Part 8 of 9: Is Christianity Borrowed From Pagan Myths/Religions?

Posted By Thomas Perez. June 15, 2010 at 11:19pm. Copyright 2010.

Let us look at Horus…

Again, the list from the (submitted) website:

Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th.
He had 12 disciples.
He was buried in a tomb and resurrected.
He was also the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Messiah, God’s Anointed Son, the Good Shepherd, etc.
He performed miracles and rose one man, El-Azar-us, from the dead.
Horus’ personal epithet was “Iusa,” the “ever becoming son” of “Ptah,” the “Father.”
Horus was called “the KRST,” or “Anointed One,” long before the Christians duplicated the story

Let’s look at these:

Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th. [We have already seen that Horus was NOT born of a virgin at all. Indeed, one ancient Egyptian relief depicts this conception by showing his mother Isis in a falcon form, hovering over an erect phallus of a dead and prone Osiris in the Underworld (EOR, s.v. “Phallus”). And the Dec 25 issue is of no relevance to us–nowhere does the NT associate this date with Jesus’ birth at all. Indeed, the description of the conception of Horus will show exactly the sexual elements that characterize pagan ‘miracle births’, as noted by the scholars earlier:

“But after she [i.e., Isis] had brought it [i.e. Osiris’ body] back to Egypt, Seth managed to get hold of Osiris’s body again and cut it up into fourteen parts, which she scattered all over Egypt. Then Isis went out to search for Osiris a second time and buried each part where she found it (hence the many tombs of Osiris tht exist in Egypt). The only part that she did not find was the god’s penis, for Seth had thrown it into the river, where it had been eaten by a fish; Isis therefore fashioned a substitute penis to put in its place. She had also had sexual intercourse with Osisis after his death, which resulted in the conception and birth of his posthumous son, Harpocrates, Horus-the-child. Osiris became king of the netherworld, and Horus proceeded to fight with Seth…” [CANE:2:1702; emphasis mine] [BTW, the Hebrew word ‘satan’ is not a ‘cognate’ of the name ‘seth’ by any means: “The root *STN is not evidenced in any of the cognate languages in texts that are prior to or contemporary with its occurrences in the Hebrew Bible” DDD, s.v. 1369f]

He had 12 disciples. [This would be so incidental as to be of no consequence-even if I could verify this fact!

But again, my research in the academic literature does not surface this fact. I can find references to FOUR “disciples”–variously called the semi-divine HERU-SHEMSU (“Followers of Horus”) [GOE:1.491]. I can find references to SIXTEEN human followers (GOE:1.196). And I can find reference to an UNNUMBERED group of followers called mesniu/mesnitu (“blacksmiths”) who accompanied Horus in some of his battles [GOE:1.475f; although these might be identified with the HERU-SHEMSU in GOE:1.84]. But I cannot find TWELVE anywhere… Horus is NOT the sun-god (that’s Re), so we cannot use the ‘all solar gods have twelve disciples–in the Zodiac’ routine here.]

He was buried in a tomb and resurrected. [We have already seen that the DARG pattern simply cannot be demonstrated in ANY case. And the data is against this “fact” even being true. I can find no references to Horus EVER dying, until he later becomes “merged” with Re the Sun god, after which he ‘dies’ and is ‘reborn’ every single day as the sun rises. And even in this ‘death’, there is no reference to a tomb anywhere…The massive difference between this metaphor of life/death, and the claims of the apostolic band about the real death and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth should illustrate why the ‘numerous, complex, and detailed’ and ‘non-superficial’ criteria have to be insisted on by scholars in this field…]

He was also the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Messiah, God’s Anointed Son, the Good Shepherd, etc. [We saw above that the commonality of religious terms means almost nothing.]

He performed miracles and rose one man, El-Azar-us, from the dead. [Miracle stories abound, even among religious groups that could not possibly have influenced one another, such as Latin American groups (e.g. Aztecs) and Roman MR’s, so this ‘similarity’ carries no force. The reference to this specific resurrection I cannot find ANYWHERE in the scholarly literature. I have looked under all forms of the name to no avail. The fact that something so striking is not even mentioned in modern works of Egyptology indicates its questionable status. It simply cannot be adduced as data without SOME real substantiation. The closest thing to it I can find is in Horus’ official funerary role, in which he “introduces” the newly dead to Osirus and his underworld kingdom. In the Book of the Dead, for example, Horus introduces the newly departed Ani to Osirus, and asks Osirus to accept and care for Ani (GOE:1.490). ]

Horus’ personal epithet was “Iusa,” the “ever becoming son” of “Ptah,” the “Father.” [Again, a case of religious epithets without any force for this argument.

This fact has likewise escaped me and my research. I have looked at probably 50 epithets of the various Horus deities, and most major indices of the standard Egyptology reference works and come up virtually empty-handed. I can find a city named “Iusaas” [GOE:1.85], a pre-Islamic Arab deity by the name of “Iusaas”, thought by some to be the same as the Egyptian god Tehuti/Thoth [GOE:2.289], and a female counterpart to Tem, named “Iusaaset” [GOE:1.354]. But no reference to Horus as being “Iusa”…]

Horus was called “the KRST,” or “Anointed One,” long before the Christians duplicated the story [This is still yet another religious name or symbol, without import for our topic. Anointing of religious figures was a common motif in ANE and AME religion anyway. I cannot find this anywhere either.]

Most of the above ‘similarities’ simply vanish, become irrelevant, or contribute nothing to the argument for some alleged ‘identical lives’ assertion for Horus and Jesus. To further highlight this, let’s look at the thumbnail sketch of Horus’ life given in Encyclopedia of Religions, s.v. “Horus”:

“In ancient Egypt there were originally several gods known by the name Horus, but the best known and most important from the beginning of the historic period was the son of Osiris and Isis who was identified with the king of Egypt. According to myth, Osiris, who assumed the rulership of the earth shortly after its creation, was slain by his jealous brother, Seth. The sister- wife of Osiris, Isis, who collected the pieces of her dismembered husband and revived him, also conceived his son and avenger, Horus. Horus fought with Seth, and, despite the loss of one eye in the contest, was successful in avenging the death of his father and in becoming his legitimate successor. Osiris then became king of the dead and Horus king of the living, this transfer being renewed at every change of earthly rule. The myth of divine kingship probably elevated the position of the god as much as it did that of the king. In the fourth dynasty, the king, the living god, may have been one of the greatest gods as well, but by the fifth dynasty the supremacy of the cult of Re, the sun god, was accepted even by the kings. The Horus-king was now also “son of Re.” This was made possible mythologically by personifying the entire older genealogy of Horus (the Heliopolitan ennead) as the goddess Hathor, “house of Horus,” who was also the spouse of Re and mother of Horus. “Horus was usually represented as a falcon, and one view of him was as a great sky god whose outstretched wings filled the heavens; his sound eye was the sun and his injured eye the moon. Another portrayal of him particularly popular in the Late Period, was as a human child suckling at the breast of his mother, Isis. The two principal cult centers for the worship of Horus were at Bekhdet in the north, where very little survives, and at Idfu in the south, which has a very large and well- preserved temple dating from the Ptolemaic period. The earlier myths involving Horus, as well as the ritual per- formed there, are recorded at Idfu.”

Notice how “almost identical lives” Horus and Jesus had:

There is no mention of the more striking claims of similarity made by the CopyCat authors (such as resurrection of El-Azar-us), even though such items would surely be noteworthy in books in the Western world. This sketch does not even REMOTELY look ‘almost identical’ to the life of Jesus Christ! To look at this and make claims of ‘majority overlap’ would be ridiculous in the extreme.

The alleged similarities (which much MUST be present to even START the argument about borrowing) we are so weak and so dwarfed by the differences between the two figures, as to leave us wondering why anyone brought this argument up in the first place…

And finally, Krishna…

(Again, the list from the (submitted) website):

Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki (“Divine One”)
He is called the Shepherd God.
He is the second person of the Trinity.
He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants.
He worked miracles and wonders.
In some traditions he died on a tree.
He ascended to heaven.

Looking a little more closely,

Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki (“Divine One”) [We have already seen how these ‘virgin birth’ parallels are not close enough to constitute a ‘compelling similarity’, but this one is particularly inappropriate. The facts are simply otherwise–cf. Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology, p. 342:

“In India a like tale is told of the beloved savior Krishna, whose terrible uncle, Kansa, was, in that case, the tyrant-king. The savior’s mother, Devaki, was of royal lineage, the tyrant’s niece, and at the time when she was married the wicked monarch heard a voice, mysteriously, which let him know that her eighth child would be his slayer. He therefore confined both her and her husband, the saintly nobleman Vasudeva, in a closely guarded prison, where he murdered their first six infants as they came. (emphasis mine).

According to the story, the mother had six normal children before the 7th and 8th ‘special’ kids–a rather clear indication that the mom was not a virgin when she conceived Krishna [remember, this is not an issue of ‘special births’, but of ‘virgin’ ones].

He is called the Shepherd God. [So he was a cow-herd…so what?…Simply a common religious title, not a ‘compelling similarity’…and we noted above that even this was different when applied to Jesus.]

He is the second person of the Trinity. [This is a misunderstanding of the Hindu pantheon/s. The Hindu pantheon differs from the Christian trinity substantially (e.g., one’s a pantheon and one isn’t…). The biggest problem with the assertion, however, is that it is simply wrong. Although the Hindu pantheon has changed considerably over over time, Krsna has NEVER been the ‘second person of a 3-in-1.’ In the oldest layers of Hindu tradition–the Rig Veda–the dominant three were Agni, Ushas (goddess), and Indra, although there were a number of other important deities [WS:SW:84]. After the Vedic period (before 1000 bc), and before the Epic period (400 bc – 400 ad) is the period in which a DIFFERENT “trinity” emerged. So WR:RT:105:

“Traces of the original indigenous religion are plain in the later phases of the history of Hinduism. In the course of time, large shifts occur in the world of the gods. Some gods lose significance while others move into the foreground, until at last the ‘Hindu trinity’ emerges: Brahma, Visnu, and Siva…”

Krishna was one of the avatars (manifestation, incarnation, theophany) of Visnu. As such, Krishna only appeared on the scene during the Epic period, and most of the legendary materials about him show up in the Harivamsa, or Genealogy of Visnu (fourth century a.d.) and in the Puranas (written between 300-1200 a.d.). He is one of TEN avatars of Visnu (what does that do to a trinity?). [WR:Eliade:133; WR:SW:91f; WR:RT:105f]. This is another exampe of someone ‘loosely’ using Christian terminology to describe non-Christian phenomena, and then being surprised by the similarity.

He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants. [Now, this is interesting. The only event in the life of Krsna I can find that is close to this kind of event is the story cited above at his birth, involving only 6 infants. How this person would turn that into “thousands” is beyond me and probably beyond responsible writing as well]. And, this motif of a king attempting to kill a supposed ‘infant rival’ is common to royal settings-not just divine ones. Hence, one can find this plot-line–a common one throughout human history-in the lives of Gilgamesh, Sargon, Cyrus, Perseus, and Romulous and Remus.(BM:227) This, of course, has nothing to do with mythology-it is simply a historical tendency of vicious kings…Herod’s killing of some dozen or two children in Bethlehem is a matter of predictable aggression, not some ‘mythic motif’…human monsters can be at least as grotesque as divine ones…)

He worked miracles and wonders. [Surprise, surprise-another religious leader is credited with miracles…Hmm, did Krishna ‘borrow’ from Buddha or from Thor? From Horus or from…?]

In some traditions he died on a tree.[The tree in India would in no way have the despicable connotations of the Roman cross of execution, even if this were true/known.] From the standpoint of accuracy, let me mention that I cannot find any reference to him dying on a tree. The records (not from iconographic sources, btw) I have on his death run something like this :

“Krishna was accidentally slain by the hunter Jaras…when he was mistaken for a deer and shot in the foot, his vulnerable spot.” (WR:SDFML, s.v. “krishna”) “One lance-like (poisonous, cursed) reed was eaten by a fish and then caught by a hunter. In a drinking bout, Krishna, Balarama, and the Yadavas picked the reeds, killing each other. As Krishna sat lost in thought, the hunter, mistaking him for a deer, shot him in the foot with the reed he had found in the fish, and killed him.” [WR:DWM]

“Just after the war, Krsna dies, as he predicted he would, when, in a position of meditation, he is struck in the heel by a hunter’s arrow.” [WR:DAMY; was he meditating ‘on a tree’?]

Perhaps he died sitting under a tree, but would that constitute a non-superficial parallel?

He ascended to heaven. [This is a misunderstanding of Hindu thought. “Heaven” is not actually a place in Hindu thought, for ‘bodies to go’, nor does one ‘ascend’ to it–especially not ‘bodily’ as did Jesus.

“At Balarama’s death Krsna sat meditating; a hunter, Jara, pierced Krsna’s feet by mistake, but afterwards, recognizing the hero, repented. Krsna left his body and entered heaven where he was greeted by the gods.” [The Indian Theogony, Sukumari Bhattacharji, Cambridge:1970, p.305; note the difference between this and a ‘bodily ascension of Jesus’]

These similarities just don’t seem to illustrate ‘numerous, complex, detailed’ parallels–of the type needed to suggest borrowing. And the differences between Jesus Christ and the Krishna of the legends is considerable. The earlier warrior-images of Krisha are those of a worthy and noble hero-type, but the later child/young man legends stand in stark contrast to Jesus. Krishnaic legends portray his playfulness and mischief in positive terms, but his consistent thievery (he stole cheese ROUTINELY from the villagers and lied about it to his mom–he was nicknamed the ‘butter-thief’ in the literature), his erotic adventures with all the cow-maidens of the village, his tricking the people into idolatrous worship of a mountain-just to irritate the god Indra, and the hiding of the clothes of the village women while they were bathing, and then forcing them to walk naked in front him before he would give the clothes back-these all draw a line between him and the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. [These stories can be found in the Myths of the Hindus and Buddhist reference above, as well as in many summaries of his legend.] The adult images of Krishna were considerably more ‘worthy’ and he came to be worshipped as a supreme deity. But his overall life (above) and his death as a hunting accident are so completely dissimilar to the life and voluntary crucifixion of the Son of God on earth. The similarities are paltry; the differences are staggering.

Finally are the figures that are allegedly linked by broader motifs such as ‘miracle worker,’ ‘savior’ or ‘virgin born’-along the line of the “divine man” or hero image in later times, without an explicit death/resurrection notion (e.g. Indra, Thor, Horus?)

These generally do not carry the force of the above categories, and so the borrowing/dependence claim is much weaker here. These ‘overlaps’ are simply explained: Most of the overlapping traits are too generic to carry any force (e.g. miracle worker, savior, divine king) Many of the overlapping traits are errors of equivocation (e.g. ‘virgin births’, sacrificial death–a martyr is not a sacrificial substitute) Most of the overlapping traits and titles fall into the category of the general expression of ALL religion, and do not require a borrowing/dependence theory at all. Most of the overlapping traits are dwarfed by the radical differences between Jesus and the figure in question. For example, the myth of Indra’s ‘miraculous’ birth is given thus:

“His birth, like that of many great warriors and heroes, is unnatural: kept against his will inside his mother’s womb for many years, he burst forth out of her side and kills his own father” (Rig Veda 4.18, as discussed in EOR, s.v. “Indra”)

This cannot be remotely correlated with the birth of Christ, as neither can Indra’s subsequent life as an immoral womanizer, a criminal punished by castration, and a declining failure to the end.

Even the older category of “Divine man” (theos aner) which was used to describe these figures, is a questionable construct for impacting the NT [NT:DictJG,s.v. “Divine man/theios aner”]:

“In NT scholarship the term Divine Man, or its Greek form Theios Aner, designates an alleged type of religio-philosophical hero, legendary or historical, which was more or less indigenous to Greece or at least Hellenism and whose representatives were characterized by moral virtue, wisdom and/or miraculous power so that they were held to be divine. As commonly used, the term excludes the traditional Greek gods (except Asclepius, who was believed to have lived a human-like existence on earth before his death and apotheosis). Rather, it encompasses figures who in spite of their divinity were still regarded as humans. “Early on, for example, scholars pointed to Diaspora or Hellenistic Judaism as the cultural/religious medium through which the Theios Aner type came to influence the early church’s presentation of Jesus. Hellenistic-Jewish Christians, so the argument runs, found it natural to portray Jesus as a Theios Aner in their attempt to defend and advance their new faith, since previously they had used precisely the same strategy in their efforts to promote OT heroes, especially Moses. This hypothesis, however, was carefully reviewed by C. Holladay, who analyzed three representatives of Hellenistic Judaism—Josephus, Philo and Artapanus—in order to observe how these authors presented Jewish heroes in their apologetic and propagandistic efforts. He concluded that, at least in the sources he studied, there is no evidence that in order to glorify Judaism or win converts Hellenized Jews tended to divinize their heroes or to amplify their thaumaturgical activities. Holladay’s work has forced a major reassessment of the theory that the Theios Aner concept was mediated to early Christianity via Hellenistic Judaism, and in fact has resulted in dampened enthusiasm for Theios Aner as an interpretative tool.

“Up until about thirty years ago, those who employed the Theios Aneras an analytic tool in Gospel studies believed that the Evangelists essentially synthesized the portrait of Jesus as a Theios Aner found in the miracle traditions with the perspective found in the sayings source Q and the passion and resurrection narratives. However, T. Weeden, anticipated by others, argued that Mark was actually a polemic against interlopers in the Markan community who brought with them a Theios Aner christology and the traditions which expressed it, principally the miracle stories. According to Weeden, such stories, which of course figure prominently in the first half of Mark, only appear to promote a Theios Aner interpretation of Jesus: “The Theios Aner position is set up only to be discredited by Jesus once the disciples confess to that position” (164). Now the way was clear to compare Mark with Paul, who himself, according to the prior research of D. Georgi, had done battle with earlier proponents of a Theios Aner christology at Corinth (see especially 2 Cor 10–13)…Initially, Weeden’s work engendered considerable support, particularly in North America. But by the early 1980s J. D. Kingsbury was able to chronicle a growing disenchantment with it. Increasing doubt about the viability of the Theios Aner concept and its relationship to the Son of God title, a growing tendency in Gospel studies to give priority to literary criticism rather than tradition-critical or history-of-religions considerations, and the sheer mass of miracles present in Mark (including several in the second half) have converged to under mine Weeden’s thesis.”

One of the most interesting (and striking) of parallels is The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written by one Flavius Philostratus. DSG:203 summarizes the background and dating:

“One of the most famous in this succession of Pythagorean philosophers was a man named Apollonius, of the Greek city of Tyana in the Province of Cappadocia, in what is today eastern Turkey. Although he lived in the second half of the first century A.D., we have little direct information about Apollonius, except for this biography by Philostratus of Lemnos, written much later, i.e., around A.D. 218. “When the emperor Caracalla was on his way to capture the territories to the East, he stopped at Tyana to pay tribute to ‘the divine Apollonius,’ even donating the funds to build a temple to him there. And Caracalla’s mother, Julia Domna, commissioned one of the professional writers in her entourage to publish a fitting account of Apollonius’ life. “

The incredible thing about this piece, though, is its strange similarities to some of the events in the gospel literature (but NOT necessarily to the life of Christ–BLOM:85,86). So DSG:203f:

“This conjunction of events suggests that the title of Philostratus’ work might best be translated: ‘In Honor of Apollonius of Tyana,’ for the entire account from beginning to end consists of carefully constructed praise, using every device known to this well-trained writer. In other words, just as Caracalla’s architects built a shrine for Apollonius out of marble, one of his court rhetoricians built a temple out of words–for the same purpose, i.e., to celebrate Apollonius’ God-like nature and inspire reverence for him. Thus, Philostratus’ narrative is a virtual catalogue of every rhetorical device known to the professional sophistic writers of that time: sudden supernatural omens, mini-dialogues on the favorite topics of the day, colorful bits of archeological lore, plenty of magic, rapid action scenes, amazing descriptions of fabled, far-off lands, occasional touches of naughty eroticism, and a whole series of favorite “philosophical” scenes: the Philosopher lectures his disciples on being willing to die for truth; the Philosopher is abandoned by his cowardly disciples; the Philosopher confronts the tyrant; the brave Philosopher is alone in prison unafraid; the Philosopher victoriously defends himself in the court, and so on. On the other hand, Philostratus included enough accurate historical details to give his writing the ring of genuine truth. But mixed in with the real people and places are all sorts of imaginary “official” letters, inscriptions, decrees, and edicts, the whole bound together by an “eyewitness” diary. Finally, to give it the proper supernatural flavor, he has included numerous miraculous and supernatural occurrences: dreams, pre-vision, teleportation, exorcism and finally, vanishing from earth only to reappear later from Heaven to convince a doubting disciple of the soul’s immortality. “Guiding Philostratus at each point in constructing his narrative was the reputation of Apollonius as a divine/human Savior God.”

What is interesting here is that reverse-copying seems to be going on. Philostratus is setting out to ‘honor’ Apollonius and creates a rhetorical hodge-podge of praise. But some are convinced that Philostratus had the NT in front of him (esp. since he wrote the piece 150 years later than it). Elizabeth Haight observed:

“[Philostratus] wrote with full knowledge of Xenophon’s romantic biography of Cyrus the Great as the ideal ruler, of the Greek novels of war and adventure, of the Greek love romances…and of the Christian Acts with a saint for a hero. [In view of all these possibilities] Philostratus chose to present a theos aner, a divine sage, a Pythagorean philosopher, as the center of his story. To make the life of his hero interesting and to promulgate his philosophy, he used every device of the Greek and Latin novels of the second and third centuries.” (More Essays on Greek Romances, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1945, p. 111f; cited in DSG:205-206.

Other scholars also are convinced that Philostratus drew from the NT documents :

“In the case of the phrase ‘divine man,’ scholars cannot point to one clear and coherent concept–or collection of concepts-connected with the phrase ‘divine man’ that was current in Greco-Roman literature before or during the time of Jesus. To construct their concept of a ‘divine man,’ scholars of the 20th century have culled ideas from a vast array of Greek and Roman works from Homer up until the writings of the late Roman Empire. While the vague constant in the phrase “divine man” is divine power as revealed or embodied in some human being, the exact human referent ranges widely over priest-kings of Asia Minor and Egypt (including kingly magicians and law- givers), monarchs whose vast power on earth was believed to extend over nature itself (especially the Roman Emperors), and various kinds of prophetic philosophers (including ecstatics, magicians, miracle-workers, apostles, hero-sages, founders and leaders of religious
groups, shamans, and charlatans). In many of the reconstructions, scholars rely heavily on works like The Death of Peregrinus and Alexander or the False Prophet by Lucian, the satirist of the 2d century A.D., and The Life of Apollonius by Philostratus, the rhetorician of the 3d century A.D. Lucian almost certainly knew the Christian Gospels, and Philostratus probably did as well.” [MJ:2.596] “There is also another factor which should be taken into consideration as one assesses Philostratus’ Vita: the possibility that at some points the portrait of Apollonius has been influenced by the Gospels. In spite of the doubts of G. Petzke, there is reason to believe that such may have occurred. The strength of the Christian movement in the empire is amply attested by Celsus’ True Discourse, written at the beginning of the last quarter of the second century. That Philostratus may have intended his work, at least to some degree, as anti-Christian polemic would also cohere well with the recent research of J. Buchli, who has made a cogent case for dating Poimandres around the middle of the third century (thus just a few years after the composition of the Vita Apollonii), and has argued that it “zeigt…sehr weitgehende christliche Einflusse,” [‘shows very pervasive Christian influences’] and should be regarded as a “paganisiertes Evangelium” [‘pagan gospel’]. One should therefore approach the Philostratean work in question with the acknowledgment that Christian influences may well have also been at work here.” [X02:TAMMT:75]

“Why should Philostratus not have launched a new genre of pagan hagiography with an eye on the Gospels?” [HI:AREPJC:194]

Philostratus’ work would become a focal point for anti-Christian polemic relative to Jesus:

“During the third and fourth centuries, and at least in one case as a direct result of Philostratus’ portrait, Apollonius became a focal point of pagan reaction to Christianity. Special prominence was given to him shortly before the Great Persecution of Diocletian and Galerius in 303. The vicarius Orientis Sossianus Heirocles used Apollonius as the basis of a work comparing the sage with Jesus, in order to demonstrate Apollonius’ superiority…An Egyptian poet named Soterichus, who wrote an encomium of Diocletian, is known also to have written a Life of Apollonius of Tyana, presumably with similar anti-Christian aims.” [HI:AREPJC:176f]

“The earliest of Eusebius’ apologetical works was Against Hierocles…Eusebius composed it shortly before 303, after the army had been purged of Christians but apparently before Diocletian issued persecuting edicts which affected Christian civilians. Sossianus Hierocles (it is is known from other evidence) was governor of a province, probably of Augusta Libanensis, vicarius of a diocese, praeses of Bithynia in 303, and prefect of Egypt seven years later. Eusebius twice alludes to his adversary’s official post in a way which implies that Hierocles was vicarius Orientis at the time of writing-and hence that before 303 he had already circulated his attack on Christianity in the East. After persecution began, Hierocles also published his polemic in the imperial capital of Nicomedia, this time in two books.” [CAE:164f]

And we don’t know how much of his own story Philostratus actually believed (or expected others to believe):

“There is certainly no need to suppose that everything in Apollonius was believed by Philostratus or intended to be believed. On occasion he excuses himself in Herodotean style by claiming that he has been obliged to set out such and such a story.” [HI:AREPJC:179]

Certainly by that time the events of the life of Jesus were well known to pagan elites-Celsus had really gone into detail in his attack on the faith-and the Vita reflects a mix of miracles, some from Jesus and some from Pythagoras’ life (the actual model used by Philostratus for Apollonius in the Vita). But there is no mention of Christianity in the Vita, so why would he have ‘borrowed’ (or ‘modeled’) any of the narrative events from/on Jesus’ life?

Some have actually suggested that Philostratus was trying to ‘merge’ some of the elements of Jesus with his ideas of what Hellenistic thought should look like:

“It has been suggested recently that Philostratus made a major new contribution to religious life by legitimating the idea of ascetic living through the person of Apollonius. The idea that Philostratus rehabilitated Apollonius–the very opposite of Eusebius’ reading–goes back in its modern form to the great nineteenth-century Church historian Baur, who saw Philostratus as a ‘doubtful syncretistic mediator’ who used a sanitized Apollonius to seek an accommodation with Christianity.”‘ To find parallels (healings, exorcisms, doubting followers, ascension, the whole idea of mission) between Apollonius and Jesus and his disciples is not absurd [under this scenario].” [HI:AREPJC:193f]

But the Vita looks more like what Swain calls an ‘apology for Hellenism’, and was written to combat all forms of anti-Hellenism (including, but not limited to, Christianity). And the reason for the need had only just surfaced in the empire:

In the cultural arena: “During the third century, however, there were a number of decisive changes in the cultural -political makeup of the Greek world. By its end, significant numbers of the educated were Christian, and the distinctive features of pagan culture in the Greek East were under serious threat. The heavyweight anti-Christian tracts of Plotinus and Porphyry show clearly that Christianity could not be ignored. There is no way of telling when it became clear that the new religion constituted a major problem. But if we look at the third century as a whole, Apollonius, which was written in the 220s or 230s, begins to look extremely important. For here we have for the first time a celebration and justification for society at large of a Hellenism which is defined primarily through a combination of religion and philosophy, rather than through the general cultural and political inheritance. This looks like a response to change at some level. Moreover, the work contains a lengthy technical apologia for philosophy as a spiritual system of personal living, and this amounts to a serious defense of fundamentals. That is enough to merit the work’s inclusion in a volume on the phenomenon of apologetic discourse. [158]

In the political arena: “Philostratus reminds readers at the start of Apollonius that the work has been commissioned by the late Julia Domna, who was the wife of the new dynasty’s founder, Septimius Severus. Here and elsewhere she is presented as a paragon of Hellenist virtue. But her nieces, the dominating mothers of the emperors Elagabal and Severus Alexander, were by no means fully committed to orthodox Hellenism, precisely in the sensitive matter of religion. Thus for the first time since the Hellenic revival in the time of Augustus, not everything could be taken for granted. An apology for the Greek way of life and a telling affirmation of its value were not at all beside the point.” [HI:AREPJC:159f]

As such a defense, it has to combat two ‘enemies’ of non-Hellenism: the eastern Oriental cults (cf. Elagabal!) and Christianity. But it has to do this is a way not likely to offend the royal court. One obvious way to do this is to build ‘one composite pythagorean sage-hero out of two widely recognized sage-heroes’…

At any rate, the Vita does look like it has ‘numerous, complex, and detailed’ parallels to the NT literature (although not all agree on this point, I should add-several see the parallels as too different), and that some of these parallels are understood by scholars as Philostratus borrowing from the NT source. And, as we noted in our discussion of the ‘the later church did it, so why wouldn’t the early church do it too?’, the fact that Philostratus did it, has no logical bearing on whether the NT authors did or not…there is always a gap between “would/could” and “was/did,” and this gap must be filled in with evidence, not allegations and speculation.

What this means for us, is that one of the better examples of a candidate for ‘borrowing’ is in the wrong direction. And since the hero and the divine man concepts are either too general, too insignificant, or too ‘late’ to make a good case for the Copy Cat theorist, we are back where we started-the uniqueness of Jesus the Christ and His life, death, and resurrection.

Thus, it is difficult to make a case for “material, significant, and pervasive” borrowing between Jesus and the plenitude of other religious deities of the world.

The Net of the allegation of material, significant, and pervasive borrowing:

“For alleged parallels to be considered ‘strong enough’ for evaluation, the parallels must be numerous, complex, detailed, non-superficial, ‘striking’/uncommon, difficult to explain expect by borrowing, central to the belief/text, sharing the same underlying ideas and related by system or structure.

The history-of-religions school, which saw the background of Paul’s ‘dying and rising with Christ’ theology in the Mystery Religions (e.g., taurobolium ritual) has been essentially abandoned, due to the insufficiency of the parallels and the better explanatory power of newer theories, based on better data (e.g., DSS, unofficial Judaism at the time of Jesus)

The background for the New Testament is now seen to be in Judaism and the OT, instead of the cults of the Roman Empire.

The details of the Cybele-oriented taurobolium ceremony are vastly different in practice, purpose, and belief-content.

By scholarly criteria, there are no known very-close-parallels to the virgin conception as recorded in the New Testament.

Only data relevant to New Testament formation can count as evidence for ‘creation’ or ‘modification’ of some ‘original’ Jesus from pagan sources–not later church actions.

Any alleged syncretism by the later church does not in itself constitute data or evidence that the same process occured in NT times.

The ‘stealing’ of Christmas (as it is sometimes represented) is not a clear case of culpable syncretism; indeed, as an ‘oppositional feast’ it is the OPPOSITE of a syncretistic action.

All the data we have about Paul and the early church indicates that they were ‘violently’ anti-syncretistic, and exceptionally exclusivistic, and therefore pre-disposed to NOT accept anything ‘tainted’ by pagan theology.

The pagans in this period were not confused about the Church’s exclusivity-they called the Christians ‘atheists’ because of their fundamental unwillingness to compromise or syncretize.

Long after the NT was finished, the church was thrust into a difficult situation when it became the “State Religion”. The practical difficulties of trying to help immense numbers of new ‘converts’ created situations in which some reclaiming of traditional pagan elements had to be undertaken, albeit reluctantly and with all attempts to avoid confusing the folk.

But even through these semi-adaptations occurred in later church history, the central creed of the faith remained the same during that time.
Another example sometimes advanced as a case of borrowing is the symbol of the Cross, but this was not used symbolically in the New Testament at all.

The religious language used in the New Testament was part of the shared vocabulary of the ancient word, and not the property of the cults. As such, these terms didn’t have to be ‘borrowed’ from anyone, since no one ‘owned them’ exclusively.

Religious terms for religious leaders are examples of common, shared linguistic stock (often very general and arising all over the world) and not items that have to be ‘borrowed’.

This usage of language was effective for the young church, for even her critics such as Celsus could see clearly how her doctrines of Christ and of the resurrection were different from pagan concepts.

The Frazerian concept of Dying and Rising gods (as set out in the Golden Bough) has been discredited and abandoned by modern scholarship.

There is no ambiguous data in antiquity–especially in records indigenous to each cult-to support the belief that DARGs existed (and/or are a meaningful conceptual construct for understanding the history of religion).

There is, therefore, no ‘model’ or ‘models’ from which the NT authors could have gotten this concept.

The various gods surveyed-Adonis, Baal, Attis, Marduk, Osiris, Tammuz and Melqart-do not conform to the Frazerian “pattern” of DARGs; they either don’t really die, don’t really rise after death, or both/neither. Even in those cases in which the god dies or is ‘raised’, the parallels to Jesus are still quite superficial, and do not fit the criteria of ‘numerous, complex, detailed, etc’.

The data from the later church fathers-seemingly disagreeing with the scholars-are too easily understood as Christian paranoia, Christian (mis)interpretation, or actual reports of actual imitative adaptations by the cults to the rising influence of Christianity.

There is evidence that the cults/empire did imitate aspects of the Christian community/belief system/praxis.

Justin Martyr’s comments on the virgin birth do not offer strong support for the view that Christians believed that their set of miracles were ‘same as’ pagan ones. Even the practices of the more general Mystery Religions are very different-especially at the underlying concept and structural level-than those used by the early church, in spite of some common elements (e.g., washing, common meals).

The MR’s differed substantially from Christianity in areas of : initiation, baptism, “communion”, salvation, the afterlife, rebirth, resurrection. The death of Jesus was uniquely substitutionary, voluntary, purposeful. The Christian difference in worldview, ethics, compassion, and social action was conspicious to the church’s enemies and to those who longed for hope. It is not at all clear as to what extent the pagans even believed their own myths.

The more general MR’s of Isis/Serapis and Dionysos/Bacchus offer very few possible parallels even for consideration, and these are too general to have much force.

Jesus’ turning water into wine is not believed to have been ‘based on’ the various miraculous traditions in the Dionysos cult (but rather on the Judaic background).

Neither the Roman nor the Indian/Iranian versions of the Mithras cults offer a DARG or even ‘striking parallels’ in matters of practice. The parallels accepted by scholars some 30 years ago have all either been abandoned or come under serious doubt recently.

Paul’s being born in Tarsus-a hotbed of MR cult activity-does not seem to influence him. His writing style and missionary style show no influence of his background in Tarsus.

Alleged parallels between Jesus and Buddha-at a numerous, complex, and detailed level–are not recognized by scholars deeply familiar with both traditions.

Horus is particularly ‘unlike’ Jesus of Nazareth.

Alleged parallels between Jesus and Krishna-at a numerous, complex, and detailed levels-do not exist. The category of Divine Man-once thought to be a concept useful in explaining the origin of some of Jesus’ literary characteristics-has lost its following in scholarship over the past 30 years.

Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, seems to be dependent on the New Testament literature-and not vice versa. That these similarities are of such a nature to either require borrowing, or be best explained by borrowing; This point is rather moot-we do not have anything to explain. But, for the sake of argument and completeness…let’s move on to the issue of an historically plausible explanation of HOW the borrowing occurred.

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