2012-04-07

Ehrman says Doherty’s argument is “intriguing and worthy of reflection”

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by Neil Godfrey

My own photo in British Museum of Mithraic "mystery cult" sculpture

The pity is that Bart Ehrman did not know (or perhaps he did!) the argument he was thus evaluating — his own, in fact — just happened also to be the same one Earl Doherty covered in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. For some reason psychologists no doubt can explain, when Ehrman read the same points he himself had written being elaborated upon by Doherty he saw red and declared everything to be false, not true, rubbish. But take a peak at what Ehrman himself wrote about the mystery religions and see if you can spot the difference from Doherty’s argument. How are we to explain Ehrman’s contradictory evaluations?

In his attack on the very idea that Jesus may not have been an historical person Ehrman blasted away at any suggestion by “mythicists” that the pagan mystery cults had any influence at all upon the emergence of the Christian religion:

One thing that we do know about them [i.e. the mystery cults], however, is where they were located and thus, to some extent, where they exerted significant influence. We know this from the archaeological record they have left behind. Among all our archaeological findings, there is none that suggests that pagan mystery cults exerted any influence on Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism in the 20s and 30s of the first century. And this is the milieu out of which faith in Jesus the crucified messiah, as persecuted and then embraced by Paul, emerged. . . . (p. 256, Did Jesus Exist?, my emphasis)

The question-begging core of this assertion is even comical. Ehrman is supposedly attacking an argument that posits mystery religions in the wider Greek-speaking world influenced the shape of emerging Christianity, particularly as taught by Paul, so he protests that the mystery religions did not influence the teachings of Jesus wandering around in Galilee!

But then Ehrman becomes even less logically relevant as his desperation grows:

[Paul was] raised a highly religious Jew, and he was a Pharisee. Were Pharisaic Jews influenced by the mystery cults? Did they spend their days plumbing the depths of the myths about Attis and Osiris? Did they look deeply into the mysteries of Isis and Mithras? It is an easy question to answer. These mystery cults are never mentioned by Paul or by any other Christian author of the first hundred years of the church. There is not a stitch of evidence to suggest that mystery cults played any role whatever in the views of the Pharisees or, for that matter, in the views of any Jewish group of the first century: . . . . (p. 256, Did Jesus Exist?, my emphasis)

Of course no-one is arguing that the mystery cults had any influence upon the Pharisees! Nor is anyone arguing that Paul explicitly mentions the mystery cults. Ehrman appears to be conceding that he has no defence against Doherty’s arguments except to play childish straw-man games with both words and logic. The real problem is that Doherty has taken the historical facts that Ehrman knows very well and has shown that they are best explained by the proposition that Paul’s faith did not rest upon — or even need — a historical Jesus.

Ehrman descends to illogical panic:

This is true as well of some of our Christian sources who claim that there were similarities between their own religion and the mystery religions. These later authors, such as the church father Tertullian, started making such claims for very specific reasons. It was not that they had done research and interviewed followers of these religions. It was because they wanted pagans to realize that Christianity was not all that different from what other pagans said and did in their religions so that there would be no grounds for singling out Christians and persecuting them. The Christian sources that claim to know something about these mysteries, in other words, had a vested interest in making others think that the pagan religions were in many ways like Christianity. For that reason—plus the fact that they would not have had reliable sources of information—they generally cannot be trusted. . . . (pp. 213-214, DJE?, my emphasis)

Er, so Ehrman is arguing that Tertullian fabricated an argument that everyone in his day who knew anything about the mysteries would laugh at? The church fathers were simply dreaming in another world when they acknowledged the similarities between Christianity and its rival religions about them?

So . . . there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that these [mystery] cults played the least role in the development of early views of Jesus. (p. 181, DJE?)

Ehrman’s dexterity with words-games is something to behold. “Early views of Jesus” is a straw-man stand-in for Doherty’s argument.

The point is that in his attack on Doherty Ehrman leaves readers no room to think that the mystery religions had any influence upon Christian origins. He may have been playing with his choice of words, but his audience is a general lay readership and the message of his rhetoric is clear.

But Ehrman himself has pointed out the very obvious similarities between the mystery cults and early Christianity and even said that they are “intriguing and worthy of reflection”.

Ehrman and Doherty agree on what we know about ancient mystery cults and their parallels to Christianity

When, in his second edition, Doherty admits that we do not know what the followers of the mystery cults thought, he is absolutely correct. We do not know. . . .

But we do know some things. Ehrman not many years ago told us what we do know:

The mystery cults were relatively distinct in focusing chiefly on the well-being of the individual. Moreover, whereas almost all other religions were centered on life in the here and now, mystery cults appear to have placed some emphasis (older scholarship believed it was exclusive emphasis) on providing a happy existence in the life after death. . . .

The mysteries, it appears, met personal, individual needs and resonated with many persons in the Greco-Roman world who did not find existential fulfillment (to use a modern phrase) in the local and state cults in which they participated. Each of the mystery cults was different; each had its special location and its own customs and rituals. Many of them evidently centered around a mythology of the death and resurrection of a god or goddess, a mythology ultimately rooted in ancient fertility religion, in which the death of winter gives way to the new life of spring. Moreover, the periodic ritual of these cults apparently celebrated this mythology in a way that enabled the participants to become part of the entire transformative process of new life. That is to say, the enacted myth about the gods was transmuted into reality for the devotees, who believed those who had been found worthy to be a follower of the mystery’s god or goddess, there was promised not only a more satisfying existence now but also a more blissful afterlife.

Not just anyone could walk in off the streets to join one of these mystery cults. Each of them appears to have emphasized rituals of initiation for membership. Those who wished to join were typically put through a period of ceremonial cleansing (involving fastings, prayers, and sometimes ritual washings) and instruction prior to being admitted to the ranks of the devotees. We have evidence to suggest that those who had experienced the initiation, who could then join in the ceremonies when they were periodically celebrated, felt at greater peace with themselves and the world. (My emphasis. Excerpted from ‘The New Testament: A Historical Introduction To The Early Christian Writings’ by Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 28-31; p. 33 of the 2004 3rd edition — and thanks again to the reader who alerted me to this publication of Ehrman’s)

So it looks like Ehrman is somewhat in concord with Doherty’s own coverage of the mystery cults:

Their rites, which included various types of baptism, were looked upon as conferring a new birth on the initiate . . . and the promise of a happy afterlife. . . .

The roots of the mysteries are obscure. It was thought that the primitive common denominator behind these diverse cults was the yearly agricultural cycle, the dying and renewing of vegetation and food crops. People’s experience of nature’s round led to the concept that the gods who inhabited these plants or the earth they grew from regularly underwent a representative dying and rising themselves (thus the term “dying and rising gods”), or had once done so, perhaps as a sacrifice to guarantee the annual return to fertility. Mythical stories grew up to embody such divine experiences.

. . . . scholars have recently been looking as well at male “rites of passage” in prehistoric societies . . . Another suggested source was the cult of dead kings . . . .

While much speculation has been possible, frustratingly little is known about the cults. . . .

The rite itself, which varied from cult to cult, involved experience, usually in a group and conducted by one or more priests of the cult, constituting “things seen/shown” . . . “things heard/said” . . . and “things staged”. . . . All of which provoked a feeling or insight on the part of the initiate . . . . Preparation for the rite could involve fasting or meditation, even isolation. The total experience gave the initiate an understanding of reality in terms of mystical experiences of the god . . . along with the conviction that his or her new relationship with the god would bring a better fate in this world and a fortunate afterlife.

. . . the individual mysteries . . . show considerable diversity. They were anything but carbon copies of each other. And the nature of what constituted ‘resurrection’ for these gods is particularly diverse. . . . Unfortunately, it is because of these differences and uncertainties that many scholars, whether apologetically motivated or not, will make the claim that we cannot speak of a general category of “dying and rising gods,” much less that Christianity can be compared with them as a group.  (pp. 127-9, JNGM)

But the significant point is what follows.

Ehrman even once asked his readers to seriously think about the similarities between mystery cults and Christianity. The broad parallels, he wrote, are “intriguing and worthy of reflection”:

Christianity as a Mystery Cult

Scholars in the earlier part of this century were struck by how similar the ancient descriptions of the mysteries were to what we know about Christianity; for it too was a secretive society whose members worshiped a divine being who died and was raised from the dead, and who could bring peace on earth and eternal life after death. Initiates into the society went through a period of ritual purification (baptism) and instruction, and members, according to this view, periodically celebrated the myths of the cults beginning (in the Lord’s Supper).

Recent scholarship, however, has been less inclined to call Christianity a  mystery cult, or to claim that it simply borrowed its characteristic ideas and practices from previously existing religions. In part this is because we do not know very much about what happened during the mystery rituals., especially in the period when Christianity began. For example, did they typically partake of a meal, commemorating the death of their savior god? We simply don’t know.

All the same, the broad parallels between Christianity and these other religions do remain intriguing and worthy of reflection. Maybe the question scholars have asked should be posed differently: would non-Christian outsiders have looked upon Christianity as a kind of mystery cult, analogous to others that they knew?

 (p. 34 of the 3rd edition, 2004, my emphasis)

Presumably, then, he must consider Doherty’s discussion an intriguing and worthy reflection!

After discussing specific mystery cults, the Eleusinian mysteries, the mysteries of Dionysos and Orphism, those of Isis and Osiris, Cybele and Attis, and the mysteries of Mithras, Doherty explores in some detail certain apparent similarities with early Christian rituals and teachings: various resurrection concepts, initiation through washings, the concept of a rebirth and assorted sacred communal meals.

Now we can approach the question of common features between the mysteries and Christianity, first by way of the most critical one: were the cultic savior gods — those said to have undergone death — “resurrected”? The question can be answered both Yes and No. . . . .

In point of fact, if we compare the mysteries to the Pauline system, there is even less of a difference. Nothing in the New Testament epistles points to a resurrection for Jesus to earth in flesh. Quite the contrary. . . .

Regardless of the definition brought to “resurrection,” the concept itself is inherent in the mystery cult philosophy and ritual. Without it, any understanding of the significance of the god’s death . . . would be incomprehensible. . . . no religion celebrates death as a finality . . . .

One consideration is overriding. No epistle writer, nor any apologist of the earlier centuries, ever claimed that Christianity was hte only salvation cult to posit a resurrection of some kind for its god. . . .

[After a discussion of the various scholarly views of Christian baptism vis-a-vis ritual cleansings in the mysteries, Doherty writes;] It is also ironic that scholars will have no hesitation in accusing the mysteries of borrowing from Christianity in the 4th century in the face of the latter’s growing influence and power, and yet have no sympathy for the idea that early Christianity may have done exactly the same in its seminal days, with it was trying to carve out its share of the market and could well have borrowed ideas from popular rivals. . . .

There can be no question that the mystery cults had, as part of their ritual package, a sacred communal meal. . . .

Claiming any degree of originality or uniqueness for the tradition known in the Gospels as the Last Supper, or for the Lord’s Supper as presented by Paul, cannot be supported. . . .

[A]n influx of pagan converts would have been a natural channel of absorption of mystery cult ideas, or an additional influence from them operating within the group. The degree to which Paul could have been in contact with the mysteries, or the extent to which he might have absorbed their ideas, has been hotly debated for a century. Not only was he a Jew of the Diaspora who would have been exposed to cross-cultural influences, he is said to have been from Tarsus (though Paul himself never identifies his home town) which had been the center of the Hellenistic Mithras cult . . . . (pp. 129-141, JNGM)

One should also not overlook the limits or relevance of the place of the mystery cults in Doherty’s thesis, either. When it comes to his argument (addressed in my previous post) that philosophical thinking about certain types of myths being transferred to a spiritual realm, he does not imply any direct influence upon Christianity:

This is not to say that such an interpretation of Christian myth is dependent on establishing the same thing in regard to the mystery cults. Rather, the latter will provide corroboration and a wider context in which to understand and set the conclusions which can be drawn from the early Christian writings themselves. It is that early Christian record which reveals the nature of the original Christian belief in a heavenly Christ. (p. 101, JNGM)

So with all of the above I am sure Ehrman would, if not haunted by spectres of all his scholarly endeavours being found to be founded on an unsupportable assumption, fully agree that Doherty’s discussion of the mystery cults is indeed intriguing and worthy of reflection.

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  • Jason Goertzen
    2012-04-07 05:29:24 UTC - 05:29 | Permalink

    Yikes. What a damning comparison. Great work, Neil.

  • John
    2012-04-07 07:19:53 UTC - 07:19 | Permalink

    “Nothing in the New Testament epistles points to a resurrection for Jesus to earth in flesh. Quite the contrary. . . .”

    I’m not sure that I understand this quotation of Doherty, but it calls to mind 1 Cor. 15. I can acknowledge that things like “rulers of this age,” “brother(s) of the Lord,” “according to the flesh,” “born of a woman” and “of the seed of David” can be interpeted “mythically,” but this chapter strikes me as an unambiguous reference that Jesus lived and died on the earth.

    Here Paul ties in the resurrection of Jesus with that of everyone else:

    “Now, if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised … If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection the dead” (v. 12-21).

    Then Paul says that he believes that resurrection is a spiritual event that results from the “sowing” of a physical body:

    “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? … [W]hat you sow is not the body which is to be … What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable… It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body … [I]t is not the spiritual which is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual” (v. 35-46).

    It is this new spiritual Jesus (who was “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”) that is the “second man … from heaven” in v. 47. This is clear enough from v. 45: “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life giving spirit.”

    It is this “spirit” that Jesus became upon his resurrection that Paul believes is now in heaven and that people will resemble when they are resurrected and go to heaven themselves:

    “The first man was from earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v. 47-49).

    This is because he believes that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50).

    This new spiritual Jesus and the spiritual future life that awaits others is what concerns Paul: “From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh; even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:16-17).

    I’m aware that this chapter can be understood differently, but to me it seems clear enough to me how Paul thinks the resurrection of Jesus and others works: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

  • 2012-04-07 17:06:41 UTC - 17:06 | Permalink

    ‘Among all our archaeological findings, there is none that suggests that pagan mystery cults exerted any influence on Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism in the 20s and 30s of the first century. And this is the milieu out of which faith in Jesus the crucified messiah, as persecuted and then embraced by Paul,…’

    Was Jerusalem rural?

    And as Doherty points out, and presumably as Ehrman does not answer, why were people on Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, being convinced by stories about an obscure preacher in a religion which we are now told had absolutely nothing in common with what they believed?

  • mP
    2012-04-07 20:53:15 UTC - 20:53 | Permalink

    Firstly i am not a scholar thus my response here is part repetition of what i have read and part attempt to explain the story of jesus with what seems the easiest.

    Personally i believe the best and easiest way to explain the jesus story is to reflect on the troubled atmosphere of Judea and their hatred of Rome. The Jews were waiting for a messiah who come and lead them to victory and vanquish the Romans who were the lastest to best and control them. Without boring everyone here im sure they are aware of the many attempts to fight the Romans before, during and after Jesus own short life.

    The thing that makes Jesus different to the other messiahs is he was peaceful in his message. He was however a very Jewish man, he was circumsized, respected the passover amongst other typical jewishisms.

    Joseph Atwill shows in his book that the story of Titus invasion culminating with the destruction of Messada contains many similarities with Jesus own ministry. They both start in Gallilee and end in Jerusalem visiting many of the same towns with strange parallels between a parable and some roman fight. I dont want to do the book injustice and badly summarise its indepth review and will let the book stand on its own. The book makes a very interesting point that practically all women in the Jesus story are called Mary which is just weird. What are the odds that every single woman that is involved in Jesus life is called Mary. I wont argue mary or Miriam was not a popular name but this weird problem is commented on with a reasonable argument in the book. The basic summary of the book is that the Romans after defeating the Jews in 70ADish decided to back track and write the story of a Messiah who came but did not conquer. This messiah instead taught the Jews to be peaceful and accept their Roman overlords and pay taxes.

    There are many strange teachings where Jesus insists that slaves be good to their masters, and that people should pay taxes. We even have the birth story emphasing this very point. Mary may be pregnant but Joseph still does his duty to travel and pay his taxes. I wont comment about the nonsense of the fictious census, that is not important the real point of interest is the tax obedience thing.

    Most xians tell us that Jesus is coming some day or soon, but the prophecy of Jesus really points to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. The man who accomplished this and fulfilled the prophecy was Titus. Josephus himself said that Titus was the messiah and a god. This and the rest of the book, just seems to convenient. The romans were not fools, i can appreciate that Religion is often not about honesty but about controlling the masses, and this just seems to fit to well.

    Could it be possible that jesus was created to emphasize stoicism ?

    • 2012-04-07 22:08:52 UTC - 22:08 | Permalink

      I’m not a scholar either, and I also like finding explanations that seem the easiest. But what troubles me about your comment is that you seem to have repeated a lot of things you have read but never checked for yourself. What is the evidence that Jews in the time of Jesus were waiting for a messiah to liberate them from the Romans? I know of none. It is something I read a lot, but my curiosity grew as I came to notice that those who repeated this claim never cited the evidence for it.

      A nineteenth century German philosopher Nietzsche first introduced me to the realization that the ethics of Christianity were the ethics of a slave mentality. But later as I thought about it, I realized that that mentality, those ethics, were just as likely to arise among any people who are trying to make the best of things in a world where all hope of true liberation is a hopeless fantasy. One doesn’t need a Roman imperial plot or conspiracy to make them so. (Though I have not given Atwill’s argument sufficient attention to make any conclusive comment on what he himself has to say.)

      You say the prophecy of Jesus points to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Maybe, but have you considered the possibility that it more specifically points to that of 130′s ce at the time of Bar Kochba’s revolt?

      • mP
        2012-04-07 22:35:41 UTC - 22:35 | Permalink

        Neil:
        What is the evidence that Jews in the time of Jesus were waiting for a messiah to liberate them from the Romans?

        mP:
        Firstly we have the story of John the Baptist and from the Bible and tradition it would appear he was reasonably popular. The locals appear in this case to want something better and listen to those who promise such things. In terms of historical proofs, i would like to start with wiki which contains a short list but its a start of some who convinced many others to follow and die with them. Im thinking of the tragic fools who fought their way and took Masada and eventually died there.

        For more examples of “false messiahs” -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Messiah_claimants
        BTW im using Messiah in the literal sense of a leader, who may have been religious and/or military in the case of the jewish rebellion. I dont have proof on hand that they were waiting but one cant help but wonder if there was something in the air, as they seem quite convinced and constantly trying to find someone to lead them to freedom from the Romans.

        Neil:
        A nineteenth century German philosopher Nietzsche first introduced me to the realization that the ethics of Christianity were the ethics of a slave mentality. But later as I thought about it, I realized that that mentality, those ethics, were just as likely to arise among any people who are trying to make the best of things in a world where all hope of true liberation is a hopeless fantasy. One doesn’t need a Roman imperial plot or conspiracy to make them so. (Though I have not given Atwill’s argument sufficient attention to make any conclusive comment on what he himself has to say.)

        mP
        I appreciate your point of view, and yes i guess someone eventually had to come up with the idea theres no point fighting an un-winnable war and one should simply accept the lot one has. I only made this observation in light after being impressed that Titus campaign and Jesus ministry do share many strange coincidences. This reminds me of another post of yours where you point out Paul and Josephus travels to Rome where a dozen or so points seem to just match in an eerie way. Im not asking you to read the book im mentioning but there are vids on youtube with the author and he does provide a much better summary about how it all fits that is quite interesting. Lets not also forget that Jesus said words to the effect that he will return in their generation. The last part of the Titus campaign i will draw upon is how the very end which is marked by the fall of Masada is dated to Nisan 15 73AD which is one generation or 40 years after the death of Jesus himself.

        Perhaps with that in mind then it becomes more obvious why its easier rto believe JC was a stooge for Rome.
        - After all if he was here to help the common man, why didnt he just teach that slaves should be freed ?
        - Why would he repeat things to help the rich and powerful completely forgetting any counter message to help their misery ?
        - If anything Jesus seems to be promoting that the poor cooperate, which is hardly helping them.

        Neil:
        You say the prophecy of Jesus points to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Maybe, but have you considered the possibility that it more specifically points to that of 130′s ce at the time of Bar Kochba’s revolt?

        mP
        Practically everybody dates Mark to just after 70AD because of this very vision of the destruction. If one examines the text, one can find parts that describe Roman maneuvers in detail that are verified by Josephus in his own writings.

        • 2012-04-08 05:51:52 UTC - 05:51 | Permalink

          mP, that someone (we don’t know whom) wrote a story (we don’t know when or why) about John the Baptist is not “evidence” for a widespread messianic expectation among Jews at the time of Jesus.

          I do not, by the way, argue that there was NO such expectation. My point is that I simply have never been able to accept this claim at face value. I have never seen any clear evidence for it.

          Besides, even in the John the Baptist story, I see nohting in it that tells me that the narrator implies that there was any such expectation prior to John.

          The messianic examples you link to are questionable for a number of reasons. Most of them are from a later era and when I look at them, yes, some appear to be imitating Joshua or Moeses, but that’s not the same as claiming to be “the messiah”. The first time we do have clear historical evidence that the Jewish people found hope in a literal messiah was after the war of 70 — and that is with Bar Kochba.

          I am mentioning this not to convince you but to invite you to examine for yourself the evidence upon which one reads so many claims. Just because one reads something repeatedly, even by theologians who call themselves historians, does not mean it is necessarily historically true.

          Next, even IF there were such an expectation of a messiah in the days of Jesus, then Jesus is the last person anyone would have accepted as such a messiah. If we are meant to read the gospels as testimony to people coming to believe Jesus was the messiah because he was completely unlike a messiah, then the story makes no sense as history.

          Again, you say “practically everybody dates Mark to just after 70AD.” They do, but why take that as a reason for believing it to be a fact? What is the evidence they produce? Is the evidence they give open to question or other explanations? Do they ever address these alternative explanations? If not, why not?

          In other words, why just accept the words and interpretations of theologians and what they say about the Bible?

          I have no doubt that Josephus was used by the author of Luke-Acts as a source. But I am not saying that in the story that Jesus himself was referring to the Bar Kochba event. What I am saying is that it is reasonable to consider the possibility that the author of Mark’s Gospel had in mind the events of the Bar Kochba war when he wrote, and that it was these events that influenced the words he placed in Jesus’ mouth. There is no evidence for Christians being persecuted by the Jews until the 90s and then during Bar Kochba’s rebellion. So this is another factor to consider when dating the Gospel. We also need to ask when we have our first evidence that anyone else had heard of the Gospels. All of these questions lead me to question “what everybody else says” about the date the first Gospel was written.

  • mP
    2012-04-07 22:40:51 UTC - 22:40 | Permalink

    Neil:
    Maybe, but have you considered the possibility that it more specifically points to that of 130′s ce at the time of Bar Kochba’s revolt?

    mP
    Out of interest why is the Bar Kochba a better match than 70 AD ? Are you saying this because the Jews actually won freedom in 130 for a while ?

    Continuing on with my last post other hidden gems include encoded messages in the names of characters.
    - Supposedly Judas Iscariot is a reference to the Sicarri
    - the main apostles John is a reference to John of Gamarra (sp) and Simon Peter is a reference to another rebel leader called Simon.
    - Judas the Zealot, a lot of Jesus apostles seem to be from rebel groups
    - Joseph of Arithmathea, the place does not exist, and may be a pun on Josephus hebrew name, Joseph ben matthais.

    We also have many other names that are mentioned in the gospels that have no purpose, im thinking of the three woes. Ironically Titus was also busy there on his campaign.

    • 2012-04-08 06:07:39 UTC - 06:07 | Permalink

      I do not deny that one can find such parallels — and coincidences among names. But then we need to set out a range of possible explanations for them and examine each possibility in turn. We can’t assume just one particular cause-effect scenario.

      Many Christians believe they can see clear parallels in the Gospels with coded prophecies in the Old Testament. I think in a few cases this is because the authors deliberately drew that parallel; in others, the believers are imagining shapes in the clouds — a bit like seeing meanings in the shapes of tea-leaves. How do we ensure that we are not making the same mistakes ourselves? If we think that Christianity was invented by the Roman emperors we need to ask what we would expect and not expect in such a scenario, and to ask if there are other explanations that have more going for them.

      As for the points of similarity with the Bar Kochba war, see http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/02/10/little-apocalypse-and-the-bar-kochba-revolt/

      • mP
        2012-04-08 12:05:01 UTC - 12:05 | Permalink

        Neil:
        I do not deny that one can find such parallels — and coincidences among names. But then we need to set out a range of possible explanations for them and examine each possibility in turn. We can’t assume just one particular cause-effect scenario.

        mP:
        Of course these are just weird things they in themselves explain nothing. However following on w/ my previous story about how Roman friendly xianity is, we can certainly see that a theme is present in these coded names. They are just a little more weight that makes it that bit easier to believe in a Roman conspiracy.

        Neil:
        Many Christians believe they can see clear parallels in the Gospels with coded prophecies in the Old Testament. I think in a few cases this is because the authors deliberately drew that parallel;

        mP
        I have examined many of the so called encoded messages particularly those that supposedly refer to Jesus. None of these texts striaght out say the prophecy in plain simple English. The only way to come to the xian conclusion is to have someone tell you that some name means Jesus and something else refers to some event in his life. Believers of these text are also many or most of the time completely dishonest.

        Take the example in Micah 5:2 which supposedly predicts Jesus being born in Bethlehem. As i previously mentioned, one needs to be told that this is a prophecy about Jesus, even though it neither mentions him by name, as a Messiah or even as the son of God. The Bethlehem here is not the place but a tribe and few verses later we hear of the same “person” defeating the Assyrians, something that did not happen in Jesus life. Continuing on with the same treatment of other prophecies most fail quite miserably, if one jus
        t bothers to read them along with the surrounding text with being inventive and bringing along a custom xian prophecy dictionary.

        Personally i think the prophecies of Jesus are quite poor, the mapping of the Gospels with Titus are far more accurate and impressive.

        Neil:
        If we think that Christianity was invented by the Roman emperors we need to ask what we would expect and not expect in such a scenario, and to ask if there are other explanations that have more going for them.

        mP
        I agree with your 100%, its foolish to simply accept any explanation without exploring alternatives and fact checking things. All things considered and the fact the church was controlled by Rome from almost the beginning it does seem to make perfect sense. Im sure you would agree that throughout its establishment and power the church has tried to hide its origins with much myth. The church is about power, the fact that Peter and Paul ended up in Rome which was also the heart of the power of the empire is again another one of those coincidences that is just too perfect. The fact that control of the papacy was Roman within a short period of time is another problem. We can see the foundations of xianity and the universal church in Paul and his writings. Paul was always accommodating to local customs, for him it was more important they join the faith even if they were different, which is what the circumcision wars are about. This is but the start of the church adopting other faiths, gods as saints and so on. I am paraphrasing a bit here but xianity seems to be just to perfect a fit for the Roman cause.

        Neil
        As for the points of similarity with the Bar Kochba war, see http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/02/10/little-apocalypse-and-the-bar-kochba-revolt/

        MP
        I reviewed your points many are common to any of the sieges and war period in Judea. I will post a reply there. While you have pointed out many supporting points i think the missing text is just as interesting.

  • Blood
    2012-04-08 03:03:37 UTC - 03:03 | Permalink

    Ehrman’s insistence that because Paul says he was a Pharisee, and therefore was not influenced by mystery religions, is a naive joke. Paul is a Gnostic thinker with only a superficial knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures (which he can only read in Greek, a version shunned by Pharisees). He was highly influenced by mystery religion. See Hyam Maccoby’s “Paul and Hellenism” and “The Mythmaker” for a deconstruction of Paul’s religious philosophies.

  • Bob Carlson
    2012-04-08 03:36:03 UTC - 03:36 | Permalink

    What seemed odd to me is that Ehrman provided little discussion of the diverse views of his fellow academics about who Jesus was. That is why I think the principle purpose of DJE was the promotion of Ehrman’s hypothesis that Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish prophet. The fact that his zeal to dismiss the rationality of the arguments for mythicism caused him to contradict arguments that he had used in other contexts seems to clearly demonstrate his lack of objectivity. It makes one wonder about how objective he was in his presentation of conclusions based upon his textual analyses of the New Testament. That the views of academics concerning the Biblical personalities can affect their conclusions about the writings attributed to those personalities is illustrated by the “scientific” article on the stuttering of Moses which Jerry Coyne ridiculed today because the authors had just assumed that Moses had existed without looking for evidence outside the Bible to support that assumption.

  • Blood
    2012-04-08 03:40:16 UTC - 03:40 | Permalink

    “One thing that we do know about them [i.e. the mystery cults], however, is where they were located and thus, to some extent, where they exerted significant influence. We know this from the archaeological record they have left behind. Among all our archaeological findings, there is none that suggests that pagan mystery cults exerted any influence on Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism in the 20s and 30s of the first century. And this is the milieu out of which faith in Jesus the crucified messiah, as persecuted and then embraced by Paul, emerged. . . .” (Ehrman)

    1. There were Greek cities in Palestine in the 20s and 30s, so there must have been mystery cults also.

    2. There’s no evidence that “faith in Jesus as the crucified messiah” actually emerged from rural Palestine in the 30s; thus it is more likely that this myth developed in Asia Minor and Alexandria among the mystery religions there. What united all of these cults was their racial make-up, i.e. none of them were Jewish. What made the Christian cult unusual was their use of the Septuagint, combined with their memetic anti-Semitism. A mystery cult that uses the Septuagint is still a mystery cult.

    • 2012-04-08 06:35:31 UTC - 06:35 | Permalink

      Yes, Ehrman’s “rebuttal” here is nothing more than begging the question.

  • mP
    2012-04-08 12:23:50 UTC - 12:23 | Permalink

    Before i start im going to make a simple assumption or statement that mystery cult can also mean saviour god which is a synonym for explaining the journey and life of the Sun.

    The Bible itself acknowledges and is filled with astrological references and meaning. Places like Job 38:3x and Amos 5:8 convey that God controls the zodiac which control our lives. The Bible also loves numbers, and its difficult to explain why so many things are either 7 or 12. With an astrological viewpoint the answer is simple. Josephus himself said in his writings that the 12 tribes were the zodiac and that the temple itself had a zodiac wheel in it. We can also find strange mappings between the signs in Gen 49 where the tribes are listed. While not a perfect example, practically all the tribes map out with one or two errors that maybe because they had a slightly different list of signs. I could go on to the presence of the zodiac but i wont for limits of space.

    The reason i mention astrology is there are several books that explore the Jesus story with regards to saviour God. The layout of the Mark gospel, the parables and language used can be mapped one by one to each of the signs in order starting Aires. The language of Jesus being the light, in the clouds and other similar text while we assume because of a xian bias meaning the heaven, they could also simply mean jesus is the Sun giving us light and warmth in the sky. I find these matches also too close that they surely could be true. The fact that the cross and dating of xmas itself shows that the Sun still today is an important part of the church even if the mass have no idea why or where these things were adopted. The fact that Jesus arrived when the new age of Pisces appeared is just another point to support this notion. I find it particularly interesting that the magi or astrologers were used as a device to impress the jews, the story is basically saying jesus was predicted by astrology. It is strange that such an abomination was included as proof, however the truth might just be that they didnt hate astrology but loved and respected it.

    Examining the Paul story of conversion in brief, its easy and fair to say he too is talking about the Sun.

    A lot of the text quickly changes from supernatural heavenly descriptions to simply admiration of the Sun. In that case the BIble is nothing more than man trying his best to explain his wonderful but misunderstood world.

  • 2012-04-09 14:31:05 UTC - 14:31 | Permalink

    I see the baptism claims made a lot. They stretch the evidence. If ritual cleansing is to be admitted, the obvious parallel is in Judaism, not the mysteries, since both Josephus (Bannus) and the Dead Sea Scrolls attest It

    If we’re going to be more specific, the closest analogue is the taurobolium in the cult of Magna Mater, except that was originally a sacrifice. The baptismal significance substantially post-dates Christianity, and is probably drawn from it.

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