In a previous article I showed that Justin Martyr did indeed use his diabolical mimicry argument in response to accusations by pagans and Jews that Christians had copied motifs from pagan mythology into the Gospel narrative. Whilst there have been legitimate examples where critics of Christianity have misquoted various church fathers, a careful examination of what Justin wrote does indeed achieve the end to which proponents of the pagan parallel thesis present it.
In the previous article I spent some time rebutting a three-part video series made by Albert Mcllhenny, in which he attempted to argue that Justin was in-fact the one who was inventing the parallels (which in Albert’s mind were merely superficial), and that pagans of Justin’s day did not see any parallel between Jesus and their gods. I pointed out that whilst Justin’s 1st Apology presents the diabolical mimicry argument in context of a plea to the Emperor to cease persecution of Christians, Justin’s other major work “Dialogue with Trypho” presents the same argument in direct response to a Jewish accusation that Christians plagiarized the virgin-birth motif from the myth of Perseus. Likewise, I pointed out that the earliest surviving pagan critique of Christianity (“The True Word” by Celsus) did in-fact accuse Christians of plagiarizing pagan mythology. Furthermore, I pointed out that pagans had a long history of syncretism and were prone to viewing similarities between their gods as indicating a direct causal relationship between them.
In discussing the relative dates of Justin’s 1st Apology, Dialogue with Trypho and Celsus’ “True Word” I made a careless remark dismissing the possibility that Celsus may have been familiar with Justin’s writing. This was in context of a larger discussion showing what would be necessary to dismiss the evidence I had presented, and attempt to defend the conclusion to which Albert (and other Christian apologists) were arguing in favour of. After posting my original article on an older blog I sent a message to Albert informing him of my article, and shortly after he posted a series of responses. I will show that Albert ignored the vast majority of the evidence and arguments I presented in my original article, and really only had one legitimate flaw in my article to expose; that being my haste in dismissing the possibility that Celsus was familiar with Justin’s writings.
Nevertheless, even if we consider the possibility that Celsus was familiar with Justin, Albert has still made no effort to engage the evidence and arguments I presented which refute his position. Furthermore, he prematurely dismisses the fact that Justin used the diabolical mimicry argument in response to an allegation in his Dialogue. Albert is attempting to retain his Christian faith despite being presented with evidence that would appear to challenge it. He is here using techniques of distraction to attempt to avoid dealing with evidence that directly refutes his conclusion.
When all is considered, my conclusions from my original article still stand, and Albert’s attempt at responding to me have failed. Furthermore, it appears that Albert did a quick Google search on me and found a link I had posted on a Facebook forum. Albert then wrote another short article in which he presumed that whatever interpretation I had read from the passage must be wrong; again embarrassing himself in the process.
Early last year I published an article on my blog on the topic of Justin Martyr’s 1st apology and the subject of diabolical mimicry (1). That article was written in response to several Christian apologetic videos on the subject, which I felt were severely misleading the general public in their claims that critics were misquoting Justin. Much of my article was written in response to a three-part video series by Albert Mcllhenny, and shortly after Albert wrote a series of blog pieces in response to my article. This piece here will make no sense to anybody that hasn’t already read my original piece, so if this is you I recommend you start by reading my original piece. Before going any further I would like to briefly apologize to Albert for taking so much time with this response. I had actually written 80% of this response shortly after his responses were published, however due to a series of personal reasons I stopped work on it and put all my time into completing my book “The Web Unwoven”, and preparing it for submission. Anyways, I have now reposted the original article on my new blog, and have likewise finally published this response.
His first response was written several days after I published my article and is titled “A Forthcoming Response to James Hiscox” (2). On the same day he then published a short article titled “Justin Martyr, the First Apology, and Pagan Parallels” which as I understand he had already written for his book (3). Several days later he published a short article titled “Jonathan Z. Smith, Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, and Dying and Rising Gods”, which I assume was in response to the mention I made of Jonathon Z. Smith and the examples I gave of pre-Christian resurrection amongst pagan gods (4). The next day he posted a two-part series finally in direct response to some of what I had written in my article, the first of which is titled “A Response to James Hiscox, Part 1: YouTube, Pro Wrestling, and the Obvious” (5), and the second titled “A Response to James Hiscox, Part 2: Justin Martyr and Diabolical Mimicry” (6).
I had expected at the time that Albert was finished with his response to me, and I had left a message on his blog saying thanks for taking the time to response and that I would submit a response within a week (obviously I failed on that part). Hence I was quite surprised to later find that he had written another short piece in response to a passage of Jerome that I had posted onto a Facebook group which I take part, titled “Misreading Jerome (and other Fathers)”(7).
His first post in response explained that he was a little embarrassed that the videos were still available on YouTube (at the time), as he thought that he had deleted them. He explained that he wasn’t ever happy with them, and there were a few details he would change. From here he posted an articles on Justin Martyr’s argument, which was essentially a rewritten version of his video script for his book, along with another article on dying and rising gods. His post on Justin Martyr didn’t really argue anything different to what was in his videos, except that it was presented better and was lacking the rhetoric and polemics that were found in his videos. Hence, I will not really be commenting on this post, as it doesn’t argue anything new. His post on dying and rising gods is significant though, as it is typical of the way that Christian apologists seek to deflect evidence showing that Christianity almost certainly borrowed the resurrection concept from older mythology.
The death and resurrection of religious scholarship:
Albert’s article on “Dying and Rising gods” and the scholarship of J.Z. Smith and Tryggve Mettinger was written in response to my discussion of resurrection amongst pagan gods, and my mention of J.Z. Smith and several key arguments which he is accredited with. I presume that as with the article that Albert posted on Justin Martyr’s 1st apology and diabolical mimicry, that he had already written this piece for his book, and that he was simply copying it across into his blog or slightly adapting it for that purpose (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, much of my original article had been copied across from my coming book). I also assume that as with his article on diabolical mimicry, that it was in a sense derived from the script of a video that he made on the topic of Dying and Rising gods, with which I was already familiar.
In this article Albert essentially argues that the expression “dying and rising gods” is frequently misused by mythicists, who fail to understand the historical context that the phrase was used in (the “history of religion” school of the 19th century). He argues that failing to understand the original context of the expression makes any attempts at using it in a different context mute, and that the whole category of dying and rising gods has been completely abandoned by serious scholars for some time now, and with good reason. He goes on to argue that critics have misquoted Tryggve Mettinger, and that contrary to popular opinion Mettinger does not really support the claims of critics but rather actually contradicts them. He emphasises that whilst Mettinger does believe that some individual pagan gods did indeed die and rise, this was completely different to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and there is no causal relationship between them. Albert explains that the death of Frazer’s category of “Dying and Rising gods” can be largely credited to the work of J.Z. Smith, who has written a great deal on the subject, including his PhD dissertation and his more recent book “Drudgery Divine”. Albert makes a point of the fact that critics only seem to attempt to respond to Smith’s encyclopedia article, and never to his far more detailed works on the subject.
The thing is however that I am yet to see any Christian apologist reference anything beyond Smith’s encyclopedia article when citing Smith as supportive of their dismissal of pre-Christian resurrections for Osiris (and others). Furthermore, Smith’s encyclopedia article was a summary of his research over many years, and hence was an opportunity for him to summarize what were essentially his strongest arguments. If his strongest arguments are all essentially false, then on what ground do his conclusions stand upon? Furthermore, if Albert wants critics to bear the responsibility of responding to Smith’s dissertation and “Drudgery Divine”, then perhaps he (and other Christian apologists) better start quoting from them first. Robert Price is certainly familiar with most (if not all) of Smith’s work, and has had a review of Drudgery Divine on his website for some time (9). I must personally echo Price’s statement in his book “The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems” where he states that has long chaffed at Smith’s revisionism, and argues that he might as well “argue that religion doesn’t exist!”. For those not already in the loop, that last comment was an insider joke, for Smith does indeed argue that religion does not exist! Yes, you heard correct, when it comes to the historical existence of religion as a whole, Smith is a mythicist! So perhaps if Albert wants to harp on about how awesome Smith’s scholarship is, perhaps he can accept Smiths opinion that religion itself doesn’t exist, Christianity doesn’t exists, its all just merely culture!
I would suggest that we should read Smith’s views on dying and rising gods in context of his views on religion as a whole. Smith seems to be someone who picks a side in an argument and just makes his case, like a lawyer defending a guilty man. It need not matter how ridiculous his arguments are, nor how egregious his conclusions are, he argues his case in such a way that laymen often cannot follow, hence it often sounds impressive even if it is absolutely false. I would presume again that Albert would attempt to separate Smith’s views on resurrection from his views on religion as a whole. I do agree that we should not necessarily assume that someone’s view on one topic is erroneous simply on the basis of association with another opinion that they share. Quite commonly we will agree with one opinion of a writer, and disagree with another. I almost fully agree with Sam Harris when he is discussing religious pluralism, why all faiths are not equal, and why the Abrahamic faiths are dangerous whereas Jainism and Buddhism are not. On the other hand I fully disagree with him when he argues that free will does not exist, and I would probably be on the same side as many Christians in objecting to Harris’ views on this latter topic. However, in the case of J.Z. Smith we do find similarities between his view on religion as a whole and his views on dying and rising gods.
In both cases Smith is essentially arguing that a general category does not exist simply due to the many minute variations that exist between different examples; hence the general category does not exist. This kind of reductionism may be useful for classifying insects into sub-species, but is entirely impractical and anachronistic when referring either to the institution of religion as a whole, or common mythical themes syncretically shared between ancient cultures. Both Albert and myself have religious beliefs (albeit of a different nature). I would think that both of us would object to Smith’s claim that our religious beliefs are indistinguishable from the greater culture around us. Anyways, all this is simply beyond the point. Rather the point is that it simply isn’t enough to ask ones readers to bow to scholarly consensus on one particular issue, particularly when the same scholar has other views to which you would not also support, and particularly when general scholarly consensus of Christianity in general is contrary to ones own faith.
I find it quite amusing when Christians call for critics to simply accept scholarly consensus on issues where consensus occasionally sides with Christians against their critics. This is quite ironic as the vast majority of mainstream scholarly consensus in relation to Christianity contradicts countless features of Christian faith. Many of these individual issues are by themselves enough to make Christian claims mute, and collectively they would represent an insurmountable case against Christianity if only Christians would “respect scholarly consensus”. For example, there is the issue of dating of the New Testament texts, whereby secular scholars almost uniformly date the Gospels post 70CE, whilst in contrast Christian “scholars” (read apologists with PhD’s) argue for pre-70 dates. There is the issue of the historicity of the Old Testament, to which secular scholarship almost uniformly rejects the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan. Sure, there is debate as to whether there really was a unified Israelite kingdom under Kings David and Solomon, however the vast majority of relevant scholars (including Jewish scholars) reject the exodus and conquest as non-historical (noting that David Rohl is considered a fringe example in the field). Sure, Christian scholars such as Kenneth Kitchen disagree (and he most certainly is a true scholar, I challenge any laymen to find your way through his book “On the Reliability of the Old Testament”, of which I have a copy), but they are again outside the consensus on the topic. Whilst I wholeheartedly support Richard Carriers review of Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist”, Bart Ehrman also represents scholarly consensus on orthodox tampering with the New Testament manuscripts, in direct contrast to Christian apologetic claims about the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts (OMG, look how many copies we have!).
Furthermore, whilst I do not think very highly of Ehrman’s book on the historicity of Jesus, it also represents a general consensus regarding the historical Jesus, and whilst I disagree with it, it presents a picture of Christians origins that would make the Christian faith mute if Christians were to “respect scholarly consensus”. So perhaps Albert should take some of his own advice, and respect scholarly consensus that Jesus was simply a mere mortal man who preached a coming apocalypse. According to consensus opinion he wasn’t born of a virgin, wasn’t the Son of God, did not perform real miracles, did not rise from the dead and did not ascend to heaven. If we were to all simply accept scholarly consensus on this issue we would not be having this discussion at all, as Christianity would simply be accepted as false by all. The point is that I do not personally expect anybody to simply accept scholarly consensus simply upon the credentials and reputation of any scholar/s. Rather, I would expect others to accept conclusions based upon evidence and reason, and in cases in which my personal opinion coincides with scholarly consensus, I argue that the consensus is well established on solid grounds. In cases whereby I disagree with scholarly consensus I fully accept a burden to display an understanding of the relevant facts, and that to disagree with consensus means that I have to both be able to refute the arguments in favour of the consensus, and make a positive case for my conclusion.
In the case of J.Z. Smith, the resurrection of Osiris and Dionysus and the possible causal relationship with Jesus, I have fully accepted these conditions, and whilst my article on Justin only gave a brief overview of the topic I think that it certainly went into sufficient detail for the context in which I was raising it. I quoted various pre-Christian sources and discussed their consequences, I discussed several of J.Z. Smith’s arguments and offered examples to refute them. Albert has made no attempt at engaging my arguments, but rather has simply fallen upon a shallow appeal to authority to attempt to dismiss my arguments. Furthermore, the analogy which I offered of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (which I have myself borrowed from a very gracious individual who came before me) utterly refutes Smith’s claim that resurrecting in the underworld instantly makes any comparison between Jesus and Osiris mute; to which Albert has made no attempt to respond or even acknowledge. It is about as water-tight as any argument can be and it refutes the primary argument used both by Smith and all those that quote him in support of their conclusions on the topic (including both secular scholars like Ehrman and hordes of Christian apologists). Hence we can see that Albert has not made a sincere attempt at responding to my arguments, but rather has merely tried to side-step my comments by his appeal to authority, which I could just as easily turn back on him. He has managed to ignore almost all of what I wrote, and simply tried to take his readers on a tangent, to distract them from the points that I made.
Scholarly consensus is just as prone to human trends as any non-academic field, and in this case I would suggest that J.Z. Smith’s opinions on the motif of resurrection will in the near future be viewed with disregard. Again, please refer to my original article on diabolical mimicry for the extensive evidence I produced on the topic, or read D.N. Boswell’s free EBook “The Amen Creed” (10).
Rhetoric, polemics and taking a step back:
In his first post directly responding to my article, Albert discusses the attitude he displayed in his original video series, and to my pleasant surprise concedes that I had legitimate complaints to make in that department. Albert explains that unfortunately getting involved in debating controversial topics can bring about a change in ones behaviour, turning a quiet gentleman into a WWC wrestler ranting before a fight. I tip my hat to Albert for making this concession, and I wholeheartedly agree that online debating often brings out the worst in people. I was hoping that Albert would admit that he was completely wrong in his accusation against Robert M. Price, as I explained in my original article. To my disappointment he did not make any explicit concession regarding this, as this was one of the major problem I had with his videos. However, we should perhaps grant that he was thinking of this in his general apology.
Albert then goes on to explain that whilst he is sorry for his attitude in his videos, he stands by his conclusions. He also explains that whilst he wishes to be more respectful to his opponents, he doesn’t believe that mythicists and pagan parallel proponents should be taken seriously. He claims to have investigated the works of many different writers in the field, and to have found flaws everywhere. He makes a mention of a number of wild claims made by D.M. Murdock, and notes that I accused him (and J.P. Holding) of dishonesty and ignoring “the obvious”, and then asks whether I would also make the same accusation towards Murdock, noting that I listed Murdock amongst a list of writers from whom I had benefited.
Alberts attempt to rebut my accusation appears quite unbelievable when you consider the context in which I actually mentioned Murdock. My personal view of Murdock’s work is that it is a mixed bag, and her most recent work (Christ In Egypt) is a significant improvement upon her earlier work. I disagree with her on some of her conclusions (such as that the earliest conception of Jesus was primarily as a solar deity) and I think she has misused evidence (such as the list of writers who failed to mention Jesus that has featured in a number of works). However, I also think that she has been almost a lone voice of reason in some matters, and she should be applauded for standing ground on some extraordinary evidence (I do not wish to explain this here however). In my original article I explained that I wished to acknowledge that much of the evidence I would present I had accumulated from reading various authors, Murdock included, and that I was not the first to reveal various sources from my article. As my article did not feature footnotes or endnotes (unlike my book), I wished to make that point clear for honesty’s sake, and I explained that quite clearly in my article.
One does not need to agree with every argument someone makes in order to appreciate some of them, and I was simply giving credit where it was due. Albert should perhaps have paid attention to the caveat that followed my mention of Murdock, Freke & Gandy and Ken Humphreys, in which I wrote the following:
“…although in some of these cases I would recommend that my readers be “cautious” in checking their claims”
I was quite clearly alluding to the fact that I didn’t agree with every claim and argument that some of these authors had made; hence I find the way in which Albert has raised Murdock to be quite extraordinary given the context in which I mentioned her. My article was not on D.M. Murdock, rather it was on Justin Martyr’s Diabolical Mimicry argument, and in this regard Murdock and myself appear to be arguing on the same side. Just for the record, I am glad that I didn’t finish and publish my 1st book 5 years ago (it took me 8 years), as I would have been quite embarrassed now by some of my errors, and the presentation of it at that time. Even now, if I do manage to get “The Web Unwoven” into print I would hope that the publisher would assist me with editing, as I have been over the manuscript from start to finish so many times, it really is a tedious process for someone such as myself who writes in what little free time they have (usually late at night when they should be in bed).
For the record, I also cited Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy amidst the same list. I have read their book “The Jesus Mysteries” about 3 or 4 times and have followed up on most of the references found in the endnotes. Whilst I agree with many of their conclusions, I found that many of the sources they quoted were difficult (if not impossible) to verify, and that they had made a number of notable mistakes (such as quoting Hoffman’s hypothetical reconstruction of Celsus’ arguments as if Celsus himself had written it). Despite their shortcomings it is important for me to acknowledge Freke and Gandy, especially as they are largely to be credited for making Justin’s Diabolical Mimicry argument well known amongst those on our side of the fence.
If we want to turn the page against Albert, I would like to point out that Albert seems to be happy to associate himself with J.P. Holding. If we want to talk about wild and erroneous claims, is there any better target than Mr Holding? Do I really need to make a list of all the errors amongst his work? For an introduction to the “quality” of Holding’s work may I recommend that my readers investigate Richard Carrier’s free online book length rebuttal to Holding’s book “The Impossible Faith” (11). Anyways, I don’t wish to spend time here in pointing out Holding’s voluminous mistakes, nor do I necessary think that everybody that references him should be personally responsible for them. Rather, I am simply wishing to point out the irony of Alberts argument here regarding Murdock.
The “Obvious” and Honesty:
In my original article I accused both Albert and J.P. Holding of dishonesty in that whilst they were both arguing that Justin was actually the one inventing the idea of pagan parallels, and that pagans of his day saw no such thing, they both neglected to mention anything about Celsus’ arguments in “The True Word” or the context of Justin’s comments in “Dialogue with Trypho”. I believe my accusation of dishonesty is given even more context when considered in light of the tone of both of their videos, in which they acted as if those using the diabolical mimicry argument were ignorant of the facts. So, in my original article I pointed out that by failing to mention Celsus and Trypho they were leaving out vital information and essentially misleading their audience. As both J.P. and Albert were no doubt familiar with both Celsus and Trypho, I stand by my accusation of dishonesty.
Let us remember that they were both arguing that Justin invented the idea of pagan parallels and was not using his diabolical mimicry argument in response to accusations of Christian plagiarism. To make such an argument yet neglect to mention that Justin’s other work does indeed present the argument in direct response to an accusation that Christians had plagiarized the virgin birth from the myth of Perseus, and that the earliest surviving pagan critique of Christianity did indeed likewise accuse Christians of plagiarizing pagan myths is nothing short of dishonest, as their readers unaware of these things might think that there was no evidence to the contrary. Hence, I believe that I was being quite fair with my accusation of dishonesty, as Albert had failed to discuss the most vital evidence for understanding the topic. Let us now move into a discussion of the main points of contention, and into a discussion of the twisted web that Albert has attempted to weave to serve his bias, despite the fact that it is unsupported by the evidence.
Celsus and Justin – The question of dependence:
I would now like to discuss the little matter of my one mistake in my original article. In my original piece I was perhaps a little gung-ho about dismissing the possibility that Celsus had written in response to Justin, to which Albert does indeed have some legitimate grounds in which to critique what I had written. This does not however affect the overall conclusion that I had reached, for several reasons. In speculating how both Albert and J.P. could have failed to mention Celsus I could only imagine that they were appealing to the time difference between Justin and Celsus, and assuming that Celsus had derived the idea of pagan parallels from Justin himself.
I made several comments about Justin and Celsus, of which Albert correctly points to the one in which I made my one legitimate mistake. I most certainly was too quick to dismiss the general idea that Celsus had been aware of Justin when he wrote his “True Word”. As it turns out, Albert is quite correct to note that patristic scholars have for some time considered the possibility that Celsus was familiar with Justin’s work, and possibly even directly referenced it in the title of his anti-Christian polemic “The True Word (Logos)”. Albert thus believed that he had refuted the trump card I mentioned in my original article, misunderstanding that the trump card I referred to was actually the presence of the accusation of plagiarism in Justin’s Dialogue, and the context it gave to Justin’s response.
Anyways, Albert cited a number of patristic scholars that had considered the possibility of Celsus writing in response to Justin Martyr. One of those he cited was Eric Francis Osborn, and he presented a link to a section of a work on Justin by Osborn titled “Had Celsus read Justin?” The page that Albert linked goes on to list the reasons why many scholars believed the answer to the above question is yes. The reasons he cites are that Justin and Celsus seem to be arguing on opposite sides of the same arguments, and Osborn cites a whole string of arguments that as an accumulative case seems very strong. If you read onto the next page in the link you do actually find that Osborn concedes some possible objections, such as that Origen claims that Celsus refers to things that no Christian had written. Importantly Osborn notes that Justin was writing to meet pastoral concerns of all Christians, hence his arguments became the property of Christians far and wide, and Celsus may have encountered his arguments without reading his work directly. He concludes by stating that Celsus’ “direct acquaintance with Justin is an attractive but unnecessary hypothesis”.
Nevertheless, I must confess that I am impressed by the strength of the parallels, and it seems likely to me that there is some dependence, quite possibly direct. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Celsus’ testimony goes out the window. The fact still remains that Celsus is the earliest surviving pagan critic of Christianity, and he did indeed accuse Christians of plagiarizing pagan mythology. We likewise have no evidence of any pagan failing to see the presence of the relevant parallels, outside of Alberts reading of the context of Justin’s comments in his 1st Apology. The portion of Osborn’s book that Albert linked does not say anything about the concept of pagan parallels being invented by Justin, nor does it claim that pagans prior to Celsus failed to see such parallels. If Albert is familiar with any patristic works which specifically address this point and lead towards that conclusion I would be interested in reading them.
Even if he can produce such sources, this would not necessarily mean that the conclusion would be correct, as I can produce a number of notable examples of patristic scholars reaching the wrong conclusion for a number of reasons. We should also note that as far as I am aware we have no evidence of Celsus or any other pagan or Jewish critic ever responding to Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument (that is, whilst we have evidence of their familiarity with the concept of pagan parallels, we have no evidence of their familiarity with Justin’s response). Surely if pagans such as Celsus, Porphyry and Julian were so keen to critique Christianity then had they been aware of Justin’s truly absurd argument, it is fairly reasonable to expect that they would have taken him (and all Christians alike) to the cleaners for it. Of course, it is well possible that they did indeed respond to Justin’s argument and that we simply have no evidence of it that has survived to the present day.
My mistake notwithstanding, there is still no reason to reject Celsus as a witness to how pagans viewed Christians, simply on the basis that Celsus had quite possibly encountered Justin’s arguments (whether directly or indirectly). I argued in my original article that Celsus was simply continuing an ancient pagan tradition of deliberately seeking out parallels between different religious narratives, and viewing them as having causal relationships. I gave evidence that well before the advent of Christianity pagans had noted the similarities between the myths and accompanying rites of Osiris and Dionysus, and that many of them had even gone to the length of claiming that on the basis of these common features they were actually the same god! I made the argument in my original article that in light of this fact Celsus’ arguments were simply a continuation of the pre-Christian pagan way of viewing common elements in different religious traditions. Again, Albert made no attempt at either acknowledging or responding to these arguments, to which I have to state his attempt to rebut my article solely on his the argument that Celsus used Justin reveals that he was not making any attempt at honestly responding to my case.
Trypho, Pagan Parallels and Alberts refusal to engage the evidence:
Albert presents his argument in response that Justin’s First Apology and Dialogue with Trypho present the same argument in two completely different contexts, and for two completely different purposes. Albert argues that the key features of the Apology is that Justin states that pagans don’t really know what Christians believe, and that Justin is seeking to educate them and rebut their misinformation. Hence, Albert feels that we can rule out the possibility that pagans themselves were making any parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, because the pagans to whom Justin was speaking were clearly unaware of the true beliefs of Christians, and were only repeating slanderous rumours. Alternatively, in the case of Justin’s Dialogue Albert argues that Justin was facing a Jewish tendency to lump all non-Jewish people together into one group, and that his argument was actually an attempt to get his Jewish readers to understand the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Albert explains that Jewish people tend to view the world in terms of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), and hence argues that the accusation of Christians plagiarizing the birth narrative from Perseus was simply due to the fact that Jews saw Christians as the same as pagans, and not due to any real parallel. Albert continues to argue that in this context Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument specifically mentioned Old Testament prophecies in an attempt to get Jews to see Christianity as a continuation of Judaism. Alternatively, in the case of Justin’s Apology Albert argues that the use of Jewish prophecy was to distinguish between pagan and Christian beliefs. Albert argues that as a whole, Justin’s Diabolical Mimicry argument was used with pagans to point out their similarities and the hypocrisy of persecuting Christians, whilst it was also used with Jews to separate Christians from pagans, and point to the common ground between Christians and Jews.
So, where do I start with all this? In chapter 54 of his First Apology, Justin argues that when the wicked devils heard the prophecies concerning Christ they invented their own tales (Greek myths), so that when Christ came people would not believe the things said about him, but would think they were mere myths, like the things said by the poets. Albert places this passage in context of a following passage which says that the devils did not understand the prophecy in full and got some details wrong in their imitation, and hence Albert argues on this basis that pagans did not see any parallels between Christ and their gods. However, I would argue that Justin’s claim that the devils got some of the details wrong is actually his attempt to separate the motifs of Christ from those of the pagan gods, by arguing that “the differences outweigh the similarities…”. More to the point, why on earth would Justin concede that similarities between Christ and pagan gods would lead people to believe that the things said of Christ were mere myths, if Justin’s argument was only being used on the front foot (ie; in attack) and solely in the context of correcting pagan ignorance of Christian beliefs?
Hence, my counter argument is that Justin Martyr was clearly using the context of a letter written to the Emperor to kill two birds with one stone. Yes, he was arguing that Roman persecution of Christians was hypocritical and he was asking the Emperor to cease the persecutions, and likewise he was seeking to correct any slanderous rumours that were in circulation at the time. However, the simple fact that Justin’s Apology remained in circulation amongst Christians attests that he took the time and expense of keeping a copy for himself and circulating it amongst other Christians for apologetic use in dialogues with pagans. Hence, the text had a dual purpose and Justin was taking advantage of the form of a letter to counter arguments that pagans were presenting against Christians. The fact that Justin notes that similarities between Jesus and pagan gods would make people think the things said of Jesus were mere myths implies the strong possibility that pagans were themselves already arguing this.
One of the most startling things about Albert’s response was the way in which he tried to dismiss the significance of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho to the relevant passages from his 1st apology. Obviously Albert couldn’t deny that Justin did indeed use his diabolical mimicry argument in his Dialogue in response to the accusation of Christian plagiarism. However, he has casually tried to sidestep the issue, and amazingly seemed oblivious to the dishonestly of his original video series in which he made no mention of Justin’s Dialogue, whilst simultaneously mocking the idea that Justin was responding to claims of Christian plagiarism. Alberts response is that Jews differentiated people into two groups (Jews and non-Jews), upon which basis they linked Christians with pagans. Hence, Albert would like us to believe that the Jewish accusation in the Dialogue is merely there because Jews didn’t see Christians as an extension of their own culture and religion.
One must ask, if we were to humour Albert’s response does that mean that he concedes that mythicists can indeed present their diabolical mimicry argument as long as they only quote Justin from his “Dialogue”, and not from the Apology’s? Well actually, Albert is trying to do one better. Albert is not only trying to stop mythicists from quoting from Justin’s Apology’s, but he is also trying to argue that they can’t reference his use of the diabolical mimicry argument in the Dialogue either, as according to him Jews only accused Christians of plagiarism not on the basis of real evidence, but due to an ideological distinction that they made between themselves and all other cultures. Hence, Albert is trying to argue that we critics cannot cite Justin at all in favour of our argument that early Christians were aware of parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, and that they had been forced to think up absurd arguments in attempting to respond to allegations of inventing myths about Jesus through plagiarizing pagan myths. According to Albert the whole idea of pagan parallels is bunk, and nobody prior to the last two centuries had ever given it a moments thought, and according to Albert the presence of Justin’s comments in both his Apology’s and Dialogue (as well as Celsus’ comments) do nothing to change that conclusion.
In order to respond I wish to tackle Albert’s arguments step by step, starting with the suggestion that Justin used the diabolical mimicry argument in a completely different context in his Apology to his Dialogue (but for the moment ignoring Albert’s argument about dismissing the argument from the Dialogue as well). If we were to humour Albert’s argument we could perhaps then conclude that it was Jews who invented the pagan parallels argument (and not pagans), and that pagans adapted the argument after hearing it from Christians. Even if this were so then it would still be valid for modern critics to cite Justin’s Diabolical Mimicry argument as evidence in favour of the pagan parallels thesis, only with the caveat that they should note that Justin used the argument in response to accusations that originally only came from Jews, rather than pagans. There are however a number of very serious flaws in Albert’s reasoning however. Just because pagans may have been accusing Christians of worshipping a mere man, a criminal and so forth, it does not necessarily follow that they did not also see the parallels with their own beliefs.
Firstly, there were a number of different Christological views that were being taught by different Christian sects at the time of Justin (and prior to). The view that Jesus was a mere mortal human was in-fact quite common (though one may still debate as to how popular it was in his time), and certainly it seems likely that pagans would have been familiar with this conception of Jesus as well as the orthodox one (in which Jesus is seen as both man and God). Hence, as some Christians believed that Jesus was a mortal man whilst others believed he was both man and God, an obvious way to insult those that believed he was divine would be to accuse them of worshipping a mere mortal man.
Secondly, it was common for pagans to euhemerize both their own deities and the gods of other people, and likewise they commonly gave naturalized versions of the religious myths of other people as a method of offering a refutation (such as how Greek historians referred to Moses and the story of the exodus). Hence, it would again be pretty standard fare for pagans to criticize Christians by offering their own naturalized version of Christian claims (and this is certainly what Jews likewise did, as attested by Celsus, the Babylonian Talmud and the later work, the Toledot Yeshu).
The insults that pagans were launching against Christians (such as that they worshipped a criminal) were actually unrelated to the reasons why they experienced persecution under Roman rule. The Romans did not persecute Christians because they worshipped a man who had died as a convicted criminal; rather they persecuted Christians because they refused to take part in the state religion, in which it was expected that all citizens would propagate the gods (through worship and sacrifices) and likewise offer the same towards Caesar. To fail to do so was believed by many ancient peoples (such as the Romans) to bring disaster upon the nation as a whole, and individuals had a responsibility to do their bit in keeping the gods happy, and paying their dues to their divinely appointed leader.
Initiates in the Osirian mysteries did not refuse to take part in the state religion just because they believed that their god (Osiris) had died and come back to life and that they would too. Rather, they continued to take part in the state rituals in public, and practiced the Osirian rites in private (though the state did not interfere or object to their rites). Likewise, initiates in the Dionysian and Eleusinian mysteries would likewise still take part in Greek and Roman state rites. Many (if not most) Christians were different because they believed in religious exclusivity, and refused to participate in the Roman rites (though there is evidence that at least some Gnostic Christians were happy to still participate in pagan cults). The Romans did not generally object to their citizens taking part in their own religious cults, as long as they did not pose a threat to the state in one way or another. It certainly is true that pagans paid far greater respect to faiths that had ancient roots; however simply being of recent origin would not alone be cause for persecution (but rather mere disrespect or mockery).
Christians were persecuted because they did not offer sacrifices and worship to the Greek and Roman gods, and most significantly to Caesar himself. Likewise, they also were going around openly preaching that the Roman world would soon be destroyed at the hands of their god, who would return as a heavenly warlord accompanied by an army or angels (no, not the cuddly little children with wings). In his 1st Apology Justin attempts to explain the reason for Christians religious exclusivity, attempting to justify his belief that Jesus alone was (and is) God, and that the Greek and Roman gods were evil spirits. In using the diabolical mimicry argument in his apology I would argue that Justin was attempting to turn a negative into a positive, turning the quite obvious accusation that Christians had plagiarized pagans into an argument that pagans had plagiarized Christianity (through Jewish prophecy), and that pagan gods were actually mere wicked spirits, hence justifying Christian exclusivism.
As already noted however, pagans had a long history of noting syncretism between the gods of different nations, to the point that a number of notable Greek historians actually stated that Osiris and Dionysus were actually the same god, despite their differences. It was to be expected that when Christians started preaching that their god had come to earth, been killed and returned to life, bringing them eternal life that pagans would have naturally stated in response: “Gee, that sounds a lot like what we have been saying for 3,000 years about Osiris, and what we are now also saying about Dionysus”. And when Christians refused to take part in the state rites and stated that their deity was alone the true God and that pagan gods were wicked demons, it would be expected that pagans would counter this with insults, and (unfortunately as well to some degree) persecution.
Now, lets get back to the issue of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. Albert would like us to believe that the reason that Trypho presents an accusation against Christians of plagiarizing the virgin birth of Perseus is that Jews saw a division between themselves and the rest of the world, and that they saw Christians as amongst the Greeks rather than as Jews. Hence, Albert is attempting to ignore the fact that the Dialogue itself has a Jewish voice accusing Christians of plagiarism (and Justin responding with the diabolical mimicry argument), and state that there still wasn’t any real parallel there, but that it was merely a case that the Jews were placing Christians in the same basket as pagans, and that Justin responded by trying to show the Jewish roots of Christianity.
There are several problems with this. Firstly, as shown in my original article, there is indeed a real parallel between the births of Perseus and Jesus. In both cases the supreme male God impregnates a mortal female through a non-sexual means, and a male god is born as a result. So, despite the differences in the details of their narratives there are distinct similarities in the core details of the parallel myths. Secondly, the Dialogue does not merely state that Christians are like the Greeks with their belief in their gods being born of virgins; rather in the Dialogue Trypho explicitly accuses Christians of plagiarizing the Greeks, alluding to the fact that the myth of Perseus is older and Christians most certainly would have been familiar with it.
In his response Justin acknowledges that accusation and attempts to invert it by arguing that whilst Perseus may have come before Jesus, the Jewish prophets came before Perseus (itself a disputable claim. Furthermore, as I noted in the original article, Justin was clearly unfamiliar with the fact that far older parallels can be found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology that far predates Judaism). Justin clearly acknowledges that as Jesus came after Perseus it would be natural to believe that there was influence from pagans to Christians; hence he attempts to invert the accusation via his convoluted diabolical mimicry argument. Likewise, as I have repeatedly pointed out, in his 1st Apology to the Greeks Justin likewise acknowledges that the fact that the pagan gods preceded Jesus would naturally lead some to think that the things said about Jesus were “mere myths”, as with the things said by “the poets”.
On this note Albert repeatedly points to the passages in which Justin states that the wicked spirits did not get all the details correct in their attempted plagiarism (from prophecy). Albert seems to think that this naturally implies that therefore nobody actually then believed that the things said about Jesus were mere myths, and that because of the differences between Jesus and the pagan gods nobody saw any similarity between them, and it was actually Justin himself that was trying to show the similarities to pagans. I believe Albert is misreading the text here and extrapolating to suit his prejudice. All we must read from Justin’s comments here is that at very least some people (namely Christians) did not think that the things said about Jesus were mere myths, hence in Justin’s mind the demons did not completely succeed.
Certainly however, Trypho did indeed think that the virgin birth story of Jesus was a mere myth like the things said about the poets, so certainly Jewish critics of Christianity did not think that the differences between the myths of pagan gods and Jesus made mute the similarities between them. And let us remember that the Greeks and Romans of all people were extremely aware of syncretism, believing that the gods of different cultures were actually the same deities under different names. Hence, when Celsus wrote a few decades after Justin he was not breaking with the previous pagan approach to Christianity, but was rather continuing a long pagan tradition of seeing parallels between the gods of different cultures, just as (at very least) the Jews had several decades earlier when Justin wrote his Dialogue.
There is one final nail in the coffin for Albert, and this one’s a real knockout punch. The introduction of Justin’s Dialogue narrates the circumstances leading up to his debate, and he introduces Trypho as having fled from the Bar Kokhba revolt in Jerusalem during 132-136CE. This means that Justin claimed to have had this dialogue well before writing his two apologies to the Greeks, and well before putting the Dialogue into writing. We should remember that I have argued that the Dialogue is a literary form for his anti-Jewish apologetics; hence I do believe we have reason to doubt his account. Nevertheless, we have Justin’s own word that he encountered the accusation that Christians plagiarized the virgin birth from pagans well before he wrote his Apology’s to the Greeks. Hence, when Justin wrote his Apology to the Greeks he used the diabolical mimicry argument in relation to accusations that he had already heard from Jews (at the very least) about Christians plagiarizing motifs from pagan gods. Hence, you simply cannot discount Celsus’ testimony by arguing that he heard the pagan parallel argument from Justin, as at the very least Justin himself had encountered it from Jews prior to referencing it himself.
And that my friends is that; Albert’s obscurifaction has been exposed. Hence, we can see that Albert is trying to twist the facts to suit his bias. The truth is that modern critics can and should cite Justin’s absurd argument in favour of their (and my) conclusion that at very least some major aspects of the Gospel narrative and subsequent Jesus mythos are derived from pagan mythology, and early Christian writers were well aware of this accusation, as it was made towards them by both Jews and pagans of their day.
Jerome and Docetism – Who misquoted who?
Whilst I had thought that Albert had finished with his responses, I was quite surprised to learn about a week later that he had written another short article, in which he accused me of misquoting Jerome. I have to say that I think Albert fell off the edge with this short little piece. Apparently Albert was curious as to what else I had written on the topic of Christian origins and did a little Google searching under my name. He discovered a post I had made on a Mythicists forum group on Facebook, which I have been taking part in for the last 4 months or so, in which I posted a passage by Jerome from his work “Adverse Lucifer”. I hadn’t even so much as offered any commentary on the passage at all, rather I simply stated that I “found this passage”, yet Albert seems to think that I somehow misquoted Jerome!?! May I ask how on earth one is misquoting someone when all they do is quote them verbatim without any commentary?
Albert himself noted that he didn’t know why I had chosen to highlight the passage from Jerome or why I had thought that it was interesting or useful for a critical case. Yet, despite the fact that I offered no commentary but rather quoted Jerome verbatim and despite Albert not knowing why I had chosen to highlight the passage, he still thinks that I must have been misquoting Jerome. Well, apparently Albert is an experienced mind reader now. Perhaps he should advertise his services on his blog (for a generous fee of course). Anyways, I will now explain why I found Jerome’s words to be interesting. Let’s start by reading the passage I quoted and the six words I introduced it with:
“Just found this passage from Jerome:
“When the blood of Christ was but lately shed and the apostles were still in Judea, the Lord’s body was asserted to be a phantom.” Adverse Lucifer, 23. Online translation (12).
I posted this passage late at night whist working away in the solitude of my study (as I do). I really should have added some commentary at the time to explain to others why I found it important. If I am guilty of anything it’s being a little absent-minded whilst working, when I should have been in bed. Unfortunately whilst working full time, having a young family and being a musician as well, this is the reality of my life as a writer. Anyways, a week or so after Albert wrote his piece the administrator of the FB forum actually responded, prompting a response from me explaining the context that I had posted in. I actually then received a few comments from outside the group (as obviously my commentary on the thread appeared on a few friends walls). So, let me explain why I quote Jerome.
I was working on a section of my book directly following the section on Justin and Celsus whereby I discussed the fact that, as well as the well-known proto-Catholic anti-Gnostic polemics, we do have some idea about what Gnostic Christians thought of Catholics (partially through quotations from the heresiologists themselves, and partially from texts uncovered at Nag Hammadi). Obviously surviving heresiological works come to us from the 2nd half of the 2nd century CE onwards, and the Nag Hammadi library contains manuscripts from the 3rd and 4th centuries, with some of the works themselves dating back to the early-mid 2nd century CE at the earliest (noting that some have argued for a 1st century dating of the Gospel of Thomas, although I am perfectly happy to accept it as being mid-2nd century myself). Christians generally claim that most (if not all) of the New Testament is 1st century (CE) in origins, whilst mainstream scholars tend to date most of the New Testament up to the very beginning of the 2nd century CE. There are some radical scholars who date much of the New Testament well into the 2nd century CE, but that is not something that I want to go into today (I discuss dating of the New Testament in my book).
Lets just say for the purpose of this article that I accepted all of the New Testament as having been written by say 110CE at the latest (I personally don’t accept this dating, but for the purpose of this piece I will let it go). This would place all of the NT books at least 30-40 years earlier than the first explicitly Gnostic Christian Gospels, such as those of Thomas, Mary, Judas, Phillip and Peter. On this basis it is commonly claimed that orthodox Christianity was earlier than Gnostic Christianity on the basis of its scriptures being earlier. There are certainly many different factors to consider in ones argument for which form of Christianity came first, and I certainly do not intend to cover all the relevant information here (rather, read my book when it is available if you want to hear my thoughts on the topic). However, it was in relation to this argument that I offered the passage from Jerome, and I will now explain why.
Whilst Gnosticism is commonly associated with the explicitly Gnostic Gospels of the mid 2nd century onwards, we actually know from various passages in Catholic anti-heretical treatise a little known fact that almost all books of the New Testament were also used by heterodox Christians. The Alexandrian Gnostics of the early 2nd century (Cerinthus, Basilides, Carpocrates and Saturninus) clearly used either Mark and/or Matthew (Epiphanius describes the followers of Cerinthus in his time as using a version of Matthew), and Cerinthus also clearly used a version of Revelation. Marcion used a version of Luke along with most of the Pauline Epistles (minus the Pastorals of course), whilst Valentinus most likely made use of John and probably the Pauline corpus. That leaves only Acts and the Pastoral and General Epistles that weren’t also used by heterodox Christians, which is of no surprise as they are the most explicitly Catholic, anti-docetic and anti-Gnostic of all the New Testament.
That’s fine many Christians will contend, because heterodox Christians were accused of mutilating these texts by proto-orthodox Christians, removing everything that was explicitly contrary to their theological views. The thing is that we know exactly the opposite claim was also made by heterodox Christians against proto-Catholics. That is, the heretics claimed that their versions of the texts were the originals, and that it was the Catholics who had mutilated the texts, adding extra material to bring them into line with Catholic dogma. I have no intention of going into this question (in this article) of whose versions of the NT texts were the original versions, as that also requires considerable space to make my case. Rather, my point is that you cannot simply claim that Gnosticism came after orthodox Christianity on the grounds that its texts were later, as Gnostics themselves had their own versions of most of the New Testament texts (which they claimed were the original versions), and there is an enormous amount of overlap between what orthodox and heterodox Christians believed.
Having made that point, you may ask what all this has to do with Jerome and the passage that I quoted? Here’s the thing. Throughout the New Testament we find passages that are phrased as prophetic warnings of antichrists and false prophets that will come preaching another Jesus, and will deny that Christ came in the flesh. The Pastoral and General Epistles are filled with these kind of statements, hence it is of no surprise that heterodox Christians did not make use of these texts, as they were written simply as polemics against the doctrines of heterodox Christians. We also find similar passages throughout the Greek versions of the epistles bearing the name of Ignatius, which repeatedly emphasize that Christ really did incarnate in the flesh, that his resurrection was physical and that Christians should likewise hope for a bodily resurrection themselves. Amazingly I have heard Bart Ehrman and Joseph Hoffman argue that the insistence of these texts is evidence in favour of historicity and/or orthodox priority. Rather, if anything, the insistence of these texts is evidence of the fierce competition at the time of composition, and that whilst proto-orthodox Christians were insisting upon the physical nature of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, Gnostics were claiming Christ to be wholly spiritual.
Anyways, the point is that throughout all the earliest documents that can be presented as orthodox Christian works, we have repeated references to the existence of docetism as a major heresy. Regardless of when you date the New Testament books, whether early or late, you have to concede that docetism and Gnosticism already existed in Christian circles at the time that they were finished in their current form. Obviously some of the relevant passages in the New Testament are presented as prophecies, as if docetism hasn’t yet arrived on the scene, but it will soon. However, in some cases we find the same text speaking of the docetists in the present tense (as if they were preaching their heresy at the time of writing), revealing either multiple authorship, or that the author forgot about the rouse he was trying to project (read 2nd Peter, 2:1-19 for the perfect example, as it starts off in the future tense and ends in the present tense).
Furthermore, in cases whereby we have a text that claims to predict an event that we know has been fulfilled, unless we have some explicit evidence of the texts existence prior to the event that it prophesized, the simplest explanation is that it was written after the relevant event (13). Hence, the simplest explanation is simply they were written after the events in question, and that the authors deliberately chose to backdate them and present as the words of someone else in order to feign authority and inspiration. Again, I would like to emphasize that I do not wish to be dragged into a debate about the dating of the New Testament here, and that I have made my own views clear in my book. Rather, I simply wish to point out that whenever the New Testament was finished in its current form, it is practically certain that docetism and Gnosticism existed in Christianity prior to the time of the completion of the NT cannon.
The evidence clearly supports my conclusions on this issue, and this is contrary to statements that we commonly hear from Christians about orthodox Christianity coming first because its texts are earlier. I don’t expect my comments here to constitute a case for the priority of Gnostic Christianity; rather I am simply explaining that the context in which I cited Jerome was to refute a common argument for orthodox priority. Whether orthodox or Gnostic Christianity came first is an issue that requires much more discussion, and those interested can read my case in my book when it comes out.
I have to wonder how on earth Albert made the connection between Jerome’s comments and the passage he cited from Luke. The passage itself reads: “whilst the disciples were still in Jerusalem”, which to me would indicate a time after the ascension of Christ and whilst the disciples were beginning their ministry from Jerusalem, but prior to them sending missionaries across the Mediterranean. We should note that there are in-fact contradictory accounts between Luke and Acts as to when Jesus ascended to heaven (despite the fact that Luke and Acts are commonly considered to have been composed or at least redacted together, and thus are commonly referred to as Luke-Acts. I can think of an excellent answer for this dilemma, though I will not mention it here). Luke seems to give the impression that Jesus ascended to heaven on the same day as his resurrection, whilst Acts explicitly states that forty days passed between his resurrection and ascension.
The point is anyways that Jerome’s comments about the disciples still being in Jerusalem seems to imply that Christ had ascended to heaven, and the disciples were but yet to embark on their missionary journeys. God knows how on earth Albert thinks that Jerome was referring to Luke 24:36-37, in which case Jesus would still have been among the disciples, something which Jerome most certainly does not state. Lets humour Albert for a moment and presume that he was actually correct in his conclusion that Jerome was referring to Luke 24:36-37; that would be just fine too. If this were the case, Jerome would simply be identifying the origin of the docetic doctrine as Christ’s own disciples. The point is this; either way, Jerome is clearly stating that the heterodox doctrine of docetism emerged very early, a fact contrary to the frequent claims that Gnosticism and docetism were later reactions to orthodox Christian theology.
Jerome is no-doubt making his comment in full awareness that multiple New Testament texts warn against docetism, and as he accepts the claimed authorship of the relevant NT texts he therefore needs to ascribe an early origin to docetism. That was my point. Along with the fact that heterodox Christians also made use of the vast majority of the books within the NT cannon, we can therefore reject the argument that orthodox Christianity was the earliest form on the simple basis of its texts being earlier. Hence, I most certainly did not misquote Jerome; rather it is actually Albert here who has misread him.
Alberts responses here have only served to highlight the whole reason why I do this work. Christian apologists unfortunately seem to be oblivious to the commandments about not bearing false witness, as it seems to be their primary occupation. Christian apologetics only serves to prevent humanity from moving forward by evolving our understanding of comparative religion, spirituality and human history. Christian apologists such as Albert attempt to keep us in the dark, and hold us back from real progress. I can only hope that in the future people will see their work for what it is, understanding it to be very similar to the claims made by spokespeople for other special interest groups, such as tobacco lobbyists, or politicians with shares in industries of which they seek to write legislation (though I believe this is supposed to be illegal, yes?). Hence, I wish to bid you all goodnight and leave this topic alone, as I have spent enough time on it here. I am happy to let Albert have the final word on this topic, though I would consider engaging with him again on a different topic in the future.
1) https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/ This is the reposted version. The original can still be viewed for the time being at: http://thewebunwoven.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/justin-martyrs-1st-apology-and.html
Comments about Albert’s latest Responses:
I wrote in the above article that I would be happy to let Albert have the last word on this issue. To some degree I will keep my word, in that I will not post any new articles in response. However, I decided to add the following commentary for the purpose of those interested in following the debate, in order to bring clarity to the subject. I will also in the near future upload a video in which I will summarize the subject of diabolical mimicry, with a brief outline of the erroneous attempts made by Christian apologists to dismiss the evidence.
In this first article Albert has stated that I failed to address the central points of his argument, and only rarely dealt with the primary issue, that being the context of Justin’s statements. He writes:
“His intent was to make the case that there existed some who thought Christianity had copied prior pagan beliefs. Although he failed to meet any reasonable standard of evidence, he missed the point that it would not matter if he had. For the question was not whether anyone thought Christians had copied prior pagan beliefs but rather whether Justin was responding to such claims.”
Albert seems to think that I bore the burden of finding a place in Justin’s 1st Apology in which there was an explicit admission that the Romans had accused Christians of copying pagan beliefs. I disagree. Rather, Justin’s Dialogue establishes beyond any possibility of rebuttal that Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument WAS in fact composed in response to accusations of Christians copying from pagans. As Justin himself states in the intro to his Dialogue that he encountered the arguments contained within shortly after his conversion to Christianity, this means that by his own word he originally developed his response prior to the composition of his 1st Apology to the Greeks. Hence, the Dialogue is irrefutable proof that “there existed some who thought Christianity had copied prior pagan beliefs”, and that Justin WAS indeed “responding to such claims”. Hence, this alone made my case and proved Albert wrong.
I originally called Albert (and J.P.) out for dishonesty for mocking their opponents and claiming that no-one in the ancient world saw any parallels between Christianity and paganism, without even mentioning evidence which does indeed prove that this was the case. Furthermore, after publishing numerous posts in response to my articles, Albert is still yet to write more than a handful of words on the Dialogue, which he thinks he can merely dismiss as irrelevant, despite the fact that it alone is all that anyone needs to prove him wrong. Beyond this, I simply recommend people compare what I have written in both my original piece and this second piece to what Albert has written, and decide for yourself which of us makes a better case. I am not interested in going round and round in circles endlessly rebutting the same erroneous claims.
In part 2 Albert again dismisses the relevance of the Dialogue, and states that:
“…even if some pagan had made such accusations against the Christians, this would not mean that Justin was interacting with those accusations or was even aware of them.”
He goes on to state that:
“In order to argue that Justin was answering pagan claims of copying in the First Apology you must illustrate where Justin states he is addressing such claims.”
This perfectly highlights the technique that Albert is using to attempt to sidestep the evidence. Firstly, Albert (and J.P.) did indeed originally state that nobody in the ancient world saw any parallels between Christ and pagan gods; hence I have proven that to be wrong. Secondly, Albert wishes to wholly dismiss the relevance of the Dialogue, and isolate the diabolical mimicry argument from the 1st Apology as if it is the only source for it. I never set out to simply discuss the 1st Apology in isolation. Rather, my intention has always been to discuss the “Diabolical Mimicry” argument as a whole, of which the 1st Apology is one of the two relevant sources.
The fact remains that Justin himself states that he himself first gave his diabolical mimicry argument as a response to accusations that Christians had copied the virgin-birth motif from the myth of Perseus, in which the precise details are indeed different, but in which a pagan god was born as the son of the supreme male God, through non-sexual conception of a human virgin. Hence, his extension of the same argument that is found in the 1st Apology is indeed fair game for mythicists who wish to extend upon the relevant material found in the Dialogue.
Hence, Albert is simply attempting to obscure the topic rather than accept the facts. This tells us how embarrassing the facts are for his faith, how strong an argument it is, and that we should continue to use it.
In the third part of his response, Albert goes into a lengthy attempt to defend the reputation of J.Z. Smith, upon which his dismissal of the reality of the concept of resurrection in paganism is largely based. I wish to keep my comments here brief for several reasons. In my original article I gave a good summary of evidence both pre-Christian and contemporaneous with early Christianity that showed real parallels between beliefs about Christ and pre-Christian pagan gods, along with a quick discussion of syncretism. I went into more then enough detail for the purpose of the work, as it was simply intended to counter Albert and J.P.’s claims that there are no real parallels between Christ and pagan gods, hence they claim it was actually Justin that invented the parallels). It was never intended to be a comprehensive summary of and rebuttal to all the arguments given by Christians and secular scholars in opposition to the pagan parallels thesis. That can be found in an upcoming book (which is finished), and I will probably post an in-depth post on this blog in the near future on why practically every single apologetic argument in opposition to the pagan parallel thesis is actually false. Nevertheless, my original article should be all that is required to rebut Albert’s arguments here.
Much of what Albert writes in this article is in relation to Frazer’s precise category of “Dying and Rising gods”, of which I have never set out to defend. Rather, what I am stating is that there were indeed pagan gods that died and came back to life in various ways and forms, and that this feature of death and resurrection was actually the primary theme of the largest and most well-known cults of the ancient world for several thousand years up to the time in which Christianity emerged, just as it is the primary theme of Christianity up to today.
I find it quite ironic that the longest post Albert put up was in response to my comments on J.Z. Smith and consensus. I wholly stand by my comments about Smith, and I simply recommend my readers compare what I have written to what he has written, and decide for yourself. Whilst academia most certainly has it’s place and has done so much for the world at large, there are many cases whereby academics reach the wrong conclusions despite all their learning. Likewise, academic consensus can follow trends, which at times take it in the wrong direction. Other examples can be found in the current trend towards physicalism in the philosophy of mind, and specifically the denial of free will in neurophilosophy. J.Z. Smith’s argument against the category of religion as a whole is another example.
Of course religion is often intertwined with culture, but the two can indeed be separated and studied separately. You could say that I am a western Hindu in that I consider Advaita Vedanta to be an excellent source for the Perennial Philosophy, and I practice various Yogic disciples. Hinduism is however the perfect example of religion intertwined with culture, as practically every facet of Indian life is interrelated with religious beliefs and practices. However, the two can indeed be studied separately. If you don’t mean to say that “religion doesn’t exist” then why say so!?!
Anyways, I would like to point back to the very reason why J.Z. Smith was raised in the very first place; that being I cited his dismissal of Osiris’ resurrection as found in an Encyclopedia article as the common dismissal given both by Christian apologists and secular scholars. After making an erroneous attempt at arguing that we mythicists have an obligation to go beyond this article and respond to other material by Smith, Albert then falls back on the very same argument (from the Encyclopedia article) that I had previously rebutted, yet without any attempt to respond to my rebuttal!
“Osiris does not rise to his former state and go on living with Isis but his body is magically reconstructed, his wife impregnated by his seed, and, with his body now preserved, he goes on to rule the land of the dead. That is, he died and stayed dead but, with the preservation of the body, his essence lived on in the world beyond.
The Greeks believed in an immortal soul that lived on beyond its bodily enclosure. Most would go to the underworld (Hades) with the very wicked assigned to an ever worse fate (Tartarus). On occasion, some remarkable individuals might be raised by the gods to a semi-divine status through apotheosis. However, the resuscitation of the physical body was not part of this process and the idea of a physical resurrection was rejected. The tales of various raised demigods were seen as prototypes for this process.
Jewish beliefs, on the other hand, held there to be a physical resurrection of the body at the end of days with a final judgement and the enthronement of the Messiah. For the early Christians, Jesus was viewed as the “first fruits” of the coming resurrection. That is, Jesus was the prototype for the coming resurrection.”
“In, for example, the story of Osiris, the deity definitely dies but the supposed “rising” consists of having his body reassembled, creating a magic substitute for the missing phallus, having the seed from the phallus impregnate Isis, and preserving Osiris’ body while his ka went on to rule the underworld. The one thing missing in this story is Osiris getting up and thanking Isis for her hard work in reassemnling his part and their living happily ever after. In other worlds, Osiris died and when it was over he was still dead. However, his ka was preserved because his body was preserved and this story became the prototype for explaining the concept of mummification. Since Osiris never “rose,” Smith argued he was missing one of the two key ingredients for being a “dying and rising god.”
Now one may argue that there is still a parallel of sorts in that Osiris and Jesus both went on to their promised afterlife and are the exemplars of the process. However, this parallel is a lot less interesting simply because almost every culture has an idea of an afterlife and, even if we assume a naturalistic framework, these stories would arise in the context of their culture. Now there still might be dependence between cultures (such as the Romans upon the Greeks) but the cultural understanding of the afterlife would need to parallel to establish a connection.”
The thing is, as I showed in my original article and has been ignored by Albert, the Egyptians originally did not believe that the dead naturally went on to live in the world of the dead, but naturally ceased to exist. They required a supernatural resurrection to bring them back to life after death, hence the complex funerary rites involving mummification and various spells and rituals that transformed the dead into Osiris, so that they could share in his resurrection. The Egyptians had public plays and rites in which they mourned when Osiris was killed, and celebrated when he came back to life. Hence, Smith, Ehrman, Albert, J.P. and pretty much every single Christian apologist you can name are all wrong. Osiris died and came back to life, or at least the ancient Egyptians believed so.
Furthermore, Albert above pointed out the difference between Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife and Greek beliefs, in which they believed in an immortal soul. The thing is that Greek historians such as Herodotus and Plutarch reported the belief that Dionysus and Osiris were the same god and their myths and rites were the same, despite the differences between them. As already shown in my original article, this is because they could identify the core motifs as being identical even when the details were different. Likewise, Minucius Felix could see that Greek and Roman Mystery rites were derived from Egyptian funerary rites, despite the great differences between them in the details of the rites and philosophy and theology that accompanied them. The differences were just as great as those between Egyptian and Christian beliefs.
Anyways, I have gone into further detail about this in my upcoming book, and I will post on here in greater detail in the future.
This last post is the icing on the cake for me. Albert’s original post on Jerome’s comments was a real mess; he accused me of misreading Jerome even when he didn’t know what my reading was. I went on to explain above the context in which I was reading Jerome, and why there really was something significant in the quote. In the above linked article Albert has just made the whole even bigger, with a couple of major blunders. Again he has written much on all the wrong things, and written nothing on what matters. He wrote:
“Mr. Hiscox claimed that in a post I claimed he misquoted Jerome. This is simply false. Not only did I not deny the quote was real but I then explained the context. It was the latter point that my disagreement occurred.”
To this I could perhaps apologize for a very minor mistake, in that I wrote that Albert had claimed that I had misquoted Jerome, when he had actually argued that I must have misread Jerome (even though he didn’t know what my reading was!) Anyways, Albert seemed to think that he needed to defend his reading of the text in which he sees Jerome’s comments as relating to a passage from Luke. I personally think that Jerome’s words “When the blood of Christ was but lately shed and the apostles were still in Judea” are ambiguous and could have been made in reference to either a time in which Christ had yet to ascend (as the cited passage in Luke), or likewise a time just following the ascension (such as in Acts), as I personally thought.
Either way however, it wasn’t really that important. What was important was that I showed that Jerome’s comments showed that one way or another he was willing to accept that docetism was a very early heresy, and hence the common argument that we hear from Christian apologists that docetism and Gnosticism developed later than orthodox Christianity are largely false (there is still room for debate, but read my above article for clarification). Finally, Albert’s biggest blunder yet is in his final words:
“What on earth does he mean here?!? The passage I cited in Luke comes BEFORE the ascension – not after it. The ascension occurs thirteen verses later.”
Umm Albert… It was I who was suggesting that Jerome’s words fit best with a time following the ascension (such as in Acts). I don’t believe that I ever suggested that Albert had said that. Perhaps Albert wrote this very late at night, and should have been in bed?
Anyways, enough said. Peace. Hari Om. Sat Nam.