2010-08-19

Historical proof that Isis healed more than Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Originally, the goddess Isis was portrayed as ...

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First of all, let’s apply sound historical method, that of biblical historians which is no different, so biblical historians assure us, from historical methods practiced by any other historians.

So to begin with, we will dispense with that cynical, hypersceptical, anti-supernaturalistic, post-Enlightenment hermeneutic of suspicion, and follow the dictates of the progressive, pre-Enlightenment (middle-dark age?), Christian ethic of the hermeneutic of charity. This means that if we read a statement by a fellow brother or sister then it is only a matter of civility at the very least to give his or her words the benefit of the doubt. That means that we can assume that the author of our text was, like ourselves of course, zealous to tell nothing but the truth, and to convey accurate historical information for the edification of their own and future generations.

Next, we will bring into play various criteria of authenticity as they may apply to our text in question.

So here is the text. It was written around fifty years before Jesus began his preaching and healing career by Diodorus Siculus. I copy the passage from the LacusCurtius site:

In proof of this, as they say, they advance not legends, as the Greeks do, but manifest facts; for practically the entire inhabited world is their witness, in that it eagerly contributes to the honours of Isis because she manifests herself in healing. For standing above the sick in their sleep she gives them aid for their diseases and works remarkable cures upon such as submit themselves to her; and many who have been despaired of by their physicians because of the difficult nature of their malady are restored to health by her, while numbers who have altogether lost the use of their eyes or of some other part of their body, whenever they turn for help to this goddess, are restored to their previous condition.

Now how is a historian to respond to this testimony?

Note that here we have a historian appealing to “proof” and “manifest facts” as opposed to mere “legends”, and above all to “the entire inhabited world [as] their witness”! Obviously no historian could have written such words, and to have others preserve them until this very day, if there had been any attempt at exaggeration or outright falsehood. Obviously there were witnesses, or if you are hypersceptical, readers who were not witnesses who would obviously have called the author to account for such a statement unless it were known to be true!

No author could possibly have gotten away with such an astonishing claim unless his readership concurred with it. If he were really lying then his reputation would have been shot and his work would not have survived to be read by the next generation, let alone by us.

The plain historical fact is that thousands of witnesses were able to testify to the miraculous healing powers of the goddess Isis.

We can strengthen the historical authenticity of this record of the healings of Isis by applying a few criteria that biblical scholars assure us the stock in trade of all historians.

We have the criteria of multiple attestation. Isodorus, who wrote slightly earlier than Diodorus Siculus, composed hymns with the same sorts of testimonies. If Ishtar is to be identified with Isis, I have previously cited other independent testimonials to the healing miracles of Ishtar. (Do a search in the search box on the right column for Ishtar.)

As for the criteria that we must discount anything that is explicitly said to fulfil prophecy, I don’t know of any reason for disqualifying the Isis testimony on this account.

On the criteria of embarrassment? Well, it surely would have been embarrassing if the facts were otherwise, given the extent of the eyewitness support in the testimonial. I think it is safe to say that the fear of embarrassment kept the authors honest. Besides, a literate author like Diodorus Siculus no doubt had pretensions to be accepted among the sophisticated literati of his day, and to acknowledge belief in the miraculous prowess of a popular goddess was hardly likely to strengthen his ambitions in that direction. He obviously felt constrained by the facts of the evidence and eyewitness support that buttressed it.

And regarding the criterion of dissimilarity, even double dissimilarity — note that Diodorus Siculus himself observes that the reports are clearly “factual” and very unlike the “legends” of the Greeks. And as for any comparison with Jewish or Christian miracles, well, how many were able to claim that Jesus’ miracles were known throughout the entire world through eyewitnesses. The miraculous performances of the goddess clearly pass the criterion of double dissimilarity test.

So there you have it, folks. Whom will you choose? If Jesus be a healer (not forgetting his record in his own home town, or his clumsy attempts to have a double swipe with spittle on the blind man) then follow him; but if Isis has the runs on the board, then you’d be mad not to back her, I reckon.

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  • 2010-08-19 23:59:09 UTC - 23:59 | Permalink

    Sadly, HJ scholars will probably brush aside your analysis of Isis, because she was never thought to be a human who lived on Earth.

    Perhaps a better analogy comes from the logging camps of North America. For many years now I’ve been engaged in the serious study of the Historical Paul Bunyan. He’s known to us today as a larger-than-life legendary figure, but we would be hyperskeptical if we ignored the documentary evidence of his historical existence. The question is not whether Paul Bunyan existed or not. The question, rather, is how much can we know about him?

    Let me show you how we can learn about PB through the magic of criteriology. First, we’re fortunate to have hundreds of stories from logging camps all over the continent. It’s true none of the loggers wrote down the stories as soon as they happened, but we know there is a strong oral tradition in the camps. Loggers sat around the campfires at night and recited the stories (or “percopae”), which remained largely unchanged (we think) over the decades. They may have embellished a bit, but the core truth is still there for really bright PB scholars like me to find.

    Second, because logging camps were very much dominated by a male Northern European cultural attitude, we know they were easily embarrassed. Even on the hottest summer nights, they slept in long underwear. How does the Criterion of Embarrassment help us in PB studies? Well, nearly all of our independent sources for PB tell us he had a big blue ox named Babe. It is highly unlikely that any logger of European descent would make that up. We know from cultural studies that North American loggers were very embarrassed by animals that had unusually colored fur. By extension, we can infer that a blue ox would cause a great deal of blushing and grave discomfort. In addition, the term “Babe” was reserved for sweethearts and wives. Naming one’s ox Babe would imply all sorts of embarrassing connotations.

    Hence, we know that Bunyan owned a blue ox named Babe. Granted, I personally don’t think Babe was a giant ox, and he or she probably didn’t carve the Grand Canyon. However, historians cannot say anything about the miraculous aspects of Babe. We don’t have a crystal ball. So from an objective historical perspective, we shouldn’t make any judgments in this regard.

  • 2010-08-20 00:12:00 UTC - 00:12 | Permalink

    I’m quite sure no-one will take my Isis post seriously. :-) But when I saw those eyewitness claims presented as historical fact I couldn’t resist a little dig. And your point about Isis not being historical really demonstrates the ad hoc nature the whole exercise. Many if not most biblical historians believe Jesus is still alive, and there are testimonies to Isis having been on earth. They need to be held to account to set out their criteria and assumptions upfront and be prepared to argue according to them without fudging.

    • 2010-08-20 00:41:47 UTC - 00:41 | Permalink

      Neil: I’m quite sure no-one will take my Isis post seriously.

      But we should. What’s more serious than well-aimed satire?

      HJ scholars and their apologist allies keep telling us we’re applying “selective skepticism.” (Just Google for selective skepticism and Jesus, then share and enjoy.) Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Are they selectively charitable? Do they practice the hermeneutic of charity when they read about Isis, or Paul Bunyan, or Hercules, or Mithras, or Gilgamesh?

      They say if we applied our same rigorous standards to other characters history, they’d disappear, too. I say if we applied their selectively lax standards to other legendary characters, we’d have thousands of new historical people to learn about.

      I’m reminded of Daniel Dennett’s famous quote: “Debating a religionist is like playing tennis with someone who lowers the net for their shots and raises it for yours.”

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-20 02:45:53 UTC - 02:45 | Permalink

    i don’t have an issue with Diodorus’ account, it sounds like what someone could say about the Virgin Mary or some other saint. There is no need to doubt the claim that many people claimed to be healed by Isis, and I’m sure many people were healed, whether this was done by Isis is more the domain of a scientist than a historian.

    Neil there seems to be an implication here that people who promote the historical Jesus are motivated only by the religious faith. While most of the individual Mythic Jesus backers I have encountered are narrow minded sectarians who seem to hold the position, not out of analysis of facts (since they don’t seem to know any) but out of a deep seated need to be contrarian or the misguided need for evidence for the rightness of atheism. After looking into this issue for a while I think there are several researchers who have put serious effort into this and I wouldn’t tar them or you with holding the position just because they watched “Zeitgeist” on You-Tube while smoking grass.

    Tim, if you think that the material on Jesus is no different than that for Mithra, Isis, Paul Bunyan and Gilgamesh, I don’t think you really have a grasp on the issues related to the study of history. It reminds me of the lazy dismissal of higher criticism and source criticism among evangelicals.

    • 2010-08-20 03:13:01 UTC - 03:13 | Permalink

      mikelioso: …if you think that the material on Jesus is no different…

      Ah, you caught me there. The material is quite different for Isis, at least. The witness above supplied by Neil is not anonymous. We know who Diodorus Siculus was, where he lived, and when he died.

      mikelioso: …who seem to hold the position, not out of analysis of facts (since they don’t seem to know any) but out of a deep seated need to be contrarian or the misguided need for evidence for the rightness of atheism.

      I consider it one of my great failings in life — my inability to peer into the hearts of men and know their private thoughts and inner motivations.

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-20 05:05:13 UTC - 05:05 | Permalink

    Tim, there is no need to peer into hearts or read minds to understand some peoples inner thoughts and motives. If you talk to them for a while you’ll realize they’re not holding out on information, they just don’t know. I don’t presume everyone who disagrees with me is delusional, but some clearly are and some subjects attract the deluded more than others. The irony is those on the fringe so often conclude that it is only conspiracy and deception that keep their flawless ideas from universal acceptance.

    If you are a supporter of a Jesus myth scenario you shouldn’t be quick to dismiss opposition to it as the strangling effect of traditional religion. Like wise I don’t presume supporters of a a particular Mythicist theory or another are out to promote new age ideas or Illuminati/Israeli/Dick Cheny/9/11 conspiracies, unless they tell me, then I wonder what is really at work here.

    • 2010-08-20 06:42:38 UTC - 06:42 | Permalink

      I have posted several times now on the views of nonreligious academics (Jesus and early Christianity scholars) who assume the historicity of Jesus. If I ever refer to religious bias among some it is on the basis of what they say themselves in their books — not my inference. Many openly confess their religious faith. I don’t criticize that. Everyone has a bias, and what is important is that it is recognized. What I object to is the demonstrably false assertion that their methods are identical to those of historians of other interests — that despite their biases they still use the same methods as other historians.

      Look for what I do say and address that. It is very easy to be wrong and read “implications” that are really not there at all.

      If you look at the names of those behind the Mythicist Prize/Real Jesus Challenge you will find one who is a Buddhist and another who engages in religious (Christian) activities. It is a mistake to simply assume that mythicists are driven by an atheist or anti-religious agenda. To do so is a kind of ad hominem argument.

      • 2010-08-20 12:15:27 UTC - 12:15 | Permalink

        I don’t think I’d actually call myself a mythicist; I’m more interested in the critique of the mainstream. I don’t know how it is for everyone else, but I started out assuming there was an historical Jesus that we could know something about. However, the more I read the less hopeful I became. I’m actually surprised that so many scholars seem certain about it. You’d think more of them would simply admit the evidence just isn’t there. I’m also surprised that more believers don’t come out against secular HJ studies (a la Jim West?) since the intent of the quest is to find an ordinary human being at the root of it all, not the Son of God/Messiah/Incarnate Word/Son of Man/Way/Truth/Life/etc.

        I do support the mythicist cause insofar as it’s a plausible theory that tries to look at the evidence honestly and put the pieces together into a coherent whole, without resorting to the normal assumptions. If they’re wrong, then the HJ scholars should calmly and rationally explain how. A well tested hypothesis is a stronger hypothesis, right?

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2010-08-20 06:05:58 UTC - 06:05 | Permalink

    Taking a different tack, I just read, on Carrier’s recommendation, The Mystery of Acts, by Richard Pervo. In his comments on what ancient genre Acts should be assigned to, among other reasons for rejecting it as even an attempt at historiography, he includes the fact that ancient historians, who were not averse to reporting miracles and fantastic occurances, usually did so with some distance, as Didorus does here: “In proof of this, as they say…” or by reporting both the miraculouus occurence and then offering a possible “natural” explanation as well. The Gospels and Acts never do this.

    Pervo’s book is great in general. I am thinking about posting a write-up somewhere. It really is one of the best critical examinations of scripture I’ve read.

    • 2010-08-20 06:52:43 UTC - 06:52 | Permalink

      Exactly. Look at Herodotus and Tacitus and Livy and even Josephus. Miracles are very often reported as what “they say” and some scepticism is usually expressed, along with alternative explanations suggested. Witnesses also get mentions.

      I’ve been thinking of writing up something similar — let me know of your own piece so I can link to it.

      I wrote up several posts on Pervo’s earlier work on Acts here in which he argues for it being akin to a Hellenistic novel, and must read the one you refer to here.

  • 2010-08-20 12:04:38 UTC - 12:04 | Permalink

    “Historical proof that Isis healed more than Jesus”

    In an irony that I think the author of “Mark” would have really appreciated, the average Jewish Doctor (you know, the ones who reject Jesus) does more healing in one Shabbat than Jesus supposedly did in his entire career.

    Joseph

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-20 15:33:20 UTC - 15:33 | Permalink

    Why would Luke distance himself from miracles? He is trying to sell Theophillus Christianity by high lighting tales of of its founders wondrous power as proof of the divine backing of there message. Why would any one suspect he would distance him self or be skeptical in any way of the miracles? Would a politician cite there faults in a T.V. add? Such a radical commitment to honesty is little used. “Hi Candidate Smith and I’m not sure I can fix the economy but I’m well spoken and handsome!”

    Luke/Acts is no more history than “Gallic War”, but carries less pretense. This an attempt at history like one of those old illustrated history comics.

    http://www.comicvine.com/picture-stories-from-american-history/49-1041/

    It is a tribute to the lack of literacy of the age this was taken seriously. Imagine a Chick tract being the text of a growing religion now( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_tract ). I’m not sure of the precise structures it takes from contemporary novels , it does often read as an adventure tale. I’ve read of the knack the author has for putting all the interesting aspects of Paul’s trips into one visit, creating a false itinerary of events to preserve the narrative flow. Other authors have noted the ease that G.Luke edits his source (Mark) to promote his favored ideas. Other sources would have fared no better (If they were, do you think that G.Luke invented all the non Markan material himself? What level of familiarity do you think he had with Paul? Read letters, heard rumors?)

    That being said I don’t think Luke is wholly unhistorical. There is a Paul after all, and much of what G.Luke claims for Paul is supported by Pauls own accounts. It is possible then that Luke has other pieces of information correct on areas where we don’t have a secondary support. In fact I would say that is more likely than the prospect that all material not found in Paul or Mark is G.Luke’s invention. That would be quite a coincidence if all the material that was true in Luke/Acts happened to overlap with what independent evidence has happened to survive to us. The trick in determining how much else is reliable. Still an open question.

    • 2010-08-20 20:02:11 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

      Luke must have figured Theophilus a gullible catch if all he had to do to convince him that Jesus performed miracles was to simply say so. No witness details needed, no narrative details that explained how dobuters were convicted. I can just imagine the priests of Isis or emissaries from Apollonius of Tyana waiting to be given entrance to Theophilus to give their spiel when he had finished reading Luke’s tract.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-20 16:29:12 UTC - 16:29 | Permalink

    When ‘Luke’ gets Paul closer to officialdom, the more Jesus disappears.

    By the time you get to Acts 24, Paul is not even a follower of Jesus ‘However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect.’

    In Acts 26, Paul is baffled that anybody thinks he is there because of what a historical Jesus might have done.
    ‘And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today.’

    What? Did a historical Jesus promise nothing?

    And it was the resurrected Jesus who preached’But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.’

    Jesus rose from the dead and then proclaimed light to his own people and to the Gentiles.

    Notice the order….

  • mcduff
    2010-08-20 16:42:27 UTC - 16:42 | Permalink

    Dammit timvonhobbeyhorsen after reading Neil’s irrefutably logical post I had decided I was going to become a believing Isisian and then you came along with historicist facts about PB and now I’m confused.
    Isisian or Bunyanist?
    Its all too much.

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-21 11:01:33 UTC - 11:01 | Permalink

    Steven
    Luke/Acts is one of the most historicist of the gospels, with all his attempts at dating and all. I can’t imagine that after trying so hard to establish Jesus as a person in history he would switch up and present Jesus as a myth. I would no more expect an endorsement for a mythic Jesus in Luke/Acts than in a James McGrath book. If it seems like a reference to a mythic Jesus to you perhaps you don’t quite understand the passage.

    On that subject, in the quote from Acts 26, it is Paul not Jesus who preaches this, which he thinks is no different from anything Moses and the prophets said. Keep in mind that it is very likely that all these speeches from Paul were composed by G.Luke. Doubtless there is an attempt at portraying his subject(He is a Paul fan after all, his treatment of Peter is more suspect), but ultimately this is still G.Luke, a historicist, writing speeches for Paul(and every one else for that matter) that don’t make much use of a historical Jesus. If you don’t like the approach thats fine but I don’t think it makes G.Luke a closet mythisist.

    • 2010-08-21 23:51:43 UTC - 23:51 | Permalink

      mikelioso: …his treatment of Peter is more suspect…

      In some cases, Peter seems to be repeating Jesus’ wonders, or even raising the bar a notch. In the Synoptics, the hem of Jesus’ garment heals the woman with the issue of blood. In Acts 5:15, Peter’s mere shadow has the power to heal. Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter with the words “Talitha kum!” In Acts 9:36, Peter raises a woman from the dead, saying: “Tabitha arise!”

      Seems to me Peter gets a starring role, while James and Philip (who are more likely historical than Peter) are all but erased.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-08-21 11:38:49 UTC - 11:38 | Permalink

    ‘Luke/Acts is one of the most historicist of the gospels, with all his attempts at dating and all.’

    In other words, there is not a single date for any event in the life of Jesus.

    ‘I can’t imagine that after trying so hard to establish Jesus as a person in history he would switch up and present Jesus as a myth.’

    Perhaps he was stuck with a source which recorded the sort of things Paul used to actually say. Perhaps he actually did have a letter from a Roman official, which naturally would have made no mention of any Jesus, and would be baffled as to why Jews were squabbling over their intepretations of scripture.

    ‘If it seems like a reference to a mythic Jesus to you perhaps you don’t quite understand the passage.’

    Strange. I can quote it to support my opinion, but you don’t quote it. Strange that.

  • mikelioso
    2010-08-23 05:25:01 UTC - 05:25 | Permalink

    Steven, it is surprising to see you give so much credibility to Luke’s research at this point. Do you think his material on Jesus before Herod was also from his stash of old court proceedings? As is often the case someone has said it better than me.

    [5] It was impossible in almost all cases to know what someone said on a distant occasion, and therefore it was accepted practice among readers and authors of the time to invent speeches, and it is certain that the speeches preserved in Acts, for example, are entirely of Luke’s creation. No one would have expected otherwise. Clearly there were no written editions of the speeches (as they surely would have been preserved with Paul’s letters), and oral memory is notoriously bad at recalling anything but the gist and occasion of such things, and even then is easily corrupted by intervening events that alter or distort memory. In the time of L and J, it was well understood and accepted that speeches would be used as vehicles for the author to convey his own ideas, but also that it was proper to create speeches according to what the author thinks would have been appropriate to the speaker and the occasion (thus giving them at least some justification for inclusion in a supposedly objective history).
    Richard Carrier

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html#5

    But my main point here is not to argue with you against G.Luke’s accuracy but this notion that Luke has material that suggest a mythic Christ.

    Starting at Acts 2, Peter’s speech to the crowd at Jerusalem, you will see that most of the speech is quotes from the Old Testament. What he says about what we would call the “historical” Jesus is mostly focused on his death and resurrection with one verse, 22, to discuss that he did miracles wonders and signs. In Acts 7, Stephen gives a speech some 51 verses in length one verse,52, is dedicated to a historic Jesus. The rest is a summery of Jewish legends. In both cases the audience is Jewish and Jesus is placed in as a fulfillment of O.T. prophecies.
    Paul in Acts 13:13 Paul addresses a crowed of Jews and interested gentiles . Again he gives a brief history of Israel as a lead in to Jesus execution by misguided Jerusalemites(and using language reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 2:8). The references to the life of Christ are more numerous than the earlier examples, and I think G.Luke does this because he assumed the people of Jerusalem where the last to speeches were given would be familiar with the circumstance of Jesus’ death while the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch would not be. In Athens, before a largely Jewish crowd, Paul skips the O.T. intro and bases his argument on appeals to pagan philosophy. His reference to Jesus is indirect and brief, God raised someone from the dead.

    In Acts 24, which you site, Paul is defending himself from the charges of causing a disturbance in the temple (effectively what Jesus was arrested for) and G.Luke uses the episode to show Paul’s command of rhetoric. What he isn’t doing is preaching his gospel. Paul only discusses hi own role in Christianity, which takes place after Jesus’ death, and he presents himself as an orthodox Jew. There is no need here for Paul to mention Jesus dying and rising as before. Verse 24 has Paul sharing his faith with Felix, but not give the words of the discussion, since we have already had 4 speeches from Apostles sharing their faith. In Acts 26 Paul again is defending himself, but now he does make an evangelical appeal, but one based on his own personal experience. This story starts with Paul and Jesus comes into the picture only when Paul encounters him. There is no place for an account from Jesus’ life here, and unnecessary as it has been said before in Luke/Acts. As has been demonstrated throughout Acts the main messages of Jesus is not any of his saying given in Luke, but the demonstration of God’s power and endorsement of him by raising him from the dead. That messages was not communicated till after he came back from the dead.

    It might get lost in the work of HJ scholars that the early church(at least from the Pauline position) did not consider Jesus’ supposed teachings as the #1 focus of the faith. Instead the 31 focus is on Jesus resurrection and his supernatural life among the believers. Going to a point made by TimVonHobbyHorse, there does seem to be a degrading of the work of the living Jesus next to the work of the apostles. As in John 14:12, the church envisions itself as doing greater things than Jesus did. The #2 focus is the O.T., which for these early Christians seems to be a more authoritative work than anything said by Jesus or themselves . The acts and words of Jesus seem to be the #3 focus of the church, even by Christians like G.Luke who believe was a man who lived “in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”.

    As to your comment on dates in the life of Jesus, I don’t think we have any, since I don’t think G.Luke is very reliable.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-08-23 16:03:00 UTC - 16:03 | Permalink

      MIKE
      There is no need here for Paul to mention Jesus dying and rising as before.

      CARR
      Obviously not,as Paul is declaring his hope in the resurrection of the dead. ‘and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.’

      Why would he mention Jesus?

      Mike’s whole point is that nobody could be expected to mention Jesus when Paul was being charged with offences.

      The fact that Paul was a follower of somebody allegedly killed for being a threat or potential threat to Rome is beside the point.

      The Romans would no more be interested in that than the Americans would be interested in links to Osama bin Laden if they captured a member of Al Qaeeda.

      MIKE
      In Acts 7, Stephen gives a speech some 51 verses in length one verse,52, is dedicated to a historic Jesus.

      CARR
      To translate this into reality, there is not one single mention of the name ‘Jesus’.

      Despite Mike’s claim that the life of Jesus was irrelevant and so not mentioned, the fact remains that as soon as Paul gets into contact with officialdom, not one person thinks it relevant that Paul was a follower of somebody killed for being a threat to Rome,who Paul was claiming had escaped death and was still alive.

  • 2010-08-23 11:56:53 UTC - 11:56 | Permalink

    A series of comments (Newtaste, Steph, Tim and myself) really extending the issues raised in this post have appeared over at another post, beginning here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/joel-watts-stoops-to-lies-and-slander/#comment-11108

  • Pingback: Building a Hedge around the Historical Jesus | Vridar

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