Remembering Resurrection

On occasion, I’m reminded of how conventional corporate media can be. The New York Times is supposedly the liberal stronghold of liberal bias and liberal elitism, whatever that is supposed to mean. But obviously what it doesn’t mean is any deep and probing questions about the ideological foundations of our society.

The article that brought this back to my attention was what amounted to a Christian puff piece by John Meacham, some empty filler for the Easter weekend. He is a respectable author and historian within the mainstream establishment and popular media, but this particular article seems to be a throwaway that he quickly jotted down in between more important activities. Obviously, no serious scholarly research was involved, beyond some passing references.

The article is about resurrection and Meacham should know better. He has often written about religion in terms of history, including one book on the American founders. In my accusation, what exactly is it about which he should know better? In NYT, he writes that, “To Homer, as to the rest of the ancient world, what became the Christian idea of personal resurrection was preposterous.” Well, that part is simply misleading. Homer was writing long before the Roman Empire and all religious thought was far different, as human civilization was just emerging from the collapse of the Bronze Age (what Julian Jaynes refers to as the bicameral societies) and the Axial Age with its radically new religious ideas hadn’t yet taken hold.

So, it depends on which era of the ancient world one is talking about. But even in the pre-Axial period, the notion of resurrection was not an unknown concept, as many gods and godmen were brought back to life. This religious motif goes back to some early civilizations. What changed was how the relation between human and divine was imagined and experienced. Resurrection didn’t appear out of nowhere with the myth of Jesus Christ, although at that point it was being reinterpreted. Obviously, personal salvation (or gnosis, nirvana, enlightenment, transformation, etc) couldn’t be conceived until Axial Age individualism had been formulated and established. But centuries into the Axial Age, it was common for various religions to make claims of personal salvation, such as burial inscriptions declaring that as Osiris died and rose so would the buried worshipper.

Meacham pretends otherwise, though. “So singular was the proposition,” he writes, “that a particular person had been resurrected from the dead and that belief in him would lead to eternal salvation; it would hardly have been the early Christians’ first choice of narratives to share. Why argue something so improbable, and so unexpected, unless they believed it had actually happened the way they told the story?” I have a hard time taking him seriously. None of this was original to Christianity.

Belief in such things became well established over the preceding centuries, that is belief in personal salvation by way of resurrection gods and godmen — as Robert M. Price stated in no uncertain terms, “The ancient Mediterranean world was hip-deep in religions centering on the death and resurrection of a savior god. […] It is very hard not to see extensive and basic similarities between these religions and the Christian religion. But somehow Christian scholars have managed not to see it, and this, one must suspect, for dogmatic reasons” (Deconstructing Jesus, pp. 86 & 88). Sure, gnostic Christians and later heresiologists put their own spin on this mytheme, but it was far from having never been seen before. This type of theology emerged out of the meeting point of Alexandrian Jewish Neoplatonism, Greco-Roman Mystery Schools, Egyptian Hellenism, Virgin Isis-Meri worship, Osiris/Horus rituals, Dionysus tradition, etc. For example, the Catholic Church not only incorporated Mithraic elements for the Vatican was literally built on top of a Mithraic ritual cave.

None of this should be unknown to Meacham. In his book about the American founders, there are numerous references to Thomas Paine who wrote about the mythicist origins of Christianity which was well documented at the time. And Thomas Paine was one among many others during that era. Going back to early Christianity, there was much debate on all of this, even to the point that a major Christian Father defended the faith by admitting that there were pagan precursors to Christianity but that this was because the Devil implanted these ideas in earlier false religions in order to deceive humanity. But at least this apologetic defense is more honest in its admission than those who simply pretend the evidence doesn’t exist.

I don’t personally care about other people’s personal beliefs about Christian theology and traditions, rituals and practices. The heretical Unity Church I was raised in didn’t place any priority on such matters. If as a kid I had argued that Christianity borrowed from other religions, most of the people in my church wouldn’t have cared and some of them likely would already have been familiar with the evidence. There is nothing inherently anti-Christian about having knowledge of Christian origins. Nor is it dismissive of Christianity and disrespectful of Christians to admit basic historical facts and mythological precedents, no matter how challenging to our received dogma. Any worthy faith shouldn’t require a leap of ignorance.

Besides, in acknowledging what Christians inherited, it remains fair to argue that Jesus and his early followers helped form an original belief system, as would be true of any mature religion as it developed its own unique tradition. Christian theology about resurrection should be understood on its own terms, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother understanding it in terms of the ancient world out of which Christianity emerged. This doesn’t lessen the value of Christianity in any way. Rather, this broadens our potential insight about what it means to have a personal relation to the divine and to be personally saved (or, for atheists and agnostics, to offer context and allow for perspective). These are ancient concerns that extend far beyond Christianity proper. We are inheritors not only of Christianity but of the entire ancient world.

For some Christians such as Robert M. Price, learning the truth causes them to lose faith. But for still others like Tom Harpur, the truth strengthened their faith even further. On that note, no matter what you believe or don’t believe about resurrection: Happy Easter! And in remembrance of resurrection’s ancient agricultural inspiration, after this past long lingering Winter, I welcome the  return of Spring. That is a resurrection of the world that includes us all, even the dead in taking on new forms. Life emerging from the empty tomb of the cold soil is no small miracle.

Acharya S: Buddha and Christ

If you’re one of those rare people who are intelligent, curious and openminded, then you should find of interest the following.

Newly Updated “The Origins of Christianity”

The link is to a discussion on the forum run by D.M. Murdock (AKA Acharya S).  She is a scholar in comparative religion/mythology (her emphasis being Christianity from an astrotheological viewpoint).

I don’t agree with her scholarly views entirely (I don’t know about her personal views so much) because I tend to look at mythology less from a single viewpoint.  She is a great scholar in her field, but my difference in opinion is based on that I prefer to look at the underlying patterns (archetypes or whatever).  Archetypes (according to Jung and Hillman) are multivalent and so open to many interpretations.  So, despite my love of Murdock’s scholarship, I’ve at times found her conclusions more limited (not that I disagree with her conclusions that often).

I guess it’s that she seems to be in a position to defend a particular viewpoint which her scholarship is a part of.  I, on the other hand, don’t have a dog in the fight… and I just get tired of the fighting in the field of biblical scholarship (it mostly seems like nonsense, nitpicking over details — missing the forest for the trees)… which isn’t to say that I don’t get as irritated as Murdock when someone (such as an apologist) spreads lies and misinformation.  Murdock is very learned and she has strong convictions in what she knows (I respect that).  She suffers no fools, but sometimes she seems too over-confident or something (which causes me to hold her scholarship at arms length).

I’m not sure exactly what it is.  I just sense a difference of attitude between her and similar scholars I enjoy.  Two of my favorite are Jung and Campbell, and both of them seemed primarily curious with little interest in arguing about who is absolutely right.  I think it’s a personality thing.  I prefer people who endlessly consider possibilities and who hold conclusions very lightly (such as Charles Fort or Philip K. Dick).

My point being is that she is one of my favorite scholars even though her personality/attitude conflicts a bit with my own.  It’s important to try to separate out a sholar’s personality from their actual scholarship.  She may be a bit too confrontational for my tastes, but I’m glad there are people like her to aggressively defend a field of knowledge that has for too long been unfairly dismissed.

RE: Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

I every so often check out the blog by the apologist Stephen J. Bedard.  I noticed some new comments and one particular comment was quite nice.  I’ll quote this comment in full because it’s such a perfect summary of the Jesus Myth position.  I’d been meaning to fully respond to this post of Bedard’s for a while, but just had only answered Bedard’s first criticism and so it has remained unposted until now.  I’ll first give my limited response, then share the other commenters response, and after that I’ll respond to Bedard’s response to the commenter.  Clear?

Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources.  They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies.  That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography.  If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.

Some mythicists may reject the Gospels as historical sources, but this has nothing directly to do with the mythicist theory.  The parallels are relevant whether or not there is any relevant historical references in the Gospels.  Besides, I doubt any mythicist claims that the Gospels entirely lack history.  In fact, all the mythicists I know of agree that the writers (and interpolators) were purposely adding history to make the Christ myth more convincingly real.  The difference from literalists is that mythicists either see the historical additions as coming later in the development of Christianity or they see a historical figure that was evemerized and whose biographical details now are (mostly or entirely) lost.

It’s a rather complex issue since the limited info allows for endless speculation.  There might’ve been a historical Jesus who was lost beneath mythology and then the later historicizing of the gospel writers may have attempted to reconstruct the hypothetical evemerized Jesus.  Or there might’ve been many historical figures that became amalgamated by which they were given a unified and coherent story through mythological motifs.  We conveniently don’t even have the unmodified writings (or even the first commentaries) of the earliest Christians/Gnostics to determine how they perceived their own process of storytelling.

All of this shows a difference in thinking styles.  To the degree that someone is a literalist, they think in black and white terms.  A literalist historical Jesus can’t be mythical (even if one allows for superficial mythical accretions).  The mythicist position, on the other hand, can allow for a historical Jesus.  As such, mythicists (unlike apologists) are in a better position to adapt to the evidence as it arises for they have no singular fixed position, no belief system held above doubt and question.  A difference here is that a historical Jesus is unimportant to a mythicist because history doesn’t prove theology nor does it disprove the mythicist theory.  Even if the litealist can prove a historical Jesus, it is utterly meaningless because what they’re really trying to prove is that he is the Son of God who died for our sins… which is outside of the proof of history.

Oddly enough, a number of Christians have supported mythicism even while they affirmed historicism, but these aren’t your typical literalists.  One of the greatest New Testament scholars was Rudolf Bultmann.  He believed in mythological parallels, but the apologist prefers to ignore Christians like him.  Another example is C.S. Lewis who is a favorite of apologists, and yet he accepted that Pagan parallels existed before Christianity.  Actually, the earliest apologists didn’t try to deny any of this, but some just said the Devil foresaw the coming of Christ and taught the Pagans false doctrines ahead of time in order to deceive.  Lewis followed a different tradition of interpretation (Justin Martyr speaks of “seeds of truth among all men” within 1 Apology 44. See: preparatio evangelica).  He argued that the pre-Christian parallels strengthened Christianity.  If the pre-Christian parallels were false, then Christianity would be false as well.  However, maybe Christianity took the truth of Paganism and added further truth to it.  What had been just mythological was now historically real… or so the argument goes.  But this ignores the fact that many Pagans believed their myths were also historical.  Anyways, it is insightful how apologists overlook this part of Lewis’ writings.

To be fair, I should point out that Bedard isn’t a simpleminded apologist (see: Reading the Bible Literally).  Bedard seems to be more in the latter camp as he was influenced by C.S. Lewis (see: Mere Christianity).  He accepts that Christian holidays are Pagan in origin (see: The Bible and Pagan Holidays), that the earliest Christian iconography copied Pagan images (see: Christ as Orpheus), and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was contributed to by Pagan ideas (see: Hellenistic Influence and the Resurrection).  To me, this seems to be as literalist as a Christian can be while maintaining some basic rational dignity, and Bedard claims his beliefs are based on rationality.

But if one were to take all of those Pagan elements away, what would be left?  A historical figure?  Well, Pagans had historical claims about their godmen.  A savior who is the Son of God?  Well, this motif can also be found outside of Christianity.  Bedard, obviously, feels there is something unique here… but exactly what?

Bedard at times does show his literalist tendencies in a black and white thinking.  No mythicist is using modern standards of biography to judge the Gospels.  It is absurd to argue we’d have to reject most of ancient history if we reject the Gospels.  That almost doesn’t even deserve a rational response.  For one, secular historians aren’t trying to prove anything theologically and so they always start from a position of questioning and doubt.  There is no reason to accept any text as true until other sources of info validate it.  In the case of the Gospels, they lack confirming sources.  No ancient historian spoke about Jesus while he was alive even though there were numerous historians (including Jewish historians) in the area Jesus supposedly lived.  Also, Romans were meticulous record keepers and the records of the time survived for us to inspect, and yet we discover no Jesus in them.  This lack of evidence may not be remarkable for an average person of the time, but Christians claimed Jesus had great impact on the Roman World.

Let me add one last point on this issue.  I was listening to Richard Carrier on the proper defense and improper defense of the Jesus Myth(scroll down).  Carrier makes an interesting point.  People aren’t idiots for believing in Jesus’ historicity.  They’re just looking at different data.  Just a few pieces of data not assimilated or countered by historical arguments won’t disprove it, but a few hundred pieces of data that promotes doubt causes one to consider alternative theories.  However, most people never get to that point.  This is particularly true for many (most?) New Testament scholars who are Christians (which is a large percentage) and hence who don’t have much motivation to seek out and seriously consider all of the contradictory data.  According to Carrier, it’s a bad argument to try to support mythicism by claiming silence on Jesus’ historicity.  The evidence that has survived could be interpreted as proof of a historical Jesus, but it could also be interpreted in other ways when placed in context of other evidence.  If one doesn’t take into account the plethora of Pagan parallels (either out of ignorance or dismissal), it isn’t irrational per se if one were to claim Jesus’ historicity.  However, as an apologetic argument, it’s just an empty claim that one can say little about… not that apologetics is meant to have substance beyond the belief motivating it.

Michael’s response to Bedard:

“As I sit here watching the documentary on Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ, I find myself reminded of all the problems that I see in the Jesus myth theory. I will share my top ten problems with this theory. This is not a detailed analysis but rather my opportunity to vent on the glaring problems with this theory.

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.”

For the most part, proponents of the Jesus Myth (JM) regard the gospels as allegorical first and faith documents second. Also, proponents of the JM do highlight the fact that the early catholic church used purely theological arguments for the existence of Jesus and did not defer to historical sources. Barnabbas and Clement are very curious because when they refer to the passion of Christ they simply quote Isaiah 53… which is an odd thing to do if the exploits of Christ had been a matter of recent history and were purported to be world reknown.

And there does exist a good selection of actual historical documents from the 1st century, such as Pliny’s Natural History and Josephus’ Testimonium… the four gospels do not mirror the style and format of any known works of historical record from the time period they are alleged to have been composed in.

“2) The claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus. This is simply not true. Paul quotes Jesus, mentions aspects of his life and in 1 Corinthians 15 he challenges his readers to check out the surviving witnesses.”

That Paul “quotes” Jesus is not problematic for proponents of the JM. There’s nothing that prohibits the idea that the cosmic divine messiah taught his apostles. That Paul is aware of a sacred meal is not problematic either. Sacred meals are virtually universal. And in 1st Corinthians 15 Paul never differentiates between the nature of his experience with Jesus (revelatory vision) and the experience of the other apostles. Doesn’t Paul say at some point in the epistles, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” Paul wrote that there was no difference between his experience with Jesus and the other apostles experience. And in verse 45 Paul actually says that Jesus was not a human and draws a stark contrast between Adam and Jesus to illustrate the point.

You seem to be basing your 10 points off of a very faulty understanding of the JM, which is regrettable but predictable.

“3) The rejection of Josephus as a testimony of Jesus. Some authors reject Josephus as evidence for Jesus because it is clear that there is Christian tampering. Most scholars see an original core testimony that has been augmented by Christians not created. Plus we have what Josephus says about John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus.”

I am always very doubtful of anyone who says anything along the lines of “most scholars”. This kind of appeal to authority and reliance upon an alleged consensus is the heighth of intellectual laziness.

“4) The claim that gnosticism was an equally original valid of Christianity along side what became orthodox Christianity. The fact is that there is a clear continuity with our first century Christian documents as found in the New Testament and what became orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism with its rejection of the Jewish God, Jewish Scriptures, material world, and its focus on gnosis rather than sin were a later (mid to late second century) break away from Christianity.

5) The misuse of pagan myths. Many claims are made about the pagan myths by these authors but when you look at the myths themselves, these claims are often not accurate. You are expected to rely on their secondary sources and not to look at the primary sources.

6) Pagan myths are described in Christian language to strengthen their connection to Jesus. Mithras is said to be born of a virgin even though he was born of a rock. Horus is said to be born of virgin even though he was conceived in the post-death intercourse of his married parents.”

It is not a fact that there is clear continuity between canonical texts and what became orthodox Christianity. There is a record of development from the 1st century to the 2nd of an evolving human Jesus doctrine. This can be seen in primitive “gospel” references throughout Barnabbas, Polycarp, Clement, Paul, Ignatius, etc. and it leads all the way to the end of the 2nd century with the crystallization of the four gospels as referred to by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.

Please note that, unlike your baseless assertion this is an argument that is logical and supported by the documentary evidence.

Also, you over-state the case for pagan influences. You’re building one heck of a strawman. Certainly there was pagan influence, but any proponent of the JM worth his/her salt will tell you that the biographical data that came to be expressed in the gospels was drawn almost entirely from the Old Testament.

Again, your understanding the JM seems to be incredibly flawed.

“7) No respect for the dates of texts. Authors use pagan texts to establish connections to Jesus but sometimes (as in the case of Mithras) the texts post-date the New Testament. How do we know that the pagans did not borrow from the Christians?

8 ) Use of post-biblical traditions. Authors demonstrate pagan influence on the three wide men, the ox and ass, December 25 and a number of other traditions. The problem is that those are not biblical traditions. These things were added to the tradition later and any pagan influence says nothing about the origins of the Jesus story.

9) Misunderstanding of pagan influence on art. There are valid examples of pagan influence on Christian art such as Isis holding baby Horus being used as a model for Mary holding baby Jesus. It make sense that the new movement of Christianity would look beyond itself as it was developing its artistic side. This says nothing about pagan origins for the story.

10) The patchwork use of pagan myths. It is difficult to find large chunks of pagan myth that look like the Gospels. Jesus myth theorists take a word here and a phrase here, from dozens of myths from many cultures and say “Here is the Gospel!” If you start with enough stories, you can reconstruct almost any historical figure, ancient or minor.”

Strawman strawman strawman.

“These are just a few of the problems that I have with the Jesus myth theory. Unfortunately, it is not likely to go away any time soon.”

No, it won’t go away any time soon, in fact it is gaining traction.

– – –

I generally agree with this assessment of the Jesus Myth theory.  Bedard responded to this comment, but the commenter didn’t return.  So, let me have a crack at Bedard’s comment.

Regarding the Gospels, even the great allegorist Origen did not take them as strictly allegorical. While not exactly the same as Josephus, the Gospels do have much in common with ancient histories. They are closer to ancient biographies with Luke-Acts having stronger historical leanings. And as for the early church, they did not just rely on allegory or OT interpretation. They also stated these events as being historical events.

Yes, there was a great variety in early Christianity.  It was common practice for Christians to take some of the Bible allegorically, but there was disagreement about which parts were allegorical and exactly how they should be interpreted.  Some Christians even believed that Jesus was entirely allegorical or at least entirely spiritual (non-physical/non-historical)… allegorical and spiritual being related in the ancient mind.

I personally wouldn’t argue that the Gospels entirely lack commonality in certain aspects of style with some ancient histories.  It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world for history to be mixed with allegory (whether allegory as spiritual truth or as moral storytelling), and it’s not easy to tell how literally ancients took any given text as the common understanding would likely never have been written down.  The claims of emperors as godmen, for example, can be found in supposedly historical accounts.  Did the Romans actually believe their emperor was a godman?  I’m sure some did… just consider how gullible some modern people are even though modern education is far superior.

The Gospels show commonalities with many types of writing and storytelling and that is part of the point of the Jesus Myth theory.  There are a few comparisons that can be made.  Alan Dundes wrote the book Holy Writ as Oral Lit in which he shows the similarities of the Bible with folklore texts.  Other scholars have pointed out the similarity of the Gospels to the genre of Spiritual Romances which were a type of fiction popular at the time.  As an example of a novel of that time period, read The Life of Aesop which supposedly tells the biographical story of Aesop’s life and the style of it is reminiscent of the Gospels.  I’m not implying that there is any causal connection between the Gospels and The Life of Aesop, but I’m merely pointing out that this genre of storytelling was extremely popular in the early centuries of the Roman Empire.

Regarding Paul and the historical Jesus, in the first verses of 1 Cor 15 where Paul speaks of the resurrection historically and tags his experience to the witness of others. As for verse 45, Paul is contrasting Jesus with Adam but he is not denying that he is human. Read the passage from Genesis that he is quoting and you will see that the whole verse is about Adam. Paul is saying Jesus is a complete Adam.

I have no particular opinion about this.  Jesus and Adam are equally mythological and both were taken as historical figures by some believers.  On the other hand, there were also believers who interpreted the Bible as spiritual allegory which isn’t exactly fiction but which is far from historical fact.  The purpose of spiritual allegory is to point to a more profound truth.  The question is which belief was closest to the original Christians.  Well, I don’t know if there was any singular group of Christians that was orginal.  What I do know is that the Gnostics were the earliest Christians to organize the Gospels into a single book, were the earliest Christians to comment on the Gospels, and were among the earliest prominent Christian leaders both within and outside of the Catholic Church.

I hear what you are saying about “most scholars” but I have trouble when there is a strong consensus among a wide variety of scholars (not just Christian) and just a few scholars, usually those with a theory like the Jesus myth to promote, who deny the passage.

My opinion is that the concensus in Biblical studies isn’t the same thing as a concensus in science.  Most Biblical scholars have been and still are Christians or at least were raised in Christianity.  Most of the Biblical scholarship in the past was done as overt apologetics, and many scholars still act as apologists and see no contradiction in their ability to think objectively and critically.  Bedard himself is an apologist who has beliefs such as the virgin birth that contradict the concensus of scientists.  Shouldn’t the concensus of scientists supercede the concensus of apologists when it comes to a subject such as the biological possibility of virgin births in homo sapiens?

As examples of the importance of distinguishing apologetics from scholarship, read the following blogs and articles.  I also threw in some other responses to specific apologetic arguments just for good measure.

Robert W. Funk:

A letter of Concern for Prof. Dr. Gerd Luedemann

April DeConick:

Choosing your method

What do I mean by ‘confessional’?

The never-ending confusion about perspective

Robert M. Price:

Protestant Hermeneutical Axiomatics: A Deconstruction

Is There a Place for Historical Criticism?


Paradigm Shifting and the Apologetics Debate

Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism

N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

By This Time He Stinketh

Earl Doherty:

Challenging the Verdict

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

D.M. Murdock:

Is the Bible True?

Richard C. Carrier:

Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners

Epistemological End Game

Experimental History

History Before 1950

Related to apologetics is the issue of scientific understanding in the ancient world… and sadly the issue of scientific understanding in the modern world.

Richard C. Carrier:

Stark on Ancient Science

Books on Ancient Science

Science and Medieval Christianity

Statistics & Biogenesis

Yockey on Biogenesis

Defining the Supernatural

To continue with my response to Bedard:

I disagree with your statement about the continuity. Orthodox Christians agreed that Jesus’ Father was the God of the OT and that Jesus was human and divine. All of this found in the NT but denied by gnostics.

The Gnostics were the first to collect scriptures into a single book we now call the Gospels.  The Gnostics intentionally left out Jewish scriptures because the purpose of their creating the Gospels was because they specifically believed the OT God and the NT God were separate Gods (enemies even).  The Gospels were created for the purpose of demonstrating the distinct uniqueness of the Christian God.  Yes, there were some Jewish or Jewish-influenced Christians early on, but there is no proof that they were the first Christians.  Obviously, Judaism was a part of the milieu of early Christianity and so were a number of other religions.  As the earliest commenters on the Gospels were Gnostics who were also the creators of the Gospels as a singular canon, I think it’s fair to give them precedence on it’s interpretation… or at least it’s fair not to dismiss them out of hand.

Regarding the pagan influence. I agree that there is a stronger case that the Gospels are based on the OT than on pagan sources but the Jesus myth people I have encountered (Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke) have focused mostly on the pagan sources.

As I see it, it isn’t either/or.  Yes, many biographical details were lifted at some point from the OT.  But, some argue, that this was simply a matter of Hellenistic Jews and other related groups reading the OT through the lense of Greco-Roman philosophy, theology and mythology.  In the ancient world, a new religion was deemed unworthy if it didn’t have precedent in an already existing religious tradition.  So, a new religion had to prove itself by interpreting older texts in a new light.  But this was just a matter of convenience and they weren’t trying to stay true to the original intent and purpose of those texts.  The Jesus story that they created was in contradiction to the traditional Jewish expectation of a Messiah, but all that mattered is that Jesus was portrayed as Jewish which gave him the appearance of respectability.  They had to detail his Jewish lineage in order to substantiate their claims.  However, from a strictly traditional Jewish perspective, such superficial reinterpretations were meaningless and outright blasphemous.

Let me make one last point about Bedard’s scholarship.  It’s obvious he lacks any full understanding of mythicism.  The three Jesus myth people he mentions (Harpur, Gandy, and Freke) are just popular writers.  He admits to having never read any serious scholarship about mythicism.  I appreciate popularizers for they communicate ideas to the general public, but there are several scholars I can think of offhand who are way more respectable than those three.  I linked some of these scholars above, but there are a few more besides.  I should mention Karen Armstrong.  She is a respectable scholar who, although doesn’t identify as a mythicist, seems to support the connections between pagan mythology, classical thought, allegorical thinking and early Christianity.  If you want to know more about the Christ myth theory and the scholars who have supported this position, then check out the Wikipedia article which gives a good overview.

As an apologist, it doesn’t matter that Bedard’s knowledge of mythicism is limited.  However, as a scholar, it’s very important.  Bedard is not only a published scholar but has specifically written a book about mythicism.  He presents himself as an expert and he is an expert in other areas of Biblical studies but not in mythicism.  I first commented on Bedard’s blog around the beginning of this year (2009) and the year is almost ended.  One of the comments I made to Bedard at that time was specifically that he claimed to have only read the popularizers of mythicism and that if he was serious about his scholarship then he should read some serious scholarship on the subject.  I was just perusing his blog and saw no evidence that he has since read any high quality scholarship on mythicism.

As far as I can tell by my brief interactions, I respect Bedard as a person.  He is one of the most easygoing apologists I’ve ever met.  Also, I read one of his articles published in a journal and I was impressed.  But none of that changes the fact that he isn’t an expert nor has read any experts in the field of mythicism.  His opinions about mythicism are no more worthy than the mythicist popularizers he has criticized.  As such, his writings on mythicism mostly serve the purpose of apologetics rather than scholarship.

That is fine if that is all he wants to do, but he seems to have a mind that is capable of so much more.  I’d love to see him (or some other apologist) do an in-depth analysis of the full range of mythicist scholarship.  I’m waiting…

What is a Mythicist? part 2

I wrote a post a while back that was a response to a blog post by Acharya S (D.M. Murdock).  Here is the link to that post and the link to the post I was responding to.

After my initial comment, another commenter just wanted to argue with me.  It was frustrating because the person didn’t even understand that there was actually very little disagreement.  I’m a major fan of Acharya, but some of her fans are a bit too defensive.  I can admire someone and still feel no requirement to subserviently agree with their every thought and opinion.  However, some of Acharya’s fans for some reason are very argumentative and defensive which I personally can find quite annoying.  In discussions, people who would be open to Acharya’s ideas become polarized in opposition partly because of some of her over-zealous fans.  I’ve tried to ignore it, but this discussion on her post was getting to me.

I happened to visit that blog again and noticed she had responded to me.  Even she didn’t understand my perspective which is rather ironic since my review of one of her recent books has the highest rating on Amazon.  So, why am I able write a review that explains Acharya’s ideas so well and yet Acharya can’t understand my view?

If Acharya understood my point, then she probably wouldn’t be disagreeing.  I personally don’t disagree with her general view.  I frankly don’t find my view difficult to understand and so I frankly don’t understand the misunderstanding.  She wrote nothing in her reply to me that actually disagreed with anything I was trying to communicate.  There is an obvious miscommunication.

I’m arguing that there are two issues that are related but not identical.  The scholarship about history informs the scholarhip about mythology and vice versa, but they still can be studied separately.  Neither field is dependent on the other.  If someone doesn’t understand that,  I don’t know how else to explain it.   Maybe the confusion is based in our respective studies.   Acharya wrote that she read widely in mythology and so have I, but we may have focused on different kinds of authors and ideas.  To understand where I’m coming from, someone would probably need to have a detailed comprehension of certain thinkers: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, Patrick Harpur, Ken Wilber, etc.  I’m more interested in the ideas than the history, more interested in the mythology than textual criticism.  My curiosity has drawn me towards the subjects of storytelling, creativity, imagination, and the imaginal.  My interest in history and religious documents is from this perspective.

As I see it, mythology works in parallel with history and yet according to its own mechanisms.  At the same time, history and mythology interact in various ways.  Sometimes history inspires mythology and sometimes mythology interprets history, and it’s impossible to entirely separate the two which is especially true the further one goes back in history.

My main point is that history is secondary to understanding mythology.  I don’t need to disprove a historical argument to prove a mythological argument.  The problem I see in most discussions of biblical scholarship is a lack of subtle insight and a lack of larger context.  Too many people are trying to prove or disprove issues where the data is skimpy on both sides of the argument.  What annoys me is that this ends up just being bickering over details.  People miss the forest for the trees.

The reason it’s dangerous to have one’s arguments rely too heavily on history is that history is never black and white.  We’re forced to assess according to probability.  We have to weigh and measure various documents and weigh and measure the sources (and translations and alterations) of those documents and weigh all of the conflicting evidence.  There is no formula to ascertain a specific probability.  It demands much guesswork and subjective interpretation.  It’s very imprecise.

So, there is no evidence that convinces me of the probability of Jesus existing.  But then again there is no evidence that absolutely disproves Jesus existed.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  And I must admit I feel frustrated that others believe this is the most important issue.  What does matter to me is that if a man named Jesus lived it has little to do with later Christianity.  There may have been a single person who was called or came to be called Jesus and who inspired early Christians, but if such a man existed all relevant details of him have been lost.  Nonetheless, it’s perfectly rational to accept that it’s possible that Jesus actually lived.  I won’t say it’s probable, but neither will I say it’s improbable.  There just is no way to make an objective judgment.

The arguments about the historical proof of Jesus are simply moot.  So, why don’t we just ignore it and focus on more interesting issues which aren’t dependent on it (such as mythology).

I brought up the biblical scholar April DeConick to demonstrate the problem of conflating the debates about history and mythology.  DeConick seems to be a rational, intelligent and educated person.  She is the type of person who should be easy to convince of mythicism, but apparently is wary of it.  My suspicion is that she is wary of it because of how it’s often presented.  She is very far from being a bible-thumping Christian and yet her professional assessment is that Jesus may have existed.  Because of the entangling of mythicism with historical arguments, someone like DeConick ends up judging mythicism based on the historical arguments.  This is very bad news because it could be avoided.  The worth of mythicist arguments doesn’t rely upon any conclusion about history.  DeConick represents the openminded mainstream biblical scholar who is unconvinced about mythicism, but unconvinced because she probably hasn’t studied it in depth.  Part of shifting public opinion is by making one’s actual view clear.  Obviously, mythicists haven’t been entirely successful in explaining their actual position.

There is good reason that mainstream biblical scholars who are open to mythicism such as Robert M. Price also at the same time keep some distance from it.  Price would rather not be identified with a single perspective which I think is a very intelligent attitude.  Like Price, I support Acharya and other mythicists even as I’d rather not be labelled as a mythicist.  I prefer to go where ever the facts take me (along with where my intuition and curiosity take me).  I have no desire to defend a singular position and there is always a weakness to any scholar (whether of the professional or armchair variety) who becomes identified so strongly with a particular argument that they feel the need to defend it against all criticisms even criticisms from potential allies.  The major weakness of mythicists is that they spend as much time bickering with eachother as they do with literalist Christians.

As another example, Joseph Campbell did know how to explain well these type of issues.  He knew how to invite people to consider a new perspectives.  In biblical discussions, there is way too much antagonism from all sides (not just from Christians).  Campbell knew how to avoid conflict because he understood conflict closes minds rather than opens them.  Instead of conflict and righteous debate, Campbell appealed to the imagination.  If mythicists want to actually change public opinion, they need to learn new tactics.  Separate the issues into smaller fights that can be won and look past the superficial disagreements to the fundamental issues that really matter.  Let the literalists waste their time mired in pointless historical arguments and meanwhile undermine their entire position from a direction that they never see coming.

Interestingly, Acharya did quote Campbell briefly in one of her recent books, but she doesn’t seem to reference his ideas much.  I’m not sure how much she has studied him and other similar writers.  In my humble opinion (which so happens to be in line with Campbell), the problems of literalism aren’t merely a religious issue.  Literalism is a problem of any position that becomes taken too concretely.  Literalism is just what happens when people stop learning and questioning.  Materialistic scientism, for instance, is a variety of literalistic thinking.  A literalist takes a model for reality and forgets that a model is always an approximation, forgets that a theory is always open to being improved or even discarded.  Literalism is the bane of modernism because, as Karen Armstrong points, fundamentalists took their cue from science itself.  The literalist argument of either/or is a false argument as there are always more than two sides to every argument.  The difficulty is that objectivity is forever grounded in subjectivity and it’s easy to take the latter for the former.

The debate about the historical proof of Jesus is a game that will continue endlessly.  That is fine if everyone were having fun, but they’re not.  However, pointing out the uselessness of such a game falls on deaf ears because apparently it’s the game many people want to play.  I was suggesting to Acharya that she simply refuse to play this game, but it almost seems like she thinks its the only game in town… as if everything were riding on that one issue.

In the end, I find myself arguing with (or being attacked by) both literalist Christians and mythicists.  The reason for this is that both of these kinds of people are defending a specfic position and I’m not.  I’m only defending curiosity and wonder, the freedom to question and doubt, the desire to explore new possibilities and consider new perspectives.  The problem is that someone defending a position is constantly on the defense because they can never absolutley prove their position.  There are always further doubts and questions.  On the other hand, my perspective in a sense can’t ‘lose’ because my perspective allows for the possibility of my being wrong.  The inevitable doubts and questions are what inspire me.

My heroes are people like Charles Fort, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick.  These are people who valued questions over answers, people who considered every possibility and continually discarded each possibility for the next one.  The true believer (whether a believer in Jesus or Darwin, theism or mythicism, or whatever) can’t help but be perplexed by the person of a Fortean bent.  Neither Acharya nor some of her fans, apparently, can understand someone like me.  I’ve read her work and understand it, and yet have my own opinion.  The fan of hers who was commenting in that post couldn’t comprehend how I could disagree if I understood Acharya.  The idea that Acharya’s argument could be improved was blasphemous.  It’s not even a matter if I was right or wrong.  The issue was that I dared question Acharya’s authority.  It sometimes feels like Acharya believes that all disagreement is based on ignorance and that if she could enlighten the world everyone would agree with her (trust me, I understand the temptation of thinking this way).  She doesn’t seem to get the real issue.  I’m not even in disagreement with any of the facts she brings up or even her general interpretaion, but her view is just one view.  Nothing more and nothing less.

To me, it seems she is more certain of her position than is necessary.  I think she relies a bit too heavy on astrotheology.  I personally love the insight astrotheology offers, but there are many other perspectives that offer insight.  As for even deeper insights, I prefer the ideas of integral theory and of depth psychology; I prefer ideas such as the archetypal, the imaginal, and the daimonic.  I think studies of the trickster archetype, for instance, may offer more insight than most theories from mainstream religious textual criticism.  For me, I separate religion from spirituality.  The problem with biblical scholarship debates is that the line generally gets drawn between theists and atheists.  To many (most?) theists and atheists, you have to be either one or the other.  However, in the traditional sense, I’m neither theist nor atheist.  Furthermore, I grew up in an extremely non-literalist Christianity and so I have a hard time trying to make myself care about historical debates that never go anywhere.  History didn’t seem to matter much to early Christians and so why should it be made the primary issue of almost every single discussion about Christianity?  What does someone like Acharya think she is gaining by seemingly trying to make this the pivotal issue on which all of Christianity either stands or falls?

 – – –

Note: I just wanted to clarify what I mean by being a fan of Acharya S.

I guess it was in the late 1990s when I first read her work.  It was about 1999 and so I’ve been studying her work for at least a decade.  She has written quite a bit (thousands of pages) and it’s difficult reading, but I’ve read most of it even her various online articles.  I’ve spent massive amounts of time studying mythicism and buying books by mythicists.  I’ve spent time on many different forums discussing mythicism in general and Acharya in particular.  I’ve been on all of the major forums and have studied all sides of the debates.  At one time I spent a fair amount of time on the forum that Acharya runs and I got to personally know her most loyal fans (many of whom were quite friendly and one of whom actually was familiar with Joseph Campbell).  I’ve read all of Acharya’s opinions of other biblical scholars and I’ve read the opinion of other biblical scholars about Acharya.  I’ve written about mythicism and Acharya’s scholarship numerous times in this blog and in Amazon reviews, and I’ve often gone out of my way to defend her scholarship.

I enjoy and highly respect her scholarship and consider her to be a very trustworthy source.   On top of this, I’ve personally interacted with her numerous times on her forum and blog and she emailed me a couple of times (one of those was in response to my Amazon review which she quoted on her publshing site).

My studies of mythology and religion go beyond Acharya and mythicism and include years of study prior to my discovering Acharya.  I’m not an expert in this field, but this subject is one of my personal obsessions and I take my obsessions very seriously.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve studied more widely and in more depth about this subject than most people will do in their entire lives.

So, my criticisms aren’t offered lightly.  Even with these criticisms, I still respect Acharya’s scholarship.  But I also respect the scholarship of many writers and not all of them agree with eachother.  My criticisms aren’t insults.  They’re just differences of perspective.

My point in bringing all this up is that there is a major problem if Acharya can’t accept constructive criticism offered by one of her more vocal admirers (i.e., me).  Does she just think everyone is out to get her and every criticism is either someone attacking or someone who is ignorant?  If so, that is a very odd way to view other people.

What is a Mythicist?

The biblical scholar Acharya S (AKA D.M. Murdock) in her blog has posted a couple of links to articles she wrote about mythicism (and she also has many other articles on her Truth Be Known website about mythicism and related subjects such as astrotheology).

What is a Mythicist? by Acharya S

I have created two new articles:

What is a Mythicist?

The History of Mythicism

These articles deal with the third option in the believing versus non-believing debate as concerns various religious traditions, specifically Christianity and bibliolatry in this case.

I appreciate those articles.  A major problem of discussions is that many people don’t even know basic definitions.

There is only one issue I’d like to see clarified further.  As I see it, theories about myth and theories about history inform eachother but aren’t dependent on eachother.  They should be discussed separately rather than conflated.

In terms of Jesus mythicism, I think it’s irrelevant whether an actual person existed because we can never know.  Mythicism definitely undermines historical claims, but it doesn’t entirely disprove the possibility.  Even though I think the evidence is extremely weak to say the least, there are rational arguments for a historical Jesus because it always depends on how the evidence is interpreted.

The problem with conflating theories about mythology and history is that it creates an all-or-nothing polarization.  This just leads to heated debate that too often lacks nuanced understanding.

I for example am strongly in support of mythicism but mostly indifferent of whether or not Jesus is historical.  To feel strongly about one doesn’t necessitate I feel strongly about the other.  Even if Jesus were somehow proven to have actually lived, it wouldn’t change my mind about mythicism as the stories about Jesus would still only have a loose connection to any supposed history.

A person could simultaneously think that there was both a historical Jesus and a mythical Jesus.  They could do this by accepting that there is a distinction between the Jesus of scholarship and the Jesus of faith.  Maybe the two understandings of Jesus simply have nothing to do with eachother.  I was raised in New Thought Christianity and I can tell you many of the Christians I grew up around didn’t have a faith in Christ that was dependent on history.

Church Fathers on Christ as Scarab

I was recently looking back over my copy of Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ.  I came across a passage where he pointed out some Egyptian symbolism found in Christianity and in particular spoken of by the early Church Fathers.  The passage can be found in a previous blog post of mine (Egyptian Symbols within Christianity), but here is the section of it that really caught my attention:

Much more important, however, is the fact that the Egyptian texts bear witness to an “only begotten god” (meaning begotten of one parent only), whose symbol was the beetle because in ancient science this creature was thought to be “self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Massey says, “The only begotten god is a well-known type [symbol], then, of divinity worshipped in Egypt.  In each cult, the Messiah-son and manifestor was the only-begotten god.  This, according to the Egyptian text, is the Christ, the Word, the manifestor in John’s Gospel.”  In fact, in one early version of the Greek text of the New Testament’s Gospel of John, the phrase “the only begotten son of God” actually reads “the only begotten god”!  Its very unorthodoxy makes it likely that it is the preferred, original reading.

The truth thus came forcefully home to me that this Egyptian Christ is indeed the express image of the Christ of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and the architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only-begotten God.  I found that the very phraseology of John often echoed the Egyptian texts, which tell of he who was “the Beginning of the becoming, from the first, who made all things but was not made.”  Some of the Fathers of the Church knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine, indeed, writes, “My own good beetle, not so much because he is only begotten (God), not because he, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself” – like the dung beetle.

As Harpur is quoting Gerald Massey here, I assume he also found the quotes of Augustine within Massey’s writings.  Massey does mention the Church Father Augustine and Ambrose as well.  I looked around and found a site (linked below) where his work can be found along with helpful notes.  The person who runs the site said they had some difficulty tracking down some of the references.  Some apologists like to dismiss these quotes of Massey because he sometimes doesn’t offer citations (a problem with a lot of older scholarship).
In one rendition of John’s gospel, instead of the ‘only-begotten Son of God,’ a variant reading gives the ‘only-begotten God,’ which has been declared an impossible rendering. But the ‘only-begotten God’ was an especial type in Egyptian mythology, and the phrase re-identifies the divinity whose emblem is the beetle. Horapollo says, ‘To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabaeus! [p.11]By this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.’[38]Now the youthful manifestor of the beetle-god was this Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus. The very phraseology of John is common to the inscriptions, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, and who made all things, but who himself was not made. I quote verbatim. And not only was the beetle-god continued in the ‘only-begotten God’; the beetle-type was also brought on as a symbol of the Christ. Ambrose and Augustine, amongst the Christian Fathers, identified Jesus with, and as, the ‘good Scarabaeus,’[39] which further identifies the Jesus of John’s gospel with the Jesus of Egypt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the bringer of peace, whom I have elsewhere[40]shown to be the Jesus to whom the Book of Ecclesiasticus is inscribed, and ascribed in the Apocrypha.

In accordance with this continuation of the Kamite symbols, it was also maintained by some sectaries that Jesus was a potter, and not a carpenter; and the fact is that this only-begotten beetle-god, who is portrayed sitting at the potter’s wheel forming the egg, or shaping the vase-symbol of creation, was the potter personified, as well as the only-begotten god in Egypt.

[39] [Ambrose, Works, Paris, 1686, vol. 1, col. 1528. ‘After the Christian era the influence of the scarab was still felt. St Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus: “The good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies.”‘ See Myers, Scarabs, p. 63. See also BB 1:233, BB 2:317, NG 2:408. See AE 2:732 where both this quote and the above are cited on the same page.]

Following that citation, I found some quotes of the Church Fathers in Isaac Myer‘s book Scarabs on p. 63:

After the Christian era the influence of cult of the scarab was still felt.  St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus: “The good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies.”  St. Epiphanius has been quoted as saying of Christ: “He is the scarabaeus of God,” and indeed it appears likely that what may be called, Christian forms of scarab, yet exist.  One has been described as representing the crucifixion of Jesus; if is white and engraving is in green on the back are two palm branches; many others have been found apparently engraved with the Latin cross.

Myers gives this citation: Works, Pris, 1686, Vol. I., col.1528, No. 113.  Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, etc., by Samuel Sharpe.  London, 1863, p. 3.  In Samuel Sharpe’s book, I could only find the quotes on p. 111 near the end of the chapter titled The Religion of Lower Egypt but there is no citation:

St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, calls Jesus “the good Scarabaeus, who rolled up before him the hitherto unshapen mud of our bodies,” thus giving to him one of the names and characters of the god Horus, who is pictured as a scarabaeus with a ball of mud between his feet.  The ball, which usually means the sun, would seem to have sometimes meant the sins of mankind; and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys are represented as rolling the same ball before them.  St. Augustin also during the greater part of his life was a Manichaean, and held the Gnostic opinion of a god of goodness and a god of evil; and he was so far an admirer of the Egyptians, or at least of their practice of making mummies, as to say that they were the only Christians who really and fully believed in a future resurrection from the dead.

Also referring to Myer’s book is The Evolution of the Idea of God by Grant Allen and Franklin T. Richards (page 145):

In Mr. Loftie’s collection of sacred beetles is a scarabaeus containing a representation of the crucifixion, with two palm branches: and other scarabs have Christian crosses.  If we remember how extremely sacred the scarab was held in the Egyptian religion, and also that it was regarded as the symbol of resurrection, we cannot possibly miss the importance of this implication.  Indeed, the Alexandrian Father, Epiphanius, speaks of Christ as “the scarabaeus of God,” a phrase which may be still better understood if I add that in the treatise on hieroglyphs known under the name of Horapollo a scarabaeus is said to denote “an only-begotten.”  Thus “the lamb of God” in the tongue of Israel becomes “the scarabaeus of God” in the mouth of an Egyptian speaker.

I also came across a reference in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th Edition (1875) and 10th Edition (1902).  In the article Alchemy (Part 2), this is written:

In Egypt the doctrine of the Palingenesis was symbolized by the Scarabeaus, which suggested to St Augustine the following strange comparison: “Jesus Christus bonus ille scarabaeus meus, non ea tantum de causa unigenitus, quod, ipsement sui auctor mortalium speciem induxerit, sed quod in fac faece nostra sese volutarit et ex ipsa nasci homo voluerit.”
 And, from pages 123-24 of History of Interpretation by Frederic William Farrar:
A favorite quotation of the Fathers was “He reigned from the wood” which they applied to Christ.  The words “from the wood” are an addition found in some Mss. of the Seventy in Ps. xcvi. 10; and from the old Latin version the reading found its way into the pages of Tertullian.
In Hab. ii. 11, the Seventy render the word “beam” . . . but probably it merely meant a knot in the wood. [1]  Some Latin versions rendered it “scarabaeus,” beetle, and this led to some singular comments.  Thus St. Ambrose (De Obitu Theodosii) speaks of “Him who, like a beetle, called to his persecutors,” and says “He was the good beetle who called from the wood.” [2]
[1] Vulg., Lignum quod inter junctivas aedificiorum est (tie-beam).
[2] On Luke xxiii.  We find elsewhere “bonus scarabaeus” applied to our Lord.
In The Expositor, this issue of the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX.)  is also described on pages 25-26:
There are allusions and quotations in the ancient Fathers which, apart from the LXX., would be wholly unintelligible.  When, for instance, St. Ambrose, in his orations De Orbita Theodosii, says of Helena, “She worshipped Him who hung on the wood; . . . .  Him who, like a beetle, called to his persecutors,” &c. ; and in his comment on Luke xxiii., “He was the good beetle who called from the wood”—how utterly should we be at a loss to explain the allusion, if the LXX. did not furnish us with the requisite clue.  In Hab. ii. 11, instead of “the beam out of the timber shall answer it,” we read in the LXX., . . . . which usually means “beetle,” is explained by St. Cyril to be a technical term for ” a cross-beam.”  Hence “bonus scarabaeus,” “the good beetle,”—astonishing as such a title may appear to us,—was not unknown to Christian antiquity as a designation of our Lord.  Again, when we find Tertullian challenging Marcion to tell him what he thought of David’s prophecy, “He reigned from the wood,” how much we should be perplexed to conjecture where any such prophecy occurred in the Old Testament, . . . .  This reading found its way into the old Latin version, the Vetus Itala, and is referred to not only by Tertullian, but also by Justin Martyr.
From 1827, Thomas Moore in his book The Epicurean on page 281 quotes Augustine:
“Bonus ille scarabaeus meus,” says St. Augustine, “non ea tantum de causa quod unigenitus, quod ipsemet sui auctor mortalium speciem induerit, sed quod in bac nostra faece sese volutaverit, et ex hae ipsa nasci voluerit.”
I noticed in the book Notes and Queries published by Oxford University Press in 1884 that someone had questioned about this (page 247):
In Moore’s Epicurean (third edition, 1827, p.313), there is a quotation from St. Augustine: “Bonus ille scarabaeus meus,” &c.  I have searched the works of Augustine in vain to find this passage.  Moore does not give any more exact reference. . . .  In Migne’s edition (vol. v. col. 2039) there is a kind of abstract of a sermon, which may or may not be by St. Augustine, in which there is this sentence: “Christus in cruce vermis et scarabaeus.”
Robert Shaw, writing around the same time as Gerald Massey, came to similar conclusions in his book Sketch of the Religions of the World on pages 232-33:
In one version of Jno. 1, 18, instead of the “only begotten son” of God, the reading is the “only begotten God;” and it has been declared impossible for the sacred writer to have employed the phrase “only begotten God.”  It is said to be contrary to the genius of the Gospel and opposed to the general teachings of the New Testament.  But these things can only be determined by the doctrines and the gnosis that were pre-extant.  Of course, the current Christology knows nothing of any such possible variant as the “only begotten God,” because of the  ignorance of the Egyptian origines.  But the “only begotten God” was an expecial type in the ancient allegory and the phrase recovers the divinity whose emblem is the beetle.  This was Kephr-Ptah, who, like Atum, was reborn as his own son, Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus.  “To denote an only begotten son or a father,” says Hor-Apollo, the Egyptians “delineate a Scarabeus.  and they symbolize by this an only-begotten, because the scarabaeus is a creature self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  This was in a cult which tried hard to dethrone the female and exalt the male god as the only one.  The “only begotten god” is a well-known gype of divinity in Egypt, worshipped as Khepr-Ptah and Khepr-Atum, and in each cult the Messiah, son and manifestor, was the only begotten god, Iu-em-hept, and Iu, the son whether of Ptah or Atum is Iusu or Jesu.  This, according to the text, is the Christ, the Word, the Manifestor of John’s Gospel, who begins in the first chapter without father or mother, and is the Word of the beginning, the opener and architect, the light of the world, the self-originated and only begotten God.  The phraseology of John is common in the Egyptian texts, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, “who made all things but was not made.”  There were Christian traditions which support this reading “only begotten God.”  Some of the Fathers, Ambrose, for one, knew that the beetle was a symbol of Christ.  Augustine also identifies the Christ with or as the good Scarabaeus, of which he speaks as follows:  “He is my own good beetle, not because he is only-begotten, not because he himself, the author of himself, has taken on the form of mortals, but because he has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself.”
I noticed some authors mentioning Athanasius Kircherius.  He apparently is the same as Athanasius Kircher who supposedly is considered the founder of Egyptology.  Robert Taylor mentions him (along with others) on pages 11-12 in his book Devil’s Pulpit:
So the learned father Athanasius Kircherius assures us, that “by the May-bug was signified the only begotten Son of God, by whom all things were made, and witout whom was not anything made that was made.”  The words of St. Augustin are: “Bonus ille scarabaeus meus, non ea tantum de causa, quod unigenitus, quod ipsemet sui auctor, mortalium speciem induerit, sed quod in hac faece nostra sese volutaverit, et ex ipsa, nasci homo voluerit.  He [that is Jesus Christ] was my good cockchafer; not merely because, like a cockchafer, he was the only begotten, because he created himself, and put on a species of mortals, but because he created himself, and put on a species of mortals, but because he rolled himself, in human excre—” Casalius de. Veter. AEgyp. Ritibus, p. 35.) . . . .  The learned Casalius, in quoting so solemn a declaration of so great a saint, that “Jesus Christ was a cockchafer, or May-bug,” proves that the saint must have been right, from those words of God himself, in the 22d Psalm, where he expressly says of himself—”as for me, I am a worm and not a man.”— . . . . where the Hebrew word, which has been translated, a worm, as the great Casalius thinks, should have been translated a cockchafer.
I couldn’t find anything about Casalius, but I found some more of Taylor’s writings in The Comet by H.D. Robinson.  In connection with Kircherius’ statement about the may-bug/scarab, Taylor makes some interesting points on page 264 that give further context:
This Zodiacal worm, like all the rest of the signs of the Zodiac, was, in its turn, worshipped as the Supreme God, and it is none other than the most intelligent fathers of the Christian church, who assure us that it was Jesus Christ himself, who, in 22d Psalm, contemplating his descent into the lower regions, spoke in this character: ‘But as for me, I am a worm: and no many, a very scorn of men, and the outcast of people.  Psalm xxii. 6.
Many of our learned translators render the word . . . . scarabaeus, or cockchafer, and one of the titles of Hercules was Scarabaeus, or Hercules, the cockchafer.  But it is Christian, and not Pagan piety, to which we owe this sublime interpretation.