Responding to Bedard’s Christ as Orpheus

Stephen J. Bedard had another blog I commented on: Christ as Orpheus.

http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/christ-as-orpheus/

And he linked to an article in the Biblical Archaeology Review, but it cost money and so I didn’t read it.  The article he mentioned supposedly disproved that Christians borrowed from Pagans.  However, I can’t argue against that article as I don’t know what it says.  Interestingly, I did find another article at the Biblical Archaeology Review which supports borrowing.

Borrowing from the Neighbors: Pagan Imagery in Christian Art
by Sarah K. Yeomans

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/pagan-imagery.asp

You are correct that, for  Christian apologetics, “It does not help that there seems to have been some sort of early Christian building that had a mosaic of Orpheus as a picture of Christ.”  Nonetheless, it is a fact.  And images like this are numerous.

Showing a pagan parallel doesn’t prove a Christian borrowing from Paganism, but the cumulative evidence is immense.  Nothing is proved absolutely in that we can only speak of probabilities.  Specific examples are only telling in relation to other examples.  This is why scholars of comparative religion and comparative mythology tend to provide many examples to back up any hypothetical connection.  To argue against the connection, you would need to argue in detail against the whole body of evidence. 

Anyways, what all of this does show is that early Christians were knowledgeable of other religions and incoporated into Christianity motifs from those religions.  Also, it causes one to suspect that the incorporating went further.

These Pagan images weren’t merely stylistic conventions.  Within the Christianized Pagan images, there are obvious Pagan mythological motifs.  Let me use some examples from another article I found at the  Biblical Archaeology Review website.

The use of the image of Helios within both Judaism and Christianity is telling because it goes beyond imagery.  Some of the respectable early Church fathers referred to Jesus as the “sun”.  This was simply a common way in the Pagan world to refer to a savior god-man, but it also entails a complex solar theology that was pervasive throughout the Graeco-Roman world.

More relevant to this blog are the images of the Orpheus-Christ.  Orpheus descends into the underworld and this same motif was used by Christians.  Significantly, as far as I know, this motif isn’t supported by Christian scripture even though it was found within early Christian tradition.  If it didn’t come from scripture, where did it come from?  Maybe the same place the images came from.  Also, the descent into the underworld was another common motif of solar mythologies in general.

The article also states outright that Christians borrowed the image of Mary nursing baby Jesus from the Egyptians.  Isis was one of the most popular deities worshipped in the Roman Empire.  Temples, shrines, statues, and icons of her were found all across Europe.  As you know, many have theorized the Black Madonnas were originally Isis statues.  Murdock spends about a hundred pages detailing the similarities between Isis and Mary.  She does this by referring to Egyptian scholarship including that of Christian scholars, and she analyzes the relevant hieroglyphics of virgin birth nativities.  Hieroglyphics are important to keep in mind because they’re not merely images and artistic styles but also a religious language based in religious concepts.

So, you seem to be admitting that early Christians borrowed imagery from the Pagans.  Also, I think I noticed in another blog you admitted that Christians borrowed their holidays from Pagans.  Are you trying to argue that all of this is mere superficial detail?  If you took awasy all of the Pagan elements, what would be left?

All of the elements of Christianity can be found in prior Pagan religions: historical god-men, virgin births, slaughter of the babes, resurrection deities, salvific messages, and the list goes on and on.  Some of these elements preceded Christianity by thousands of years.

No one can prove that there wasn’t a historical Jesus and no one can prove there was.  Even if you could prove a historical Jesus, it doesn’t disprove that the stories of him were partly lifted from Pagan mythology.  Removing the Paganism won’t prove the Good News of Christ’s coming to earth.  Paganism and Christianity have become so entangled that I would argue they’re practically fused together.  Considering what may be original to Christianity is important.  But, ultimately, that may be more of question for faith than for scholarship.

Despite your criticisms of Harpur’s scholarship, why not embrace his vision?  Wouldn’t a Christ figure that revealed himself to all cultures all over the world be more inspiring than a historical figure that no one of significance took notice of while he was alive?  Anyways, plenty of reputable scholarship can be found elsewhere (such as in the Biblical Archaeology Review article).

The other article you linked, I couldn’t read because I don’t have the money to spend.  If you could tell me the basic argument, I could respond.

The Non-Unique Messiah: It Doesn’t Matter.

I came across an intelligent blog about the Jewish tablet that describes another supposed messiah prior to Christianity.  What is interesting is that this messiah was resurrected after 3 days.  But this isn’t anything new.  This 3 day motif related to a savior is found withn pre-Christian Paganism.  It’s an astrotheological motif about the solar cycle.  Similar 3 day motifs can be found within Jewish scripture as well, but what is significant is that it is directly related to the messiah in this tablet.  If orthodox Christianity was actually based on the evidence of historical documents, there would be a mass loss of faith at hearing such news.

Below is an excerpt from the blog and below that are some excerpts from the comments.

The Non-Unique Messiah: Does It Matter?

Frankly, if you’ve been paying attention or looked into history at all, this shouldn’t be that surprising.  That a story about rebirth and resurrection should crop up while the Roman Republic was reinventing itself, and while its newly appointed Princeps Augustus was touting his reign as rebirth on a national scale, is no coincidence.  During the first half of what we now call the first century C.E., rebirth was a common religious theme: mystery cults built around rebirth, like the cult of Isis and Osiris, were cropping up everywhere.  New religions always mirror and appropriate temporal events to the divine (look at Mormonism).  Christianity is no different, and it’s not immune from history.  That the non-uniqueness of the Christian story should be so strikingly and starkly presented by this tablet may be shocking, but that human events beget religious beliefs is an anthropological Law.

What I wonder is whether that should be troubling.  No doubt many believing Christians will feel threatened by the discovery that their religion has roots older than the name “Jesus,” and no doubt it proves that religion is always affected (and at least partially inspired) by humans.  It may even suggest that it therefore might be fabricated.  But if you really believe in the truth of the underlying story – i.e., if you’re truly spiritual and not just religious – that shouldn’t matter.

9 Gotchaye // Jul 8, 2008 at 10:03 pm

…it seems to me that a witness who maintains that someone performed a miracle is a whole lot more persuasive by himself than he would be if we’d already heard (and discounted the testimony of) other witnesses making similar claims about other people.

12 Gotchaye // Jul 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm

…as the number or likelihood of possible explanations for something increase, the likelihood of any other explanation being correct decreases. This tablet is at least suggestive of other explanations for our observation that modern Christianity (or something indistinguishable from it beforehand) exists, and so other explanations (including that Jesus actually rose) must be seen as less likely.

Egyptian Christianity: Origins and Destruction

OsirisDionysus– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term Osiris-Dionysus is used by some historians of religion[1] to refer to a group of deities worshipped around the Mediterranean in the centuries prior to the emergence of Jesus. It has been argued that these deities were closely related and shared many characteristics, most notably being male, partly-human, born of virgins, life-death-rebirth deities and other similar characteristics.

The Egyptian god Osiris and the Greek god Dionysus had been equated as long ago as the 5th century BC by the historian Herodotus (see interpretatio graeca). By Late Antiquity, some Gnostic and Neoplatonist thinkers had expanded this syncretic equation to include Aion, Adonis, Attis, Mithras and other gods of the mystery religions. The composite term Osiris-Dionysus is found around the start of the first century BC, for example in Aegyptiaca by Hecateus of Abdera, and in works by Leon of Pella.

The JesusMysteries – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Freke and Gandy base the Jesus Mysteries thesis partly on a series of parallels between their suggested biography of Osiris-Dionysus and the biography of Jesus drawn from the four canonical gospels. Their suggested reconstruction of the myth of Osiris-Dionysus, compiled from the myths of ancient dying and resurrected “godmen,” bears a striking resemblance to the gospel accounts. The authors give a short list of parallels at the beginning of the book:

Later chapters add further parallels, including Mary’s 7 month pregnancy.

Serapis– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Serapis (Latin spelling, or Sarapis in Greek) was a syncretic HellenisticEgyptian god in Antiquity. His most renowned temple was at Alexandria,[1]. Under Ptolemy Soter, efforts were made to integrate Egyptian religion with that of their Hellenic rulers. Ptolemy’s policy was to find a deity that should win the reverence alike of both groups, despite the curses of the Egyptian priests against the gods of the previous foreign rulers (i.e Set who was lauded by the Hyksos). Alexander the Great had attempted to use Amun for this purpose, but he was more prominent in Upper Egypt, and not as popular with those in Lower Egypt, where the Greeks had stronger influence. The Greeks had little respect for animal-headed figures, and so a Greek-style anthromorphic statue was chosen as the idol, and proclaimed as the equivalent of the highly popular Apis.[2]It was named Aser-hapi (i.e. Osiris-Apis), which became Serapis, and was said to be Osiris in full, rather than just his Ka (life force).

Water into Wine, Tom Harpur

p 242: When it comes to the widespread first-century cult of Serapis, Barb explains: “Serapis is fundamentally Osiris/Horus… and he serves as the expression of monotheistic tendencies: [there is] one god, Serapis,” it says on numerous monuments.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock

pp 31-32: As in Christianity, within the Egyptian solar religion the sun god’s power is illustrated by the divine qualities of omnipresence, omnipotence and oniscience, typically defining the god of the cosmos within monotheism.  For example, demonstrating his omnipresence, the God Sun is contained in everything, as in the Great Hymn,” which addresses the sun as “you create millions of incarnations from yourself, the One.”6  In a section about the god “Re-Horakhty,” Dr. Assman entitles a selection of hymns, “oOmnipresence of the Light: God-Filled World.’  This material reflecting omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience includes scriptures such as: “Every way is full of your light”; “Are you not the leader on all ways?”; and “There are no limits to the field of his vision and no place hidden to his ka.”1  The ka is defined by James Allen as the “force of conscious omniscience in its worshippers – called in the texts the “sun-folks”3 – as highlighted in this line from a sun hymn: “The morning sun which enables one to know all things.”4

This concept of the “omniscience of light” is part of the “new solar theology” in which “the unattainably distant sun comes palpably near to earth creatures,” providing ” the idea of the simultaneous remoteness and proximity of god…”5 The German scholar next says:

The idea of proximity of god arises not from the sensual experience of light, but from the transcendental idea of a divine omniscience and omnipresence, in which god is right next to the heart “that turns to him.”6

As we can see, the Egyptian concept of God here is highly reminiscent of that found in Judeo-Christianity.  The Egyptian God Sun is also depicted as hearing “the prayers of all who call him.”7

pp 53-54: Regarding the Egyptian and Christian trinities and scriptural parallels, Morenz is prompted to conclude, “The multifarious links between Egypt and Judeo-Christian scriptures and trinitariantheology can already be traced with some degree of plausibility.”5  In his discussion of “Egyptian trinities,” as he terms them, Morenz includes a section addressing the idea of “unity in plurality.”6  The German scholar also points out that a “trinity” can likewise be created out of the “primordial One” and “the first pair of gods to be begotten”7  Regarding the motif of the trinity, Morenz further states:

…thus three gods are combined and treated as a single being, adressed in the singular.  In this way the spiritual force of Egyptian religion shows a direct link with Christian theology.

Deconstructing Jesus, Robert M. Price

p 26: Egypt presents us with the same picture yet again.  The first attested workers for Christ there were the Gnostics Valentinus, Basilides, Apelles, Carpocrates, and his son Isidore.  Phlegon preserves a letter attributed to Hadrian noting that all Christian priests in Egypt worshipped Serapis, too!  The leading gospels in Egypt, the Gospels according to the Hebrews and according to the Egyptians, as far as we can tell from their extant fragments, were Gnostic or heretical in color.  Bauer could detect no trace of Demetrius.  But does not tradition make the gospel-writer Mark the first bishop of Egypt?  Indeed it does, but like the letters of Jesus and Abgarus, this legend seems to be but another spurious “orthodox” origin for Egyptian Christianity (assuming Mark and his gospel could themselves be judged orthodox!).

pp 26-27: About the Nag Hammadi library – “What makes this discovery all the more astonishing is that associated documents show the collection of leather-bound volumes to have been from the monastic library of the Brotherhood of Saint Pachomius, the first known Christian monastery.  Apparently when the monks received the Easter Letter from Athanasius in 367 C.E., which contains the first known listing of the canonical twenty-seven New Testament books, warning the faithful to read no others, the brethren must have decided to hide their cherished “heretical gospels, lest they fall into the hands of the ecclesiastical book burners.  We may perhaps take that monastery as a cameo, a microcosm of Egyptian Christianity in the fourthcentury, diverse in doctrine, though soon to suffocate beneath the smothering veil of catholic orthodoxy.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock

pp 23-24: Dr. Richard A. Gabriel in Jesus the Egyptian… tersely recounts this disturbing history:

In 356 C.E. ConstantiusII ordered the Egyptian temples of Isis-Osiris closed and forbade the use of Egyptian hieroglyphics as a religious language.  In 380 C.E. Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity to be the official Roman state religion and all pagan cults were thereafter forbidden.  These edicts were devastating to the Egyptian culture and religion, both of which had been preserved over millennia through the Egyptian language and the writing systems of Egyptian priests.  In 391 C.E., the patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, summoned the monks to arms and turned them against the city of Memphis and the great shrine of Serapis, the Serapeum, the main temple of the Osiran-Isis religion.  The attack was akin to ordering the destruction of the Vatican.  Egyptian priests were massacred in their shrines and in the streets.  The ferocity of the violence consumed priests, followers, and the Egyptian intellectual elite of Alexandria, Memphis and the other cities of Egypt who were murdered and their temples and libraries destroyed.  The institutional structure of Egyptian religion, then more than four millennium old, was demolished in less than two decades.”

Jesus Christ the Sun

“Christ, Constantine, Sol Invictus: the Unconquerable Sun” by Ralph Monday:

Ironically, Constantine being a pragmatic Roman, interpreted Christ as a war god, not the “prince of peace,” and he apparently never truly understood the mysteries of Christianity, retaining his right to worship the pagan gods, especially the sun. He never took baptism until shortly before his death.

Charles Freeman questions whether or not Constantine’s famous adoption of Christianity was a spiritual conversion or simply a matter of political expediency, because the suggesting evidence is that Constantine viewed the God of Christianity as being very similar to the old pagan gods, like Apollo, and this latter god was one that Constantine paid particular homage to. Indeed, the triumphal arch of Constantine, built in 315 by the senate of Rome after his “conversion,” contains reliefs of Jupiter, Mars and Hercules, and Constantine apparently associated his victory at the Milvian Bridge with the power of the sun, but no Christian symbol can be found on the structure and there is no reference to Christ; however, there are images and homage paid to Mithras, another sun god whose birthday is December 25th (Emperor’s State of Grace).

Another example of the influence of this official sun worship on Christianity is:

Constantine’s law of…321 [C.E] uniting Christians and pagans in the observance of the “venerable day of the sun” It is to be noted that this official solar worship, the final form of paganism in the empire…, was not the traditional Roman-Greek religion of Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, and the other Olympian deities. It was a product of the mingling Hellenistic-Oriental elements, exemplified in Aurelian’sestablishment of Eastern Sun worship at Rome as the official religion of the empire, and in his new temple enshrining Syrian statutes statues of Bel and the sun…. Thus at last Bel, the god of Babylon, came into the official imperial temple of Rome, the center of the imperial religion. It was this late Roman-Oriental worship of one supreme god, symbolized by the sun and absorbing lesser divinities as subordinates or manifestations of the universal deity, that competed with young Christianity. This was the Roman religion that went down in defeat but infiltrated and colored the victorious church with its own elements, some of which can be seen to this day. (Cramer 4)

All the evidence suggests that Constantine viewed Christ as one of many gods in a crowded pantheon, a war god at that, who had provided him with his victory over Maxentius, and that this new Christian god could be used as a political tool to solidify his power and prestige in the empire, as well as bringing about a total homogeneity of culture to ancient Rome as witnessed by his calling of the council of Nicea in 325 C.E. to settle the Arian controversy, and also by the later solidification of the dates of Easter and Christmas, for he well knew that power and control in a complex organization depended upon common agreement in regard to the symbols that held it together. For example, in May 330 at the dedication of the new Roman capital Constantinople Constantine was “[d]ressedin magnificent robes and wearing a diadem encrusted with jewels (another spiritual allegiance of Constantine’s, to the sun, a symbol of Apollo, first known from 310 was expressed through rays coming from the diadem”) (Freeman). The ancient connection to the sun as a god clearly exemplifies Constantine’s adoration and admiration for such a “heavenly” deity.

The Pagan Christ, by Tom Harpur, p 83:

Few Christians today realize that in the fifth century, Pope Leo the Great had to tell Church members to stop worshipping the sun.  The first ostensibly Christian emperor, Constantine, who converted to the new faith at the beginning of the fourth century, was still worshipping the sun god Helios many years later, as coins and other evidence reveal.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock, pp 112-113:

Concerning this solar celebration and the obvious correlation to Jesus Christ, Kellner states:

…The comparison of Christ with the sun, and His work with the victory of light over darkness, frequently appears in the writings of the Fathres.  St. Cyprian spoke of Christ as the true sun(sol verus).  St. Ambrose says precisely, ” He is our new sun (Hic sol novus noster).”  Similar figures are employed by Gregory of Nazianzus, Zeon of Verona, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, etc.1

 As we have seen from Luke 1:24-27 and John 3:30, it would appear that the “holy Scriptures” in fact may have suggested this idea!

In reality, so common was the contention of Christians worshipping the sun that Church fathers such as Tertullian (c. 155-230 AD/CE) and Augustine (354-430 AD/CE) were compelled to compose refutations of the claim.  In Ad Nationes(1.13), Tertullian writes:

The Charge of Worshipping the Sun Met by a Retort.

…Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, supposethat the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity.  What then? Do you do less than this? Do not many among you with an affectation of sometimes worshipping the heavenly bodies likewise, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise?

Once more, in his Apology(6), Tertullian addresses what appears to be a widespread insight that he surprisingly asserts comes from those with”more information” and “greater verisimilitude,” or truth:

…Others, again, certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude, believe that the sun is our god.  We shall be counted Persians perhaps, though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth, having himself everywhere in his own disk.  The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer.  But you, many of you, also under pretence sometimes of worshipping the heavenly bodies, move our lips in the direction of the sunrise.

In addition to turning to the east for prayer, early Christians oriented their churches to the sun, a practice tht continued into more modern times in some places…

Who Was Jesus?, D.M. Murdock, pp 244-45:

Hence, an early Christian apologist not only felt compelled to address what appears to be a frequent contention that the Christians were sun-worshippers and that Christ was the sun, but he also seems to be asserting that such a contention is more accurate than other observations about his religion!

These contentions of sun worship persisted for centuries and remained prevalent enough by the time of St. Augustine (354- 430 AD/CE) that he too was forced to protest then min his Tractates on the Gospel of John (XXXIV):

I Think that the Lord says, “I am the light of the world,” is clear to those that have eyes, by which they are made partakers of this light: but they who have not eyes except in the flesh alone wonder at what is said by the Lord Jesus Christ, “I am the light of the world.”  And perhaps there may not be wanting some one too who says with himself: Whether perhaps the Lord Christ is that sun which by its rising and setting causes the day?  For there have not been wanting heretics who thought this.  The manichaeans have supposed that the Lord Christ is that sun which is visible to carnal eyes, exposed and public to be seen, not only by men, but by the beasts.  But the right faith of the Catholic Church rejects such a fiction, and perceives it to be a devilish doctrine; not only by believing acknowledges it to be such, but in the case of who it can, proves it even by reasoning.  Let us therefore reject this kind of error, which the Holy Church has anathematized from the beginning.  Let us not suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ is this sun which we see rising from the east, setting in the west, to whose course succeeds night, whose rays are obscured by a cloud, which removes from place to place by a set motion: the Lord Christ is not such a thing as this.  The Lord Christ is not the sun that was made, but He by whom the sun was made.  For all things were made by Him, and without him was nothing made.

Thus, we have clear evidence that for centuries Christianity was perceived as sun worship and Christ as sun.  This fact represents a major clue as to who Jesus was, demonstrating the environment into which the gospel tale was introduced and the prevailing religious concepts against which his priesthood was competing.

Christ in Egypt, D.M. Murdock, p 115:

Although Augustine doth evidently protest too much in attempting to delineate Christ from the physical sun, the fact remains that this distinction is precisely the same as was said of Amen, Re, Osiris and other sun gods or epithets of the sun and/or creators of the solar disc, which was distinguished by the epithet “Aten.”

p114:

Interestingly, in the Coffin Texts (CT Sp. 196, 207) appear references to the “festival of the seventhday,”3 instantly reminding one of the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday.  Not only is the Sun’s day also the Lord’s day, but from early times Christ himself was depicted with his face “shining as the sun” (Mt 17:2), as “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) and “a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).  Lord Jesus was also called by a number of solar epithets, such as “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal 4:2), “the true sun,” “our sun” and the “sun of Resurrection.”4 This latter epithet, which sounds very Egyptian, especially as concerns Osiris, was given to Christ by Clement of Alexandria, for one. 5 Furthermore, in the late second century Theophilus of Antioch (“Autolychus,” 2.15) specifically stated that the sun is a “type of God,” thereby imbuing it withdivine qualities and essentially identifying it with Christ, who is likewise a “type of God.”