How Literal Was the Mythical World?

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by Neil Godfrey

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Is Doherty’s view that earliest Christian belief that Christ was crucified in some heavenly realm even conceivable? Could any ancient mind plausibly think of a divinity taking on a bodily form and suffering and being exalted again — all quite apart from a literal location on earth? This post does not address such specifics. The topic is too vast for that. But it does have a more modest goal of illustrating the sorts of things that we know ancient minds certainly did think about the sorts of things that might go on “up there”.

Earlier this year I posted Ancient beliefs about heavenly realms, demons and the end of the world. A couple of responses were interesting. One or two commenters immediately took exception to plain statements that some ancients believed that the entire space between the earth and the moon is inhabited by spirits or demons of some sort. It did not seem to matter what certain ancient authors actually said. The real fear seemed to be that quoting such passages might lend some credence to Earl Doherty’s arguments that earliest Christian thinking held that Christ was a heavenly entity who was crucified in a heavenly realm.

Well, this time I’m just going to list the highlights from a small section of Doherty’s Jesus, Neither God Nor Man, one headed with the same title as this post, pp. 149-152.

His intent in this section is to “look at some examples of pictures that were presented of goings-on in the spiritual realm.” None of the following can be said to be allegory. They are written to encourage beliefs about certain realities of “what is up there”.

Ascension of Isaiah

Doherty does not repeat his detailed discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah here. But it is essential reading for anyone looking to understand ancient thought about the various stages and inhabitants between heaven and earth. R. Joseph Hoffmann also discusses the Ascension in relation to Paul’s understanding of Christ, and I quoted some of his discussion in Weaknesses of traditional anti-mythicist arguments.

1 Enoch

In the pre-Christian 1 Enoch chapter 21 we learn of a belief that certain angels are confined to fearful realms outside heaven and certainly not on earth:

And I proceeded to where things were chaotic. And I saw there something horrible: I saw neither a heaven above nor a firmly founded earth, but a place chaotic and horrible. And there I saw seven stars of the heaven bound together in it, like great mountains and burning with fire. Then I said: ‘For what sin are they bound, and on what account have they been cast in hither?’ Then said Uriel, one of the holy angels, who was with me, and was chief over them, and said: ‘Enoch, why dost thou ask, and why art thou eager for the truth? These are of the number of the stars of heaven, which have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and are bound here till ten thousand years, the time entailed by their sins, are consummated.’ And from thence I went to another place, which was still more horrible than the former, and I saw a horrible thing: a great fire there which burnt and blazed, and the place was cleft as far as the abyss, being full of great descending columns of fire: neither its extent or magnitude could I see, nor could I conjecture. Then I said: ‘How fearful is the place and how terrible to look upon!’ Then Uriel answered me, one of the holy angels who was with me, and said unto me: ‘Enoch, why hast thou such fear and affright?’ And I answered: ‘Because of this fearful place, and because of the spectacle of the pain.’ And he said unto me: ‘This place is the prison of the angels, and here they will be imprisoned for ever.’

2 Enoch (late first century ce?)

And in 2 Enoch 7 and 8 we read

And those men took me and led me up on to the second heaven, and showed me darkness, greater than earthly darkness, and there I saw prisoners hanging, watched, awaiting the great and boundless judgment, and these angels were dark-looking, more than earthly darkness, and incessantly making weeping through all hours. . . .

And those men took me thence, and led me up on to the third heaven, and placed me there; and I looked downwards, and saw the produce of these places, such as has never been known for goodness. And I saw all the sweet-flowering trees and beheld their fruits, which were sweet-smelling, and all the foods borne  by them bubbling with fragrant exhalation.

And then there is the fourth heaven:

to the fourth heaven, and showed me all the successive goings, and all the rays of the light of sun and moon.

And the fifth heaven:

The men took me on to the fifth heaven and placed me, and there I saw many and countless soldiers, called Grigori, of human appearance, and their size (was) greater than that of great giants and their faces withered

And the sixth and seventh heavens:

And thence those men took me and bore me up on to the sixth heaven, and there I saw seven bands of angels, very bright and very glorious, and their faces shining more than the sun’s shining, glistening, and there is no difference in their faces, or behaviour, or manner of dress; and these make the orders, and learn the goings of the stars, and the alteration of the moon, or revolution of the sun, and the good government of the world. . . .

And those two men lifted me up thence on to the seventh heaven, and I saw there a very great light, and fiery troops of great archangels, incorporeal forces, and dominions, orders and governments, Cherubim and seraphim, thrones and many-eyed ones, nine regiments

Apocalypse of Zephaniah (100 bce – 70 ce)

The remnants of this can be found online here.

And a spirit took me and brought me up into the fifth heaven. And I saw angels who are called “lords.” And the diadem was set upon them in the Holy Spirit, and the throne of each of them was sevenfold more (brilliant) than the light of the rising sun. (And they were dwelling in the temples of salvation and singing hymns to the ineffable God.) . . . .

I saw a soul which five thousand angels punished and guarded. They took it to the East and they brought it to the West. They beat its … they gave it a hundred … lashes for each one daily.

Similar visions are, of course, found in the Book of Revelation. Heavenly places are clearly believed to have paraphernalia like whips, thrones, chains, and landscaping with trees, mountains, rivers, fire.

Plutarch, On the Delay of Divine Justice (c46 – 120 ce)

Online here.


He saw nothing that he had ever seen before; but he beheld immensely large stars, at vast distances from one another, emitting a lustre marvellous in tint, and shooting forth rays, on which the soul was borne on the light as in a chariot, in perfect quietness, easily and swiftly. But — omitting the greater part of what he saw — he said that the souls of the dying rose from beneath like fiery bubbles through the parted air. . . .

some had their bodies streaked with what looked like scales and flabby scourge-marks; some were very much discolored, and disgusting to the sight, like snakes branded all over with black spots ; and others, still, had slight scars. . . .

When the friend of Thespesius had thus spoken, he led him rapidly to a certain place that appeared immense, toward which he moved directly and easily, transported on light-beams as on wings, until, coming to a large and deep cavern, he was deserted by the force that had borne him, and he saw other souls there in a like condition. Clustering together like birds, they flew round the chasm in a circle, but did not dare to cross it. Within, it resembled the caves of Bacchus, like them diversified with boughs of trees, and living green, and flowers of every hue ; and it exhaled a soft and mild breeze, wafting up odors of wonderful sweetness, and producing an effect similar to that which wine has on those who drink it freely.

Of Plutarch’s description of the punishment of the souls with bodies, Doherty comments, the souls “are judged and subjected to punishments according to their guilt, mainly scourgings. These are meted out to ‘bodies’ which the arriving souls still bear, for only a body could feel pain and punishment, not the soul. It is not clear if this body is the same material one the soul had lived in on earth, or a spiritual substitute for the purposes of judgment . . . ”

Asclepius (Nag Hammadi collection)

Online here

“Listen, Asclepius! There is a great demon. The great God has appointed him to be overseer or judge over the souls of men. And God has placed him in the middle of the air, between earth and heaven. Now when the soul comes forth from (the) body, it is necessary that it meet this daimon. Immediately, he (the daimon) will surround this one (masc.), and he will examine him in regard to the character that he has developed in his life. And if he finds that he piously performed all of his actions for which he came into the world, this (daimon) will allow him … (1 line missing) … turn him […]. But if he sees […] in this one […] he brought his life into evil deeds, he grasps him, as he flees upward, and throws him down, so that he is suspended between heaven and earth, and is punished with a great punishment. And he will be deprived of his hope, and will be in great pain.

And that soul has been put neither on the earth nor in heaven, but it has come into the open sea of the air of the world, the place where there is a great fire, and crystal water, and furrows of fire, and a great upheaval. The bodies are tormented (in) various (ways). Sometimes they are cast down into the fire, . . .

Epistle to the Hebrews

This is another discussion. Doherty sides with the view that the epistle describes Christ’s sacrifice in a heavenly realm. A part of his justification for this interpretation is that the ancients are known to have understood the heavens, indeed the various heavens and places between the highest heaven and earth, as landscaped, occupied, and scenes of activity involving a range of anthropomorphic entities and forms.

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18 thoughts on “How Literal Was the Mythical World?”

  1. Don’t forget Galatians 4
    These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

    Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

    But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

  2. I don’t think any one doubts that the ancients believed that all manner of genies and demons lived in the world and the air around it. The main sticking point I have with Doherty’s hypothesis is while he believes Paul’s theology is based on this mythic crucification of a certain Jesus by demons in the spirit world, this all has to be teased out of the epistles.

    There is in the epistles a “conspiracy of silence” concerning the mythic exploits of Jesus. The details of who this Jesus person is and how he met his fate are not revealed to the reader, who presumably supposed to simply be aware of the background. I can only suppose they did since it seems that of all the people promoting Jesus at the time, Paul was the most popular, and I don’t think that people would jump on this unless they had some idea who exactly this Jesus character is.

    If Paul understood him to be a sort of angel that became pseudo-mortal so as to trick demons into murdering him in the invisible realm of spirits, it is strange that none of the known varieties of Christianity maintained that position long enough for it to be documented by anyone. If they had Doherty could save himself the trouble of trying to interpret it out of Paul and merely point to the work that detailed Paul’s missing myth. Instead we are to believe that Mark, without precedent to anything in early Christianity, created a fictional account of Jesus that locates the the myth of this unknown heavenly person into the life of an also unknown Galilean from recent history. After this work is put into circulation all the Christians decide that this is much better than the version they all were converted to and so the Jesus Myth disappears.

    Even the Ascension of Isaiah uses the earthly Jesus of Mark. And while Doherty maintains that Hebrews documents Jesus being crucified by demons on the alter of God in Heaven, the same work refers to Jesus having a life on Earth where he offerers up prayers to be saved from death. Is this the heavenly Earth that Jesus lives? If so is there a heavenly earthly tabernacle and a heavenly heavenly tabernacle? While we might suppose such a myth or imagine one Doherty doesn’t give and reason why we should.

  3. Hebrews 9:11

    When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.

    Exactly what could ‘not a part of this creation’ mean?

  4. [This post is a response to mikelioso’s post above.]

    The texts I cited said just a little more than the air around the earth being the sole location of spirit entities, and cohere with the statements of my earlier post (Ancient Beliefs) that all the area between the heavens/moon and earth is inhabited and landscaped and are scenes of various activities of daimons, spirits, etc. A certain associate professor of religion who shall remain nameless, on a certain blog that shall remain nameless, has ignorantly stated that Doherty “shows painfully bad misunderstandings of ancient cosmology”. In comments on my earlier post he simply could not read the plain texts I quoted and insisted on ignoring their wording in order to fit them into his post-Galilean view of the planets and solar system. To the ancients, as per those texts, the air filled the whole space between the moon and earth. The whole space between earth and the moon is the habitation of spirits.

    We are mistaken when we — even associate professors of religion — view the air as a thin layer hugging the earth with a vast nothing between it and the moon. That is modern scientific cosmology. Not ancient cosmology. As per my last post, philosophy also informed the educated ancients that “nature abhors a vacuum”, that something has to fill out space, and it must be the invisible (to humans) spirit world. These passages add further weight to the accuracy of Doherty’s understanding of ancient cosmology (see, for example, the demon standing mid-way between earth and heaven — “in the middle of the air — suspended between earth and heaven”. Here heaven is clearly a place that stands well above the earth — the abode of God/s etc, and air fills the entire space in between).

    So who is it who demonstrates “painfully bad misunderstandings of ancient cosmology”? Doherty or his offended critics?

    As for teasing out an alternative scenario (from the gospel one) of who this Jesus was, what happened to him, from the epistles, I suggest this is not really the case. What if what the epistles say exactly what their understanding of this Christ figure is, and that we are simply failing to understand or recognize it because it is so unlike our gospel presuppositions? But understanding more of ancient cosmology and philosophies (both Middle Platonism and Stoicism), maybe the words of the epistles all really do make complete sense “just as they are written” with very little left over to explain or wonder about? This seems so strange to us because by comparison with the rich stories of the gospels, it seems difficult to imagine how anyone could find spiritual meaning in a Christ without such gospel stories, or some alternative grand set of mythical details, attached to him. (Compare, for example, not Doherty’s, but Hoffmann’s comparison of the concepts in the Ascension of Isaiah with Paul’s views.)

    I am very slowly adding bit by bit outlines of the arguments of Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics. He demonstrates that Paul’s theology, his concept of Christ, is very similar in basic concept to the Stoic’s Logos or Reason. Both, when comprehended “spiritually”, lead to a genuine conversion and change of life-style. The “convert” moves from a self-centred life to a Logos/Christ centred life — his life is “in Logos/Christ” — and he is moved from an old debased way of life into a Logos/Christ centred life in fellowship or “identity” with others who share the same conversion and Logos/Christ experience.

    There is no “missing myth” in Paul or the epistles argued by Doherty. What he says is missing from the epistles is the gospel narrative. The epistles are not without myth, however. They explain a myth that is not the one of the gospels. We understand their myth from reading what they do say – not from speculating about what they might mean or refer to but don’t say.

    The mythical understandings of the nature of this Christ was varied or complex. We read of some versions in Paul, and other variations or developments of it in the other epistles. We see hints of many of the same theological concepts in Enoch, Daniel, Jubilees, Wisdom of Solomon, and other Jewish literature. Maybe there was for Paul no detailed plot or narrative to add to the notion of “archons” crucifying the Lord. It seems you are thinking Doherty’s argument requires some detailed story narrative in place of the gospels. What you read is what he (Paul) understood and taught, and that’s it. He says in some places, I think, that he is even explaining his myth in greater depth in his epistles. If we have a problem understanding it or finding it meaningful, I suggest that’s our problem.

    But understanding ancient cosmology does indeed help us understand what he is saying. Maybe this is why it is important for some critics of Doherty, including biblical scholars, to find fault with his understanding of ancient cosmology. But I think I have demonstrated that it is the critics who fail to understand ancient cosmology, and are blinded by their modern post-Copernican interpretations. (But unfortunately, as per another recent post and article I linked to, facts are not going to change someone’s beliefs, especially among the more sophisticated and highly educated, if they feel threatened by them in some way.)

    No-one argues that the gospel details were invented by Mark in the way you suggest. Doherty in fact here, according to my understanding, is drawing significantly on the research of scholars such as (historicist) Burton Mack who have studied how Mark came to write the narrative he did. He had lots of material to work with and stitch together. Your understanding appears to be that there was some monolithic Christianity and that it all changed when it found a new text with a new story. That is, of course as you infer, bizarre. It is not, however, the argument of Doherty or any mythicist case I have read. (I personally think — after reading also the works of several mainstream scholar specialists on Mark including Kelber, Fowler, Tolbert — that Mark was written as a parable.)

    (As for Paul being the most popular of the early Christian proponents, I don’t know how we can know this. We have no external witness to his writings until the second century. Some have seen this as evidence of their lack of significant impact in their own time.)

    1. There is no “missing myth” in Paul or the epistles argued by Doherty. What he says is missing from the epistles is the gospel narrative. The epistles are not without myth, however. They explain a myth that is not the one of the gospels. We understand their myth from reading what they do say – not from speculating about what they might mean or refer to but don’t say.

      It’s apparent that Paul’s writings were amenable to many early Christians (using the term in a broad sense) including not only proto-‘orthodox’ Christians, but also others, such as Marcionites and Valentinians.

      In truth, we may never know whether “Paul” would have been honored or insulted about being developed (used or misused) in various other Christian theologies, ancient and modern. But if we value honesty, we can investigate Paul’s theology by letting Paul speak for himself, as you say, including his contemporary cosmological understanding.

  5. My favorite subject! 🙂

    Earlier this year I posted Ancient beliefs about heavenly realms, demons and the end of the world. A couple of responses were interesting. One or two commenters immediately took exception to plain statements that some ancients believed that the entire space between the earth and the moon is inhabited by spirits or demons of some sort.

    Neil, out of interest, which commentators were they? I went through all the comments in that thread and couldn’t see anyone disputing that. Since many of the posts there were by McGrath and myself, do you mean one or both of us? Either way, can you reproduce their comments please? I have a feeling that it was more miscommunication than disagreement.

    I think one issue is that it is so easy to talk past each other on Doherty’s theories, esp if you are mainly relying on the details in Doherty’s books to inform you of ancient beliefs. I would say that no-one takes exception to the idea that some ancients believed that the entire space between the earth and the moon is inhabited by spirits or demons. That is well established by the quotes that you gave. I’ve added more below (whether the quotes below support or refute Doherty I honestly don’t care. If they support Doherty, then great! If they don’t, then even better! It’s just so darn fascinating how ancient cosmology informed ancient beliefs, and their beliefs about the nature of clouds, air, fire, etc, ):

    Apuleius (pagan; daemons (mostly) good!)

    But if the clouds fly loftily, all of which originate from, and again flow downward to, the earth, what should you at length think of the bodies of daemons, which are much less dense, and therefore so much more attenuated than clouds? For they are not conglobed from a feculent nebula and a tumid darkness, as the clouds are, but they consist of that most pure, liquid, and serene element of air, and on this account are not easily visible to the human eye, unless they exhibit an image of themselves by divine command.

    Athenagoras (Christian; demons bad!)

    Just as with men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honour the good or punish the bad, unless vice and virtue were in their own power; and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them by you, and others faithless), so is it among the angels. Some, free agents, you will observe, such as they were created by God, continued in those things for which God had made and over which He had ordained them; but some outraged both the constitution of their nature and the government entrusted to them: namely, this ruler of matter and its various forms, and others of those who were placed about this first firmament (you know that we say nothing without witnesses, but state the things which have been declared by the prophets); these fell into impure love of virgins, and were subjugated by the flesh, and he became negligent and wicked in the management of the things entrusted to him. Of these lovers of virgins, therefore, were begotten those who are called giants.

    These angels, then, who have fallen from heaven, and haunt the air and the earth, and are no longer able to rise to heavenly things…

    They who draw men to idols, then, are the aforesaid demons, who are eager for the blood of the sacrifices, and lick them; but the gods that please the multitude, and whose names are given to the images, were men, as may be learned from their history. And that it is the demons who act under their names, is proved by the nature of their operations.

    … demons who hover about matter, greedy of sacrificial odours and the blood of victims, and ever ready to lead men into error, avail themselves of these delusive movements of the souls of the multitude; and, taking possession of their thoughts, cause to flow into the mind empty visions as if coming from the idols and the statues; and when, too, a soul of itself, as being immortal, moves comformably to reason, either predicting the future or healing the present, the demons claim the glory for themselves.

    Tatian (Christian; demons bad!)

    But none of the demons possess flesh; their structure is spiritual, like that of fire or air. And only by those whom the Spirit of God dwells in and fortifies are the bodies of the demons easily seen, not at all by others,–I mean those who possess only soul; for the inferior has not the ability to apprehend the superior. On this account the nature of the demons has no place for repentance; for they are the reflection of matter and of wickedness.

    But now this they can by no means effect, for they have not the power; but they make war by means of the lower matter against the matter that is like themselves. Should any one wish to conquer them, let him repudiate matter.

    Tertullian (Christian; demons bad!)

    Every spirit is possessed of wings. This is a common property of both angels and demons. So they are everywhere in a single moment; the whole world is as one place to them; all that is done over the whole extent of it, it is as easy for them to know as to report. Their swiftness of motion is taken for divinity, because their nature is unknown… From dwelling in the air, and their nearness to the stars, and their commerce with the clouds, they have means of knowing the preparatory processes going on in these upper regions, and thus can give promise of the rains which they already feel.

  6. Paul is the only apostle we know any thing about. This gives me the impression that they were more churches who favored Paul’s positions than those of other evangelist. Among of course the markets he canvased, not among Jewish Christians that he doesn’t seem to interact with much. If another Apostle had been More prominent then i would imagine that it would be there work that we are reading, with the occasional mention of a fellow named Paul.

    I’m currently compiling all the things that Paul says regarding who Jesus is, to see if there is a complete image here. To me though it seems that we are being introduced to a new character here with a slim introduction. There doesn’t seem to be a mythical story here that other are turning into a literal one (and if it is a parable, why the historical trappings? Pilate, John the Baptist, Etc.)

    And if it were not Mark wouldn’t it be someone else like him that transform Christianity from a myth to history? At some point a detail would crop up on Jesus that would fly in the face of the most fundamental part of his character, what was preached by Paul and Peter, that Jesus was never a person that existed in human history. that the consensus would form that he lived in the time of Pilate and Has a mother named Mary and he died in Jerusalem during its period of roman occupation, that he was know by people living at that time. And all contrary thought to this would be wiped away so thoroughly that none of the known branches of Christianity would deny this. We have a lot of variation of Christian belief but not enough to cover the Jesus Myth. It assumes that people that copied Paul’s letters more than any other individual’s material did not preserve his teaching on the nature of Christ. We can understand that they did not maintain James’ stance on kosher or the value of the law, they preserved virtually none of his works.

  7. ‘And all contrary thought to this would be wiped away so thoroughly that none of the known branches of Christianity would deny this.’

    2 John 1
    Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world.

    The standard line is that all these ‘deceivers’ still claimed that Jesus had been living in Galilee.

    But there is nothing in the text to suggest that.

    Ned Ludd is another character who suddenly appeared and was given a history.

    These things are not impossile.

    1. It’s interesting to look at that passage from 2 John and not read it with the preconception of an historical Jesus. I always assumed that the author was railing against docetism, but maybe it’s more than that. Is the emphasis specifically on in the flesh or whether he came (at all) to the world of the flesh? What were these proto-heretics preaching?

      1. Where would docetism come from?

        This is speculation, but if some Christians believed that Jesus was a spirit, and then were told that people had seen Jesus walking the earth in Galilee, would they not at once say that that Jesus was a spirit?

        It is harder to see how docetism could start from a belief in a historical Jesus, and then people started saying that that Jesus was a spirit without flesh.

        Not impossible, of course.

        But it is easier to start with a Jesus of spirit, and to regard sightings of this Jesus on earth as sightings of a spirit.

        All speculation though.

  8. Carr, your thinking is unique to you and I won’t try to peer into as I have suspected your not a real person. If you think it would be harder to put out the claim that someone people thought existed (as a corporeal being) was really a spirit in disguise than to convince people that someone they don’t believe existed did in fact exist that is simply up to you to feel that way. Not impossible, but don’t ask people to buy theories built on top of a shaky Jenga tower.

    There a lot of good reasons to think docetism in John’s epistles. #1 we know of a large group of Christians that where docetic, I know of no Mythic Christians. #2 the Gospel of John, which shows a lot of connection to the Epistles suggesting a close relationship seems to want to make sure Jesus was resurrected as flesh, he eats fish, bears the wounds of Crucifixion, and of course it follows to any reasonable person that if he was raised corporeal he died corporeal. (though frankly other than Jesus saying he is thirst right before he dies, one could read Johns Gospel as docetic) I don’t think we can fill in the blank here and use it as evidence to support a purely hypothetical Christian group here. I could say he is talking about all sorts of notion for which i have no evidence, Buddhist Christians, Hindu Christians, what have you. There is no evidence that any one was addressing such groups because there is no evidence they existed, pure speculation.

    Carr, the Ned Ludd bit is more interesting, I know of several fictional accounts that worked their way into cultural consciousness as actual events. I don’t think Ned Ludd is a such a close possible parallel to Jesus, and I’m not entirely sure there is hard evidence Ned Ludd did not exist, all the material on him list him as a folk lore figure but not clearly as a literary figure come to life. I mean it does seem very plausible that he is a kind of mascot figure, but I’m having trouble confirming that. Could you lead me in the right direction?

  9. ‘and I’m not entirely sure there is hard evidence Ned Ludd did not exist,’

    What evidence would you like?

    How can you get evidence that somebody did not exist?

    Would you like people denying that Nedd Ludd had come in the flesh?

  10. I would accept tracing it back to a known fictional literary source.

    For instance, if you are familiar with the old phrase, Kilroy was here. There is a claimant, a Mr. Kilroy who is a riveter who took credit for being the Kilroy that started this phrase. But there was an earlier phenomenon of the same type of Australians writing “Foo was Here” where ever they went during WWI. So it would seem like This was the inspiration for the later “Kilroy was here” of WWII. No need for a legend to explain why, the later soldiers picked up the fad from earlier vets and subbed in a name of their own for nonsensical reasons. So in this instance the legend spawned a real “Kilroy”, but the legendary Kilroy did not exist, the real one is an impostor.

    Another example is David Lang. Lang’s claim to fame is mysteriously disappearing while crossing a field. Also there is Oliver Larch who disappeared while going to his well, his foot prints in the snow mysteriously terminating. I’ve read these tales in a number of books that collect strange oddities and such, but as it turns out, these guys did not exist. The story, which comes in these two and several other varieties, is plagiarized from a couple of short stories by American Gothic writer, Ambrose Bierce. An unscrupulous writer changed names and claimed it was a friend of a friend story and passed it along.

    Ned Ludd sounds a bit like the “Kilroy was here” fad. In this case it seems anarchist were tagging there works with “Ned Ludd” or “General Ludd”, since obviously there own names wouldn’t be suitable. I’m not sure there is enough evidence to say that there was no Ned Ludd, but considering how the name first comes to us, his standing as a myth seems reasonable. Like the “real” Kilroy, the real Ned Ludd may just be an artifact of peoples need to have a character to back the slogan. Somewhere some one probably has a story for the “real” Uncle Sam.

  11. ‘I would accept tracing it back to a known fictional literary source.’

    Are you saying that Popeye and Sherlock Holmes are not based on real people? Are you saying that as soon as you write fiction about a person, that person does not exist?

    Do you have any evidence that the Gospels are not fictional literary sources,what with the Jesus of legend speaking to Satan, walking on water, and meeting Moses and Elijah?

    ‘Like the “real” Kilroy, the real Ned Ludd may just be an artifact of peoples need to have a character to back the slogan.’

    If you are going to be a Christian, you might well need a Christ.

  12. Absolute logical and evidential proof of nonexistence works too, for instance i don’t believe in big foot or the loch Ness monster due to the impossibility of such creatures lurking around so long in highly populated areas mostly undetected. I also deny the existence of the “Spaniard” Maximus who killed Commodus in the arena. The earliest accounts of commodus’ life simply don’t allow for this account to be true, especially coming in as late as they do. I might take another look if the film had been released a couple of thousand years ago. As it stands, I consider the guy fiction without even bothering to ask Ridley Scott about it.

    Of course there are a number of individuals that inspired characters that don’t much resemble there actual selves, in name, deed, or both. Bill the Butcher from “Gangs of New York” was based on a William Poole, but the name was changed to the more appropriate “Cutting” and of course the real person took part in none off the events described, being dead 10 years prior. But Cutting does reflect personalities of the time, as does Captain Jack Sparrow, but there is no jack Sparrow, but lots of eccentric pirates.

    Then of course there is Sweeney Todd, who first appears in some pulp fiction mags of the time and then becomes a legendary murderer of the Jack the Ripper variety, but possibly going back to urban legends of people making meat pies from corpses, grave robbing being a somewhat popular (at least in the imagination) crime at the time.

  13. I don’t know the background of Popeye the Sailor or Sherlock Holmes, The use of a literary precedent is just that, the literary must come before the historical account, thus it can be plausibly said that the historical took its cues from the fictional. We have good reason to believe that much of the accounts attributed to Jesus are in fact fiction of the authors imagination, unsubstantiated legend, and re workings of earlier stories. But we also have good reason to believe that Christianity traces itself back to an individual living in the first century. Paul seems to believe that his Jesus was(formerly) a flesh and blood person from recent history, and the early commentators on the Gospels treat them as true stories. What we don’t have is evidence that the first Christians thought that Jesus was only a figure of the world of angels and gods in the world beyond. They certainly think thats where he is now, and one would be forgiven for thinking that was what Paul had in minds except for his references to Jesus being in this, our, world, followed by supposed biographies of Jesus being one of many exorcist(but certainly the best!) in Palestine at a particular juncture in recent history.

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