Love her or hate her, D.M. Murdock was well known amongst mythicists and Christian apologists, and many mainstream NT scholars are likewise familiar with her work. Her work is frequently heavily criticised, not only by those critical of mythicism in general, but also by many amongst her own ranks. Despite this, she maintained a loyal band of supporters, many of which have gone on to produce their own works on a similar theme to her own.
I thought that in light of her passing I would offer my own opinions of her work. As with many other people, I personally became familiar with Ms Murdock through the religion portion of the Internet conspiracy sensation Zeitgeist 1 (which was essentially a bad representation of many half-truths). Initially enthusiastic, I soon discovered that the relevant portion of the movie and her work in general were getting very negative reviews by academics and apologists alike. Over the course of many years since, I have learned much on the topic of Christian origins, and I think it is necessary to acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of her work.
Certainly, there seems to have been a massive difference in the quality of Murdock’s early work compared to her later work. “Christ In Egypt” is well worth reading (and much of it can be read online for free at Google Books[i]). Whilst I still find that she stretches sources too far, reads too far into the data and is too quick to reach definitive conclusions, I still believe that many of the core claims of the work are still correct; only that I think they can be presented and argued better.
I haven’t personally read any of her earlier works in full; however I have seen plenty of examples of major problems with them. One perfect example is the list of names quoted in the “argument from silence” that is cited in Zeitgeist 1:1, and I believe is also found in Murdock’s book “Who Was Jesus?” This list presents 23 names of figures from around the time that Jesus was supposed to have lived that Murdock stated never mentioned Jesus. Unfortunately the list is deeply problematic, and there are perhaps only 2 or 3 names on there for which it should actually be argued that they would have had a reason to mention Jesus had he lived.
Murdock focussed much of her career in arguing for parallels between astronomical phenomena and features of the Jesus narrative, for which she is known to argue that Christianity was founded upon “astrotheology”. Hence, she argued that the earliest conception of Jesus was as a solar deity, and that Christ’s nature as a representation of the sun was (and is) the primary feature of Christianity. Whilst I agree that there are legitimate examples whereby religious motifs reference the passages of the sun, moon, planets, stars and constellations, I feel that Murdock is wrong to argue that astrotheology is the primary explanation for the creation of Christianity. I would state that as the Mystery religion themes that are found in Christianity (that themselves date back to the Osirian cult) relate both to eternal life for initiates and the rebirth of nature for a nation as a whole, it is natural that solar features are found within them, as many of the major seasonal markers involve key points in the suns yearly journey (such as the winter-solstice and vernal equinox). However, the Mystery religions weren’t simply about sun worship, and Messianic Judaism (with its Midrash of the Septuagint) was responsible for a large part of what makes up Christianity.
Having noted this however, Murdock was almost a lone crusader in pointing out the very legitimate links between the Egyptian celebration of the birth of Horus at the winter solstice and the later Christmas tradition. This topic is one in which even many fellow mythicists scoff, and certainly Christian apologists feel that they have laid this claim to rest many times over. However, when presented properly (unlike the many Facebook memes that float around every year around Christmas) the case stands on solid ground.
Whilst indeed it is true that much of the evidence that Murdock presented for her case was from within the Christian era, she did briefly allude to pre-Christian written evidence that shows that the birth of Horus was fixed in alignment with the winter solstice just prior to the Common Era, with the creation of the Alexandrian calendar. The evidence in question is found in a text called “The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys”, which refers to birth celebrations of Horus and places their date on the 25th of Choiak (which with the Alexandrian calendar corresponds to December 21st). This shows that contrary to the claims of many scholars and apologists, Plutarch’s testimony can indeed by trusted (and was indeed observing a preservation of a pre-Christian tradition), and that likewise the later testimony of church fathers was again referencing something that had origins before Christianity itself. Furthermore there is also the Kikellia as cited by Epiphanius, of which the pre-Christian origins is attested from the “Decree of Canopus”, this time in honour of Osiris on the 29th of Choiak (which was December 25th in the Alexandrian calendar).
As for the astronomical symbolism within the nativity narrative of Matthew and the events surrounding the adoption of the December 25th date for Christmas, that requires some time and space to do justice, so I will probably write my own article on the topic at some point in the future. In the meantime, I would like to recommend that my readers check out the following radio talk show, which features my friend DN Boswell, who is to my knowledge probably the best qualified person in the world on the topic of pagan parallels (even though (like myself), he lacks formal qualifications)[ii]. Boswell’s book and blog are currently offline as he is making a number of changes, so in the meantime this is a good place for people to encounter the evidence from someone who is properly informed and can reach the correct conclusions on these issues.
Also, Murdock was quite vocal in arguing for quite late dating for much (if not all) of the NT, and I find much to agree with her on this issue. Anyways, the point of all this is that whilst there were many very real flaws with Murdock’s work, there are likewise many gems to be found amongst her work. Hence, whilst she may have deserved some of the criticism that came her way, she also deserved credit for standing up for some under-represented arguments that deserve our attention.
Finally, oh what irony that she passed on the 25th of December, considering her obsession with the history of the Christmas tradition! Obviously, one must consider the possibility that this is simply one great coincidence, as in a vast universe such coincidences do occur frequently. However, as a friend pointed out to me, it may simply be evidence of the great power of the human mind. With Christmas approaching and the scourge of disease stripping the life from her body, could it be that Murdock so strongly desired to pass on the 25th of December that her will made it so?
So, whilst I didn’t always agree with all of her conclusions or approve of her methods, I feel we are somewhat in debt to Murdock for her life’s work, and I for one am grateful for what she contributed to the study of Christian origins.