Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Ehrman Errs: Yes, Bart, There Were Dying & Rising Gods

Posted in Uncategorized on September 6, 2016 by Derreck Bennett


The Pursu
it of Truth

On October 21st in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, leading New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, will be debating Robert M. Price on the historicity of Jesus. Ehrman made quite a splash back in 2012 when he published Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, in which he decried, and arguably slandered, those who doubt the historical existence of Jesus, aka ‘mythicists.’ According to Ehrman, mythicists are simply anti-religious zealots, whose agenda to remove Jesus from history is driven by the desire to destroy religion. He chalks up the vast majority of those in the mythicist camp as mere Internet junkies, sensationalists, and hacks, who have no familiarity with either historical method or the ancient sources. Well, none of this is true of Bob Price, who remains friendly with evangelicals, and whose knowledge of biblical history is second to none. It isn’t true of the majority of mythicists whose work I’ve read, and it certainly isn’t true of me.

When it comes to the motivation behind those in the atheist movement at large, I think Dan Barker said it best:

What unites [many nonbelievers] is not revenge for having been victimized by the deceptions of religion, but a burning desire for actual facts. If we doubters do have a psychological motivation, perhaps it is the mental hunger, the intense craving to truly fill in the blanks of knowledge. [1]

That is what drives me, and the same motivation is at work when assessing the historicity of Jesus. To begin with, removing Jesus from the face of history is hardly necessary in order to refute Christianity. It’s enough to demonstrate the myriad, scriptural contradictions and absurdities, lack of evidence for various historical claims, etc. One can simply assume that there was a historical Jesus, and make the case that the miraculous feats attributed to him are unsubstantiated by the historical record, that his story was embellished like so many other ancient figures–Caesar Augustus, Alexander the Great, Apollonius of Tyana, etc. There simply is no need to make Jesus vanish from history in order to vindicate atheism. But that, for me, isn’t the end goal, anyway. The end goal for me, and for many nonbelievers, is the pursuit of truth. More and more, I find myself in agreement with the mythicists. Not because I want to eradicate religion, but because I think they’re right.

Pursuit of Truth


Ehrman, Interrupted: The Risen Osiris

One of the key points in this debate is whether Jesus was modeled after a dying and rising god archetype. This is the contention of most mythicists, including Dr. Price, and it is the point that I wish to address here. Such an archetype, in and of itself, does not preclude the historical existence of Jesus. It’s possible that Jesus did exist, and that he was simply deified in accordance with this mythic template. Mythicism, naturally, entails many more factors for consideration, but this is one of the most important. According to Bart Ehrman, however, mythicists are fooling themselves on this point. The following video features Ehrman’s “rebuttal” of Dr. Price, et al., on the matter.

I will now tackle each of Ehrman’s points, one by one. His arguments are, to use his own words, “problematic up and down the line.” Beginning with the preeminent dying and rising god of ancient Egypt, Osiris:

All you have to do is read the ancient sources on Osiris. The most famous one is Plutarch, who has a very lengthy essay on Isis and Osiris … It’s true that Osiris gets killed. What is not true is that he gets raised from the dead. He doesn’t get raised from the dead! When Jesus gets raised from the dead, his body comes back to life and he comes out of the tomb and he ascends to heaven. Osiris stayed dead. His body was entombed, and there were various places, according to Plutarch, where different people, different locales, argued that his body was entombed, and they built shrines to this dead body. The body stayed dead. Now Osiris himself, his soul, lived on in the underworld. He became the king of the underworld. But his body did not come back to life. So he wasn’t resurrected from the dead. His body stayed dead. That’s very different from the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, which is that Jesus’ body came back from the dead.

I have read the ancient sources on Osiris. While the 2nd century historian, Plutarch, may be our principal source on the story, he is far from being our only source. Consider the following texts:

Osiris! look! Osiris! listen! Arise! Live again! (Pyr. 258 ff.)

Osiris! thou wert gone, but thou hast returned; thou didst sleep, but thou hast been awakened; thou didst die, but thou livest again! (Pyr. 1004 ff.)

The ancient Egyptian sources are quite clear: Osiris died, but he has risen, and he lives again. Plutarch, equally, speaks of Osiris’ “revivification and regenesis,” though it is possible that, as a Middle Platonist, Plutarch regarded this as a spiritual resurrection, only. Among the philosophers and the elite in the Greco-Roman world, a disembodied soul was the preferred state of immortality. But this was not the common view in antiquity, much less of the ancient Egyptians. As comparative religion scholar S.G.F. Brandon relates, Osiris’ resurrection was “conceived of in completely materialistic terms, involving the use of a reconstituted physical body.” [2] The pyramidal texts reveal an emphasis on the corporeal reconstitution of the god, confirming Brandon’s claim:

“I have come to thee…that I may revivify thee, that I may assemble for thee thy bones, that I may collect for thee thy flesh, that I may assemble for thee thy dismembered limbs, for I am as Horus his avenger, I have smitten for thee him who smote thee…raise thyself up, king, Osiris; thou livest!” (1684a-1685a and 1700 = Utterance 606; cf. also 670)

“Osiris, collect thy bones; arrange thy limbs; shake off thy dust; untie thy bandages; the tomb is open for thee; the double doors of the coffin are undone for thee; the double doors of heaven are open for thee…thy soul is in thy body…raise thyself up!” (207b-209a and 2010b-2011a = Utterance 676)

The Resurrection of Osiris (Philae, 2nd-3rd C. BCE)

The Resurrection of Osiris (Philae, 2nd-3rd C. BCE)

It is true that Plutarch mentions tombs of Osiris, and we find the existence of such tombs in ancient Egypt, as well. What this demonstrates is a diversity of ideas within ancient religious and philosophical traditions. For some, Osiris’s body remained entombed. For others, as the sources above illustrate, he physically rose form the dead. Such diversity was prominent also in early Christianity, as Bart Ehrman can certainly attest. Docetist Christians, for example, never conceived of a dying and rising Christ; he could not be put to death in the flesh, as he was a spiritual, not a physical, entity. Christianity had no uniformity until Catholic orthodoxy prevailed in the 4th century, stomping out and labeling all other views as “heresy.” Such diversity of ideas can still be gleaned, however, within the canon of the New Testament (just pit Paul against Matthew on whether the Mosaic Law still applies, etc.), and persists, even to this day, in the multitude of Christian denominations throughout the world.

Now, let’s circle back to something that Ehrman said earlier in the podcast:

I would like Bob to give a single reference from any Jew living anywhere within 200 years of Jesus who mentions the Osiris myth.

Ehrman wishes to establish that Jews from around the era would have had no familiarity with Osiris, much less dying and rising gods. But that is incredibly unlikely. Osiris had long been known in Palestine. Archaeological excavations reveal his presence there, and even scripture alludes to knowledge of him, e.g., the resurrection imagery of bones rejoining in Ezekiel 37, Psalm 78’s narrative parallels with an early Hymn to Osiris, etc. [3] [4] No surprise there, given that Egypt ruled Canaan from as far back as 3,000 BCE.

Early Christianity’s major centers of growth and development were in places like Alexandria and Antioch, home to Hellenized, Greek-speaking Jews who would’ve been all too familiar with Greco-Roman and Egyptian myths. Many of them may have embraced such myths, as 2 Maccabees informs us of “an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign ways” (4:13). Ehrman is essentially foisting an argument from ignorance. We don’t need explicit mention of Osiris by any Jew from the period in order to be reasonably certain that his myth was known to them.

Egyptian Funerary Stelae from Palestine

Egyptian Funerary Stelae from Palestine (Osiris at bottom)

Bart Ehrman’s attempt to minimize the relevance of the Osiris myth seems especially dubious in the face of what I consider to be the most salient point on the matter: Soteriology. What is eerily similar between Osiris and Christ is what their resurrections achieve for their devotees. In both cases, the resurrection of the godman is the conduit through which mortal men can conquer death and live eternally. [5] As Christ was raised, so too are Christians. As Osiris was raised, so too are his followers. By ritual identification with the risen god, one can be spiritually renewed, walking in newness of life (Met. 11.21-23; cf. Ro. 6:3-5). Both Jesus and Osiris ascend to heaven, where they take up their throne as Ruler and Judge. Both offer their body and blood in the sacrament of bread and wine. [6] [7] The similarities, in terms of theological function, are so staggering, they can only be the product of cultural diffusion and religious syncretism.

Jesus & Osiris Enthroned

Jesus & Osiris Enthroned

Ehrman continues by adamantly denying any “common motif in pagan religions of a god who dies and gets raised from the dead.”

We don’t have evidence that pagans believed in a dying and rising god at all … with respect to the pagan myths, there simply is no plausible parallel to the idea of a divine being who dies and is raised bodily, physically, from the dead. You just don’t have any instances of dying and rising gods. This idea of a dying and rising god started being made popular … in the early 20th century … More recent scholarship over the last twenty years has shown that in fact that’s bogus, that in fact there are not instances of this. And if you actually press a mythicist to give you an example, they give you examples like Bob Price just gave of Osiris, which is definitely not a case of somebody being raised from the dead.

Osiris we’ve just covered, and the ancient sources most certainly convey a bodily resurrection from the dead, with salvific significance like that of Christ’s, to boot. Before we launch into a survey of other notable dying and rising gods, let’s look first at the earliest depiction of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament. In Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God, M. David Litwa explains:

…in early Christian texts we read that after Jesus’ death, God “highy exalted” him (Phil. 2:8-9), and seated him “in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20) at the “right hand of God” (1 Pet. 3:21-22). In his monograph on Jesus’ ascent, A.W. Zwiep comments that “the general conviction in the earliest Christian preaching” is that “as of the day of his resurrection Jesus was in heaven, seated at the right hand of God.” This is assumed, notably, in Luke 23:43, where Jesus says to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Indeed, says Zwiep, resurrection and exaltation were regarded as two sides of the same coin; resurrection meant “resurrection to heaven.” [8]

The earliest New Testament texts make Jesus’ resurrection and ascension a synonymous event. Christian apologists attempt to counter this by appealing to the list of appearances in 1 Cor. 15:3-8, though critical scholars have shown that the appearances represent visionary experiences of the heavenly Christ, like that of Paul’s, not an earthly sojourn. [9] There was no tradition of Jesus walking the earth after his resurrection until decades later, beginning with the Gospel of Mark. Prior to that, however, Jesus was raised to heaven, and “appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection” (Ro. 1:4). As Paul has it, Jesus achieved divine status upon his resurrection/ascension–what scholars refer to as an apotheosis (to become a god). According to ancient sources, the same was believed of several other, notable figures. If the earliest depiction of Christ’s bodily exaltation to heaven qualifies as a resurrection, then so does theirs.


Asclepius, Heracles, and Romulus

The Greek physician Asclepius healed the lame, the blind, and the paralytic, and raised the dead (First Apology, 22:6). Zeus struck Asclepius down for bringing forth too many resurrectees, but later raised him from the dead to become an immortal god (Autol. 1.13; Dial. Mort. 13.1).

The second-century Christian apologist Theophilus of Antioch affirms that Asclepius “was raised” [using the same Greek word as that used] for the resurrection of Jesus in Matt. 16:21; Mark 14:28; Luke 24:6 [etc.] … Out of mercy, says Lucian, Zeus raised Asclepius not just to a normal human life, but made him participate in immortality … Justin Martyr apparently understands Asclepius’ resurrection to involve a simultaneous ascent to heaven… [10]

The Rod of Asclepius is, to this day, a universal symbol of medicine and healthcare.

The Rod of Asclepius is, to this day, a universal symbol of medicine and healthcare.

 

Heracles (variously known as Hercules) suffered and died upon a funerary pyre, after which he was bodily raised to heaven, leaving not a trace of his mortal remains behind. In the 1st century play Hercules Oetaeus, Hercules appears to his weeping mother Alcmene following his death and apotheosis. He tells her to refrain from mourning, that he has been “granted [his] place in heaven” among the gods (1940-43; cf. John 20:11-15).

A series of Attic and Apulian vases appearing from about 420 BCE show Heracles being bodily carried away to Olympus from his pyre … That Heracles was actually bodily removed from his pyre is also suggested by Diodorus of Sicily, who has Heracles’ companions search for the bones of the hero after his cremation–to no avail (Bibl. Hist. 4.38.5). Heracles’ body is gone, because it has ascended to the divine realm, leaving no remainder (cf. Jesus’ empty tomb). [11]

The Ascension of Heracles

The Ascension of Heracles

 

After Romulus, first king of Rome, was raised from the dead to become the god Quirinus, he appeared before Proculus to deliver a great commission: “Go, and declare to the Romans the will of heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world” (Livy, Hist. 1.16.2-8; cf. Mt. 28:16-20).

Romulus departed from this mortal life and was transformed into an immortal, transcendent being. His metamorphosis was simultaneously an ascent to heaven … Ancient authors agree … that Romulus’ body did disappear. The mortal remains, for those who believed in his ascent, were taken up and transformed for celestial life. On this point, Tertullian explicitly compares Romulus and Jesus: both were “encompassed with a cloud and taken up to heaven” (Apol. 21.23; cf. Acts 1:9-11). For Tertullian’s comparison to work, Romulus must have been taken up bodily, like Jesus. [12]

Romulus, Legendary Founder of Rome

Romulus, Legendary Founder of Rome

 

 The Mystery Religions: Dionysus, Attis, and Adonis

The mystery cults were originally agricultural faiths whose dying and rising gods symbolized the death and rebirth of croplife–thus the spring celebrations of popular gods like Attis. Over time, man came to believe that performing certain rituals of initiation could mystically unite him with the fate of the risen god, effecting for him a spiritual death and rebirth in this life, and, ultimately, a blessed existence in the next. This mystical concept is featured in Rom. 6:3-5, Phil. 3:10-11, Col. 2:12, etc., in which baptismal initiation of the Christian neophyte brings about his metaphorical death and resurrection to new life in Christ, with the implication that he will share literally in the gift of eternal life to come. The roots of this salvation scheme may lie in the ancient Egyptian cult of Osiris. As esoteric studies expert Arthur Versluis notes, Greeks and Romans regarded ancient Egypt as a land of great power and mystique, and scholars “have shown conclusively the links between Egyptian traditions and the Greco-Roman Mystery and magical traditions.” [13]

Dionysus was the central figure of both the Dionysian and Orhic mysteries. He was the Greek god of theater, fertility, and wine, and was believed to be the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Semele. The Epicurean, Philodemus, records that “after his dismemberment by the Titans, Rhea gathered together his limbs and he came to life again” (On Piety 44). Similarly, Diodorus of Sicily relates, “his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time” (Libr. Hist. 3.62.6). Plutarch explicitly identifies Dionysus with Osiris, stating, “the tales regarding the Titans and the rites celebrated by night agree with the accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification and regenesis” (Is. Os. 35.364).

Dionysus: God of Wine, Fertility, and Rebirth

Dionysus: God of Wine, Fertility, and Rebirth

 

Attis was a Phrygian god whose jealous consort, Cybele, drove him to madness, leading him to castrate himself and bleed to death under a pine tree. Plagued with regret, Cybele invoked Zeus to have his body preserved, never to rot or decay. At some point in the legacy of Attis’ myth, the mere preservation of his body morphed into a full-blown resurrection, leading to a “Passion Week” by the 1st century CE under the reign of Caesar Claudius. [14] Author G.A. Wells discusses the evidence brought to bear by Maarten J. Vermaseren in his seminal work, Attis and Cybele: The Myth and the Cult.

Attis died emasculating himself under a tree; but ancient art includes ‘scenes of the emasculated Attis dancing,’ indicating his resurrection. The oldest evidence is a Hellenistic Greek vase depicting ‘the dancing Attis hilaris … from the 4th century BC.’ Vermaseren also instances two later statues from Ostia which point to the god’s periodic resurrection. One (from Roman Imperial times) shows ‘another young Attis standing ready to replace the dying one.’ The other statue (dedicated in the second century AD) depicts the ‘lying and triumphant Attis, his entire figure indicating the resurrection which is also shown by the decoration of various kinds of flowers and plants.’ [15]

The Risen Attis (1st C. BCE)

The Risen Attis (1st C. BCE)

 

Adonis is believed to be the Greek counterpart of the Babylonian Tammuz–a name that graces one full month of the Jewish calendar. Though widely known as a god of beauty and desire, he also belongs to the category of dying and rising gods, as he too was associated with seasonal worship and fertility. Ritual mourning and lamentation accompanied the death of the god; though, like Tammuz, he would triumphantly rise again. [16]

They say, at any rate, that the deed that was done to Adon by the boar [i.e. the death of the God] occurred in their land, and in memory of that misfortune every year they beat their breasts and mourn and perform the ceremonies, making solemn lamentations throughout the country. And when the breast-beating and weeping is at end, first they make offerings to Adonis as if to a dead person; and then, on the next day, they proclaim that he is alive and fetch him forth into the air…  (Lucian, Syr. God., Ch. 6)

Women bemoaning the slain Adonis

Women bewailing the slain Adonis

 

Conclusion

Bart Ehrman is a top-notch New Testament scholar and textual critic. There is no denying either his brilliance or his contribution to the field of New Testament studies. However, in assessing the claims of mythicists, and scholars of comparative religion in general, he seems to have stepped well outside of his area of expertise. Despite Ehrman’s adamant claims to the contrary, there were dying and rising gods, as well as mythic figures like Romulus and Asclepius who were divinized upon their resurrection, like Jesus in the earliest New Testament texts. They rose physically, not merely spiritually, leaving not a trace of their bodies behind. Osiris is certainly to be counted among them, as ancient Egyptian texts and relevant scholarship make abundantly clear. And the scholarship on these matters is not outdated; Litwa’s work in Iesus Deus, for instance, was published a mere few years ago.

Bart Ehrman writes and lectures about the diversity within early Christianity, in such works as Lost Christianities and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. He knows, as well as anyone, that emerging orthodoxy supplanted and effaced all other opposing views. In a strange twist of irony, Ehrman himself has become the champion of The New Orthodoxy within New Testament scholarship, railing against any views that aren’t represented by “mainstream, biblical scholarship.” But mainstream, biblical scholarship still lies on the conservative end of the spectrum for a reason: Because evangelical Christianity still exerts a mighty influence within the halls of academia. And, there, the fashionable opinions of mainstream scholars matter more than what the ancient sources themselves have to say. True discovery must recede behind the dominating shadow of the status quo. This is why independent scholars like Robert Price, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, etc. are the true heroes. They don’t give a damn about the status quo. They’re not in it to be “mainstream.” They’re following the evidence wherever it leads them. They, like me, are only interested in pursuing the truth.


Works Cited:

[1] Dan Barker and John W. Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010), 11.
[2] S.G.F. Brandon and E.O. James, ed., “The Ritual Technique of Salvation in the ancient Near East.” The Saviour God: Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation, (Manchester University Press, 1963), 23.
[3] Alfred Bertholet, “The Pre-Christian Belief in the Resurrection of the Body,” The American Journal of Theology, (20:1 [1916]: 10).
[4] Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Duane Garrett, “Power Over Egypt in the Hymn to Osiris,” NIV Archaeological Study Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 877.
[5] S.G.F. Brandon and E.O. James, ed., “The Ritual Technique of Salvation in the ancient Near East.” The Saviour God: Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation, (Manchester University Press, 1963), 17-33.
[6] Joseph D. Reed, Arsinoe’s Adonis and the Poetics of Ptolemaic Imperialism, (American Philological Association: First Edition, 2000), 331.
[7] Internet Sacred Text Archive, The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (Col. XV.), http://sacred-texts.com/egy/dmp/dmp18.htm (2010).
[8] M. David Litwa, Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 173-74.
[9] Matthew Ferguson, 1 Corinthians 15 and the “500 Witnesses,” https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/1-corinthians-15-and-the-500-witnesses/ (2013).
[10] M. David Litwa, Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 156-57.
[11] Ibid., p. 159.
[12] Ibid., p. 164.
[13] Arthur Versluis, Magic & Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esotericism, (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 12.
[14] Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle, “Reader Feedback and Author’s Response,” http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/rfset27.htm (2007).
[15] G.A. Wells, Did Jesus Exist? (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1992), 202.
[16] S. N. Kramer, “Dumuzi’s Annual Resurrection: An Important Correction to ‘Inanna’s Descent'” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 183 (October 1966:31).

A New Chapter Begins

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2014 by Derreck Bennett

 

Several months ago, a friend of mine on facebook simply disappeared out of the blue, with no one among our mutual friends able to reach him. We had no idea what had happened. Prior to his disappearance, he had been heavily engaged in theological debates, taking every opportunity to rock the boat and provoke his believing acquaintances. There was some indication that it was all getting to be a bit much for him, and I suspected that might have had something to do with his vanishing act. But, again, none of us were certain, and I was somewhat concerned. Lo’ and behold… he re-emerged. And, when he did, he was different. There was a certain peace about him. He had relinquished all conflict. He wasn’t fighting, anymore. He had chosen the path of serenity.

I envied him at the time, because, although I could certainly relate to his newly chosen path, I myself wasn’t ready to give up the fight, completely. I had reduced a good deal of it. But, I was still hanging on to it. Out of that need for validation, the need to boost my own ego and pride, I continued to feverishly research, debate, blog, and challenge others. I was fighting to prove my superiority. And continuing to act on old wounds, inflicted by the religiosity of others from my past.

There is certainly something to be said for the thirst for knowledge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with certain academic pursuits. But, what for me was a passion was also an obsession. One that consumed me so entirely that it came at too great a cost. It kept me from bettering myself in ways that should have been a greater priority: Seeking stability, financially and otherwise. Spending more time with friends and family. And being completely available to those I love. Not lost in a sea of my own thoughts, but present with them in the moment.

There is a saying: Until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change, no change will come. And that is why most of us have to learn so many of life’s lessons the hard way. Because we don’t change until our old ways are beaten out of us. All too often, it’s the only way. But, the good news is… it can and does happen. So long as we have both the fortitude to reflect on our circumstances, and the willingness to change them.

With that said, I am hanging my hat with blogging and debating about religion. And not just for practical reasons, but because my heart simply isn’t in it, anymore. Sure, I may dabble here and there, or answer questions from those who are interested. But, it will no longer be a priority for me. I am closing that chapter.

Make no mistake, though: I haven’t given up on my dreams. I will still seek after them. It’s just that my dreams have changed. What I want out of life has changed. If indeed it is so that life is finite, that I only have so many years left to experience this world, then I want to live that life to the fullest. I want to have the means to achieve stability and security, travel, spend quality time with the people I cherish most. And to share something special with someone, whomever that may be. Because that facebook friend of mine? He’s right. Love is all that matters.

 

Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2014 by Derreck Bennett

who_1

I was unable to join a podcast for the Owensboro Humanists recently, but I wanted to take time on my blog to respond to a few questions that they posed:

1. Do you think Jesus existed? Why or why not?

In all my reading of the debate over Jesus’ historicity, probably the best site I’ve come across is Early Christian History‘s entry on the topic: The Historicity of Jesus. It is brief yet comprehensive, and, above all, fair and balanced. There is no axe granding, no attempt to sway the audience one way or the other. And its conclusion is, I think, the most reasonable one we can come to: Was there a historical Jesus? We don’t know. And we can’t know. The evidence is inconclusive, either way.

To begin with, there are no contemporaneous references to Jesus, i.e., no written records of him from the time that he is said to have lived. This hardly rules him out as a historical personage, since many historical figures go unattested until some years later. But, it certainly doesn’t bode well for his divinity. Absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence, but it is where such evidence should be expected. Had Jesus actually been a miracle-working, death-defying Son of God, there are authors from the time who not only could have mentioned him, but should have mentioned him–most notably the Hellenized Jew, Philo of Alexandria. Philo had ties to both the Priesthood in Judea and the Herodian Dynasty, and he likely visited the Temple in Jerusalem not long after the supposed death of Jesus. Moreover, he waxed philosophical about a “First-Born Son of God” and “High Priest,” a “being most perfect in all virtue, [able] to procure forgiveness of sins” (Mos. 2.134). Though this was, for him, an abstraction, it is inconceivable that he’d fail to mention someone in nearby Palestine who literally embodied those ideas.

Not to mention, those attributes of Jesus that would mark him as divine bear too close a resemblance to the gods and heroes of contemporary myth and legend. Like Asclepius, he healed the lame, the blind, and the paralytic, and had the power to raise the dead. Like Osiris, he conquered death himself and extended immortality to his devotees. Like Perseus, Dionysus, and Romulus, he was the offspring of a High God and a mortal woman. Where we recognize the mythic character of one, we ought to do so in the other, or else we are guilty of special pleading.

Still, there may have been a historical Jesus whose story was embellished to mythic proportions, as had happened with Pythagoras and even, to an extent, Augustus and Alexander. But, how can we know? While the lack of contemporaneous reference certainly doesn’t rule out his existence, it doesn’t securely lock him into history, either. What we do have in the way of secular testimony from outside the Bible, e.g., Josephus and Tacitus, doesn’t help us much. They’re reporting from a generation after the so-called events, and they may only be passing on hearsay from Christian contemporaries. Josephus’ most widely known reference to Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum, is fraught with problems; it is at least heavily interpolated (even Christian scholars admit this), if not an outright forgery. But even if the passage is partially authentic, it doesn’t provide us with anything conclusive.

Granting that Josephus did mention Jesus, we take him at his word concerning the existence of other 1st century messiahs–Athronges the Shepherd, Judas of Galilee, Simon of Peraea, etc. Like Jesus, Josephus could only have known about them secondhand. But, none of them bear the telltale signs of a figure born out of myth. It is Jesus’ correspondence to the Mythic Hero Archetype that warrants special consideration, a skepticism which needn’t apply to other, more mundane figures. But even this only takes us so far. Apollonius of Tyana bears some of the same mythic traits as Jesus, yet we know nevertheless that there was a historical Apollonius. We have his own correspondence with various kings and philosophers of the time. This is precisely the kind of thing that we don’t have for Jesus, but it still goes to show that conformance to mythic archetypes doesn’t necessarily render one ahistorical.

As you can see, this topic is complex, and there is much to be weighed on each end of the scale. For every point there is a counterpoint, and so on and so forth. Scholars who are far more mathematically inclined than I are now applying Bayesian Methods to determine the probability of Jesus’ existence. While I applaud their groundbreaking work, I suspect that the debate is far from over. In the meantime, I remain agnostic on the question of Jesus’ historicity.

2. Lord, Liar, or Lunatic: Who was he?

Granting for the sake of argument that there was a historical Jesus, what might I make of him? C.S. Lewis popularized the “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” argument as follows:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis%27s_trilemma#Lewis.27s_formulation)

To one unacquainted with biblical criticism, this may appear to be a sound argument. But, in fact, it is logically fallacious. Lewis has committed a false trilemma by limiting us to only three options, when there is indeed a plausible alternative: Legend. The Gospels were written decades after the supposed death of Jesus, so we cannot simply assume that they accurately portray the words and deeds of the “Savior.” To make matters worse, they are undeniably works of fiction, wherein the authors had plenty of creative license. Classicist Matthew Ferguson explains:

The Gospel authors are silent about their identities and give context about their relation neither to their sources nor to the events they contain. The Gospel narratives instead just read like novels, told from a camera-like perspective, that merely follow around the characters with no critical analysis whatsoever … [They] are not historical biographies but hagiographies written in unquestioning praise of their messianic subject … Such works, written for an audience of converts, are not concerned with being critical or investigative, but merely serve the religious agendas and ideologies of the communities that produced them. (Matthew Ferguson, “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament‏,” is available online at: http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/ancient-historical-writing-compared-to-the-gospels-of-the-new-testament/)

Case in point: How do we know what Jesus prayed while away from his disciples on the Mount of Olives, with no one nearby to hear him (Luke 22:39-46)? Because Luke made it up. Without knowing what, if anything, can actually be attributed to Jesus, we can make no assumptions therein. Lewis’ argument falls apart on that basis.

But, if I had to take a shot in the dark as to who the historical Jesus was, assuming there was one, I’d follow John Loftus and Paula Fredriksen in estimating that he was an apocalyptic prophet, heralding the coming Kingdom of God in the tumultuous, political climate of 1st century Judea. “The end is nigh” may well have been his message. So, where does that place him within Lewis’ triadic scheme? This is a question we cannot answer without considering cultural and historical relativism. For his time, Jesus would have been pretty run-of-the-mill. But, by today’s standards, he’d be on par with David Koresh and Jim Jones. For the sake of sparing Lewis any “patronizing nonsense,” I’ll answer him within a 21st century context: Lunatic.

 

Why I Embrace Pope Francis: An Atheistic Liberal’s Affirmation

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2013 by Derreck Bennett

 

Pope Francis

 

It is absolutely understandable that one could read my blogs, my facebook posts, etc., and take me for a “militant atheist.” Obviously, I am highly critical of religion and its extraordinary claims. But, I personally don’t think that label is apt. While I share many characteristics with those in the New Atheist movement, there are some notable distinctions. For instance, I don’t feel that religion is the source of all evil, or that it needs to be eradicated from the face of the earth. I see no reason whatsoever to deny that much good is done in the name of religion, despite its flaws.

Most importantly, I have no animosity toward religious people in general. I rail against the politically-motivated Religious Right, because of their theocratic tendencies, and I subject Christian apologists to well-deserved scrutiny. But, outside of that, an individual’s personal beliefs are really none of my business. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Besides, there are just too many good, Christian friends and family members whom I cherish sincerely, and I refuse to treat them as ideological opponents. To the flames with any such “Us vs. Them” mentality.

It is in that spirit that I wholeheartedly embrace Pope Francis. I don’t give a damn about his personal religious convictions, or his position in the Catholic Church. I see a man who flies in the face of the Religious Right, exposing their flagrant hypocrisy. It boggles the mind that conservatives lay claim to Jesus, whose message was diametrically opposed to theirs (Mk. 10:21-25, Lk. 16:13). In the same ironic fashion, conservatives here in America condemn Pope Francis for following in Christ’s footstepsfocusing on the poor and impoverished. Teaching love, acceptance, tolerance, and compassion. I actually wish Jesus would momentarily return just to put a swift sandal in Rush Limbaugh’s ass.

It’s not that I don’t see where conservatives are coming from, at least some of the time. In the realm of politics, I perceive a lot more gray than I do black and white. I get that there are people who abuse the system. I agree that individuals should be rewarded for their efforts. But, it seems to me that conservatives are missing the forest for the trees. They’re so narrowly focused on the “social ills” of government spending that they fail to grasp the underlying issue: the astronomically absurd level of wealth disparity in this country.

 

wealthdistribution

The deadliest sin we face isn’t sloth; it’s greed. If it weren’t for the gratuitous level of financial hoarding in this nation, we simply would not need as much in the way of government aid and entitlements. And the trend toward a declining middle class reveals just how severely things have gotten out of hand. More and more, the post-apocalyptic visions of Hollywood films, like The Hunger Games and In Time, are unfolding before us, the gaping rift between the “haves” and the “have nots” ever widening.

I am not here arguing for communism, lest one invoke such a ridiculous strawman. But, there clearly needs to be some kind of regulation, some system of checks and balances. If you decry this notion as an attack on “freedom,” whilst honest, hard-working people are struggling to feed their families and make ends meet, then you’re not really an idealist; you’re an asshole. Or, shall we say, willfully ignorant. Whatever the case, if the shoe fits, wear it. But, don’t pretend to be a true follower of Jesus. He sides with me. And with the Pope–a man whose humanism is deeply admirable, whether secular or religious.

 

Identification With the Risen Osiris in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses

Posted in Uncategorized on December 1, 2013 by Derreck Bennett

 

During a stimulating discussion with a Christian scholar several months ago, I was challenged to present evidence for specific claims I made regarding mystery cult rituals and their similarities to Pauline Christianity. Among the most important was whether or not the initiate, Lucius, was ritually identified with the risen Osiris in Apuleius’ ancient work, Metamorphoses (11.21-23). If so, this would bear a striking resemblance to the identification of the believer with the risen Christ in Romans 6:3-5, and elsewhere in the Pauline corpus. I acknowledged that such mystical identification is not made explicit in Metamorphoses, but quoted a relevant scholar, Gwyn Griffiths, to this effect:

“In this cult the initiate can be identified with none other than Osiris, but here, after a ceremony which depicts the visit of the sun-god to the Osirian realm of the dead, the triumph over the dead is fittingly symbolized by an Osiris-figure with solar attributes. An identification with the god is therefore present” (Gwyn Griffiths, “The Isis Book,” [Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1997], 315).

Griffiths’ conclusion is based not only on Lucius’ adornment with twelve cloaks and a radiant crown (symbolizing the Zodiac and the Osirian Crown of Justification), but also on the longstanding tradition attested by ancient Egyptian funerary texts (Ibid., 315-16). Not to mention, it is remarkable that Lucius symbolically died and rose at the hands of the goddess, just as Osiris was believed to have done, literally.

Welp. Enter one Helmut Koester, scholar of New Testament and Early Christianity at Harvard University. In his Introduction to the New Testament, Koester denies any mystical identification between Lucius and Osiris based on the fact that explicit mention is not made of the latter (Helmut Koester, “Introduction to the New Testament,” [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1995], 182). To be sure, Lucius dons “a precious garment of the highest god,” having “attained identity with the highest heavenly deity” (Ibid., 181). But, apparently, that’s not Osiris.

So, who is this highly exalted and grandiose deity? Unfortunately, Apuleius never tells us. Nope. Not ever. Oh, except for right here:

…Osiris, greatest of the gods, highest among the greatest, mightiest among the highest, lord of the mightiest… (Metamorphoses 11.28-30).

There, there now. Take a deep breath, Helmut. Even Harvard professors make mistakes. In the meantime, I’ll just go on being right. If that’s cool with you. Good news is, I got you a nice fruit basket, along with something to hang on your wall.

 

599fc151b649fa6ac96c5d2781749c733536c6276b5825580df8f1f90f0e8d2a

 

Judaism: The Apologist’s Shameful Shield Against Early Christian Syncretism

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2013 by Derreck Bennett

 

Among evangelical apologists, the strategy most often employed to divorce Christianity from any association with Hellenism, or the mystery religions, is to appeal to its roots in Judaism. Robert M. Price describes this brilliantly in his review of Jonathan Z. Smith’s Drudgery Divine:

Judaism is used as [a] buffer … one seizes upon any possible Jewish parallel with this or that feature of New Testament thought or myth that Bultmann or Reitzenstein had tagged a Hellenistic borrowing. Such a Jewish precedent is judged ­ipso facto­ preferable to any Hellenistic one … In all of this the reasoning seems to be that even a vague Jewish parallel is automatically to be preferred over even a close Gnostic or Mystery Religion parallel as the source of a New Testament doctrine or mytheme. And the reason for this bias can only be the traditional theological desire to have the New Testament grow out of the Old as by a process of progressive revelation. Let us widen the scope of Jewish origin to include Rabbinism, and the Pseudepigrapha if we must, but God forbid we should have to admit that Christianity had non-Jewish roots as well as Jewish. [1]

Most recently, I have encountered this strategy in terms of “The New Perspective on Paul,” an attempt by scholars to interpret Paul within the context of Second Temple Judaism. This is exemplified in N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, for which Price has this to say:

Part of Wright’s agenda of harmonizing and de-fusing the evidence is to smother individual New Testament texts beneath a mass of theological synthesis derived from the Old Testament … he wants to tie Paul’s theology in with the grand arc of Old Testament theology [and] “redemptive history” … In reality, the only value he sees in Judaism is the safe haven it gives him from taking into account the patent influence on early Christianity of Hellenistic Mystery religions… [2]

Wright correctly interprets Romans 6:3-5 as saying this:

The resurrection of the Messiah leads, through the identification of the believer with him in baptism, to personal ‘resurrection’, both literally in the future and metaphorically in the present. [3]

Well, golly, Wright. That sure sounds like mystery religion soteriology, given the mystical identification of the believer with the divinity, as well as the former’s share in the fate of the latter. But, according to Wright, the origin of this concept is to be found in the aforementioned “redemptive history” of the Old Testament, i.e., “the metaphorical ‘resurrection’ in second-Temple Judaism, whose concrete referent was the return from exile, the connotation of which was release from sin (in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel in particular).” [4]

Let’s set aside the fact that the resurrection mytheme in the Old Testament is itself probably derived from Osirianism, given the “third day” motif in Hosea 6:2, the image of bones rejoining in Ezekiel 37:7, and the fact that Osiris was long known in Palestine. [5] [6] [7] [8]

We are to believe that Paul, or his predecessors, cobbled this together exclusively from Old Testament themes, and the remarkable similarities to mystery religion soteriology, i.e., mystical identification with and participation in the death and resurrection of the divinity, are just a coincidence. In a Hellenistic milieu of widespread syncretistic activity. 

1238991_10201771447308529_1297061833_n

 

Works Cited:

[1] Robert M. Price, Review: Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianites and the Religions of Late Antiquity, http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_jzsmith_drudgery.htm (2007).

[2] Robert M. Price, Review: The Resurrection of the Son of God, http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_ntwrong.htm (2007).

[3] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 251.

[4] Ibid., 253.

[5] “For we must not ignore the fact that these very expressions had played an important role in the myths of the ‘dying-and-rising god’ which were still very much alive in the wider cultural environment of Israel” (Lloyd Geering, “Resurrection as the Hope for National Revival,” Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope, http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=2734&C=2446 [1971]).

[6] “Osiris, according to the brilliant conjecture of Lagarde, is perhaps named in Isaiah 10:4. In any case, he is known in Palestine much earlier, according to the excavations there” (Alfred Bertholet, “The Pre-Christian Belief in the Resurrection of the Body,” The American Journal of Theology, 20:1 [1916]: 10).

[7] “For Egyptian influence to have become integral to Israelite religion even from pre-biblical times is only natural given the fact that from 3000 BCE Egypt ruled Canaan” (Robert M. Price, Review: Christ in Egypt, http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/reviews/murdock_christ_egypt.htm [2007]).

[8] Psalm 78 derives its structure from an early Hymn to Osiris, as revealed by an Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian stele. Yahweh’s “awakening” in verse 65 and enthronement of David in verse 70 coincide with Osiris’ vindication and similar enthronement of his son, Horus, as king of Egypt (Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Duane Garrett, “Power Over Egypt in the Hymn to Osiris,” NIV Archaeological Study Bible, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], 877).

 

Addendum to Article

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2013 by Derreck Bennett

Was Attis Raised From the Dead?

In the earliest myths of Attis, Cybele invokes Zeus to have Attis’ body merely preserved, never to rot or decay. But, at some point in the legacy of Attis’ myth, the mere preservation of his body morphed into a full-blown resurrection.

Attis died emasculating himself under a tree; but ancient art includes ‘scenes of the emasculated Attis dancing,’ indicating his resurrection. The oldest evidence is a Hellenistic Greek vase depicting ‘the dancing Attis hilaris … from the 4th century BC.’ Vermaseren also instances two later statues from Ostia which point to the god’s periodic resurrection. One (from Roman Imperial times) shows ‘another young Attis standing ready to replace the dying one.’ The other statue (dedicated in the second century AD) depicts the ‘lying and triumphant Attis, his entire figure indicating the resurrection which is also shown by the decoration of various kinds of flowers and plants.’ [1]


Emasculated Attis Dancing (1st C. BCE) [2]

What’s more, there was a “Passion Week” by the 1st century A.D. under the reign of Caesar Claudius. [3] We can be fairly certain, given its joyous celebrations, that Attis was conceived as having been resurrected, especially since he would likely have been syncretized with Osiris by that period, whose cult had swept through Asia Minor already by the 2nd century BC. [4] Which leads to our next point of contention…

Was Osiris Raised From the Dead?

Apologists argue that Osiris was not raised from the dead, since he departed to the ancient Egyptian afterworld. However, Osiris’ destination in the afterworld makes him no less resurrected than does Jesus’ destination in the Christian afterworld–Heaven. Both serve as the abode of the hereafter for righteous souls. Regarding the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, James P. Allen, Curator at the Department of Egyptian Art, states:

The ancient Egyptians would not have recognized the title of this book. The texts translated here were given the collective name “Book of the Dead” in modern times because they are usually found in scrolls of papyrus or on other objects that were buried with the deceased in Egyptian tombs … The modern title “Book of the Dead” is misleading, because the texts are not about death but about life: specifically, eternal life which every Egyptian hoped to attain after death. [5]

Prior to his arrival in the afterworld, where, like Jesus, Osiris acts as Ruler and Judge, there is indeed an initial return to the land of the living. The following is an image of Osiris bodily rising before Isis and Horus, from a bas-relief at Philae (2nd-3rd C. BCE): [6]

Resurrection of Osiris

As the myth relates, this took place on earth via the ministrations of Isis, Nephthys, and Horus. Therefore, the image conveys an earthly resurrection of the god. Osiris is even said in the ancient texts to ascend upon a ladder to heaven, indicating that he initially rose to life here on earth. [7] What’s more, according to the I-Kher-Nefert stele (circa 1875 BCE), the sacred representations of the myth at Abydos presented the risen Osiris before a crowd of joyous celebrants, after which he departed upon a solar boat to the heavenly realm. [8]

It is equally bogus to suggest that Osiris did not rise in a physical body. As comparative religion scholar S.G.F. Brandon states, Osiris’ resurrection was “conceived of in completely materialistic terms, involving the use of a reconstituted physical body.” [9] Pyramidal texts reveal an emphasis on the corporeal reconstitution of the god, confirming Brandon’s claim:

“I have come to thee…that I may revivify thee, that I may assemble for thee thy bones, that I may collect for thee thy flesh, that I may assemble for thee thy dismembered limbs, for I am as Horus his avenger, I have smitten for thee him who smote thee…raise thyself up, king, Osiris N.; thou livest!” [10]

“Collect thy bones; arrange thy limbs; shake off thy dust; untie thy bandages; the tomb is open for thee; the double doors of the coffin are undone for thee; the double doors of heaven are open for thee…thy soul is in thy body…raise thyself up, [Osiris] N.” [11]

Apologists may attempt to distance Christ’s resurrection from Osiris’ by asserting that Jesus remained on earth for a longer period, continuing to be active in this world before ascending to heaven. While that is the case in the Gospels and Acts, it is far from clear in the earliest portions of the New Testament. As Earl Doherty of The Jesus Puzzle notes, “1 Peter 3:18-22, Ephesians 1:20, Hebrews 10:12, the hymns of Philippians 2 and 1 Timothy 3:16, exclude any period on earth.” [12] Ephesians seems to make the resurrection and ascension a synonymous event, declaring “the mighty strength [God] exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (1:19-20). 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 stands opposed to these verses, with its list of appearances of the risen Lord, though its peculiarity in the Pauline corpus may be the result of a later interpolation. [13]

At any rate, differences between the resurrection myths of Osiris, Attis, Jesus, et al. are to be expected, given that the original stories stem from different places and times in the ancient world. These distinctions, however, do not make a case against borrowing. Syncretism, the fusion of religious ideas, involves the appropriation of certain key elements, not the plagiarization of every last detail. In appropriating those elements, the new story may expand or improve upon the old, adopt certain features while discarding others, etc., but the core concept remains.

Most importantly, it is through the god’s conquest of death (whether Osiris, Attis, Jesus, etc.) that the devotee is granted spiritual rebirth and a blessed existence in the next life–having mystically participated in the god’s death and resurrection through sacred rituals of initiation. (See here for more.) It is the salvific significance of the deity’s resurrection, however it is said to have come about, that unites all of these traditions.

Works Cited:

[1] G.A. Wells. Did Jesus Exist? (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1992), 202.

[2] Creativity and Healing. Attis, Jason and Argonauts. http://creativityandhealing-kalina.blogspot.com/2012/11/attis-jason-and-argonauts.html (2012).

[3] Earl Doherty. The Jesus Puzzle. “Reader Feedback and Author’s Response.” http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/rfset27.htm (2007).

[4] Mircea Eliade. A History of Religious Ideas: Volume 2. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 291.

[5] James Allen and Raymond O. Faulkner, trans. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. (New York: Sterling Innovation, 2011), 11.

[6] E.A. Wallis Budge. Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life. Internet Sacred Text Archive. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/efl/efl02.htm (2010).

[7] E.A. Wallis Budge. Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection: Volume 1. (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2011), 75-77.

[8] Martin A. Larson. The Story of Christian Origins: A Synopsis of Chapter One. Freeservers. http://www.osiris.freeservers.com/ (2013).

[9] S.G.F. Brandon and E.O. James, ed. “The Ritual Technique of Salvation in the ancient Near East.” The Saviour God: Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation. (Manchester University Press, 1963), 23.

[10] Samuel A. B. Mercer. The Pyramid Texts. “The Resurrection, Ascension, and Reception of the Deceased King in Heaven, Utterance 606.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/pyt/pyt46.htm (2010).

[11] Samuel A. B. Mercer. The Pyramid Texts. “Resurrection, Transfiguration, and Life of the King in Heaven, Utterance 676.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/pyt/pyt56.htm (2010). “N.” denotes the king’s identification with Osiris. By imitative magic, he “repeats the experiences of his god.” See Alfred Bertholet. The Pre-Christian Belief in the Resurrection of the Body. The American Journal of Theology. (20:1, 1916), 11-12.

[12] Earl Doherty. The Jesus Puzzle. “The Mystery Cults and Christianity.” http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp13B.htm (2007).

[13] Robert M. Price. “Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 As a Post-Pauline Interpolation.” The Secular Web. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/apocrypha.html (1997).