Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool

then open your mouth in front of a scholar with the cameras rolling and remove all doubt.

Update (17 March): The full video can be seen here. The other gentleman in the video (not the one who asks the question about Osiris) is Jason Danner and the venue is the University of Central Florida. To see earlier posts I've written comparing Jesus to pagan mythology, including Osiris, see here and here.

Update (22 March): Another post I've written on this topic that I neglected to link to is here. A post where I quote Ben Witherington on the uniqueness of the virgin birth is here, and is interesting in part for the comments.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Hans said...

Who is that other guy?

James said...

While the Horace and Osiris myth is bunk as he says, this idea that New Testament scholars have abandoned pagan religion as a way to explain Christian theology is absurd. Yes, if you want to understand Jesus and his teachings, one has to look to the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers. But the theology of Christianity is largely through the interpretation given to it by Paul. And many scholars still see a large part of Paul's theology cribbed from the Greek mystery cults that were contemporary with Jesus and common in the Roman world. Understanding Jesus as a person is a different proposition historically from understanding where Paul's theology came from.

David said...

Hmm. Yes, Jesus and his original followers were certainly Jews, but Christianity didn't stay either Palestinian or Jewish for long, and implying that Paul, let alone Athenasius, Origen, Augustine, Clement, etc. weren't influenced by non-Jewish philosophy and religion is foolish, if not patently dishonest.

But, what do I know?

Tim O'Neill said...

... many scholars still see a large part of Paul's theology cribbed from the Greek mystery cults ...

"Many" scholars such as who, exactly?

Martin S. said...

“In the earlier history of every rebellion there is a stage at which you do not yet attack the King in person. You say, ‘The King is all right. It is his Ministers who are wrong. They misrepresent him and corrupt all his plans –which, I’m sure, are good plans if only the Ministers would let them take effect.’ And the first victory consists in beheading a few Ministers: only at a later stage do you go on and behead the King himself. In the same way, the nineteenth-century attack on St. Paul was really only a stage in the revolt against Christ. Men were not ready in large numbers to attack Christ Himself. They made the normal first move—that of attacking one of His principal ministers. Everything they disliked in Christianity was therefore attributed to St. Paul. It was unfortunate that their case could not impress anyone who had really read the Gospels and the epistles with attention: but apparently few people had, and so the first victory was won. St. Paul was impeached and banished and the world went on to the next step—the attack on the King Himself.”

-C.S. Lewis-

Jim S. said...

James: I'm unaware of any scholars who say that Paul was influenced by Greek mystery cults. Those who do mention such claims specifically dismiss them as conspiracy theories on the same level as moon-landing hoax claims and Holocaust denial. If you're aware of any actual scholars who go contrary to this, please name them.

David: The myths in question -- the resurrection, virgin birth, Jesus' miracles, etc. -- go back to early Christianity when it was still Jewish. Moreover, the claim is not that Christianity never had any influence from outside Judaism but that there was no influence from these alleged parallels to Jesus' life specifically.

At any rate, anyone who has actually read these alleged parallels knows that they do not parallel Jesus at all. The resurrections are not resurrections, the virgin births are not virgin births. It's a joke. The fact that there is no causal connection between them and the origin of the Jesus story is just icing on the cake.

Joel said...

Actually, the recent trend in Pauline scholarship over the past couple of decades is to emphasize his Jewish roots.

Joel said...

See the "New Perspective on Paul", including EP Sanders, James Dunn, Richard Hays, and NT Wright (these are not all evangelicals or even all Christians).

James said...

I see.

You've already categorized an interesting and fruitful area of academic study (Hellenistic influence on early Christianity) as moon hoax and holocaust denial. Glad we've established that. Yet authors such as Ehrman, Mack, Wedderburn, Maccoby, Vermes and others don't seem to think so.

And you've backed it up by quoting evangelical Christians. Wonderful. I thought this was a blog about academic research, not apologetics.

Jim S. said...

Dude, I was thinking of Ehrman when I wrote "Those who do mention such claims specifically dismiss them as conspiracy theories on the same level as moon-landing hoax claims and Holocaust denial." Now that I'm thinking about it though, he was talking about a different kind of Jesus myther, those who say that Jesus never existed.

Regardless, the point isn't whether there was any Hellenistic influence on early Christianity, a period covering the first few centuries AD. That wasn't the point of the video, and that wasn't the point of your first comment. The point is whether these myths about dying and rising gods or virgin births or whatever influenced the gospel stories. Remember? You wrote, "many scholars still see a large part of Paul's theology cribbed from the Greek mystery cults that were contemporary with Jesus and common in the Roman world." And on that point the scholars are agreed, and they've been agreed for a century.

First, the dying and rising gods didn't really die and rise; the virgin births weren't really virgin births. The parallels had to be described with Christian terminology in order to make the parallels works -- then those who made the allegations turned around and "marvelled" at the similarities. Anyone familiar with the primary sources knows the parallels are bogus, and anyone familiar with historical Jesus research knows that scholars haven't taken them seriously for a hundred years.

Second, at any rate, the Christian doctrines that are alleged to be parallel arose very quickly when the Christian movement was still Jewish and still located in Palestine. The myths in question simply did not exist in first century Palestine and so could not have influenced the early Christians.

So despite your pretensions that this is "an interesting and fruitful area of academic study" -- and then shifting the goalpost to another topic that no one would deny (Hellenistic influence on early Christianity) -- I'm afraid your actual claim about mythological parallels to Jesus is something along the lines of the theories of thermite combustion.

Anonymous said...

Paul was a Pharisee among Pharisees, was taught under who is still known as one of thee greatest teachers of all of Israel, Gamaleo.
To think just because he grew up in Tarsus with only recent Roman influence and chalk that up to being steeped in Roman and Hellenistic influence is wishful thinking at best on the part of the mythers.
Peter gave Paul his stamp of approval on Paul's ministry. Anyone going to claim that a simple Jewish fisherman was influenced by pagan mythology?

claudio said...

As is the case, the so called New Perspective on Paul (not so new by now) is also about rediscovering the jewinesh of Paul, something that is also happening in judaism scholars.
Of course, it is very possible to do so and at the same time see the possible origin of some of Paul's concepts, such as conscience, wich, if I am right, did not exist in the judaism of his time. After all, he was a well travelled man.

James said...

So we've established

1) These people are fools

2) Scholars dismiss such parallels as conspiracy theories akin to the moon hoax, and finally

3) such claims are something along the lines of the theories of thermite combustion

Yet, it's clear that

1) The Greek mysteries long predate Jesus' time and *were* widespread in the 1st century. See Burkert's book on the subject. Dying gods were central to these, and Paul's constant identification with the suffering deity are right at home in such worldview. There's no such prototype of a suffering deity of which followers can share in, and experience a better afterlife in Judaism.

2) Paul was not from Palestine. Nor were most of the gentiles he preached to. He was from and was preaching to the Hellenized world, which would have seen the parallels between the cults of Dionysus and Demeter and Paul's Jesus.

3) Resurrection (and virgin births) seem to come out of the Jewish tradition.

A historic and nuanced position would be that since virgin births, resurrections and suffering god/men don't actually exist and are not knowable via an historic method, these stories must have come from somewhere in the Jewish/Hellenistic mix of 1st century Palestine. They either came from the man Jesus himself, his immediate followers, from Paul or were later additions (as might be the case of the virgin birth).

As for Paul being a Pharisee among Pharisees, he and his hagiographers certainly claimed as much, but it seems he was quite a poor one. I can't see any Pharisee, let alone any 1st century Jew, having the views on circumcision that Paul had. It defies credulity to claim that Paul's views on Jesus came out of Pharisaic Judaism, and not even the "New Perspectives" people claim this.

I would be quite interested in anything recent-ish on Paul (other than the Sanders New Perspectives volume) that you could recommend that might improve me knowledge of this. It seems that maybe our reading lists have not overlapped.

Jim S. said...

1. Dying and rising gods were not common in Palestine in the first century AD where the doctrine of Jesus' resurrection arose. Moreover, the "resurrections" of these gods aren't real resurrections, they do not parallel Jesus' resurrection, nor do scholars claim they do.

2. Paul was a Jew. Jews at the time were a bit sensitive to syncretism from other belief systems and Paul even decries such practices. Of course you could say he decries such practices in order to cover his own syncretistic tracks, but then you're engaging in a ... wait for it ... conspiracy theory.

3.1. So first you say Jesus' resurrection and virgin birth were influenced by pagan myths, but now you say that Jesus' resurrection and virgin birth comes out of the Jewish tradition. You're moving the goalposts again. See how that works?

3.2. Anyway, the resurrection of Jesus contradicted the Jewish concept of resurrection in two fundamental ways: it was the resurrection of a) an isolated individual b) within history, whereas the Jewish conception was the resurrection of a) everyone who had ever lived b) at the end of time. Even the most extreme scholars acknowledge that belief in Jesus' resurrection arose within five to ten years after it's alleged to have happened, and that's not enough time to reinterpret the Old Testament doctrine of resurrection this way.

3.3. The virgin birth is the claim that virtually no sexual penetration took place in Jesus' conception. As Ben Witherington put it, "As such, this story is without precedent either in Jewish or pagan literature."

You're insisting your position is a reasonable one that has genuine scholarship to back it up. It is not and it does not. The movement among historical Jesus scholars to compare Jesus to pagan mythology was known as the religiongeschichte Methode and it was accepted in some quarters in Germany at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. But the movement died out fairly quickly because the comparisons were obviously bogus. The idea is very attractive, however, so social scientists picked up on it and popularized it afterwards. That's how most people have heard of it, and that's why people think it's a live option. It's not. It's a dead theory, and despite their best efforts to resurrect it, it remains dead.

James said...

1. Agree

2. Paul may have been a Jew, but his views were very outside the mainstream of 2nd temple Judaism. The conflict between his gospel and that of the Jerusalem church were largely over his rejection of Jewish circumcision and following dietary laws. His writings indicate an open hostility to Jewish circumcision. Meanwhile, the theological innovation that he brought to the table - atonement - is a major feature of the Greek mysteries that *were* widespread, especially in Hellenistic Tarsus.

3.1 You are misquoting me. In my first post I stated "many scholars still see a large part of Paul's theology cribbed from the Greek mystery cults..." The main innovation Paul brought to the Christian theology table was atonement - that the sacrifice of a god could pardon someone else's sin. And this has no precedence in Judaism. It comes from outside Judaism, from the larger Hellenistic world. It certainly didn't come from the teachings of Jesus. There's been much written on this by Mack, Ehrman, Maccoby, Vermes and others. These are easy authors to read, and their books are widely available.

3.2 Agree

3.3 That is simply wrong. One of the most famous gods of the Greek world, Perseus, was born of the virgin Danae and Zeus. Virgin births were common for gods in the Greco-Roman world. But of course this doesn't mean that Jesus being born a virgin was made up because of this. In the end, all we have is Matthew's use of the mistranslated Septuigant as a supposed prophesy (Matthew like fulfilling prophecy). The earliest sources - Paul's letters and Mark - say nothing of Jesus' virgin birth, and the infant stories we have in Matthew and Luke conflict with each other enough for us to know that they not reliable.

Anonymous said...

Of interest to some here: Carrier v Ehrman on Jesus mythicism.

Jim S. said...

2. Well, only Jesus' death was for sin; was for his followers; and was considered a victory. None of the "dying god" myths have these elements. To call them "atoning" when they were not for sin and were not for their followers seems a bit odd.

3.1. You write, "The main innovation Paul brought to the Christian theology table was atonement - that the sacrifice of a god could pardon someone else's sin." Again, the dying gods did not die on behalf of someone else and specifically did not die for the sins of someone else. So your point is moot. Regardless, the belief that Jesus died for our sins is found in the creeds and hymns that Paul quotes which were not written by Paul and predates his influence. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 states "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" and most scholars date it to the mid to late 30s AD at the latest.

3.3. On this point I would suggest you read the links in the second update to the post. It is true that Danae did not have Zeus's semen inserted into her vagina via Zeus's penis, but she still had Zeus's semen inserted into her vagina. There are other occasions of this, where a god leaves his "seed" in a pool, a virgin bathes in the pool, and becomes pregnant. The women in these cases weren't penetrated by penises, but they were still penetrated by semen. The virginal conception of Jesus is radically different since there was no penetration of any kind involved. This has no parallel or precedent that I'm aware of.

The title of this post was intended to point out that the student who asked the question about mythological parallels to Jesus ended up looking foolish because he didn't realize such parallels are bunk and are easily recognized as such by anyone who has actually investigated it. You seem intent on not getting that point. The position you're defending is simply not a respectable one.