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 (and whom is well cited by other Christians on this topic) is Paul Copan. 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 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.

Peace.

[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 .

Peace.

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.:

Summary:

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 Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures for those unfamiliar). 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.

Peace.

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

Summary:

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.

Peace

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/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/

https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/diabolical-mimicry-part-2-response-to-alberts-mcllhenny-back-in-the-ring/

 

 

 

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.

R.I.P.

[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:

Ignatius:

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.

Polycarp:

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.

Clement:

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.

Conclusion:

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:

Summary:

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.

Peace

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

Summary:

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).

Conclusion:

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.

Diabolical Mimicry Part 2: Response to Albert’s Mcllhenny – Back in the ring:

Summary:

In a previous article I showed that Justin Martyr did indeed use his diabolical mimicry argument in response to accusations by pagans and Jews that Christians had copied motifs from pagan mythology into the Gospel narrative. Whilst there have been legitimate examples where critics of Christianity have misquoted various church fathers, a careful examination of what Justin wrote does indeed achieve the end to which proponents of the pagan parallel thesis present it.

In the previous article I spent some time rebutting a three-part video series made by Albert Mcllhenny, in which he attempted to argue that Justin was in-fact the one who was inventing the parallels (which in Albert’s mind were merely superficial), and that pagans of Justin’s day did not see any parallel between Jesus and their gods. I pointed out that whilst Justin’s 1st Apology presents the diabolical mimicry argument in context of a plea to the Emperor to cease persecution of Christians, Justin’s other major work “Dialogue with Trypho” presents the same argument in direct response to a Jewish accusation that Christians plagiarized the virgin-birth motif from the myth of Perseus. Likewise, I pointed out that the earliest surviving pagan critique of Christianity (“The True Word” by Celsus) did in-fact accuse Christians of plagiarizing pagan mythology. Furthermore, I pointed out that pagans had a long history of syncretism and were prone to viewing similarities between their gods as indicating a direct causal relationship between them.

In discussing the relative dates of Justin’s 1st Apology, Dialogue with Trypho and Celsus’ “True Word” I made a careless remark dismissing the possibility that Celsus may have been familiar with Justin’s writing. This was in context of a larger discussion showing what would be necessary to dismiss the evidence I had presented, and attempt to defend the conclusion to which Albert (and other Christian apologists) were arguing in favour of. After posting my original article on an older blog I sent a message to Albert informing him of my article, and shortly after he posted a series of responses. I will show that Albert ignored the vast majority of the evidence and arguments I presented in my original article, and really only had one legitimate flaw in my article to expose; that being my haste in dismissing the possibility that Celsus was familiar with Justin’s writings.

Nevertheless, even if we consider the possibility that Celsus was familiar with Justin, Albert has still made no effort to engage the evidence and arguments I presented which refute his position. Furthermore, he prematurely dismisses the fact that Justin used the diabolical mimicry argument in response to an allegation in his Dialogue. Albert is attempting to retain his Christian faith despite being presented with evidence that would appear to challenge it. He is here using techniques of distraction to attempt to avoid dealing with evidence that directly refutes his conclusion.

When all is considered, my conclusions from my original article still stand, and Albert’s attempt at responding to me have failed. Furthermore, it appears that Albert did a quick Google search on me and found a link I had posted on a Facebook forum. Albert then wrote another short article in which he presumed that whatever interpretation I had read from the passage must be wrong; again embarrassing himself in the process.

Main Article:

Early last year I published an article on my blog on the topic of Justin Martyr’s 1st apology and the subject of diabolical mimicry (1). That article was written in response to several Christian apologetic videos on the subject, which I felt were severely misleading the general public in their claims that critics were misquoting Justin. Much of my article was written in response to a three-part video series by Albert Mcllhenny, and shortly after Albert wrote a series of blog pieces in response to my article. This piece here will make no sense to anybody that hasn’t already read my original piece, so if this is you I recommend you start by reading my original piece. Before going any further I would like to briefly apologize to Albert for taking so much time with this response. I had actually written 80% of this response shortly after his responses were published, however due to a series of personal reasons I stopped work on it and put all my time into completing my book “The Web Unwoven”, and preparing it for submission. Anyways, I have now reposted the original article on my new blog, and have likewise finally published this response.

His first response was written several days after I published my article and is titled “A Forthcoming Response to James Hiscox” (2). On the same day he then published a short article titled “Justin Martyr, the First Apology, and Pagan Parallels” which as I understand he had already written for his book (3). Several days later he published a short article titled “Jonathan Z. Smith, Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, and Dying and Rising Gods”, which I assume was in response to the mention I made of Jonathon Z. Smith and the examples I gave of pre-Christian resurrection amongst pagan gods (4). The next day he posted a two-part series finally in direct response to some of what I had written in my article, the first of which is titled “A Response to James Hiscox, Part 1: YouTube, Pro Wrestling, and the Obvious” (5), and the second titled “A Response to James Hiscox, Part 2: Justin Martyr and Diabolical Mimicry” (6).

I had expected at the time that Albert was finished with his response to me, and I had left a message on his blog saying thanks for taking the time to response and that I would submit a response within a week (obviously I failed on that part). Hence I was quite surprised to later find that he had written another short piece in response to a passage of Jerome that I had posted onto a Facebook group which I take part, titled “Misreading Jerome (and other Fathers)”(7).

His first post in response explained that he was a little embarrassed that the videos were still available on YouTube (at the time), as he thought that he had deleted them. He explained that he wasn’t ever happy with them, and there were a few details he would change. From here he posted an articles on Justin Martyr’s argument, which was essentially a rewritten version of his video script for his book, along with another article on dying and rising gods. His post on Justin Martyr didn’t really argue anything different to what was in his videos, except that it was presented better and was lacking the rhetoric and polemics that were found in his videos. Hence, I will not really be commenting on this post, as it doesn’t argue anything new. His post on dying and rising gods is significant though, as it is typical of the way that Christian apologists seek to deflect evidence showing that Christianity almost certainly borrowed the resurrection concept from older mythology.

The death and resurrection of religious scholarship:

Albert’s article on “Dying and Rising gods” and the scholarship of J.Z. Smith and Tryggve Mettinger was written in response to my discussion of resurrection amongst pagan gods, and my mention of J.Z. Smith and several key arguments which he is accredited with. I presume that as with the article that Albert posted on Justin Martyr’s 1st apology and diabolical mimicry, that he had already written this piece for his book, and that he was simply copying it across into his blog or slightly adapting it for that purpose (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, much of my original article had been copied across from my coming book). I also assume that as with his article on diabolical mimicry, that it was in a sense derived from the script of a video that he made on the topic of Dying and Rising gods, with which I was already familiar.

In this article Albert essentially argues that the expression “dying and rising gods” is frequently misused by mythicists, who fail to understand the historical context that the phrase was used in (the “history of religion” school of the 19th century). He argues that failing to understand the original context of the expression makes any attempts at using it in a different context mute, and that the whole category of dying and rising gods has been completely abandoned by serious scholars for some time now, and with good reason. He goes on to argue that critics have misquoted Tryggve Mettinger, and that contrary to popular opinion Mettinger does not really support the claims of critics but rather actually contradicts them. He emphasises that whilst Mettinger does believe that some individual pagan gods did indeed die and rise, this was completely different to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and there is no causal relationship between them. Albert explains that the death of Frazer’s category of “Dying and Rising gods” can be largely credited to the work of J.Z. Smith, who has written a great deal on the subject, including his PhD dissertation and his more recent book “Drudgery Divine”. Albert makes a point of the fact that critics only seem to attempt to respond to Smith’s encyclopedia article, and never to his far more detailed works on the subject.

The thing is however that I am yet to see any Christian apologist reference anything beyond Smith’s encyclopedia article when citing Smith as supportive of their dismissal of pre-Christian resurrections for Osiris (and others). Furthermore, Smith’s encyclopedia article was a summary of his research over many years, and hence was an opportunity for him to summarize what were essentially his strongest arguments. If his strongest arguments are all essentially false, then on what ground do his conclusions stand upon? Furthermore, if Albert wants critics to bear the responsibility of responding to Smith’s dissertation and “Drudgery Divine”, then perhaps he (and other Christian apologists) better start quoting from them first. Robert Price is certainly familiar with most (if not all) of Smith’s work, and has had a review of Drudgery Divine on his website for some time (9). I must personally echo Price’s statement in his book “The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems” where he states that has long chaffed at Smith’s revisionism, and argues that he might as well “argue that religion doesn’t exist!”. For those not already in the loop, that last comment was an insider joke, for Smith does indeed argue that religion does not exist! Yes, you heard correct, when it comes to the historical existence of religion as a whole, Smith is a mythicist! So perhaps if Albert wants to harp on about how awesome Smith’s scholarship is, perhaps he can accept Smiths opinion that religion itself doesn’t exist, Christianity doesn’t exists, its all just merely culture!

I would suggest that we should read Smith’s views on dying and rising gods in context of his views on religion as a whole. Smith seems to be someone who picks a side in an argument and just makes his case, like a lawyer defending a guilty man. It need not matter how ridiculous his arguments are, nor how egregious his conclusions are, he argues his case in such a way that laymen often cannot follow, hence it often sounds impressive even if it is absolutely false. I would presume again that Albert would attempt to separate Smith’s views on resurrection from his views on religion as a whole. I do agree that we should not necessarily assume that someone’s view on one topic is erroneous simply on the basis of association with another opinion that they share. Quite commonly we will agree with one opinion of a writer, and disagree with another. I almost fully agree with Sam Harris when he is discussing religious pluralism, why all faiths are not equal, and why the Abrahamic faiths are dangerous whereas Jainism and Buddhism are not. On the other hand I fully disagree with him when he argues that free will does not exist, and I would probably be on the same side as many Christians in objecting to Harris’ views on this latter topic. However, in the case of J.Z. Smith we do find similarities between his view on religion as a whole and his views on dying and rising gods.

In both cases Smith is essentially arguing that a general category does not exist simply due to the many minute variations that exist between different examples; hence the general category does not exist. This kind of reductionism may be useful for classifying insects into sub-species, but is entirely impractical and anachronistic when referring either to the institution of religion as a whole, or common mythical themes syncretically shared between ancient cultures. Both Albert and myself have religious beliefs (albeit of a different nature). I would think that both of us would object to Smith’s claim that our religious beliefs are indistinguishable from the greater culture around us. Anyways, all this is simply beyond the point. Rather the point is that it simply isn’t enough to ask ones readers to bow to scholarly consensus on one particular issue, particularly when the same scholar has other views to which you would not also support, and particularly when general scholarly consensus of Christianity in general is contrary to ones own faith.

I find it quite amusing when Christians call for critics to simply accept scholarly consensus on issues where consensus occasionally sides with Christians against their critics. This is quite ironic as the vast majority of mainstream scholarly consensus in relation to Christianity contradicts countless features of Christian faith. Many of these individual issues are by themselves enough to make Christian claims mute, and collectively they would represent an insurmountable case against Christianity if only Christians would “respect scholarly consensus”. For example, there is the issue of dating of the New Testament texts, whereby secular scholars almost uniformly date the Gospels post 70CE, whilst in contrast Christian “scholars” (read apologists with PhD’s) argue for pre-70 dates. There is the issue of the historicity of the Old Testament, to which secular scholarship almost uniformly rejects the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan. Sure, there is debate as to whether there really was a unified Israelite kingdom under Kings David and Solomon, however the vast majority of relevant scholars (including Jewish scholars) reject the exodus and conquest as non-historical (noting that David Rohl is considered a fringe example in the field). Sure, Christian scholars such as Kenneth Kitchen disagree (and he most certainly is a true scholar, I challenge any laymen to find your way through his book “On the Reliability of the Old Testament”, of which I have a copy), but they are again outside the consensus on the topic. Whilst I wholeheartedly support Richard Carriers review of Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist”, Bart Ehrman also represents scholarly consensus on orthodox tampering with the New Testament manuscripts, in direct contrast to Christian apologetic claims about the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts (OMG, look how many copies we have!).

Furthermore, whilst I do not think very highly of Ehrman’s book on the historicity of Jesus, it also represents a general consensus regarding the historical Jesus, and whilst I disagree with it, it presents a picture of Christians origins that would make the Christian faith mute if Christians were to “respect scholarly consensus”. So perhaps Albert should take some of his own advice, and respect scholarly consensus that Jesus was simply a mere mortal man who preached a coming apocalypse. According to consensus opinion he wasn’t born of a virgin, wasn’t the Son of God, did not perform real miracles, did not rise from the dead and did not ascend to heaven. If we were to all simply accept scholarly consensus on this issue we would not be having this discussion at all, as Christianity would simply be accepted as false by all. The point is that I do not personally expect anybody to simply accept scholarly consensus simply upon the credentials and reputation of any scholar/s. Rather, I would expect others to accept conclusions based upon evidence and reason, and in cases in which my personal opinion coincides with scholarly consensus, I argue that the consensus is well established on solid grounds. In cases whereby I disagree with scholarly consensus I fully accept a burden to display an understanding of the relevant facts, and that to disagree with consensus means that I have to both be able to refute the arguments in favour of the consensus, and make a positive case for my conclusion.

In the case of J.Z. Smith, the resurrection of Osiris and Dionysus and the possible causal relationship with Jesus, I have fully accepted these conditions, and whilst my article on Justin only gave a brief overview of the topic I think that it certainly went into sufficient detail for the context in which I was raising it. I quoted various pre-Christian sources and discussed their consequences, I discussed several of J.Z. Smith’s arguments and offered examples to refute them. Albert has made no attempt at engaging my arguments, but rather has simply fallen upon a shallow appeal to authority to attempt to dismiss my arguments. Furthermore, the analogy which I offered of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (which I have myself borrowed from a very gracious individual who came before me) utterly refutes Smith’s claim that resurrecting in the underworld instantly makes any comparison between Jesus and Osiris mute; to which Albert has made no attempt to respond or even acknowledge. It is about as water-tight as any argument can be and it refutes the primary argument used both by Smith and all those that quote him in support of their conclusions on the topic (including both secular scholars like Ehrman and hordes of Christian apologists). Hence we can see that Albert has not made a sincere attempt at responding to my arguments, but rather has merely tried to side-step my comments by his appeal to authority, which I could just as easily turn back on him. He has managed to ignore almost all of what I wrote, and simply tried to take his readers on a tangent, to distract them from the points that I made.

Scholarly consensus is just as prone to human trends as any non-academic field, and in this case I would suggest that J.Z. Smith’s opinions on the motif of resurrection will in the near future be viewed with disregard. Again, please refer to my original article on diabolical mimicry for the extensive evidence I produced on the topic, or read D.N. Boswell’s free EBook “The Amen Creed” (10).

Rhetoric, polemics and taking a step back:

In his first post directly responding to my article, Albert discusses the attitude he displayed in his original video series, and to my pleasant surprise concedes that I had legitimate complaints to make in that department. Albert explains that unfortunately getting involved in debating controversial topics can bring about a change in ones behaviour, turning a quiet gentleman into a WWC wrestler ranting before a fight. I tip my hat to Albert for making this concession, and I wholeheartedly agree that online debating often brings out the worst in people. I was hoping that Albert would admit that he was completely wrong in his accusation against Robert M. Price, as I explained in my original article. To my disappointment he did not make any explicit concession regarding this, as this was one of the major problem I had with his videos. However, we should perhaps grant that he was thinking of this in his general apology.

Albert then goes on to explain that whilst he is sorry for his attitude in his videos, he stands by his conclusions. He also explains that whilst he wishes to be more respectful to his opponents, he doesn’t believe that mythicists and pagan parallel proponents should be taken seriously. He claims to have investigated the works of many different writers in the field, and to have found flaws everywhere. He makes a mention of a number of wild claims made by D.M. Murdock, and notes that I accused him (and J.P. Holding) of dishonesty and ignoring “the obvious”, and then asks whether I would also make the same accusation towards Murdock, noting that I listed Murdock amongst a list of writers from whom I had benefited.

Alberts attempt to rebut my accusation appears quite unbelievable when you consider the context in which I actually mentioned Murdock. My personal view of Murdock’s work is that it is a mixed bag, and her most recent work (Christ In Egypt) is a significant improvement upon her earlier work. I disagree with her on some of her conclusions (such as that the earliest conception of Jesus was primarily as a solar deity) and I think she has misused evidence (such as the list of writers who failed to mention Jesus that has featured in a number of works). However, I also think that she has been almost a lone voice of reason in some matters, and she should be applauded for standing ground on some extraordinary evidence (I do not wish to explain this here however). In my original article I explained that I wished to acknowledge that much of the evidence I would present I had accumulated from reading various authors, Murdock included, and that I was not the first to reveal various sources from my article. As my article did not feature footnotes or endnotes (unlike my book), I wished to make that point clear for honesty’s sake, and I explained that quite clearly in my article.

One does not need to agree with every argument someone makes in order to appreciate some of them, and I was simply giving credit where it was due. Albert should perhaps have paid attention to the caveat that followed my mention of Murdock, Freke & Gandy and Ken Humphreys, in which I wrote the following:

“…although in some of these cases I would recommend that my readers be “cautious” in checking their claims

I was quite clearly alluding to the fact that I didn’t agree with every claim and argument that some of these authors had made; hence I find the way in which Albert has raised Murdock to be quite extraordinary given the context in which I mentioned her. My article was not on D.M. Murdock, rather it was on Justin Martyr’s Diabolical Mimicry argument, and in this regard Murdock and myself appear to be arguing on the same side. Just for the record, I am glad that I didn’t finish and publish my 1st book 5 years ago (it took me 8 years), as I would have been quite embarrassed now by some of my errors, and the presentation of it at that time. Even now, if I do manage to get “The Web Unwoven” into print I would hope that the publisher would assist me with editing, as I have been over the manuscript from start to finish so many times, it really is a tedious process for someone such as myself who writes in what little free time they have (usually late at night when they should be in bed).

For the record, I also cited Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy amidst the same list. I have read their book “The Jesus Mysteries” about 3 or 4 times and have followed up on most of the references found in the endnotes. Whilst I agree with many of their conclusions, I found that many of the sources they quoted were difficult (if not impossible) to verify, and that they had made a number of notable mistakes (such as quoting Hoffman’s hypothetical reconstruction of Celsus’ arguments as if Celsus himself had written it). Despite their shortcomings it is important for me to acknowledge Freke and Gandy, especially as they are largely to be credited for making Justin’s Diabolical Mimicry argument well known amongst those on our side of the fence.

If we want to turn the page against Albert, I would like to point out that Albert seems to be happy to associate himself with J.P. Holding. If we want to talk about wild and erroneous claims, is there any better target than Mr Holding? Do I really need to make a list of all the errors amongst his work? For an introduction to the “quality” of Holding’s work may I recommend that my readers investigate Richard Carrier’s free online book length rebuttal to Holding’s book “The Impossible Faith” (11). Anyways, I don’t wish to spend time here in pointing out Holding’s voluminous mistakes, nor do I necessary think that everybody that references him should be personally responsible for them. Rather, I am simply wishing to point out the irony of Alberts argument here regarding Murdock.

The “Obvious” and Honesty:

In my original article I accused both Albert and J.P. Holding of dishonesty in that whilst they were both arguing that Justin was actually the one inventing the idea of pagan parallels, and that pagans of his day saw no such thing, they both neglected to mention anything about Celsus’ arguments in “The True Word” or the context of Justin’s comments in “Dialogue with Trypho”. I believe my accusation of dishonesty is given even more context when considered in light of the tone of both of their videos, in which they acted as if those using the diabolical mimicry argument were ignorant of the facts. So, in my original article I pointed out that by failing to mention Celsus and Trypho they were leaving out vital information and essentially misleading their audience. As both J.P. and Albert were no doubt familiar with both Celsus and Trypho, I stand by my accusation of dishonesty.

Let us remember that they were both arguing that Justin invented the idea of pagan parallels and was not using his diabolical mimicry argument in response to accusations of Christian plagiarism. To make such an argument yet neglect to mention that Justin’s other work does indeed present the argument in direct response to an accusation that Christians had plagiarized the virgin birth from the myth of Perseus, and that the earliest surviving pagan critique of Christianity did indeed likewise accuse Christians of plagiarizing pagan myths is nothing short of dishonest, as their readers unaware of these things might think that there was no evidence to the contrary. Hence, I believe that I was being quite fair with my accusation of dishonesty, as Albert had failed to discuss the most vital evidence for understanding the topic. Let us now move into a discussion of the main points of contention, and into a discussion of the twisted web that Albert has attempted to weave to serve his bias, despite the fact that it is unsupported by the evidence.

Celsus and Justin – The question of dependence:

I would now like to discuss the little matter of my one mistake in my original article. In my original piece I was perhaps a little gung-ho about dismissing the possibility that Celsus had written in response to Justin, to which Albert does indeed have some legitimate grounds in which to critique what I had written. This does not however affect the overall conclusion that I had reached, for several reasons. In speculating how both Albert and J.P. could have failed to mention Celsus I could only imagine that they were appealing to the time difference between Justin and Celsus, and assuming that Celsus had derived the idea of pagan parallels from Justin himself.

I made several comments about Justin and Celsus, of which Albert correctly points to the one in which I made my one legitimate mistake. I most certainly was too quick to dismiss the general idea that Celsus had been aware of Justin when he wrote his “True Word”. As it turns out, Albert is quite correct to note that patristic scholars have for some time considered the possibility that Celsus was familiar with Justin’s work, and possibly even directly referenced it in the title of his anti-Christian polemic “The True Word (Logos)”. Albert thus believed that he had refuted the trump card I mentioned in my original article, misunderstanding that the trump card I referred to was actually the presence of the accusation of plagiarism in Justin’s Dialogue, and the context it gave to Justin’s response.

Anyways, Albert cited a number of patristic scholars that had considered the possibility of Celsus writing in response to Justin Martyr. One of those he cited was Eric Francis Osborn, and he presented a link to a section of a work on Justin by Osborn titled “Had Celsus read Justin?” The page that Albert linked goes on to list the reasons why many scholars believed the answer to the above question is yes. The reasons he cites are that Justin and Celsus seem to be arguing on opposite sides of the same arguments, and Osborn cites a whole string of arguments that as an accumulative case seems very strong. If you read onto the next page in the link you do actually find that Osborn concedes some possible objections, such as that Origen claims that Celsus refers to things that no Christian had written. Importantly Osborn notes that Justin was writing to meet pastoral concerns of all Christians, hence his arguments became the property of Christians far and wide, and Celsus may have encountered his arguments without reading his work directly. He concludes by stating that Celsus’ “direct acquaintance with Justin is an attractive but unnecessary hypothesis”.

Nevertheless, I must confess that I am impressed by the strength of the parallels, and it seems likely to me that there is some dependence, quite possibly direct. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Celsus’ testimony goes out the window. The fact still remains that Celsus is the earliest surviving pagan critic of Christianity, and he did indeed accuse Christians of plagiarizing pagan mythology. We likewise have no evidence of any pagan failing to see the presence of the relevant parallels, outside of Alberts reading of the context of Justin’s comments in his 1st Apology. The portion of Osborn’s book that Albert linked does not say anything about the concept of pagan parallels being invented by Justin, nor does it claim that pagans prior to Celsus failed to see such parallels. If Albert is familiar with any patristic works which specifically address this point and lead towards that conclusion I would be interested in reading them.

Even if he can produce such sources, this would not necessarily mean that the conclusion would be correct, as I can produce a number of notable examples of patristic scholars reaching the wrong conclusion for a number of reasons. We should also note that as far as I am aware we have no evidence of Celsus or any other pagan or Jewish critic ever responding to Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument (that is, whilst we have evidence of their familiarity with the concept of pagan parallels, we have no evidence of their familiarity with Justin’s response). Surely if pagans such as Celsus, Porphyry and Julian were so keen to critique Christianity then had they been aware of Justin’s truly absurd argument, it is fairly reasonable to expect that they would have taken him (and all Christians alike) to the cleaners for it. Of course, it is well possible that they did indeed respond to Justin’s argument and that we simply have no evidence of it that has survived to the present day.

My mistake notwithstanding, there is still no reason to reject Celsus as a witness to how pagans viewed Christians, simply on the basis that Celsus had quite possibly encountered Justin’s arguments (whether directly or indirectly). I argued in my original article that Celsus was simply continuing an ancient pagan tradition of deliberately seeking out parallels between different religious narratives, and viewing them as having causal relationships. I gave evidence that well before the advent of Christianity pagans had noted the similarities between the myths and accompanying rites of Osiris and Dionysus, and that many of them had even gone to the length of claiming that on the basis of these common features they were actually the same god! I made the argument in my original article that in light of this fact Celsus’ arguments were simply a continuation of the pre-Christian pagan way of viewing common elements in different religious traditions. Again, Albert made no attempt at either acknowledging or responding to these arguments, to which I have to state his attempt to rebut my article solely on his the argument that Celsus used Justin reveals that he was not making any attempt at honestly responding to my case.

Trypho, Pagan Parallels and Alberts refusal to engage the evidence:

Albert presents his argument in response that Justin’s First Apology and Dialogue with Trypho present the same argument in two completely different contexts, and for two completely different purposes. Albert argues that the key features of the Apology is that Justin states that pagans don’t really know what Christians believe, and that Justin is seeking to educate them and rebut their misinformation. Hence, Albert feels that we can rule out the possibility that pagans themselves were making any parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, because the pagans to whom Justin was speaking were clearly unaware of the true beliefs of Christians, and were only repeating slanderous rumours. Alternatively, in the case of Justin’s Dialogue Albert argues that Justin was facing a Jewish tendency to lump all non-Jewish people together into one group, and that his argument was actually an attempt to get his Jewish readers to understand the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Albert explains that Jewish people tend to view the world in terms of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), and hence argues that the accusation of Christians plagiarizing the birth narrative from Perseus was simply due to the fact that Jews saw Christians as the same as pagans, and not due to any real parallel. Albert continues to argue that in this context Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument specifically mentioned Old Testament prophecies in an attempt to get Jews to see Christianity as a continuation of Judaism. Alternatively, in the case of Justin’s Apology Albert argues that the use of Jewish prophecy was to distinguish between pagan and Christian beliefs. Albert argues that as a whole, Justin’s Diabolical Mimicry argument was used with pagans to point out their similarities and the hypocrisy of persecuting Christians, whilst it was also used with Jews to separate Christians from pagans, and point to the common ground between Christians and Jews.

So, where do I start with all this? In chapter 54 of his First Apology, Justin argues that when the wicked devils heard the prophecies concerning Christ they invented their own tales (Greek myths), so that when Christ came people would not believe the things said about him, but would think they were mere myths, like the things said by the poets. Albert places this passage in context of a following passage which says that the devils did not understand the prophecy in full and got some details wrong in their imitation, and hence Albert argues on this basis that pagans did not see any parallels between Christ and their gods. However, I would argue that Justin’s claim that the devils got some of the details wrong is actually his attempt to separate the motifs of Christ from those of the pagan gods, by arguing that “the differences outweigh the similarities…”. More to the point, why on earth would Justin concede that similarities between Christ and pagan gods would lead people to believe that the things said of Christ were mere myths, if Justin’s argument was only being used on the front foot (ie; in attack) and solely in the context of correcting pagan ignorance of Christian beliefs?

Hence, my counter argument is that Justin Martyr was clearly using the context of a letter written to the Emperor to kill two birds with one stone. Yes, he was arguing that Roman persecution of Christians was hypocritical and he was asking the Emperor to cease the persecutions, and likewise he was seeking to correct any slanderous rumours that were in circulation at the time. However, the simple fact that Justin’s Apology remained in circulation amongst Christians attests that he took the time and expense of keeping a copy for himself and circulating it amongst other Christians for apologetic use in dialogues with pagans. Hence, the text had a dual purpose and Justin was taking advantage of the form of a letter to counter arguments that pagans were presenting against Christians. The fact that Justin notes that similarities between Jesus and pagan gods would make people think the things said of Jesus were mere myths implies the strong possibility that pagans were themselves already arguing this.

One of the most startling things about Albert’s response was the way in which he tried to dismiss the significance of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho to the relevant passages from his 1st apology. Obviously Albert couldn’t deny that Justin did indeed use his diabolical mimicry argument in his Dialogue in response to the accusation of Christian plagiarism. However, he has casually tried to sidestep the issue, and amazingly seemed oblivious to the dishonestly of his original video series in which he made no mention of Justin’s Dialogue, whilst simultaneously mocking the idea that Justin was responding to claims of Christian plagiarism. Alberts response is that Jews differentiated people into two groups (Jews and non-Jews), upon which basis they linked Christians with pagans. Hence, Albert would like us to believe that the Jewish accusation in the Dialogue is merely there because Jews didn’t see Christians as an extension of their own culture and religion.

One must ask, if we were to humour Albert’s response does that mean that he concedes that mythicists can indeed present their diabolical mimicry argument as long as they only quote Justin from his “Dialogue”, and not from the Apology’s? Well actually, Albert is trying to do one better. Albert is not only trying to stop mythicists from quoting from Justin’s Apology’s, but he is also trying to argue that they can’t reference his use of the diabolical mimicry argument in the Dialogue either, as according to him Jews only accused Christians of plagiarism not on the basis of real evidence, but due to an ideological distinction that they made between themselves and all other cultures. Hence, Albert is trying to argue that we critics cannot cite Justin at all in favour of our argument that early Christians were aware of parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, and that they had been forced to think up absurd arguments in attempting to respond to allegations of inventing myths about Jesus through plagiarizing pagan myths. According to Albert the whole idea of pagan parallels is bunk, and nobody prior to the last two centuries had ever given it a moments thought, and according to Albert the presence of Justin’s comments in both his Apology’s and Dialogue (as well as Celsus’ comments) do nothing to change that conclusion.

In order to respond I wish to tackle Albert’s arguments step by step, starting with the suggestion that Justin used the diabolical mimicry argument in a completely different context in his Apology to his Dialogue (but for the moment ignoring Albert’s argument about dismissing the argument from the Dialogue as well). If we were to humour Albert’s argument we could perhaps then conclude that it was Jews who invented the pagan parallels argument (and not pagans), and that pagans adapted the argument after hearing it from Christians. Even if this were so then it would still be valid for modern critics to cite Justin’s Diabolical Mimicry argument as evidence in favour of the pagan parallels thesis, only with the caveat that they should note that Justin used the argument in response to accusations that originally only came from Jews, rather than pagans. There are however a number of very serious flaws in Albert’s reasoning however. Just because pagans may have been accusing Christians of worshipping a mere man, a criminal and so forth, it does not necessarily follow that they did not also see the parallels with their own beliefs.

Firstly, there were a number of different Christological views that were being taught by different Christian sects at the time of Justin (and prior to). The view that Jesus was a mere mortal human was in-fact quite common (though one may still debate as to how popular it was in his time), and certainly it seems likely that pagans would have been familiar with this conception of Jesus as well as the orthodox one (in which Jesus is seen as both man and God). Hence, as some Christians believed that Jesus was a mortal man whilst others believed he was both man and God, an obvious way to insult those that believed he was divine would be to accuse them of worshipping a mere mortal man.

Secondly, it was common for pagans to euhemerize both their own deities and the gods of other people, and likewise they commonly gave naturalized versions of the religious myths of other people as a method of offering a refutation (such as how Greek historians referred to Moses and the story of the exodus). Hence, it would again be pretty standard fare for pagans to criticize Christians by offering their own naturalized version of Christian claims (and this is certainly what Jews likewise did, as attested by Celsus, the Babylonian Talmud and the later work, the Toledot Yeshu).

The insults that pagans were launching against Christians (such as that they worshipped a criminal) were actually unrelated to the reasons why they experienced persecution under Roman rule. The Romans did not persecute Christians because they worshipped a man who had died as a convicted criminal; rather they persecuted Christians because they refused to take part in the state religion, in which it was expected that all citizens would propagate the gods (through worship and sacrifices) and likewise offer the same towards Caesar. To fail to do so was believed by many ancient peoples (such as the Romans) to bring disaster upon the nation as a whole, and individuals had a responsibility to do their bit in keeping the gods happy, and paying their dues to their divinely appointed leader.

Initiates in the Osirian mysteries did not refuse to take part in the state religion just because they believed that their god (Osiris) had died and come back to life and that they would too. Rather, they continued to take part in the state rituals in public, and practiced the Osirian rites in private (though the state did not interfere or object to their rites). Likewise, initiates in the Dionysian and Eleusinian mysteries would likewise still take part in Greek and Roman state rites. Many (if not most) Christians were different because they believed in religious exclusivity, and refused to participate in the Roman rites (though there is evidence that at least some Gnostic Christians were happy to still participate in pagan cults). The Romans did not generally object to their citizens taking part in their own religious cults, as long as they did not pose a threat to the state in one way or another. It certainly is true that pagans paid far greater respect to faiths that had ancient roots; however simply being of recent origin would not alone be cause for persecution (but rather mere disrespect or mockery).

Christians were persecuted because they did not offer sacrifices and worship to the Greek and Roman gods, and most significantly to Caesar himself. Likewise, they also were going around openly preaching that the Roman world would soon be destroyed at the hands of their god, who would return as a heavenly warlord accompanied by an army or angels (no, not the cuddly little children with wings). In his 1st Apology Justin attempts to explain the reason for Christians religious exclusivity, attempting to justify his belief that Jesus alone was (and is) God, and that the Greek and Roman gods were evil spirits. In using the diabolical mimicry argument in his apology I would argue that Justin was attempting to turn a negative into a positive, turning the quite obvious accusation that Christians had plagiarized pagans into an argument that pagans had plagiarized Christianity (through Jewish prophecy), and that pagan gods were actually mere wicked spirits, hence justifying Christian exclusivism.

As already noted however, pagans had a long history of noting syncretism between the gods of different nations, to the point that a number of notable Greek historians actually stated that Osiris and Dionysus were actually the same god, despite their differences. It was to be expected that when Christians started preaching that their god had come to earth, been killed and returned to life, bringing them eternal life that pagans would have naturally stated in response: “Gee, that sounds a lot like what we have been saying for 3,000 years about Osiris, and what we are now also saying about Dionysus”. And when Christians refused to take part in the state rites and stated that their deity was alone the true God and that pagan gods were wicked demons, it would be expected that pagans would counter this with insults, and (unfortunately as well to some degree) persecution.

Now, lets get back to the issue of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. Albert would like us to believe that the reason that Trypho presents an accusation against Christians of plagiarizing the virgin birth of Perseus is that Jews saw a division between themselves and the rest of the world, and that they saw Christians as amongst the Greeks rather than as Jews. Hence, Albert is attempting to ignore the fact that the Dialogue itself has a Jewish voice accusing Christians of plagiarism (and Justin responding with the diabolical mimicry argument), and state that there still wasn’t any real parallel there, but that it was merely a case that the Jews were placing Christians in the same basket as pagans, and that Justin responded by trying to show the Jewish roots of Christianity.

There are several problems with this. Firstly, as shown in my original article, there is indeed a real parallel between the births of Perseus and Jesus. In both cases the supreme male God impregnates a mortal female through a non-sexual means, and a male god is born as a result. So, despite the differences in the details of their narratives there are distinct similarities in the core details of the parallel myths. Secondly, the Dialogue does not merely state that Christians are like the Greeks with their belief in their gods being born of virgins; rather in the Dialogue Trypho explicitly accuses Christians of plagiarizing the Greeks, alluding to the fact that the myth of Perseus is older and Christians most certainly would have been familiar with it.

In his response Justin acknowledges that accusation and attempts to invert it by arguing that whilst Perseus may have come before Jesus, the Jewish prophets came before Perseus (itself a disputable claim. Furthermore, as I noted in the original article, Justin was clearly unfamiliar with the fact that far older parallels can be found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology that far predates Judaism). Justin clearly acknowledges that as Jesus came after Perseus it would be natural to believe that there was influence from pagans to Christians; hence he attempts to invert the accusation via his convoluted diabolical mimicry argument. Likewise, as I have repeatedly pointed out, in his 1st Apology to the Greeks Justin likewise acknowledges that the fact that the pagan gods preceded Jesus would naturally lead some to think that the things said about Jesus were “mere myths”, as with the things said by “the poets”.

On this note Albert repeatedly points to the passages in which Justin states that the wicked spirits did not get all the details correct in their attempted plagiarism (from prophecy). Albert seems to think that this naturally implies that therefore nobody actually then believed that the things said about Jesus were mere myths, and that because of the differences between Jesus and the pagan gods nobody saw any similarity between them, and it was actually Justin himself that was trying to show the similarities to pagans. I believe Albert is misreading the text here and extrapolating to suit his prejudice. All we must read from Justin’s comments here is that at very least some people (namely Christians) did not think that the things said about Jesus were mere myths, hence in Justin’s mind the demons did not completely succeed.

Certainly however, Trypho did indeed think that the virgin birth story of Jesus was a mere myth like the things said about the poets, so certainly Jewish critics of Christianity did not think that the differences between the myths of pagan gods and Jesus made mute the similarities between them. And let us remember that the Greeks and Romans of all people were extremely aware of syncretism, believing that the gods of different cultures were actually the same deities under different names. Hence, when Celsus wrote a few decades after Justin he was not breaking with the previous pagan approach to Christianity, but was rather continuing a long pagan tradition of seeing parallels between the gods of different cultures, just as (at very least) the Jews had several decades earlier when Justin wrote his Dialogue.

There is one final nail in the coffin for Albert, and this one’s a real knockout punch. The introduction of Justin’s Dialogue narrates the circumstances leading up to his debate, and he introduces Trypho as having fled from the Bar Kokhba revolt in Jerusalem during 132-136CE. This means that Justin claimed to have had this dialogue well before writing his two apologies to the Greeks, and well before putting the Dialogue into writing. We should remember that I have argued that the Dialogue is a literary form for his anti-Jewish apologetics; hence I do believe we have reason to doubt his account. Nevertheless, we have Justin’s own word that he encountered the accusation that Christians plagiarized the virgin birth from pagans well before he wrote his Apology’s to the Greeks. Hence, when Justin wrote his Apology to the Greeks he used the diabolical mimicry argument in relation to accusations that he had already heard from Jews (at the very least) about Christians plagiarizing motifs from pagan gods. Hence, you simply cannot discount Celsus’ testimony by arguing that he heard the pagan parallel argument from Justin, as at the very least Justin himself had encountered it from Jews prior to referencing it himself.

And that my friends is that; Albert’s obscurifaction has been exposed. Hence, we can see that Albert is trying to twist the facts to suit his bias. The truth is that modern critics can and should cite Justin’s absurd argument in favour of their (and my) conclusion that at very least some major aspects of the Gospel narrative and subsequent Jesus mythos are derived from pagan mythology, and early Christian writers were well aware of this accusation, as it was made towards them by both Jews and pagans of their day.

Jerome and Docetism – Who misquoted who?

Whilst I had thought that Albert had finished with his responses, I was quite surprised to learn about a week later that he had written another short article, in which he accused me of misquoting Jerome. I have to say that I think Albert fell off the edge with this short little piece. Apparently Albert was curious as to what else I had written on the topic of Christian origins and did a little Google searching under my name. He discovered a post I had made on a Mythicists forum group on Facebook, which I have been taking part in for the last 4 months or so, in which I posted a passage by Jerome from his work “Adverse Lucifer”. I hadn’t even so much as offered any commentary on the passage at all, rather I simply stated that I “found this passage”, yet Albert seems to think that I somehow misquoted Jerome!?! May I ask how on earth one is misquoting someone when all they do is quote them verbatim without any commentary?

Albert himself noted that he didn’t know why I had chosen to highlight the passage from Jerome or why I had thought that it was interesting or useful for a critical case. Yet, despite the fact that I offered no commentary but rather quoted Jerome verbatim and despite Albert not knowing why I had chosen to highlight the passage, he still thinks that I must have been misquoting Jerome. Well, apparently Albert is an experienced mind reader now. Perhaps he should advertise his services on his blog (for a generous fee of course). Anyways, I will now explain why I found Jerome’s words to be interesting. Let’s start by reading the passage I quoted and the six words I introduced it with:

Just found this passage from Jerome:

“When the blood of Christ was but lately shed and the apostles were still in Judea, the Lord’s body was asserted to be a phantom.” Adverse Lucifer, 23. Online translation (12).

I posted this passage late at night whist working away in the solitude of my study (as I do). I really should have added some commentary at the time to explain to others why I found it important. If I am guilty of anything it’s being a little absent-minded whilst working, when I should have been in bed. Unfortunately whilst working full time, having a young family and being a musician as well, this is the reality of my life as a writer. Anyways, a week or so after Albert wrote his piece the administrator of the FB forum actually responded, prompting a response from me explaining the context that I had posted in. I actually then received a few comments from outside the group (as obviously my commentary on the thread appeared on a few friends walls). So, let me explain why I quote Jerome.

I was working on a section of my book directly following the section on Justin and Celsus whereby I discussed the fact that, as well as the well-known proto-Catholic anti-Gnostic polemics, we do have some idea about what Gnostic Christians thought of Catholics (partially through quotations from the heresiologists themselves, and partially from texts uncovered at Nag Hammadi). Obviously surviving heresiological works come to us from the 2nd half of the 2nd century CE onwards, and the Nag Hammadi library contains manuscripts from the 3rd and 4th centuries, with some of the works themselves dating back to the early-mid 2nd century CE at the earliest (noting that some have argued for a 1st century dating of the Gospel of Thomas, although I am perfectly happy to accept it as being mid-2nd century myself). Christians generally claim that most (if not all) of the New Testament is 1st century (CE) in origins, whilst mainstream scholars tend to date most of the New Testament up to the very beginning of the 2nd century CE. There are some radical scholars who date much of the New Testament well into the 2nd century CE, but that is not something that I want to go into today (I discuss dating of the New Testament in my book).

Lets just say for the purpose of this article that I accepted all of the New Testament as having been written by say 110CE at the latest (I personally don’t accept this dating, but for the purpose of this piece I will let it go). This would place all of the NT books at least 30-40 years earlier than the first explicitly Gnostic Christian Gospels, such as those of Thomas, Mary, Judas, Phillip and Peter. On this basis it is commonly claimed that orthodox Christianity was earlier than Gnostic Christianity on the basis of its scriptures being earlier. There are certainly many different factors to consider in ones argument for which form of Christianity came first, and I certainly do not intend to cover all the relevant information here (rather, read my book when it is available if you want to hear my thoughts on the topic). However, it was in relation to this argument that I offered the passage from Jerome, and I will now explain why.

Whilst Gnosticism is commonly associated with the explicitly Gnostic Gospels of the mid 2nd century onwards, we actually know from various passages in Catholic anti-heretical treatise a little known fact that almost all books of the New Testament were also used by heterodox Christians. The Alexandrian Gnostics of the early 2nd century (Cerinthus, Basilides, Carpocrates and Saturninus) clearly used either Mark and/or Matthew (Epiphanius describes the followers of Cerinthus in his time as using a version of Matthew), and Cerinthus also clearly used a version of Revelation. Marcion used a version of Luke along with most of the Pauline Epistles (minus the Pastorals of course), whilst Valentinus most likely made use of John and probably the Pauline corpus. That leaves only Acts and the Pastoral and General Epistles that weren’t also used by heterodox Christians, which is of no surprise as they are the most explicitly Catholic, anti-docetic and anti-Gnostic of all the New Testament.

That’s fine many Christians will contend, because heterodox Christians were accused of mutilating these texts by proto-orthodox Christians, removing everything that was explicitly contrary to their theological views. The thing is that we know exactly the opposite claim was also made by heterodox Christians against proto-Catholics. That is, the heretics claimed that their versions of the texts were the originals, and that it was the Catholics who had mutilated the texts, adding extra material to bring them into line with Catholic dogma. I have no intention of going into this question (in this article) of whose versions of the NT texts were the original versions, as that also requires considerable space to make my case. Rather, my point is that you cannot simply claim that Gnosticism came after orthodox Christianity on the grounds that its texts were later, as Gnostics themselves had their own versions of most of the New Testament texts (which they claimed were the original versions), and there is an enormous amount of overlap between what orthodox and heterodox Christians believed.

Having made that point, you may ask what all this has to do with Jerome and the passage that I quoted? Here’s the thing. Throughout the New Testament we find passages that are phrased as prophetic warnings of antichrists and false prophets that will come preaching another Jesus, and will deny that Christ came in the flesh. The Pastoral and General Epistles are filled with these kind of statements, hence it is of no surprise that heterodox Christians did not make use of these texts, as they were written simply as polemics against the doctrines of heterodox Christians. We also find similar passages throughout the Greek versions of the epistles bearing the name of Ignatius, which repeatedly emphasize that Christ really did incarnate in the flesh, that his resurrection was physical and that Christians should likewise hope for a bodily resurrection themselves. Amazingly I have heard Bart Ehrman and Joseph Hoffman argue that the insistence of these texts is evidence in favour of historicity and/or orthodox priority. Rather, if anything, the insistence of these texts is evidence of the fierce competition at the time of composition, and that whilst proto-orthodox Christians were insisting upon the physical nature of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, Gnostics were claiming Christ to be wholly spiritual.

Anyways, the point is that throughout all the earliest documents that can be presented as orthodox Christian works, we have repeated references to the existence of docetism as a major heresy. Regardless of when you date the New Testament books, whether early or late, you have to concede that docetism and Gnosticism already existed in Christian circles at the time that they were finished in their current form. Obviously some of the relevant passages in the New Testament are presented as prophecies, as if docetism hasn’t yet arrived on the scene, but it will soon. However, in some cases we find the same text speaking of the docetists in the present tense (as if they were preaching their heresy at the time of writing), revealing either multiple authorship, or that the author forgot about the rouse he was trying to project (read 2nd Peter, 2:1-19 for the perfect example, as it starts off in the future tense and ends in the present tense).

Furthermore, in cases whereby we have a text that claims to predict an event that we know has been fulfilled, unless we have some explicit evidence of the texts existence prior to the event that it prophesized, the simplest explanation is that it was written after the relevant event (13). Hence, the simplest explanation is simply they were written after the events in question, and that the authors deliberately chose to backdate them and present as the words of someone else in order to feign authority and inspiration. Again, I would like to emphasize that I do not wish to be dragged into a debate about the dating of the New Testament here, and that I have made my own views clear in my book. Rather, I simply wish to point out that whenever the New Testament was finished in its current form, it is practically certain that docetism and Gnosticism existed in Christianity prior to the time of the completion of the NT cannon.

The evidence clearly supports my conclusions on this issue, and this is contrary to statements that we commonly hear from Christians about orthodox Christianity coming first because its texts are earlier. I don’t expect my comments here to constitute a case for the priority of Gnostic Christianity; rather I am simply explaining that the context in which I cited Jerome was to refute a common argument for orthodox priority. Whether orthodox or Gnostic Christianity came first is an issue that requires much more discussion, and those interested can read my case in my book when it comes out.

I have to wonder how on earth Albert made the connection between Jerome’s comments and the passage he cited from Luke. The passage itself reads: “whilst the disciples were still in Jerusalem”, which to me would indicate a time after the ascension of Christ and whilst the disciples were beginning their ministry from Jerusalem, but prior to them sending missionaries across the Mediterranean. We should note that there are in-fact contradictory accounts between Luke and Acts as to when Jesus ascended to heaven (despite the fact that Luke and Acts are commonly considered to have been composed or at least redacted together, and thus are commonly referred to as Luke-Acts. I can think of an excellent answer for this dilemma, though I will not mention it here). Luke seems to give the impression that Jesus ascended to heaven on the same day as his resurrection, whilst Acts explicitly states that forty days passed between his resurrection and ascension.

The point is anyways that Jerome’s comments about the disciples still being in Jerusalem seems to imply that Christ had ascended to heaven, and the disciples were but yet to embark on their missionary journeys. God knows how on earth Albert thinks that Jerome was referring to Luke 24:36-37, in which case Jesus would still have been among the disciples, something which Jerome most certainly does not state. Lets humour Albert for a moment and presume that he was actually correct in his conclusion that Jerome was referring to Luke 24:36-37; that would be just fine too. If this were the case, Jerome would simply be identifying the origin of the docetic doctrine as Christ’s own disciples. The point is this; either way, Jerome is clearly stating that the heterodox doctrine of docetism emerged very early, a fact contrary to the frequent claims that Gnosticism and docetism were later reactions to orthodox Christian theology.

Jerome is no-doubt making his comment in full awareness that multiple New Testament texts warn against docetism, and as he accepts the claimed authorship of the relevant NT texts he therefore needs to ascribe an early origin to docetism. That was my point. Along with the fact that heterodox Christians also made use of the vast majority of the books within the NT cannon, we can therefore reject the argument that orthodox Christianity was the earliest form on the simple basis of its texts being earlier. Hence, I most certainly did not misquote Jerome; rather it is actually Albert here who has misread him.

Alberts responses here have only served to highlight the whole reason why I do this work. Christian apologists unfortunately seem to be oblivious to the commandments about not bearing false witness, as it seems to be their primary occupation. Christian apologetics only serves to prevent humanity from moving forward by evolving our understanding of comparative religion, spirituality and human history. Christian apologists such as Albert attempt to keep us in the dark, and hold us back from real progress. I can only hope that in the future people will see their work for what it is, understanding it to be very similar to the claims made by spokespeople for other special interest groups, such as tobacco lobbyists, or politicians with shares in industries of which they seek to write legislation (though I believe this is supposed to be illegal, yes?). Hence, I wish to bid you all goodnight and leave this topic alone, as I have spent enough time on it here. I am happy to let Albert have the final word on this topic, though I would consider engaging with him again on a different topic in the future.

Links:

1) https://jameshiscoxblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/the-whole-truth-on-justin-martyrs-diabolical-mimicry-argument/   This is the reposted version. The original can still be viewed for the time being at: http://thewebunwoven.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/justin-martyrs-1st-apology-and.html

2) http://labarumpublishing.com/?p=5394

3) http://labarumpublishing.com/?p=5398

4) http://labarumpublishing.com/?p=5408

5) http://labarumpublishing.com/?p=5425

6) http://labarumpublishing.com/?p=5450

7) http://labarumpublishing.com/?p=5549

9) http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_jzsmith_drudgery.htm.

10) http://www.scribd.com/doc/217853241/The-Amen-Creed-A-Source-Guide-for-Defending-the-Creed-of-Our-Faith-against-the-Heathen

or http://books.google.com.au/books?id=g5YeBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=The+Amen+Creed+DN+Boswell&source=bl&ots=ESaW56imTE&sig=MDmAm1NnK2X25mqq27zYX1ApzEg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8DRsVMScH8eqogSZ-oCADg&ved=0CBsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=The%20Amen%20Creed%20DN%20Boswell&f=false

11) http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/

12) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.vi.iv.html

13) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavata_Purana#Modern_scholarship , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Baruch

Comments about Albert’s latest Responses:

I wrote in the above article that I would be happy to let Albert have the last word on this issue. To some degree I will keep my word, in that I will not post any new articles in response. However, I decided to add the following commentary for the purpose of those interested in following the debate, in order to bring clarity to the subject. I will also in the near future upload a video in which I will summarize the subject of diabolical mimicry, with a brief outline of the erroneous attempts made by Christian apologists to dismiss the evidence.

http://labarum.net/james-hiscox-and-justin-martyr-part-1-general-remarks/

In this first article Albert has stated that I failed to address the central points of his argument, and only rarely dealt with the primary issue, that being the context of Justin’s statements. He writes:

His intent was to make the case that there existed some who thought Christianity had copied prior pagan beliefs. Although he failed to meet any reasonable standard of evidence, he missed the point that it would not matter if he had. For the question was not whether anyone thought Christians had copied prior pagan beliefs but rather whether Justin was responding to such claims.”

Albert seems to think that I bore the burden of finding a place in Justin’s 1st Apology in which there was an explicit admission that the Romans had accused Christians of copying pagan beliefs. I disagree. Rather, Justin’s Dialogue establishes beyond any possibility of rebuttal that Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument WAS in fact composed in response to accusations of Christians copying from pagans. As Justin himself states in the intro to his Dialogue that he encountered the arguments contained within shortly after his conversion to Christianity, this means that by his own word he originally developed his response prior to the composition of his 1st Apology to the Greeks. Hence, the Dialogue is irrefutable proof that “there existed some who thought Christianity had copied prior pagan beliefs”, and that Justin WAS indeed “responding to such claims”. Hence, this alone made my case and proved Albert wrong.

I originally called Albert (and J.P.) out for dishonesty for mocking their opponents and claiming that no-one in the ancient world saw any parallels between Christianity and paganism, without even mentioning evidence which does indeed prove that this was the case. Furthermore, after publishing numerous posts in response to my articles, Albert is still yet to write more than a handful of words on the Dialogue, which he thinks he can merely dismiss as irrelevant, despite the fact that it alone is all that anyone needs to prove him wrong. Beyond this, I simply recommend people compare what I have written in both my original piece and this second piece to what Albert has written, and decide for yourself which of us makes a better case. I am not interested in going round and round in circles endlessly rebutting the same erroneous claims.

http://labarum.net/james-hiscox-and-justin-martyr-part-2-hiscoxs-rehash/

In part 2 Albert again dismisses the relevance of the Dialogue, and states that:

“…even if some pagan had made such accusations against the Christians, this would not mean that Justin was interacting with those accusations or was even aware of them.”

He goes on to state that:

In order to argue that Justin was answering pagan claims of copying in the First Apology you must illustrate where Justin states he is addressing such claims.”

This perfectly highlights the technique that Albert is using to attempt to sidestep the evidence. Firstly, Albert (and J.P.) did indeed originally state that nobody in the ancient world saw any parallels between Christ and pagan gods; hence I have proven that to be wrong. Secondly, Albert wishes to wholly dismiss the relevance of the Dialogue, and isolate the diabolical mimicry argument from the 1st Apology as if it is the only source for it. I never set out to simply discuss the 1st Apology in isolation. Rather, my intention has always been to discuss the “Diabolical Mimicry” argument as a whole, of which the 1st Apology is one of the two relevant sources.

The fact remains that Justin himself states that he himself first gave his diabolical mimicry argument as a response to accusations that Christians had copied the virgin-birth motif from the myth of Perseus, in which the precise details are indeed different, but in which a pagan god was born as the son of the supreme male God, through non-sexual conception of a human virgin. Hence, his extension of the same argument that is found in the 1st Apology is indeed fair game for mythicists who wish to extend upon the relevant material found in the Dialogue.

Hence, Albert is simply attempting to obscure the topic rather than accept the facts. This tells us how embarrassing the facts are for his faith, how strong an argument it is, and that we should continue to use it.

http://labarum.net/james-hiscox-and-justin-martyr-part-3-dying-and-rising-gods-and-the-nature-of-consensus/

In the third part of his response, Albert goes into a lengthy attempt to defend the reputation of J.Z. Smith, upon which his dismissal of the reality of the concept of resurrection in paganism is largely based. I wish to keep my comments here brief for several reasons. In my original article I gave a good summary of evidence both pre-Christian and contemporaneous with early Christianity that showed real parallels between beliefs about Christ and pre-Christian pagan gods, along with a quick discussion of syncretism. I went into more then enough detail for the purpose of the work, as it was simply intended to counter Albert and J.P.’s claims that there are no real parallels between Christ and pagan gods, hence they claim it was actually Justin that invented the parallels). It was never intended to be a comprehensive summary of and rebuttal to all the arguments given by Christians and secular scholars in opposition to the pagan parallels thesis. That can be found in an upcoming book (which is finished), and I will probably post an in-depth post on this blog in the near future on why practically every single apologetic argument in opposition to the pagan parallel thesis is actually false. Nevertheless, my original article should be all that is required to rebut Albert’s arguments here.

Much of what Albert writes in this article is in relation to Frazer’s precise category of “Dying and Rising gods”, of which I have never set out to defend. Rather, what I am stating is that there were indeed pagan gods that died and came back to life in various ways and forms, and that this feature of death and resurrection was actually the primary theme of the largest and most well-known cults of the ancient world for several thousand years up to the time in which Christianity emerged, just as it is the primary theme of Christianity up to today.

I find it quite ironic that the longest post Albert put up was in response to my comments on J.Z. Smith and consensus. I wholly stand by my comments about Smith, and I simply recommend my readers compare what I have written to what he has written, and decide for yourself. Whilst academia most certainly has it’s place and has done so much for the world at large, there are many cases whereby academics reach the wrong conclusions despite all their learning. Likewise, academic consensus can follow trends, which at times take it in the wrong direction. Other examples can be found in the current trend towards physicalism in the philosophy of mind, and specifically the denial of free will in neurophilosophy. J.Z. Smith’s argument against the category of religion as a whole is another example.

Of course religion is often intertwined with culture, but the two can indeed be separated and studied separately. You could say that I am a western Hindu in that I consider Advaita Vedanta to be an excellent source for the Perennial Philosophy, and I practice various Yogic disciples. Hinduism is however the perfect example of religion intertwined with culture, as practically every facet of Indian life is interrelated with religious beliefs and practices. However, the two can indeed be studied separately. If you don’t mean to say that “religion doesn’t exist” then why say so!?!

Anyways, I would like to point back to the very reason why J.Z. Smith was raised in the very first place; that being I cited his dismissal of Osiris’ resurrection as found in an Encyclopedia article as the common dismissal given both by Christian apologists and secular scholars. After making an erroneous attempt at arguing that we mythicists have an obligation to go beyond this article and respond to other material by Smith, Albert then falls back on the very same argument (from the Encyclopedia article) that I had previously rebutted, yet without any attempt to respond to my rebuttal!

He writes:

Osiris does not rise to his former state and go on living with Isis but his body is magically reconstructed, his wife impregnated by his seed, and, with his body now preserved, he goes on to rule the land of the dead. That is, he died and stayed dead but, with the preservation of the body, his essence lived on in the world beyond.

The Greeks believed in an immortal soul that lived on beyond its bodily enclosure. Most would go to the underworld (Hades) with the very wicked assigned to an ever worse fate (Tartarus). On occasion, some remarkable individuals might be raised by the gods to a semi-divine status through apotheosis. However, the resuscitation of the physical body was not part of this process and the idea of a physical resurrection was rejected. The tales of various raised demigods were seen as prototypes for this process.

Jewish beliefs, on the other hand, held there to be a physical resurrection of the body at the end of days with a final judgement and the enthronement of the Messiah. For the early Christians, Jesus was viewed as the “first fruits” of the coming resurrection. That is, Jesus was the prototype for the coming resurrection.”

and:

In, for example, the story of Osiris, the deity definitely dies but the supposed “rising” consists of having his body reassembled, creating a magic substitute for the missing phallus, having the seed from the phallus impregnate Isis, and preserving Osiris’ body while his ka went on to rule the underworld. The one thing missing in this story is Osiris getting up and thanking Isis for her hard work in reassemnling his part and their living happily ever after. In other worlds, Osiris died and when it was over he was still dead. However, his ka was preserved because his body was preserved and this story became the prototype for explaining the concept of mummification. Since Osiris never “rose,” Smith argued he was missing one of the two key ingredients for being a “dying and rising god.”

Now one may argue that there is still a parallel of sorts in that Osiris and Jesus both went on to their promised afterlife and are the exemplars of the process. However, this parallel is a lot less interesting simply because almost every culture has an idea of an afterlife and, even if we assume a naturalistic framework, these stories would arise in the context of their culture. Now there still might be dependence between cultures (such as the Romans upon the Greeks) but the cultural understanding of the afterlife would need to parallel to establish a connection.”

The thing is, as I showed in my original article and has been ignored by Albert, the Egyptians originally did not believe that the dead naturally went on to live in the world of the dead, but naturally ceased to exist. They required a supernatural resurrection to bring them back to life after death, hence the complex funerary rites involving mummification and various spells and rituals that transformed the dead into Osiris, so that they could share in his resurrection. The Egyptians had public plays and rites in which they mourned when Osiris was killed, and celebrated when he came back to life. Hence, Smith, Ehrman, Albert, J.P. and pretty much every single Christian apologist you can name are all wrong. Osiris died and came back to life, or at least the ancient Egyptians believed so.

Furthermore, Albert above pointed out the difference between Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife and Greek beliefs, in which they believed in an immortal soul. The thing is that Greek historians such as Herodotus and Plutarch reported the belief that Dionysus and Osiris were the same god and their myths and rites were the same, despite the differences between them. As already shown in my original article, this is because they could identify the core motifs as being identical even when the details were different. Likewise, Minucius Felix could see that Greek and Roman Mystery rites were derived from Egyptian funerary rites, despite the great differences between them in the details of the rites and philosophy and theology that accompanied them. The differences were just as great as those between Egyptian and Christian beliefs.

Anyways, I have gone into further detail about this in my upcoming book, and I will post on here in greater detail in the future.

http://labarum.net/james-hiscox-and-justin-martyr-part-4-jerome-and-the-phantom-jesus/

This last post is the icing on the cake for me. Albert’s original post on Jerome’s comments was a real mess; he accused me of misreading Jerome even when he didn’t know what my reading was. I went on to explain above the context in which I was reading Jerome, and why there really was something significant in the quote. In the above linked article Albert has just made the whole even bigger, with a couple of major blunders. Again he has written much on all the wrong things, and written nothing on what matters. He wrote:

Mr. Hiscox claimed that in a post I claimed he misquoted Jerome. This is simply false. Not only did I not deny the quote was real but I then explained the context. It was the latter point that my disagreement occurred.”

To this I could perhaps apologize for a very minor mistake, in that I wrote that Albert had claimed that I had misquoted Jerome, when he had actually argued that I must have misread Jerome (even though he didn’t know what my reading was!) Anyways, Albert seemed to think that he needed to defend his reading of the text in which he sees Jerome’s comments as relating to a passage from Luke. I personally think that Jerome’s words “When the blood of Christ was but lately shed and the apostles were still in Judea” are ambiguous and could have been made in reference to either a time in which Christ had yet to ascend (as the cited passage in Luke), or likewise a time just following the ascension (such as in Acts), as I personally thought.

Either way however, it wasn’t really that important. What was important was that I showed that Jerome’s comments showed that one way or another he was willing to accept that docetism was a very early heresy, and hence the common argument that we hear from Christian apologists that docetism and Gnosticism developed later than orthodox Christianity are largely false (there is still room for debate, but read my above article for clarification). Finally, Albert’s biggest blunder yet is in his final words:

What on earth does he mean here?!? The passage I cited in Luke comes BEFORE the ascension – not after it. The ascension occurs thirteen verses later.”

Umm Albert… It was I who was suggesting that Jerome’s words fit best with a time following the ascension (such as in Acts). I don’t believe that I ever suggested that Albert had said that. Perhaps Albert wrote this very late at night, and should have been in bed?

Anyways, enough said. Peace. Hari Om. Sat Nam.

Justin Martyr’s “Diabolical Mimicry” argument: The whole truth.

Caveat:          There is one legitimate flaw in the following article which was noted by Albert Mcllhenny in his response, which has been addressed by myself in my response to Albert.  It was careless of myself to state that the idea that Celsus may have read Justin was absurd, as this possibility has indeed been considered by patristic scholars.  However, this small error does not detract front the truth of my conclusions on the topic (as discussed in the 2nd part to this article in response to Albert), and everything else here still stands as correct.  The following has been carried over from my last blog, and is slightly cleaned up.  For honesty’s sake, I have not made any major changes to this article from the original, and for the time begin at least the original can still be viewed on my previous blog.

Summary:          Critics of Christianity have over the past few centuries pointed out that there are significant similarities between the things that Jesus was claimed to have done and myths of Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods that predate Christianity. This argument is commonly called the “pagan parallel thesis”. Christian apologists and many secular scholars object to these claims, and have a range of counter-claims and arguments in response to the pagan parallel thesis. One frequent claim made by proponents of the pagan parallel thesis is that there were a number of writers in the first four centuries of the Common Era that noted these similarities. In particular, the church father Justin Martyr writing in the mid 2nd century CE referenced these parallels and used a particularly absurd argument in attempting to reconcile his faith in Jesus with the obvious fact that the relevant pagan myths predated Christianity.

Justin argued that the pagan myths had been inspired by demons who were aware of prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed to Christ and the things he would do. Hence, Justin’s argument is often referred to as “diabolical mimicry”; in essence the argument that Satan attempted to imitate Christ in advance, through a (slight misreading) of Old Testament prophecy. Christian apologists have been quick to attempt to counter this argument, claiming that critics are quote-mining Justin and taking his words completely out of context. A number of critics have claimed that Justin literarily admitted that the things Christian’s said about Jesus were “no different” to things that pagans said about their gods. Christian apologists have been quick to point out that in fact, Justin was actually arguing that Jesus was completely different from pagan gods, as he was arguing that Jesus was actually God and had really done the things said about him, and that the pagan gods were demonic spirits, and the things said about them were mere myths.

Several notable Internet apologists have argued further that Justin wasn’t responding to claims made by pagans or Jews that Christians had copied pagan myths and transferred them over to Jesus, but that Justin had in-fact invented the idea that there was parallels between Jesus and these pagan gods, when (according to these Internet apologists) there were no real significant parallels. Rather, these apologists have argued that Justin was attempting to draw parallels between Christian and pagan beliefs solely in an attempt to point out the hypocrisy of pagans for persecuting Christians, when in-fact pagans believed somewhat similar things and were not persecuted for their beliefs.

In this article I have pointed out that whilst Justin’s 1st apology (in which he made the diabolical mimicry argument) took the form of a letter written to the Emperor to plead for an end to persecution of Christians, the work was clearly circulated in Christian circles as well. Therefore, it is legitimate to conclude that even if it was an authentic letter that was literarily sent to the Emperor, it was still written as an apologetic work intended for circulation in Christian communities, to be used to in dialogues and debates with pagans. Furthermore, the assertion by modern apologists that Justin was actually inventing parallels where there was none and where pagans did not see any themselves is completely false.

Firstly, the parallels are indeed legitimate, and I have included pre-Christian evidence for the pagan myths in question, along with a brief discussion of the significance of the differences between parallel motifs. Likewise, the earliest surviving pagan critique of Christianity (from Celsus), which dates only a few decades after Justin wrote his 1st apology does in-fact reference the parallels in question, and argue that Christians copied pagan myths and applied them to the Jesus. Likewise, pagans had a long history of practicing syncretism and noting parallels between the gods of different nations. Furthermore, in Justin’s other major work “Dialogue with Trypho” (written just after his 1st apology) he also used the diabolical mimicry argument, this time directly in response to an accusation made by an archetypal Jewish antagonist named Trypho, that Christians had invented the belief in Jesus’ virgin birth in imitation of the myth of Perseus.

Hence, we do indeed have direct evidence that pagans and Jews did in-fact accuse Christians of borrowing pagan myths, and Justin did in-fact present his absurd diabolical mimicry argument in response to these allegations. It is indeed true that there have been cases whereby critics of Christianity have misquoted various church fathers, and these passages from Justin have been abused in some examples (and I have discussed this in detail). However, one can make a careful and legitimate argument that Justin Martyr’s contorted argument is indeed strong evidence to support the conclusion that many of the things said about Jesus were indeed copied from older pagan sources.

Main Article:

For those of you unfamiliar with this topic, I will give a quick explanation of why I chose to write an article on this particular subject.  Orthodox Christianity is quite different to the Perennial Philosophy that I subscribe to, in that it rests heavily upon historical claims.  Conservative Christians are frequently making wild claims about the resurrection of Jesus being the most well attested event in all of western history, and they likewise claim that the New Testament documents are well established as being the most reliable historical works that have survived from the ancient world.  These claims in themselves are quite ridiculous, and I am not going to be responding to them today (although I do give them far more time than they deserve in my book), however they are used by religious conservatives to justify their extremely exclusive beliefs, and the quite morbid worldview that accompanies it.  Secular scholarship rejects most claims that are made by Christian apologists, but rather accepts the reality of a historical Jesus; albeit one that is quite different from the one of faith.  There are also a handful of radical scholars (along with many hobbyists in the field) that propose that Jesus is a wholly mythical figure, and that the Gospel narratives are entirely fictitious.  One of the sub-streams of this radical theory attempts to draw parallels between various motifs and other features found in Christianity, and those also found in the religion and mythology of the wider world (what we would call paganism), both contemporaneous to the beginning of Christianity and well before its time.  This pagan-parallel thesis therefore asserts that Jesus was largely created in a similar line to older pagan gods, and it is in context of this thesis that I have written this article.

I am not going to be discussing arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus today, nor am I going to go into too much detail on the pagan parallel thesis.  I do not even wish to make a case whether or not any of the claimed parallels are legitimate, and whether or not there is likely to be any causal relationship between Christianity and older pagan traditions.  Rather, I am going to write on the sub-topic of diabolical mimicry and Justin Martyrs 1st Apology.  I hope to clear the air on this often-misunderstood topic and correct some quite erroneous opinions that have been pronounced on the topic of late.  I would also like to make it well clear before starting that whilst my book will feature much original material, which I do not believe has been represented before, the portions dealing with the Bible and Christian origins are heavily dependent upon the work of many, many people that have come before me.  Hence, in this article I should credit those whose work has helped me present the material I will touch on today.  I am heavily in debt to Richard Carrier and Robert Price, as well as to the now defunct YouTube video series from an anonymous individual who went by the title GodAlmighty.  There are countless other people who have come before me and whose work I have benefited from (such as Earl Doherty, Dorothy Murdoch, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy and Kenneth Humphreys, although in some of these cases I would recommend that my readers be “cautious” in checking their claims), and I have made an effort to discuss most of them in my book.  So, what is “diabolical mimicry” I hear some of you ask?  Well, the thesis is that several major early Christian writers were aware of the parallels between Christianity and paganism and were likewise aware that the pagan versions were much older.  Hence they tried to blame it on the devil, as if the devil had had imitated Christ in advance.  Whilst Tertullian and Irenaeus were stated as being supportive of this thesis by Freke and Gandy in their book “The Jesus Mysteries”, the vast majority of passages cited in support of this thesis come from Justin Martyr, and in particular his 1st apology to the Greeks.

Before I get stuck in, I also want to let you know why I chose this small sub-topic from all the subjects relevant to my book for this article.  Many proponents of the pagan-parallel thesis believe that this argument is a trump card in their theory.  On the other hand Christian apologists claim that their critics are twisting the sources and taking them completely out of context, quote mining ancient writers and displaying a complete ignorance to the larger works from which they cite. A while ago whilst doing some research I watched a series of YouTube videos by Christian apologists on this topic, as well as reading several written articles on the subject.  After seeing what Christian apologists were saying in response to their critics on this topic, I just couldn’t help myself but write a response to clear it up and bring some much needed clarity to the topic.  I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing from several of these apologists, and in light of the confidence with which they expressed their conclusions and the venom of which they showed towards their critics, I felt compelled to create my own videos to bring some light to the subject.  One of the main apologists, which I will be responding to today is the big-dog of Internet apologetics; James Patrick Holding, formerly known as Robert Turkel.  J.P. Holding is a huge deal in the world of Christian apologetics, and whilst many professional scholars scoff at his work, it unfortunately gets a significant amount of exposure.  Google just about any topic related to criticism of some aspect of Christianity, and Holding’s tektonics website comes up right at the top of the list every time.

It is also not just evangelical Christians that read and use Holdings work, rather I have frequently seen Catholics and Anglicans refer to his work, although as I noted previously I have also seen Christian academics making fun of his “scholarship”.  I would argue that the amount of attention his work receives is completely out of proportion to the quality of his work, and on this topic (as with many others) I believe he is deceiving the general public, whilst being an ass about it at the same time.  As well as his short video on the topic of diabolical mimicry, Holding also devoted an entire chapter to the topic in his book “Shattering the Christ Myth”, which itself was written for him by a colleague (Don Harper).  As well as Holdings work, there are two other apologetic videos on the topic that I will be responding to today, one by an apologist by the name of Albert Mcllhenny which is along a very similar vein to Holdings (except much longer), and another by an apologist named James White, which is more simply in response to one particular use of one particular passage from Justin, by a critic by the name of Dan Barker.  After going over the responses made by Christians apologists on this topic I will start giving my response, which will include discussion of a number of other relevant issues, including the sources for a number of parallels and the process of syncretism, the pagan writer Celsus and a final trump card which alone refutes the claims of Albert and J.P, which I will save till the very end.  After doing so, I hope my viewers will have a good understanding of the topic, and will understand the importance of this particular thesis.

Justin Martyr was a prominent early Christian writer and church father in the mid-2nd century CE.  Through his work titled “The 1st Apology to the Greeks” we have a topic we may call diabolical mimicry, which is an argument that states that early Christians were well aware of the fact that pagan religions had believed similar things to themselves well before their own time, and that they attempted to respond to this by simply stating that “the devil did it”.  Much like how some modern-day Creationists have used a similar argument (the devil did it) in response to fossilized dinosaur bones.  This argument is seen by many as the true trump card of mythicism or at very least of the pagan parallel thesis, in that if it is valid it is an extremely strong argument in favor of this controversial theory.  This argument was used as a major part of the best-selling book “The Jesus Mysteries” by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, was likewise mentioned in the highly popular movie “The God that wasn’t there” by Brian Flemming (where it was presented in conjunction with commentary from Robert Price), and was briefly mentioned in the religion section of Peter Josephs’ internet conspiracy sensation “Zeitgeist”, as well as being used by practically every single other author in this field.  Christians on the other hand have argued that critics are simply “quote mining” these works and taking them completely out of context, often twisting the passages to mean something completely different to what the author intended.  Let us begin by looking at some of the passages from Justin’s apology which are most commonly brought up in this context:

And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter…” Justin Martyr, 1st Apology to the Greeks, Chapter 21.

And also:

But those who hand down the myths, which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race.  For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.  And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they (the demons) heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain.”  Ibid, Chapter 54.

There are two similar quotes from Justin relating to Dionysus, the first of which is also in chapter 54 of his 1st apology:

The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discover of the vine, and they number wine (or, the ass) among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven.  Ibid.

Elsewhere in his other work “Dialogue with Trypho”, noting that many writers have used a paraphrase of this passage rather than quoting it in full, Justin had this to say in regards to Dionysus:

For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by (Jupiter’s) intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that (the devil) has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?” Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 69.

Many critics of Christianity have argued that Justin was effectively admitting that Christians and pagans believed similar (if not identical things), and that the pagan variants had preceded Christianity.  Some critics have gone so far as to claim that Justin was conceding that Christianity was effectively the same as paganism, and it this last unfortunate stretch of Justin’s words that some Christian apologists have focused their responses upon.  There are three particular Christian apologetic responses to this general argument that I will be discussing in this article, those being those from James White, Albert Mcllhenny and of course James Patrick Holding.  I will go through their arguments in full shortly, after which I will respond to each of their conclusions.  In his first apology Justin appeals to the Roman rulers to grant him and other Christians the same freedom of religion to which they grant everyone else, arguing both that they have no legitimate grounds on which to persecute Christians, and also in seeking to justify Christian exclusivity.  He makes many arguments in his apology in trying to make his case, but what is relevant here is that he argues that the beliefs of Christians have many similarities to those of pagans, both in motifs, teachings and beliefs, whilst he also relies heavily upon Old Testament prophecy as the scriptural authority for his argument.  It is important to carefully define and explain his arguments and the context in which they are given, as I have heard many Christian apologists attempt to dismiss all critical use of his work on the grounds that they were misrepresenting him, and taking his arguments out of context.

In a nutshell, Justin effectively argues that the pagan religions are demonic, and that they were created by evil spirits out of imitation of prophecies of the coming of the true faith.  Hence he seeks to justify the disgust of Christians against the popular pagan cults of his day, and their refusal to take part in the public rites dedicated both to pagan gods and to the emperor.  He acknowledging that the pagan cults with parallels to his own faith preceded Christianity and that their motifs and teachings predated the Christian equivalents, yet he explains this by arguing that evil demons had understood to some degree the prophecies given in the OT about Christ (although he explains further that they effectively failed to understand these prophecies in full).  He goes on to argue that the devils had thus sought to institute false religions with similar motifs to what Christianity would teach once it arrived on the scene, in order to fool people into thinking that the claims made by Christians were merely “mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets”.  He asks why Christians are persecuted for believing in virgin birth, when pagans believe the same things.  He likewise asks why they are persecuted for believing in the death, resurrection and ascension of their god, when pagans do the same and are not persecuted.  He also acknowledges that various teachings from pagan philosophers parallel Christian teachings very closely, and that these philosophers predate and precede Christianity.  He seeks to explain this by arguing that the Greek philosophers learned philosophy and theology from Jewish patriarchs.  So, just to be clear, he does not argue that Christianity is the same as paganism; rather he argues quite explicitly that they are fundamentally different.

What he does acknowledge is that Christians share many of the same beliefs as pagans, and that these beliefs predate Christianity, only that he explains this by accusing evil spirits of seeking to deceive mankind and by attributing the origins of Greek philosophy to Jewish patriarchs (as did many other Jewish and Christian writers from the period).  Furthermore, we should be very clear to note that whilst he openly and repeatedly acknowledges that paganism developed these motifs prior to Christianity, he also argues that the motifs in question still ultimately belong originally to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as he argues that they were present in prophecies in the Old Testament, and that these prophecies were written before the pagan cults in question (unfortunately for him he was unaware of the development of religious ideas, which shows that the motifs in which Justin produces Greek examples often have much older counterparts in Egyptian and Mesopotamian mythology, both of which significantly pre-date the Hebrew Bible).  I should note that the question of whether or not the Hebrew Bible contains prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus is not one, which I am going to go into in this video series.  Anyways, he also acknowledges that as Christianity teaches very similar motifs, teachings and beliefs to much earlier pagan religions that the natural tendency of those hearing the claims of Christians would be to view them as myths (as with similar pagan stories), and likewise dismiss any Christian claims that they were a literal historical narrative.  There are obviously many problems with Justin’s arguments, however I would now like to turn our attention to the videos by Christian apologists who have claimed that their critics have been misusing and abusing passages from Justin’s apology.  After considering these Christian views on the topic I will then given my response to the arguments given by modern Christians as how to properly understand Justin’s comments.

The first video by a Christian apologist which I wish to discuss here is one created by James White titled “The Abuse and Misuse of Justin Martyr”, which can be found on his YouTube Channel “Dr. Oakley” at a link at the end of the article.  White’s video is basically a response to Dan Barker, whom he had recently debated and who had quoted from Justin in his closing remarks.  Whilst White does make references to general use of Justin’s 1st apology by other critics, the video is almost entirely written as a response to a brief remark by Barker in the aforementioned debate.  White then goes on to give a brief summary of the overall content of Justin’s apology and the context of the passage, which Barker quoted from, and to which White mentions “atheists” apply in their attacks on Christianity (noting that White seems to be under the impression that all critics of Christianity are atheists.  I most certainly am not an atheist, yet I would share many of the criticisms of Christianity that are frequently given by atheists).  Anyways, in the first part of the video White spends some time discussing his debate with Barker, of which I have no need to respond to.  A little later in this section I will mention a few of Whites comments that he made in relation to the debate, as I find them quite humorous and I think they are quite ironic.  Anyways, White goes on to discuss why he made the video, which was to point out the erroneous way in which Barker had quoted Justin in their recent debate.  He shows a quick clip in which Barker states “if early Christians claimed that Christianity was nothing different from paganism, who am I to disagree?” which he prefaces by paraphrasing Barker as saying that Justin was saying that ‘pagans should all convert to Christianity as it was no different to paganism’.  White then gives a brief summary of the apology, in which he points out that Justin was not saying that paganism and Christianity were the same, but that paganism was created by wicked devils.  He explains that Justin was trying to argue that the Romans were wrong to persecute Christians for what they believe, and that Justin was pointing out similarities between what Christians and pagans believe in the context of trying to reason with the Romans to stop persecuting Christians.

He points out the context of the passage cited by Barker, that Justin was simply calling the Romans hypocrites for persecuting Christians for believing in a god that was born of a virgin, suffered, resurrected and ascended to heaven, when pagans believe similar things yet are not persecuted for them.  White discusses how Justin makes parallels between Christian beliefs about the afterlife, divine justice and God’s sovereignty over all life and similar things taught by various philosophers.  He points out however that Justin did not make this argument in order to concede that Christians had picked various doctrines from different places, but rather to argue that various peoples had perceived portions of God’s truth, but that only Christians had seen it in its fullness.  White legitimately points out that the true context of the passage mentioned by Barker was that Justin was arguing that the Romans had no grounds for persecuting Christians on the basis of the things that Christians believed, as they did not persecute pagans who in some cases believed similar things.  He also notes that Justin pointed out that Christians were persecuted for not believing in the same things as what pagans believed, yet there was enormous diversity between different pagans, and they did not all believe in the same things.  White again goes on to note that Justin is effectively differentiating between the beliefs of pagans which he believed were demonic, and those of Christians which he claimed were exclusively true, and that Justin even goes as far as to state that he pities pagans, as they are under the influence of these demons.

White basically argues that anyone who cites from Justin without mentioning the greater context of his work is being dishonest.  In fact, he actually states right at the beginning of his video that he believes only Christian apologists attempt at being honest in their arguments, whilst apparently critics of Christianity will resort to anything as they have no reason not to, as their worldviews lack any inherent moral values.  Certainly these last comments are good for a laugh, but we should note that there certainly is much legitimacy in what he had to say.  If we take the words of Dan Barker as displayed in White’s video as they read, then it does indeed appear that Barker had used Justin’s words in such a way as might mislead his listeners; particularly as in the cross-examination Barker confessed to not having read Justin’s whole work, and appeared to be unaware of the greater context of the passage he had quoted.  Now, I don’t mean to imply that I would necessarily back White in criticizing Barker here, rather simply to point out that at least in the way that White has portrayed it, it certainly appears that Barker may have misquoted Justin.  Whilst I get the impression that Dan Barker was using the passage slightly tongue in cheek, his use of the quote might appear to imply by itself that Justin was indeed stating that Christians believed “nothing different” from what pagans themselves believed.  Obviously, whilst there is some truth in the matter that Justin was drawing parallels between Christianity and paganism, he most certainly was not saying that they were identical.  Furthermore, I have also seen and heard others quote this passage from Justin in a similar way to which I can agree with White is misleading, as the greater context of the work as a whole does change the true meaning of Justin’s words.

However, we should note that White’s apologetic video by no means makes any attempt at responding to all uses of Justin’s 1st apology by critics (which he calls “enemies of the Christian faith”), neither did he mention all of the relevant passages from Justin’s apology, nor the accompanying passage in Justin’s Dialogue.  Hence Whites video could not possibly be seen as any attempt at dealing with the topic as a whole, but rather it is a very direct response to one particular application of it by Dan Barker, in the debate to which he took part.  One does get the impression that White views his video as being a thorough response to the topic as a whole as he speak in general terms about the use of the aforementioned passage by general “atheists”.  However, it should already be well clear that his work could not be considered a thorough refutation of the use of Justin by critics of Christianity, but rather a quick response to Dan Barkers use of Justin in the aforementioned debate.  Next up is the three part video series by Albert Mcllhenny on his YouTube channel “Labarum312”, titled “Pagan Parallels and Justin Martyr’s First Apology”.  Albert has a very unique style in his videos, typified by starting off by giving his audience his full conclusion up front in full confidence that it is merited, before going forth to give his explanation of why he feels his judgment is justified.  In relation to pagan parallels Albert generally considers his opponents to be ignorant fools, and makes no attempt at hiding the fact that he views the topic as a big joke.  Accordingly, he clearly sees himself as an educated man who is simply trying to clear up many common misunderstandings on topics relevant to Christianity.  I will certainly concede that he has pointed out many legitimate flaws in the arguments of his critics, and I myself have benefited somewhat by some of his videos.  However, I think by the end of this article you should be able to see that the joke is on him.  Albert makes mention of most (but not all) of the aforementioned relevant passages from Justin’s 1st apology, and unlike White, he attempts to rebut general uses of these passages in various sources.

Albert begins by stating that Justin’s apology is “one of the single most abused works of pagan parallel proponents”.  He claims that none of the critics that cite Justin have ever read his full work nor understand its true context, and he states that once you understand the true context of the work, all claims made by critics about Justin simply “fall apart”.  He states that the first popular misconception about Justin’s apology is that it was written to promote the Christian faith.  Rather Albert points out that Justin’s apology was written to appeal to the Romans to stop persecuting Christians, rather than to attempt to get pagans to convert to Christianity.  He points out that Romans were accusing Christians of being atheists for denying their gods, and worshipping a shameful man in place of the gods, hence Justin’s work was an attempt at getting Romans to understand that Christians believed that they were not simply worshipping a man, but were worshipping God incarnate in the flesh.  Albert goes on to make reference to the same passage from chapter 21 that was discussed in James White’s video, and points out that whilst Justin does say that Christians “propound nothing different” from pagans as to Christ, that in the following passages Justin goes on to point out various differences between Christ and various pagan gods.  Albert considers that these differences cancel out any similarities and make any parallels mute, and he points out that Justin’s general argument was that Christ was superior to the various aforementioned pagan figures.  From here Albert goes on to give a hint of the parallel raised by Justin between the virgin birth of Jesus and Perseus, claiming that when it is discussed later in his video series he will show that “pagan parallel proponents obviously don’t know Greek mythology”, that they are just cutting off quotes too short to make them appear to say something that they don’t, and that when seen in its fullest context it will be apparent that there is no real parallel at all.

From here he accuses critics of framing Justin’s comments as if Justin was saying that the devil had gone back in time after Christ, in attempting to get his devilish imitations placed before Christ.  We may call this idea the “time travelling Satan thesis”, or TTST if you prefer, and he accuses Robert Price of making this erroneous claim in his interview for the film “The God Who Wasn’t There”, and accusing Price of being “blatantly dishonest” as he “should know better”.  He then goes to state that Justin did not make such a stupid argument, but rather made another argument which is similarly stupid, but not quite in the same way.  He points out that Justin’s actual argument was that through prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, the devil knew that Christ would have a miraculous birth and would undergo trials, after which he would be resurrected and ascend to heaven.  However, Justin argued that God hadn’t yet revealed it fully and thus there were so many discrepancies between the devil’s creations and Christ, hence Justin’s argument is that the devil was trying to imitate Christ in advance but he messed up.  Albert then points out that Justin’s view of the pagan gods was one of three general views amongst Christians with relation to pagan gods, the others being that they were simply dead idols or that they were mans blind attempts at seeking God, as God had placed a portion of his truth in the hearts of all men.  Moving into Albert’s second video Albert points out that Justin also mentioned various elements in which Christians and Hellenistic philosophy had common ground, in their beliefs of the sovereignty of God, belief in divine justice and heaven and hell.  However, Justin did not raise these issues in the context of conceding that Christians took a little from here and a little from there, but rather in an argument that the philosophers had understood a portion of Gods truth, but that only Christians had understood God’s truth in it fullness.

Albert then makes his argument in which he really seeks to address the general use of Justin by critics, to which he says that reading the work in full reveals a great lie of critics, that Justin was responding or reacting to claims by pagans that Christians had ripped off pagan mythology.  Albert claims that Justin clearly was doing no such thing, but was rather in fact himself creating parallels that had no causal relationship, in order to point out the hypocrisy of the Romans.  Albert states that Justin stretched and generalized various myths in order to argue that the Romans were hypocrites for persecuting Christians, as they themselves held similar beliefs.  This is the real crux of Albert’s argument, which tries to really address the overall way in which critics use Justin, and this is the main part of his argument that I will spend most of my time addressing.  Moving into Albert’s 3rd and final video, he states that when you actually read Justin’s work as a whole the whole critical argument falls apart.  He then goes to preface his upcoming dissection of several of the aforementioned passages from Justin’s apology by stating that if these passages fall, critics have “nothing, zero, nada…”.  He then moves into a discussion of the “propound nothing different” passage, and explains that Justin’s mention of crucifixion as an element paralleled in paganism needs to be understood in light of the following statements, in which Justin then corrects himself and states whilst many pagan gods went through various trials, that no pagan god was ever crucified.

Albert states that Justin’s point was simply to point out to the Romans that Christ was not merely a mortal crucified criminal, but was rather a god very much similar yet superior to their own, hence Christians were not mere atheists.  From here Albert goes on to discuss the parallels of miraculous birth, resurrection and ascension that Justin makes.  He argues that the parallels of resurrection made by Justin are completely different and ultimately unrelated, and he states that the Greeks generally believed in a spiritual afterlife in contrast to the bodily resurrection of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  In mentioning the claimed resurrection of Dionysus, Albert basically implies that it was simply a spiritual ascension as opposed to the typical Hellenistic belief in the soul passing to Hades after death.  Albert therefore concludes that Justin was simply drawing the parallel for the purpose of his argument that the Romans were hypocrites for persecuting Christians for believing in a resurrected God.  Finally, Albert states that when you actually look at Justin’s example of a virgin-birth parallel between Perseus and Jesus there is actually no parallel, again implying again that Justin was simply just making the parallel as part of his argument that the Romans shouldn’t persecute Christians.  Albert gives a brief explanation of the birth narrative of Perseus, after which he concludes it has no real parallel to that of Jesus, and says that Justin was simply using it as an analogy, and that pagan parallel proponents that cite Justin in favor of their theory “have nothing”.  At this point Albert concludes his video, believing that his cases has been made, and stating that this whole idea of diabolical mimicry is simply baseless as the people that believe it never check the facts.

Therefore unlike James White, Albert has made an attempt at dealing with the general argument as a whole, rather than one specific example of it.  I will however place emphasis upon the words “an attempt”, as he hasn’t even mentioned the two passages from chapter 54, nor the corresponding passage in Justin’s dialogue which as we will discover is of immense importance.  Obviously, I have a lot to say about his treatment of the topic, but we will get to that shortly.  Moving onto to J.P. Holdings, he has a rather humorous video titled “Famous Fundy Atheist Legends 2: Justin Martyr-dumb and Diabolical Mimicry”.  When I say this video is humorous, I unfortunately mean in a different sense to that which Holding intended, but we will get to that.  The video itself is all over and done with in only 3 minutes and is done as a cartoon parody, attempting to basically make a joke of the topic and portray critics of Christianity as worthy of nothing more.  He opens the video by stating that he will address the “legend” that certain church fathers were so desperate to explain away the obvious parallels between certain pagan figures and Jesus, that they invented the idea that Satan did it.  Holding quotes the passage “For when they say that Dionysus arose again and ascended to heaven, is it not evidence that the devil has imitated the prophecy”, and points out that Justin was saying that the devil got the idea from the Hebrew Scriptures.  He goes on to claim that Justin’s comments about the devil getting it wrong show that the pagans of Justin’s day saw no relationship between Jesus and paganism, and that Justin was actually the one trying to make the parallels.

Holding then states that Justin was actually on the same side as modern-day pagan parallel proponents in trying to make parallels, and that the pagans of his day were actually on the same side as he is today in saying that the parallels are all either forced of fraudulent, to which he adds “and they are”.  To finish his video he uses his cartoon medium to allude to the use of Justin by pagan parallel proponents as simply being a load of bullshit.  Ok, so firstly there is nothing further that I need to say about White’s video that wasn’t said during my brief overview.  There is however much to be said in response to Mcllhenny and Holding, and I will place most emphasis on the conclusion that they both reached that it is was Justin himself that was making the parallels, not responding to them.  I will start off by stating that I completely disagree with Albert in his claim that he made both at the beginning and end of his video series, that understanding the true context of Justin’s 1st apology as a whole makes the claims by critics fall apart and count for nothing.  Certainly Justin has been quoted out of context before, but I think that understanding the context of the apology as a whole does nothing to diminish the validity of the claims by critics in this topic.  To understand why, we first need to look at Albert’s statement about the misconception of Justin’s 1st apology being a work written to promote Christianity, as I think that this is not necessarily a black and white situation.  There are many precedents of early Christians using various situations as pretexts for their apologetic works.  One particularly relevant case is that of Justin Martyr’s other major work “Dialogue with Trypho”.  In this work Justin presents himself as writing down the debate he had undertaken with a Jew by the name of Trypho, in which they had debated the relative merits of their individual faiths.

In the case of Justin’s dialogue, it is apparently quite a common conclusion amongst scholars that it was not truly an accurate representation of a genuine dialogue, but rather Justin had used the concept merely as a literary technique.  There are many reasons for suspecting that the use of the dialogue is in this case simply a literary technique, which Justin has employed to give his apologetic arguments for Christianity in favor of Judaism.  One of the things that struck me straight away when I first had a look at the dialogue a while ago is how explicitly anti-Semitic it is, and how unrealistic his Jewish opponents responses to Justin’s quite offensive generalizations about the moral nature of the Jewish people are.  I will point out that I am careful to differentiate between criticism of Judaism and anti-Semitism.  I believe it is perfectly acceptable to voice ones criticisms of Judaism and its holy scriptures (and there are many legitimate reasons to do so), however claims that the Jewish people are themselves racially and/or culturally inferior and/or wicked are something completely different, and this last category of claims I find quite abhorrent.  In his dialogue, Justin makes frequent anti-Semitic statements to his literary opponent such as in chapter 16 where he states that the Jews are fully deserving of all bad things that come to them for their wickedness in killing Christ.  Nowhere does his Jewish opponent respond in anger at Justin’s comments about the Jews and their wickedness, and at the very end Trypho states that he has benefited much from the conversation and wishes to remain friends.  The whole thing seems completely unrealistic, and is best understood as a fictitious dialogue used a pretext for Justin’s apologetic response to common Jewish objections to Christianity.

Now obviously, revealing that one particular portion of a text cannot be taken at face value should not necessarily imply that the same is true of the entire text.  However, this itself is a good indication that Justin’s use of the dialogue here may simply have been as a literary technique from, which to present his case for Christianity over Judaism.  Likewise, there are countless Christian texts which should perhaps be considered to be theological works framed as letters, some of which made their way into the New Testament, and others that are considered part of the large volume of patristic writings, of which the letters ascribed to Ignatius are the perfect example.  In the case of Justin’s 1st apology, the work is framed as a personal letter from Justin to the emperor, yet we have copies of it today!  A simple letter is generally written by one person and sent to another, after which it remains in the hands of the person that received it.  Simply reading Justin’s apology shows quite clearly that it wasn’t simply a personal letter, but it is also a work of religious apologetics.  Whilst we need not outright reject the context in which it presents itself in order to imply that it is also something else, it is quite clear that Justin wasn’t simply writing something that he intended on sending off in the mail and leaving be, but rather something that Christians would use in ongoing debates with pagans.  Even if we concede that Justin did originally write his 1st apology as a letter to the emperor and had a copy of it sent to the emperor to personally read, it is clear that Justin took the opportunity to write a work which would remain in circulation in Christian communities to be used in ongoing clashes with pagans.

The work itself is mighty long for a simple letter, and the fact that if Justin did send it off to the emperor he obviously made himself another copy implies that he wrote the apology as much as a book as a letter.  It is not really stretching the subject to state that Justin’s 1st apology is as much an apologetic work designed for Christians to use in their continuing dialogues with pagans, as much as it was written for the context in which it presents itself, that being a work designed to appeal to the Romans to stop persecuting Christians.  Hence in light of this, we can understand how Justin could have taken the opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone”, in discussing issues that were relevant to the ongoing dialogue between Christians and pagans, as well as address persecution of Christians at the same time.  Albert made a point of accusing Robert Price of deliberate dishonesty in misrepresenting Justin’s argument, stating that he deliberately neglected to mention the fact that Justin ascribed the devils inspiration to the Hebrew Scriptures, and implying that Justin had argued in favor of the time traveling Satan thesis.  Price’s exact words in the film are as follows:

The early Church fathers understood this (parallels) was a problem because they were already getting the same objections from pagans.  They said ‘what you say about Jesus we’ve been saying about Dionysus and Hercules all the time.  What’s the big deal?’.  I mean they didn’t believe in them either anymore.  And so Christian apologists the defenders of the faith would say, ‘Well, yea, but this one is true.  And you see Satan counterfeited it in advance because he knew this day would come.  Boy, I’ll tell you that tells you two things right there, that even they didn’t even deny that these other Jesus-like characters were before Jesus or they never would have resorted to something like that: Satan knew it would happen and counterfeited it in advance?”  The God Who Wasn’t There (22:30).

There is nothing in the above that is in any way dishonest.  Sure Price has not mentioned that Justin argued that Satan inferred the imitation from the Hebrew Scriptures, however it is not necessary in the context of what Price is saying.  The point of Justin’s argument is not that Satan simply copied the Hebrew Bible, but rather that Satan attempted to copy Christ, and in attempting to explain how Satan could have done so before the time of Christ, Justin uses the idea that there were prophecies of the coming of Christ in the Hebrew Bible as a means of explaining this fact.  Albert’s confusion here is most likely derived from the fact that in the film there is a time-line showing the devil going backwards in time, hence one can see how Albert got confused, as he obviously didn’t look back at the video to check.  Furthermore, the movie actually flashes a quote from Justin where he states: “is it not evident the devil has imitated the prophecy”.  This alone makes Albert’s accusation against both Price and Flemming false.  The timeline showing Satan moving backwards was simply a means of making fun of a frankly stupid argument, and simply pointed to the fact that Justin was indeed stating that the devil had imitated Christ before Christ had even come.  The fact that Justin placed the devils inspiration as being the Hebrew Scriptures still does nothing to change this fact, and Price and Flemming thus did nothing wrong.  Hence Albert is simply posturing about this and he wrongly blamed Price for a mistake he never made, indicative of the fact that Albert did not really pay attention when he watched the movie, nor did he make an effort to check it before making his own videos.  His accusations against Price of misleading viewers and relying upon the ignorance and laziness of his audience are baseless; hence Albert’s posturing here ends up reflecting poorly upon himself.

Having addressed those minor points, lets get to the real major part of Albert and J.P’s arguments; that being that Justin was himself the one that was making up the parallels, that he was not responding to the accusations of pagans, and that he had to stretch the facts in order to make the parallels himself.  The fact remains that Albert and J.P. have absolutely no grounds at all upon which to state that pagans of Justin’s day were not making claims of Jesus being similar to pagan gods.  They have absolutely no evidence for pagans of Justin’s day denying any relationship between Jesus and their own gods.  Rather, both Mcllhenny and Holding have conveniently inferred this conclusion from the fact that Justin uses the argument about similarities between Jesus and pagan gods as part of an argument to deter the Romans from persecuting Christians and accuse the Romans of hypocrisy for doing so.  That Justin uses the argument in this context by no means precludes the possibility that pagans were making the same claim of parallels between their gods as part of an argument that Christians had copied features of their gods.  In fact quite the opposite is true, there is in fact considerable evidence that pagans and even Jews of the day were in fact making this argument, but we will get to that in a moment.  I will ask my readers to be patient, because I will be saving the knockout punch for the very end of this section, to show just how erroneous the statements by Albert and J.P. are.  We should remember that Justin’s use of the form of a letter written to the emperor for his apology by no means is mutually exclusive with viewing the work as an apologetic work designed for Christians to use in their debates with pagans.  Not only does Justin’s apology argue that Christians shouldn’t be persecuted, but it argues that Christianity is the one true religion and that it is superior to all other faiths.  Hence, Albert’s claim that understanding the true context of Justin’s apology makes its use by critics mute is simply false.

One may ask if Justin was simply creating the parallels as a means of pointing to the hypocrisy of the Romans, why he would have felt a need to explain them via his highly convoluted argument of pre-cognitive, prophetic diabolical mimicry?  At other points in Justin’s apology he is willing to concede points of contact between Christianity and Hellenistic philosophy as being due to these philosopher having glimpsed a fraction of God’s truth.  However, when dealing with pagan gods that were born of a miraculous virgin birth, suffered, were resurrected and ascended to heaven he feels the need not only to relate this parallel to the work of demons, but then to give a truly ridiculous explanation as to how the wicked demons managed to imitate Christ before he had even been born.  Furthermore it is extremely noteworthy that despite the fact that Albert talked for approx. half an hour, and that the article in Holdings book and corresponding online articles by Don Harper covered several pages, neither Mcllhenny, Holding or Harper mentioned the passage in chapter 54 of Justin’s apology in which Justin stated that the demons had created the parallels in advance “to deceive and lead astray the human race”, with the hope that they could create the impression that “they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets”.  I find it extraordinary that multiple Christian apologists could devote significant time to discussing the topic in claiming to be clearing up popular misunderstandings, and yet fail to mention this passage.

Justin most certainly is stating that the natural conclusion that people would reach from seeing parallels between Jesus and pagan gods was that the things said about Christ were myths, just as with the pagan gods.  If Justin was simply trying to create parallels for the purpose of halting persecution of Christians, than one may wonder why on earth he would not only go to the length of arguing for pre-cognitive, prophetic diabolical mimicry, but also why he would concede that it would make people reject the things said about Christ as being mere myths.  Now let me be very clear here, the passages that directly follow those that I quoted from are directly followed by statements by Justin about the wicked devils failing to get the details correct.  Given their arguments elsewhere, I would presume that if Albert and J.P. were to respond to this passage they would argue that these passages therefore cancel out the previously quoted verses about people coming to see the things said about Christ as myths.  However, this theoretical response for J.P. and Albert again rests on the idea that differences cancel out the similarities, and also fails to explain why on earth Justin would incriminate himself only to rely upon ridiculous responses to counter arguments that he himself was creating.  It just makes no sense.  Sure, we cannot expect to understand exactly what Justin was thinking.  However outright rejecting the possibility that Justin was taking the opportunity to respond to some common objections from pagans, and claiming that rather Justin was the one making up the parallels Ex nihilo is completely unwarranted and unsupported by and positive evidence.  And to the contrary, we do indeed have positive evidence that others were accusing Christians of plagiarism, to which we will raise shortly, and of which Albert and J.P. must certainly be well aware.

Ultimately, Albert and J.P.’s conclusions rest solely on the idea that the differences between Jesus and the pagan gods outweigh and make mute any apparent similarities.  This idea is behind their emphasis on Justin’s insistence that the wicked devils did not entirely succeed in imitating Christ fully, as well as their rejection of the parallels raised by Justin as being legitimate parallels.  I mentioned at the start of this video that I do not wish to make an argument in favor of pagan parallels here in this video.  There simply is too much to cover, and I devote a pretty significant amount of time to the topic in my book.  Christian apologists have written huge volumes on the topic of resurrection alone, and there is also secular scholarship on the topic to deal with.  Hence, I simply only wish to cover enough ground to give those new to the topic an understanding of why some people would claim that there are parallels between pagan gods and Jesus.  I’m only going to cover enough information so that we can at least see that there are some parallels, from which we can leave the question open as to whether they are indicative of a causal relationship, or merely superficial and coincidental.  I will briefly discuss some of the sources for the parallels mentioned by Justin for Perseus and Dionysus, as well as a very quick summary of syncretism.  I should also mention that aside from the parallels in the passages that I have highlighted, Justin raises quite a number of apparent parallels throughout his apology.  Many of these are indeed incredibly weak by anyone’s standards; however again this does not take away the legitimacy of pagan parallel proponents quoting Justin in favor of their arguments.

Here’s the thing, some of the parallels between Jesus and pagan gods are quite strong whilst others are weaker.  However, as Justin tries to claim that the devils had created their gods after a reading of Old Testament prophecies, he draws some absurdly weak parallels between pagan gods and various Old Testament passages.  One can see that the pagan gods clearly have nothing to do with the Old Testament passages Justin quotes, and his argument is just plain stupid.  On the other hand, the parallels between Jesus and the pagan gods he mentions are much stronger, which makes Justin’s attempt at retaining Judeo-Christian primacy for the relevant motifs all the more ridiculous.  For those unfamiliar with the story of the birth of Perseus, here is a quick summary.  Perseus was the son of Danae, and was impregnated by Zeus via a golden shower.  Danae had been locked in an underground chamber after her father had been told by an oracle that her son would grow up to kill him, hence he wished to avoid Danae becoming impregnated.  Hence, you could argue that Danae was a virgin as she had been locked away from human contact, and hence would have been a virgin at the time of conception.  The method of impregnation via a golden shower is certainly non-sexual in a literal sense, although it is commonly understood to be a form of Zeus and his mighty seed.  Hence, Zeus did have sex with Danae, but it was through a supernatural kind of non-sexual way, if that makes any sense.

In case you were wondering when this story dates there are allusions to it in the work of Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BCE, where he writes:

Perseus was the son of Danae, the daughter of Akrisios, and Zeus”.  Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book 4, 9:1.

We also have the passage from Ovid around the turn of the Common Era:

I (Perseus), who am the son of Regal Jove (Zeus) and her whom he embraced in showers of gold, leaving her pregnant in her brazen cell”.  Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 697ff.

However, whilst we can be certain that the story is pre-Christian in origin some of the most explicit sources are in the Common Era, such as this one from Pseudo-Apollodorus somewhere around the 2nd century CE:

When Acrisius inquired of the oracle how he should get male children, the god said that his daughter would give birth to a son who would kill him.  Fearing that Acrisius built a brazen chamber under ground and there guarded Danae.  However, she was seduced, as some say, by Proetus, whence arose the quarrel between them; but some say that Zeus had intercourse with her in the shape of a stream of gold, which poured through the roof into Danae’s lap…”.  Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library 2.4.1.

Albert seems to be under the impression that the differences in the details of this birth narrative from those found in the New Testament nullify any apparent similarities, and he mocks anybody that claims different as apparently being ignorant as to the nature of Greek mythology.  Unfortunately for him, the case of Perseus birth has three significant points of contact with the birth narrative of Christ.  For any viewer that didn’t get it they are; non-sexual conception, being fathered by the Supreme God via a mortal female, and finally and most importantly, explicit virginity in the case of the mother at the time of the impregnation.  For Albert and J.P. to state that there is no real parallel between the births of Perseus and Jesus ignores the reality of syncretism, and the fact that commonly causal relationship exists between two sources even when there are startling differences between them.  Causal relationships do not necessitate that the new source takes on all the exact details of the earlier source.  Rather, what is more common is that a general motif is transferred into a new context with differences in the details, revealing both their relationship and the uniqueness of both sources.  There are numerous other examples of similar miraculous births in pagan mythology, most of which involve non-sexual conception, many of which feature a male god as the father (often the Supreme God such as Zeus) with a mortal female, and several that explicitly state that the mother is a virgin.

In the case of Dionysus, we can indeed match up every single feature that Justin claimed was parallel with Christ; that being miraculous (but perhaps not virgin) birth, death and resurrection, along with a final ascension to heaven.  For those unfamiliar with the mythos of Dionysus, I shall give a quick explanation as to the relevant myths and their sources, and it would be wise to briefly discuss the definition of resurrection and summarize the contention surrounding it amongst critics, scholars and apologists.  Starting with his birth, one common story of the birth of Dionysus had him born by Semele, conceived through non-sexual means of a bolt of lightning by the Supreme God Zeus.  One source for this account comes from Euripides in the 5th century BCE:

I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus, come back to Thebes, this land where I was born.  My mother was (the king) Cadmus’ daughter, Semele by name, midwifed by fire, delivered by the lightning’s blast.  And here I stand, a god incognito, disguised as a man.”  Euripides, The Bacchae, verses 1-5.

One may certainly argue that the bolt of lighting was a divine seed, however it is still a miraculous birth (as with Perseus, kind of a non-sexual, miraculous intercourse), conceived by the union of the supreme God and a mortal female.  There are several different stories of Dionysus being “twice born”, one of which is as follows:

In the compulsion of birth pains, the thunder of Zeus flying upon her, his (Dionysus’) mother (Semele) cast from her womb, leaving life by the stroke of a thunderbolt.  Immediately Zeus Kronides received him in a chamber fit for birth, and having covered him in his thigh shut him up with golden clasps, hidden from Hera.”  Euripides, The Bacchae 90 ff.

In this example Semele is killed, and Dionysus is then given a second birth through the thigh of Zeus.  Hence Dionysus here could be said to be reborn but he does not really die first though, hence it is not resurrection.  There is another version of the “twice-born” motif that is related by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BCE:

And though the writers of myths have handed down the account of a third birth (of Dionysus) as well, at which, as they say, the sons of Gaia tore to pieces the god, who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him, but his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time, such accounts as this they trace back to certain causes found in nature.”  Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book 3, 62:6.

This passage gives us pre-Christian verification for the myth of Dionysus being torn to pieces and brought back to life by being reborn.  In contrast to the previous rebirth narrative, this version explicitly contains a death and hence the rebirth is also a resurrection.  If this wasn’t already enough, there are also the myths about Dionysus descending to the underworld and returning to the land of the living.  Diodorus again wrote the following in the 1st century BCE:

The myths relate that Dionysus brought up his mother Semele from Hades, and that sharing with her his own immortality, he changed her name to Thyone.”  Ibid, Book 4, 25:4.

A more detailed version can be found in the writing of Pseudo-Hyginus, generally thought to have been written somewhere between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE:

When Liber (Dionysus) received permission from his father (Zeus) to bring back his mother Semele from the lower world, and in seeking a place of descent had come to the land of the Argives, a certain Hypolipnus met him, a man worthy of that generation, who was to show the entrance to Liber in answer to his request.  However, when Hypolipnus saw him, a mere boy in years, excelling all others in remarkable beauty of form, he asked from him the reward that could be given without loss.  Liber, however, eager for his mother, swore that if he brought her back, he would do as he wished, on terms, though, that a god could swear to a shameless man.  At this, Hypolipnus showed the entrance.  So then, Liber came to that place and was about to descend, he left the crown, which he had received as a gift from Venus (Aphrodite), at that place which in consequence is called Stephanos, for he was unwilling to take it with him for fear the immortal gift of the gods would be contaminated by contact with the dead.  When he brought his mother back unharmed, he is said to have placed the crown in the stars as an everlasting memorial.”  Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica, 2.5.

Ancient people held a variety of opinions in regard to the natural course of the body and/or soul after death.  Likewise, there were different conflicting views on whether one could pass to the underworld alive, or whether simply entering the underworld was naturally indicative of death.  In the case of the Sumerian god Tammuz, women wept at his passing into the underworld, even though he did not necessarily die in doing so.  The ritual mourning for him entering the underworld is very similar to what we encounter in the later Hellenistic mysteries, which we will discuss briefly in a moment.  Another closely related example is that of Tammuz’ consort Inanna, who passed into the underworld alive, was killed and brought back to life in the underworld, and then returned to the land of the living.  In this case Dionysus descends into the land of the dead and then returns to the land of the living.  In doing so there is an allusion to death and resurrection, although he passes into the underworld voluntarily.  Anyways, the point is that this story of his descent to the underworld could potentially be seen as related to death and resurrection, and could be used as the inspiration for death-resurrection rites.  There is also another source for Dionysus’ descent to the underworld, and that is of course Aristophanes comedy “The Frogs” from the late 5th century BCE.  In this play Dionysus descends to the underworld to bring back a famous writer of tragedies.  Hence, we have another example of Dionysus descending to the underworld and returning which is again well and truly pre-Christian.  Then we have the ascension of Dionysus to heaven, which has been associated by some with resurrection, as the normal course of a person after death would be to descend to the underworld.  In this case almost all the explicit written descriptions of Dionysus’ ascension are post-Christian, for example:

There are paintings here (in the temple of Dionysus at Athens) – Dionysus bringing Hephaistos up to heaven…”.  Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, 20:2.

We do however have another mention of the above story from Pseudo-Hyginus (Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 166) somewhere between the 1st and 2nd century CE, which claims to have quoted Corastae of Epicharmus from the 5th century BCE.  We also possess multiple vases paintings which depict the myth and which date from as early as the 6th century BCE.  There are however also a number of written allusions to Dionysus’ ascension from around the turn of the Common Era.  For example:

Dionysus, conqueror of India, worshipped in the new-built shrines of Greece…was placed among the gods of heaven.”  Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4. 605ff.

And also:

Not alone has Bacchus himself or the mother of Bacchus attained the skies…”.  Seneca, Hercules Furens 16ff.

And in the same work:

Nor will he (Herakles) come to the stars by a peaceful journey as Bacchus did”.  Seneca, Hercules Furens 65ff, ibid.

Given the testimony of Seneca and Ovid, along with the citation from pseudo-Hyginus as to the work of Corastae and the corresponding vase paintings, there is no question that this narrative is pre-Christian.  Christian apologists often claim that the word resurrection has explicit Judeo-Christian meanings and that it is not appropriate to use it for pagan gods who were brought back to life after being killed.  Such an argument falls apart however when we realize that the New Testament texts used exactly the same Greek words for resurrection as did pagan texts describing their gods coming back to life.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the exact understanding of how these pagan gods were thought to have come back to life was identical to that of Jesus in the New Testament, only that the claim to there being a special word for rising from the dead in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a false claim.  The word resurrection is simply an English word for bringing something back to life that was formerly dead, and we use it for all manner of circumstances from saving a dying business from going under, to a football team winning again after struggling for a period of time.  Hence, we should not necessarily expect the ancient Greek conception of resurrection to be identical to that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but neither is it necessary for it to be to use the same word for both examples.

We should not that Albert attempted to conflate the resurrection and ascension motifs for Dionysus, and there is indeed some truth to what he says.  However, to imply that there was no specific concept of resurrection in the Dionysus mythos is greatly mistaken as already shown, and ignores quite a number of facts that clearly point out that Dionysus was indeed seen as both reborn and resurrected.  We have the narrative of Dionysus going into the underworld to rescue his mother from Hades, which is attested in pre-Christian times.  We have the play “The Frogs” which parodies this, and dates to the 5th century BCE.  Finally we have the story of him being torn apart by the titans and being reborn/resurrected/cloned from his heart.  On top of all this, we have numerous ancient writers telling of him being identical to Osiris, the resurrected god par excellence, as well as telling us that his rites were the same as of Osiris.  For those unaware I will cite a few examples to make this point, before giving a very brief overview of Osiris.  Writing in the 5th century BCE, Herodotus wrote:

“…for Egyptians do not worship the same Gods in the same way.  Only the Gods Isis and Osiris (the latter of whom they say is Dionysus) are worshipped in the same manner by all Egyptians.”

“…from Egypt, introduced many different rites to the Hellenes, among them those of Dionysus”

“… I would certainly not claim it is by chance that the rite performed for the God in Egypt resembles so closely that carried out in Hellas.”  Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2 (all three above passages).

Also, writing in the 1st century BCE, Diodorus wrote the following:

The Egyptians, for example, say that the god who among them bears the name Osiris is the one whom the Greeks call Dionysus”.  Diodorus, The Antiquities of Egypt, Book 4, 1:6.

As well as these key passages:

After he (Erechtheus) had secured the throne he instituted the initiatory rites of Demeter in Eleusis and established the mysteries, transferring their ritual from Egypt”.  Ibid, Book 1, 29:2.

As well as:

For the rite of Osiris is the same as that of Dionysus and that of Isis very similar to that of Demeter, the names alone having been interchanged; and the punishment in Hades of the unrighteous, the fields of the righteous, and the fantastic conceptions, current among the many, which are figments of the imagination – all these were introduced by Orpheus in imitation of the Egyptian funeral customs.”  Ibid, Book 1, 96:5.

Here we have several pre-Christian Greek historians telling us that Dionysus was the same god as Osiris, and that his myths and rites were identical.  We are also told that the Greek mysteries were derived from Egyptian funerary customs, to which perhaps those unfamiliar may be asking what then were the Egyptian funerary customs.  Obviously everyone should be well familiar with the fact that the ancient Egyptians practiced mummification, that being the practice of embalming and wrapping the body of the dead pharaoh in an attempt at preserving his body for the afterlife.  An essential part of the funerary rituals of Ancient Egypt was the ritual association of the deceased with the god Osiris, in order to resurrect the deceased in the afterlife.  There are many variations of the myth of Osiris as with many other ancient myths, and as is frequently the case the earliest complete narrative that we have comes from a source in the Common Era, that being Plutarch.  However, there are numerous pre-Christian sources that can attest the vast majority of Plutarch’s narrative, and most certainly the central motif of resurrection is present from the very earliest sources.  A summary is as follows: the evil god Set tricked Osiris into getting into a coffin at a party, at which Set and his co-conspirators sealed the coffin and threw it into the River Nile.  Isis later found the coffin holding up the roof of a palace in Byblos, and opened it to find Osiris dead.  Isis somehow manages to conceive a child with Osiris and gives birth to a son (Horus), and Set finds the body of Osiris, at which he tears Osiris’s body into fourteen pieces and scatters them across Egypt.  Isis goes in search of the various parts of Osiris’s body and manages to retrieve all but his phallus; hence she makes a “magic phallus” to complete Osiris.  Osiris is brought back to life and descends to the underworld to rule as judge of the dead.  Horus was also often seen as both the reincarnation and resurrection of Osiris, hence Osiris is effectively brought back to life several times.  Plutarch gives a detailed account of the annual rites that accompanied this myth in his work Moralia: Isis and Osiris:

“That she secretly measured the body of Osiris, and made to the size a handsome and highly ornamented coffer which he carried into the banqueting room. And as they were all delighted with its appearance and admired it; Typhon promised in sport that whoever should lie down within it, and should exactly fit, he would make him a present of the chest; and after the others had tried, one by one, and nobody fitted it; then Osiris got in, and laid himself down, thereupon the conspirators running up shut down the lid, and fastened it with spike-nails from the outside, and poured melted lead over them, and so carried it out to the River, and let it go down the Tanaite branch into the sea: which branch on that account is hateful, and unlucky for Egyptians to name. These things are said to have been done on the 17th day of the month”.  Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, Chapter 13.

And later in the same work:

“But on the nineteenth at night they go down to the sea, and the “Dressers” and priests bring out the sacred coffer containing a little golden ark, into which they take and pour water from the river, and a shout is raised by the assistants, as though Osiris had been found.”.  Ibid, Chapter 39.

Getting back to the ancient Egyptian funerary customs, along with the mummification rituals were a series of spell designed to make the deceased pharaoh into Osiris, and as Osiris rose from the dead so would the deceased.  Examples can be found amongst the Pyramid texts, dating as far back as the third millennium BCE:

Thou livest, because the gods ordained that thou live”.  The Pyramid Texts, Utterance 577:1528b.

Though art asleep, (thou art awake); thou art (dead), thou art alive, awake, hear (that which) Horus (has done for) thee…so that mourning ceased in the two palaces of the gods…The children of thy child have raised thee up, perfect”.  Ibid, Utterance 670:1975b, 1976b, 1978a and 1983a.

To say: O, O, raise thyself up, N; receive thy head, unite thy bones to thee, collect thy limbs, shake the earth (dust of the earth) from thy flesh, Lift thyself up, N, thou shalt not die.”  Ibid, Utterance 373: 654a, 654b, 654c, 654d and 657e.

To say: Geb has raised thee up; this spirit has been guarded for thee, Osiris has given to thee the spirits, Raise thyself up, spirit of N, thy going is a representative of Osiris, Raise thyself up; shake off thy dust; remove the dirt which is on thy face; loose thy bandages”.  Ibid, Utterance 553: 1353a, 1354b, 1357a, 1358a, 1363a and 1363b.

These are but a few examples, the entire collection of Pyramid texts are filled with such frequent statements.  There is no question by any Egyptologist that the Pyramid texts were designed to raise up the deceased through the process of identification with Osiris, the god of resurrection.  As Osiris had risen from the dead, so would the deceased through these rituals.  Outside of professional Egyptologists there are various objections to viewing Osiris as the god of resurrection, and viewing the Egyptian funerary practices as aimed towards raising the deceased from the dead.  Christian apologists and even some secular scholars argue that Osiris never rose from the dead, and that the rising up spoken of in the Pyramid texts is simply the spirit leaving the body.  We will note that in the above translation there was indeed a few passages which mentioned rising as a spirit, however there are also numerous passages that mention “collecting ones limbs, brushing the dirt of ones face” etc., hence there is an implication of a bodily rising (also the presence of the word “spirit” here is really a bad translation, as the Egyptian concepts of Ba and Ka are not simply equivalent to soul and/or spirit).  What’s more, the simple fact that Egyptians went to great lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead should by itself be indicative that the Egyptians believed in some form of a physical afterlife, and a bodily resurrection.  Many Christian apologists have argued that this is still distinctly different to the Judeo-Christian conception of bodily resurrection, as in that form Christians and Jews believe that they will rise in a new body, eternal and immortal.  In contrast they claim that the Egyptian concept is more like zombification, as it is the same rotten body that they died with.

Such claims however are made out of ignorance, as Egyptians clearly believed that they would be made immortal in the afterlife.  Sure, Judaism and Christianity are not identical to the Egyptian religion, hence we should not expect their concepts of resurrection and the afterlife to be identical.  Those that object to referring to Osiris as resurrected state that he remained dead, and that he simply went on to live eternally in the afterlife.  They contrast this to the example of Jesus who they say came back to life on earth, and remained here for a while before he ascended to heaven.  The point that they are missing however is that clearly the ancient Egyptians did not believe that they would naturally live forever after death in the afterlife.  Rather, they clearly believed that they would naturally cease to exist, and that they required magical resurrection in order to live again.  Hence, Osiris most certainly was brought back to life, and the aim of the Egyptian funerary practices was to raise the dead back to life, only not to earthly life but to a new immortal life in the Egyptian equivalent of heaven.  There are more factors that are relevant here in response to the claims that Osiris was not resurrected, however I will leave them alone and those interested can read my book when it comes out.

I would also like to mention an artifact called Ikhernofret Stela, which is dated approx. to around 2,000 BCE.  This artifact explicitly details the yearly ritual theatrical performance of the death and resurrection of Osiris.  In this play Osiris is killed on the first day, after which whilst dead he descends into the underworld to do battle with Set, before he is brought back to life three days later.  We know from this artifact that this play was performed year after year at the same time in accordance with the annual flooding of the Nile, and we likewise know from later sources that this “passion-play” was still being performed well into the Hellenistic period.  Herodotus wrote the following in the 5th century CE:

It is on this lake that the Egyptians act by night in what they call their Mysteries, the Passion of that being whose name I will not speak…all the details of these performances are known to me, but I will say no more.”  Herodotus, The Histories, 197, Book 2, 172.

The above is quite cryptic, however in light of the Ikhernofret stele it is pretty safe to say that he is referring to the passion play of the death and resurrection of Osiris.  We have already discussed Plutarch’s description of the Osirian rites, hence we can see that there is a vast abundance of sources for both the myth and corresponding rites of death and resurrection for Osiris, from ancient times, through the Hellenistic period and well into the Common Era.  The only question then is whether the differences in the details of the Osirian myth and rites make mute any similarities between Osiris and Jesus, and that is a question I do not wish to clearly answer here today.  However, we can see how absurd it is for people to argue that Osiris was not raised from the dead.  The ancient Egyptians did not celebrate because Osiris remained dead; rather they mourned when he died and celebrated when he came back to life.  The fact that he came back to life in the underworld, or that Horus was his son did not stop the Egyptians from believing that Osiris was once dead, and now was alive again.  Hence, the English word resurrection is just as appropriate for Osiris as it is for Jesus, and there is one more example I will give that really nails this point home.  One of the most common objections to viewing Osiris as a resurrected god, or dying and rising god if you prefer comes from the scholar Jonathon. Z. Smith, whose work on the topic has been largely responsible for many secular scholars such as Bart Ehrman dismissing any similarity between Osiris and Christ, not to mention that Smith is likewise seen as a savior in the field by many Christian apologists.

Smith has written quite a bit on the topic including a dissertation on Frazer’s work “The Golden Bough”, however most people simply quote his article on dying and rising gods that he wrote for the encyclopedia of Religion.  Smith wrote of Osiris:

“…He did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead.  In no sense can Osiris be said to have “risen” in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern…the repeated formula “Rise up, you have not died,” whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead.”  J.Z. Smith, Dying and Rising Gods, Encyclopedia of Religion.

Obviously I have already responded briefly to the major part of this argument.  For the ancient Egyptians miraculous intervention was required to resurrect the deceased, who otherwise would have remained lifeless.  One can only speculate as to how ancient Egyptians conceived the natural result of death, whether as a shadowy hades, or as complete cessation of consciousness.  What isn’t up for debate is that mummification rituals, and various magical spells that turn the deceased into Osiris were seen as essential requirements for an afterlife.  This fact again shows that resurrection to the afterlife realm was still resurrection to the minds of ancient Egyptians.  Furthermore, let us consider the example of C.S. Lewis’ famous work “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.  In this story it is quite obvious that Aslan the lion represents Jesus for several explicit reason, most notably the occurrences at the end of the story.  Edmund betrays his friends after the Witch gains his confidence, and thus due to the magical laws of Narnia he now belongs to the Witch and must die.  Aslan offers to take Edmund’s place and pay the price of his sin and is tied to a stone table before being stabbed with a knife.  Aslan comes back to life through “deep magic” which states that when someone who has committed no treachery dies on the part of the guilty the table would crack, and death would work backwards.  Aslan is therefore resurrected just like Jesus, and the core meaning of his myth is clearly related to the core meaning of the Jesus myth, despite the fact that there are major differences in the specific details of their narratives.

No Christian will deny that parallels exists between Aslan and Jesus, rather the opposite is true; Christians in fact openly admit this parallel and claim a direct causal relationship between Jesus and Aslan.  This is not surprising because of course, C.S. Lewis himself was a Christian and he himself explicitly admitted that the story was paralleled to the Gospel narrative.  In “The Lion, the Witch…” Aslan likewise does not resurrect to life on earth, neither does his death take place on earth.  Rather, his death and resurrection occur in a magical alternate dimension, full of all sorts of mythical creatures and supernatural phenomena.  More to the point, to enter Narnia from earth you have to leave this world, hence it directly parallels pagan gods resurrecting to the underworld, or even in the underworld.  Despite this however, we know as fact that Aslan in this tale is a direct parallel to Jesus, and that this parallel was deliberate and indicative of a direct causal relationship between the two.  So, despite the fact that the resurrection of Aslan does not occur on earth, we know that there is a direct causal relationship between the two.  Therefore, one cannot argue that differences in details between Christian and pagan religious motifs nullifies any relationship between them, as this example proves that they do not.

One might argue that the point is that in the New Testament narrative the death and resurrection of Jesus occurs both in the same place, and that the same is also true of Aslan, and that the difference is that in the narrative of Osiris his resurrection occurs in a different place to his death.  However if the requirement is simply that the death and resurrection occur in the same realm then we would then find the example of Inanna would meet every requirement placed upon the condition of a legitimate parallel, as her death, hanging of her corpse upon a pin and resurrection all occur in the same place (that being the underworld).  If one is to dismiss this example because they occur in the underworld, then one must also dismiss the example of Aslan, as his death and resurrection occur in a magical plane from which you have to leave earth to enter, despite the fact that we know beyond any doubt that there is a causal relationship between Jesus and Aslan.

The reality is that where a figure was said to have resurrected to or from is irrelevant to the question of parallel and cause.  Therefore, all those that argue that it is are wrong, and should recant their previous position.  Not only is it anachronistic to argue that differences in the details of parallel myths nullify any relationship between them, but this argument is no truer of modern-day times than it would have been in ancient times.

Getting back to the point, the whole reason why I wanted to briefly discuss Osiris was to point that in being syncretic with Osiris, Dionysus most certainly would have been viewed as a resurrected god.  There are several different myths relating to Dionysus that could have been used as the basis for annual rites that would have resembled the annual passion play of Osiris, and there is just too much evidence to deny it.  Let us close this brief discussion with a quote from another early Church father, that being Minucius Felix writing somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE:

“And you behold the swallow and the cymbal of Isis, and the tomb of your Serapis or Osiris empty, with his limbs scattered about. Then consider the sacred rites themselves, and their very mysteries: you will find mournful deaths, misfortunes, and funerals, and the griefs and wailings of the miserable gods. Isis bewails, laments, and seeks after her lost son, with her Cynocephalus and her bald priests (just like me!); and the wretched Isaacs beat their breasts, and imitate the grief of the most unhappy mother. By and by, when the little boy is found, Isis rejoices, and the priests exult, Cynocephalus the discoverer boasts, and they do not cease year by year either to lose what they find, or to find what they lose. Is it not ridiculous either to grieve for what you worship, or to worship that over which you grieve? Yet these were formerly Egyptian rites, and now are Roman ones. Ceres with her torches lighted, and surrounded with a serpent, with anxiety and solicitude tracks the footsteps of Proserpine, stolen away in her wandering, and corrupter. These are the Eleusinian mysteries.”  Minucius Felix, Octavius, Chapter 21.

This final passage gives attests to several very significant things.  It is another source showing that pagans held annual rites centered upon a god dying and coming back to life to which they mourned at the loss and celebrated at the find, and that these rites had passed from the Egyptians, to the Romans and Greeks.  Is it really that surprising to imagine that when Christians started proclaiming that their god had died and come back to life, and celebrated it annually, that outsiders would proclaim “hmm, you know, this is a little familiar.  Where have I heard this before…?”.  We know as a fact that pagans practiced syncretism, they shared beliefs, myths and rites, and they identified common features between different gods as being indicative of a causal relationship.  There are countless examples that can be given aside from Dionysus and Osiris and Demeter and Isis, such as Jupiter and Zeus, Hades and Pluto and many more.  We find sharing of information in basically every single topic one can raise, it is a completely natural phenomenon and is only controversial in this case because Christianity claims to be unique, and likewise condemns other faiths as being evil.  Anyways, whilst I would hope my viewers would be able to see by now that there is actually something to this whole pagan parallel thing, it is not my intention to make a case for that here.  However, I think any reasonable person could at least see from what I have covered here that it is perfectly reasonable to accept that pagans and Jews from the time that Christianity emerged, might have looked at Christianity as being in some ways similar to the popular mythology and religion of its day.  When Christians said that Jesus was born of a miraculous non-sexual conception of a mortal virgin by the supreme God, and that Jesus suffered a horrible death only to later be brought back to life, before finally ascending to heaven it is not a stretch to think that pagans might have said: “you know, that sounds a lot like Dionysus…”.

Denying that Dionysus was considered to be resurrected is like looking at an elephant and calling it a cat.  Of course, both Albert and J.P. are here relying upon the popular Christian apologetics along with the mainstream scholarship of J.Z. Smith and others that seek to deny any similarity between the Christian and pagan concepts of resurrection.  Whilst it is ultimately too big a topic to be covered in detail here, the fact remains that there were most certainly pagan myths and rites that were based around a god dying and being brought back to life.  Here, both Albert and J.P. have built their houses upon the sand, as we have already seen that Dionysus most certainly featured central myths and rites related to rebirth and resurrection from pre-Christian times through the Common Era.  Hence, there most certainly is reason to see real parallels between Dionysus and Christ, as both were born of a miraculous birth, performed miracles (which I haven’t discussed here), were at some point killed and brought back to life, and both ascended to heaven at the end of their narratives.  This summary is equally true of Dionysus as it is of Christ, and these are not merely incidental features of their narratives, but are essentially the primary core motifs in the mythos and rites of both of them.  Hence, the parallels that Justin drew between Dionysus and Christ are valid, and it is modern-day Christian apologists that are grasping at straws in attempting to deny them.

This still leaves open the question of whether pagans from Justin’s day were pointing out the parallels to him and whether or not he was responding to them, but it makes clear that the parallels he was pointing out were indeed real.  Hence modern-day Christian apologists that simply seek to deny them are just fooling themselves, as well as their unfortunate readers and viewers.  There is nothing really new beyond this that J.P. Holding mentioned in his video, except that perhaps Holding takes the arrogance factor to a new level beyond that which Albert used in his own videos.  Keeping that in mind, lets now move on to some of the evidence that Albert and J.P conveniently neglected to discuss in their videos, which will truly give context to Justin’s comments and allow us to consider whether perhaps Justin was responding to claims that were being made by pagans and Jews of his time.  Well, the first thing to point out is that we don’t really have any surviving anti-Christian polemics from around the exact time Justin was believed to have written his 1st apology, nor before.  Hence, we cannot be 100% certain whether pagans of Justin’s time thought that there was any parallel between Jesus and their gods.  This is not the end of the story however, as there is still quite a lot of relevant evidence to cover.  The first real pagan anti-Christian polemic that survives in any degree to the present day comes of course from Celsus, writing at around 170-180 CE, approximately 30 years after Justin was believed to have written his 1st apology.

Sure, it is 30 (or so) years after Justin so we can’t exactly just assume that it was indicative of how pagans were responding to Christianity 30 years earlier in Justin’s day or before.  However, it is only a relatively short period of time so it would be ridiculous to reject the possibility that the things that Celsus wrote had already been considered by pagans in Justin’s day, or before.  Once you see what Celsus actually wrote you will understand that obviously Albert and J.P. must either be appealing to the time difference of 30 years to explain why they didn’t factor Celsus into their arguments, or perhaps they deliberately decided to ignore Celsus altogether as they knew that it would not be conducive to their argument.  Also, once we have looked at the content of Celsus’ polemic we will have to ask the question whether Albert and J.P. think that Celsus was influenced by Justin.  Ok, so what did Celsus write about Christianity?  Well, Celsus used several fictive characters as a literary device to enable him to present a critique of Christianity from several different perspectives.  Apparently sometimes he spoke as himself, whilst at other times he used the voice of an “accusing Jew”.  And what were the arguments that he put forth?  Well, lets have a read for ourselves shall we, bearing in mind that we are reading the words of Origen in refutation of Celsus:

And since Celsus has introduced the Jew disputing with Jesus, and tearing in pieces, as he imagines, the fiction of His birth from a virgin, comparing the Greek fables about Danae, and Melanippe, and Auge, and Antiope, our answer is, that such language becomes a buffoon, land not one who is writing in a serious tone.”  Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 37.

Here Origin states explicitly that Celsus had written that the virgin birth story of Jesus was a work of fiction, similar to Greek fables.  Just prior to the above passage we have Origen’s words mocking the examples Celsus gave as mere fiction:

And there is no absurdity in employing Grecian histories to answer Greeks, with the view of showing that we are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind.  For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo.  And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings”.  Ibid.

We see here that Origin himself concedes that the similarities are there, and that the pagan examples are fictitious.  However, he of course makes the argument that the example of Jesus is alone real in contrast to the various pagan examples.  Like Justin, Origen tries to use the parallels in his favor.  However, Origen makes it explicitly clear that he is responding to the accusation of Celsus.  A similar situation is found when Celsus and Origen discuss resurrection:

The Jew continues his address to those of his countrymen who are converts, as follows: ‘Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered.  Yet how many others are there who practice such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who gain by their deception – as was the case, they say, with Zalmoxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Taenarus, and Thesus.  But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body.  Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness?’” Ibid, Book 2, chapter 55.

Here Celsus has his accusing Jew address Jewish Christians and ask them how it they believe that Jesus really resurrected from the dead and yet dismiss various similar examples from pagan mythology as merely being fictitious tales.  We can thus see that we have here an example of a pagan accusing Christians of making up myths about Christ and comparing them to similar pagan myths, and having written a mere 30-40 years after the time that Justin was likewise believed to have written his apology.  Celsus argued that the miraculous birth, miracles, resurrection and various other features of Christianity were paralleled by similar motifs in paganism, along with the implication that the pagan versions were older.  To Celsus, the differences between the pagan examples he raised and Jesus were not sufficient to make mute any similarity between them.  Rather the opposite was true to him; the similarities appeared to him indicative of a causal relationship between them, despite the many differences in the details of their narratives.  So lets get this straight.  Justin Martyr writing in approx. 140ish CE draws parallels between the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus and pagan gods, and Albert Mcllhenny and J.P. Holding tell us that pagans of his day did not see any parallels.  However, 30 years after Justin we have the first known pagan response to Christianity that draws parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, pointing out things like the miraculous births and resurrections.  Did Albert and J.P. just magically forget about Celsus when they were making their videos?  Or did they think that the 30 year time difference simply nullified any need to discuss or consider Celsus in their argument?

Are they really that stupid as to ignore the possibility that the things that Celsus was writing in 170 CE could possibly have been thought by pagans in 140 CE as well?  Sure, we don’t know for certain, but it certainly is possible, and there is still more evidence to be considered that really makes the case.  Furthermore, are Albert and J.P. really that stupid to think that Celsus was influenced by Justin?  Ok, well we can’t fully discount the possibility that Celsus had derived the idea of parallels between Jesus and pagan gods from Justin, but you must concede that the idea is pretty ridiculous.  If pagans had got the idea from Christians, we would naturally expect them to have made light of the fact that even Christians were seeing the parallels.  Furthermore, would not they have mocked the ridiculous attempt at retaining Judeo-Christian primacy by arguing that the devil had plagiarized Christ in advance by reading into prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures?  I know as fact that both J.P. and Albert know all about Celsus, and I am certainly not the first person to mention Celsus in relation to Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument.  In fact, one of the main books responsible for making light of Justin’s diabolical mimicry argument (that being “The Jesus Mysteries” by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy) quoted Justin and what its authors thought was Celsus on the same page, both immediately under the heading “Diabolical Mimicry” (and that’s chapter 3 on page 27 for anyone interested).  Now, Freke and Gandy did in fact misquote Celsus, as they unwittingly quoted a passage that had been interpolated into a reconstruction of Celsus’ writings by the translator as a paraphrase, which was unfortunately not separated from the main text.  Despite this mistake on behalf of Freke and Gandy, the point still remains true that they related Justin’s comments to Celsus, and as both J.P. and Albert have claimed to have read “The Jesus Mysteries” they cannot claim to be ignorant of the relationship between them.

The point is this, Albert and J.P. have absolutely no grounds on which to claim that Justin was the one himself making parallels and that pagans of his day didn’t see any themselves.  They have drawn this conclusion by erroneously reading this into Justin’s comments about the wicked devils failing to understand the fullness of Christ in the Hebrew prophecies.  All Justin actually said was that whilst there were similarities between Christ and gods like Dionysus, they weren’t identical in every way.  I would hope that my readers can understand the obvious connection between Justin and Celsus, on one hand you have a Christian writer drawing parallels between Jesus and Dionysus and resorting to a ridiculous argument in an attempt at responding to the fact that Dionysus got there first.  On the other hand you have a pagan pointing out the similarities between Jesus and pagan gods, and pointing out that the pagan gods got there first.  Sure, Celsus wrote after Justin, but this does not necessarily mean that therefore Justin was the first to come up with the idea of pagan parallels, and that critics of Christianity are taking Justin out of context.  We have seen a number of quotes from pre-Christian sources that show the general tendency of pagans to deliberately seek out parallels between their gods, and to view them all as one and the same.  We know that they were doing this well before the Common Era, and they were quite happy to ignore the differences between the myths and rites of different gods, and on the basis of common features they were willing to go as far as state that they were in fact identical, that being the very same god!

Hence, we can see that the possibility that Celsus was influenced by Justin seems truly preposterous, as Celsus was simply continuing an age old pagan tradition of seeing parallels between different gods, and seeing such common motifs despite the presence of differences in the details.  It is anachronistic for modern-day people to use the “differences outweigh the similarities” argument as ancient people clearly did not think like that, not to mention that the “difference…” argument fails in modern-day times as well, as the example of Aslan proves once and for all.  There is however even more to add to the topic of Justin’s 1st apology before we move on, and it is this last source that really puts the nail on the Christian apologetic coffin.  Whilst we do not have any direct evidence of Justin proposing his parallels in response to accusations by pagans, we do in fact have explicit evidence of Justin using exactly the same argument as he uses in his 1st apology, in response to accusations by Jews.  Yes, that’s right; in his Dialogue with Trypho we read the following:

And Trypho answered, ‘The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son’, but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son’, and so on, as you quoted.  But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of the prophecy.  Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower.  And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather (should) say that this Jesus was born man of men.  And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honor of being elected to be Christ, (it is well); but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.”  Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 67.

To which Justin responds:

Trypho, I wish to persuade you, and all men in short, of this, that even though you talk worse things in ridicule and in jest, you will not move me from my fixed design…” Ibid.

To which he then goes on in chapter 68 to justify his reading of the Scriptures, arguing that Isaiah did indeed refer to Christ and not Hezekiah as Trypho had argued.  He then gets back in chapter 69 to the topic of Trypho’s allegation of plagiarizing the Greeks:

“‘Be well assured, then, Trypho,’ I continued, ‘that I am established in the knowledge of and faith in the Scriptures by those counterfeits which he who is called the devil is said to have performed among the Greeks; just as some were wrought by the Magi in Egypt, and others by the false prophets in Elijah’s days.  For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by (Jupiter’s) intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that (the devil) has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?  And when they tell that Hercules was strong, and travelled over all the world, and was begotten by Jove of Alcmene, and ascended to heaven when he died, do I not perceive that the Scripture which speaks of Christ, ‘strong as a giant to run his race’, has been in like manner imitated?  And when he (the devil) brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?”  Chapter 69.

He then goes in chapter 70 to make the argument that the Mithraic mysteries plagiarized the prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah, to which he finishes with the following comment that make it absolutely explicit that his above comments were written as a response to Trypho’s allegation:

“…And when I hear, Trypho, said I, that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.”  Ibid, Chapter 70.

So, there you have it.  I believe that this is what we call checkmate, a slam-dunk, case closed, or as close as we could ever get.  Sure, there are perhaps a few things that could be discussed about the above passages.  Yes, most scholars believe with good reason that Justin was not reporting a real dialogue between himself and Trypho, but was using the dialogue as a literary construct.  This fact does not in any way diminish the fact that Justin was himself responding to claims of Christian plagiarism.  Rather, Justin used the literary form of a dialogue to give his responses to common objections given by Jews about Christianity, hence this fact shows that Justin recognized that it was a common accusation made against Christians, that they had plagiarized pagan mythology.  It is true that from what I understand, most scholars believe that Justin’s dialogue was written after his 1st apology.  However, accepting the dialogue as a later work than the apology does nothing to diminish the fact that Justin used his diabolical mimicry argument as a response to accusations that Christians had plagiarized the Greeks.  Justin does not respond to Trypho “I myself made that argument up simply to try and stop the Romans from persecuting Christians”, or anything to that affect.  He does not have his theoretical Jewish opponent state that the Christians themselves point out parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, any more than does Celsus.

One can suspect that if Jews and pagans had any awareness that Christians were themselves pointing out parallels between Jesus and pagan gods, and resorting to the absurdity of the diabolical mimicry argument, that they most certainly would have taken Christians to the cleaners for it.  It is of course possible that they did and we simply have no surviving record of it, but this is purely speculative.  Again, this example is of Jews rather than pagans accusing Christians of plagiarizing pagans.  However, it still establishes Justin using his diabolical mimicry argument in response to an accusation of Christian plagiarism, which by itself essentially proves in the true meaning of the word that Albert and J.P. were simply making things up, when they claimed that Justin was not responding to claims of Christian plagiarism, but simply making the parallels up himself.  We should also note that Holding actually reference a portion of the above passages from Justin’s dialogue in his video and accompanying chapter in his book, hence he cannot claim to be unfamiliar with it, unless he simply didn’t read the surrounding material!  Furthermore we should note that as with the apology, Justin’s dialogue is essentially a Christian apologetic work used for dissemination amongst Christians that may have multiple purposes.  It most likely was used for the purpose of helping Christians to keep their faith in the face of the critiques they received from Jews, as well as giving Christians arguments and responses to use with Jews in debates.  I have also seen it suggested that it may have been used to present to pagans an argument for Christian superiority over Judaism, as there may have been some pagans interested in the dialogue between Christianity and Judaism.

It is ultimately extremely unlikely that Justin would have used his diabolical mimicry argument in his apology simply as an argument for the Romans to stop persecuting Christians, and then later use it in a completely different context in his dialogue in response Jewish accusations that Christians had plagiarized pagan mythology.  The fact that the dialogue makes it explicit that Justin is using the argument as a response gives context to the apology; hence it is most likely that in the apology he was also taking the opportunity to respond to accusations by pagans that Christians had plagiarized their mythology, just as Celsus wrote several decades later.  Either way, the above passages from the dialogue essentially make my case watertight, and utterly destroy the claims made by Christian apologists that modern critics of Christianity are misusing and misquoting Justin.  Rather, the opposite is true; Justin did indeed fall upon an absurd argument in desperation to explain how Christians could believe similar things to pagans, yet be the superior and exclusively true faith despite pagans believing those things at a much earlier date.  Before finishing let us quickly summarize the facts.  Pagans had a long history of syncretism and viewing parallels between various gods of being indicative of causal relationships between them, to the point that they frequently claimed they were simply the same god.  The earliest anti-Christian pagan polemics we know about indeed accused Christianity of plagiarizing paganism, making similar parallels to those that Justin himself made.

The claim that Justin was himself inventing the parallels and that pagans at the time didn’t see any themselves is a deliberate misreading of the text, twisting the general context of the work and Justin’s comments about the devils not understanding the fullness of Christ, to mean something that Justin never stated anywhere in the text.  Finally, we know that Justin himself used the diabolical mimicry argument in direct response to an accusation that Christians had plagiarized Greek gods.  This final fact alone makes the case by itself, let alone on top of the rest of the facts as an accumulative case.  Albert and J.P. are simply wrong, and they are beings jerks about it as well.  Hence this case has been proved once and for all, and if Christian apologists have any integrity and honesty, they will publically concede that their claims were erroneous and that they displayed arrogance in falsely accusing their critics of misusing Justin.  One may remember now James White’s hilarious comments about atheists apparently not being bound by a moral code.  It appears that the opposite here is true, that critics of Christianity have accurately represented the reality of the situation, and it is Christian apologists who have lied and resorted to name-calling their opponents in order to hold their ground, and refuse to acknowledge the facts as they stand.  One may consider Albert and J.P. here to be perfect examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  For those unaware, research has shown that the more intelligent one is the more self-awareness they possess, and the more they are aware of their own intellectual limitations.  On the other hand, less intelligent people tend to be unaware of their own intellectual limitations, and tend to significantly overestimate their relative intelligence.

Albert and J.P. both seem to be unaware of the fact that they have got this topic of diabolical mimicry completely wrong, to the point that they have repeatedly mocked their opponents, carrying on with a self-confidence that is staggering in light of how absolutely false their conclusions are.  It is a true measure of a man whether they can admit that they were wrong, and if Albert and J.P. choose to respond to this article we will see what kind of men they are.  What we have discussed in this article does not prove that Jesus never existed, nor does it even prove that Christians did indeed plagiarize pagans.  However, it does absolutely prove that modern day proponents of the pagan parallel thesis can and should legitimately quote from Justin Martyr in showing that early Christians were aware of the idea that there were parallels between Jesus and various pagan gods.  They were aware of the fact that the pagan gods were older, and in this case Justin did indeed stoop to a unbelievable low in an attempt at maintaining Judeo-Christian primacy for the parallel motifs.  Likewise, Justin Martyr did indeed use his diabolic mimicry argument in response to direct allegations that Christians were guilty of plagiarism.  Hence, when pagan parallel proponents are making their case they should indeed quote from Justin along with Celsus, in pointing out that the idea is not simply a modern construct, but has precedent in the early days of Christianity.

Might I suggest that the desperate attempts by modern apologists to refute their critics use of Justin is indicative of the true importance of Justin’s work.  The very fact that J.P. Holding and Albert Mcllhenny have had to use deception in order to try and refute critics on this topic indicates that J.P. and Albert understand that if legitimate, their critics have a strong argument here.  The fact that they have failed to refute it shows that pagan parallel proponents do indeed have real evidence for their thesis and that this is devastating to orthodox Christianity, which relies upon both a full literal reading of the Gospels and exclusivity from other faiths aside from Judaism.  I would hope that people are careful in accepting the claims of both Christians and their critics.  Check the facts for yourself, and always seek out the alternative point of view.  Realistically I would not expect Christians such as J.P. Holding to accept defeat easily.  Rather, he will probably resort to his usual tactics of dodging and weaving in trying to hold his ground, an excellent example of which can been in the links below (in relation to the Old Testament story of Elisha and the bears), in which he had resorted to an absurd attempt at reinterpreting a difficult passage from the Old Testament, to which a critic took him to town.  Sure, there have been many examples of pagan parallel proponents misusing various passages from early Church fathers, reading them out of context and often completely misunderstanding their true meaning.  There have been examples of critics misusing Justin Martyr, however the general use of Justin by pagan parallel proponents is indeed legitimate and they should indeed keep using it as part of their case.  Having cleared up this issue I will now say goodbye for today, thanks for reading.

Links to some of the more important sources mentioned in the above article:

Online translation for Justin Martyr’s 1st Apology to the Greeks: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm.

Online translation of Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue With Trypho: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01286.htm.

James White’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqf3OvKqG6E.

Albert’s three part video series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lahBs9d8Ts, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf9uzfgW_is and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZSbcMSksSs.

J.P. Holdings video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs52nal-5bk.

Link to the relevant portion of Flemming’s “The God Who Wasn’t There”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUBqgucLXzk.

The Dunning-Kruger effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect.

Elisha and the three bears; J.P. Holdings video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgkMJhcTE1c, and Brett Palmers responses: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFDE9ECF7B2DBE512.