quite a number of facts that clearly point out that Dionysus was indeed seen as both reborn and resurrected. We have the narrative of Dionysus going into the underworld to rescue his mother from Hades, which is attested in pre-Christian times. We have the play “The Frogs” which parodies this, and dates to the 5th century BCE. Finally we have the story of him being torn apart by the titans and being reborn/resurrected/cloned from his heart. On top of all this, we have numerous ancient writers telling of him being identical to Osiris, the resurrected god par excellence, as well as telling us that his rites were the same as of Osiris. For those unaware I will cite a few examples to make this point, before giving a very brief overview of Osiris. Writing in the 5th century BCE, Herodotus wrote:
“…for Egyptians do not worship the same Gods in the same way. Only the Gods Isis and Osiris (the latter of whom they say is Dionysus) are worshipped in the same manner by all Egyptians.”
“…from Egypt, introduced many different rites to the Hellenes, among them those of Dionysus”
“… I would certainly not claim it is by chance that the rite performed for the God in Egypt resembles so closely that carried out in Hellas.” Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2 (all three above passages).
Also, writing in the 1st century BCE, Diodorus wrote the following:
“The Egyptians, for example, say that the god who among them bears the name Osiris is the one whom the Greeks call Dionysus”. Diodorus, The Antiquities of Egypt, Book 4, 1:6.
As well as these key passages:
“After he (Erechtheus) had secured the throne he instituted the initiatory rites of Demeter in Eleusis and established the mysteries, transferring their ritual from Egypt”. Ibid, Book 1, 29:2.
As well as:
“For the rite of Osiris is the same as that of Dionysus and that of Isis very similar to that of Demeter, the names alone having been interchanged; and the punishment in Hades of the unrighteous, the fields of the righteous, and the fantastic conceptions, current among the many, which are figments of the imagination – all these were introduced by Orpheus in imitation of the Egyptian funeral customs.” Ibid, Book 1, 96:5.
Here we have several pre-Christian Greek historians telling us that Dionysus was the same god as Osiris, and that his myths and rites were identical. We are also told that the Greek mysteries were derived from Egyptian funerary customs, to which perhaps those unfamiliar may be asking what then were the Egyptian funerary customs. Obviously everyone should be well familiar with the fact that the ancient Egyptians practiced mummification, that being the practice of embalming and wrapping the body of the dead pharaoh in an attempt at preserving his body for the afterlife. An essential part of the funerary rituals of Ancient Egypt was the ritual association of the deceased with the god Osiris, in order to resurrect the deceased in the afterlife. There are many variations of the myth of Osiris as with many other ancient myths, and as is frequently the case the earliest complete narrative that we have comes from a source in the Common Era, that being Plutarch. However, there are numerous pre-Christian sources that can attest the vast majority of Plutarch’s narrative, and most certainly the central motif of resurrection is present from the very earliest sources. A summary is as follows: the evil god Set tricked Osiris into getting into a coffin at a party, at which Set and his co-conspirators sealed the coffin and threw it into the River Nile. Isis later found the coffin holding up the roof of a palace in Byblos, and opened it to find Osiris dead. Isis somehow manages to conceive a child with Osiris and gives birth to a son (Horus), and Set finds the body of Osiris, at which he tears Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces and scatters them across Egypt. Isis goes in search of the various parts of Osiris’s body and manages to retrieve all but his phallus; hence she makes a “magic phallus” to complete Osiris. Osiris is brought back to life and descends to the underworld to rule as judge of the dead. Horus was also often seen as both the reincarnation and resurrection of Osiris, hence Osiris is effectively brought back to life several times. Plutarch gives a detailed account of the annual rites that accompanied this myth in his work Moralia: Isis and Osiris:
“That she secretly measured the body of Osiris, and made to the size a handsome and highly ornamented coffer which he carried into the banqueting room. And as they were all delighted with its appearance and admired it; Typhon promised in sport that whoever should lie down within it, and should exactly fit, he would make him a present of the chest; and after the others had tried, one by one, and nobody fitted it; then Osiris got in, and laid himself down, thereupon the conspirators running up shut down the lid, and fastened it with spike-nails from the outside, and poured melted lead over them, and so carried it out to the River, and let it go down the Tanaite branch into the sea: which branch on that account is hateful, and unlucky for Egyptians to name. These things are said to have been done on the 17th day of the month”. Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, Chapter 13.
And later in the same work:
“But on the nineteenth at night they go down to the sea, and the “Dressers” and priests bring out the sacred coffer containing a little golden ark, into which they take and pour water from the river, and a shout is raised by the assistants, as though Osiris had been found.”. Ibid, Chapter 39.
Getting back to the ancient Egyptian funerary customs, along with the mummification rituals were a series of spell designed to make the deceased pharaoh into Osiris, and as Osiris rose from the dead so would the deceased. Examples can be found amongst the Pyramid texts, dating as far back as the third millennium BCE:
“Thou livest, because the gods ordained that thou live”. The Pyramid Texts, Utterance 577:1528b.
“Though art asleep, (thou art awake); thou art (dead), thou art alive, awake, hear (that which) Horus (has done for) thee…so that mourning ceased in the two palaces of the gods…The children of thy child have raised thee up, perfect”. Ibid, Utterance 670:1975b, 1976b, 1978a and 1983a.
“To say: O, O, raise thyself up, N; receive thy head, unite thy bones to thee, collect thy limbs, shake the earth (dust of the earth) from thy flesh, Lift thyself up, N, thou shalt not die.” Ibid, Utterance 373: 654a, 654b, 654c, 654d and 657e.
“To say: Geb has raised thee up; this spirit has been guarded for thee, Osiris has given to thee the spirits, Raise thyself up, spirit of N, thy going is a representative of Osiris, Raise thyself up; shake off thy dust; remove the dirt which is on thy face; loose thy bandages”. Ibid, Utterance 553: 1353a, 1354b, 1357a, 1358a, 1363a and 1363b.
These are but a few examples, the entire collection of Pyramid texts are filled with such frequent statements. There is no question by any Egyptologist that the Pyramid texts were designed to raise up the deceased through the process of identification with Osiris, the god of resurrection. As Osiris had risen from the dead, so would the deceased through these rituals. Outside of professional Egyptologists there are various objections to viewing Osiris as the god of resurrection, and viewing the Egyptian funerary practices as aimed towards raising the deceased from the dead. Christian apologists and even some secular scholars argue that Osiris never rose from the dead, and that the rising up spoken of in the Pyramid texts is simply the spirit leaving the body. We will note that in the above translation there was indeed a few passages which mentioned rising as a spirit, however there are also numerous passages that mention “collecting ones limbs, brushing the dirt of ones face” etc., hence there is an implication of a bodily rising (also the presence of the word “spirit” here is really a bad translation, as the Egyptian concepts of Ba and Ka are not simply equivalent to soul and/or spirit). What’s more, the simple fact that Egyptians went to great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead should by itself be indicative that the Egyptians believed in some form of a physical afterlife, and a bodily resurrection. Many Christian apologists have argued that this is still distinctly different to the Judeo-Christian conception of bodily resurrection, as in that form Christians and Jews believe that they will rise in a new body, eternal and immortal. In contrast they claim that the Egyptian concept is more like zombification, as it is the same rotten body that they died with.
Such claims however are made out of ignorance, as Egyptians clearly believed that they would be made immortal in the afterlife. Sure, Judaism and Christianity are not identical to the Egyptian religion, hence we should not expect their concepts of resurrection and the afterlife to be identical. Those that object to referring to Osiris as resurrected state that he remained dead, and that he simply went on to live eternally in the afterlife. They contrast this to the example of Jesus who they say came back to life on earth, and remained here for a while before he ascended to heaven. The point that they are missing however is that clearly the ancient Egyptians did not believe that they would naturally live forever after death in the afterlife. Rather, they clearly believed that they would naturally cease to exist, and that they required magical resurrection in order to live again. Hence, Osiris most certainly was brought back to life, and the aim of the Egyptian funerary practices was to raise the dead back to life, only not to earthly life but to a new immortal life in the Egyptian equivalent of heaven. There are more factors that are relevant here in response to the claims that Osiris was not resurrected, however I will leave them alone and those interested can read my book when it comes out.
I would also like to mention an artifact called Ikhernofret Stela, which is dated approx. to around 2,000 BCE. This artifact explicitly details the yearly ritual theatrical performance of the death and resurrection of Osiris. In this play Osiris is killed on the first day, after which whilst dead he descends into the underworld to do battle with Set, before he is brought back to life three days later. We know from this artifact that this play was performed year after year at the same time in accordance with the annual flooding of the Nile, and we likewise know from later sources that this “passion-play” was still being performed well into the Hellenistic period. Herodotus wrote the following in the 5th century CE:
“It is on this lake that the Egyptians act by night in what they call their Mysteries, the Passion of that being whose name I will not speak…all the details of these performances are known to me, but I will say no more.” Herodotus, The Histories, 197, Book 2, 172.
The above is quite cryptic, however in light of the Ikhernofret stele it is pretty safe to say that he is referring to the passion play of the death and resurrection of Osiris. We have already discussed Plutarch’s description of the Osirian rites, hence we can see that there is a vast abundance of sources for both the myth and corresponding rites of death and resurrection for Osiris, from ancient times, through the Hellenistic period and well into the Common Era. The only question then is whether the differences in the details of the Osirian myth and rites make mute any similarities between Osiris and Jesus, and that is a question I do not wish to clearly answer here today. However, we can see how absurd it is for people to argue that Osiris was not raised from the dead. The ancient Egyptians did not celebrate because Osiris remained dead; rather they mourned when he died and celebrated when he came back to life. The fact that he came back to life in the underworld, or that Horus was his son did not stop the Egyptians from believing that Osiris was once dead, and now was alive again. Hence, the English word resurrection is just as appropriate for Osiris as it is for Jesus, and there is one more example I will give that really nails this point home. One of the most common objections to viewing Osiris as a resurrected god, or dying and rising god if you prefer comes from the scholar Jonathon. Z. Smith, whose work on the topic has been largely responsible for many secular scholars such as Bart Ehrman dismissing any similarity between Osiris and Christ, not to mention that Smith is likewise seen as a savior in the field by many Christian apologists.
Smith has written quite a bit on the topic including a dissertation on Frazer’s work “The Golden Bough”, however most people simply quote his article on dying and rising gods that he wrote for the encyclopedia of Religion. Smith wrote of Osiris:
“…He did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have “risen” in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern…the repeated formula “Rise up, you have not died,” whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead.” J.Z. Smith, Dying and Rising Gods, Encyclopedia of Religion.
Obviously I have already responded briefly to the major part of this argument. For the ancient Egyptians miraculous intervention was required to resurrect the deceased, who otherwise would have remained lifeless. One can only speculate as to how ancient Egyptians conceived the natural result of death, whether as a shadowy hades, or as complete cessation of consciousness. What isn’t up for debate is that mummification rituals, and various magical spells that turn the deceased into Osiris were seen as essential requirements for an afterlife. This fact again shows that resurrection to the afterlife realm was still resurrection to the minds of ancient Egyptians. Furthermore, let us consider the example of C.S. Lewis’ famous work “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. In this story it is quite obvious that Aslan the lion represents Jesus for several explicit reason, most notably the occurrences at the end of the story. Edmund betrays his friends after the Witch gains his confidence, and thus due to the magical laws of Narnia he now belongs to the Witch and must die. Aslan offers to take Edmund’s place and pay the price of his sin and is tied to a stone table before being stabbed with a knife. Aslan comes back to life through “deep magic” which states that when someone who has committed no treachery dies on the part of the guilty the table would crack, and death would work backwards. Aslan is therefore resurrected just like Jesus, and the core meaning of his myth is clearly related to the core meaning of the Jesus myth, despite the fact that there are major differences in the specific details of their narratives.
No Christian will deny that parallels exists between Aslan and Jesus, rather the opposite is true; Christians in fact openly admit this parallel and claim a direct causal relationship between Jesus and Aslan. This is not surprising because of course, C.S. Lewis himself was a Christian and he himself explicitly admitted that the story was paralleled to the Gospel narrative. In “The Lion, the Witch…” Aslan likewise does not resurrect to life on earth, neither does his death take place on earth. Rather, his death and resurrection occur in a magical alternate dimension, full of all sorts of mythical creatures and supernatural phenomena. More to the point, to enter Narnia from earth you have to leave this world, hence it directly parallels pagan gods resurrecting to the underworld, or even in the underworld. Despite this however, we know as fact that Aslan in this tale is a direct parallel to Jesus, and that this parallel was deliberate and indicative of a direct causal relationship between the two. So, despite the fact that the resurrection of Aslan does not occur on earth, we know that there is a direct causal relationship between the two. Therefore, one cannot argue that differences in details between Christian and pagan religious motifs nullifies any relationship between them, as this example proves that they do not.
One might argue that the point is that in the New Testament narrative the death and resurrection of Jesus occurs both in the same place, and that the same is also true of Aslan, and that the difference is that in the narrative of Osiris his resurrection occurs in a different place to his death. However if the requirement is simply that the death and resurrection occur in the same realm then we would then find the example of Inanna would meet every requirement placed upon the condition of a legitimate parallel, as her death, hanging of her corpse upon a pin and resurrection all occur in the same place (that being the underworld). If one is to dismiss this example because they occur in the underworld, then one must also dismiss the example of Aslan, as his death and resurrection occur in a magical plane from which you have to leave earth to enter, despite the fact that we know beyond any doubt that there is a causal relationship between Jesus and Aslan.
The reality is that where a figure was said to have resurrected to or from is irrelevant to the question of parallel and cause. Therefore, all those that argue that it is are wrong, and should recant their previous position. Not only is it anachronistic to argue that differences in the details of parallel myths nullify any relationship between them, but this argument is no truer of modern-day times than it would have been in ancient times.
Getting back to the point, the whole reason why I wanted to briefly discuss Osiris was to point that in being syncretic with Osiris, Dionysus most certainly would have been viewed as a resurrected god. There are several different myths relating to Dionysus that could have been used as the basis for annual rites that would have resembled the annual passion play of Osiris, and there is just too much evidence to deny it. Let us close this brief discussion with a quote from another early Church father, that being Minucius Felix writing somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE:
“And you behold the swallow and the cymbal of Isis, and the tomb of your Serapis or Osiris empty, with his limbs scattered about. Then consider the sacred rites themselves, and their very mysteries: you will find mournful deaths, misfortunes, and funerals, and the griefs and wailings of the miserable gods. Isis bewails, laments, and seeks after her lost son, with her Cynocephalus and her bald priests (just like me!); and the wretched Isaacs beat their breasts, and imitate the grief of the most unhappy mother. By and by, when the little boy is found, Isis rejoices, and the priests exult, Cynocephalus the discoverer boasts, and they do not cease year by year either to lose what they find, or to find what they lose. Is it not ridiculous either to grieve for what you worship, or to worship that over which you grieve? Yet these were formerly Egyptian rites, and now are Roman ones. Ceres with her torches lighted, and surrounded with a serpent, with anxiety and solicitude tracks the footsteps of Proserpine, stolen away in her wandering, and corrupter. These are the Eleusinian mysteries.” Minucius Felix, Octavius, Chapter 21.
This final passage gives attests to several very significant things. It is another source showing that pagans held annual rites centered upon a god dying and coming back to life to which they mourned at the loss and celebrated at the find, and that these rites had passed from the Egyptians, to the Romans and Greeks. Is it really that surprising to imagine that when Christians started proclaiming that their god had died and come back to life, and celebrated it annually, that outsiders would proclaim “hmm, you know, this is a little familiar. Where have I heard this before…?”. We know as a fact that pagans practiced syncretism, they shared beliefs, myths and rites, and they identified common features between different gods as being indicative of a causal relationship. There are countless examples that can be given aside from Dionysus and Osiris and Demeter and Isis, such as Jupiter and Zeus, Hades and Pluto and many more. We find sharing of information in basically every single topic one can raise, it is a completely natural phenomenon and is only controversial in this case because Christianity claims to be unique, and likewise condemns other faiths as being evil. Anyways, whilst I would hope my viewers would be able to see by now that there is actually something to this whole pagan parallel thing, it is not my intention to make a case for that here. However, I think any reasonable person could at least see from what I have covered here that it is perfectly reasonable to accept that pagans and Jews from the time that Christianity emerged, might have looked at Christianity as being in some ways similar to the popular mythology and religion of its day. When Christians said that Jesus was born of a miraculous non-sexual conception of a mortal virgin by the supreme God, and that Jesus suffered a horrible death only to later be brought back to life, before finally ascending to heaven it is not a stretch to think that pagans might have said: “you know, that sounds a lot like Dionysus…”.
Denying that Dionysus was considered to be resurrected is like looking at an elephant and calling it a cat. Of course, both Albert and J.P. are here relying upon the popular Christian apologetics along with the mainstream scholarship of J.Z. Smith and others that seek to deny any similarity between the Christian and pagan concepts of resurrection. Whilst it is ultimately too big a topic to be covered in detail here, the fact remains that there were most certainly pagan myths and rites that were based around a god dying and being brought back to life. Here, both Albert and J.P. have built their houses upon the sand, as we have already seen that Dionysus most certainly featured central myths and rites related to rebirth and resurrection from pre-Christian times through the Common Era. Hence, there most certainly is reason to see real parallels between Dionysus and Christ, as both were born of a miraculous birth, performed miracles (which I haven’t discussed here), were at some point killed and brought back to life, and both ascended to heaven at the end of their narratives. This summary is equally true of Dionysus as it is of Christ, and these are not merely incidental features of their narratives, but are essentially the primary core motifs in the mythos and rites of both of them. Hence, the parallels that Justin drew between Dionysus and Christ are valid, and it is modern-day Christian apologists that are grasping at straws in attempting to deny them.
This still leaves open the question of whether pagans from Justin’s day were pointing out the parallels to him and whether or not he was responding to them, but it makes clear that the parallels he was pointing out were indeed real. Hence modern-day Christian apologists that simply seek to deny them are just fooling themselves, as well as their unfortunate readers and viewers. There is nothing really new beyond this that J.P. Holding mentioned in his video, except that perhaps Holding takes the arrogance factor to a new level beyond that which Albert used in his own videos. Keeping that in mind, lets now move on to some of the evidence that Albert and J.P conveniently neglected to discuss in their videos, which will truly give context to Justin’s comments and allow us to consider whether perhaps Justin was responding to claims that were being made by pagans and Jews of his time. Well, the first thing to point out is that we don’t really have any surviving anti-Christian polemics from around the exact time Justin was believed to have written his 1st apology, nor before. Hence, we cannot be 100% certain whether pagans of Justin’s time thought that there was any parallel between Jesus and their gods. This is not the end of the story however, as there is still quite a lot of relevant evidence to cover. The first real pagan anti-Christian polemic that survives in any degree to the present day comes of course from Celsus, writing at around 170-180 CE, approximately 30 years after Justin was believed to have written his 1st apology.
Sure, it is 30 (or so) years after Justin so we can’t exactly just assume that it was indicative of how pagans were responding to Christianity 30 years earlier in Justin’s day or before. However, it is only a relatively short period of time so it would be ridiculous to reject the possibility that the things that Celsus wrote had already been considered by pagans in Justin’s day, or before. Once you see what Celsus actually wrote you will understand that obviously Albert and J.P. must either be appealing to the time difference of 30 years to explain why they didn’t factor Celsus into their arguments, or perhaps they deliberately decided to ignore Celsus altogether as they knew that it would not be conducive to their argument. Also, once we have looked at the content of Celsus’ polemic we will have to ask the question whether Albert and J.P. think that Celsus was influenced by Justin. Ok, so what did Celsus write about Christianity? Well, Celsus used several fictive characters as a literary device to enable him to present a critique of Christianity from several different perspectives. Apparently sometimes he spoke as himself, whilst at other times he used the voice of an “accusing Jew”. And what were the arguments that he put forth? Well, lets have a read for ourselves shall we, bearing in mind that we are reading the words of Origen in refutation of Celsus:
“And since Celsus has introduced the Jew disputing with Jesus, and tearing in pieces, as he imagines, the fiction of His birth from a virgin, comparing the Greek fables about Danae, and Melanippe, and Auge, and Antiope, our answer is, that such language becomes a buffoon, land not one who is writing in a serious tone.” Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 37.
Here Origin states explicitly that Celsus had written that the virgin birth story of Jesus was a work of fiction, similar to Greek fables. Just prior to the above passage we have Origen’s words mocking the examples Celsus gave as mere fiction:
“And there is no absurdity in employing Grecian histories to answer Greeks, with the view of showing that we are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind. For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo. And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings”. Ibid.
We see here that Origin himself concedes that the similarities are there, and that the pagan examples are fictitious. However, he of course makes the argument that the example of Jesus is alone real in contrast to the various pagan examples. Like Justin, Origen tries to use the parallels in his favor. However, Origen makes it explicitly clear that he is responding to the accusation of Celsus. A similar situation is found when Celsus and Origen discuss resurrection:
“The Jew continues his address to those of his countrymen who are converts, as follows: ‘Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered. Yet how many others are there who practice such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who gain by their deception – as was the case, they say, with Zalmoxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Taenarus, and Thesus. But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness?’” Ibid, Book 2, chapter 55.
Here Celsus has his accusing Jew address Jewish Christians and ask them how it they believe that Jesus really resurrected from the dead and yet dismiss various similar examples from pagan mythology as merely being fictitious tales. We can thus see that we have here an example of a pagan accusing Christians of making up myths about Christ and comparing them to similar pagan myths, and having written a mere 30-40 years after the time that Justin was likewise believed to have written his apology. Celsus argued that the miraculous birth, miracles, resurrection and various other features of Christianity were paralleled by similar motifs in paganism, along with the implication that the pagan versions were older. To Celsus, the differences between the pagan examples he raised and Jesus were not sufficient to make mute any similarity between them. Rather the opposite was true to him; the similarities appeared to him indicative of a causal relationship between them, despite the many differences in the details of their narratives. So lets get this straight. Justin Martyr writing in approx. 140ish CE draws parallels between the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus and pagan gods, and Albert Mcllhenny and J.P. Holding tell us that pagans of his day did not see any parallels. However, 30 years after Justin we have the first known pagan response to Christianity that draws parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, pointing out things like the miraculous births and resurrections. Did Albert and J.P. just magically forget about Celsus when they were making their videos? Or did they think that the 30 year time difference simply nullified any need to discuss or consider Celsus in their argument?
Are they really that stupid as to ignore the possibility that the things that Celsus was writing in 170 CE could possibly have been thought by pagans in 140 CE as well? Sure, we don’t know for certain, but it certainly is possible, and there is still more evidence to be considered that really makes the case. Furthermore, are Albert and J.P. really that stupid to think that Celsus was influenced by Justin? Ok, well we can’t fully discount the possibility that Celsus had derived the idea of parallels between Jesus and pagan gods from Justin, but you must concede that the idea is pretty ridiculous. If pagans had got the idea from Christians, we would naturally expect them to have made light of the fact that even Christians were seeing the parallels. Furthermore, would not they have mocked the ridiculous attempt at retaining Judeo-Christian primacy by arguing that the devil had plagiarized Christ in advance by reading into prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures? I know as fact that both J.P. and Albert know all about Celsus, and I am certainly not the first person to mention Celsus in relation to Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument. In fact, one of the main books responsible for making light of Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument (that being “The Jesus Mysteries” by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy) quoted Justin and what its authors thought was Celsus on the same page, both immediately under the heading “Diabolical Mimicry” (and that’s chapter 3 on page 27 for anyone interested). Now, Freke and Gandy did in fact misquote Celsus, as they unwittingly quoted a passage that had been interpolated into a reconstruction of Celsus’ writings by the translator as a paraphrase, which was unfortunately not separated from the main text. Despite this mistake on behalf of Freke and Gandy, the point still remains true that they related Justin’s comments to Celsus, and as both J.P. and Albert have claimed to have read “The Jesus Mysteries” they cannot claim to be ignorant of the relationship between them.
The point is this, Albert and J.P. have absolutely no grounds on which to claim that Justin was the one himself making parallels and that pagans of his day didn’t see any themselves. They have drawn this conclusion by erroneously reading this into Justin’s comments about the wicked devils failing to understand the fullness of Christ in the Hebrew prophecies. All Justin actually said was that whilst there were similarities between Christ and gods like Dionysus, they weren’t identical in every way. I would hope that my readers can understand the obvious connection between Justin and Celsus, on one hand you have a Christian writer drawing parallels between Jesus and Dionysus and resorting to a ridiculous argument in an attempt at responding to the fact that Dionysus got there first. On the other hand you have a pagan pointing out the similarities between Jesus and pagan gods, and pointing out that the pagan gods got there first. Sure, Celsus wrote after Justin, but this does not necessarily mean that therefore Justin was the first to come up with the idea of pagan parallels, and that critics of Christianity are taking Justin out of context. We have seen a number of quotes from pre-Christian sources that show the general tendency of pagans to deliberately seek out parallels between their gods, and to view them all as one and the same. We know that they were doing this well before the Common Era, and they were quite happy to ignore the differences between the myths and rites of different gods, and on the basis of common features they were willing to go as far as state that they were in fact identical, that being the very same god!
Hence, we can see that the possibility that Celsus was influenced by Justin seems truly preposterous, as Celsus was simply continuing an age old pagan tradition of seeing parallels between different gods, and seeing such common motifs despite the presence of differences in the details. It is anachronistic for modern-day people to use the “differences outweigh the similarities” argument as ancient people clearly did not think like that, not to mention that the “difference…” argument fails in modern-day times as well, as the example of Aslan proves once and for all. There is however even more to add to the topic of Justin’s 1st apology before we move on, and it is this last source that really puts the nail on the Christian apologetic coffin. Whilst we do not have any direct evidence of Justin proposing his parallels in response to accusations by pagans, we do in fact have explicit evidence of Justin using exactly the same argument as he uses in his 1st apology, in response to accusations by Jews. Yes, that’s right; in his Dialogue with Trypho we read the following:
“And Trypho answered, ‘The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son’, but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son’, and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of the prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather (should) say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honor of being elected to be Christ, (it is well); but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.” Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 67.
To which Justin responds:
“Trypho, I wish to persuade you, and all men in short, of this, that even though you talk worse things in ridicule and in jest, you will not move me from my fixed design…” Ibid.
To which he then goes on in chapter 68 to justify his reading of the Scriptures, arguing that Isaiah did indeed refer to Christ and not Hezekiah as Trypho had argued. He then gets back in chapter 69 to the topic of Trypho’s allegation of plagiarizing the Greeks:
“‘Be well assured, then, Trypho,’ I continued, ‘that I am established in the knowledge of and faith in the Scriptures by those counterfeits which he who is called the devil is said to have performed among the Greeks; just as some were wrought by the Magi in Egypt, and others by the false prophets in Elijah’s days. For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by (Jupiter’s) intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that (the devil) has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses? And when they tell that Hercules was strong, and travelled over all the world, and was begotten by Jove of Alcmene, and ascended to heaven when he died, do I not perceive that the Scripture which speaks of Christ, ‘strong as a giant to run his race’, has been in like manner imitated? And when he (the devil) brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?” Chapter 69.
He then goes in chapter 70 to make the argument that the Mithraic mysteries plagiarized the prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah, to which he finishes with the following comment that make it absolutely explicit that his above comments were written as a response to Trypho’s allegation:
“…And when I hear, Trypho, said I, that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.” Ibid, Chapter 70.
So, there you have it. I believe that this is what we call checkmate, a slam-dunk, case closed, or as close as we could ever get. Sure, there are perhaps a few things that could be discussed about the above passages. Yes, most scholars believe with good reason that Justin was not reporting a real dialogue between himself and Trypho, but was using the dialogue as a literary construct. This fact does not in any way diminish the fact that Justin was himself responding to claims of Christian plagiarism. Rather, Justin used the literary form of a dialogue to give his responses to common objections given by Jews about Christianity, hence this fact shows that Justin recognized that it was a common accusation made against Christians, that they had plagiarized pagan mythology. It is true that from what I understand, most scholars believe that Justin’s dialogue was written after his 1st apology. However, accepting the dialogue as a later work than the apology does nothing to diminish the fact that Justin used his diabolical mimicry argument as a response to accusations that Christians had plagiarized the Greeks. Justin does not respond to Trypho “I myself made that argument up simply to try and stop the Romans from persecuting Christians”, or anything to that affect. He does not have his theoretical Jewish opponent state that the Christians themselves point out parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, any more than does Celsus.
One can suspect that if Jews and pagans had any awareness that Christians were themselves pointing out parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, and resorting to the absurdity of the diabolical mimicry argument, that they most certainly would have taken Christians to the cleaners for it. It is of course possible that they did and we simply have no surviving record of it, but this is purely speculative. Again, this example is of Jews rather than pagans accusing Christians of plagiarizing pagans. However, it still establishes Justin using his diabolical mimicry argument in response to an accusation of Christian plagiarism, which by itself essentially proves in the true meaning of the word that Albert and J.P. were simply making things up, when they claimed that Justin was not responding to claims of Christian plagiarism, but simply making the parallels up himself. We should also note that Holding actually reference a portion of the above passages from Justin’s dialogue in his video and accompanying chapter in his book, hence he cannot claim to be unfamiliar with it, unless he simply didn’t read the surrounding material! Furthermore we should note that as with the apology, Justin’s dialogue is essentially a Christian apologetic work used for dissemination amongst Christians that may have multiple purposes. It most likely was used for the purpose of helping Christians to keep their faith in the face of the critiques they received from Jews, as well as giving Christians arguments and responses to use with Jews in debates. I have also seen it suggested that it may have been used to present to pagans an argument for Christian superiority over Judaism, as there may have been some pagans interested in the dialogue between Christianity and Judaism.
It is ultimately extremely unlikely that Justin would have used his diabolical mimicry argument in his apology simply as an argument for the Romans to stop persecuting Christians, and then later use it in a completely different context in his dialogue in response Jewish accusations that Christians had plagiarized pagan mythology. The fact that the dialogue makes it explicit that Justin is using the argument as a response gives context to the apology; hence it is most likely that in the apology he was also taking the opportunity to respond to accusations by pagans that Christians had plagiarized their mythology, just as Celsus wrote several decades later. Either way, the above passages from the dialogue essentially make my case watertight, and utterly destroy the claims made by Christian apologists that modern critics of Christianity are misusing and misquoting Justin. Rather, the opposite is true; Justin did indeed fall upon an absurd argument in desperation to explain how Christians could believe similar things to pagans, yet be the superior and exclusively true faith despite pagans believing those things at a much earlier date. Before finishing let us quickly summarize the facts. Pagans had a long history of syncretism and viewing parallels between various gods of being indicative of causal relationships between them, to the point that they frequently claimed they were simply the same god. The earliest anti-Christian pagan polemics we know about indeed accused Christianity of plagiarizing paganism, making similar parallels to those that Justin himself made.
The claim that Justin was himself inventing the parallels and that pagans at the time didn’t see any themselves is a deliberate misreading of the text, twisting the general context of the work and Justin’s comments about the devils not understanding the fullness of Christ, to mean something that Justin never stated anywhere in the text. Finally, we know that Justin himself used the diabolical mimicry argument in direct response to an accusation that Christians had plagiarized Greek gods. This final fact alone makes the case by itself, let alone on top of the rest of the facts as an accumulative case. Albert and J.P. are simply wrong, and they are beings jerks about it as well. Hence this case has been proved once and for all, and if Christian apologists have any integrity and honesty, they will publically concede that their claims were erroneous and that they displayed arrogance in falsely accusing their critics of misusing Justin. One may remember now James White’s hilarious comments about atheists apparently not being bound by a moral code. It appears that the opposite here is true, that critics of Christianity have accurately represented the reality of the situation, and it is Christian apologists who have lied and resorted to name-calling their opponents in order to hold their ground, and refuse to acknowledge the facts as they stand. One may consider Albert and J.P. here to be perfect examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect. For those unaware, research has shown that the more intelligent one is the more self-awareness they possess, and the more they are aware of their own intellectual limitations. On the other hand, less intelligent people tend to be unaware of their own intellectual limitations, and tend to significantly overestimate their relative intelligence.
Albert and J.P. both seem to be unaware of the fact that they have got this topic of diabolical mimicry completely wrong, to the point that they have repeatedly mocked their opponents, carrying on with a self-confidence that is staggering in light of how absolutely false their conclusions are. It is a true measure of a man whether they can admit that they were wrong, and if Albert and J.P. choose to respond to this article we will see what kind of men they are. What we have discussed in this article does not prove that Jesus never existed, nor does it even prove that Christians did indeed plagiarize pagans. However, it does absolutely prove that modern day proponents of the pagan parallel thesis can and should legitimately quote from Justin Martyr in showing that early Christians were aware of the idea that there were parallels between Jesus and various pagan gods. They were aware of the fact that the pagan gods were older, and in this case Justin did indeed stoop to a unbelievable low in an attempt at maintaining Judeo-Christian primacy for the parallel motifs. Likewise, Justin Martyr did indeed use his diabolic mimicry argument in response to direct allegations that Christians were guilty of plagiarism. Hence, when pagan parallel proponents are making their case they should indeed quote from Justin along with Celsus, in pointing out that the idea is not simply a modern construct, but has precedent in the early days of Christianity.
Might I suggest that the desperate attempts by modern apologists to refute their critics use of Justin is indicative of the true importance of Justin’s work. The very fact that J.P. Holding and Albert Mcllhenny have had to use deception in order to try and refute critics on this topic indicates that J.P. and Albert understand that if legitimate, their critics have a strong argument here. The fact that they have failed to refute it shows that pagan parallel proponents do indeed have real evidence for their thesis and that this is devastating to orthodox Christianity, which relies upon both a full literal reading of the Gospels and exclusivity from other faiths aside from Judaism. I would hope that people are careful in accepting the claims of both Christians and their critics. Check the facts for yourself, and always seek out the alternative point of view. Realistically I would not expect Christians such as J.P. Holding to accept defeat easily. Rather, he will probably resort to his usual tactics of dodging and weaving in trying to hold his ground, an excellent example of which can been in the links below (in relation to the Old Testament story of Elisha and the bears), in which he had resorted to an absurd attempt at reinterpreting a difficult passage from the Old Testament, to which a critic took him to town. Sure, there have been many examples of pagan parallel proponents misusing various passages from early Church fathers, reading them out of context and often completely misunderstanding their true meaning. There have been examples of critics misusing Justin Martyr, however the general use of Justin by pagan parallel proponents is indeed legitimate and they should indeed keep using it as part of their case. Having cleared up this issue I will now say goodbye for today, thanks for reading.
Links to some of the more important sources mentioned in the above article:
Online translation for Justin Martyr’s 1st Apology to the Greeks: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm.
Online translation of Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue With Trypho: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01286.htm.
James White’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqf3OvKqG6E.
J.P. Holdings video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs52nal-5bk.
Link to the relevant portion of Flemming’s “The God Who Wasn’t There”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUBqgucLXzk.
The Dunning-Kruger effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect.
Elisha and the three bears; J.P. Holdings video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgkMJhcTE1c, and Brett Palmers responses: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFDE9ECF7B2DBE512.