Readers who spend much time on the internet know there is a lot written on the popular level on this topic; namely, that Jesus / Christianity was just the newest manifestation of standard paganism. I know of only one “real” academic (Tom Harpur) who defends this idea, which should tell you how idiosyncratic it is. There are no doubt others, but that handful against thousands (again) tells you that there must be reasons why the vast majority of scholars of all persuasions don’t buy the idea.
The problem is basically a methodological one. This 1955 (and so somewhat dated) Harvard Theological Review article by Bruce Metzger would give readers some insight into the methodological problems and errors involved in the “pagan Christ” view. Some of it requires knowledge of Greek, but not much. You’ll see the logical disconnects. Metzger, for those who don’t know the name, was for many years a professor of New Testament at Princeton. His specialty was textual criticism, and his name is nearly synonymous with the field. He died a couple years ago.
Lastly, a couple of recent books deflate much of what’s written on the popular Jesus = a pagan god front. I recommend The Jesus Legend, by Boyd and Eddy, and a more dense work, written for scholars, called The Riddle of the Resurrection; Dying and Rising Gods of the Ancient Near East. This book takes on Frazer’s work (Golden Bough) on dying and rising gods in the ancient Near East and finds the thesis considerably wanting.1
- I had an extra copy of this $60 book to give away to the first person who emailed me for it. It’s gone now! ↩
My introduction to Metzger was Lee Strobel’s work. Strobel’s newest book, “Case for the Real Jesus”, takes on this same question of parallels. His interview with Edwin M. Yamauchi would be particularly useful to anyone looking for a cliff’s notes scholarly debunking of pagan parallelism.
@ishcairn: thanks – good suggestion
Hi Mike, sharing my thoughts with you:
In one side we have a pagan emperor (Constantine) involved in putting together the Bible. His legacy (The Vatican) has paganism written all over it. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the Missions around the world, support the theory that the Empire was behind it all.
On the other hand, we have Jesus as a spiritual leader threatening the leadership of the Empire, worsening it after his execution. With Christian faith spreading like a virus and Roman imperialism falling apart, it would seem a valid option for the Romans to “morph” into Christianity in order to reinvent themselves using Jesus as a front cover, changing his true character and story in order to fit their plans of expansion.
Big name scholars are usually associated with big name research budgets. I much rather read what you have to say.
Would you consider the possibility that the original scriptures might be tampered in order to deceive people in to follow the will of the Empire?
Thanks in advance.
@Franco: Constantine was not involved in the production of the NT or the Bible. If one reads the accounts of Nicea, there is no evidence for that. There is evidence, however, that Constantine requested (I guess “demanded” is better if you’re the emperor) that copies of the ALREADY EXISTING Bible canon be copied and dispersed through the empire. Anyone reading the history of the canon knows that lists of the canonical books (and the books themselves) had been produced well before Constantine. Constantine’s request/demand just put a fire under someone’s rear to copy “the Bible” for use in the empire. Some poor fellow had to decide — from the pre-existing lists — what to include, and so the books upon which unity had been achieved were “canonized” in terms of what got copied and disseminated. Theologically, one would chalk up that event to providence without batting an eye. But my point is that such an event did not include composing or altering texts — it focused on copying the ones that the church itself, as an empire-wide community — had agreed on. BTW, the best book on this (Constantine element) is probably “Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament.”
I wish to make a brief response to Tom Harpur’s book, the Pagan Christ; first by quoting him on page 3 “The great truth that the Christ was to come ‘in man’, was changed to – that Christ had come ‘as a man’…resutled in the dark ages…..Much of the civilized West has been based upon a ‘history’ that never occurred…” Compare that to a man who lived at the time of Christ Jesus, who wrote in IJohn 4:1-3 “Every spirit which is avowing Jesus Christ, having com in flesh, is of God, and every spirit which is not avowing Jesus the Master having come in flesh is not of God. And this is that of the Anti-Christ,”. I would rather believe an eye witness than Tom Harpur, who the eyewitness claims to be “antichrist”. If Tom is down on christian theology then he should attack it and not add to the lies and half truths that we already have enough of.
The scriptures, according to Second Peter, was canonized by him, after visiting Paul in Rome, and the apostle John, who put the final compilation after he wrote I, II, III John and the completion of Revelation, around the end of the first century. It was centuries later that the order of the books, of the OT and NT canons, were changed, without proper authority, I might add.
@Harry Raué: Tom is definitely down on Christianity!
@Harry Raué: who is “him” in the first sentence? Not Peter. Peter does not claim to canonize anything in the Bible (1 Peter 1:20 says the opposite). At any rate, there is also no external evidence that Peter was involved in canonicity. The best scholarly books on this subject, by the way, are by Lee MacDonald. If you didn’t mean Peter, then forget I mentioned this!
Maybe you should read Timothy Freke’s book “The Jesus Mysteries: Was Jesus a Pagan God”. It is quite revealing and is non-biased. Excellent book along with his “Jesus and the Lost Goddess”. It will convince anyone who is not bound by tradition.
Freke’s work is not taken seriously by scholars (hate to break that to you). I actually know of only one actual scholar that buys any of the the pagan Jesus mythology. It says something when even secular or atheistic scholars don’t buy the pagan Jesus myth — they have no reason to not like it (other than its poor scholarship – selective citation of evidence, either-or fallacious thinking, refusing to sift the data any other way or interact with other views, etc.). Only non-specialists are impressed by these sorts of books.
None of the people that wrote the bible were eye witnesses to Jesus Christ walking the earth. The Gospels were actually written some time after most of the epistles in the New Testament.
depends (on the gospels comments); it’s not clear.