Response to an Apologist about The Jesus Mysteries

An apologist wrote a review about the book The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Gandy.  I normally try to avoid getting involved in discussions with apologists, but I felt like responding this time for some strange reason.  As always, I don’t actually feel like arguing about any of it.  I just wanted to show that scholarly opinion is not so clear.  I suppose it’s unlikely an apologist would consent to any significant doubt, but hopefully he won’t delete my comment so that readers of his blog may see it and make up their own mind.

http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/jesus-mysteries/

I have this book, but it’s been a few years since I read it.  Even though I enjoy their work, I think there are more scholarly writers out there.

“First of all, they too easily discount the evidence for the historical Jesus.  They gloss over Josephus, Paul and the Gospels, even though if this was for any other historical figure it would be plenty of evidence.”

Many scholars doubt or dismiss the mention of Jesus Christ by Josephus.  You can find those who do accept it, but there is no consensus of its authenticity.  The Wikipedia article about Josephus on Jesus does a fairly good job of showing the complexity of debate.

As for Paul and the Gospels, there are many theories.  It’s an endless debate also without concensus amongst scholars.  However, if you’re looking for more scholarly support for Freke and Gandy, then I’d advise checking out Robert M. Price and Earl Doherty.

“Secondly they artificially blend a number of gods into a composite being that no ancient person would recognize.  They claim that Jesus is a form of Osiris-Dionysus and by that they mean that they can take little bits from a dozen or so unrelated myths and see some similarity with the Gospels. ”

Actually, Osiris-Dionysus was a name of the godman that was syncretized during the Hellenistic period prior to Christianity.  Egyptian religion and Hellenism were very syncretistic, and this combining of attributes and names was very common.  If you want more scholarly support for this, then check out Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock.

“Thirdly, they misrepresent the role of Gnosticism.  I think they are right to see Gnosticism as playing a parellel role to the pagan mystery religions, socially if not theologically.  However, they fall into the popular trap of saying that there were numerous Christianities right from the beginning, suggesting that Gnosticism might even have been earliest, with orthodox Christianity only later emerging.”

Yes, this is speculative because so little survived from the first century, but there is support for it.  The earliest commentators on the New Testament were all Gnostics (Basilides being the earliest).  In particular, some of the earliest commentators (Marcion and Valentinus) wrote the first commentaries on the earliest NT texts (Paul). 

“The earliest Christian texts that we have (which are found in the New Testament) are in continuity with what became orthodox Christianity and in opposition to Gnosticism.  To get where they want to be, they have to make some ridiculous claims such as Paul being a Gnostic and many of the New Testament books having a late date, well into the second century.”

There are other scholars that argue that Paul never writes about a historical figure and never gives physical details.  Doherty, in particular, writes extensively about Paul.

There is a logical reason for arguing for a late dating for NT books.  As I understand, the earliest copies come from the second century.  It’s traditional to date them earlier, but there is no hard evidence from the first century.

“They are totally out of touch even with critical scholarship and their claims are far from the evidence.”

They’re not out of touch, but they present just one perspective.  Scholars show a great variety in their conclusions.