26. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 26

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by Earl Doherty


Mythicist Inventions: Part One – Creating the Mythical Christ from the Pagan Mystery Cults



  • Jesus as a dying and rising god
  • Common creations of the religious mind
  • The demise of James Frazer’s The Golden Bough
  • The case for borrowing lies in syncretism
  • Jewish and Greek forms of resurrection
  • Paul on Jesus’ resurrection as “firstfruits”
  • Jonathan Z. Smith’s case against dying and rising gods
  • The resurrection of Adonis: did the mysteries copy Christianity?
  • Gunter Wagner on discrediting the mysteries
  • The appeal of the mysteries
  • The lack of evidence on the mysteries
  • Historicist methodology and a Jewish camouflage


* * * * *

Mythicist Inventions: Creating the Mythical Christ

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 219-230)


If there has been one paramount apologetic concern in the long combat against Jesus mythicism, it has been the need to discredit any thought of Christian dependence on the Hellenistic savior god traditions. This has led historicism to adopt a ‘scorched earth’ strategy. Not only must any dependence on the mystery cults be refuted on Christianity’s own turf, the war has been carried further afield in an attempt to eliminate even the alleged sources. Thus, the armies of Christian independence are dispatched to the enemy’s home territory, there to destroy its own precepts.
No longer do the mysteries believe in dying and rising gods; no longer are they based on the cycle of agricultural death and rebirth; no longer do they practice rites which could have resembled and influenced the Christian one; no longer do they even worship such deities.And no longer do ancient Christians contemporary with the mysteries genuinely know anything about them.But the mysteries knew about Christianity, and they liked what they saw so much that they recast their own ancient beliefs in imitation of the Jesus story.


“Did the Earliest Christians Invent Jesus as a Dying-Rising God, Based on Pagan Myths?”

Having asked that question, Ehrman presents the situation this way:

ONE OF THE MOST widely asserted claims found in the mythicist literature is that Jesus was an invention of the early Christians who had been deeply influenced by the prevalent notion of a dying-rising god, as found throughout the pagan religions of antiquity. The theory behind this claim is that people in many ancient religions worshipped gods who died and rose again: Osiris, Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Heracles, Melqart, Eshmun, Baal, and so on. Originally, the theory goes, these gods were connected with vegetation and were worshipped in fertility cults. Just as every year the crops die in winter but then come back to life in the spring, so too with the gods who are associated with the crops. They die (when the crops do) and go to the underworld, but then they revive (with the crops) and reappear on earth, raised from the dead. They are worshipped then as dying-rising deities. (DJE?, p. 221)

According to Ehrman, the view of almost all mythicists is that Jesus is an artificial Jewish version of a dying and rising deity of the above type; the significant parallels between the mysteries and the Jesus story prove this claim.

But this is something of a straw man. It envisions that some founder of the movement, or some Jewish study group (a scriptural book review club perhaps?), consciously sat down and ‘invented’ a new version of an old religion by emulating the latter’s features. Occasionally this sort of thing may happen (Ptolemy I deliberately syncretizing two gods into one to create a national-unity religion, or Joseph Smith inventing the whole gold plates business). But more often than not it is ‘in the air’ concepts and expressions that throw up a new set of ideas and interpretations within a break-away group or a particular cultural or sectarian entity.


Common inventions of the human mind

There is much in early Christianity which owes its presence to the Jewish culture . . . But there is also no question that fundamental aspects of the early Christian faith do not have a Jewish character but a Hellenistic one.

Almost every sect that looks back to a divine event or interaction with a deity develops a sacred meal as a commemorative thanksgiving or ritual reflection. (What is more fitting, or available, to give to a god than food and drink, or more traditionally associated with a god’s own nature and bounty?)

If the most fundamental religious impulse is to find a way to believe in a life after death, this is almost inevitably going to take the form of creating a deity who will bestow such a thing; and given our mystical predilections it should not be surprising that a process many would tend to come up with is the principle of the god undergoing the desired goal himself. It would indeed take a god to conquer death, but if we could just find a way to ride through that formidable barrier on his divine coattails. . . .

This is one mythicist who does not overplay the ‘deliberate borrowing’ principle to explain the origins of Christianity.

And we have to keep in mind that those origins are not to be found in the Gospel story. A proper reading of the epistles—which predate the Gospel traditions, despite Ehrman’s efforts to conjure up a reversal—shows that this was no reaction to a crucified preacher, but a diverse interpretation of Jewish scripture inspired by philosophical and religious trends of the day. How much of it was a conscious exercise might be impossible to say. There is much in early Christianity which owes its presence to the Jewish culture it emerged from. But there is also no question that fundamental aspects of the early Christian faith do not have a Jewish character but a Hellenistic one.

So modern historicist scholarship of the last half-century has been forced to adopt a new tack:

  1. First, show that the things in pagan religion which allegedly inspired Christianity really didn’t exist.
  2. Second, show that the earliest Christians did not believe Jesus was a god, so he couldn’t have been for them a dying and rising deity.

The second of these will be dealt with in the next instalment.


The Golden Bough goes up in smoke

The first to fall victim to the scorched earth policy is the famous James G. Frazer, whose influential book The Golden Bough around the start of the 20th century set out the picture of a class of dying and rising gods in Near Eastern mythology—Osiris, Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, etc.—whose life, death and resurrection represented the earth’s seasonal fertility cycles. Frazer’s theories held sway until much later in the 20th century, when, according to Ehrman, they were clobbered by a “devastating critique” and came to be regarded as discredited.

I am not convinced that this ‘discrediting’ has enjoyed widespread acceptance outside New Testament circles, and even Ehrman is forced to admit that

There are, to be sure, scholars here or there [!] who continue to think that there is some evidence of dying and rising gods. But even these scholars, who appear [!] to be in the minority, do not think that the category is of any relevance for understanding the traditions about Jesus.  (DJE?, p. 223)

That last remark shows that Ehrman is indeed speaking of scholars soldiering in the biblical ranks. One prominent researcher in this area, Tryggve D. Mettinger, has argued for a revival of the Frazer scenario in his The Riddle of the Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East. Ehrman challenges Mettinger on two grounds:

  • that the actual vocabulary of resurrection (as applied to Jesus, presumably) is rarely found in regard to these gods;
  • and that worshiping pagan gods who died and rose lacks any evidence for being present in Palestine in the time of the rise of Christianity.

As for the first objection, I pointed out previously that the concept of resurrection enjoyed diverse cultural interpretations in the ancient world, and consequently the language used in that context could be expected to be diverse as well. Ehrman also points out that the records of such deities are centuries older than Christianity (I am not sure if that works in his favor), and claims that the language itself can be ambiguous. Since Ehrman does not quote anything to demonstrate that ambiguity, we have to wonder if this is simply his preferred reading of whatever the sources quoted by Mettinger.

Tryggve D. Mettinger’s chapter on Baal is discussed on Vridar @
Death and Return of Baal: a reply to a near consensus


No borrowing in sight?

On dying and rising gods: through initiation and ritual the devotee enters into union with the god; he enjoys a rebirth and the benefits of the experiences they share, including resurrection to the kingdom of God.

Mettinger does not use his case for reviving the dying and rising gods to explain the Christian faith in Jesus. But his grounds for not doing so are hardly conclusive of anything. I have regularly maintained that we don’t need every detail to conform to a source of influence to legitimately postulate a borrowing or derivation. Syncretism is the process of taking certain ideas from one area of thought and combining them with ideas from another area and creating a new synthesis. The Hellenistic gods may ultimately represent cyclical processes in nature, but just because Jesus died only once does not rule out a degree of inspiration from pagan prototypes. (I daresay that devotees of the Attis cult did not view his castration as something that recurred every year—it certainly couldn’t recur for the eunuch Galli! They, too, could be flexible with their sources.) Nor does the uniqueness of the idea that Jesus died as a vicarious atonement for sin.

As for the claim that there is no evidence anyone in Palestine worshipped a dying and rising god, this would not mean that no one would be familiar with the cults. Jerusalem was not exactly the backwater of the empire; the region, from Alexandria to Antioch, enjoyed a heavy Hellenistic presence and influence.

On the other hand, we might say that there is indeed such evidence available. The epistles, when not read with Gospel-colored glasses, present just such a picture in Palestine. Paul sums it up in his gospel of a dying and rising Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; and in Romans 6:1-6 he encapsulates the principal features of his soteriology: through initiation and ritual the devotee enters into union with the god; he enjoys a rebirth and the benefits of the experiences they share, including resurrection to the kingdom of God. That’s all Greek to me.

If we allow ourselves to recognize the debt which Paul owes to pagan concepts, it must mean that the latter were in the Palestinian air at the time.


When is a resurrection not a resurrection?

It is at this point that Ehrman brings up the old canard I discussed earlier, that none of the dying and rising gods was resurrected the way Jesus was resurrected. I’m tempted to quote Ehrman from earlier in his book: “So what?” What they all had in common was a death, followed by an overcoming of that death and coming back to life. To illustrate Jesus’ alleged form of resurrection, Ehrman appeals to Jewish apocalyptic. The expectation of God’s imminent kingdom entailed an accompanying resurrection of dead bodies.

Martin Nilsson

But the Greeks had no such future mythology, and thus felt no urge to invent for their savior gods a resurrection back to earth in their former flesh. As Martin Nilsson puts it (The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistic and Roman Age, p.130),

The adherents of the Bacchic mysteries did not believe that they would rise up from the dead; they believed that they would lead a life of eternal bliss and joy in the Other World.

By appealing to the Jewish brand of expectation, Ehrman has demonstrated this diversity of cultural views and the reason why there were differences in the idea of resurrection between Christianity’s savior god and those of the mysteries. But for Ehrman and others, if there is no exact prototype, there is no prototype at all.

But here is where Ehrman goes off the rails:

If the ambiguous evidence is interpreted in a certain way (Mettinger’s), the pagan gods who died did come back to life. But that is not really what the early teachings about Jesus were all about. It was not simply that his corpse was restored to the living. It is that he experienced a resurrection. (DJE?, p. 225)

In the context of Jewish apocalyptic expectation, as just noted, Jesus’ resurrection was seen as the prelude to a general resurrection—another way, this one relating to context, in which his return to life differed from those of the pagan saviors.

But we know by now that when Ehrman refers to “early teachings about Jesus,” he is referring to the Gospel picture of a rising in flesh, a restored body standing on the same earth it had stood on before, with former followers maintaining that they had witnessed him in that restored state. Thus Ehrman has created, through the invocation of his chimerical pre-Markan spirits of oral tradition, another dimension which contrasts with those of the pagan savior gods, and he assigns it to the very beginnings of Christianity, prior to the epistles.


Pauline “firstfruits”

Resurrection and Descent to Hell. Russian icon, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This, he contends, is how Paul viewed the importance of Jesus’ resurrection, as the “firstfruits” of the general resurrection. But Paul, like the epistles as a whole, does not view Jesus’ rising in Ehrman’s apocalyptic terms. He has no dimension of a recent Jesus rising in flesh on earth as a prelude to the same sort of resurrection Jews looked for. (If he did, he would never have crafted his argument as he does in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, failing to introduce an incarnated Jesus with a human body into his pattern, a pattern it would have destroyed.) As shown earlier, all the epistles see Jesus’ rising—from wherever it took place—as in spirit only, to God’s heaven. Critical scholarship now recognizes this (all but Ehrman, apparently).

By calling Jesus’ resurrection the “firstfruits,” Paul is not placing his resurrection in the present time, as the first in a general resurrection he believes is just around the corner. That resurrection, occurring at a timeless point in the heavenly world, can serve the same purpose in view of the fact that it has been revealed in the present time, through the discovery in scripture of the Son and his acts of salvation. This revelation by God is what has triggered the onset of the End-time and the imminence of the general resurrection, making the revealed resurrection of Jesus the “firstfruits” of the coming harvest.

Such a revelation by God through scripture is clearly stated in Romans 16:25-27, and implied in 1 Corinthians 15:12-16 where Paul declares rhetorically that, if apostles like himself are falsely preaching that Jesus rose, they stand “in contradiction to God,” who has revealed that Jesus rose from death. Moreover, if Christ’s resurrection had just happened, Paul would not have described the present time and its progression toward the kingdom’s arrival the way he does in Romans 8:22-3 and elsewhere, making not even an allusion to Christ’s recent life, let alone allowing it to have had any effect on that progression.

It was to take a bit of time for some Christians to come to the conviction that in order to guarantee human resurrection, Christ actually (or “truly,” as Ignatius or his forger was to put it) needed to have lived, died and resurrected on earth and in real human flesh. The first century epistles (and some of the second) still lack that need and conviction.


Jonathan Z. Smith and the denial of dying and rising gods

Ehrman does not enlighten the reader as to what scholarship has offered in the wake of Frazer’s alleged discrediting. I’ve noted in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.128) that some scholars have suggested the mysteries were founded on “male rites of passage” in prehistoric societies. Or that they grew out of “cults of dead kings” such as the Pharaohs in Egypt or the Hittite rulers in Asia Minor. Neither of these options seems adequate to explain a religious tradition that so many placed their hopes in and for so long, and neither has gained much traction, certainly not compared to the Frazer scenario which reigned supreme for decades until its overthrow was deemed in the best interests of historicism.

The commanding generals of this new campaign of revisionism have been principally two: Gunter Wagner, in his 1963 (ET: 1967) Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (extensively reviewed in my website Supplementary Article No. 13C at: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp13C.htm); and Jonathan Z. Smith, in a 1977 article for the Encyclopedia of Religion, “Dying and Rising Gods,” and his more recent 1991 Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity. (The latter has also been given a detailed review toward the end of article “13B” of the above series.)

Jonathan Z. Smith

Ehrman relies heavily on Smith, and quotes this from his 1977 article:

“All the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of dying and rising deities can be subsumed under the two larger classes of disappearing deities or dying deities. In the first case the deities return but have not died; in the second case the gods die but do not return. There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.” (DJE?, p. 227)


Robert Price takes on Jonathan Z. Smith

There is not sufficient space here to fully debunk Smith’s case against dying and rising gods, but let me offer first a few quotes by Robert M. Price from my website book review of his Deconstructing Jesus:

Smith’s first error is his failure, as I see it, to grasp the point of an “ideal type,” a basic textbook definition/description of some phenomenon under study. . . .  Smith, finding that there are significant differences between the so-called dying-and-rising-god myths, abandons any hope of a genuine dying-and-rising-god paradigm. For Smith, the various myths of Osiris, Attis, Adonis, and the others, do not all conform to type exactly; thus they are not sufficiently alike to fit into the same box—so let’s throw out the box! Without everything in common, Smith sees nothing in common. . . .

Smith’s error is the same as that of Raymond Brown, who dismisses the truckload of comparative religion parallels to the miraculous birth of Jesus: This one is not strictly speaking a virgin birth, since the god fathered the child on a married woman. That one involved physical intercourse with the deity, not overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, and so on. But, we have to ask, how close does a parallel have to be to count as a parallel? Does the divine mother have to be named Mary? Does the divine child have to be named Jesus? Here is the old “difference without a distinction” fallacy. . . .

But what does it mean to say someone has descended to the netherworld of the dead? Enkidu did not deem it quite so casual a commute “to Hell and back” as Smith apparently does: “He led me away to the palace of Irkalla, the Queen of Darkness, to the house from which none who enters ever returns, down the road from which there is no coming back.” One goes there in the embrace of the Grim Reaper. Similarly, Pausanias: “About the death of Theseus there are many inconsistent legends, for example that he was tied up on the Netherworld until Herakles should bring him back to life.” Thus to abide in the netherworld was to be dead, even if not for good. . . .

Osiris, Smith admits, is said even in very ancient records to have been dismembered, reassembled by Isis, and rejuvenated (physically; he fathered Horus on Isis). But Smith seizes on the fact that Osiris reigned henceforth in the realm of the dead. This is not a return to earthly life, hence no resurrection. But then we might as well deny that Jesus is depicted as dying and rising since he reigns henceforth at the right hand of God in Heaven as the judge of the dead, like Osiris.


The death and rising of Adonis: copying Jesus?

And so the apologetic specter of the mysteries borrowing from Christianity rears its dreary head yet again. It is hard to know whether Ehrman seriously believes this, or whether he is simply catering to his uninformed readers’ ready acceptance of this popular tactic.

In one of the myths of Adonis, the god is killed by a boar. Ehrman says:

It is only in later texts, long after Ovid and after the rise of Christianity, that one finds any suggestion that Adonis came back to life after his death. Smith argues that this later form of the tradition may in fact have been influenced by Christianity and its claim that a human had been raised from the dead. In other words, the Adonis myth did not influence Christian views of Jesus but rather the other way around.” (DJE?, p. 228)

And so the apologetic specter of the mysteries borrowing from Christianity rears its dreary head yet again. It is hard to know whether Ehrman seriously believes this, or whether he is simply catering to his uninformed readers’ ready acceptance of this popular tactic. On the Adonis question, Gunter Wagner floats the same idea. To that, I responded in my review of his book:


Wagner acknowledges that “after the beginning of the second half of the 2nd century of the Christian era we hear about the ‘resurrection’ of Adonis being celebrated in connection with the annual mourning festival” [p.198]. . . .

[But he is willing to acknowledge] the idea that “there is much to support the view that the introduction of a celebration of Adonis’ resurrection is to be attributed to the influence of the Osiris cult” [p.200]. . . . this would certainly be the prime and preferred candidate for influence on a new Adonis resurrection idea over that of any Christian influence. . . .

But the major anomaly [in Wagner’s alternate suggestion that Adonis could have borrowed from Jesus] is the idea that the Adonis cult would be struggling to compete with Christianity. The new Christian religion, throughout the 2nd century, was a despised faith, widely persecuted, and we have no evidence that there were huge numbers of Christians in the empire with whom any of the cults had to ‘compete’. . . .

If Adonis, a relatively minor cult throughout the empire, was adopting a resurrection motif from other [Greek] cults, that concept obviously existed in them prior to the mid 2nd century, perhaps at least as early as the 1st century if we can judge by some of the artifacts unearthed at that time and earlier in regard to Attis. Such earlier dates would even more securely rule out Christianity as being the example ‘copied’ from. It simply wouldn’t have exercised that kind of pressure on the pagan cultic organizations. . . .

Celsus has nothing but distaste and condemnation for this young upstart which has borrowed everything from its hallowed predecessors. Could such an outlook in the cults lead to blatantly stealing Christianity’s most prominent feature for themselves when they supposedly never possessed it before? [And would Celsus have been likely to be ignorant of such a development in his own culture?]


The evidence for dying and rising gods

Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to return to her mother Demeter after Zeus forced Hades to return Persepone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know from primary sources such as Cicero (De legibus, II, 14, 36) that membership in the mysteries guaranteed benefits in this life and hopes of a happy afterlife in the next. It would otherwise be hard to understand what their appeal was for the countless men and women who became devotees over the centuries, from the ordinary citizen who could afford the costs, to Roman emperors. (Or why a foundation in male rites of passage or a cult of dead kings, rather than in gods who themselves underwent death and rising, would do anything to generate such benefits and hopes.) Walter Burkert (Ancient Mystery Cults, p.21) admits that evidence for “the promise of a privileged life beyond the grave for those who have ‘seen’ the mysteries . . . ranges from the earliest text, the Hymn to Demeter, down to the last rhetorical exercises of the Imperial period.” And yet he holds on to his doubts:

“It is tempting to assume that the central idea of all initiations should be death and resurrection, so that extinction and salvation are anticipated in the ritual . . . but the pagan evidence for resurrection symbolism is uncompelling at best.”

Heaven forbid that we should give into temptation. This sort of thing conveys nothing so much as an obsession with avoiding at all costs the ‘sin’ of connecting the ideas of the pagan cults with the purity of Christian faith. Burkert laments that the evidence is “uncompelling.” But is the evidence being downplayed? Is it “uncompelling” because that is the way Christian scholars want to see it? Have they placed the bar so high that it becomes quite impossible to see it? Or is it because the gap between the bountiful record left by early Christianity and the meager, deliberately obscure information on the pagan cults is so vast? Should not a degree of dispassionate logic be brought to our evaluation of the mysteries, what they promised to their followers and through what spiritual processes those ends were achieved?

Ehrman echoes Smith by stating

. . . the evidence for such gods is at best sparse, scattered and ambiguous, not abundant, ubiquitous and clear. Such gods were definitely not widely known and widely discussed among religious people of antiquity, as is obvious from the fact that they are not clearly discussed in any of our sources. (DJE?, p. 230)

Well of course the evidence is not abundant, ubiquitous and clear, or clearly discussed. It was forbidden to be so. Nor do we need a wide discussion of the subject. A few clear references, such as we do have, are sufficient. Anyway, what is Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris, if not something clearly discussed, even if he avoids a description of the cultic rites? And note that Ehrman slipping in “not widely known” in conjunction with “(not) widely discussed” is an invalid association. The latter does not have to imply the former.


The ancient witness muzzled

the whole modern trend to divorce Christianity from the mysteries is one giant apologetic industry

Ehrman shares both Wagner’s and Smith’s refusal to let the ancient witness speak for itself. On the one surviving representation of Eleusinian baptism, Wagner declares the portrayal only an “ideal . . . chosen for artistic motives,” and cannot be interpreted as signifying “rebirth.” Even the evidence provided by Tertullian [On Baptism, 5] who says that Eleusinian baptism was meant to produce “regeneration [rebirth] and the remission of the penalties due to their perjuries [a form of ‘atonement for sin’ by means of a rite]” is a case, says Wagner, of the Church Father “putting a Christian construction upon the pagan festivals he mentions.” Elsewhere, he says that “the text from Hippolytus must be set aside.” Clearly, neither the primary nor the secondary evidence from the ancient world is to be accepted as anything but erroneous. Even Christians who were contemporary with the practice of the mysteries supposedly misunderstood them and were guilty of ‘reading into’ them the understandings of their own practice.

Isis and Osiris

Even in the 4th century, Firmicus Maternus’ famous ridicule of the cult of Osiris for imagining the resurrection of their “god of stone,” or his taunt that the devotees are saved because of the god’s own resurrection, is not to be taken at face value. Maternus is simply “reflecting his own values,” and not accurately reproducing the thought of the Osiris cult. Of course, Wagner allows, if we were forced to acknowledge that the cults believed in the resurrection of their gods, they probably got it from Christianity!

Smith, too, toes the new party line and declares that the view held by Otto Pfleiderer, Rudolf Bultmann and countless others, that Pauline baptismal thinking was based on pagan precedents, has been proven “wrong” by current opinion in scholarship, although Smith allows a voice like R. C. Tannehill’s (Dying and Rising with Christ: A Study in Pauline Theology, p.32) to be heard: “the question of the relation of this motif [dying and rising with Christ] to the mysteries, then, is not yet settled.”

Even ancient Christian writers, says Smith, were guilty of misinterpreting the mysteries they were contemporary with. In addition, he claims that “in the case of Attis, the mythology gave no comfort,” leaving us to wonder how it became so popular and survived so long. When he repeats the old red herring that Osiris is not a dying and rising god because he retires to the Underworld after death, we know that the whole modern trend to divorce Christianity from the mysteries is one giant apologetic industry. (Perhaps when the farce is fully exposed, James G. Frazer can be welcomed back into the fold!)



Thus the entire case presented by Ehrman [and others] is built on smoke and mirrors. Its purpose can only be to conjure up an argument, no matter how shaky or deceptive, to disassociate Christianity’s initial mysticism from any connection with the pagan mysteries . . . 

In sum, historicist scholars have carried Christian Gospel-based concepts to the mystery cults and set them against the latter’s presentation of ‘resurrection’ and other features; then they ‘expose’ them as not properly conforming, which then ‘proves’ that any resemblance is illusory and that all comparison, along with any suggestion of derivation, is invalid. Quite a methodology!

As I say in my website review of Wagner:

If one assumes this standard scholarly illusion, Christianity must have possessed an undeniably distinctive asset in a savior who had risen from an earthly tomb, to walk the countryside again in a physical body. And he had done this within living memory, whereas the pagan saviors were a distant mythical echo. What a huge selling point! What a knockout piece of superiority! Yet no epistle writer brings up such a difference [including Paul when he condemns those who take part in the “table of demons” in 1 Corinthians 10].

Furthermore, whether Jesus was claimed to have walked out of his tomb (as in the Gospels), or was resurrected only in spirit (as in 1 Peter 3:18), no one, Christian or pagan, ever says that Christians had a monopoly on the very idea of resurrection. Certainly Celsus did not. . . . Justin, in defending Christianity against pagan similarities, never declares: “But we have the only god who was resurrected!” This is one reason why we can say with confidence that the pagan mysteries must have had a resurrection concept for their savior deities, even if it wasn’t exactly equivalent to that of Christianity—although in the first century and the early second, before the Gospels began to circulate, it might have seemed exactly that.

Thus the entire case presented by Ehrman, Wagner and Smith, preceded by earlier scholars like H. A. Kennedy and Arthur Darby Nock, is built on smoke and mirrors. Its purpose can only be to conjure up an argument, no matter how shaky or deceptive, to disassociate Christianity’s initial mysticism from any connection with the pagan mysteries and root it instead in a safe Jewish soil.

Indeed, scholarship since the mid-20th century has in its general study been entirely oriented toward the same end and purpose, to characterize Christianity as essentially if not wholly a child of Israel and bury out of sight the bloody umbilical cord of pre-natal nutrition from pagan influences. This strategy has given scholars the false confidence that they have exploded the problematic mystery cult connection, in much the same way that they assume a false confidence that the idea of Jesus mythicism has been laid to rest.


Note: For much more on the mysteries and the comparison with Christianity, see my four-part website series “The Mystery Cults and Christianity” beginning @ http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp13A.htm.


. . .  to be continued



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6 thoughts on “26. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 26”

  1. It does seem as though these Jesus scholars are working pretty hard to make sure the stories about Jesus are considered a ‘special case’ to which no mere myth can be compared. Being a mere layman, I can only see that rising from the dead to reign in the afterlife seem like pretty similar ideas. I guess I’d have to have a pretty fancy education and perhaps a lucrative career at stake to be that good at finding that there’s no commonality between the two.

  2. Thanks Earl, very good analysis.

    In recognising that the writers of the New Testament used ideas that were ‘in the air’, you are engaging in psychoanalysis of them. Like Frazer’s Golden Bough, the early twentieth century movement of psychoanalysis has supposedly been ‘discredited’ in some eyes – and it is not hard to see the dead hand of Christian apologetics here, traducing any method that proves its errors. It is obvious the authors of the New Testament were heavily influenced by earlier myth, that it entered their unconscious symbolic creative processes, and emerged as a syncretic product. This is just the sort of process that Robert Graves describes in his Introduction to the Larrousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, with older gods becoming subordinates in a new pantheon, as the mythic narratives evolve in response to cultural demands.

    New Testament authors wanted a resurrected saviour who would be an improvement on earlier versions. By locating him in the syncretic environment of Israel, and emphasising the actuality of their tales, the Gospel authors sought a God who would combine and improve on the most persuasive features of earlier myths.

    On the absence of evidence for clear resurrection stories, it seems that indifference was enough to make it hard for texts to survive through the millennia, and when indifference was piled upon malice, there are strong selection pressures at work to distort the record through the prism of later views. The real Ten Commandments (Exodus 34) begin with instruction from God to destroy all pagan religion through deliberate cultural genocide, as the first commandment. Against this intense bigotry of the canon, it is hardly surprising that records of pagan views are so fragmentary. Ehrman may crow about the success of the cultural genocide perpetrated by Christianity, but his use of this argument is fallacious. The balance of surviving texts is no indicator of the balance of ancient views.

    I liked your pun ‘its all Greek to me’. This even has its own wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_to_me citing Cicero from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

    Acharya S has a good short article Jesus as the Sun that provides informative good background on this material.

  3. Shalom,


    I was shocked to learn of the barbarity of the Romans towards the Jews. I now see the corruption of what Jesus really preached, compared to what the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus taught. It is a Roman Farce to cover their near Genocide of the Jews. I see the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as a joke on the Jewish people, as if to say, “We crucified you Jews by the tens of thousands & now we crucify your Messiah/King & in our Roman Mass he will be the Eternal Jewish Victim. I was ignorant of the history of Palestine, especially 63 BC onwards. But Jews have also played into the Roman Farce. Jesus would have been a Karaite Jew & he exposed Rabbinism & the Talmud. He wanted the Jews to return to Torah & reject Babylonianism. Remember ALL the Prophets of Israel exposed those Jews who sold out their people. The High Priest, the Temple, the Pharisees & Sadducees played ball with the Nazi Romans & screwed the poor Jewish people. The same is happening today. Decent Jewish people are paying for the Talmudic Babylonian Perverted Jews & their actions. It has taken me 60 years to see the Light of what Jesus of Nazareth was really about & not the Roman Jesus of Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee.

  4. When I read Mack’s book “Who Wrote the New Testament” I felt that he a tremendous gift of understanding the ethos of times long past. I have a lot of time for his works.
    But I feel we are like detectives trying to gather, examine and compare evidence of a crime scene. And the Christians see us as still accusing Jesus of being a criminal, so in some spiritual, timeless way we are responsible for his death, that he died for us who like Paul, persecuted him by us doubting the authority of the Bible.
    Why is the evidence so difficult to find and understand ? Is it because
    (a) The perpetrators or benefactors did not want us to find it ?
    (b) It is staring us in the face i.e. the inspired and infallible, all-sufficient Bible
    (c) it doesn’t matter, let’s get on with our lives and ignore these unsolvable and inconsequential riddles
    Well I think it matters, and I choose (a) implicating the Romans, and that the Jews have been envied and vilified to this day. But, their leaders, not the average Jew, have since conspired with other wealthy elite to reestablish and fortify their modern kingdom, the illegal sate of Israel ushered in by stealth and deception, appealing for sympathy for the horrific treatment of Jews by the Romans and the Nazis. It’s very complicated, as the Nazis were stirred up like crazed hornets by Zionistic betrayal in WW1.
    What can we learn about human nature in all this to make our lives more fair and loving to others, set a example to our children and try to teach our grandchildren?

    1. A more likely situation, I think, is that much of the earliest evidence we would like to see was lost to view when the “proto-orthodox” won the “wars” against their rivals. There was no-one to preserve the sources that did not belong to the tradition of those who ushered in our “canonical orthodoxy”.

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