Monday, October 09, 2006

Revisiting the Jesus Myth

Viewing the story of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels as heavily influenced mythology is, essentially, the only legitimate understanding thereof. The historicity of Jesus can be debated and will likely be debated for years, however, there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that the accounts of the life and times of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels is anything other than a parsed together story, heavily influenced by the common mythology of the time and written with a concerted effort to align the story with the “prophecies” of the old testament.

As I said in my last post, Jesus allegedly died around the year 33 CE and Mark wrote the first gospel no earlier than 65 CE which leaves a three decade gap, in which the only documents in existence pertaining to Christianity are Paul’s writings. It is a very striking fact that in not one of Paul’s epistles does he make any mention of what we would consider the story of Jesus save for the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven. Paul makes no mention of the virgin birth, Mary, Bethlehem, John the Baptist, any of the miracles of Jesus – you would think that Paul would have mentioned a few of these alleged miracles in his attempt to convert new Christians – Pontius Pilot, any Jewish mob or any trial. I concede that these omissions do not imply, implicitly, that Paul was unaware of the story of Jesus as later portrayed by the NT gospels. However, these facts are suggestive and must not be overlooked.

In the three decade gap between the alleged death of Jesus and Mark’s writing of the first gospel the story of Jesus was kept alive and spread through oral tradition, a method which is exceedingly susceptible to convolution. It is very likely that while the story of Jesus was spreading it began to accumulate the characteristics of the common mythologies of the time. It is very likely that Paul either came before such an evolution in the story or was simply unaware of it. One must keep in mind that we are considering the first century and the archaic communication which is inherent therein. It is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that the oral tradition of Christianity gave birth to a greatly exaggerated, added upon and altered story – the gospels were written between thirty and fifty years after the alleged death of Jesus, plenty of time for the evolution thereof – it is really almost impossible to believe that the oral tradition kept perfectly intact the entire account of the stories later relayed in the gospels, which differ amongst even themselves.

As I mentioned in my last post it is a very striking fact that Jesus, as portrayed in the gospels, shares twenty or so characteristics with the common heroic figure, mythic figures such as: Oedipus, Theseus, Romulus, Hercules, Perseus, Zeus, Zoroaster, Thor, Tammuz, Orpheus, Mithras, Krishna, Horus, Hermes, Dionysis, Baal, Attis, Adonis, etc. I have already indexed the shared characteristics and will avoid redundancy here.

Having illustrated the shared mythological characteristics I will now endeavor to bring to the fore the theological and symbolic similarities.

Mithraism was a pagan religion which viewed the mythical Mithras as the mediator between humanity and the unknowable god who created all of existence. Mithraic communities expressed fraternal and communal spirit, their creed insisted on moral conduct, demanded abstinence and self control and postulated a heaven and hell; they sanctified Sunday and December the 25, Yule, this date was also a day referred to as Saturnalia – a dedication to Saturn’s temple – and it is widely believed that this date was chosen as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ, by Pope Julius I, in order to make it easier to convert the Roman pagans, Jesus was allegedly born in September. In any case many of the rites and sayings in Mithraism are similar if not identical to the sayings later attributed to Jesus. The Madonna and baby cults share their relation with both the Tammuz and the Egyptian Isis and Horus. The Christian celebration of easter also shares its origins with the Tammuz and their god Ishtar – pronounced “easter” – which is why easter is replete with fertility symbology.

With Apollonius Christ, the theological similarity is virtually identical. He preached “we cannot hate our fellow man” he created miracles, healed the sick, was accused of sedition in Rome and his followers, after his death, claimed that he had ascended to heaven and came to them in spiritual form afterwards. In fact the theology of Apollonius was so similar to that of Christianity there are records of early Church fathers mentioning and arguing against Apollonius’ divinity, again, using the argument that Satan used Apollonius as a way to deceive:

"How is it that the talismans of Apollonius have power over certain members of creation, for they prevent, as we see, the fury of the waves, the violence of the winds, and the attacks of wild beasts. And whilst Our Lord's miracles are preserved by tradition alone, those of Apollonius are most numerous, and actually manifested in present facts, so as to lead astray all beholders?" – Justin Martyr, early Church father

Apollonians, those who were followers of Apollonius, believed in the immortality of the soul and that upon death they would ascend to heaven. In fact, there is debate on whether or not Jesus had been conflated with Apollonius due to the similarities.

There are also striking similarities between Christianity and Zoroastrianism, the later predating the former. Many scholars credit Zoroastrianism with influencing the eschatology, angelology and demonology of Judaism. Judaism, of course, then influencing Christianity and Islam:

“it was from this very creed of Zoroaster that the Jews derived all the angelology of their religion... the belief in a future state; of rewards and punishments, ... the soul's immortality, and the Last Judgment - all of them essential parts of the Zoroastrian scheme.” – from The Gnostics and Their Remains (King and Moore, 1887).

Zoroastrianism had abstract concepts of heaven and of hell, personal and final judgment and even contains the concept of a coming messiah-like figure referred to as the “Peshotan.”

In light of all of this, viewing the story of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels as heavily influenced and convoluted by the common mythology of the time appears to be the only legitimate and firm contention. It seems abundantly clear that the gospel stories of Jesus have been parsed together, influenced and convoluted by various myths and written with a concerted effort to align the story with the “prophecies” of the old testament.

13 comments:

Hindu_Atheist said...

This and all your other posts are thought provoking and insightful. I find it amusing that the basis of the largest organized religion is a borrowed fable.
Christianity shares a common ancestry with Islam. I think Christianity has shed its culture of hate to some extent. Do you think Islam will follow suit or is it too much to ask?

JDHURF said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JDHURF said...

Thank you for the compliments. Christianity and Islam certainly do share a common ancestry as does Judaism, they were all influenced by Zoroastrianism, and, if you research a bit further even Zoroastrianism was influenced by the Egyptians; there is so much cross pollination it is staggering. I also agree that Christianity, due to the relentless scrutiny of secular criticism and modern science, has lost much of its savagery and barbarism. I do believe that there will come a day when Islam undergoes a reformation similar to both Judaism and Christianity. However this reformation is going to be very difficult and it is going to take time. One must consider that much of the middle east lives under Islamic theocracy, apostasy is a death sentence, Sharia law governs the land and Islam is, as of now, being hijacked by a death cult based on the metaphysics of martyrdom and jihad. In the "west" religion can be criticized, it is still taboo but it is criticized nonetheless, if a sect of Christians were to claim that adulterous women should be stoned to death as is commanded in the bible this would not be allowed, however, in the middle east women who are raped are subject to "honor" killings because they are no longer virgins and have disgraced their family, adulterous women are subject to public hangings, etc. My point being that Islam is as susceptible to reformation as Christianity, both are fearfully violent and intolerant religions at base, but, it is certainly possible for an Islamic reformation. If you look at many of the Muslims and Islamic communities in the US you will find this reformation is already happening, the major obstacle in the middle east, as I see it, is theocracy.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

elijeremiah said...

JDHURF,

It's an understatement to say this piece is endlessly interesting and intriguing. You have shared some information that--I'm embarrassed to admit--I did not know.

I also like how when someone asks you a question, you always post a response that's just as well-developed and thoughtful as your original piece.

hindu_atheist,

I enjoyed your view. I know you didn't ask me, but I just want to say I definitely think Islam will undergo a reformation. Like JDHURF said, it will just take time because of the socio-political complextites JDHURF just competently described. I also think this reformation will be out of necessity.

CB said...

The "pagan origins" theories that suggest that the origins of Christian doctrine can be found in previous beliefs, such as Mithraism, is not seriously held by comparative religion scholars. This is mostly because the so-called "repeating" themes are misnamed, as some scholars choose to appropriate terms, such as resurrection, savior, virgin, etc. and apply them to pagan beliefs that have nothing to do with those themes as they are understood in Christian theology. I recently posted an article on this very subject: http://christopherbutler.wordpress.com/2006/10/07/jesus-is-not-a-mithras-redux/

JDHURF said...

The "pagan origins" theories that suggest that the origins of Christian doctrine can be found in previous beliefs, such as Mithraism, is not seriously held by comparative religion scholars.

So you’re just going to dismiss, out of hand, scholars such as Robert M Price, Michael L White, Alan Dundes, Earl Doherty, Hyam Maccoby, William B. Smith, George Albert Wells, John Marco Allegro, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy and Larry Wright?

This is mostly because the so-called "repeating" themes are misnamed, as some scholars choose to appropriate terms, such as resurrection, savior, virgin, etc. and apply them to pagan beliefs that have nothing to do with those themes as they are understood in Christian theology.

That is why I explicitly described some of the themes, Apollonius, Zoroaster, etc.

I recently posted an article on this very subject:

I’ll check it out soon.

CB said...

jdhurf,

"Dismissing out-of-hand" is probably not the best way of putting it. Rather, like I would argue in regard to the Jesus Seminar's assessment of the Gospels, simply because a group of scholars have a similar perspective on religious interpretation does not at all mean that their perspective is correct, nor the consensus of all scholarship. For example, I have pointed out in the past (http://christopherbutler.wordpress.com/2006/05/04/the-early-church-and-the-creedal-affirmation-of-paul/) that Hyam Maccoby's opinions on early Christianity are more the result of his initial presuppositions (especially in regard to Paul and the origin of doctrine) rather than the evidence that is available to all scholars of religion.

CB

Hindu_Atheist said...

bJDHurf, Eli,
I'm not as optimistic as you... I've a bad case of Islamophobia and most of it is not entirely unfounded. I'm a Kashmiri Pundit, at the height of militancy in Kashmir in 1989, I was a high school student and my family was in Baramullah(Kashmir Valley). There was a massive ethnic cleansing in the valley and all the Hindu Pundits were driven away from their homeland. We became refugees in our own country. The powers that be in India does not recognize this as ethnic cleansing because our community is very small to be a formidable 'vote bank'. and peoples civil liberties union thinks that only terrorists and Muslims have human-rights and the Pundits can go to hell.

There is this trend that Muslim community follows..as long as they are in a minority, they want want democracy and equal rights. Wherever they are in the majority they will want nothing short of ethnic cleansing. In Southern Thailand, Muslims are in a majority they want to drive the Buddhists out and become independent, in southern Philippines, Muslims out number Catholics they want to drive the catholics out and become independent. The same is the case in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a powerful terrorist organization called Jemaah Islamiyah operating in Asia, its ambition is to establish theocracy in Southeast Asia.

But I really hope, you are right and reforms do happen in the Muslim community soon. All I want for my daughter is to live without fear. Now we live in San F very faraway from Kashmir valley. But I know terrorists can strike anywhere and people who were friends can turn against you in minutes..just because you don't follow their religion.

JDHURF said...

hindu_atheist:

I’m sorry to hear of your plight in Kashmir, one of the many global locations currently engulfed in religious conflict, and I hope that everyone you know is safe and sound.
You are certainly correct with regards to the majority of Muslims insisting on equal rights and freedoms of religion when in places such as the UK and US, which is a start contrast to their ideology as espoused in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, etc.
You are also certainly justified in having your reservations, I certainly have my own, but I have a profound faith, not in the religious sense, that the human race will mature enough so as to be able to instill a citadel of peace and beauty upon the earth on a global scale. I don’t believe there will be a complete end to conflict and violence but it will be minor in comparison to the terror we witness today. Even if such peace is fundamentally unattainable the noble endeavor of striving for it remains worthy and justified.
I believe the conflict we are witnessing today is predicated upon the clash of cultures brought about by the inevitable globalization of the world and, ultimately, modernity clashing with archaic civilization and religious extremism. In many cases the so called culture wars are, at base, a clash between modernity and religious literalism. The clash is between progressive liberalism and repressive theocracy. Granted this conflict will be long and difficult but it is ameliorable. One must remember that the reformation of other religions and cultures was a process which took painful decades. History has taught us over and over that a civilization either evolves and adapts or it disappears.

Hindu_Atheist said...

Thanks for your concern and sympathy. All my family is safe except for my cousin. He was abducted and there is no news about him. All our efforts to trace him have failed. Now he would be 32. I hope our worst fear that he was forced to convert to Islam and he is now a terrorist does not come true.
Muslims need people like Martin Luther, who changed the face of western civilization to change theirs.
Anyway..I had to do a double take when I saw your age. May be there is hope for this world after all. We need more people like you :-)

lightindarkness said...

blind fool! you can't see the order of the world around you? ever wonder how all of it got here? with the order it has? don't discredit Jesus, the Bible, or God. I only pray that your eyes are opened to the trueth!

bone said...

I have recently become very interested in this subject. I am intrigued at the postings here, so I think you are as good of a person as any to ask as any about the timeline of Christianity between Jesus's death, through the ministry of Paul through the writing of the gospels to the time of Justin Martyr. I am interested in knowing how it is known that the gospels came so late after Jesus's alleged demise, how it is known that Mark wrote the first gospel, and interesting relevant details about Paul of Tarsis's molding of Christianity as well as any conflicts between his knowledge of the Jesus story and that represented by the gospels.

I have been doing my own research, but unfortuantely the only two sources I keep finding are either Christian resources or stuff that's poorly cited if at all. I want to know some of the more interesting bits what information/documentation survived and how it survived.

I would appreciate any information or links to information.

Thank you.

JDHURF said...

lightindarkness,

Thank you for so eloquently illustrating why I am justified in claiming that the majority, if not all, of religious fundamentalists don’t have a decent education and certainly not a workable knowledge of the world in which they live. Also, I am not interested in “trueth,” whatever that is, only truth.

bone,

It is known that the gospel writings came long after Jesus’ alleged death based on secular references to them or when secular, outside sources, quote them.

The Gospel of Mark, regarded by most scholars as the earliest and most reliable of the Synoptic Gospels, is reduced to one phrase “Render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s and to God those things that are God’s.” James R. Edwards, “New Quest, Old Errors”, Touchstone, Vol. 9, No. 1 (March 1996).

Because of this it is agreed that the gospels were written after Paul died.

"...There is nothing in Paul's letters that either hints at the existence of the Gospels or that even talks of a need for such biographical memoirs of Jesus Christ. Paul, the New Testament says, never saw the earthly Jesus but was totally convinced of his divinity. He was, he says, 'an apostle, not by human appointment or human commission, but by commission from Jesus Christ and from God the Father." [Galatians 1:1 NEB]
- John Romer, Testament- The Bible and History

"...It is noteworthy that, except for the words of the institution of the Lord's Supper themselves, Paul does not in any of his epistles quote the exact words of any of the saying so Jesus as we now have them in the Gospels. Nor does he mention a single event in the life of Jesus - again except for the institution of the Lord's Supper - between his birth and his death on the cross. From the writings of Paul we would not be able to know that Jesus ever taught in parables and proverbs or that he performed miracles or that he was born of a virgin. For that information we are dependent on the oral tradition of the early Christian communities as this was eventually deposited in the Gospels, all of which, in their present form at any rate, probably appeared later than most or all of the epistles of Paul."
- Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries

"There is not a single mention or even a hint of Paul's letters in the Gospels. Their vision seems far removed from the practicalities that are spelled out in Paul's letters. His main theme is Jesus' message of God's love for the world and also Christ's assertion that the ending of the world is imminent; his historical view is sharp and certain. In comparison, the Gospels often seem uncertain of their central message and of their central character; Jesus' purposes on earth seem curiously elusive....The Gospels' portrait of Jesus seems to be separated from real time. The central character is set in a rambling series of incidents and sermons, engaged in a mysterious progress revolving around an unstated drama that finally ensures his capture and death."
- John Romer, Testament - The Bible and History

All we can do is narrow the time frame down.

Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, (c. 60-130) wrote around the year 120: “Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered of what was said or done by the Lord, however not in order”

This gives us an upper boundary of 120 CE. Mark 13:1-2 is generally seen as referring to the Jewish revolt of 66-70CE. That is what a majority of scholars would say was a likely date 66 - 70CE. Christians generally argue for 40CE which is around the time Pauls letters start showing up but Paul is actually supposed to have died around 60CE and Mark isn't supposed to be written till after Peter dies(This is the tradition of the Catholic Church) so we are back to 65CE or so.

Of course this is taking the gospels as legitimate sources of information, which I was only doing so as to argue with Christians on their own turf, because even taking what is mythology seriously there is ample reason to reject it as truth.

As for sources I would recommend anything written by the following individuals:

John Romer, Robert M Price, Michael L White, Alan Dundes, Earl Doherty, Hyam Maccoby, William B. Smith, George Albert Wells, John Marco Allegro, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, Larry Wright, Jaroslav Pelikan, etc.


Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.

btw - hindu_atheist, thank you for the compliment!