14 January 2010

Reinventing Jesus (Pt. 5)

Section five is the final section of the book I've been discussing, Reinventing Jesus, and it takes a look at the accusations that Christianity and its elements are simply a relabeling of pagan religions. This is a very fascinating section, since it is one of the root issues even today among Christians who oppose a celebration of Christmas for similar reasons; a group of which I was formerly a member of.

Why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras, and other Pagan Mystery saviors as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem? ... Jesus was a Pagan god...and Christianity was a heretical product of Paganism!
- Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy,
The Jesus Mysteries, 9

Nothing in Christianity is original.
- Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 232

The traditional history of Christianity cannot convincingly explain why the Jesus story is so similar to ancient Pagan myths.
- Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
The Laughing Jesus, 61
I have read book after book, article after article, just from within the Christian church, railing against practices like Christmas, because of its apparent connection with the pagan rituals of Saturnalia and the winter solstice. I don't doubt that some of those connections are true, and that the growing early Roman church "merged" and incorporated some of those festival elements into the Church practice. But such a practice, taking place a couple hundred years into the history of Christianity is a whole different thing than implying that the very root foundation elements of Christianity are just borrowed from pagan religions.

The idea that Christianity stole its basic content from pagan religions is not new. It finds its roots in the "history of religions school," which developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. By the mid-twentieth century, this viewpoint had been largely debunked, even by scholars who saw Christianity as a purely natural religion. But in recent years, the notion that Christianity simply baptized pagan deities and applied their characteristics to Jesus of Nazareth has found a new following. (pg. 221)
The question is obviously, why is it finding acceptance and being promoted again in this century, if it has been pretty much dismissed as erroneous in times past? The book states that the answer comes from a combination of things: a postmodern interest in spirituality, along with a increasing lack of historical grounding, along with the obnoxious amount of unfiltered information on the internet. If you think about it, in times past, most historical information had to go through the printing process to get approved and edited for public consumption. This allowed at least a bit of control over what made it out as historical fact and fiction, since it had to usually go through an approval board of scholars, etc. before it made it to print. Nowadays, anyone can put anything on the web, and people flock to it and believe it with rarely an once of further study. Of course not everyone is so quick to believe what they read, but it happens much more frequently than it should. Things get said that have little to no truth in them, then it spreads, gets added to, combined with other half-truths, and eventually becomes "fact" in the mind of some people.

The one interesting point is made in the book is about how things can get reinterpreted and redefined from the pagan religions in order to make them seem more in line with Christianity. Words or scenarios that only seem similar, are relabeled with a term to align them with Christianity. In other words, people have quite often spent time "making it work" to line things up at points. It is also pointed out that it is quite possible that similar terms were used by the New Testament writers that were familiar terms to the audience they were writing. Not in an effort to borrow from pagan religions, but to use language that was associated with them that the common folk were well steeped in at the time.

Part of the biggest problem most modern lay people have with reading the Bible is that they ignore audience relevance and an understanding of what the initial readers of the writings would have understood them to be saying. The New Testament is full of Jewish terms, symbolism and references to Hebrew prophecies that many today are ignorant of or confused by. Likewise there are things said that have been potentially borrow from "current events" or common knowledge of the period, that we today have no clue about. This could be a topic of a whole series of posts, so I will leave it there. Unfortunately, these modern writers have even less clue of the context and history behind the writings, so they are easily confused, and quick to miss the point, and they go off in all sorts of confused paths of thought.

Other issues discussed include how the Jewish religion was so against "merging" anything from pagans into the religious thought of their day. The early church of the New Testament was made up of converted Jews, so surely they would not have sought to build a new religion based on pagan concepts; that would be a thought so alien to their religious mindset.

The book goes on to examine some of the parallels within pagan religion themselves, showing how while there may be seemingly similarities here and there (many of them "forced" applications), that there are by far more differences than similarities, making Christianity truly unique in all major ways. There is also an examination of a couple of the most common pagan myths that get compared, with aspects like the virgin birth, and a resurrected leader. Stories of Alexander the Great, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Romulus, Osiris, and even Frankenstein are discussed.

By the end, the book has shown the fallacies of these modern writers, and how these silly notions continue to grow and get passed on by more and more historically ignorant writers.

I said it before, I say it again. I highly recommend this book to all Christians to be better equipped to give a reason and defense for their faith against the onslaught of ridiculousness in the media today.

A couple other highly recommended title in this study would include:

Manifest in the Flesh:
How the Original Jesus Tradition Refutes Modern Mystics and Atheists

By Joel McDurmon

In Manifested in the Flesh, author Joel McDurmon illustrates the uniqueness, richness, and importance of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ. Drawing from Scripture, the Early Church Fathers, ancient history, and the most recent of New Testament scholarship, this timely and lively work presents the robust truth of Christ and exposes the lies of modern pagans, atheists, and New-Age attacks on the gospel.
Manifested in the Flesh brings diverse areas of New Testament scholarship into a readable and unified witness to the truth, and dismantles recent works of unbelief and skepticism with the force of credible and thorough scholarship. At once a viable apologetic, an intense Bible study, a survey of ancient history, and a review of vital theology, Manifested gives the reader an understanding of Christian truth remarkable in both its breadth and depth of scholarship, written in a stimulating and refreshing style.
Learn about . .

  • The basis behind all attacks on the gospel
  • The true nature of the pagan mystery religions
  • The rise of the mystery religion threat in recent years
  • The Early Church confrontation with and defeat of pagan religions
  • The background to St. Paul's understanding of Christ
  • The importance and implications of the Incarnation of Christ
  • and much more!
By weaving apologetics, biblical study, historical study, and theology together, McDurmon has created a work of Christian worldview for pastor, teacher, parent and student alike. No Christian seeking to understand the nature of our Lord and the great battles that both the Early and Modern Church have fought and continue to fight over the historical Jesus, can afford to skip this book. Hardback, 210 pages