History

More Mythicism – The Horus Hoot!

Well, Thanksgiving has barely passed and already the Jesus Mythicists are trotting out what seems to be their current favorite “older pagan god that proves the Gospels are just rehashed myths” character Horus yet again.  The sad thing is that the whole Horus as a proto-Jesus myth argument has been so thoroughly refuted for so many years, yet it still remains popular with the mythicists. Even so, once you look at it carefully, it is so ridiculous that it would be hard to laugh at it except for the poor souls who are so deceived by it. But first, a light-hearted overview of the argument compliments of Lutheran Satire:

Since I’ve already been confronted with this atrocity multiple times in the last couple of weeks, this is a good time to give you all some facts about the Horus disproves Jesus nonsense. I’ll start with a short summary and history of the argument, and then the best refutation of it.

So, here’s the basic premise: There is a god who was

* Born of a virgin on Dec. 25th

* Performed miracles such as walking on water, healing the sick, etc.

* Had 12 disciples

* Was crucified

* Rose from the dead after 3 days

… and it wasn’t Jesus. It was the Egyptian god Horus, who predated Jesus of Nazareth by thousands of years. Therefore, Jesus was nothing more than a recycled pagan myth, certainly wasn’t God, and may not have existed at all.

Popularized by the films Zeitgiest and Religulous, this has been trotted out every Christmas and Easter for quite a few years now, and inexplicably (to me, at least) doesn’t seem to be waning in popularity even though, to quote another fable, “the emperor has no clothes”.

First of all, the source citations for the premise are virtually nonexistent. Religulous cites not sources at all, and the cited sources from Zeitgiest and mythicists popular on Youtube and the lecture circuit cite either each other or Gerald Massey. There is no reference to primary source material on Horus at all!

But wait, doesn’t Massey us primary sources? The definitive answer to that question is,”not in any scholarly or factual way, if at all”. 

Let me explain: Gerald Massey was a 19th century poet, amateur Egyptologist, Socialist (follower of Marx), and Spiritualist. His most well known and referenced books by mythicists is Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World and The Natural Genesis. Both promote the Horus as the basis of Jesus story. 

The problem with Massey is that his citations are not only sparse, but sloppy to the point that his source material cannot be determined. Not only that, but his ‘translations’ of the primary sources he does adequately cite are disputed by EVERY contemporary professional as well as modern Egyptologist that have examined the source documents.

Thus, since Massey does not point to verified primary (or, in the vast majority of citations, secondary) sources for his assertions, to cite Massey as a source is to give no source other than Massey’s imagination!

The only way to verify whether it is valid or not is to examine the primary sources relating to Horus from the earliest writings up to the time of Christ.

What we find is that although there were various accounts of the Horus story throughout ancient Egyptian history, and even regional variations of the mythology of Horus, NONE of them contain any of the points given above save one: he was said to have performed miracles.

* Horus is not said to be born of a virgin in any of the accounts. There are slight variations, but the basic story is that his mother was impregnated by the (mostly) reassembled body of his father Osiris. His birthdate is fixed on different days by various accounts, usually around the solstice.

* Horus is said to have performed various miracles, but this is a common attribution of almost any deity. It is inconsequential in establishing a correlation on in and of itself.

* In the few accounts where the number of disciples or followers Horus had is mentioned, the number given varies, with four the most common. NONE of the accounts give the number 12.

* Not only do no sources prior to Massey refer to Horus as being crucified, that form of execution originated in Persia, and was not practiced in Egypt until it fell under Roman rule.

* Horus is not, in the primary sources, ever depicted as having been resurrected from the dead as he is never said to have died at all.

So when you see this kind of thing on the internet or television, or it is trotted out by skeptics or mockers you’re talking to, ask yourself (and them, gently) what their sources are and whether they have any idea what the actual hieroglyphic documents we have available say.

Then, gently point out that just because something similar is written about prior to an event doesn’t necessarily imply, much less prove, that the event in question didn’t happen. One of my favorite examples is the popular list of similarities between presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. Some of the ‘facts’ in the list are not true (unlike the Horus list in which MOST are fanciful), and most of the rest are either clear coincidence (like dates) or stated so broadly that they could apply to the majority of U.S. Presidents. 

So, are we then to conclude that the stories about Abraham Lincoln prove that John Kennedy did not exist? I don’t think so.

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Here are some additional resources for your viewing and reading pleasure:

Here’s a video of William Lane Craig, a noted scholar and apologist, responding to this argument

If you have the time and stomach for it, this links to Zeitgeist the movie

This video is appropriately named Zeitgeist Debunked

The Wikipedia biography of Gerald Massey is the most balanced I could find. Most paint him as either a spiritual and historical genius or a hopelessly deluded nutcase. There doesn’t seem to be any other objective bios of him out there.

The Straight Dope is certainly not friendly to Christianity, but it is even more critical of this argument

The Ancient History Encyclopedia article on Horus gives a good overview of what the source material actually says.

The ComeReason Ministries article “How to Quickly Debunk the Horus-Jesus Myth takes a slightly different approach than I do, and is well worth looking at.

Council, Constantine, and Canon, Oh My!

After many months of not fielding any apologetics related questions that I haven’t written about before, the same topic has come up in conversation multiple times in the last few weeks.

The assertion, which was popularized a few years ago in The Davici Code, is that the accepted canon of Scripture was dictated by Emperor Constantine to the Council of Nicea and that both the canon and the doctrine of the deity of Christ were formulated at that council and passed by a narrow vote.

 

To summarize, the argument is:

1 – The books to be included in the Bible were dictated by Constantine and ratified by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325               
2 – Both the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the canon of Scripture were formulated at the Council.
3 – These ‘new doctrines’ were passed by a slim majority vote of the bishops present.

For the benefit of those of you who don’t want to wade through some potentially boring history, I’ll say this up front and you can skip to the links at the end watch the video I’ve linked to: EVERY one of the above assertions is not only false, but not even close to truth.

What follows is summary of what the Council of Nicea was all about, and Constantine’s role in it. For more details, check out the links at the end.

Background and Purpose of the Council

After ending the civil war in 324 and becoming the sole ruler of the Roman empire, Constantine called for a council of bishops to address the problem of divisions in the Christian church. Eusebius quotes him as declaring that “Division in the church is worse than war.”

The council convened on May 20, 325 and adjourned on June 19 of that year. Constantine opened with a speech on the necessity of unity in the church, and presided much as a committee chair would today. In other words, he would introduce topics on the agenda and call on speakers but had no vote or official say in any decisions made. Over 1,000 bishops from across the empire were invited; although no exact count was made, estimates of the number in attendance are between 250 and 318, plus support staff including deacons and secretaries.

The Council agenda included the question of the Arian teaching (more on that later), the date of the Easter celebration, the leader of a minor sect (Meletus), and various matters of church discipline (more on that later as well).

We’ve already established that Constantine did not dictate what books should or should not be included in the Canon at Nicea; not only did he not have a vote in the Council, but the question of the Canon was not even addressed there!

On to the formulation of the doctrine of the deity of Christ:

The Council did not ‘formulate’ ANY doctrine. What the council addressed (and ultimately voted on), was the question of whether Arian’s Christology was orthodox or heretical, and how to present ALREADY ACCEPTED doctrine in such a way as to be unambiguous about the deity of Christ. Again, the Council did not formulate doctrine; it formulated a statement defending preexisting and accepted doctrine. Thus, the writing of the Nicene Creed, which recognized a Christology articulated as far back as the the first century, and stated throughout the New Testament.

Arianism, which stated that Jesus was a created being, was a doctrine that was less than a century old at the time. Which view would you consider ‘new’?

Oh, and about that close vote. There was no vote per se – bishops in attendance were either signed the final draft of the Creed, or didn’t. Out of a conservative estimate of 250 bishops present, only three did not sign it. 247 to 3 in favor is hardly close!

The council did produce 20 “canons”, which were declarations of church law – practices either prohibited or commanded by the church, and rules regarding church discipline. None of these 20 edicts had anything to do with the contents of Scripture.

In conclusion:

Not only did Constantine NOT dictate the canon of Scripture or the doctrine of the deity of Christ, but he deferred to the consensus of the bishops in regards to statements concerning the nature and deity of Christ.

The inclusion or exclusion of any books in the Bible was not addressed at the Council at all.

Finally, the wording of the Nicene Creed was approved by almost 90% of those attending the Council.
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Useful Links, in no particular order:

Here is a link to Dr. Michael Heiser's video on What Really Happened at the Council of Nicea and this is an abridged print version of the above with a link to a better quality but much shorter video

James R. White has a well-written synopsis of the events and decisions made at the council at the Christian Research Institute.

Paul F. Pavao has a series of articles on the Council; this is the first. If you read all 4, you will notice that he lists FIVE bishops (rather than three) who did not sign the creed. This is because he lists two bishops whose actual attendance at the council is disputed.

Finally, I list the Wikipedia article simply because it cites a very large number of sources that you can either link to or look up.

Did Jesus Ever Claim to be God?

It seems objections to the Christian faith that are uniformed, poorly (if at all) researched, logically incoherent, and just plain unconvincing to any examination keep coming back no matter how definitively they have been refuted.

The claim that “Jesus never claimed to be God; that’s just an invention of the church” is one of the latest.

The reasoning takes one of two paths. The first, which is the more convincing, is that since the Gospels are second century texts or later all of the passages in which Jesus claims deity are fabrications, and he never actually made any such claim. I’ve dealt extensively with why the late date/scribal inventions argument about the Gospels is not valid here and here, so I won’t rehash that argument.

What I do want to address is the second path, which is that even if the Gospel accounts are reliable, Christ never claimed to be God. As one young man I was talking to rather smugly stated, “You can’t show many any verse where Jesus says, “I am God”.

While he is technically correct – the words “I am YHWH” are never recorded as coming out of the mouth of the Christ, there are so many passages where He clearly claims to be God that I won’t even try to list them all here.

The confusion for many comes from an ignorance of context. To actually believe that Jesus never claimed to be God, one must have little or no knowledge of the Biblical text, first century Jewish culture and religious belief, and ancient Hebrew idioms.

First of all, Jesus’ claim to equality with God is not limited to mere words – His primary method of declaring His diety was with deeds. While the best and most compelling of these was His resurrection, Matthew 11:2-5 explains the reason for His many miracles. It was to prove his divine nature. Also, in Matthew 9:2-7 and in the parallel passage in Luke 5 Jesus forgives the sins of a man that He healed. The Pharisees understood that He was claiming to be God; they intended to stone Him for it.

Actually, one of the best clues to Christ declaring his Godhood is the reaction of the Pharisees to what He does and says. Every time their reaction to His deeds is to kill him, it is because they recognize one of his statements or demonstrations of His deity. Some examples in addition to this incident are John 8:23-24 and John 10:25-33.

At the trial before the Sanhedrin, Matthew 26:63-64, Mark 14:61-62, and Luke 22:66-72 all record Jesus as answering a direct question as to whether He was God by with the expression “You have said it”(Literally, “you yourself have said it”), and it bore the same meaning then as our modern version : “you said it, man!”. In other words, a definitive affirmative answer.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the titles ‘Son of Man’ and Son of God’, in the mind of first century Hebrew theologians as well as the general Jewish populace were titles reserved for God and the Messiah. While some believed the Messiah to be a representative of God much like a prophet (only much more powerful), the other prominent belief was that the Messiah would be God himself. Whenever Jesus referred to him as the Son of Man, or as God as His Father, both the Pharisees and the disciples would recognize His claim to be divine.

And finally, one last point. The jews of the time were very adamant that the worst kind of blasphemy possible was to appropriate for oneself the worship and adoration reserved for God alone. Yet not once did Jesus rebuke anyone for worshipping him. That silence in and of itself is another of His claims of deity.

So, when someone tells you that Jesus never claimed to be God, you can clear up that particular misconception quite easily!

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Here is a short list of some of the passages that refute this rather lame argument:

Matthew 9:2-7, 11:2-5, 12:1-8, 16:13-18 and 24-28, 17:1-12, 19:28-29 and 63-64, 28:16-20

Mark 1:2-12 and 24-28, 8:29-30, 9:30-31, 14:22-25 and 61-62

Luke 2:54-49, 5:20-25, 7:20-22 and 48-50, 9:18-22

John 3:13-15, 5:17-24, 8:23-24, 8:57-59, 10:25-33, 14:9-10, 20:28-29

“Mythicism” Revisited

Every Easter season, we are inundated with the inevitable litany of TV shows, blog posts, and newspaper and magazine articles attempting to debunk or deny the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

And every year, there is one particular rather ridiculous idea that crops up and just frustrates me no end that anyone can seriously repeat, much less profess to actually believe.

But, once again, the trope that not only are the Gospel accounts of the life of the Christ not historically accurate, but that Jesus never even existed is being trumpeted all over the internet and in print as well.

The reason it frustrates me so much is because not only has the idea that Jesus never existed been definitively refuted, but even among atheist circles, it is considered a ‘fringe’ argument because the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed is so compelling.

But first, let’s take a look at the “the story of Jesus is nothing more that previous mythology and folktales repackaged to appeal to a first century audience” argument. This argument proposes that the Apostles and their followers took nativity stories from Horus, Mithras, and other pagan deities and created a Messianic figure for personal fame and fortune.

I have three objections to this argument. First, the primary audience of the Apostles were the Jews. Jewish culture and religious teachings both were passionately opposed to entertaining ANY foreign religious mythology; it not only was expressly forbidden by their sacred texts, but was scrupulously shunned as the main reason for their enslavement at the hands of pagan governments in the first place. No Jew would expect anything resembling pagan God myths to be accepted by either the leadership or the populace. The best they could hope for would be utter rejection.

Second, the argument both ignores the many and significant differences between the Gospel accounts and the pagan myths that they supposedly borrowed from AND asserts that if there is any similarity between a fictional (or mythological) account and a later narrative presented as history, the latter story must also be false.

By that line of reasoning, it can be demonstrated that the wreck of the Titanic never happened: Fourteen years before the maiden voyage of the Titanic, Morgan Robertson wrote a novel in which a ship named the Titan sank in North Atlantic in the month of April. This fictional ship was similar in size to the Titanic, was traveling at the same speed, there were not enough lifeboats for the number of passengers aboard, the ship struck an iceberg, and more than half of the passengers and crew died. Since this was written before the wreck of the Titanic and there are so many similarities between the events related the only reasonable conclusion is that the wreck of the Titanic is nothing more than a well-told retelling of the previous story. Absurd, isn’t it? So is this line of reasoning when applied to the Gospels.

Third, the entire Roman empire would have to be populated by unthinking morons for the apostles to be able to pull of inventing a mythical, nonexistent man and then write and preach about him and his exploits and getting anyone over the age of 6 to believe them.

They were writing while hundreds of eyewitnesses to the events (or lack of them) had happened! While there are non-Biblical documents referencing Jesus from the first century, NONE of them deny that he existed.

Try this as an exercise if you think the argument holds water: Walk into a church, synagogue, bar with regular customers, local grocery store, or any other place with a large number of people who regularly go there. Now, tell them the story of how Christopher Bloomenpuddle walked into that establishment last Sunday at 12:30 and turned a glass of water into beer, healed Jim Smith of Parkinson’s disease, and then proceeded to give away 150 ice cream sandwiches that he pulled out of his back pocket.

How long do you think it will be before the people who actually were present at that location at that time will refute your story?

Anyway, happy Easter – Jesus DID exist, and He is risen indeed!

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Here are some interesting links related to this topic:

A Wikipedia article summarizing the Robertson novel and the similarities between it and the Titanic

This article by Robert and Marilyn Stewart starts out with a concise definition of Mythicism, and then outlines a brief history of the belief and gives refutations of it from many sources.

This is probably the only time you’ll ever see me quote a Reddit thread here, but this one is too good to miss: A parody (I hope) of the Mythicist position “proving” that Abraham Lincoln never existed!