Murdock on Justin Martyr’s Admission of Parallels

D.M. Murdock, Christ in Egypt, pp 517-19:

Regarding this matter of precedence for parallels, Witt advocated proceeding with caution, but was also certain that the Egyptian religion influenced Christianity, remarking:

“Historians, generally, and specifically those who trace the development of religious ideas, need to avoid the trap of confusing the chronological order with cause and effect: post hoc ergo propter hoc.  On the other hand, the veneration (hyperdulia) of the Blessed Virgin Mary was certainly introduced at about the same time Theodosius ordered the destruction of pagan temples, including the Serapeum and other shrines of the Egyptian gods.  Here, we may think, lies a reason for the absorption of elements, ideas and usages from the old religion into the new.”

As can be seen, the evident borrowing byChristianity continued well into the common era, during Theodosius’s time in the fourth century.  Thus, simply because borrowing occurred during the “Christian era” does not mean it was by Paganism from Christianity.  Again, what is designated as the “Christian era” did not descend suddenly upon the entire world after the year 1 AD/CE but is relative, and to this day there remains places that are still pre-Christian, showing no knowledge of or influence by Christianity.

In capitulating to the fact there are indeed very serious correspondences between the Egyptian and christian religions, apologists insist that these motifs can only be found dating to the middle of the second century at the earliest.  When Justin Marty discussed them in detail, thereby supposedly showing that Paganism must have borrowed from Christianity.  In the first place, this present work reveals otherwise, as practically everything significant within Christianity existed in one form or another in the Egyptian religion long before the common era, much of it revolving around the characters of Osiris, Isis and Horus.

Moreover, in his First Apology (54) Justin specifically claims these parallels, including the Greek god Bacchus/Dionysus’s ascension into heaven, as well the virgin birth and ascension of Perseus, were the result of “the devil” anticipating Christ’s story:

“For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that Christ was to come… [the wicked demons] put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.”  (Roberts, A., ANCL, II, 53-54)

In chapter 56 of his Apology, Justin pointedly states that the “evil spirits” were making their mischief “before Christ’s appearance.” (Roberts, A., ANCL, II, 55)  In other words, Justin — and others using the same “devil did it” excuse, such as Tertullian and Lactantius — did not dishonestly deny the parallels, as have many modern apologists.”  Indeed, these early Church fathers happily used these correspondences in their polemics and apologies to make Christianity appear less ridiculous — and ridiculous it evidently was perceived to be by the educated Greeks and Romans of the time.  To the se latter groups, the gospel story could not have been any more “real” or “historical” than that of Apollo or Neptune, and surely doubted Christ’s existence as a “historical” figure in ancient times.  Moreover, nowhere does Justin Martyr claim that the Pagans copied Christianity after Christ’s alleged advent, which he certainly would have done, had the copying occurred in that direction.

It is obvious from Justin’s “devil got there first” excuse that these mythical motifs existed beforeChrist’s purported manifestation on Earth and that there were those n his time who sensibly questioned the historical veracity of the gospel story, essentially calling it “mere marvelous tales” — in other words, a myth.  In Dialogue with Trypho (69), in fact, Justin again invokes the “devil got there first” argument, specifically stating that these Pagan “counterfeits” were likewise “wrought by the Magi in Egypt.” (Roberts, A. ANCL, II, 184)  Now, which “counterfeits” and “Magi” would these be?  The “Magi” must be the Egyptian Priests, apparently called as such by people of Justin’s era, while the “counterfeits” must refer to at least some of the Egyptian gods.  Justin also specifically names the Greek gods Dionysus, Hercules, and Asclepius as those whose “fables” were emulated by the devil in anticipatingChrist.  As we have seen, these gods have their coutnerparts in Egyptian mythology as well, in Osiris and Horus, as prime examples.