Justin Martyr’s Diabolic Mimicry argument – Condensed:

I have previously written many, many words on the subject of Justin Martyr’s diabolical mimicry argument. In recognition that my two previous articles on the topic[i] were very, very long (and hence likely to end up in the “Too long – didn’t read” basket for many people), I thought perhaps it would be helpful for me to put up a short, condensed, point-form article on the topic, minus all the polemic back-and-forth that I did with Albert McIlhenny.

I spent quite some time researching for those articles and I believe I can do a good job of summarizing all the information that anyone should need to know on the topic. Hopefully this article will be more useful (and far more readable than the other two). I will concede that it is a common amateur mistake to make articles (and even books) way too long, and hence unreadable. I have certainly been guilty of this through the learning process.

So, let’s get into it:

–           In all three of his (undisputed) surviving works, Justin makes use of an argument in which he claims that the devil attempted to imitate Christ in advance, by reading into prophecies of the coming of Christ as (Christians believe) are found in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

–           Critics of Christianity (particularly mythicists) have cited Justin as showing that early Christians were well aware of the similarities between Jesus and pagan gods, that they were being accused (by pagans and Jews) of copying from pagan gods, and that they had to resort to a ridiculous argument in attempting to respond. Some have gone as far as to quote Justin as saying that Christianity and paganism were in fact the same.

–           Some Christian apologists have accused mythicists of misquoting Justin on this issue. Such claims are true in some cases, but not in others. That is, critics of Christianity have at times misquoted or misunderstood Justin. However, there are legitimate ways for mythicists to quote Justin in ways that are certainly embarrassing for orthodox Christianity.

–           Justin Martyr did not say that Christianity was the same as paganism. In fact he explicitly argued that Christianity was completely different from paganism. He argued that Christianity was the one true religion, and that paganism was simply the worship of demons, and was hence completely opposite to Christianity.

–           Justin Martyr did however concede that Christians and pagans believed many of the same things about their gods.

Now this is the important bit, which shows where Christian apologists have been trying to twist the data to support their contentions:

–           In his two Apologies to the Greeks, Justin used the diabolical mimicry argument to attempt to persuade the Romans to cease persecuting Christians. Justin was seeking to justify Christian refusals to worship the pagan gods (and the Emperor) and to explain to the Romans that Christians didn’t merely worship a mere mortal man, a criminal that was crucified. Rather, Justin was attempting to explain to the Romans that Christians believed that Jesus was God Himself, incarnate in the flesh.

–           Christian apologists hence argue that Justin was not responding to accusations against Christians that they had copied from pagan gods. Rather, apologists argue that Justin was actually the one trying to convince the Romans of similarities between Jesus and Greek and Roman gods (in order to persuade them to stop persecuting Christians), and that the Romans did not (or had not) seen such similarities themselves.

–           Furthermore, Christian apologists point out that many of the parallels that Justin drew were actually quite strained, as if he was trying to make a point that wasn’t actually there. Hence, some apologists may concede that it wasn’t a very good argument by Justin, but not for the same reasons as mythicists claim.

–           Hence, Christian apologists argue that mythicists have been misquoting Justin in trying to present his use of the diabolical mimicry argument to support the mythicist case for parallels between Jesus and pagan gods.

Now, the above is the standard, textbook Christian response to this issue, and if you were to rely only on Christian sources this is likely to be all you would hear about it. The problem for orthodox Christianity is that this isn’t a complete and accurate portrayal of the relevant facts.

–           In fact Justin Martyr also made use of his diabolical mimicry argument in his Dialogue with Trypho. In this case Justin uses the argument to attempt to counter the accusation that Christians had copied the virgin birth motif from the Greek god Perseus.

Now, as far as I am aware, most scholars believe that Justin wrote his Dialogue with Trypho after writing his apologies to the Greeks. Some apologists might therefore attempt to save the situation by arguing that Justin was therefore adapting an argument that he had originally composed in his Apologies to the purpose of countering the accusations of Trypho. The problem with this is that Justin himself (at the beginning of the Dialogue with Trypho) claims that the conversation between himself and Trypho actually took place shortly after his conversion to Christianity (and thus, before he wrote his Apologies).

Now, it is indeed true that many scholars believe that the Dialogue is merely a literary device for his apologetic work against Judaism (that is, either the conversation between himself and Trypho never took place, or it was largely embellished for the sake of the apologetic work). Nevertheless, we have Justin’s word that he first used the diabolical mimicry argument against Trypho, in attempting to counter the accusation that Christians had plagiarised a pagan god.

It is perhaps then up for debate as to whether mythicists should only quote from the Dialogue in seeking to cite Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument for their case, or whether it is justified to also quote from the Apologies, as Justin’s use of the argument there is put into context by its use in the Dialogue? I personally would argue that the actual content of the relevant passages in his Apologies shows that Justin was there also seeking to counter accusations of plagiarism, as Justin states that the aim of Satan’s mimicry was to attempt to convince people that the things said about Christ “were mere marvellous tales, like those told by the poets”[ii]. Either way, the point is made. Mythicists can indeed cite Justin as showing that Christians were indeed accused of plagiarism by Jews (and later by pagans, as we will see shortly), and Justin did indeed resort to a ridiculous argument in his attempt to counter the accusation.

So, this in itself should settle the score, once and for all. There are however a few more minor details to be aware of.

–           Now, we don’t really know what pagans (Romans, Greeks etc.) thought of Christians or their stories about Jesus back in the time of Justin and earlier. That is, not much at all (if anything) really survives. There are of course the brief (and somewhat controversial) references as found in Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, but these are just really references to Christians, with only brief mention of a Jesus who was said to have been crucified in Judea under Pilate. There are no surviving records of pagan responses to Christian claims about the virgin birth, miracles or resurrection and ascension of Christ from the time of Justin or earlier.

There is however the case of the pagan philosopher Celsus and his work “The True Word” (or “True Doctrine”), written approx. 180CE. No copies of this work survive, however we do have access to significant portions of it thanks to the response of Origen approx. 250CE. From what we read in Origen, it seems that Celsus did indeed accuse Christians of plagiarising from pagan gods.

It is here disputable as to whether or not this is valid evidence in supporting the case for pagan parallels, as a very plausible case has been made that Celsus was himself familiar with the work of Justin. Hence, Celsus may have encountered the argument via Justin, in which case he would not be an independent source, but would rather simply be dependent upon what we have already encountered. Nevertheless, this is not concrete, we do not know for certain whether or not Celsus was familiar with Justin’s works and arguments. Likewise, whether or not Celsus had encountered the idea of pagan parallels from Justin, he still clearly found it agreeable, as he considered the evidence to be there.

Hence, I am of the opinion that Celsus is worth quoting on this subject, but that we should not attempt to draw any concrete conclusions from his work. However, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho very clearly makes the case for mythicists to both point out that Christians were indeed accused of plagiarism by Jews, and that Justin did indeed resort to a ridiculous argument in his attempt to respond.

–           Regarding the actual parallels claimed by Trypho and the parallels presented by Justin in his Apologies, there are distinct differences in the stronger and weaker examples. It is indeed true that amongst the parallels that Justin drew, some of them were really quite a stretch. However the fact remains that some of the parallels were quite clear, such as in the case of Dionysus. Likewise, the example of Perseus (as given by Trypho) is likewise quite clear.

I would argue that the strained parallels are all generally found when Justin is trying to connect prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures to pagan gods. Hence, this doesn’t weaken the case for parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, but rather simply shows the strained lengths that Justin went to in order to try and counter the fact that the pagan parallels were older than the story of Jesus.

–           Regarding the actual diabolical mimicry argument itself, by its very nature it concedes that the pagan examples in the parallels are older. Likewise, it naturally recognises that the obvious conclusion one would draw from this is that it was Christians who had copied pagans, and not the other way around. Hence, it attempts to reverse the natural implication by arguing that Satan had attempted to imitate Christ in advance, by copying from prophetic passages in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Justin’s very words recognise that the natural implications of parallels between Christ and pagan gods would be that people would naturally think that the things said about Christ weren’t literarily true. Hence, Justin’s convoluted argument about the pagan gods being precognitive imitations was a desperate attempt to avoid the obvious conclusion that Christians had indeed plagiarised from pagan gods, and that at least some of the things (if not all) said about Christ were made up.

–           Whilst Christian apologists will not go out of their way to tell you about Justin’s use of the diabolical mimicry argument in his Dialogue (and the text which states that this was prior to his Apologies), they still will not accept that this shows that Justin originally conceived the argument in self-defence. I have attempted to engage two Christian apologists in discussion about this previously (J.P. Holding and Albert McIlhenny), and both have attempted to dismiss the passages from Justin’s Dialogue and only make use of the Apologies. Holding responded by stating that I don’t understand Jewish exegesis, whilst McIlhenny argued that Jews naturally created a dichotomy between Jewish and pagan religion (and mythology), and hence as they didn’t consider Christianity to be Jewish, they naturally argued that it was pagan.

Obviously McIlhenny’s point about Jews creating a dichotomy between Jewish and pagan religion is true, and other exclusive faiths (such as orthodox Christianity or Islam) do it too. McIlhenny was however trying to argue that without this exclusive dichotomy, Jews would not have accused Christians of plagiarising pagans. McIlhenny was therefore arguing that the parallels weren’t actually there, but that Trypho (or the Jews being represented by Trypho) had strained in making this argument to match their bias. On this matter McIlhenny was himself straining, in trying to get vital evidence that rebuts his case thrown out on a technicality. Christian apologists are quite fond of the courtroom analogy, and I think it is quite fitting in this case. Christian apologists have attempted here to get damning evidence against their client thrown out of court, after the judge and jury have already seen the evidence. The fact is that we can’t un-see it.

We can speculate about whether or not the Jewish critics in Justin’s time were driven by some particular motivation to argue that Christians had plagiarised from pagans, but the fact remains that Justin attests that they did make the argument, one way or another. Hence, Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho absolutely refutes the Christian apologetic case and absolutely makes the critical, mythicist case on this matter. Case closed!

Obviously Christian apologists have lots of other arguments about pagan parallels, that there are no actual sources for the claims of pagan gods being resurrected (false), that there is no evidence that Jews/Christians in Judea had heard of any pagan dying and rising gods (false), that pagans actually copied Christians (false – and everything in this article adds towards that), that the differences outweigh the similarities and hence any apparent similarities are merely superficial (false) etc., all of which I have dealt with before[iii], as have many others.

And that my friends should be all you need to know specifically on this topic. The evidence is clear; the question is simply whether you are open to accepting it.


[i] See the following for my original piece on the topic: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/ , and the following for my response to Albert McIlhenny (who had responded to the above piece with a series of short articles): https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/diabolical-mimicry-part-2-response-to-alberts-mcllhenny-back-in-the-ring/.

[ii] Justin Martyr, 1st Apology to the Greeks, Chapter 54.

[iii] https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/the-pagan-parallel-thesis-and-why-practically-every-single-major-objection-to-it-is-false/.


Four reasons why orthodox Christianity cannot possibly be true:

Many people have written short articles under the title of “Why I am not a Christian”, and effectively this is like my own version. However, this is not so much about my own personal journey away from Christianity, but rather a short, condensed, point form summary of a few good reasons why orthodox Christianity cannot possibly be true.

Please note here that I am referring to orthodox (with a lower case ‘o’) Christianity as a whole (rather than Orthodox with a capital ‘O’), and hence am referring to all orthodox sects and denominations (i.e. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Church’s, Anglicans, Protestants etc.). Also, obviously I recognise that (to their credit) there are many Christians today (and also in the past) who have attempted to reform Christianity, throwing out the chaff and keeping the wheat, throwing out the bathwater but keeping the baby. Obviously, I commend liberal Christians for this, and this article is not aimed towards them. Any criticisms I have of liberal Christianity are of a much milder nature, but this article is not about that.

In this article I will not be looking at anything I think is worthy of debate, or which cannot be easily and quickly validated by anyone wishing to do a quick fact-check. Rather, I am just going to lay out a few really obvious issues, which naturally preclude Christianity from being true. In other places I have gone into significant detail about many of these points. This article is intended to be a quick summary on the topic.

1)        The doctrine of eternal damnation is completely unjust, illogical and just plain vile.

There are clearly better options for divine justice and love to be balanced for those of us that believe that spirituality is objectively real. If eternal damnation were true it would make God a demonic monster, which is of course self-refuting. By comparison Perennialism states that all beings are naturally welcomed into the astral heavens after death regardless of their deeds, though some might reject the light (or be unaware of it) for a period of time. There are still however rewards for those who live a life of love and service, and there are ways for justice and reparation to be served without requiring infinite and eternal torture.

Christian apologists of course have their responses and defences of the orthodox Christian doctrine, which may lead many believers to think that it is philosophically sound. However, upon closer examination they all fall apart. You do not need a degree in philosophy or theology to understand that eternal damnation cannot possibly be true. To their credit, many Christians have rejected the doctrine in favour of universalism. Such Christians are by definition liberal Christians (as what has been known as orthodox Christianity from very early times has always believed in eternal damnation[i]), and hence this article isn’t aimed towards refuting their doctrines.

To anybody interested in going further, please read for yourself the defences given by Christian apologists and philosophers such as William Lane Craig on this topic[ii]. They may seem deeply intellectual at face value, but the actual content is so explicitly flawed. Many Christian apologists have argued that God is merely being compassionate in giving people what they want (hell), despite it paining Him. Yet of course, nobody rejects Christianity with the specific intent on wanting to go to hell and suffer infinite, eternal torture (ok, perhaps with the exception of Glen Benton…). Most people reject Christianity because they do not believe it is true.

A good, loving God would not, could not, allow one individual person to suffer for eternity (let alone billions). Any being that would not feel compassion and want to offer assistance to the extent of their capacity is not worthy of being termed good. Any being unable to save someone from eternal torment is unworthy of the term God. It really is that simple (though I have written far more on in my upcoming book).

2)        The Hebrew Bible (which Christians take as their Old Testament) suffers from massive, continuous moral failings, which clearly indicate that it could not possibly have been inspired (or authored) by God.

The Hebrew Bible openly condones and mandates slavery, genocide and mass murder (including indiscriminate murder of civilian women and children), the death penalty for all manner of trivial things (many of which are not actually crimes at all), contains mixed opinions towards human sacrifice (some positive, some negative), presents women as the property of men etc.

Hence, the Hebrew Bible is largely par for the course from the ancient Near East (ANE for short), laying down cultural and religious norms from the time and place in which it was composed. The Hebrew religion was simply an evolution on the standard Canaanite religion, rather than a complete separation from it. Giving divine status to this text literally keeps the injustices of the past alive, giving fanatically minded individuals divine inspiration and validation for their bigotry and hatred. Considering this text (or collection of texts) to be sacred is holding us captive to ancient superstitions and barbarity. It is time to let it go and face the true nature of the Biblical text.

It is not simply the case that perhaps the Hebrews did these things and then attributed the inspiration to God. If this were the case then the Hebrew Bible could not be the word of God, for the text itself repeatedly states that Yahweh told the Hebrews to do these things, that Yahweh gave the Hebrews these laws etc. Christian apologists have many arguments in defence of the Biblical text. Again, they all fall apart under closer examination. And don’t just take my word for it, examine the two contrary cases side by side; please read Thom Stark[iii] vs. Paul Copan[iv] and see who is telling the truth. I have written a number of articles on this before[v], as have many others, so please, if you have an interest in the topic, please check it for yourself.

3)        Many of the tales of the Hebrew Bible are historically impossibly, as they are incompatible with archaeological and historical records. Likewise, some of the mythology of the Hebrew Bible is clearly borrowed (or at least derived in part) from older mythology.

Now, both of these aren’t really an issue for liberal Christians at all, as they generally are quite happy to accept these things. However, orthodox Christianity needs a fairly literal and historical reading of the Hebrew Bible. It is indeed true that throughout its history major Christian thinkers have expressed support for an allegorical reading of Scripture. However, this does not mean that they ever accepted that the tales of the Hebrew Bible were mere myth. Rather, it gave Christian authors license to “find” prophecies of the coming of Christ (amongst others) in whatever text they liked (thought it is also true that the actual narrative of Christ was in part written from the Hebrew Bible), and sidestep any passages that they were uncomfortable with. The fact remains that an acceptance of the Hebrew Bible as being largely mythological, and acceptance that some degree of syncretism (cultural borrowing) took place doesn’t cut it for orthodox Christianity.

Again, the actual evidence of this is so clear and undeniable, though again, Christian apologists and scholars attempt to avoid this conclusion. The consensus view amongst historians is that the Exodus from Egypt and subsequent conquest of Canaan as told in the Bible never happened. Now, I may often go against consensus views, so I’m not simply resting my case upon this. However, please, if you are not already familiar with the reasons for this, please investigate yourself[vi]. Any debate amongst historians is simply as to when the Bible starts to coincide with actual history, and to what degree. Historians however are not arguing over whether the Hebrew Bible is historically accurate as a whole.

Regarding the second part of my initial statement, the fact that some of the Hebrew Bible’s mythology is borrowed from other cultures is likewise not a controversial idea, outside of orthodox Christianity. The story of Noah’s ark is clearly derived from the Mesopotamian flood myth[vii], which is much older. Of the causal relationship there should be no doubt, though of course a number of conservative Christian apologists have attempted to either deny the similarities, or argue that the Mesopotamian versions are evidence that the story of Noah is actually true (and they attempt to argue that the story of Noah is older, against all evidence to the contrary).

Probably the clearest example of borrowed mythology in the Hebrew Bible (that I am aware of) is the case of Proverbs 22:17-24. The text in question is practically a verbatim copy of a section of an Egyptian text called “The instructions of Amenemope”[viii]. All evidence supports the priority of the Egyptian text, hence it is almost certain that the Biblical author has completely plagiarised the Egyptian text. This is very controversial for orthodox Christianity, which insists that Biblical Judaism (and Christianity) are exclusive and distinct from other religions.

Aside from this there is also the parallel between the story of the birth of Moses and the birth of Sargon[ix] (noting again the evidence which shows that the Akkadian story is older), or the story of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta[x], which has major similarities to the story in Genesis 11:1-9 of the Tower of Babel. There are other parallels which others have put forth which aren’t as clear to my eye, and hence aren’t worth putting forth here today (though they are worthy of in-depth study by those that wish to go into the topic at depth).

Anyways, the point is that the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament) cannot be taken to be historically accurate, and it clearly reveals that the ancient Hebrews did indeed borrow ideas from other nations. Christian apologists of course have their objections, and again, please read for yourself and compare side-by-side.

4)        The New Testament is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions, historical impossibilities and mythology. Hence, Jesus Christ could not possibly have existed in the form that orthodox Christianity requires.

Anyone familiar with my writings will know that I strongly favour mythicism for Christian origins. Obviously I know that this is not a consensus view amongst experts in the field, but rather is consider a fringe view by many. Today I am not relying upon an acceptance of the view that the Jesus of Christianity is purely mythical. Rather, even if we accepted the minimalized Jesus of mainstream scholarship that is still a long way from the full-blown Jesus of orthodox Christianity and the NT Gospels.

Orthodox Christianity absolutely needs the New Testament to be historically accurate, but it simply cannot be. The Gospels contradict each other in many significant ways, particularly in regards to the birth and resurrection narratives, to the point that at least some of them can’t be true. The story of the cleansing of the temple that is quite significant in the Gospel narrative is practically historically impossible in light of how big the Jewish temple was, that the traders chastised by Jesus (in the story) were essential for the running of the temple, and primarily also because Roman guards were situated outside the temple. It would have taken a full-blown riot or uprising to clear the temple, and any people involved in this would have been killed on the spot (or arrested on the spot?) by the Romans. It basically would have started a war, there and then. Josephus never says a word about it, nor does Philo, nor (apparently) did Justus of Tiberias. Basically, it couldn’t have happened as the Gospels state it did, and a minimalized version doesn’t even work very well historically either, not to mention that a minimalized version doesn’t cut it for orthodox Christianity.

The Gospels are filled with explicit parallels to older mythology. The Gospel texts frequently re-write stories from the Hebrew Bible (such as the stories of Elisha – see 2 Kings 4:43-44 and Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-10, or 2 Kings 4:8-37 and Mark 5:21-43), or write the Hebrew text into the new narrative (such as Psalms 22 and the crucifixion narrative) etc. There are many great articles written on this topic by many authors[xi], and I have written on it previously myself[xii]. There are even a number of NT passages which basically concede that this was the method through which knowledge of Christ was largely derived (see Romans 16:25-26).

Likewise, the Gospels are filled with references to Greek mythology (amongst other so-called “pagan” nations). There are numerous explicit parallels between the story of Jesus and a serious of pagan gods (Inanna, Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, Adonis etc.) who were believed to have died and returned to life, often bringing eternal life to their followers. Now, this matter continues to be controversial, and in that sense seems to go against the overall grain of this article. However, that this matter remains controversial even to mainstream, liberal scholars simply shows how deep the problems with New Testament scholarship goes. That is, it is not only conservative Christian NT scholars that seem unable to recognize the unavoidable conclusions on this matter, but also liberal and even secular mainstream scholars.

I have written on this matter elsewhere[xiii], as have many others before. It is one of those things where it is controversial now, but there is no question that in the future this will be the consensus view, as the evidence is so overwhelming, and the arguments to the contrary are so clearly false (and have been shown to be). Aside from the controversy surrounding death-resurrection parallels, mainstream scholars are however generally quite happy to accept the case of similar parallels regarding the miraculous birth narrative. That is, there are likewise many, many similar stories of miraculous (even virgin) births in both Jewish and pagan mythology, again leading to the obvious conclusion that the Gospel authors simply borrowed this common motif from older myth.

Then there is the case of the Gospel of Mark and the various works of Homer (primarily the Odyssey). There are again numerous clear parallels here showing that the author of Mark (the earliest Gospel, used as a source for the other narrative Gospels) was clearly at the very least embellishing his narrative via reference to Homer, and in all probability using Homer as a source for his tales[xiv]. From what I can see this is something that is currently in a state of flux in regards its widespread scholarly acceptance. That is, it isn’t exactly a consensus yet, though there are many scholars who will accept a degree of the theory. Even if we minimalize the level of Homeric embellishment, the evidence is still quite clear and consequential. Everybody that wrote Greek in the ancient world (in the time of the birth of Christianity) studied Homer, so there is pretty much no way that at least the strongest parallels could be purely coincidental.

The earliest texts in the New Testament (that being the authentic letters of Paul, and perhaps a few others) make practically no mention of any earthly narrative for Christ (there are a couple of notable exceptions, however one way or another, this fact still stands). Rather, they almost always only speak of knowledge of Christ as known through revelations (visions and inspired reading of the Hebrew Scriptures – probably often in Greek though). Given that these texts would have existed by themselves prior to the composition of the Gospels, it is clear that early Christians were (one way or another) not relying strictly upon literal historical narratives as told by eye-witnesses, but were rather employing various methods to “learn” about Christ that don’t cut it to historians. We can’t expect historians to “learn” about WW2 by letting them have religious experiences and “find” prophecies of Hitler amongst pre-war German writers can we?

So, one way or another (whether or not there was a minimal historical Jesus – you all know my opinion), there is no way that the Gospel’s portrayal of the full-blown miracle working, divine Jesus Christ of faith could be accurate. And with that, orthodox Christianity cannot stand.

As with everything I have written here, don’t just take my word for it. Read it yourself. If this is controversial for you, then you need to be aware of it, and you need to weigh up the evidence for yourself, rather than simply relying upon your own expert on the subject (i.e. Christian apologist) to keep you properly informed.

In closing:

Please note that I do not hate Christianity, nor do I hate Christians, and I certainly do not hate God. I do not deny that there is also good in Christianity and that there is even (some) good in the Bible. I have many friends and family who are Christian and I love them deeply. Many of them have been far better people then myself in so many ways. And I love God deeply, I am completely convinced of the objective nature of spirituality, and believe that God is love. Through my spiritual path I have come into an experience of continuous peace and bliss, and I feel like I am finally starting to integrate that into my outward life, hopefully healing various weaknesses that I have struggled with throughout my life.

I write articles such as these because religion is such a mixed bag, a poison fruit. We do not need to accept and defend the deep flaws in the world’s religions. We can be deeply spiritual and still accept the human origins of the world’s religious texts. We can be sincere in our spiritual pursuit without needing to defend every ancient pathway to God. We are allowed to grow, evolve and reform the institutions that have held power throughout the world over human history.

The problems with orthodox Christianity are just so simple, so explicit, and so easy to verify. If you honestly think that Christian apologists, philosophers, theologians and historians have given a thorough defense of Christianity and refuted criticisms of it, can I challenge you to really read those who are presenting an alternate case, and truly consider their arguments and the evidence they present. That is, do not merely listen with the intent only of working out how to respond, but listen with your heart and mind open, in consideration of the possibility that they may possibly be at least partially correct about something. When you compare criticisms and defences of orthodox Christianity side-by-side it is so clear that orthodox Christianity cannot survive. Christian apologists are merely industry spokespeople, lawyers with a vested interest in their client. That is, they never even open the door to the possibility that their prior assumptions could be wrong.

Of course, as I have said many times before, this is not merely a problem that only Christians face. From where I stand, Muslims, Jews, Hindus etc. all do it too. Atheists and agnostics do it. In the political realm, those on the left do it just as those on the right do. This is human egoic behaviour. However, again, for fear of repetition, we have an immense capacity to change, just as we have the capacity to stubbornly hold our ground. We do not however become less by letting go of limiting beliefs, but rather we come into more of a realization of our vast potential, and the peace and contentment of our true nature.


[i] Contrary to the misleading claims made by some liberal Christians that the doctrine of eternal damnation was invented by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. The online Catholic Encyclopedia quotes various passages direct from the NT that presupposed the existence of hell (Matthew 5:29, 8:12, 10:28, 13:42, 25:41, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Revelation 21:8 etc.). Whilst one can certainly then argue over the interpretation of some of these passages, the linked article also cites various passages from the 2nd Century Church Fathers who clearly stated the doctrine of eternal damnation (and it may well have been these very people who came to define what we know as orthodox Christianity). One way or the other, it clearly shows the existence of the doctrine from the very beginning of Christianity: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07207a.htm.

[ii] See the following for an example: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate. The Reasonable Faith website (http://www.reasonablefaith.org) is filled with articles arguing similar things.

[iii] http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf .

[iv] http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/.

[v] https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/on-interpretations-of-scripture-why-many-religious-conservatives-and-progressives-misread-ancient-texts-and-misunderstand-religion-in-general/, and also: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/essential-reading-on-the-historical-context-of-moral-issues-with-the-hebrew-bible-thom-starks-is-god-a-moral-compromiser/.

[vi] See “The Bible Unearthed” with Israel Finklestein and Neil Asher Silberman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_ZPgYrQ6iI&t=20s or “The Bibles buried secrets”, with a slightly more moderate view and a range of scholars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfd4kFPWjzU .

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atra-Hasis and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh_flood_myth.

[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instruction_of_Amenemope.

[ix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sargon_of_Akkad#Birth_legend.

[x] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enmerkar_and_the_Lord_of_Aratta.

[xi] See Robert Prices’ “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash”: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm.

[xii] https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/on-christian-origins-part-1-why-i-favour-mythicism/.

[xiii] See the above footnote (“Why I favour mythicism”) and the following: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/the-pagan-parallel-thesis-and-why-practically-every-single-major-objection-to-it-is-false/ , also two very lengthy articles on Justin Martyr: https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/ and https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/diabolical-mimicry-part-2-response-to-alberts-mcllhenny-back-in-the-ring/.

[xiv] See https://www.amazon.com/Homeric-Epics-Gospel-Mark/dp/0300172613, Richard Carriers review: https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/homerandmark.html and the Vridar page on the subject: http://vridar.info/xorigins/homermark/mkhmrfiles/index.htm.

Essential reading on the historical context of moral issues with the Hebrew Bible: Thom Stark’s “Is God a Moral Compromiser?”:

I would argue that to be well informed, it is not simply a question of how much your read, but (more importantly) what you read. I know of some people that have extensive libraries in their houses and/or have studied various topics in-depth for many years, and yet are so drastically misinformed (or uninformed) on many of the topics that they have focussed upon.

Many people prior to myself have made statements to the following effect, and I would largely concur:

In this day and age, with access to the internet on any decent mobile phone or a variety of other portable devices (let alone desktop computers), there is no excuse for being misinformed.”

There are of course many cases whereby there are complex webs of evidence and arguments that are presented by multiple sides of an issue, in which it can be difficult to be properly informed from a quick glance at a topic. Serious topics like religion are perfect examples, as the psychological attachment people have to their particular religion of choice (and its sacred Scripture) frequently prevent them from being objective in considering the strengths and weaknesses of said religion and scripture. So, to be properly informed on religion you either need to be somewhat well-read yourself (and also quite objective in your consideration of comparative views), or you need to possess an innate, intuitive wisdom that helps you to recognise well informed perspectives as a whole from those that are driven by bias and personal attachment.

One absolutely critical sub-topic in the study of comparative religion is that of the moral and ethical problems of many ancient religious texts. Conservative followers of various faiths often project sacred status and authority onto the religious text/s of their faith in question (to which they will defend to the death), whilst they generally seek to view the scriptures of other faiths in the worst possible light. Alternatively, those of a liberal religious persuasion frequently seek to be as generous as possible to all sacred scriptures, and pass off any criticisms as mere misinterpretation.

Many people have raised serious criticisms towards the Hebrew Bible[i] (which Christians take as their Old Testament), accusing it of condoning and mandating slavery, presenting women as inferior to men (to the extent of being considered the literal property of men, to be owned like cattle), justifying cultural genocide and various other violent crimes, condemning homosexuals, denying any expression of religious freedom and various other things. Many critics have stated that the conception of God as Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible is one of a primitive and barbaric tribal deity, a bloodthirsty, violent, fickle, jealous deity; a projection of the lowest human potential, and not a transcendent, benevolent universal God of unconditional love, as those why typically defend it would like to claim.

Conservative Christians are heavily invested in the Hebrew Bible, as it forms the foundation for their own religion, and takes up the first half of the Christian Bible. Hence, there are extensive Christian apologetics available to attempt to defend the accusations levelled against the Hebrew Bible. One particular Christian apologist who has spent some time specifically focussing on this topic is Paul Copan (and Copan is frequently cited by other Christian apologists on this issue). Copan has a number of short articles freely available from his website on the topic[ii], and wrote a full-length book titled “Is God a Moral Monster” to attempt to counter such criticisms[iii].

Enter Thom Stark. Thom Stark is a liberal Christian with academic qualifications, and a published author. Stark wrote a book-length online response to “Is God a Moral Monster”, which he titled “Is God a Moral Compromiser”. In Stark’s response, he goes somewhat in-depth into every major claim and argument made by Copan (he ignores some of the less significant material), and effectively shows how utterly untenable Copan’s attempted defense is (and by extension, this also shows how erroneous pretty much all attempted defences are of the moral failings of the Hebrew Bible). Hence, I would like to state that “Is God a Moral Compromiser” is absolutely essential reading for anyone with an interest in comparative religion, religious history and Christianity (and the other Abrahamic faiths) in general.

I would like to state that I believe that there is absolutely no question that Stark utterly demolishes Copan’s apologetic dance. Piece by piece, Stark destroys every major claim made by Copan, showing effectively that many of the criticisms launched at the Hebrew Bible are in fact legitimate. The truth is that the Hebrew Bible was overall fairly well par for the course in terms of Ancient Near Eastern (abbreviated ANE) culture. That is, the flaws of the Hebrew Bible aren’t specific aberrations of the ancient Hebrews, but rather were cultural norms from the time they were written.

Whilst many people have used this fact to attempt to excuse the Hebrew Bible (as if it was simply a record of an imperfect people living in a backwards time, and a transcendent God trying to reach them), properly understood, it actually achieves the opposite. That is, understanding that the Hebrew Bible was par for the course actually reveals the historical context and “logic” that explains many of its bizarre features. Contrary to apologetic claims, the historical context of the Hebrew Bible does not excuse it, but rather reveals the true depths of its failings.

“Is God a Moral Compromiser” is freely available on the Internet, you can read it whenever you want as many times as you wish. It presents an extremely well informed response, referencing current mainstream scholarship from someone that (if anything) should be invested in the defense of the Bible, but is largely forced to concede the true nature of the Hebrew Bible in light of the undeniable reality. Hence, if you are interested in these topics you absolutely must read it (if you have not done so already). I have included a link in the endnotes for the benefits of my readers to the revised 2nd edition[iv], or you can just Google it just as easily.

As far as I am aware, Copan has still failed to offer any substantial response to Stark. Rather, he initially responded to Stark’s first edition by complaining of the sarcasm and wit employed by Stark (to which Stark then responded by revising his work to downplay his tone), whilst making no real attempt to debate any of the actual content of Stark’s response. In fact, whilst Stark’s work came out over five years ago, I haven’t seen any real attempts at responding to it from any Christians (If anyone knows of any such attempts, I would appreciate any links). I do recall seeing that J.P. Holding has offered some thoughts on Stark before, but hey, J.P. Holding is J.P. Holding; I just can’t take that guy seriously[v].

Unfortunately conservative Christianity survives largely through the sheltered and intellectually isolated world in which they live (in which I was once part, so I can speak from experience). That is, conservative Christians trust other Christians to give them honest, accurate, informed and unbiased information, whilst they often reject any contrary views with the presupposition that their critics must be dishonest, ill-informed and/or just plain biased. The way to truth is found through comparison of competing ideas. In this topic there is no question: Stark utterly refutes every single shred of Copan’s stance.

On a final note, I would like to concede that I personally don’t quite understand Thom Stark’s take on Christianity and religion as a whole. I have not read enough of his work outside of his response to Stark to be able to fully reflect his thoughts on the subject, but still, I can’t understand his overall perspective on the Bible. From what I understand, he (accurately) concedes that the Bible is a deeply flawed work with largely human (rather than divine) origins, but then argues that it is what it is, and that Christians have to work with it nevertheless.

I would argue that it makes much more sense to recognise the Bible for what it is, and likewise take other texts as they are (rather than as we want them to be), and move outside of the confines of Christianity for a universal, timeless perspective on spirituality and religion. In doing so one may still feel drawn to one particular tradition, and in fact, it is still ideal to have one primary path, through which one can travel inwards and discover the depths that can be experienced through a serious and prolonged spiritual discipline. But nevertheless, recognising the true strengths and weaknesses of various religions as they are is an essential step in both personal spiritual evolution, and the larger evolution of human perspectives of religion as a whole. Regarding the latter, I believe that both conservatives and progressives frequently fail at this due to their separate biases (of which I will be posting very shortly, and of which I have discussed in-depth in my upcoming book).

I would also like to express some slight disagree with Stark in his perspective of prominent atheist figures. I think we both share some mutual ground in our overall perspective on them, but I think we disagree on the details. In his response to Copan, Stark makes it clear that he thinks that many atheists are resorting to rhetoric and hyperbole in their criticisms of the Bible. Rather, Stark thinks that whilst Copan’s defense is erroneous, that this does not make the case that such atheists are seeking to make. And yet, I think it does. I think that after reading Stark’s response you can see just how legitimate many specific criticisms levelled by atheists against the Bible are.

Just to be clear, I would be on the same side as Stark in terms of more general criticisms by atheists against religion and spirituality as a whole (and I would actually be on the same side as Copan and Holding on that manner, even if I would largely reject their methodology on the topic). However, I think that many prominent atheists have made numerous legitimate criticisms of various religions and religious texts, and that genuine spiritual seekers and religious reformers need to integrate these perspectives into their overall worldview. In simple language, whilst I completely disagree with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett et al. as to their profession of metaphysical naturalism and their outright rejection of the objective reality to spirituality and paranormal phenomena, I think they have many legitimate criticisms to make of particular religions, and particular religious texts, practices and beliefs.

In perhaps one of the only occasions in which I would find myself in agreement with J.P. Holding on anything, I do recall reading Holding mocking Stark for considering himself Christian (in a tone typical of Holding), arguing instead that he should just come out and reject Christianity outright and become an atheist. Whilst I think that Stark has legitimate spiritual options outside of Christianity and therefore doesn’t necessarily doesn’t need to become an atheist upon rejection of Christianity[vi], I do somewhat agree with Holding here. I wonder if perhaps Stark is leaning more towards Secular Humanism whilst still holding onto the outer edges of liberal Christianity?

Anyways, the point of all this was to encourage people to actually read Stark’s work in full (several times would be ideal). It is very readable, quite easy to digest, and the 300 odd pages actually pass quite quickly once you consider the size of the font. Then, actually compare for yourself the quality of his work to that of Copan (which Stark also recommends you do for yourself in his introduction), and you will see for yourself which of the two is correct. If you actually read the two and you think that Stark is wrong and Copan is right, well, I don’t know what to say to that. Any further analysis I could give would simply be rehashing what Stark has already done, and it would be simpler and quicker to just point any such people back to Stark’s analysis.

Human beings have the potential to either move forward and upward, or to remain where we are, or even degenerate. There are important reasons why we need to reform religion, and I would challenge anyone personally involved in spirituality and religion to face up to this. I personally look forward to the possibility of humans realizing more of our potential, and expressing more of the highest facets of the human spirit.


[i] Traditionally known in full as the Tanakh – not to be confused with the Torah, which generally refers specifically to the first five books of the Tanakh (although it can also be taken to have a broader meaning).

[ii] http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/.

[iii] https://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751.

[iv] If you want the link to the 2nd edition of Is God a Moral Compromiser?, here it is: http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf.

[v] On a quick online search to find any such works it appears that Holding has discussed Stark in a newsletter, which appears to be available to purchase. Needless to say, I’m not paying to read Holding.

[vi] Some conservative Christians have attempted to dismiss practically all other religions out of hand with grossly oversimplistic and erroneous misrepresentations and arguments (as I have discussed in my upcoming book), and make it seem as if there were only two options: Christian or atheist.

Apologetics vs. Real scholarship on the dating and authorship of the Gospels:

I was inspired to write this article in response to a recent post on a FB forum for fans of Dr. Robert Price. Obviously attempting to evangelize to the non-believers, a Christian by the name of Timothy Kennelly posted a summary of claims made in Brant Pitre’s “The Case for Jesus”. Kennelly claimed that Pitre made a convincing case that all four NT Gospels were written prior to 70CE, and that they weren’t originally anonymous, but rather that church tradition regarding their authorship was indeed accurate. Likewise, Kennelly claimed that Pitre showed that all four Gospel authors believed that Jesus was God. Furthermore, Kennelly claimed that Pitre showed that “many of the elements of the standard critical take on the Canonical Gospels are products of scholarly bias as opposed to good scholarship”. So, for the benefit of my readers I would like to give a quick response to these claims.

Pitre was attempting to respond to the general academic consensus that all four NT Gospels were written following 70CE, by arguing that there is no explicit mention of the destruction of Jerusalem and it’s temple anywhere in the Gospels. Pitre is not the first Christian apologist to attempt to make this case. Rather, countless apologists prior to Pitre have already made the same argument. Here lies the difference between apologetics and scholarship; Christian apologists generally make no attempt at even acknowledging the quite obvious responses that critics give to their arguments. That is, apologists make no real attempt at engaging with the opposing view. Alternatively, critics have long been attempting to directly engage with the arguments presented by apologists.

The argument that apologists like Pitre make is that had the Gospels been written after 70CE they would have featured explicit reference to it, particularly in light of the prophecies of the destruction of the temple, as found in Mark 13. For those unfamiliar, Mark 13 is often referred to as the “mini-apocalypse”, as it features Jesus giving a quite specific prophecy that the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed, and that the end of the world would follow (Kennelly has implied that Mark 13 wasn’t specific in referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is of course completely untenable; the prophecy is quite explicit). Christian apologists claim that had Mark been written post 70CE than it’s author would have wanted to boast about the prophecy coming true, something along the lines of “… and look, it did happen! Therefore Jesus really did posses supernatural abilities!”.

The response to this is really quite simple. If the author of Mark had written something along the lines of “…and we all know the prophecy came true…” then that would give away that it was written after 70CE. If you are writing after 70CE but trying to pass off a work as if it were written prior to 70CE, you can’t give the game away by putting something in the text that explicitly places it after that date. Again, if you are trying to present a text as predicting some recent event before it happened, you can’t put in an explicit statement that the event has now occurred and that the prophecy has been fulfilled, otherwise you give the game away. Obviously this is just simple logic, and I am not the first to point this out. The very fact that Christian apologists are still making this argument in light of this is pretty staggering.

To further this, we should note that it was extremely common in the ancient world for religious texts to present themselves as being written in an earlier age to when they were, both to give them additional authority and in order to pass them off as being prophetic. There is actually a Jewish work known as the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch which attempts exactly the same thing as the Gospel of Mark, in presenting a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple as being given well before the even had taken place. Again, scholars date this text after 70CE for this simple reason.

Likewise, a non-Canonical (but otherwise orthodox) Christian text called the “Epistle of the Apostles” gives a prophecy of the coming of the Apostle Paul, even though the text was clearly written in the 2nd century (at least). Furthermore, it wasn’t just Jews and Christians that backdated prophecies. Rather, retroactive prophecies are also found in the religious texts of other cultures; for example, the Bhagavata Purana contains a prophecy of the spread of the Vishnu cult in Tamil country, leading scholars again to date it after this was known to have happened.

Occam’s Razor states that that the simplest explanation is often the best explanation. It is far simpler to suppose that a text that clearly references a historical event was written after the event in question rather than before, unless there is extremely strong evidence to the contrary. In the case of the Gospels, the earliest fragments are generally dated to the late 2nd century CE and beyond (with the only exception being P52, which is late 1st – late 2nd and beyond); hence we have no manuscript evidence of them prior to 70CE. Likewise, there are no external references to the Gospel narratives that are pre-70CE. There are no inscriptions, no artefacts, nothing at all.

Christian apologists have often argued that if a narrative ended at a certain point and failed to mention later traditions (relating to the death of disciples and so forth), that this is evidence for it being early (this argument is often presented for Acts of the Apostles). Again though, such arguments are entirely theoretical, and one can envisage countless reasons why a narrative would end at a certain point even if it were late.

Obviously the evidence for Markan priority is pretty straightforward, and it is mostly only conservative Christians that contest it (though there are a few other theories floating around, such as that the Gospel of Phillip or Marcion’s Gospel pre-dated Mark). Firstly, Matthew and Luke copied the vast majority of Mark verbatim, and it is much simpler to suppose that they both expanded upon Mark than to suppose that Mark is a shortened version of them. Furthermore, Mark is lacking a birth narrative or post-resurrection appearances (noting that Mark originally ended at 16:8); hence it is clear which way development went. So, considering that Mark is clearly post 70CE, this means that all four canonical Gospels are post-70CE. The evidence is really straightforward; there really isn’t much room for debate.

Regarding the authorship of the Gospels, mainstream scholarship long ago concluded that church tradition regarding the authors of the four canonical Gospels was largely (if not entirely) fictional, and that all four Gospels were originally anonymous. Kennelly claims that Pitre refuted this by pointing out that the earliest manuscripts we have for the NT Gospels have the names of the traditional authors on them.

Much has been made of the fact that the Gospel texts themselves do not have the names of the authors within them. Some have argued that this implies that they were originally anonymous, whilst others have argued that it was common for ancient works to only have the authors name at the beginning or end of the manuscript. I cannot personally offer any opinion on that. I do think we shouldn’t base any claim that they were originally anonymous on that fact alone.

However, whilst some Christians will claim that there was never any debate amongst the early church as to the authorship of the NT texts, the fact remains that we do know that there were multiple versions of the canonical Gospels in circulation, and that some of these variants went by different names to what we know them as. For example, Marcion’s Gospel appears to have been related to Luke, and we generally know of his by the name “Gospel of the Lord” (though I believe it also went by other titles). In fact, I believe that it is up for discussion as to whether Marcion claimed his Gospel was written by the Apostle Paul? Whilst church tradition maintains that Marcion removed material from Luke (thus making Luke earlier), there are some scholars that believe that Marcion himself wrote his Gospel by adding material to Mark, and that Luke is a redaction of his Gospel (and I personally believe that the evidence for this conclusion is strong).

Regarding Matthew, it seems that a number of heterodox Jewish Christian sects had their own versions of the text. In this case the works were known as “The Gospel of the Hebrews”, “The Gospel of the Ebionites” and “The Gospel of the Nazarenes” etc. Again, as with Marcion’s Gospel, I believe that a good case can be made that Matthew is a Catholic redaction of one of these Gospels. Likewise we know that many of the Alexandrian Gnostic heresiarchs used a version of the Gospel of Mark, and we do not know what theirs was called. Furthermore, there is likewise evidence that the Gospel according to John was used by heterodox Christian sects, and there is even a tradition that both John’s Gospel and Apocalypse (Revelation) was written by the Alexandrian heresiarch Cerinthus (though I personally have long suspected that Cerinthus wrote Revelation and Mark). Hence we have real reasons to doubt the original attribution of the names Matthew and Luke to their respective Gospels, and there is also evidence to suggest the same could have been so of Mark and John.

From the late 2nd century onward we have evidence of the power of the proto-orthodox Church, which wielded authority over a large number of churches over a large area. The fact remains however that at the same time, Marcion’s churches were spread far and wide, and his churches certainly would have used his canon of NT texts rather than the Catholic one we are more familiar with. The earliest evidence we have for the NT canon as we know it comes from Irenaeus in the late 2nd century, and likewise the earliest surviving manuscript fragments with names on the Gospels also date around the turn of the 2nd-3rd centuries CE. Beyond that the earliest surviving complete NT manuscripts date from the 4th century CE.

If Catholics hadn’t sought to destroy manuscripts and entire texts that they didn’t consider canon (and likewise if they had deliberately attempted to preserve such texts) we would indeed have surviving manuscripts bearing different titles to what we know today. We even know of variant titles for some of Paul’s Epistles, and again one can certainly make an argument that the Marcionite titles are more original.

We should also mention that we do not hear of orthodox Christians accepting that heterodox Christian Gospels really were written by Mary, Judas, Phillip, Peter and Thomas etc. I have never heard of any alternate tradition that gave different titles for the Gospel’s of Mary and Judas, and yet it would be foolish to presume that they were really written by  historical disciples of Jesus by those names, just because the Gospels bear those titles.

Christians of all persuasions (orthodox and heterodox) backdated their Gospels, Epistles, Acts and Apocalypses, and presented them under the names of prominent disciples in order to give them authority. This was how they rolled. Christian apologists are trying to have it both ways by using special pleading to try and defend the traditional dating and authorship of the canonical NT texts, whilst likewise accepting the conclusions of mainstream academia on the dating and authorship of heterodox texts, even though they display the same tendencies as the canonical texts.

Anyways, all of this is quite mute when you consider that aside from what names were originally attributed to these Gospels, one way or another the Gospels are largely (if not wholly) fictional. Again, as I’ve stated repeatedly, large chunks of the Gospels are Midrash, or are historically impossible, or are dependent upon pagan myths etc. There were obviously no eyewitnesses to Jesus feeding the 4,000, because it was copied from a story of Elisha in 2 Kings 4:43-44. There were no eyewitnesses to record Jesus’s last words on the cross because nobody was within earshot, not to mention the text is taken from various passages in Psalm 22.

There was no eyewitness to Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as the disciples are all presented as being asleep. There were no eyewitnesses to the cleansing of the Temple, as the whole narrative is practically historically impossible (it would have started a riot, the Roman guards out the front would have killed them all on site, and there is no mention of such an event by Josephus, Philo or Justus). And on it goes…

Anyways, on the final claim about all four canonical Gospels teaching that Jesus was God, it certainly is true that there are some references to divinity in all four Gospels. However, I believe it is still quite correct to state that there are a variety of Christological views represented in the New Testament Gospels. For example, the Gospel of Mark has no birth narrative (but rather starts at the baptism) and describes Jesus’s family as thinking he has gone mad when he starts preaching and performing miracles (Mark 3:21). If we were to take this in isolation (bearing in mind that it was the first of the NT Gospels) we would have no reason to suspect that anything supernatural had occurred to Jesus prior to his baptism. No virgin birth, no angels, no pre-existent Logos. Just a mortal human being who was overshadowed by a divine presence from his baptism on. And what would you know, this is exactly what a number of prominent heterodox Christians who used the Gospel of Mark (in some form) believed.

Likewise, the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke (as we know them) do not necessarily presuppose a pre-existent Christ being born into the flesh. Rather, if read in isolation they simply present a god being born the same way as various pagan gods or Emperor’s were born (Dionysus, Perseus, Augustus etc.), that being via the supernatural impregnation of a mortal female by the supreme male God. They were a god, son of God for sure, but it was their supernatural birth that established this as their genesis, not necessarily their descent into the flesh. What’s more, as previously stated, we have good reasons to believe that the canonical versions of Matthew and Luke are redacted forms of heterodox Gospels, in which case Ur-Matthew was originally also an adoptionist Jewish Christian Gospel, and Ur-Luke originally featured Christ descending down from heaven.

As for John, there is no birth narrative, so we have no reason to presuppose that if read in isolation its readers would have thought that Christ was born from a virgin. However, John most certainly makes it clear that Christ was a pre-existent divine being who had taken part in Creation and had descended down from the heavens. Furthermore, a number of critical scholars have presented a very strong case that even in the form we know it today, the Gospel of John presents Jesus as not being the son of Yahweh, but rather the son of a higher God. Whilst John is big on the whole divinity of Jesus thing, it is also very critical of “the Jews”, to the point that it can be argued that it is presenting Jesus as being from a God above Yahweh, which would mean that it originated amongst Marcionite-Valentinian circles or something along those lines (to which we should cite the tradition that it was a Valentinian who wrote the first commentary on John).

Let us remember that aside from the orthodox church post-Irenaeus, most Christian sects used only one Gospel at a time. That is, prior to Irenaeus, even proto-orthodox Christians would likely have not necessarily tried to harmonize multiple different Gospels with different Christology’s. Likewise, both before and after the time of Irenaeus, the multitude of heterodox Christian sects generally made use of one narrative Gospel (though some had supplementary Gospels of a more esoteric nature). Why use multiple Gospels that contradicted each other (and the doctrines of your sect), when you could use one that said exactly what you wanted it to say?

Anyways, all of this should show rather clearly that there is a vast chasm separating Christian apologetics from secular scholarship, although it is also true that the quality of secular scholarship is compromised by the interpenetration of apologetics into its field. Nevertheless, the frequent claims made by Christian apologists as to the reliability of the NT texts and the authority of their tradition blow away in the wind when compared with the arguments and evidence presented by critical scholars.

Regardless of how many times critics refute their claims, Christian apologists have continued to make the same ridiculous claims and use the same erroneous arguments. Christian apologists are spokespeople masquerading as scholars. They are like tobacco spokespeople, or alcohol industry lobbyists. Christian apologists entered the pseudo-academic world specifically to try and uphold their presuppositions. That is, they masquerade as historians and Bible scholars to try and maintain church tradition that is essential for them to make their rather serious claims.

Of course, orthodox Christians have completely identified with their faith. That is, they believe it to be who they are; they say “I am a Christian”, as if it defines some fundamental feature of their immortal soul. They unconsciously believe that if Christianity were to fall they would become less, perhaps even nothing. They believe they would lose hope of an afterlife, of divine justice and divine love. Hence, we need to promote accurate education of comparative spirituality.

Let us remember again that orthodox Christians are not simply trying to avoid persecution and live and let live (though they are certainly persecuted outside of the Western world). Rather, many of them wish to condemn and restrict other faiths, control the legal rights of the LGBTI community, restrict science education in schools and bring religion into foreign policy etc. Conservative Christians want to tell us that we will all be tortured for eternity because we deserve it, and they base it all upon a deeply flawed collection of texts we know as the Bible. Apologetics like Pitre’s “The Case for Jesus” are essential for their case. Unfortunately for them, whether it is Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, James Patrick Holding, Brante Pitre or anyone else, the arguments are the same, and the complete lack of quality is ubiquitous to the genre.

Let us be willing to see the worlds religious text’s as they really are, not how we wish them to be. Giving up the divine status of the Bible and giving up Christianity is not the end of spirituality. I would encourage Christians to accept the reality of the deeply flawed nature of their Scripture and faith as a whole, and look into other spiritual texts, sects and practices. For those that stay within the faith, can I suggest you look to reform it into a culturally specific form of the Perennial Philosophy, which should be vastly different to orthodox Christianity as we know it.  There are of course many liberal and universal Christian sects that have already moved significantly in this direction .


Ancient and modern Christian apocrypha: The Gospels of Judas, Mary, Thomas, Peter and Phillip etc. and The Kolbrin Bible, The Gospel of The Essenes and The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ etc.:


In response to recent links that appeared in my FB feed regarding a modern hoax called the Kolbrin Bible, I thought it necessary to clear up the subject of alternative Gospels. Basically, everybody is trying to make Jesus out in their own image. This is true of the modern-day New Age movement, and it was also true of both orthodox and heterodox early Christians. Whilst knowledge of the diversity of early Christianity does indeed give new context to Christian origins and the earliest conception/s of Jesus, it does not achieve what so many people are trying to make out.

Whilst I am an unashamed believer in the supernatural, I believe the New Age movement can benefit from a little critical thinking, and we need to be far more cautious about accepting extraordinary claims, which are unsupported by evidence. Everybody wants to believe that Jesus taught exactly what they personally believe in. This shows that even whilst rejecting the doctrines of orthodox Christianity, many, many people are still attached to this figure of Jesus.

We need to be willing to accept the overwhelming evidence as it stands regarding the figure of Jesus, and seek out cohesive spiritual worldviews that stand on their own grounds, rather than pretending that existing religions have simply been misinterpreted for all these years. Whilst I actively recommend reform of the worlds faiths, the New Age movement primarily tries to argue that each of the world religions was originally a pure vessel of the same truths. This is simply false, and whilst there is some good intent behind this approach, it is ultimately misguided, and will not achieve the ends to which many aspire.

Main Article:

Every once in a while I see a story somewhere online about a revolutionary text that reveals the “true story about Jesus”, you know the one the Church fought for centuries to hide. The general common thread in these stories is that the author/s claim that the text in question reveals Jesus to have really been exactly who they wish he was. That is, some argue that Jesus was really a Gnostic, that he was married to Mary Magdalene, that he was a mere wise human and so forth. Others argue that he went to India and became enlightened from studying with yogis, after which he was able to perform miracles and teach on higher spiritual matters. Others argue that he was an ascended master, a freemason, an alien, an 8th dimensional being and on it goes.

Obviously I do agree that the true origins of Christianity were almost certainly different to what Christian tradition states. Likewise, there are many subjects on which I believe we can reject mainstream consensus views and consider alternative views. There are even some cases whereby views that are considered pretty far out or even ridiculous by many turn out to be quite reasonable and defendable once a deeper investigation is undertaken.  However, there is no end to the ridiculous claims that are made regarding these apocryphal Christian –New Age texts (note, I believe we should designate most of the modern examples as New Age texts rather than Christian texts). Hence, I would like to offer my own approach to viewing these texts.

Starting with the ancient alternate Gospels, there were obviously many, many other Gospels that circulated in the first four centuries of the Common Era other than the four that became canonized in the New Testament that we are familiar with. A great number of these were however simply alternate versions of the canonical Gospels. Basically, it seems that just about every single different Christian sect had their own version of these texts, which just so happened to support their own doctrines. It seems to have been par for the course for the leaders of early Christian sects to modify existing texts to their taste, and this applies both for heterodox and orthodox Christians.

There were also a significant number of largely unrelated Gospels, such as those bearing the names of Judas, Mary, Peter, Phillip and Thomas, as well as those known by more generic titles such as the Gospel of Truth (as circulated amongst Valentinian circles). Again, this shows that the leaders (and other members) of various Christian sects weren’t afraid to create new texts to attempt to give authority to their personal opinions. Again, I believe this applies both to the creation of apocryphal and canonical texts.

Finally, there are many other texts that are mentioned in passing in surviving literature that haven’t survived to this day (both due to being deliberately destroyed, and also through not being copied and preserved), and in likelihood many, many more that we have no record of the existence of.

I believe it is quite clear that the majority of texts in the New Testament cannon were not originally composed by authors that shared the theology of orthodox Christianity. Rather, the four canonical Gospels, the primary Pauline epistles, Revelation and possibly a few of the general epistles were originally written by heterodox Christians, and the versions that we are familiar with are Catholic versions. However, this does not mean that Jesus really was a yogi, or a universalist, or an alien, or married to Mary Magdalene.

Many of the apocryphal Gospels date from approx. the mid-2nd century CE through to the 3rd century. Whilst orthodox Christians claim that this makes them all older than the orthodox versions (thus arguing that heterodox Christianity post-dates orthodox Christianity), the truth is that we do not have reliable sources for orthodox Christianity prior to the 2nd half of the 2nd century (with Justin and Irenaeus). Hence, apocryphal texts that date to the mid-2nd century are actually early enough to be contemporaneous with orthodox Christianity, and let us remember again that heterodox Christians also made use of the majority of texts from the NT canon, as well as apocryphal ones (and I should also point out that I believe that late-dating for many NT texts into the mid-2nd century CE is quite credible).

The Gospels of Judas and Mary both feature interesting narratives that are in many ways contrary and complementary to the traditional NT narratives. However, I believe many people miss the greater point of these texts. For example, whilst the Gospel of Judas may present the picture of Judas being asked by Jesus to betray him, the fundamental point of the text was to present knowledge of Jesus received through visions as superior to knowledge of Jesus as passed down by man. Likewise, the same is true of the Gospel of Mary. The idea of Mary being Jesus’s closest companion and bearer of his deepest teachings appeals to many people, but much of the content of the text itself is concerned with upholding the superiority of knowledge gained through visions.

We learn from early orthodox apologists such as Irenaeus that Gnostic Christians believed that knowledge gained through revelations was more reliable than that handed down by man. Hence, Irenaeus was so keen to argue for the authority of the proto-orthodox tradition on the basis of apostolic authority. This was a major point of contention in the 2nd century, and if we accept the authenticity of the primary Pauline epistles than the same is also true of the 1st century.

One way or another, whether or not there was a historical Jesus (those familiar with my work know that I strongly favour a no), all of the earliest Christian texts were inspired by revelations derived from both visions and allegorical readings of the scriptures. This is true of the canonical Gospels, the primary epistles, the Book of Revelation, and it is likewise true of various apocryphal Christian texts.

There is abundant, overwhelming evidence for this conclusion, and it does indeed overthrow the traditional Church tradition of Jesus and his disciples. However, it doesn’t mean that the visions of one or another Gnostic Christian sect taught the truth about the true historical Jesus. Rather, it simply means that none of their doctrines were based upon the teachings and actions of a historical man, regardless of whether there was a historical Jesus at the genesis of Christianity. Hence, we should not be so quick to believe that these alternate Gospels revealed some suppressed truth about Jesus. Rather, they simply preserved the doctrines of a competing early Christian sect.

Likewise, as for these modern “Gospels” claiming to be revealing hidden truths about Jesus that have been suppressed by the Church for 2,000 years, they are all either channelled or outright forgeries, or we are in no position to differentiate them from those that are. That is, no evidence has ever been produced (or probably ever will be) to show that any of these texts have any ancient foundations. No mention of these texts is made in any ancient text, no manuscript or other evidence has ever been produced, and they do not correspond with what we do know about early Christianity (and I’m not talking about Church tradition here).

The so-called Kolbrin Bible for example is a completely modern text, 10 or 20 years old at the max. Of course the publishers claim that it has a long sordid history, surviving a medieval fire, which was intended to destroy it, with Christian portions dating as early as the 1st century CE, and Egyptian portions dating to the mid 2nd millennium BCE. However, there is not a single shred of evidence to support these claims. If we were to honour such claims we would likewise accept that the Kybalion dated to the time of Hermes Trismegistos, that the Torah dated to the time of Moses, and that the Vedas preserved traditions that were millions of years old!

In regards to the Kybalion I believe it is an excellent text, though it is most certainly modern (early 20th century). It is simply par for the course for writers of modern occult works to claim that their text is ancient, as if doing so gives it authority. However, we need to leave our critical faculties in check, even when dealing with texts that strike chords within us.

Likewise, as for the Essene Gospel of Peace (also known by a number of variant titles), we have no evidence of the existence of any manuscript for the texts prior to the publication by Edmund Bordeaux Szekely in the mid 20th century. Of course Szekely claims that he copied the text from manuscripts he found in the Vatican library and another Italian library. However, no evidence has ever been produced to verify these claims.

As for the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, that openly admits to being channelled, though it claims to have been copied from the Akashic records (an astral library, home of the history of mankind and other knowledge). I personally accept some examples of channelling as a legitimate supernatural phenomena (though the contents of such works still naturally correspond with the personality of the personal doing the channelling). However, it would be irresponsible of us to simply accept the author’s claim to have channelled the text from a sort of non-physical history book.

I am personally involved in Spiritualism and have had numerous experiences that have convinced me that many people are indeed able to obtain information from non-physical sources that can later be verified. However, I have also found it to be the case that whilst material gained through these methods may prove useful in spiritual progress (and may on many occasions prove to give useful advice pertaining to an individuals earthly circumstances), “knowledge” relating to the “true history of mankind” from these sources are pretty much always unverifiable, and contract other claims made by other channelled texts. Basically, these texts are pretty much science fiction for New Agers. They may feature some useful spiritual advice, but it would be foolish to believe that they truly revealed historical facts that have been lost to the sands of time. This is true of literarily hundreds (if not thousands) of New Age texts, such as “Abduction to the Ninth Planet”, Ramtha’s “White Book”, “Bringers of the Dawn” (all of which I have read) et al, and it is also true of the personal revelations of millions of people who have been told something about who Jesus really was (and the “true history of mankind”) in a meditation or by a spirit guide.

Final words:

The reason we are so interested in these alternative accounts of Jesus is that we have (rightfully) instinctively felt that many of the doctrines taught to us by orthodox Christianity were false, and we have naturally sought a better spiritual worldview than the one handed to us. However, the problem is that a part of us is still attached to Christianity, and hence we are inclined to attempt to squeeze a square plug into a round hole, in believe that Jesus was truly an enlightened being that taught only truth, and it is only due to some diabolical conspiracy that his true teachings have not survived to us today.

Whilst it is indeed true that the Catholic church has indeed supressed other competing forms of Christianity, and they have indeed interpolated and redacted various texts, this does not mean that the earliest form of Christianity was a pure enlightened religion. Rather, the evidence we have shows us that the author of the earliest Gospel (Mark) was a Greek educated Jew who was pretty pissed of with the Romans about the destruction of Jerusalem (as was the author of Revelation) and certainly believed in much of the traditional Jewish dogma. Likewise, it is clear that the earliest author of the Pauline epistles was not necessarily teaching an enlightened universal doctrine.

It certainly is true that there is much goodness found amongst the words ascribed to Jesus (both in canonical and apocryphal texts), and it is quite clear that Gnostic Christianity was far more mystical than orthodox Christianity. On this last point, we don’t have enough surviving evidence to know enough about every different early heterodox Christian sect to know exactly what they believed. It is likely that some of them could have been considered to be semi-Perennial in their approach to comparative religion (noting the preservation of Platonic and Hermetic texts amongst the Nag Hammadi library amongst other evidence). However, it is commonly the case that religious texts reflect a complex mixture of truth and superstition, inspired knowledge and personal dogmas. All the evidence relating to early Christianity supports this conclusion, and we should accept the evidence as it sits.

If we truly wish to follow a universal, Perennial religion, than let us go about identifying the highest-common denominators in comparative religion, in the same way that scientists and philosophers of science attempt to do in their attempts at constructing unified theories of everything. Or, if we wish to follow an enlightened ancient faith, let us choose one on the basis of its merits.


The Bibliographical Test, and why Christian scholars, apologists, preachers and laymen need to stop using it:


For some time Christian apologists have been making outrageous claims such as: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested historical event of the ancient world”, or “There is more evidence for Jesus Christ than for Julius Caesar”, or “The NT texts have been proven to be the most reliable historical texts of the ancient world”, or “If you distrust the NT then you also have to throw out every single other surviving text from ancient history” etc. ad nauseum.

These claims are heavily dependent upon an argument known as “The bibliographical argument”, as popularised by Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. Simply put, this argument claims that as there are far, far more surviving fragments and manuscripts of the NT then for any other ancient text, and since the earliest surviving fragments date far closer to the original date of composition then for any other text, that this means that the NT is therefore more reliable than any other historical text.

The reality is that this argument is simply 100% bunk. Real textual critics do not use this test in determining the accuracy of a historical work. This argument has been around for quite some time, and it was refuted many years ago. The claims about there being more evidence for Jesus Christ then Julius Caesar are likewise completely untrue. Christians however have to the best of my knowledge never made any attempt at responding to its refutation, but simply continue to use the argument in complete denial of the natural response to it. Due to the isolation of many Christians and the natural way in which the human ego will avoid facing facts that would naturally lead to the breakdown of its false sense of identity, Christian scholars, apologists, preachers and laymen continue to use this argument (and variations of it) and make claims as to the textual integrity of the NT.

This has to stop. Christians have to realize that they have been duped by the conmen acting as their leaders, and concede that this argument and all the claims that stem from it are completely erroneous.

Main Article:

Orthodox Christianity depends very heavily upon a literal reading of the NT as historically and theologically accurate texts. As such, Christian apologists are heavily invested in attempting to provide evidence and/or arguments for their reliability. Whilst there are many criticisms launched against Christianity and many reasons given by non-Christians for rejecting the gospel, many people (such as myself) find various reasons to reject the historicity of the Gospel accounts, and view them either partly or wholly as works of fiction. Likewise, many people (such as myself) believe that the texts that we have today have undergone significant interpolation and redaction from their original form.

So, contrary to the claim that textual criticism has shown the NT texts to be the most reliable of all ancient historical works, real textual critics and historians have concluded the exact opposite: That the NT texts we have today have been heavily modified from their original form, and that even the original forms of these texts were not necessarily historically accurate. There are really two separate (but related) questions here: 1) That of the accurate or inaccurate transmission of the NT texts, and 2) That of the historical reliability or unreliability of the original form of the texts. In making the claims that the NT texts have shown themselves to be reliable and that there is more evidence for Jesus then anyone else in classical history, Christian apologists are conflating two separate claims into one (though it should be noted that occasionally some of them have noted this fact and attempted to make the two cases separately).

Starting with 1), it is indeed true that there are far, far more surviving NT fragments and manuscripts then for any other work in classical history. Likewise, it is also true that some of the earliest fragments (note that these are not complete manuscripts) date very close to the original date of composition (P52 being probably the best example). However, this does not in any way present evidence that the NT texts we have today have been transmitted faithfully from their original conception. Rather, we have extensive evidence that pretty much all early Christians wrote pseudographical texts (that is, they forged them in the name of notable figures) and modified pre-existing texts (whether to create a new text altogether, or simply create their own version of an already existing text).

The earliest NT fragments are generally dated from the mid-2nd century to the early 3rd (1), and the earliest complete manuscripts date from the 4th century onwards. Whilst Christian apologists and biblical scholars have been known to argue for 1st century dating for a number of fragments, these dates have not been accepted by secular paleographers (who study the scripts and papyrus to attempt to determine a date range for a manuscript). Christian apologists and scholars consistently give only the earliest possible date for a manuscript (and even then rely on disputed dates and fringe claims – such as that there is a fragment of Mark amongst the Dead Sea scrolls (2)). For example, regarding P52 Christian apologists and scholars have consistently given its dating simply as 90CE, when its original date range was proposed as roughly 100-150CE, whilst most accept the range of 125-175CE, and many actual paleographers have argued that we should extend the range into the early 3rd century CE (3). In this case the actual fragment itself is miniscule; hence we cannot judge the accuracy of later copies against this copy, as it contains only 5 verses.

In previous centuries some critics have argued that the Gospels may not have been written before the 4th century. Such claims can now be rejected with absolute certainty. However, we do still have a fairly wide range between the 1st -2nd centuries CE, to which we should note that markers which many apologists and scholars have used to claim early dating (such as the Apostolic fathers) are no-where near as solid as they would like. Either way, one cannot claim that the NT texts were written any later then the mid 2nd century (though perhaps the range on a few could be extended to as late as 170CE-ish). Likewise, one cannot argue that significant interpolation or redaction was taking place after the 4th century.

However, one can indeed claim that significant interpolation and redaction was taking place in NT texts throughout the 2nd century by various early Christian sects. The NT texts we have today are basically all Catholic versions, and whilst early proto-orthodox church fathers accused their opponents of mutilating the texts, we have significant evidence of proto-orthodox Christians doing the same. Take the Gospel of Mark for example. It is common knowledge that the earliest manuscripts all ended at 16:8 with the women fleeing the empty tomb, there are three different variations on additional verses that are extant in different manuscripts (4), and a number of early church fathers actually discussed this issue, and concluded that 16:8 was the original ending. Hence the majority of modern scholars also favour this conclusion. Hence, we have here a perfect example of additional verses being added after the end of a NT Gospel. All up we therefore have four different variations on the ending of Mark that have survived to this day (and we should point out that they are all Catholic versions).

Most mainstream NT scholars and historians accept Markan priority; that is, they accept that the Gospel of Mark was written first amongst the NT Gospels, and that Matthew and Luke both added material to Mark, and John was written later as a response. The evidence for this is overwhelming and involves very simple logic. Obviously it should be noted that whilst Mark has no nativity narrative (but rather begins at the baptism of Jesus), both Matthew and Luke do. Therefore, according to the theory of Markan priority, this means that the authors of both Matthew and Luke added their nativity narratives to Mark’s Gospel (amongst other changes). Hence, this means that the very genesis of these texts is in interpolation and redaction.

To further this point we should note that there were alternate Gospels in use by heterodox Christian sects for which we have good reason to believe that they were effectively versions of Matthew and Luke. Heterodox Jewish Christians (Ebionites, Nazarenes etc.) used Gospels that were almost certainly related to Matthew (known as the Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Nazarenes, Gospel of the Hebrews etc.). Likewise, the Marcionites had a version of Luke known as the Gospel of the Lord. The interesting thing about this is that the church fathers tell us that these heterodox versions of Matthew and Luke also had no nativity narrative, but rather also began at the baptism (chapter 3 of Matthew and Luke). And what would you know, but amongst the earliest extant fragments of Luke there happen to be an example that is missing the nativity narratives (chapters 1-2) and begins with the baptism (chapter 3)(5). What a coincidence! So, one way or anther, we can see that the nativity narratives of both Matthew and Luke (upon which the virgin-birth claim for Jesus is built) are the product of interpolation and redaction by proto-orthodox Christians (early Catholics).

Likewise, many modern scholars believe that the Pauline Epistles contain many interpolations, and are subject to heavy redaction. I am not going to go into this here today, though I will cover it in upcoming articles (I certainly favour a radical version of this theory). Likewise, some scholars have argued that our version of Revelation is considerably longer than the original (and again I also favour this conclusion). So, early proto-orthodox church fathers repeatedly claimed that their opponents had modified their versions of texts, which are also in our NT canon. However, whether or not this is true, we have good reason to believe that early Catholics did the same. Thus all complete surviving versions of the NT texts (which all post-date the 2nd century, when it appears there was much modification of these texts taking place) contain at least some (and most probably many) variations on the original versions. So, that’s out with part 1) of the Christian apologists claim.

Before moving on to part 2), It is important for me to point out that arguing that the NT texts have undergone significant changes from their original forms does not mean that the original form of these texts were true (as some might argue), and that the problems with Christianity are only present due to the changes in these texts. Rather, I believe that the original forms of the NT texts were themselves the products of competing early Christian sects that all had their own dogmas, which were themselves a combination of various schools of thought, teaching a complex web of human ideology and superstition alongside sublime universal spiritual truths.

The reason why I (and others) argue that there is significant evidence of interpolation and redaction in the NT texts is that we wish to encourage everyone to take an honest look at the NT canon for what it is, and be realistic about attempting to reconstruct what can be known about Christian origins. Likewise, we seek to counter erroneous claims such as those made by Christian apologists.

Anyways, moving onto part 2), I believe I have already briefly summarized my reasons for rejecting the original Gospel narrative as being largely (if not wholly) fictional in other places (6). Let me now just give a quick summary of reasons why I (and others) reject the historicity of the Gospel narratives. Firstly there is the very obvious fact that the Gospel authors largely re-wrote portions from the Hebrew Bible to suit their new narrative, using techniques known as midrash or pesher. The stories of Jesus feeding the five and four thousand (Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10) are clearly rewritten from the story of Elisha doing the same in 2 Kings 4:43-44. What’s more likely, Jesus did exactly the same miraculous thing that Elisha did, or that the author of Mark copied a mythological motif from the Hebrew Bible? Obvious examples of this are found through the Gospels (and Acts), and even the dialogue of Jesus on the cross is lifted straight from Psalm 22. I’m not going to go into detail here; there are plenty of online resources that do so, and people can read my own summary one day when I get around to publishing part 2 of my book on religion (I still need to publish part 1 first).

So, large portions of the Gospels can be rejected as non-historical as they are clearly derived from the Jewish scriptures. Secondly, we have the somewhat contested reality that the Gospels also drew liberally on pagan (Greek, Egyptian, Roman etc.) mythology and literature. The most obvious examples are that the Gospel of Mark (which we should remember is the original template from which the others were drawn) was written to deliberately parallel the works of Homer (primarily the Odyssey). Whilst this thesis hasn’t yet achieved widespread acceptance, I believe it is only a matter of time (I gave a few examples in my article referenced in endnote 6, otherwise look up an online summary).

And then there are the clear parallels to the Osirian cult/Mystery religions (amongst other general pagan parallels, such as miraculous, non-sexual (and sometimes virginal) birth). I’ve discussed this in a little detail already elsewhere (7), but lets just summarize again. The Osirian cult involved the belief that Osiris had been killed and brought back to life, and Egyptians sought to associate themselves with Osiris in order to attain eternal life through sharing in his resurrection. The Egyptians went to great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead (and hence believed in a physical resurrection), had public rites where the passion of Osiris was played out, in which they mourned at his death and celebrated at his return to life 3 days later. They ate ritual cakes in the shape of Osiris, ritually cleansed themselves in the Nile and even had amulets with a symbol of Osiris as a tree (the Djed) superimposed over their symbol of eternal life (the Ankh, which is a cross with a loop. Look up Djed-Ank amulets).

The Greek (and Roman and other) Mystery religions superimposed the primary themes of the Osirian cult upon the myths of various other gods (Dionysus, Demeter, Orpheus, Attis, Adonis, Mithras etc.), resulting in a whole category of cults which promised eternal life to their followers through identification with a god that had died and returned to life. In most cases this was pretty explicit in pre-Christian sources; a handful of examples require significant discussion to explain this though. Anyways, as Richard Carrier has succinctly stated many times, if you were living just prior to Christianity and you were asked what a pseudo-Jewish version of a Mystery religion would look like, you could have predicted literarily every single feature of Christianity (through a synthesis of the Mystery cults and Messianic Judaism). This doesn’t mean that Christianity is primarily pagan (as clearly one way or another it has largely Jewish roots), but that it’s founders practiced syncretism in one way or another.

So, the Gospel narratives are heavily dependent on both Jewish and pagan mythology and literature. Furthmerore, we have various historical difficulties (if not impossibilities) within the Gospels, such as the cleansing of the temple incident (which is a major feature of the narrative), or the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s trial. We have the fact that Christians couldn’t decide amongst themselves when Jesus was born (was it 6-4BCE, 6CE or 100BCE?), or how long his ministry was for, or exactly when he was killed.

And then we have the bizarre case whereby the Epistles (which are commonly thought on very strong grounds by pretty much everyone to pre-date the Gospels) seem to be completely ignorant of the earthly narrative of Jesus. The authors of these letters only cite revelation (visions) and the scriptures (the Greek version of the Hebrew bible) as their sources, and they even cite the Hebrew bible verbatim as the words of Jesus (thus again confirming the methodology of the authors of the Gospels).

Compare this to the special pleading that is presented by Christian apologists and scholars to argue for the reliability of the NT texts, and there is simply no comparison. I can understand if Christians or mainstream scholars may wish to dispute the strength and scope of some of the evidence I have mentioned above for my case (though I stand by my conclusions). However, even if we downgrade things a little we still have the case that there is no way that a reasonable and informed person can believe that the Gospels are literal, historically reliable accounts.

So, we can see that the whole bibliographical argument thing is just one big charade, a house of cards. And it’s not like I’m the first person to point this out, or that it is only mythicists and/or radical critics who are seeking to make this case. Nobody outside Christian apologetics gives any credit to the bibliographical argument. It is just plain wrong on so many counts, and its use is simply ignorant and dishonest.

As for that claim that there is more evidence for Jesus Christ than for Julius Caesar. Well, we have portraits of Caesar from his lifetime, coins from the same, letters that he wrote himself, various references to him in literature etc. Most significantly, the historicity of Caesar is affirmed because he is central to Roman history. That is, one could say that he was both central to the foreground and background of Roman history in the 1st century BCE. Julius Caesar is everwhere in Roman history of this period; you simply cannot discuss Roman history of the time without him. We do have reason to be suspicious of some of the things later historians said about Caesar, but this is not decided on the basis of the amount of time passed since his time when they wrote, nor the extant number of manuscripts.

Jesus however is generally placed in the foreground of Jewish history in the 1st century CE (though the Nazarenes placed him 100 years earlier, as attested by Epiphanius and the Babylonian Talmud), but nobody really takes much (if any) notice until the 2nd century when Christians go around preaching of him. The foreground of Jewish history is important to understanding the Christian religion (as the Jewish wars and the destruction of the Temple is very significant in the origins of the Gospel narrative at very least); however one could easily discuss Jewish history of the period without mentioning Jesus (as apparently did Justus of Tiberius, likewise for Philo, and then there is the question of Josephus?)

So, again the claim that there is more evidence for Jesus Christ than Julius Caesar is just plain bunk. It is based upon the erroneous bibliographical argument, and uncritical acceptance of claims from Acts and the Epistles of large numbers of witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection. In truth these are simply faith claims of religious scriptures, all belonging to the one category or religious literature after-the-fact. They do not count as historical evidence, any more than Hindu texts being evidence for the historicity of Krishna, or the Pyramid texts being evidence of Osiris, or the Bacchae being evidence of the historicity of Dionysus. Likewise, even though Greek historians and mythographers such as Diodorus and Euhemeris believed that prominent gods had been great men (and women) of old who had been made into legends, it doesn’t really count as evidence that they were.

Anyways, it is obvious that Christians are being lied to by their leaders. Christians are supposed to uphold a strict ethical code, which involves always speaking the truth. However, the reality is that the ego will blind people to their actions in order to sustain its identity. Hence, Christians repeatedly make false claims and employ appalling arguments in order to try and hold their ground, and push onto the ground of others.

Let us remember here that it is not simply that Christian apologists wish to be left alone in peace to believe what they believe, and leave the rest of the world out of it. Rather, Christian apologists wish to claim that their beliefs are historical facts, at which point conservative Christians wish to force their religion upon others. Let us remember that Christianity has been largely intolerant of other faiths over the course of its history (amongst other legitimate issues), and that conservative Christians today still attempt to gain privilege in secular nations (in funding programs to teach Christianity in public schools in Australia, in attempting to teach “Creationism” alongside biological evolution in classrooms in America, etc.). Conservative Christians wish to claim that all those outside their faith (and not just that, but outside their particular version of their faith) are damned to an eternity of torment. Hence, it is important that we counter their misinformation.


1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categories_of_New_Testament_manuscripts#Distribution_of_Greek_manuscripts_by_century_and_category.

2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7Q5.

3) http://vridar.org/2013/03/08/new-date-for-that-st-johns-fragment-rylands-library-papyrus-p52/.

4) http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php?title=Legends2.

5) P75: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus_75. We should note that for Matthew there is the case of P64 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalen_papyrus), for which the earliest portion is again from chapter 3. However in this case the fragment is so miniscule that it is missing just about everything, so we should be cautious about reading too far into it.

6) https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/on-christian-origins-part-1-why-i-favour-mythicism/.

7) https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/the-pagan-parallel-thesis-and-why-practically-every-single-major-objection-to-it-is-false/






My thoughts on the passing of D.M. Murdock (aka Archaya S):

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.


[i] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=Iaqe9CG_s6cC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[ii] http://sftbinc.podomatic.com/entry/2015-12-29T16_18_14-08_00.

Why the Apostolic Fathers should NOT be cited as witnesses to christianity prior to the 2nd half of the 2nd century:

Abstract:        Both secular and Christian scholars (and apologists) regularly refer to the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna) as early, reliable witnesses to Christianity in the late 1st and early 2nd century. Hence the texts considered authentic that bare their names are used as external witnesses to the existence of various Christian texts, doctrines and practices prior to the 2nd half of the 2nd century.

The problem is that the entire corpus bearing the name of Ignatius is suspect, to the point that no one should be relying upon it for anything. Likewise, it has long been noted by Christians themselves that the authenticity of the lone Epistle of Polycarp is dependent upon the authenticity of the Ignatian corpus, in which case it likewise should not be relied upon. As for Clements solitary “authentic” epistle, it doesn’t so much bear obvious signs of forgery, but rather the dating and origin of the epistle are highly questionable, leaving us with a very wide date range that should preclude its use as a reliable witness prior to the mid-2nd century CE.

Hence, whilst these texts are not without value for the study of Christian origins, they should not be called upon as external witnesses as if their authenticity and early dating were firmly established. Whilst this case that I am making here has been made many times before by others dating at least 100 years back, the field of religious studies is unfortunately flooded with apologetic works masquerading as scholarship, and even secular scholars have to deal with consensus views formed largely by those entering the study to defend certain presuppositions, rather than objectively consider the evidence as it stands.

Main Article:


Whilst Clement of Rome is usually placed first sequentially out of the three Apostolic Fathers, I believe that the best place to start is with Ignatius and the letters that bear his name. Christian legends tell us that Ignatius was a prominent Bishop in Antioch in the late 1st century CE, and that in the year 107 CE he brought himself before the Roman Emperor Trajan at Antioch and confessed himself a Christian, for which he was sentenced to death. The story continues to tell of Ignatius being chained up and led by an entire legion of troops to Rome by foot, where he was eventually fed to the lions as a martyr in the Colosseum. Also, the story tells that along the way he was permitted to stop at various places along the way to converse with other Christians and compose the epistles that bear his name.

So, before we even get to the letters, there are a number of problems to be dealt with here. Firstly, the account of Ignatius being sentenced to death merely for confessing himself a Christian doesn’t gel with the evidence for the reality of early Christian persecution (note the letter of Pliny the Younger), but rather lines up with the way that Christian legends speak of immediate and widespread persecution of Christians merely for the sake of their faith. Secondly, if Trajan had indeed sentenced Ignatius to death, would he have really gone to the effort and expense of escorting him all the way to Rome with an entire legion of troops, rather then merely executing him at Antioch and leaving his body out on display for those that actually knew him? Furthermore, can we really believe that Ignatius would have been allowed to stop along the way and converse with other Christians (who were not arrested or killed?), and compose theological treatises partially disguised as letters to further his cause?

Of course all this sounds like the stuff of legends, and many scholars over the years have indeed come to this conclusion and rightfully rejected the tale of his martyrdom as a result. However, the tendency persists to assume that there was a historical core behind the legend, simply due to the existence of the letters and testimony from later Church fathers. However, there is no external, contemporary evidence for Ignatius and his letters, and thus it remains highly plausible that the entire tale is myth. This possibility becomes quite likely once we examine the actual state of the letters themselves.

There are 16 letters in total that bare the name Ignatius, though most scholars only consider seven of these to be authentic (they being the epistles to Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans and Polycarp). Furthermore, there are multiple versions of these epistles of varying length in Greek and Syriac manuscripts, meaning that even if we accepted the consensus view, we would still be accepting that there were many forgeries written in Ignatius’s name, and that even the authentic letters had suffered interpolation and redaction. The primary reason for the acceptance of the above seven letters is that Eusebius only mentioned the existence of seven epistles in his day (the 4th century CE), along with the fact that the remaining nine letters bare evidence of coming from a later age then the first seven.

However, it is a curious fact that prior to Eusebius only three epistles were mentioned by other church fathers (that being Ephesians, Romans and Polycarp), quite a coincidence when considered alongside a Syriac manuscript discovered by Dr. William Cureton that just so happened to feature those three same epistles. If we were to apply the same reasoning that is applied to the testimony of Eusebius it would thus be natural to come to the conclusion that these three are the earliest epistles written in the name of Ignatius. Furthermore, whilst the short Greek versions of the seven accepted epistles differ greatly from the longer Greek versions of the same text, the Syriac manuscript found by Dr. Cureton preserves an ultra-short version of the three epistles.

These Syriac versions are missing most of the primary theological themes of the Greek letters (which themselves can be used to argue for post 150 CE origins), and one can even make the case that the theology contained within is supportive of a form of early heterodox Christianity[i]. Obviously the various Ignatian texts were originally written by someone at sometime, and it would not be surprising if some form of them were floating around by the middle of the 2nd century CE. However, the point here is simply that the Ignatian corpus is one giant mess, and accepting the short Greek versions as authentic and using it as reliable external witness for various things is simply poor scholarship (or apologetics). All we can really say with any certainty is that some form of the three epistles mentioned at the end of the 2nd century were circulating by that time, and the rest of the letters (including the other letters from the short Greek recension), could potentially all post-date them.  It would perhaps be safer to simply posit a date range of <170 CE for the earliest form of Ephesian, Romans and Polycarp), and forget about definitively dating any of the other epistles to the 2nd century CE.

In this manner we are in the unfortunate situation of having to deal with the apologetic works of various conservative Christians who have entered NT studies simply for the purpose of defending their prior beliefs, rather than considering evidence on its own merits. The work of Joseph Lightfoot is largely responsible for keeping the myth of Ignatius alive, showing that in the field of religious studies apologetics frequently passes for scholarship. It is akin to having large numbers of medical studies being published allegedly showing positive health benefits from smoking, whereby the studies were conducted by shareholders in tobacco companies.


Moving on, the figure of Polycarp is closely related to Ignatius, particularly as one of the Ignatian epistles is addressed to Polycarp, and the epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians references an Ignatius. Likewise, Polycarp is credited with an equally implausible martyrdom in which the Romans attempted to burn him at the stake, and then resorted to stabbing him when the fire did not harm him. There is a single epistle bearing Polycarp’s name, which is usually dated 110-140 CE, though I will argue that it couldn’t have been written before 144 CE, in which case it again should be relegated to the 2nd half of the 2nd century CE, rather then the 1st.

In chapter 7 of this epistle we find a verbatim quote from 1st John: “For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;[ii]”, followed by a passage that states that anybody who denies the testimony of the cross and perverts the oracles of the Lord to their own lusts, and denies the resurrection and judgment is the “first-born of Satan”. The General epistles (John and Peter in particular) are well known to be responding to 2nd century heterodox Christianity. However, the specific passage which indicated that Polycarp’s epistle post-dates 144 CE is the quip about the “first-born of Satan”, as to the best of my knowledge that title was only ever used by Church Fathers to refer to Marcion, and Marcion didn’t fall out of favour with the orthodox church until 144 CE.

Again, this was pointed out some time ago by a previous generation of scholars, however Joseph Lightfoot argued in response that it could not have been referring to Marcion, due to the reference to those who “pervert the oracles of the Lord to their own lusts”, due to Marcion being celibate. However, this argument fails to acknowledge another tradition that Marcion had seduced a virgin, along with the fact that the aforementioned passage could be referencing other lusts aside from sexual urges (as Marcion was described by the Church Fathers as being extraordinarily wicked: See Tertullian’s Against Marcion, particularly the opening chapter). Hence, on this ground alone we can see that Polycarp’s epistle should not be relied upon as a reliable witness to Christianity prior to the 2nd half of the 2nd century.

Furthermore, many orthodox Christians themselves have long admitted that the reliability of Polycarp’s epistle depends precariously upon the reliability of the Ignatian epistles, and given the utter mess of the Ignatian corpus, Polycarp’s epistle can likewise be held in suspicion on the same grounds. And again, there are multiple incomplete manuscripts of Polycarp’s epistle, meaning we likewise have possible issues with interpolation and redaction. So, one could argue that we should be dating the earliest form of the epistle 144 CE >, and considering the possibility of later modification.  Even if we are to take a more cautious approach and consider early dating, we still have the case that we cannot be sure.  Hence, a dating of perhaps <170 CE is fairly safe, but achieves nothing in terms of validating early Christian beliefs, practices and the distribution and acceptance of the NT canon.


Returning now to the first Apostolic Father in sequence, there are two epistles that commonly bear the name of Clement of Rome (though the first does not state so directly in the text), though scholars only accept the first one as authentic. In this case we do not face the same problems as encountered for Ignatius. The narrative of his martyrdom does not contain the same obvious legendary features (though it may still be legendary), nor do the manuscripts contain the same inherent textual issues. Rather, we have a very, very long theological treatise again presented as a letter, written apparently to settle a dispute in the Church at Corinth in which several presbyters had been dismissed. The letter goes on to argue that the righteous should submit to God’s authority, and that the presbyters had been given their authority through the wise appointment of the apostles and their successors (though the letter primarily uses examples from the Old Testament to make its case).

Different scholars accept a variety of dates and/or date-ranges for 1st Clement, and if we honour the extreme ends we have a range from 60-140 CE. Richard Carrier for one has presented his case that the epistle displays an unusual silence regarding the gospels and the typical earthly narrative for Jesus (in a similar manner to the argument that Wells, Doherty and Carrier present for the Pauline epistles), and hence has argued for a date in the 60’s. Other scholars have sought to identify the author with a Clement mentioned in the Shepherd of Hermas, which would move the date closer to the other end of the range, whilst most scholars seem to be arguing for 80-100 CE.

The issue here is not so much explicit evidence for forgery or late dating, but rather significant uncertainty. There is no exact way of determining the date of composition of the text; hence it would be wise to approach the issue with significant caution. In regards to Carrier’s argument I would point out that just because 1st Clement doesn’t quote and cite the gospels for authority (but rather chooses the OT – Septuagint) it doesn’t necessarily mean that the gospels didn’t exist at the time of composition, but rather that the gospels weren’t seen as authoritative at that time (note Justin Martyr’s use of the Septuagint and at least one gospel in the mid-2nd century CE). We don’t have definitive evidence of the use of the gospels as authoritative texts until the late 2nd century CE (with Irenaeus); hence Carrier’s argument (if respected) does not preclude dating 1st Clement into the middle of the 2nd century CE.

Likewise, the references to repeated calamities and persecutions as found in the introduction could refer to pretty much any time within the date range, and hence the text cannot be dated on those grounds. Furthermore, chapter 44 makes reference to several generations passing, growing old and passing away (though the wording is vague enough to leave significant room for debate as to its intended meaning). Clement is usually presented as one of the earliest successors of Peter as Bishop of Rome, but there are multiple mutually exclusive lineages for this from different sources (hence they may all be legendary). It can certainly be argued that chapter 44 itself presents a significant period of time passing from the time of the Apostles, in which case we can easily find ourselves well into the 2nd century CE. So, on these grounds I am happy to concede the general range of 60-140CE for 1st Clement (see further discussion in the comments section). However, due to the significant uncertainty surrounding its dating, we should again be cautious about depending upon it for external witness, as there is no hard evidence precluding it from originating close to the middle of the 2nd century CE.


In light of all this, we can see that Justin Martyr is in many ways the earliest Church Father of which we can be somewhat confident about dating. Hence we have no surviving, reliable extra-Biblical witness to Christian doctrine and the existence of (and use of) the NT texts prior to the mid-2nd century CE. Hence, scholars and apologists alike should refrain from citing the Apostolic Fathers as witnesses for the historicity of Jesus, the early acceptance of various orthodox Christian doctrines or the existence of and widespread acceptance of the NT canon[iii].

In light of this situation we can see that the late date ranges for various NT texts as suggested by radical scholars and hobbyists are actually far more plausible than is frequently acknowledged. Whilst I don’t agree with all the claims and theories presented by hobbyists and radical (or fringe) scholars, I believe that early dating of the NT texts is frequently and erroneously believed to be grounded upon the early witness of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp. Hence, perhaps mainstream NT scholars can afford to be more open-minded in considering theories of Christian origins that currently fall outside the general consensus view.

[i] Though this is an entirely separate kettle of fish, which I will deal with independently in due time. There is a very important textual variant of a Pauline epistle referenced within both the Greek and Syriac versions of Romans (though some English translations of the Greek epistles seek to align it with our versions of the Pauline epistle in question, in essence mistranslating the text) that supports this case, though it is rarely discussed.

[ii] 1 John 4:3.

[iii] And this is even before we look at the differences between vague allusions within such texts to gospel passages, and verbatim citations (as found in the writings of later Christian authors), on top of which the question of oral tradition must also be considered.

The “Pagan-Parallel Thesis”, and why practically every single major objection to it is false:


The Pagan Parallel thesis suggests that Christianity borrowed many of its major features from pagan (Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman) religion and mythology that had ancient roots, but was contemporaneous with Christianity.  The evidence for this theory consists of showing parallels between parts of the gospels and Christian practices with those of pre-Christian paganism.  The theory reasons that as the pagan versions were earlier, Christianity must have borrowed features from these earlier traditions.  Hence, on this basis it is argued that Christian claims about Jesus cannot be literarily, historically true.

This theory is deeply controversial and is treated with disdain by conservative Christians.  Mainstream academics will concede some partial truth to the theory, though they generally believe that it goes too far, and they tend to conclude that Christianity emerged primarily from a Jewish context.  When considered in detail however, it is quite clear that the theory deserves far more credit then it receives, and pretty much every major objection to it turns out to be false.  Whilst this theory is often presented as a major part of the Christ-myth theory, this theory can also be consistent with a minimalized historical Jesus, though it is less frequently presented in this context.

It is indeed true that there have been many poor presentations of this theory.  However most amateur presentations of the theory are still far better then practically all attempts at rebutting them; including both rebuttals from conservative Christian apologists and secular historians and NT scholars (though the latter are always better than the former).  As for the better presentations of the theory they make a very strong case, and it is only incredulous incredulity that prevents the theory becoming more widely accepted.  When the theory is presented correctly it can answer every objection, and it is only a matter of time before religious scholarship turns around and gives it the credit it demands.  Whilst the following is not an attempt at presenting a positive case for the theory but rather a brief rebuttal of typical objections to the theory, it says a lot if all the objections to a theory are erroneous.

The facts are as follows: Christianity borrowed many of its concepts and practices from the Mystery religions, which themselves were derived from the ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cults of Inanna & Tammuz and Osiris.  Whilst there were some mythological motifs such as miraculous conception which were more general and weren’t specific to the Mysteries, Christianity was and is a pseudo-Jewish Mystery religion.  The primary feature of Christianity has always been its belief in the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus, and the belief that faith in this brings eternal life to believers.  The same was practically true of almost every Mystery cult with relation to their gods, though it is necessary to discuss the details to differentiate the better presentations of the thesis from the worse, though the conclusion remains the same either way.

Main Article:

I could not count the amount of times I have been on social media and seen someone post a link discussing the pagan parallel thesis, and I have wanted to comment but have stopped myself.  Why, you may ask, would I stop myself from commenting on a topic that I am very interested in, and of which I have spent a great deal of time studying?  Well, it’s not fear of disapproval, for if it were I would not be writing this article.  The thing is that it is frustrating having to give the same explanations over and over again to different people (or even the same people), and rebut the same erroneous objections again and again.  So, I often hold my tongue because I simply do not wish to be dragged into that muddy pit and have to spend my time doing something that I have done before, and will almost certainly have to do again.  Rather, I feel the most efficient use of my time is to write articles (and books) like this, in the hope that they can help those interested to sort through the mess of conflicting opinions out there, and understand the facts and arguments as they are.

If you listened only to Christian apologists you could be excused for thinking that the pagan parallel thesis was a crazy conspiracy theory espoused by Internet nutcases, and that there was no real evidence for it at all, but that it was all made up.  Apologists speak about the theory with such disdain, as if to make it so that one would be embarrassed to be associated with the theory.  Likewise, many secular historians and NT scholars treat the theory as a relic of the 19th century that has rightfully been let go, as new evidence has finally put the thesis to bed.  Hence, if you only listened to the consensus on the issue you could perhaps be excused for thinking that proponents of this theory were out of date, and were merely flogging a horse that died 100 odd years ago.

The thing is that we should not simply accept opinions on important issues simply on the basis of peer pressure.  It is always necessary to examine both sides of a debate, and see whether there are legitimate arguments on both sides.  If critics of the pagan parallel thesis were correct then we would expect to find that all presentations of the theory were deeply flawed.  However, if we actually take the time to examine the relevant details we discover the exact opposite.  It is not hard to validate the positive claims of the pagan parallel thesis, and likewise it is not hard to rebut and utterly debunk pretty much every single critical objection to the theory.

Let us therefore consider what are the objections that both Christian apologists and secular scholars give to the theory:

  • 1)  The relevant claims made about paganism are false, and/or unverifiable.
  • 2)  Any true sources for pagan parallels actually post-date Christianity, and hence were most likely influenced by Christianity, rather than the other way around.
  • 3)  The claimed parallels are in truth vague, incidental and inconsequential, and the differences between them outweigh any similarities, and make them mute.  Pagan gods did not come back to life on earth in bodily form as did Jesus, and hence should not be referred to as resurrected.  As for Osiris, he was the god of the dead, and did not come back to life after death but rather lived on in the underworld.
  • 4)  The pagan parallel thesis is outdated, as it’s based on old scholarship that was debunked a century ago.  Scholarship has shown that Christianity emerged from a Jewish environment, without Greek influence.  The pagan parallel thesis is only put forth today by amateur mythicists on the Internet, who make the same mistakes endlessly.  No serious scholar today gives any time to this thesis; rather it deserves mockery and nothing more.
  • 5)  There is no evidence of any “dying and rising god” or Mystery religion within Judea, and the early Christians did not have any exposure to them.
  • 6)  Jews and Christians were exclusive, and were extremely guarded against syncretism with the cultures and faiths around them.
  • 7)  Correlation does not necessary prove causation, and even it were true that there were similarities between paganism and Christianity, it would not necessarily follow that Christianity borrowed from paganism.

I will now go to show that every single one of the above objections is ultimately false. Whilst there are in some cases some half-truths to the objections, it is easily demonstrable that these objections are all erroneous. Let us begin then:

1)        Critics often state that the claimed parallels between Jesus and pagan gods do not actually exist, and that proponents of the theory literarily make this stuff up, with no primary sources to back up their claims. So firstly lets deal with the half-truths and then get to the real dirt.  It certainly is true that many early proponents of this theory from the 18th-20th century did not reference their work (case in point Kersey Graves infamous work “The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors”), and in many cases it is difficult (if not impossible) to verify many of their claims.  Likewise, the Internet is full of memes comparing Jesus to pagan gods such as Horus and Mithra. However, brief attempts to verify the claims of these lists are disappointing in that a quick Google search does not provide corroborative evidence but rather the opposite; lots of people rebutting the claims of these lists.

So, critics are indeed correct that amateur proponents of this theory (and outdated scholars) have indeed made unverifiable claims.  That however simply applies to the worst that the field has to offer, and does not speak to what the best can do.  As for the Internet memes and so forth, they certainly often make claims that are not easily verifiable, and hence are not examples of the best of the field, but rather the opposite.  However, amongst these lists are many legitimate parallels which can indeed be verified, and even some of the claims which aren’t easily validated can indeed also be verified if one looks in the right place.

So having dealt with the partial truth to the objection, let me show why it is ultimately misleading.  Lets start with miraculous birth.  We have the case of Dionysus’s miraculous birth where his mortal mother Semele was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a lightning bolt, attested by Euripides in the 5th century BCE (“The Bacchae”, verses 1-5) and Hesiod in the 8th century BCE (“Theogany”, 940).  There is Virgil’s famous “prophecy” of a virgin birth from the 1st century BCE (“The Pastoral Poems”, Eclogues, 4), and the virgin birth of Perseus in which his virgin mother Danae was impregnated by Zeus through a golden shower (Diodorus, Library of History, Book 4, 9:1, or Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.697ff, or Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library 2.4.1).

As for rebirth and resurrection, we have the death and resurrection of Inanna as found in “The descent of Inanna” (with clay tablets from the 2nd millennium BCE and also the later work “The descent of Ishtar”), in which Inanna enters the underworld in lavish dress, descends through 7 gates and sheds clothes at each point until she is naked, is stripped of her powers and given a “look of death”, after which her corpse is literarily hung on a hook, before being brought back to life after 3 days and nights by the magical acts of other gods.  Likewise we have the ancient story of Osiris in which he was drowned inside a box in the River Nile by Set, found by his wife Isis embedded in a tree trunk, temporarily brought back to life with a magical spell, hidden in the desert, found and dismembered by Set, and then bandaged together again by Isis, before being finally and permanently brought back to life by the other gods.  Whilst there may appear to be nothing in common between this myth and the Jesus narrative, it formed the basis of a funerary cult, which sought to imitate the death and resurrection of Osiris and offer eternal life to the practitioner, as did all of the Hellenistic Mystery religions that followed.

Whilst a complete narrative of this myth isn’t attested to anywhere in ancient texts until Plutarch (1st century CE), pretty much every feature of this myth is attested from around 3,000 BCE, and is likewise continuously attested all the way through to the Common Era. The Pyramids texts repeatedly refer to the resurrection of Osiris, as do various other Egyptian texts; we even have a stone tablet (the Ikhernofret Stele) dating from the 12th century BCE which tells of a public “passion play” (as Herodotus later referred to it in the 5th century BCE) re-enacting the death and resurrection of Osiris, during which the crowd mourn at his death and later celebrate his resurrection.

Dionysus was known in the ancient world as the Greek version of Osiris, and it is little wonder that many considered them to be the same god via a different name.  Hence, it is truly extraordinary that there are those today that deny that Dionysus was believed to be resurrected (at least in pre-Christian times).  In truth, there are multiple myths of Dionysus that all relate to death-resurrection, including the two versions of his rebirth, the second of which is most certainly a resurrection (as attested by Diodorus in the 1st century BCE, “The Library of History”, Book 3, 62:6 and Book 5, 75:4 relating the myth to the Mysteries), the story of Dionysus descending to the underworld to save his mother (Ibid, Book 4, 25:4), or the similar descent and ascent from Aristophanes comedy “The Frogs” (5th century BCE), or finally his ascent to heaven (alluded to in pre-Christian sources and vase paintings).

You couldn’t really be thought of as identical to Osiris if death and resurrection wasn’t a primary motif in your myth and initiatory rites now could you?  As for the other Greek Mystery religions, they also revolved around themes of death and resurrection, with both the Eleusinian and Orphic Mysteries again revolving around myths of a descent to and ascent from the underworld (for Demeter and Orpheus respectively), again well attested to in pre-Christian times (for example, the Homeric Hymns circa 7th-6th century BCE and Plato, Symposium 179d).  Then we have Herodotus’ highly relevant discussion of Zalmoxis (Herodotus, The Histories, Book 4, Verses 94-96), in which Herodotus wasn’t sure whether the story which he was familiar was a euhemerized version of a local gods myth, or the real historical account of a religious conman.

As this is only a brief blog piece I don’t really need to go on; needless to say however the closely related gods Attis and Adonis both also shared motifs relating to resurrection, first attested just prior to the Common-Era (if you know where to look) and well attested contemporaneous to early Christianity.  As for the claims about Horus and Mithra also being resurrected (as found on many Internet memes, let alone Zeitgeist 1:1), it is not as if these claims have been simply made up, although you will not be able to verify them with a quick Google search.  Horus was indeed resurrected, but you basically need to read the works of D.N. Boswell or D.M. Murdock to get the sources and understand the context.  As for Mithras, there are features of the mythos, which were used as the basis for the resurrection motif in the Mystery cult named after him (notably, both Mithras and the Bull take on new forms when reborn in Heaven), however there is no traditional resurrection (as Mithras does not die).

What then of all the other claimed parallels made about pagan gods, such as they walked on water, turned water into wine, were ritually eaten by their followers, had 12 disciples, were born at the winter-solstice and so forth?  Well, many of them are true in part, only that again Internet memes commonly misrepresent them.  There were indeed stories and visual depictions of pagan gods walking on, rising from, floating on or flying over water, though some post-date Christianity.  There are a number of pre-Christian sources that tell of water being given the flavour of wine or wine flowing from the ground in association with Dionysus, and there is even a similar motif found in ancient Egypt where the Nile would literarily run red (from sediment) with the “blood of Osiris”.

Egyptians ritually ate “Osiris cakes” (bread baked in the shape of Osiris) during the Osirian rites, pre-Christian vase paintings depict meals of bread and wine with Dionysus tied to a pole or post in the background, and during the Common Era initiates in the Mithraic Mysteries took part in a ritual meal that Christian authors felt was disturbing similar to their own Eucharist.  Ancient Egyptian art commonly depicts groupings of 12 people, gods (or the like), in some cases as “helpers” of Horus or “followers” of Re or Osiris.  Dionysus had been depicted with the signs of the Zodiac in pre-Christian times (though not always with 12 signs; there is a depiction from the 4th century BCE with only 11 signs), and in the Common Era Mithras was commonly depicted alongside all 12 zodiac signs.

In this case however we can probably assume that the number 12 for Jesus’ disciples was derived from the 12 tribes of Israel, to which we should note that the number 12 appears a disproportionate amount of times in the Hebrew Bible.  We should conclude that both pagans and Jews derived their obsession with the number 12 from the fact that there are 12 moons in a calendar year, as this was the foundation for many ancient calendars.  So, in this latter case both pagans and Jews derived their motif of 12 from nature, though again, pagans did it first.  As for the whole winter-solstice thing, that really deserves its own space to clear up all the misconceptions and erroneous objections, plus it tends to bring out the rhetoric in many critics, so I think I will leave it alone today.  Anyways, that should be enough to show that no, proponents of this theory aren’t simply making this stuff up.  The parallels are real and have real sources.

2)        I have already given a number of sources for parallels that significantly predate the Common Era, so how on earth could anybody claim that the sources for the pagan parallel theory post-date Christianity, and how on earth could anyone think that it was actually pagans that copied Christians? Well, this is one of those bizarre things that shouldn’t exist if everybody was reasonable, but unfortunately here we are in 2015 still having this conversation.

So, basically some Christian apologists are happy to acknowledge that there may have been parallels between Christianity and paganism post-Christianity, but they will not accept that these features were there in paganism in pre-Christian times.  For example, I have seen many Christian apologists concede that Adonis was resurrected (falsely believing that the resurrection of Adonis could only be verified in post-Christian times).  Likewise, Gary Habermas is famous for claiming that Dionysus was not resurrected in pre-Christian times (thus implying that he may have accepted a resurrection motif during the Common Era), despite the fact that as a professional scholar he should have been aware of all of the evidence for the existence of the motif in pre-Christian times.

Certainly many Christian authors themselves wrote about parallels between pagan and Christian beliefs, though the approach to this evidence from both Christian apologists (and/or scholars) and mainstream scholars beggars belief.  I have already discussed in detail the dishonesty that Christian apologists apply to the relevant passages found in the work of Justin Martyr.  Most of the other Christian writers that discuss these parallels do not concede that the pagan motifs came earlier than Christianity; hence Christian apologists do not generally feel a need to contest that the parallels exist, only that some of them have (incredibly) tried to argue that pagans obviously copied Christianity due to the success of the new faith.  As for mainstream scholars, many of them have argued that Christian writers themselves stretched the facts and were themselves reaching for parallels due to their own motives.

The important point to make is that the distinction that Christian apologists make between pre and post-Christian sources is entirely erroneous. There is no great change that we see in paganism in the Common Era as a result of its exposure to Christianity.  In truth, every single feature of paganism that can be presented in post-Christian times as being parallel to Christianity can be verified by pre-Christian sources.  It is utterly extraordinary that anyone could claim that pagans copied Christianity.  What is even more extraordinary is that such claims are even made by professional scholars, such as Gunter Wagner, who claimed in his well-known work “Pauline Baptism and the pagan Mysteries” that resurrection wasn’t part of the Osirian cult until after the onset of Christianity.  I have to wonder how on earth anyone with any knowledge of Egyptian religion and the archeological record could make such a claim?

3)        This objection is the primary one used both by Christian apologists and secular scholars, and I have already given a response to it in my (rather long) article on Justin Martyr and Diabolic Mimicry.  Nevertheless, allow me to summarize here.  Both Christian and secular scholars frequently claim that the parallels that proponents of this theory present are superficial, and that the “differences outweigh the similarities”; hence there is no causal relationship between the parallel motifs.

In making this argument, skeptics of the theory are ignoring the standard rules that we apply to determining influence on any subject, and ignoring both ancient witness on the subject and modern-day examples, which make the issue clear.  It may indeed appear that this argument is possibly more subjective than some of the others here, in which case one might not necessarily be able to rebut it as much as argue a contrary case.  However, there are very clear facts, which are frequently ignored by those that present the objection, that show again that the objection is entirely erroneous.

Human beings apply standard common-sense laws when examining different things to work out if there is any relationship between the two.  We do not expect two different people to look identical to be able to determine that they are biologically related, nor do we expect two pieces of music to use the same instruments or belong to the same genre to have a relationship.  Stated simply, it does not matter whether there are many differences between two things, but rather whether there are significant similarities that are unlikely to be due to chance.  Coincidences do appear to happen all the time, as in a vast universe, vastly unlikely things will happen all the time.  However, if vastly unlikely things happen repeatedly or many unlikely parallels can be found, it is most likely that there is a causal relationship at work.

For space reasons alone, lets just stick to the primary motif that is relevant here; that being resurrection.  In the case of Inanna, Osiris, Dionysus, Demeter, Orpheus, Zalmoxis, Attis and Adonis, they all conquered death in at least one way, and they all had cults based around the mourning and celebrations of their death and resurrection (regardless of how literal those words apply to their particular myth; for example the descent and ascent of Demeter and Orpheus).  In the case of all of the above bar Inanna, we know of Mystery cults in their names that promised eternal life to the initiate through ritual identification with the death and resurrection of the god.

Now, C.S. Lewis’s novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” offered an explicit parallel to the death and resurrection of Christ, its redemption from sin and its result in eternal life through Aslan’s death and resurrection. Surely then it goes without saying that if a magical talking Lion being killed and resurrected in a magical kingdom can be openly admitted to be a deliberate parallel to the story of Jesus, then other gods being killed and resurrected on earth (in some examples) or through a descent and ascent from the underworld are also likely to be causally linked to the story of Jesus.  Surely the story of Osiris’s death and resurrection has every bit as much in common with that of Jesus as does that of Aslan?  The New Testament itself compares the death and resurrection of Jesus to Jonah being in the belly of the fish for 3 days (Matthew 12:40).  Surely again, if the death and resurrection of a god can be paralleled to somebody being swallowed by a giant fish and then released after 3 days, then surely another god being killed and resurrected 3 days later is a legitimate parallel to a god being killed and resurrected 3 days later!

It is not as if resurrection is a mere mundane part of life; rather claims of people coming back to life are extraordinary, and hence when different sources share this motif there is a valid reason to see a connection between them.  Despite the vast number of differences in the details of the accounts of Osiris and Dionysus (and the rest of the crew), numerous ancient witnesses (Herodotus, Diodorus, Pausanias and Plutarch etc.) tell the tale that they were in-fact the same god, known by a different name, and some of these authors openly admit the relationship between the Hellenistic Mystery religions and the Egyptian funerary cult (as did some Christian authors).

It is frequently argued that the aforementioned pagan gods are different to Christ as they were symbolic of the cycles of nature, in comparison to the resurrection of Christ, which is claimed to be literal.  Making this argument is however either dishonest or ignorant (or both), as in truth these pagan myths were explicitly designed to complement both public and private rites, and the Church fathers themselves compared Christ’s resurrection to the cycles of nature!

Another subset of this objection is that Jewish and Christian conceptions of resurrection are very specific and were unique in the ancient world; hence the examples that proponents of this theory present are not real parallel to Jesus’ resurrection, but should rather be defined as revivification or similar.  Again however, despite being very common, this argument is entirely false.  Firstly, the Greek words used in the NT for resurrection were actually the very same words that Greek historians used to refer to the resurrection of Osiris and other pagan gods.  In truth, the word resurrection is a modern English word, which in common use is applied to everything from a business to a football team (i.e. “They hadn’t won a game for half the season, but fortunately the new coach managed to resurrect the team”).  Secondly, there was in fact significant variety in what early Christians believed about the afterlife, and different sects held different ideas about in which form they would spend eternity. The same is likewise true in the religions of Egypt, Greece and Rome etc.

The ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to preserve the bodies of their dead, in the sincere belief that preservation of the body was vital to aid resurrection and eternal life.  Despite this, we do however have some late witnesses that state that Egyptians held belief in a spiritual afterlife.  The reality is that the two do not cancel each other out; some Egyptians (at some point) believed in physical resurrection in a physical afterlife, whilst others believed in spiritual equivalents of both.  The same is also true both of early and modern Christians, as we have abundant evidence for.

Christian apologists and even mainstream scholars (who aren’t Egyptologists) frequently claim that Osiris was never resurrected, but simply lived on after death as god of the dead.  Real Egyptologists of course will tell you that Osiris was resurrected, and with good reason.  In the public rites the people mourned when Osiris was killed, and they celebrated when he returned to life; clearly a distinction is made between the two events.  It is quite obvious that the ancient Egyptians did not believe that the natural course of events after death was for a person (or their soul) to live on in the underworld.  Rather, they believed that miraculous (or magical) resurrection was necessary for life after death.

So, it is easy to see that again this objection is quite erroneous, and those making it seem to be ignoring the obvious responses to all the variants of it.  Truth be told, the resurrection motif is a remarkable common belief that stands out from all the differences in the details.  The differences tell us that Christianity is not identical to the cult of Osiris-Dionysus (et al.), but the common features tell us that it almost certainly was and is related.

4)        It is indeed true that the pagan parallel theory was given more consideration roughly 100 years ago, but since then mainstream scholarship has moved towards the view that Christianity emerged primary from a Jewish context, with acceptance that some early Christian communities borrowed some ideas from Greek philosophy and mythology.  It is also true that some of the older theories and claims related to this theory (and mythicism in general) have been rendered untenable from developments in the field over the past 100 years.  For example, a century ago there were radical scholars suggesting that the NT texts weren’t written until as late as the 4th century CE.  Such claims are indeed completely untenable today, and nobody should repeat such theories knowing what we know now.  However, modern proponents of the pagan parallel thesis are entitled to discard erroneous claims and theories of older generations, and retain arguments that remain plausible.

As human beings, academics are just as prone to aberrations and trends as are laymen, and I would argue that this is indeed the case here.  A major reason in this case is that the study of religious history is often pursued by people with strong religious beliefs, and hence religious scholarship and apologetics often overlap.  The perfect example of a major work that contributed to this trend was Gunter Wagner’s aforementioned “Pauline Baptism…”, which unfortunately has been mistaken for scholarship instead of being viewed as the propaganda that it is (as in truth, Romans chapter 6 does indeed place Christian baptism in terms that relate it directly to the sympathetic magic of the Osirian cult and the Mystery religions).

Other works from mainstream scholars contributed to this trend (albeit without the direct religious motive) simply through the same human flaws that appear in every field of human endeavour.  There is no question that Christianity has Jewish roots; however it is foolish to deny the heavy Hellenistic influence on all aspects of Christianity.  There is no doubt in my mind that in the near future the trend will be reversed, and mainstream academia will again recognize Hellenistic influence upon Christianity as a major force in its origins.

5)        This objection is one of my favourites, simply because of how easy it is to falsify.  Truth be told, no one should be making this claim, and it is an embarrassment to religious scholarship that even secular academics make this claim.  The argument is attempting to claim that early Christians could have conceived of Jesus’s resurrection without any influence from the Mystery religions (and not only that, it is suggesting that Jews in Judea had never even heard of Inanna, Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, Demeter, Orpheus, Attis or Adonis).  Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous.  To think that Judean Jews could have never heard of Osiris is like suggesting that you could live in the US today and never hear about Jesus.

Firstly, we have the fact that the Old Testament itself references Jewish women mourning for Tammuz in front of the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:14).  So that alone refutes the argument.  Furthermore, pretty much every single Greek historian who mentioned Osiris or Dionysus noted that pretty much everyone, everywhere worshipped them.  Even if there weren’t any Jews that worshipped them (and I’m being conservative here), Jewish people most certainly would have been aware of the myths and (public) rites of the Osirian and Dionysian cults.  To argue otherwise is to presume that just because orthodox Judaism was highly exclusive and shunned the religion of other cultures, that they would lived in a box in which they had no awareness of the religious beliefs and practices of the cultures around them, which is of course completely untenable.

Furthermore, we have the accounts found in 2nd and 3rd Maccabees of Jews being forced to take part in Dionysian rites.  Certainly there is question as to the historicity of these accounts, and it is commonly believed that they were written by Alexandrian Jews (and thus were written outside of Judea).  However, the fact still remains that we have Jewish sources that claim that Jews were forced to take part in Dionysian rites (in pre-Christian times), and this is certainly relevant.  Considering all of these facts (the first of which is sufficient to make my case), nobody at all should be using this objection to the pagan parallel thesis, as it is utterly false.

6)        Moving on, this objection is every bit as bad as the last one, and just as easy to refute.  Just because some Jews (and Christians) were highly exclusive and guarded against syncretism, does not mean that all Jews and Christians were.  In fact, we know as a fact that some Jews and Christians did indeed practice syncretism, and we know that not all people that considered themselves Christians were exclusive (some heterodox Christians openly read pagan philosophical and religious texts alongside Christians ones, and were fine with honouring and worshipping religious figures and deities outside of their own tradition).

The Hebrew Bible itself repeatedly speaks (in very negative terms) of the Jewish people reverting back to worshiping the other Canaanite gods; hence this fact alone disproves the objection.  Just to spell it out in case you missed it, the Hebrew Bible itself repeatedly says that some Jews did indeed worship other gods and practice other religions.  Now, the pagan parallel thesis suggests that at very least early Christians practiced syncretism in blending pagan and Jewish ideas together, and the Christ myth theory likewise suggests that Christianity has its very origins in the blending of Jewish and pagan mythology, philosophy and religion by Hellenistic Jews (such as those found in Alexandria).

Now obviously, noting that not all Jews and Christians were exclusive does not in and of itself prove that the pagan parallel thesis or the Christ myth theory is correct (remembering that the two are not necessarily always found together, though I personally endorse forms of both).  However, what it does do is absolutely refute this objection to both theories.  Hence again, nobody should be using this objection to the theory.

7)        Finally, we have what may seem at first to be a reasonable assertion; that even if it could be established that there were real similarities between pagan and Christian beliefs, and even if it could be established that the pagan motifs were older, it would not necessarily follow that Christians borrowed or stole these motifs and beliefs from paganism.  If we are to be honest with ourselves, we are unlikely to ever have strong enough evidence to absolutely prove any particular theory of Christian origins over another; hence we must ultimately play the possibilities against each other.  This is a game of likelihood, plausibility and so forth.

So, I have asked myself the question: ‘Knowing what I know about comparative religion, what is the possibility that Christianity could have developed the way it did without direct influence from paganism, in particular the cults of Osiris and his merry band of followers?’ Knowing what I know, I cannot help but answer: ‘Almost none at all’. You are free to disagree with me of course, but can I suggest that if you wish to do so you adjust your case to take into account the facts as they stand, and if you wish to continue to reject the pagan parallel thesis then you need to come up with some new objections that can’t be rebutted as easily as these.  Or, you could jump ship and see the world from my side of the fence, and accept that Jews and Christians were and are ultimately the same as everyone else, and that they did the same things that everybody did and does, both then and today.

Human beings share ideas, and evolve concepts developed by those that came before them.  This occurs in every single field of human endeavour, from cooking, architecture, farming, art, dance, music, warfare, and yes, philosophy, mythology and religion.  The people of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia and everywhere else all shared religious motifs, and whilst orthodox forms of Judaism and Christianity may have idealized a belief that they were distinct from their evil, idolatrous neighbours, the reality is that they too practiced syncretism.  This reality is only challenging if you are either attached to Christianity as a religion (and feel that if it is threatened or diminished then you are threatened or diminished), or for whatever reason you are attached to an academic theory of Christian origins that says that Christianity emerged either primarily or entirely from a Jewish context.

Ultimately, this issue shouldn’t make much of a difference to our overall worldview (if any at all).  Rather, I would like to suggest that if it does then your worldview is like a castle built on the sand, in that your perspective of reality is build on very fragile foundations that can easily be washed away.  Reality does not change if the claims of one particular religion are proven to be not entirely true, and we should always be open to new information, even about topics that we hold sacred.


On Christian Origins – Part 1: Why I favour Mythicism.


The vast majority of professionals involved in studying the historical Jesus (Bible scholars, historians etc.) believe that Christianity began with a historical man named Jesus and his disciples.  The question that is then debated between secular, liberal and conservative Christian ranks is how much of the gospel accounts and church tradition is based on real history, and how much is mythical.  The view that the Jesus depicted in the gospels is not at very least based upon a real historical figure has been frowned upon by academia since it was first presented several centuries ago, and most scholars (and religious apologists) today attempt to dismiss arguments in favour of this view as being unworthy of serious debate.

However, whilst Jesus mythicism has largely been an area pursued by hobbyists, in recent decades it has attracted a small number of professional scholars, including in recent times radical Bible scholar Robert M. Price and historian Richard Carrier, who recently published the first peer-reviewed work on the topic to be printed by an academic press.  I personally am of the opinion that the work of Price and Carrier on this topic is of a far higher standard then what emerges from any other scholars, and likewise I think that there are many other notable writers in the field (with significant variation in qualifications and the quality of their writing) who also have much to contribute to the topic, regardless of how they are viewed by the majority of scholars.

I believe that when the facts are considered objectively, the theory that Christianity began not with a historical man but with a fictional literary character or deity is not merely plausible, but is actually quite likely.  When considered in detail (which we are not going to do here) the arguments presented for the historicity of Jesus do not stand up to scrutiny, and there is only a small amount of ambiguous evidence that should be presented in favour of historicity.  Furthermore, there is a very strong accumulative case against historicity, and when you consider the details and compare arguments from both sides (again which we are not going to do here) you can see that the evidence against historicity is well-grounded, and it is the dismissal of these arguments by the mainstream of religious studies that it is largely erroneous.

I cannot be absolutely certain about non-historicity, and I do not believe that anybody should make claims to certainty either way on the topic, as regardless of what theory of Christian origins you hold there are difficulties to be faced.  However, I am of the opinion that non-historicity is far more probable given the available evidence, and I have to agree with Richard Carrier that we are probably living right now in the transition period in which the theory will start to become more and more highly respected, just as the same took place in relation to the historicity of Abraham and Moses in the second half of the 20th century in response to overwhelming evidence from archaeology.

The hard part with Jesus is that it is not just Christians that have identified with Christ, and just like any addiction it is hard for many people to let go.  Letting go of Jesus does not mean abandoning spirituality however, and I argue that it is necessary for our spiritual evolution to pursue beliefs that remain true, whether or not the sacred myths of a particular nation or faith  turn out to have historically roots.  Reality is as it is regardless of whether your favourite god really walked the earth, or exists out there in the Astral cosmos as a real entity, separate from your belief in it.

Main Article:

So how did Christianity begin? Many, many people would like us to think that this question does not need to even be asked, as Christian apologists and conservative religious scholars make claims of absolute confidence in the traditional church account.  Liberal and secular scholars also believe that we can be certain about a number of bare facts, including the historicity of Jesus and his disciples.  I am one of a growing number of people that do not accept this as true, and identify themselves with the theory of non-historicity, which we refer to as Jesus mythicism, or the Christ myth theory (mythicism for short, though technically one could be a mythicist about various religious figures).

So, why is it that almost all professionals (and certainly all apologists) think that mythicism is so outrageous that it deserves only ridicule?  Is the idea itself of a prophet or deity held to be historical by many turning out to be mythical an outrageous proposition?  No, of course not.  We have countless examples of religious figures that have been believed to have been historical, where in light of the evidence today many (if not most) of us believe that they did not walk this earth.  Abraham and Moses fit this category perfectly, as prior to the last 50 (odd) years it was commonly assumed that they were historical figures, whereas modern scholarship supports the contrary.

Most of the gods of the ancient world are considered to have been mythical beings who never walked the earth by almost all modern-day people, despite the fact that there have always been people that sincerely believed the opposite, and that it was common for believers to write stories of these gods coming to earth and walking amongst men.  It may perhaps be true that Jews and Christians were particularly keen to try and place their religious figures in historical contexts, but this does not by itself mean that there was necessarily any more historicity to their prophets then to the gods of other nations.

We also have ancient witnesses who give conflicting accounts as to whether a deity of the ancient world was really a mortal man that was later mythicized or was always a local deity.  Whilst Osiris and Dionysus are viewed by most people today as mythical Egyptian and Greek gods, there was a trend in the ancient world contemporaneous with the development of Christianity in which such figures were thought to have been heroes of old, whom had been divinized after their deaths.  We have one very significant account from the Greek historian Herodotus who tells us about a man named Zalmoxis who was reported to have gone missing (and been assumed dead) and re-appeared (and been presumed resurrected by his followers), in which Herodotus himself admitted that he wasn’t sure whether this story was that of a real person, or a naturalised and historicised account of a local deity.

Therefore, we know with a high degree of certainty that some religious figures were historical men (and women) who were later deified (as in the case of Roman Emperors), and vice versa; we know that that some religious figures were mythical gods and prophets that were euhemerized (historicized).  Hence, prior to examining the specifics it is just as probably that Jesus was one or the other; therefore the idea that Jesus was non-historical is not a ridiculous idea at all.

So mythicism can’t be considered to be outrageous on that point.  So, is the evidence in favour of historicity so overwhelming that it is outrageous to deny or question it?  Well, I say no.  It is important to note that there is significant diversity amongst historicists, particularly between conservative Christians and secular scholars. There are certainly some overlapping arguments between the two, but by and large they go about making significantly different cases, using vastly different approaches.  Hence I will discuss them separately.

The traditional view of Jesus and its defenders:

If one was only to read and listen to the opinions of conservative Christians on the subject of Jesus one could be excused for thinking that there was “more evidence for the historicity of Jesus then Julius Caesar”, or that “the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested event in all of history”.  Those in the know will realise that I am not merely paraphrasing Christian apologists here, but rather am quoting them word for word, as they make extraordinary and entirely misleading claims to an audience that trusts them to give them the truth on a subject they hold most sacred.

Unfortunately for Christians they are being misled, and it doesn’t take much detective work to uncover that fact.  The vast majority of claims and arguments being used by Christian apologists are in-truth sick jokes, making a mockery of their claims to be defending truth.  For example, one of the primary arguments they present for the historicity of Jesus is that we apparently have a larger array of surviving manuscripts for the New Testament then for any other surviving work of the classical world, and the earliest manuscripts (and/or fragments) date closer to the time of the original composition then for any other examples.  Apologists then proceed to claim that therefore this makes the NT more reliable then any other ancient work, as if this is some standard means test amongst scholars studying “textual integrity”.  The problem is that the whole argument is bunk, proves pretty much nothing, and runs contrary to real secular textual criticism, which actually concludes the opposite of what apologists claim; that being that the NT has suffered numerous interpolations and redactions in its current form.

Likewise, apologists frequently take the claim from 1st Corinthians 15:6 that there were 500 witnesses to the resurrection as equivalent to having 500 people stand up in a court of law to testify to the event.  In truth however, it is merely a claim found in one ancient letter, and even if Paul had spoken to 500 people that had claimed to have seen the risen Christ, it could simply be a common vision, as religious believers in a particular community often have shared experiences.  Likewise, apologists also like to reference Acts 4 in which the disciples stand before the Sanhedrin and the Jewish leaders do not deny that Jesus performed miracles or that they crucified him.  However, most secular scholars believe that Acts is not merely an unbiased historical work, but rather is a work of religious propaganda (though apologists and conservative Christian scholars claim to have proven its historical accuracy). You cannot simply use the Bible to prove the Bible, just as you cannot do the same for the Vedas or Bhagavad-Gita, or any other religious text.  Obviously this is circular reasoning, and it is not a valid method of arguing for historicity.

Heading down into the bottom of the barrel of apologetic arguments you encounter all sorts of erroneous claims such as the disciples wouldn’t have died for a lie, or that the Gospels were written too early to be a myth (and that the early dating of the NT is verified by the church fathers), or that they were written by eye-witnesses, or that Christianity was too impossible to have survived had it not been true, or that the empty tomb and its female witnesses proves the resurrection (William Lane Craig has written many, many words on this doozy), or that the reliability of Jewish oral tradition validates the accuracy of the NT and other equally bunk claims (which I have dealt with in detail in my book, but in truth do not deserve any real time or consideration).

The only real evidence that apologists present that has any possibility of truth is in the “non-Christian attestation”, that being references to Jesus and Christianity in Jewish and Roman sources.  However, Christian apologists vastly misrepresent the evidence and again reach the wrong conclusions.  Apologists tell their flock that there are a large number of secular references to Jesus that affirm various aspects of the Gospel story and effectively prove that Jesus was indeed a historical figure.  In reality however the vast majority of these references can certainly be seen as natural responses from the Roman and Jewish world to Christian preaching, and there are only a handful of passages that could possibly be seen as external verification for the historicity of Jesus.

The passages in question that should at least be considered in detail are those found in the works of Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and the Babylonian Talmud; all other sources in this category (Lucian, Celsus etc.) should be viewed as most likely responses to Christian preaching, or Christians attempting to find verification for their beliefs where there was none (such as in the case of Thallus). Whilst there is not the room to deal with these references properly here (I have done so in detail in my book), I will give a quick summary for those unfamiliar.  There are two passages found in Josephus’s work “Antiquities of the Jews” that mention Jesus.  The first of these in chapter 18 (known as the “Testimonium Flavianum”) is unquestionably at least a partial interpolation, though opinions vary as to whether or not there was an authentic core or whether the entire passage is an interpolation.

I personally believe that there is an excellent case for total inauthenticity based on the following: The whole thing reads as a condensed Christian creed, it was not quoted by any Christian author until Eusebius in the 4th century, the passage interrupts the flow of the chapter and if it is removed the following paragraph directly references and follows on from the paragraph prior to it, Eusebius refers to the passage being in a different place relative to the discussion of John the Baptist, there are extensive Christian interpolations in Josephus’ other work “The Jewish War”, and Photius quotes extensively from Josephus in the 9th century without mentioning this passage etc.  Whilst there are various theoretical arguments that can be produced in favour of partial authenticity, the only actual evidence that exists for that possibility is the Syriac and Arabic versions of the Testimonium.  In these cases the passages do indeed read less like statements of Christian faith and more like what one would expect from a Jewish historian.

On the basis of this evidence I must concede that there is some evidence that could be presented for partial authenticity of the Testimonium, which can then be presented as possible evidence for the historicity of Jesus (possible only as it could still be argued that Josephus only heard about Jesus from Christians, though I personally find this unlikely).  However, there have also been some scholars that have argued that the Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimonium are derived from the Greek version as quoted by Eusebius, and that they were ‘softened’ for philosophical and political reasons.  Personally I favour this conclusion for a number of reasons, the most notable being the following, which is also my primary reason for believing that Josephus not only never mentioned Jesus, but had also never heard of Jesus Christ or Christianity.

Josephus’s entire work “The Antiquities…” was heavily polemic against messianic Jews, and he sought to separate himself and the “good Jews” from the messianic Jews that started the war with Rome (in which he himself fought).  Josephus effectively betrayed the Jews with which he had fought at the point of surrender, claiming that Vespasian himself was the messiah that the Jews had awaited.  If Josephus had heard of Jesus and Christianity he would have written about them in distinctly negative terms, as he was trying very hard to distance himself (and Judaism as a whole) from the messianic movement.  Hence, I believe that the evidence is consistent not only with the whole Testimonium being inauthentic, but also with Josephus not being at all familiar with Christianity.

As for the second passage in chapter 20, very few scholars will concede the possibility that it did not originally refer to the Jesus of Christianity.  However, there is a good possibility that this is so, for if the words “called Christ” are removed (and seen as an interpolation from the hands of Origen, originally written as a note in his own writings and later copied into the main text of Josephus) then the passage makes perfect sense as referring to a different Jesus (Jesus son of Damneus).

As for Suetonius and Tacitus, they tell a well-known story of Christians being persecuted by Nero in Rome in the 60’s CE, and they briefly attest to the origins of the sect with Jesus.  It is of course possible that the persecutions under Nero were historical (most scholars believe they were) and it is possible that the Romans had some sources for the crucifixion of Jesus. However, it is also possible that Suetonius and Tacitus were merely repeating stories they were hearing from Christians, and in light of other evidence this is personally the conclusion which I favour (though there is also potentially more to it then that).

As for the Babylonian Talmud, there are several references to a Yeshu that have parallels to Jesus.  However the references in question are nothing short of a mess, they contradict each other and have various differences to the gospel accounts, and the whole communications style of the Talmud is quite unusual; hence it is difficult to know in what context the passages were intended to be read.  Due to a number of reasons it seems quite likely that they were written as Jewish polemics to Christian preaching, and no reasonable historian could read too much into the uncertainty surrounding these passages.

Given that the best that can be produced by Christian apologists for full historicity gives only at best the possibility of historicity, it is clear that we should give time and attention to alternative voices on the subject, and that conservative Christian scholars and apologists cannot be trusted to give reasonable and objective opinions on the subject.  Rather, it is clear that they enter the discussion with vested interests in preserving the status quo of orthodox Christianity.  The people in question are not merely upholding a conspiracy of sorts; rather they have made their Christian faith part of their personal identity (their ego), and they are doing what the ego does best, attempting to preserve its precarious existence by upholding the identity which they have chosen.  Hence, we cannot expect them to be reasonable with the evidence.

Minimal historicity, liberal and secular scholarship:

Conservative Christians do love to cite the academic consensus on the historicity of Jesus as supporting their assertions, particularly in response to the claims of mythicists.  In truth however, liberal and secular scholarship on the topic only concludes that there was a historical man named Jesus of Nazareth who taught, gathered disciples and was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  All the rest of the gospel narrative is unsupported by mainstream academia.  Whilst the position of Christian apologists (that being full historicity to the NT accounts) is completely untenable both in light of the weakness of apologists arguments and also in light of contrary arguments (that we have not yet summarized), this mainstream position is certainly far more reasonable, and no question absolutely plausible.

We should be able to trust academia to give us accurate, unbiased considerations of the available evidence, especially when there appears to be a consensus amongst scholars.  However, as is the case in other subjects all human beings are prone to personal bias, and academia follows trends, whether or not there are religious motivations for these aberrations.  In truth there is significant diversity in what secular scholars believe about the historical Jesus, and when we examine their methodology the whole house of cards begins to fall over.

I have already briefly touched on the secular references to Jesus and Christianity, to which we should consider several possibilities as to how they came to be, some of which are consistent with a historical Jesus and some of which are not.  So, it is not as if there is not some evidence that at least on first impression should be viewed as supporting historicity.  However, these references do not preclude non-historicity, and their existence can be easily explained as a secular response to Christian preaching, along with interpolation (forgery) by later Christian scribes.  What then of the other evidence and arguments that mainstream scholars cite for the historicity of Jesus?

Secular NT scholars commonly cite a series of tests that they apply to ancient works to determine what is historical and what is fictional, such as the criteria of embarrassment, multiple attestation, coherence, discontinuity, rejection and execution.  By applying these criteria to the gospels scholars argue that some parts are historical, whilst rejecting other parts as fictional embellishments.  The problem is that this is such a weak methodology for so many reasons, and it is almost embarrassing that mainstream academia would place so much weight on a completely theoretical approach.  In truth, we do not know who wrote (and edited) the various NT texts and what their thought processes were, not to mention that this method assumes that a text is historical in order to treat it as such, and could likewise create a false impression that there was a historical core when applied to a work of fiction.  Richard Carrier and a few others have rightfully been pointing out that scholars of the historical Jesus need to adopt better methods, and when quizzed many in the field have admitted as such.

Secular scholars also often claim that the presence of a handful of Aramaic words in the gospels (along with a few passages that appear to have been interpreted from Aramaic sources) validates the view that the gospel narrative has roots in the experiences of Aramaic speaking Jews from Judea (whereas in fact every single NT text was originally written in Greek as far as we have manuscript evidence for).  In truth however, there are multiple possibilities as to how a handful of Aramaic words and sources ended up in the NT texts (such as that the author/s of the gospels also spoke Aramaic, or consulted with someone that did) that do not necessitate a historical Jesus, and again this argument is extremely weak.

Another argument along similar lines is that the NT texts are dependent upon now lost source texts (such as Q), and that these sources must have originated with a historical Jesus and his followers.  Again however, this argument is entirely theoretical and its conclusion is erroneous.  Firstly, the existence of these sources texts is purely hypothetical and it is just as likely (if not more so) that there were in-truth no such source texts, but that the details of the synoptic problem (and others) can be solved in other ways.  Furthermore, even if such source texts did exist, they still need not be dependent upon a historical Jesus and his followers.

Mainstream scholars (and Christian apologists) also commonly like to make a big deal out of references to the “brothers of the Lord” in the epistles (Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:5), claiming that “myths don’t have families”.  Richard Carrier and Robert Price have given lengthy responses to this argument, and I would simply just refer my readers to check them out if you are interested.  I personally have always felt that this argument was much ado about nothing.  Once again there are so many possible explanations for how these passages originated, and only some of these would involve a historical Jesus; hence the presence of these passages in no way precludes the possibility of non-historicity.

So, whilst the idea of a minimal historical Jesus is plausible and there does exist secular references to Jesus, the actual case presented by secular historians and NT scholars is extremely weak (at best), and conceivably could be entirely and absolutely flawed.  Hence, it is worth at least considering whether mythicists can produce strong evidence against historicity, and if they are able to then we should give credit to that explanation.

Jesus Mythicism:

Whilst I can state that I lean towards mythicism, it should be made clear that there is not one single mythicist theory on Christian origins.  The vast majority of mythicist theories share certain common ground (which should be the strongest arguments), and from there the weaker works rely on secondary arguments, which are often quite a stretch, and in some cases entirely erroneous.  That is not to say that there are not some excellent arguments that are ignored by some mythicists, as I personally believe that there is much evidence in this field that is often overlooked, not just by those hostile to mythicism.  There is however a great deal of variance in this field between the best and worst writers, their presentations of the relevant evidence and arguments, and the plausibility (or lack thereof) of the overall origins theory, which they present.

For example, Richard Carrier, Robert Price and Earl Doherty present their cases very well, as do some Internet mythicists such as Neil Godfrey (who runs the Vridar blog) and my friend D.N. Boswell (though his use of satire may confuse some).  Other hobbyists such as D.M. Murdock, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy and Kenneth Humphreys contribute much to the field IMO, but also make some mistakes and do not present their work with the same standard as the best in the field.  Others such as Joseph Atwill give a bad name to the whole field, and most of us do not wish to be associated with work of that nature.

So, what evidence do I personally believe should be presented in favour of non-historicity?  To start with, we have the vast amount of literary and mythological parallels found in the gospels (as well as in Acts) that lead us to the obvious conclusion that the authors of these works were aware that they were writing fiction, or employed questionable methods in writing their scriptures, that often involved “discovering” what Jesus had done through revelation and allegorical readings of the Hebrew scriptures (see Romans 16:25-26).

The gospels are filled from start to finish with blatant references and parallels to the Hebrew scriptures, making it quite obvious that their authors employed the Jewish literary techniques of midrash or pesher, in extrapolating new narratives from their sacred texts.  Whilst proponents of this theory may also present some weak parallels, the strongest ones are so clear that it rightly calls into question whether there was any historical source for the gospel narrative at all, or whether the entire gospels were written as literary fiction?

Using only the gospel of Mark (which was almost certainly written first and used as a source for all later gospels) as our example, we have various parallels with the stories of Elisha (such as 2 Kings 4:43-44 with Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10, or between 2 Kings 4:8-37 and Mark 5:21-43), numerous parallels between the crucifixion narrative and Psalms 22, the story of Jonah (Jonah 1:4-16), Psalm 107 and Mark 4:35-41, or 1 Kings 13:1-6 and Mark 3:1-6.  Whilst it is of course possible that the writers of the gospels merely embellished a historical narrative with references to fiction, the more legitimate parallels that can be found the more an accumulative case is built against historicity, and the more likely complete non-historicity becomes.

Then there are the parallels found between the gospel of Mark and several works of Homer (primarily “The Odyssey”), which make it quite apparent that the author of Mark was attempting to kill two birds with one stone, in inserting parallels to both Jewish and Greek mythology.  As with the above, there are certainly some weaker parallels presented in favour of this theory, but the strongest ones are quite clear, and any objective reader should be able to accept the natural conclusion that the earliest gospel is largely based on a work of pagan literary fiction.  The parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1-12) summaries the Gospel narrative in terms that resemble a summary of the Odyssey, and the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11) has parallels with Athena coming down from heaven to speak with Telemachus.  The “messianic secret” theme in Mark is paralleled by the secrecy of Odysseus when he returns to his home, and there is a remarkable parallel between the story of Jesus being anointed with oil (Mark 14:3-9) with the story of Odysseus having his feet washed by Eurycleia (this one is a killer), and Mark’s identification of James and John as the “sons of thunder” is a dead giveaway that the author of Mark was thinking of the Greek brothers Castor and Polydeuces.  I don’t really have room here to cover all of the parallels in detail, so I recommend that those interested investigate further for themselves (and of course, I have covered this in necessary detail in my book); needless to say, an objective reader will be amazed at the strength of this case when presented properly.

Then there is the controversial subject of pagan parallels, to which Christian apologists claim we mythicists are grasping at straws, and to which most secular scholars believe we stretch the truth and go way too far.  I have already given a lengthy defence of the theory of pagan parallels in my original article on Justin Martyr’s “Diabolical Mimicry” argument (which can be found on this website), and the next article in this three-part series will deal with apologetic and scholarly objections to pagan parallels in some detail (not to mention that I went into considerable detail in my book).  For the time being then, let me just summarize the topic in a paragraph or two.

Critics of Christianity have since the 2nd century CE pointed out that there are obvious parallels between the figure of Jesus (and the things believed about him) and various pagan gods and other religious figures.  The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that the early Christians that wrote the gospels were familiar with these pagan figures and literarily copied various features across into their narrative, regardless of whether there was some partial historicity to their story or not.  Certainly there have been some very poor presentations of this theory both from early mythicists in the 18th-19th centuries, and in recent times by hobbyists and Internet amateurs.  Having said that however, the case is legitimate and objective readers should be able to recognize the strength of the case.

The motif of a god or hero being conceived via the union of a male god with a mortal female was literarily everywhere in the ancient world, and there were indeed a number of pre-Christian examples where the mortal woman was also a virgin.  Resurrection in various forms was likewise commonplace in ancient religion and mythology, and it was actually the central concept of the single most well known religions and cults in the ancient world (that being the Sumerian cult of Inanna and Tammuz and the Egyptian cult of Osiris, through to the Greek and Roman Mystery religions), starting 3,000 years prior to Christianity right through to the time in which Christianity emerged.

Not only that, but the cults based around myths of gods that had died and been reborn or resurrected also offered the same thing for their followers that Christianity did, promising eternal life after death, free from suffering.  Not only that, but the Mystery religions also practiced initiation through immersion in water, took part in ritual meals where they “ate the god” and various other strong parallels to Christianity.  Richard Carrier has rightfully stated that you could have asked somebody just prior to the Common Era what a pseudo-Jewish Mystery cult would look like, and literarily predicted pretty much every single major feature of Christianity, simply by combining messianic Judaism with the pagan Mystery religions.  Hence, it is extraordinary that so many today are in denial of this reality; a fact that will surely be embarrassing for religious studies in the near future.

Then there are the various contradictions and historical difficulties found amongst the NT texts.  The four gospels contradict each other constantly from start to finish (the perfect examples being the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke), making it quite clear that at least to some degree they weren’t concerned with preserving historical details, but were driven by theological motives.  Furthermore, several major features of the gospel narrative appear almost impossible when we consider their details.  Case in point, the “cleansing of the temple” episode ignores the necessity of money changers and vendors selling ritual animals for the functioning of the Jewish temple, let alone that there were Roman guards out the front, and Jesus and his followers would probably have been killed on the spot had they created a disturbance in the temple.  Likewise, Mark has the Sanhedrin meeting on the eve of the Sabbath, which would have been illegal at the time.

Given all this, we can reject pretty much the entire gospel narrative as being fictitious, leaving us only with the epistles, Acts and the revelation of John in the NT.  Acts suffers from the same issues as does the gospels, and revelation is a thinly veiled allegory predicting divine and demonic punishment upon Rome and all of the enemies of the Jews (and/or Christians).  As for the epistles, mythicists have long pointed out that they are practically inexplicable if there were a historical Jesus.  Richard Carrier emphasises this point as the primary argument for his case (as do most good mythicists), as most scholars believe that the Pauline epistles were written before the gospels (I personally have ultra-radical views on the Pauline epistles, which I will explain in the third and final article in this series).

In the epistles bearing his name, Paul writes that he received his information about Christ from revelations (visions) and from the Jewish scriptures, states that he was uninterested in hearing earthly concepts of Christ, and that he stands against other forms of Christianity that claim earthly authority (though there are also other passages which appear to contradict these statements).  Likewise, there appears to be many places in the epistles where it would be convenient to reference episodes from the gospels (had they been known or accepted as Scripture at the time), but where the author/s fail to do so.  Furthermore, the theology of the primary Pauline epistles appears to be quite Gnostic, which leads into the little known or discussed fact that there was considerable controversy surrounding these epistles (and the identity of Paul himself) in the 2nd century, and heterodox Christians claimed them as their own and based their theology upon them.  I will discuss this in brief in my third article in the series, and I discuss it in detail in my book.

Mythicists have produced long lists of writers from the 1st century CE that they claim should have mentioned Jesus if he had really lived.  Unfortunately the majority of the people on these lists should not be on there (for various reasons).  However, there are a handful of writers from the time period that could legitimately have been expected to write something about Jesus had he been known to them.  The first of these is Philo of Alexandria, who lived in the early 1st century CE, was well connected and had travelled to Jerusalem, and wrote extensively on religion, philosophy and issues relevant to Jews of his day.  However Philo failed to mention Jesus and Christianity, despite the fact that even a minimal, historical Jesus is supposed to have done significant things (such as causing a disturbance in the temple), and his followers were supposed to have encountered resistance from the Romans wherever they went.

There was also another Jewish historian named Justus of Tiberius, of whom we are told said nothing about Jesus.  It should be noted that despite the fact that the works of Justus do not survive today, the witness for this was a Christian; hence surely a Christian would have told us if Justus had indeed mentioned Jesus.  Combine the silence of Philo and Justus with the fact that Josephus should have been expected to give a harsh rebuttal of Jesus and his followers had he been aware of them, we have a legitimate argument that no Jewish writer from the 1st century CE knew anything about Jesus or his followers.  In light of this we can make a legitimate argument from silence, and conclude that the available evidence best fits the non-historicity thesis (though again, it does not completely preclude historicity).

As Richard Carrier has succinctly stated, it is not so much that (good) mythicists are simply arguing that Jesus couldn’t have been historical, therefore he must have been a myth.  Rather, there is so much evidence that the Jesus of the NT is a myth, that it is more likely that he was not historical.  Carrier and others argue that we are missing the evidence that we should have expected had Christianity begun with a historical figure, and we have precisely the evidence we should expect had Christianity begun with a mythical figure, whose followers later historicized Jesus with the gospel narratives (I would like to note that to many mythicists the consensus that the epistles preceded the gospels is presented as a primary argument for mythicism; personally I only partially agree with this, and I will explain my own views in the third article of this series).


Obviously the above is an extremely brief summary of why I favour mythicism, and I would expect historicists to object to pretty much everything that I have written, and that is fine.  If anyone wishes to accuse me of being biased and being motivated towards favouring mythicism, I would like to point out that I myself favoured a belief in a supernatural Yogi Jesus (as espoused by Paramahansa Yogananda) prior to my personal study of this topic.  Hence, if anything I would have been biased towards not merely a historical Jesus, but a supernatural, miracle-working, resurrected Jesus.

Out of all the plausible models for the emergence of Christianity (that being excluding the traditional view), none of them actually suit my overall view of comparative religion any more then any other.  Hence, I would argue that my view on the topic is separate from my overall worldview, and I would be happy to change my view on this topic if someone could convince me otherwise.  Human beings do not like changing their beliefs, and will generally resist doing so even when faced with evidence that utterly refutes their presumptions.  Human beings try and make their beliefs part of their identity, so when their beliefs are challenged they tend to take it personally and feel that part of themselves is under threat.

In relation to Jesus this is so not only of conservative Christians, but also followers of other religions and New Ager’s, who often have their own picture of who they believe Jesus was, that conveniently makes him one of their own.  It has been quite a surprise to me over the years to discover that religious liberals and those amongst the New Age movement can get just as upset as religious conservatives when their picture of Jesus is challenged.  I would suggest that a truly enlightened approach to religion and spirituality should not be dependent upon any one religious figure, text or tradition.  Rather it should be dependent upon timeless and universal (i.e. perennial) truths, and whilst it is advisable to choose a particular path to travel through to the end (rather then merely scratching the surface of many traditions), ones chosen path should be seen ultimately as a mere tool to help one directly experience Spirit.

If our spirituality is authentic then it shouldn’t matter whether or not Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao-Tzu, Pythagoras, Plato, Kuan Yin or any other religious figure was a historical person or not.  Rather, it should only matter whether the teachings that are associated with them are true or not.  I have no doubt that both Christians and non-Christians alike have authentic spiritual experiences of Christ, regardless of whether or not their beliefs about the nature of reality are accurate.  Sincere Buddhists have visions of Buddha, Hindus have visions of Krishna, Shiva and a plethora of other deities, devotees in the ancient world world had visions of Osiris and Dionysus, Theosophists have had visions of the ascended masters, and New Ager’s have visions of all of the above.

This does not necessarily mean however that they are either all deluded and the experiences lack any objective reality, or that all of these gods are objectively real in one sense or another.  I believe that Spirit will work with us through the context of our pre-existing beliefs and the language and symbolism of which we are familiar.  Likewise however, I believe that there is not a clear defining line between spiritual and psychological experiences, and that most visions and other religious experiences feature a complex combination of both.

The spiritual seeker should attempt to experience truth outside of the bubble of their personal experiences and cultural conditioning.  I want to know what is true, what has always been true and what will always be true.  I don’t just want to have self-validating experiences that ultimately prevent further growth, though they may be comforting at the time.  I have long been a fan of the Bhagavad-Gita, and although I think some interpretations (such as that by ISKON) misrepresent its message, it teaches that taking a personal form of God as an object of worship and meditation is helpful for most people, as it can be quite hard to reach that which has no name or form.  However, we mustn’t mistake the finger for the moon itself (to change analogies), or think that the elephant’s trunk is the whole elephant.  Rather, religious myths have limitations and can restrict us if we take identification with them too far, and we have abundant evidence that religion can become so immersed in ego that it can actually prevent the cultivation of real spirituality.

As for how Christianity began, I personally think there a number of plausible explanations, and that we should be cautious about becoming too invested in any particular origins theory, though it is ok to have our personal preferences.  Christian apologists and conservative religious scholars seem to live in their own bubble where they can make all sorts of erroneous claims using all manner of contorted arguments, and maintain a successful career reaching the wrong conclusions.  Mainstream scholarship on the other hand is far more sensible, though the methodology being applied to the study of early Christianity at the moment is a bit of a joke; one can only hope that the field sorts itself out rather then becoming an embarrassment to academia.  Whilst we should legitimately be cautious about Internet mythicism, objective readers will discover that mythicism is not only a plausible possibility for Christian origins, but might just be the most likely.