Friday, June 18, 2010

Resurrection or Disembodiment? Gnosticism in Evangelical Theology

Someone left an interesting comment on my post about Gnosticism, saying "I so often feel like an outsider with my hope not resting in the so-called immortality of the soul, but rather the resurrection from the grave. This being a belief that few hold where pastors constantly rail against it and deride any who hold such a belief."

That comment caught me at a good time, because I have recently been doing some writing and reading around this issue as part of the process of preparing a research proposal for  postgraduate study. It is indeed a sad indictment on the state of the evangelical church that much of its unofficial theology now functionally denies the doctrine of bodily resurrection and has been replaced by ideas more akin to Gnosticism and Greek philosophy than Christianity.

Let's talk about Greek philosophy first.

When Paul preached his famous sermon at Mars' hill, he mentioned many things that the Athenian philosophers might have taken offence at: God’s sovereignty, the need for universal repentance, the folly of idolatry and God’s coming judgement. Significantly, however, Luke records that it was the doctrine of the resurrection that incited particular mockery from Paul’s audience (Acts 17: 32). This is not surprising, as the bodily resurrection of Jesus challenged the deeply dualistic philosophy common in much of ancient Greece. Echoing Plato’s statement “Soma sema” (“a body, a tomb”), many of the Greeks looked upon the material body as a prison house. As Plato has Socrates explain in Phaedo:
We are convinced that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things in isolation with the soul in isolation. . . . If no pure knowledge is possible in the company of the body, then either it is totally impossible to acquire knowledge, or it is only possible after death, because it is only then that the soul will be isolated and independent of the body. It seems that so long as we are alive, we shall keep as close as possible to knowledge if we avoid as much as we can all contact and association with the body...
There is not space to develop the point, but when the early church announced the doctrine of Christ’s physical resurrection, and the corollary doctrine that God’s people would be raised from the dead at the end of the present age, they were proclaiming an idea that was without president, not only in the world of Greek philosophy, but in the entire pagan tradition. (See N.T. Wright’s monumental survey of ancient Jewish and pagan beliefs about life after death in The Resurrection of the Son of God)

It should come as no surprise to find an assortment of 2nd and 3rd century writers, especially those associated with the Gnostic tradition, trying to fit the doctrine of resurrection into categories consistent with Greek philosophy. For many of the Gnostics, the goal of salvation was not the resurrection of the physical body but disembodiment in an eternal realm of pure spirit. By allegorizing the Biblical references to resurrection and making them an approximation for either a religious experience in this life or a disembodied afterlife, they were able to deny the literality (and hence the physicality) of the event.
The writer/s of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas even employ some of the same symbolism for resurrection as the canonical writers but reverse the images. “I will destroy this house, and no one will be able to rebuild it” says the Jesus of Thomas, in a likely allusion to the removal of His physical body.  Elsewhere Thomas echoes the imagery of 2 Corinthians 5:3 where clothing is used as a metaphor for physical resurrection. But while Paul assures his readers that “being clothed we shall not be found naked”, the Jesus of Thomas tells his disciples that they will “disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feel like little children and tread on them...” The clothes clearly represent the physical body that one should seek to be released from, trampling it underfoot as something abhorrent.

This same idea runs like a thread through many of the Nag Hammadi texts, which present the lower physical flesh as being in competition with the higher spiritual soul:
“But what they released was my incorporeal body. But I [Jesus] am the intellectual Spirit filled with radiant light.” (The Apocalypse of Peter)

“Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself and become again as she formerly was. The soul then moves of her own accord. And she receive the divine nature from the Father for her rejuvenation, so that she might be restored to the place where originally she had been. This is the resurrection from the dead.” (The Exegesis of the Soul)
“Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.” (The Gospel of Thomas)
It was the early Christian’s understanding of physical resurrection, perhaps more than any other doctrine, that served to polarize the church of the canonical tradition from the anti-creational orientation of the Gnostics. The early Christian writers Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, the writers of the Didache, Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus, and many others make clear that the bodies of the dead will be raised in the same way that Christ’s physical body was raised from the dead. In this they were merely following in the steps of  the theology articulated by Paul in his various resurrection discourses, most notably  his discussions in the Corinthian correspondence. This doctrine found expression in the Nicene Creed and was reaffirmed in numerous councils.

Curiously, although the doctrine of bodily resurrection remains the official dogma in all the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and creedal Protestant churches, the Protestant tradition has recently seen the growth of an “implicit theology” which corresponds more with ancient Gnosticism than historic Christianity. By “implicit theology” I mean a system of beliefs that becomes popularly accepted by a community even while the churches in that community officially teach something else in their dogmatic formulations.

Belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus has never been stronger within conservative Protestant churches. Indeed, in North America the tendency to spiritualize Jesus’ resurrection is one of the doctrines that is often used as a signpost to identify “liberal” Christians. Yet the same self-styled “conservative” Christians have no problem accepting an implicit theology that spiritualizes the resurrection of believers. Indeed, there is a growing and pervasive tendency, rarely examined with any scrutiny since it is implicit, that New Testament language about the resurrection of believers is just a shorthand way of referring to the immortality of the soul.
Time Magazine reported two thirds of Americans who say they believe in a resurrection of the dead do not believe they will have bodies after the resurrection.  (Just how they think their bodies can be resurrected without them having bodies afterwards remained unexplained.)

Or consider the latent crypto-Gnosticism in the following statements, all made by prominent church spokespeople in the 20th century:
“When the material world perishes, we shall find ourselves in the spiritual world; when the dream of life ends, we shall awake in the world of reality; when our connection with this world comes to a close, we shall find ourselves in our eternal spirit home.” James M Campbell,  Heaven Opened (New York: Revell, 1924). P. 114-115
“...we must not understand that the heavenly city will be as material as present earthly cities.”Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, rev. ed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987)

“We shall not need or desire the things associated with our present physical bodies, simply because we shall not possess physical bodies in heaven.”Arthur E Travis, Where on Earth is Heaven? (Nashville: Broadman, 1974), p. 16

An endless array of other examples might be adduced. Nor should it be overlooked that the secular community now routinely assumes that the Gnostic heresy of eternal disembodiment is the orthodox Christian hope. In his “compendium of everything you ever wanted to know about death”, Biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed that “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.”

In 2008 after N.T. Wright published his popular book Surprised by Hope, setting forth the historic Christian position on resurrection, ABC news referred to the idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” as “a radical departure from traditional belief.”

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Unknown said...

Well said Robin and thanks for letting me know about this article. If you do write your paper for your doctorate on the subject, I'd be very interested in getting a copy if that would be possible.

My desire is to likewise write a paper on the subject (from a layman's perspective). My studies have confirmed exactly what you write. For example, both González and Chadwick in their books on the history of the church, testify to the early church holding to the resurrection. They likewise both share how the Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul took over in the 2nd century. This being the direct result of many of the Greek philosophers and philosophies coming into the church. Doctrines that were not repudiated but rather embraced and "Christianized."

Here is a good site you might like in your research:

Blessings to you -
bro Michael

A. Monk said...

Your post reminded me of the Martyrdom of Polycarp whereby his remains were lovingly reclaimed after his being put to death and were venerated within the Christian community.

Another example of this would be the services that were held secretly in the catacombs on the tombs of the martyrs and saints which continued into the era of building churches with the relics of saints being interred in the altar.

Unknown said...

A Monk you are going to have to explain the connection to me because I just can't see it.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Hi Robin. I always enjoy your writing. I must however challenge a couple of your assertions.

First, is your idea that Paul essentially advocated an empty tomb (risen corpse) understanding of the resurrection. The fact is that Paul never mentions an empty tomb, not even once. Nor does Paul describe ANY of Jesus' post-resurrection experiences in a way that would suggest that Paul's understanding of the resurrection was consistent with orthodox teaching.

The only post-resurrection appearance that Paul describes in any detail (other than just making passing mention) is his own vision of the resurrected Jesus, and it's quite clear from his description that it was indeed a "vision" that he saw. There is nothing in Paul's description of that vision (or in any of writings for that matter) that requires a bodily understanding of the resurrection, at least not like the orthodox church (and apparently you) have advocated.

To the contrary, we have reason to believe that Paul understood the resurrection quite differently than you suggest. For instance, Paul states that he himself "was crucified with Christ" and that Christ "lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). He further states that Christ was revealed "in me" (Galatians 1:15). The only times Paul explicitly describes Christ's body he equates it not with a risen corpse but with the collective assembly of believers. Consider, for instance, 1 Corinthians 12:11-27 which concludes by saying, “Now you (collectively) are Christ’s body, and individually members of it”. You must think that Paul meant these words figuratively, but in context it's far more reasonable to simply take him at his word.

And if all of this weren't enough, Paul states explicitly that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom" (1 Corinthians 15:50).

Thus, it is quite clear that, whatever Paul meant when he preached Christ's bodily resurrection, he didn't mean what you suggest and what the Church has traditionally taught. In fact, taken at his own words, Paul's understanding sounds quite gnostic indeed, with Christ's physical body being comprised of the collective bodies of all his followers and not the risen corpse of a single man names Jesus.

Second, I must challenge your assertion that, assuming Jesus did resurrect bodily in the manner you suggest, such a bodily resurrection had no precedent in the pagan religions. Surely you must know that his is incorrect, with the bodily resurrection of Osiris being the most obvious example. Whether we assume that Jesus arose physically as you suggest, or spiritually as gnostics did, we can find numerous precedents for each in pagan culture. I am happy to chronicle them if you like.

Thanks for permitting me to offer some feedback.



Unknown said...


If you are simply denying that Jesus’ resurrection was the resuscitation of a corpse then I would agree. When Lazarus was raised from the dead his corpse was resuscitated and he returned to a normal ordinary body in which the death principle was still operative. After living a while longer, Lazarus would have died, which is why he isn’t still around. Jesus’ post-resurrection body, on the other hand, was a completely new form of life, being animated by the spirit, with continuities to his previous body (the marks of the cross), but still a physical body. Let’s not forget that Thomas could touch Jesus after His resurrection and that Jesus ate fish. These events must be rejected or radically reinterpreted if Jesus’ physical body was not physical.

Paul did specifically advocate an empty tomb in 1 Corinthians 15:4. Paul says Christ was buried and then rose. If Paul believed that Jesus was still in the tomb this wouldn’t make sense.

Unknown said...

Moreover, Sean, since you deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus, you might want to reflect on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 about death being defeated. If Christ’s physical body was not resurrected, then death is not really defeated, merely redescribed.

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but that doesn’t mean that we are destined to a Gnostic paradise without physical bodies. Our present flesh and blood is corruptible, doomed to decay and die. The new body will be incorruptible. 1 Corinthians 15 is all about new creation, about the creator God remaking the creation, not abandoning it. Part of the confusion about 1 Corinthians 15 is that a spiritual body is contrasted with a natural or physical body, which have lead some to assume that the resurrection body will be non-physical. Tom Wright explains it as follows in his interview at

“The word ‘spiritual’ in 1 Corinthians 15 comes from the Greek "pneuma." But the word is pneumatikos. Greek adjectives that end in -kos do not describe the substance out of which something is made. They describe the force that is animating the thing in question. It's the difference between saying on the one hand, "Is this a wooden ship or a steel ship?" and saying on the other hand, "Is this a nuclear-powered ship or a steam-powered ship?" And the sort of adjective it is of the latter type, it's a spirit-powered body. But it's still a body. And generations of readers have been misled-particularly by the RSV and the NRSV-into thinking that the distinction Paul is making is between a physical body, in the sense of something you can actually get a grip on, and a spiritual body, in the platonic sense of something you couldn't get a grip on.Like in Homer, Odysseus meets the shade of his dead mother. He tries to embrace her but she slips through his arms. That's the sort of image people have when they hear the word "spiritual body." That is precisely what that phrase not only does not mean but actually cannot mean. In the Greek it simply cannot mean that.

Wright deals with this at more depth in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Unknown said...

You mention some of the metaphorical meanings of resurrection as if that is the end of the story. It is true that the Biblical writers use resurrection language for a number of different phenomena – new spiritual life, deliverance from sin, corporate church experience, Christ living within us, baptism, etc. What is significant, however, is that these metaphorical meanings are regularly found right alongside passages in which the literal meaning of actual future bodily resurrection is stressed, It’s not an either/or situation but a both/and. The fact of literal bodily resurrection is the foundation that makes these other spiritual meanings possible. Paul’s discussion of resurrection only sounds Gnostic if you divorce the metaphorical meanings of resurrection from their context, and yet in many places, not least Romans, the same passages go back and forth between the two.

A fuller treatment might be made on these things, and I suggest you read Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope or Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, in addition to Wright’s longer and more scholarly book that I referenced above.

With regard to your point about Paganism, I was talking about the approach to human beings within paganism, and Osiris is not a human being. When I said that the Christian teaching on resurrection was without precedent in any of the ancient religions I had in mind the fact that one man in the middle of history would be raised from the dead as a downpayment for a future more resurrection of lots of people. That idea was just not on the radar.

In general, the ancient pagan world was broadly divided into those who, like Homer’s shades, might have wanted to have a new body but knew they couldn’t, and those who, like Plato’s philosophers, didn’t want one because being a disembodied soul was far better. “Within this world” N.T. Wright observes in Surprised by Hope, “the word resurrection in its Greek, Latin or other equivalents was never used to mean life after death. Resurrection was used to denote new bodily life after whatever sort of life after death there might be. When the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether to deny it (as all pagans did) or to affirm it (as some Jews did), they were referring to a two-step narrative in which resurrection, meaning new bodily life, would be preceded by an interim period of bodily death. Resurrection wasn’t, then, a dramatic or vivid way of talking about the state people went into immediately after death. It denoted something that might happen (though almost everyone thought it wouldn’t) sometime after that. This meaning is constant throughout the ancient world until the post-Christian coinages of second-century Gnosticism. Most of the ancients believed in life after death; some of them developed complex and fascinating beliefs about it...but outside Judaism and Christianity (and perhaps Zoroastrianism, though the dating of that is controversial), they did not believe in resurrection. In content, resurrection referred specifically to something that happened to the body...Everybody knew about ghosts, spirits, visions, hallucinations, and so on. Most people in the ancient world believed in some such things. They were quite clear that that wasn’t what they meant by resurrection. While Herod reportedly thought Jesus might be John the Baptist raised from the dead, he didn’t think he was a ghost. Resurrection meant bodies. We cannot emphasize this too strongly, not least because much modern writing continues, most misleadingly, to use the world resurrection as a virtual synonym for life after death in the popular sense.”

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Thank you, Robin. I enjoy conversations with persons as knowledgeable as yourself. If you don't mind, I'd like to continue by responding to some of your points, but I don't was to be so presumptuous as to take over this particular thread. Feel free to not approve my comment if you feel that I am going too far.

I simply do not accept your assertion that the clear meaning of the text requires a "both/and" rather than an "either/or" interpretation of the resurrection or that the "literal bodily resurrection is the foundation that makes these [metaphorical] meanings possible." First, I don't accept that Paul was speaking figuratively when he said that "you are Christ's body." In context, it is clear to me that he meant these words LITERALLY. As for me and you, "both read the Bible day and night, but thou readst black where I readst white." Or, said another way, most everything that you take as literal I take as figurative, and vice versa.

One thing that my interpretive approach has over yours is that mine is at least consistent. I interpret all great literature (the Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato, all great poetry, etc.) as attempting to encapsulate into words subjective spiritual/psychological experiences that defy easy explanation. When it comes to non-biblical authors, you'd never claim that a "literal [understanding of these texts] is the foundation that makes their metaphorical meanings possible." Rather, you accept that the seemingly historical events described in, for instance, the Bhagavad Gita, are allegories encapsulating certain spiritual or psychological teachings of an ancient people. The spiritual teaching of these texts isn't enhanced by interpreting them literally, rather it is HINDERED.

But, when it comes to the Bible (and the Bible only) you strangely reverse course. Rather than accepting that the "history" it offers is actually allegorical spirituality or primitive psychology (like you would with any other text), you make unfounded assertions that its spiritual message can only by understood if we accept the history as REAL.

Said another way, your method of interpreting the Bible only makes sense if one begins with the PRESUMPTION that the meaning of the Jesus story is to be found in supposed historical events, even though you would never accept such a presumption as regards any other spiritual text.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

It is exactly this double standard of interpretation that permits you to assert that "Osiris is not a human being". How do you know this to be true? The fact is that, just like many Christians have "historized" Christ and "literalized" his allegorical story, so did many Egyptians. Most ancient Egyptians (outside perhaps of the Priests who were educated as to the allegorical nature of the Osiris' story), and the Greeks who followed them, believed that Osiris was an actual, historical personage who died, was dismembered bodily, was reconstructed and resurrected bodily by Isis, and who then ascended into heaven to lead the way for others who would follow him. This story is told explicitly in the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead, for instance. The idea of the deceased resurrecting bodily was THE PRIMARY FOCUS of the Egyptian religion, which is one reason why they went to such lengths to preserve the body after death through mummification. Here is how E.A Wallis Budge described Osiris and his cult:

"He [Osiris] became the type of eternal existence, and symbol of immortality; and as judge of the dead he was believed to exercise functions similar to those attributed to God. Through the sufferings and death of Osiris, the Egyptian hoped that his body might rise again in a transformed, glorified, and incorruptible shape, and the devotee appealed in prayer for eternal life to him who had conquered death and had become the king of the underworld through his victory and prayer."

Budge states elsewhere that "the belief in the resurrection of the body an of everlasting life, is coeval with the beginnings of history in Egypt."

Perhaps you can find some nuanced way of distinguishing the Egyptian understanding of resurrection from the Christian one, or from that described by Paul at 1 Corinthians 15: 54-55, but I submit to you that any such distinction will be relevant only to theologians. As a practical matter, the concepts are very, very similar. Consequently, to suggest that all pagans denied the bodily resurrection (as Wright does) is demonstrably false.

For an exhaustive chronicling of the Egyptian religion and its parallels to Christianity as regards resurrection and in other ways, I might suggest that you spend some time with the book "Christ in Egypt" by D.M. Murdock or, even better, peruse a good translation of the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead for yourself.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Your argument that we will assume a "new body" after death, and that this body is somehow different both from the original and from a spirit body, is hard for me to follow. After all, if the original body doesn't resurrect but rather we are provided with a new, "transformed" body that bears some resemblance to the former, then "death wasn't really defeated" by your logic. The old wasn't simply resurrected, it was transformed.

But if what it was transformed into is capable of walking through walls (as Jesus' apparently was, if we read the gospel literally) and ascending into the clouds, then it seems that this "new" body is much more akin to a spirit body than anything an average reader would understand as physical. To say that the "new" body is physical and not spiritual is to make a distinction without a difference. Such an argument is too cute by half.

Plus, if Christ really does dwell inside of a physical, resurrected body, then what in the world did Paul mean when he said that Christ lives "in me" and that "you are the body of Christ"? If Christ is physical, then Paul's comments make no sense (even allegorically). By contrast, if Christ is spiritual, the Paul (and the Bible in general) make a great deal of sense as spiritual allegory (just like much of the world's great literature and poetry).

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

I will close with a parting thought: Numerous Bible passages explicitly warn against a literal interpretation of scriptures, and none that I can find specifically demand it. Consider, for example, these passages:

How can you say, We are wise, and we have the written law of the Lord [and are learned in its language and teachings]? Lo, the truth is, the lying pen of the scribes has made of the law a falsehood [a mere code of ceremonial observances]. The wise men shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken. Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom and broad understanding, full intelligence is in them. [emphasis added] (Jeremiah 8:8-9)
The letter kills, but the spirit brings life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
[W]hen we are among the fully-initiated—spiritually mature Christians who are ripe in understanding [i.e., pneumatics]—we do impart a (higher) wisdom [that is, the knowledge of the divine plan previously hidden]…. (1 Corinthians 2:6)
[We set] these [higher] truths forth in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the spirit, combining and interpreting spiritual truths with spiritual [i.e., figurative] language. But natural, non-spiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them –of progressively recognizing and understanding and becoming better acquainted with them—because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated. (1 Corinthian 2:13-14) [parenthetical added]

In addition, Jesus himself spoke in esoteric, cryptic parables that even most modern readers find difficult to decipher. Jesus made clear when his audience was supposed to read more into his words than their obvious literal meaning by saying: “Let those with ears to hear understand!” Jesus used this “ears to hear” language repeatedly in the gospels to signify that that his words have figurative meanings that those within his inner circle should grasp. Consider, for example, Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9, 4:23, 7:16; and Luke 8:8, 14:35.

Finally, consider that in the Gospels, especially John, Jesus repeatedly chastises those who take his teachings literally—who take his words at their ordinary meaning rather than trying to grasp their figurative, spiritual significance. Witness, for example, his conversation with Nicodemus starting at John Chapter 3, or his conversation with the Samaritan women at the well starting at John 4:10, or his teaching about “flesh and blood” at John 6:50, or his many other conversations with his sometimes dense disciples. In instance after instance, Jesus rebukes those who seek to understand his words in the ordinary sense. He even goes so far as to call those Jews who insist on doing so sons of the devil:

Why do you misunderstand what I say? It is because you are unable to hear what I am saying—you cannot bear to listen to My message, your ears are shut to My teaching. You are of your father the devil. (John 8:43-44)

There is a lesson in all of these admonitions, one that the Gospel writers were not-so-subtly trying to convey but which orthodox Christianity has ignored for centuries: It's not just Jesus' words that we are to understand figuratively, but the stories that encapsulate them as well. Jesus' teachings are a parable within a parable, a play within a play. If we interpret Jesus' parable literally, we will miss their whole point! Likewise with the gospels (parables) that contain them.

A. Monk said...

I think perhaps it shows in practice that the early church was decidedly un-Platonic in how they understood the physical body.

Unknown said...

Thank you Sean. A few things come to mind about your reply.

(A) I have still to hear your response to my discussion of 1 Corinthians 15, which seems to establish that Christ's resurrection was physical.

(B) I am still waiting to hear your response to my argument about why death is not defeated unless Christ's resurrection (and ours) is physical.

C) It is not being inconsistent to lapse between literal and figurative hermeneutical approaches if one's basic operating principle is authorial intent. That is to say, we wish to interpret scripture in accordance with the author's intent, and for any given passage we must see if there is textual or historical reasons for believing that the author was speaking literally or symbolically. I have given evidence that the Biblical authors believed that Christ's resurrection was literal. The importance of authorial intent as one's basic interpretive framework is the same for all the great sacred texts of the world, not least the Bible.

(D) You appeal to the fact that you are consistent in always interpreting figuratively. Yet you have also said that we must "simply take [Paul] at his word" when he says things like Christ "lives in me" (Galatians 2:20)
or “Now you (collectively) are Christ’s body, and individually members of it”. If by "taking Paul at his word" you mean taking him literally, then these passages are still problematic since there can be no literal sense in which Christ's literal human body is His people collectively. Based on the principle of interpreting according to authorial intent, we must acknowledge that Paul is speaking figuratively here.

(E) I'm out of my depth in discussing Osiris so I will have to retract anything I said until I have had time to study the issue. However, I can still appeal to paganism in a different way. First, I stick to what I said (and which did not apparently disagree with) that the Christian story has discontinuity with anything we find in paganism, in terms of one man in the middle of history being raised from the dead as a downpayment for a future more generally resurrection of lots of people. That idea was just not on the radar. But there is also continuity, in so far as the word resurrection in its Greek, Latin or other equivalents which we find Christians using was NEVER used to mean life after death in a general or spiritual or symbolic sense. Resurrection was always only used to denote new bodily life after whatever sort of life after death there might be. This is what N.T. Wright discovered after doing his monumental survey of ancient primary texts for his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. This is a point I mentioned earlier and which you have still not addressed. It is relevant since you are wanting to take this term (resurrection) and use it in a way that is anachronistic. One can, of course, redefine words, but it is hermeneutically irresponsible to then read those new meanings into ancient texts which had a decidedly different meaning.

Unknown said...

(F) You say that if Jesus' resurrection body is physical then how could Jesus be capable of walking through walls, as Jesus' apparently was, if we read the gospel literally. However, I have already pointed out that I do not always read the Bible literally, depending on the context. In this case, we know that Christ could go from one room to another without the normal limitations of travel. It is quite possible that he could travel at the speed of thought, giving the appearance of walking through walls. Certainly the resurrection body has abilities we cannot fully understand, but it does not follow that it is non-physical.

(G) You say that "Numerous Bible passages explicitly warn against a literal interpretation of scriptures" and you cite some passages to prove that. However, in context none of these passages are laying out a hermeneutical framework and I would challenge you to find one commentator that can show, in the context of the entire document in which these verses occur, that they make the most sense when interpreted as such. In each case, I believe it can be shown that these passages are part of a larger argument that has nothing to do with the debate over literal vs. non-literal reading of the Bible.

Feel free to make further comment although unfortunately I don't have time for an extended debate since I must focus on putting together a postgraduate research proposal. But perhaps some of my other readers will like to engage with your concerns. Also, you will find all of these issues dealt with more fully in the books I have recommended.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

To summarize, the process of “salvation” (or ego-transcendence) consists of two basic steps (which are really extended processes)—(1) the slow death of the ego via recognition of the conscience/higher self/Christ within each of us (as Paul describes in Romans 7), and (2) eventual complete identification with the latter in the place of the former. With regard to this second step, note that the chain of identity progresses from one (the ego), to three (the ego, the conscience/Christ within, and that part of you that witnesses both of them but doesn’t completely identify with either), and back to one again (i.e., identification only with the egoless self for Christ within or conscience or whatever you want to call it).
During the transition between the first and second step (described at Romans 7), the ego dies a slow, painful death (i.e., is “crucified”). But, importantly, in order for the second stage to reach its conclusion, we must also “sacrifice” the Christ in us as a separate identify. Just like the ego died when we stopped identifying with it, Christ (as a separate part of our psyche) dies when we come to identify with it/Him. After all, by definition, that with which we identify has no existence separate from ourselves or, said another way, for something to exist, there must be a difference between it (the object) and the subject that witnesses it. When this difference disappears, so does the object itself. In this manner, Christ “dies for our sins” and it is only via our experience of his death (as a separate entity in our psyche) that we achieve salvation (or an egoless identity).
But, if we continue “clinging” to Christ as a separate being residing within us—that is, if Christ doesn’t die to us--then we never come to identify with him and we never achieve “salvation” or oneness or an egoless identity. We become trapped in purgatory, an intermediate state between heaven (identification with the egoless self) and hell (identification with the ego). Thus, the risen Christ’s admonition to Mary, “do not cling to me.”

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Thanks Robin.
In interpreting 1 Corinthians 15, we must remember that Paul uses figurative language often (just not where orthodox Christians have always supposed). For instance, if we read his writings in context, it is clear that when he speaks of “flesh”, he does so figuratively and not literally. For Paul (and for many pagans and Gnostics), “flesh” is a symbol for what we today would call “ego” or the “lower self”. As evidence of this, consider that when Paul describes the weaknesses of the flesh, he doesn’t often lament physical ailments or material limitations (as one might suppose by use of the word “flesh”), but rather describes an ego run amuck. For instance, in cataloguing the nature of “flesh”, Paul mentions boastfulness, pride, jealousy, bitterness, lust, discord, selfish ambition, rage, etc.—all attributes of what we today would call ego and not physical characteristics by any means.
Flesh or materiality is a good (and common) symbol for the ego because material things are separate and limited. Material objects are solid and easily distinguishable one from another. As are egos.
With this in mind, note that Paul regularly contrasts the attributes of the “flesh” (ego) with those of the “spirit” (or ego-transcended) person, most famously in Galatians 5. Those who are “led by the spirit” (i.e., those who have transcended or “killed” the ego) no longer exhibit egotistical ways, but rather are characterized by love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Thus, in Paulian terms, flesh is ego and spirit is ego transcended.
Transcending the ego is an incredibly painful experience, as I can personally attest. The first step is coming to realize that the ego isn’t you, and this happens by separating one’s identity from one’s passions. As Paul notes in Romans 7, the Law is a great aid in this regard because it makes us aware not only of our egotistical passions and drives, but also of that part of ourselves that “witnesses” them, sometimes called “conscience”. Conscience (or Christ within, as Paul calls it) is initially experienced as being separate from oneself since at this stage we still identified with the ego. Paul describes this transitory experience perfectly in Romans 7: 15-25. But, eventually, one comes to identify not with the ego but with the conscience/witness/Christ within/Higher Self, making us “one with Christ.” When this happens, we no longer have a separate identity from Christ, but a shared identity with him and with each other. Paul describes this latter experience in several places, most famously when he says that we are collectively the “body” of Christ, and individually members of Him.
As you know, the Greek word for sin comes from archery and means to simply err or “miss the mark”. Humanity’s great and “original” sin/error is identification with the ego rather than with the higher self/Christ Within. In order to correct this error, humans must ultimately (and in a very true but not bodily sense) die and be reborn. We must crucify the ego unto death (i.e., it disappears when we case to identify with it) and be reborn “a new being in Christ”. This is ultimately what Paul means when he says that “I was crucified with/like Christ.”

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

I think the above also explains how one can “conquer death” without resurrecting physically. I agree that the author’s intent is paramount to interpreting scripture, but we still have to figure out WHEN the author intended to be taken literally and when he spoke symbolically. If we take Paul at what HE says and don’t read it through the lens of the gospels say or 2,000 years of orthodox teachings, I think that my interpretation is clearly correct. When you interpret Paul, you don’t do so by looking at what he says but rather by also considering also what other books of the Bible say and what the Church has taught, and likely by assuming “divine inspiration” as to all of them. That this approach to determining authorial intent is flawed is evidenced by the fact that you would interpret any other book that way.
I should clarify that I do not always take Paul (or anyone else) literally. Rather, I seek to understand the author’s intent. By approach to doing so is distinguished from yours in that I apply the same standards to the Bible as I would to any other piece of literature whereas you do not (as just explained).
As for Osiris, I do not believe that Paul and our earliest Christians perceived Christ as “one man in the middle of history being raised from the dead as a downpayment for a future more generally resurrection of lots of people.” Rather, as noted above and in my prior posts, I think it’s clear that Paul perceived Christ as something within his psyche and not a historical figure. Paul knows ALMOST NOTHING of Jesus’ biography as detailed in the gospels. Paul never cites any of Jesus’ sayings, teachings or parables (even when doing so would cinch his argument); never mentions a virgin birth; never discusses his travels or his ministry; never mentions John the Baptist or Pontius Pilate; never notes any of his miracles; never discusses his run ins with “the Jews”; etc. It is quite clear that Paul didn’t conceive of Jesus historically but rather psychologically or “spiritually.” Thus, since I reject your premise as to what Christianity was originally, I also reject your assertion that it had no parallels in paganism.
Finally, as for the Bible’s admonitions to avoid literalism, I stick by what I said. For instance, it is indisputable that Jesus regularly chastised those who failed to grasp his teachings. And, almost every time they failed to understand him, it was because they TOOK WHAT HE WAS SAYING LITERALLY. I provide numerous examples in my prior posts--such as when his listeners wondered how they could re-enter the womb so as to be “born again.” That Jesus was regularly critical of those who took his words literally should tell us something both about the nature of his teachings and the stories that contain them.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

With the above understanding in mind, 1 Corinthians 15 reads entirely differently than the orthodox suggest. Christ “resurrecting” in the flesh and “appearing” to Peter and the 12 and others is a figurative way of saying that these people began having the subjective experience that Paul describes in Roman 7, not that they saw a walking corpse. “Resurrecting in the flesh” is just another way of describing the experience of Christ/Higher Self/Conscience coming to inhabit OUR BODIES, being born again in us. This is what Paul means when he says that Christ was revealed “in me” and that “you are Christ’s body.”
As evidence for this proposition, consider that Paul almost never uses the term “dead” to describe a bodily state, but rather a psychological one. For instance, Paul describes himself as “born dead” at 1 Corinthians 15: 8. Thus, when Paul speaks of the “resurrection of the dead” a few verses latter, he is speaking of people LIKE HIM who were originally “born dead” but in whom Christ has now appeared. To prove that the “resurrection from the dead” is real, Paul cites as evidence in verses 13 through 17 the PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF HIS AUDIENCE, Corinthians who most certainly had never, ever met Jesus or who had personally died and resurrected bodily. He tells the Corinthians that if Christ is not risen, then THEIR EXPERIENCE of him is imaginary, unfounded, and delusional, a premise that his audience cannot accept since they now have personal experience the Christ Within. In other words, he tells them that the best proof he can offer of Christ’s resurrection “from the dead” is THEM.

Unknown said...


The Christian Church does not teach mysticism. Christian thought is political, it challenges alternate worldviews. And the Church sees the vindication of Christian theology as a defeat of old pagan categories.

The work of the fathers of the Church in the period of the councils was not an accommodation with paganism. Consider, 1) The fathers of the Council of Nicaea had previously been victims of torture for the sake of Christ. Were they going to deny him now? 2) They only defended the faith once delivered and always believed against a teaching that did not heal, namely, any teaching that denied that God and man are united in the person of Jesus Christ. 3) This was seen as an explicit triumph of the Biblical, Hebraic, Incarnational, and Trinitarian Gospel over and against pagan "philosophy" and "mysticism" which ultimately amounted to only bare monistic determinism. Why? It was greek mystical thinking that hated the material world that could not accept the idea of a God that would stoop down to something so base as birth and life. But Orthodoxy embraced the idea that the Son of God came to save the world and that salvation was thus a sanctification of the entirety of creation and it’s restoration to God through Jesus.

The teaching of Jesus revealed that God is Three-Personal, a loving community of three persons sharing a super abundant giving and receiving that is so close that the three mutualy indwel one another and are one God.

This mutualy indwelling love over flows in God's creative act. Human love loves that which is lovable, which is to say that human love is dependant on the beloved, human love is drawn to that which is lovable. But God, being love before there was anything to love, brings into existance that which he loves. Christianity is based on the foundational belief that the Son of God has become a man, has entered the material and historical world of dirt, eating, sleeping, trees, rivers, cities, dogs, whales, suffering, crying, and dying. That the Son of God has come in this way, become a human being, to unite God and man and all creation in a restored, sanctified, and all encompassing sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. As such Christ is the only prophet, the only priest, and the only king and there is no other authority or foundation for all of life than the criterion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

So Christians embrace the world which was made good and for which God died, to which God united himself in the lowlyness of our humanity, raising it up to heaven. We are not ashamed of the Incarnation of God, nor the death of God, nor the Resurection.

As for Osirus, Christians believe that the prophets of the Old Covenant understood much of the revelation concerning the Three-Personal God. There is a 2nd century BCE (before Christ empire) midrash that explains the first chapter of Genesis in a trinitarian way. Christians also believe that the egyptian nation was converted to the worship of the true God when Joseph was royal vizir and architect. Joseph, a worshiper of the true God, married the daughter of the high priest of helioplis. We don not believe that he would have done that unless the priest had converted from the worship of false gods to the worship of the true God. This happened other times in history, such as with king Darius of Babylon, Ninevah, and Emperor Constintine. It is my hypothesis that the story of Osirus was probably orginaly a prophetic forshadowing of the Incarnate Son of God that Old Covenat Christians looked forward to with faith just as Christians look back to it with the same faith and are united to it.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Thank you, Ryan. The church doesn't teach mysticism? Really? The Eucharist isn't mystical? Resurrection isn't mystical? The Trinity isn't mystical? Re-read your explanation of the Trinity below. It is the epitome of mysticism.

So, it seems that the church does teach mysticism after all.

Regarding Osiris, your idea that paganism was a "prophetic foreshadowing" of Christianity is...uncompelling. Not much more compelling, in fact, than the explanation offered by early Church Fathers who sought to explain these commonalities as examples of anticipatory demonic plagiarism--that is, that the demons knew Christ was to come and so they instituted religions with Christian themes in ADVANCE of his coming so as to confuse mankind into following false Gods. Here's how Justin Martyr rationalized it:

"For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they [demons] put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter [God], 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."

And, regarding the fact that the Eucharist bore striking resemblance to known rituals practices by devotees of Mithras before Christ, here's how Justin explained that:

"Jesus took bead, and when He had given thanks, said, 'This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;' and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, 'This is My blood'; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated [in advance, apparently] in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with such incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated [into Mithraism], you either know or can learn."

I suppose that one can concoct all sorts of ways to explain why every major tenant of Christianity was prefigured in paganism, but Occam's Razor suggests a simpler and more likely explanation--that Christianity lifted these themes directly from paganism. We know that such "borrowings" take place all the time between differing religions, and you would have no trouble admitting as much with regard to say...Budhism and Hinduism, or Islam and Christianity (so long as it's Islam that did the borrowing and not the other way around). It is simpy disingenuous to think that Christianity didn't borrow from other religions and therefore alone remains "pure" in doctrine.

So, recognizing this, you must try to resurrect the corpse--that it, to find some "logical" way of acknowledging the "lifting" of these themes by Christians while still insisting that Christianity alone is pure. I suppose "prophetic foreshadowing" is one way of doing this, and "anticipatory plagiarism" is another. But both of these explanation suffer form the same defect. That is, there's not "logical" about them. Neither is falsifiable.

So, why even bother? Why try to solved the "logical" problem of Christianity lifting themes and even doctrine from surrounding religions by appealing to "illogical" concepts like foreshadowing or plagiarism? I mean, if you're going to abandon logic and reason, why not just do so at the outset? Why not just deny the obvious from the beginning? Why not just insist that Christianity borrowed NOTHING from ANYONE...EVER...and be done with it? There's much to prove that contention wrong, of course, but who cares? You've thrown logic out the window anyway, so just go with it.

MG said...


You wrote:

“First, is your idea that Paul essentially advocated an empty tomb (risen corpse) understanding of the resurrection. The fact is that Paul never mentions an empty tomb, not even once. Nor does Paul describe ANY of Jesus' post-resurrection experiences in a way that would suggest that Paul's understanding of the resurrection was consistent with orthodox teaching.”

There is a difference between implicitly and explicitly mentioning an empty tomb. A plausible instance of Paul mentioning the empty tomb is 1 Cor 15:4, where he says that Jesus was “buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. If the empty tomb story was the only story circulating at the time in Corinth (or at least the only story accepted by Christians) regarding the state of Jesus’ physical body after his crucifixion, then there would be no need to explicitly distinguish Paul’s view (empty tomb) from other views (mortal flesh still in the tomb, spiritual body ascended) by naming his view (perhaps saying “raised his body from the dead so that the tomb was empty”). It also follows that the tomb was empty if Paul accepted the Orthodox understanding of resurrection.

And actually, the way that Paul describes the resurrected body was thought to be roughly the Orthodox teaching by the earliest first-century interpreters of Paul that we know of: the Corinthian congregation. His audience interpreted his claim about the resurrection of Jesus in a thoroughly sarxist way: the flesh that died was taken out of the tomb. From this, they drew their own conclusion about the impossibility of an eschatological resurrection of the dead. As Endsjo points out (in his article “Immortal Bodies Before Christ”), the pagan understanding of physical resuscitation of heroes by the gods required that all of the component parts of the body still be intact, even if separated. This idea is implied by the fact that in Greek myths, (1) heroes were only resuscitated shortly after their deaths (before their bodies had time to decompose) by the reassembly of all their component parts, and (2) the attempt to resuscitate Pelops could not be completed because Demeter ate a piece of his shoulder (which had to be replaced with a prosthesis). The reason that the Corinthians could entertain the possibility that Jesus was resurrected (they accept the Creed that Paul gives them in 1 Cor 15:3-7) is because his body did not have time to decompose and was not disassembled. The general resurrection of the dead, however, would not be possible in the Greek mind because the gods were not mighty over death to control matter and reassemble a body that had lost its parts (note also that in Acts 17 the Greeks do not object to mention of Jesus being raised from the dead, but as Dunn points out, the “resurrection of the dead” they scoff at is the general resurrection). If we do not make the assumption that Paul’s interpreters thought he was teaching the resurrection of the flesh, then their agreement with Paul about Jesus’ resurrection and disagreement with Paul about the universal resurrection does not make sense.

Thus, in fact, Paul’s earliest interpreters understood the original transmission of his creed as teaching a physical resurrection of the flesh. Paul does not correct them, but merely points out the fact that Jesus’ resurrection is a model for the universal resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:15, 20-23) and proves that it is possible for God to raise the dead. He corrects their assumptions that the pre-resurrection body will have absolute continuity with the post-resurrection body, but does not deny that the body which is entombed is raised in some sense (even if the body-type changes).

MG said...

You wrote:

“The only post-resurrection appearance that Paul describes in any detail (other than just making passing mention) is his own vision of the resurrected Jesus, and it's quite clear from his description that it was indeed a "vision" that he saw. There is nothing in Paul's description of that vision (or in any of writings for that matter) that requires a bodily understanding of the resurrection, at least not like the orthodox church (and apparently you) have advocated.”

It is easy with a surface read to think that the reports of Paul’s visions did not consist in claims of seeing the physical body of the crucified Jesus, but in claims of seeing a vision of blinding light. In fact the blinding light flashed *around* (Acts 9:3, 22:6) Paul, but according to his report and that of Ananias, he saw and heard Jesus (9:17, 22:14-15, 26:16). Also there is a difference between (1) Paul’s report claiming that in the vision, he was presented with features of the risen Christ that were only consistent with the Orthodox view of the resurrection and (2) Paul’s vision being consistent with either the Orthodox view or a non-Orthodox view and (3) Paul’s vision including information about the risen Christ which is only consistent with the Orthodox view of the resurrection, even though this information was not part of the vision itself. I don’t see incredibly solid grounds for (1), but (2) or perhaps even (3) seem plausible. The evidence for (3) is the fact that Paul reports that Jesus asked him “why are you persecuting me”, implying that Jesus continues to be physically embodied in the flesh of his disciples, who are parts of the Church, which is the body of Christ.

You wrote:

“To the contrary, we have reason to believe that Paul understood the resurrection quite differently than you suggest. For instance, Paul states that he himself "was crucified with Christ" and that Christ "lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). He further states that Christ was revealed "in me" (Galatians 1:15). The only times Paul explicitly describes Christ's body he equates it not with a risen corpse but with the collective assembly of believers. Consider, for instance, 1 Corinthians 12:11-27 which concludes by saying, “Now you (collectively) are Christ’s body, and individually members of it”. You must think that Paul meant these words figuratively, but in context it's far more reasonable to simply take him at his word.”

In Romans, Paul contrasts the spiritual experience of dying and rising with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:4) with some other death and resurrection of Christ (perhaps Paul thinks it is a physical, historical event?). This seems to count against your insistence that the only thing Paul means by the resurrection of Jesus is a private spiritual experience.

Furthermore, as Richard Carrier argues in his article “The Spiritual Body of Christ”, a critical read of the interaction between Paul, Mark, and the later Gospel texts from liberal assumptions about sources, accuracy, continuity, and dating implies an increasing emphasis on the physicality of the resurrection body. Paul and Mark start with a two-bodies view of the resurrection, where the shell of physicality is left behind in a tomb and a second body composed of pneuma is resurrected; then the later writers engage in polemic against this view by inventing resurrection appearance traditions. This shows that even if we approach the texts with some amount of suspicion, we should conclude that the early Christian authors had an overall tendency towards concern about the historical Jesus and the nature of what they thought was his historical death and resurrection. Even if we grant Carrier’s idea that primitive Christians held to a two-bodies doctrine, they still think this is an explanation of the nature of the afterlife, not merely a description of private earthly experiences.

MG said...

You wrote:

“And if all of this weren't enough, Paul states explicitly that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom" (1 Corinthians 15:50).”

The phrase “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” means human mortality and weakness is not capable of attaining to the glory and immortality of the kingdom of God (the very next phrase can be seen as a parallelism: corruption cannot inherit incorruption). But that does not mean that the mortal and weak body cannot lose mortality and weakness and attain incorruption and the kingdom of God; hence Paul proceeds to say “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality”. This is also the most plausible way to read Paul’s phrase “what you sow does not come to life unless it dies” and “God gives it a body”; the particular thing that dies is the same particular that rises, even though its type changes somewhat.

We might turn your argument about no evidence of continuity on its head. As I argued above, Paul’s language apparently requires continuity of substance. Furthermore, the only contrasts he makes between pre-resurrection and post-resurrection bodies are perishable/imperishable, dishonorable/glorious, weakness/power, oriented by a natural life-principle/oriented by the divine life of the Spirit, mortal/immortal—not physical/non-physical. Thus, we have good reason to think that there is a continuity of substance in all unmentioned respects between pre- and post-resurrection body. This is amplified by Endsjo’s arguments that I recounted above, which imply that Paul’s doctrine of resurrection included a physical, touchable, composed-of-matter body.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Thank you, MG. If I were to argue the orthodox interpretation, I would make many of the same points as you, and in the same way. Even so, I don't find them compelling.

For instance, take 1 Corinth 15. It is clear from the context that Paul is not using the words "died" and "buried" and "body" literally. Consider verse 8 where Paul says that he himself was "born dead", or verse 31 where he says that he "dies daily". The orthodox interpretation is that he uses the terms "dead" and "dies" figuratively as applied to himself but literally as applied to Christ. But neither the context nor the text itself demands such an interpretation, and there are strong reasons to question it.

For instance, ponder what Paul means when he uses the terms "body" and "flesh" in his writings. It is quite clear from context that he uses these terms as symbols for what we today might call "ego". As just one example among many, consider Galatians 5:19-20 where describes "acts of the flesh" as "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;...hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Clearly, these are not attributes of physical matter (i.e., flesh or the "body") but of ego run amuck. Physical matter isn't jealous. It isn't envious. It doesn't hate or foster discord. These "acts of the flesh" described by Paul are utterly meaningless if we think that Paul meant us to understand the word "flesh" narrowly and literally.

As for what Paul meant by "buried", consider Romans 6:4 where he says that we (Christians) were buried with Christ by baptism into death. Or Colossians 2:12 where he says that "you were buried with Him in [your] baptism, in which you were also raised with Him." The orthodox seek to explain these passages by distinguishing between Christ's literal death and resurrection and our figurative one through baptism, but importantly Paul himself never makes this distinction. Taken at his word, Paul says in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 that Christians can have the same "death" experience as Christ by being baptized into death like Christ was. Paul never argues that our death/resurrection experience is to be distinguished from Christ's in that his was literal while ours is merely figurative. Rather, he consistently and repeatedly equates the two. He insists that we can have, and in his and some other cases have had, the same death/resurrection experience as Christ. Christ was simply "the first".

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

MG, regarding argument that the Corinthians accepted Jesus' resurrection but not the general bodily resurrection of his followers, I see your point, but I think you misunderstand the issue that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15. You argue that the pagan conception of resurrection was limited to instances where the whole body could be recomposed. Thus, they could believe in Christ's resurrection (where the body was only three days old), but not in the resurrection of those believers who had died long before. In your view, setting right this misconception is what 1 Corinthians 15 is all about.

I agree that 1 Corinthians 15 is all about setting right a misconception, but not the one you suggest. Rather, the misconception that Paul seeks to correct is the very one offered by advocates of an empty tomb--that is, that the body which rises is the same one as that one which had previously died. Paul could not be any clearer in refuting this contention, and he does it in a way that Greeks would find perfectly acceptable--by explaining in no uncertain terms that the spirit body which arises is different from the physical body that died.

To do this, he first gives us the analogy of the seed. Just like the husk of a seed must "die" and rot in order to release the kernel within, which then grows into something marvelous, so it is with our human bodies. "Nor is the seed you sow then the body which [the seed] is going to have [later], but it [the future body] is a naked kernel [within the husk]", Paul says. In other words, the spirit body (or naked kernel) is contained within the physical body (the husk) and is released to grow only once the husk dies.

So it is with human bodies, Paul tells us: "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. [The body] that is sown is perishable and decays, but [the body] that is resurrected is imperishable (immune to decay, immortal). [I]t is sown a natural (physical) body; it is raised a supernatural (a spiritual) body. [As surely as] there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body." But the spiritual body and physical body are different, Paul insists, with the latter encasing the former like a husk encases a seed kernel. Again, this idea of the material encasing or entrapping the spiritual is consistent with the Platonic philosophy of the Greeks, and with Gnosticism for that matter.

But, as if that's not enough, Paul drives the point home in a way that cannot be misunderstood: "But I tell you this, brethren, flesh and blood cannot [become partakers of eternal salvation and] inherit or share in the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable (that which is decaying) inherit or share in the imperishable (the immortal)." Thus, our human bodies, like the husk of a seed is perishable. It decays. And something else later arises in its place.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Note that this husk/kernel teaching of Paul is completely inconsistent with the idea of an "empty tomb", be it of Jesus' or anyone else's. In empty tomb theology, what "husk" is left behind? What part of Jesus' human body was "perishable" or "decayed", eventually releasing his spirit body to grow? None of it, the gospels would have us believe! According to empty tomb theology, all that Jesus left behind in the tomb were the rags that had once shrouded his corpse. None of his body rotted and remained.

Thus, the orthodox teach not what Paul taught (that our outer bodily shell must rot and die in order to release the precious spiritual kernel within), but what the gospels teach--that Jesus' (and one day our) entire physical body was transformed in whole into a spiritual one, leaving nothing behind at all.

Paul's refutation of this idea is one reason why his teaching was so acceptable to Greeks. In fact, Paul's idea of a spirit body is hardly largely consistent Greco-Roman ideas of the time.

Thus, the misconception that Paul was setting straight in 1 Corinthians 15 is the straw man argument, apparently put forth by some of Paul's Christian opponents in an attempt to discredit him among the Gentiles, that Paul believed in an empty tomb--that is, that the body the dies is also the one that rises and nothing is left behind. To save his reputation, Paul was compelled to explain that this wasn't his teaching at all, rather just the opposite, and that's his purpose in 1 Corinthians 15. Thus Paul refutes empty tombers plainly.

Acolyte4236 said...

The rebirthing of the deity in this cult is only evidenced in two post Christian accounts, both from the second century. It is then too late for them to have influenced Christianity on that score. Apuleius seems ambiguous and Plutarch while being more explicit doesn’t seem to apply the notion of rebirth from the myth to the followers. But things are more difficult since Plutarch is giving a deliberate philosophical re-interpretation of the myth and so the way he relates things may not be faithful to the way the members of the cult would have done so. In any case, what is most significant is the fact that Plutarch relates that devotees seek to be buried in the same plot of land where Osiris is still buried. So whatever may be said of Osiris “ rising to life”, the members of the cult understood this to include the fact that he was still dead.

There are other things to consider more widely with these examples. First in none of the supposed parallels that I know of does any figure die as a substitute for anyone else or for a group of people or the world as a whole. Such is not the case obvious with Jesus. Second, Jesus is said to have died as a sin offering, while none of the other supposed parallels have a figure doing so or anything of the like. Usually it is a kind of accident (hunting accident) or self emasculation or some other cause. Third, Jesus’ death is a one time affair while the other supposed parallels follow a vegetative cycle winter and spring. Such is not the case with Jesus (On the date of Easter and Christmass see William Tighe’s article, ) Further, the historical consensus is that Jesus’ death is an actual historical even, whereas such is not the case for Osiris or any other figure of a supposed parallel. Further, Jesus dies voluntarily and such is not the case in any of the supposed parallels.

Something else to consider is, you put forward these parallels to argue that they are precedents for a bodily resurrection, but this is inconsistent with your previous claim that the resurrection was not bodily or fleshly. If Christianity wholesale borrowed the idea of bodily resurrection from pagan accounts, then this is good reason for thinking that what Paul means is a bodily resurrection. If on the other hand the resurrection is not bodily, then this is good reason for thinking that Christianity didn’t borrow from pagan accounts. You cannot consistently maintain both theses at the same time so you’ll need to pick.

In the main though, the majority of academics rejected the thesis of pagan dependence at the very least forty years ago. There is sufficient material to account for the ideas in the NT from the OT and Jewish literature without resorting to a thesis of pagan dependence. So I’d recommend you pick up and work your way through a work that represents pretty much the current consensus of NT scholarship like Meier’s, A Marginal Jew series.

As for your claims contra Robin that you do not accept his claim that the clear meaning of the text requires a both/and interpretation, you’d need to give a reason for your rejection. Second, it seems strange to me that while you object to “literalist” Christianity you claim that it is “clear” to you that Paul’s meaning with reference to the body of Christ are to be taken literally. This seems rather contradictory. Besides, there is no legitimate inference from something seems clear to you that it is therefore true. Something can seem clear to you and not be true. So you need to present an actual argument.

Acolyte4236 said...

As for your claim that your interpretative approach is consistent, even if it were consistent, that does not imply that it is true. False methods or systems of thought can be consistent as well within themselves. Consistency is one of many tests for truth, but it is not sufficient for it. So it is ultimately irrelevant that your approach is consistent if it is. Second, it is highly doubtful that one outlook can make sense of such culturally diverse literature, especially in light of the fact that the said outlook self confessedly deals with subjective experiences that “defy easy explanation.” Third, we’d need an independent argument to prove that there were these kinds of experiences, that the texts were in fact encasing them and that said experiences didn’t amount to evolutionary cognitive misfirings that have something to do with a reality beyond the natural world. That is your view bears its own burden of proof in falsifying metaphysical naturalism. You don’t get to just assume that it is false.

And the Christian taking non-biblical authors as being mythical, it isn’t an arbitrary judgment as you nakedly assert. First, it isn’t true of all non-biblical authors. Much in say Plato and Aristotle is taken by Christians in a straightforward and literal way, because that is how they wrote. Second, they were real historical persons who knew personally a good many of the figures and places they talk about. (Anytus, Athens, Sparta, etc.) Likewise, Jesus, Paul, John, Peter and Co. were real historical figures as well and much of what they teach depends necessarily on claims about real historical events in a way that is not true for say Hinduism or Buddhism. Buddhism would survive just fine if everything written about the Buddha, three or more centuries later, turned out to be historically false. In fact, most Buddhist scholars who work on those texts take the vast majority to be legendary or even historically worthless and much the same can be said more strongly of Hinduism. The same is true of the pagan religions prior to Christianity, the post-Christian mystery cults and Gnosticism. History is useless or meaningless for them. As you note yourself, the claims they wish to make are “hindered” by taking them as history. Such is not the case for Christian texts by and large.

So there is seems to be a principled basis for why Christians read biblical texts one way and other texts, in some cases another. Not the least of those reasons would be textual indicators that are typical of mythological literature of the time.

Even if it were true that the Christian method of interpreting the bible only makes sense by presuming that the meaning of the Gospels is along historical lines, your view fares no better since it only makes sense if one begins with the presumption that the meaning of Jesus story is not to be found along historical lines. I am not sure how showing that the Christian view begins with a certain presumption renders it any less true than your own which functions in the same way. So even if your claim were true, it doesn’t show that your view is any more true than Christianity.

Acolyte4236 said...

Secondly, I’d recommend Shafer’s, Religion in Ancient Egypt. Cornell, 1991 instead of the older works you seem to be relying on. One of the problems with older works like Budge and say Fraser is that they use Christian terms and concepts to describe things found in pre-Christian contexts and then claim to “discover” a parallel. Such similarities are pretty much superficial upon examination. So in short you’re going to have to do better than citing works a century old or by contemporary hacks. And as I noted, the ancient sources still speak of Osiris as being dead and buried.

And even as you claim, the concepts were similar, even very much so, this would prove nothing in terms of causal dependence. Similarity does not imply correlation and correlation does not imply causation or causal dependence. So even if you could prove a strong similarity relation this would be insufficient to prove a strong correlation, let alone an actual causal dependence of one view on the other. This is just basic historiography 101. I’d suggest taking a look at Fischer’s somewhat classic, Historians Fallacies, Routledge, 1971.

As for your citation of Murdock I can’t see how her work really helps. I can’t see that she is even a credentialed scholar writing in a field in which she is trained. Price’s defense of the self published nature of the work seems entirely lame. When Hume wrote there weren’t standard of peer review in place so the comparison is apt only if say Tacitus meets the criteria for a modern historian. It just doesn’t wash. So again, you’ll need to do better in terms of appealing to authorities since this work is not apparently by an expert and not peer reviewed.

Christian doctrine asserts that the body that is resurrected is “new” in its mode and power of operation. It is not new in terms of being non-material or discontinuous with the previous body. However we wish to cash out philosophically a solution to the problem of material constitution, whether four dimensionalism, co-locationism or some other view, the body will be continuous in terms of being identical to the one that died. So the body is transformed in so far as it now operates and lives by a power that renders it immortal.

There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest Jesus walks through walls or any physical object. The Gospel material says he appears in a room from which it was not possible to gain access by usual means. If one moves from one dimension to another, one does not go through any material object to get there. Uncritical readers may infer that he passed through the walls, but that is why they are uncritical readers.

And Christian doctrine is not that Christ dwells “inside” a physical body, not anymore than I ‘dwell” in side mine. I am my body, but not exhaustively. You ask how we are to make sense of the biblical statements of being the body of Christ and Christ being in the believer, but I think you mistake your questions for arguments since of themselves they prove nothing.

Acolyte4236 said...

And no Paul does not argue that the one encloses the other because he speaks of the “bare grain” that is planted. The contrast is between the resulting plant and the seed, not the internal soul and the external body.

Further, your reading of Paul makes little sense of why philosophers scoffed at Paul for the resurrection in Acts as well as the consistent opposition by Platonists to the Pauline corpus. I seriously doubt someone like Porphyry misread Paul and the early Christian teachers in this manner. If Paul and early Christianity had been saying essentially the same thing as the Platonists, the latter were smart enough to recognize it rather than derive the teaching of the resurrection of the flesh. The same is true for earlier sources such as Celsus.

As for the perishable I think you misread Paul for he does not say the body cannot inherit salvation, but that corruption can’t. But what if matter can be made incorruptible? This is what you are supposing is not possible. At least the Platonists had philosophical reasons for thinking this was so, but so far I haven’t see a reason to think that God cannot make matter incorruptible. This is buttressed by the Gospel material showing that Christ had a physical body. After all, the Gospel material is the only material we have for what a “spiritual” body is like, and it has scars, eats, sits, walks, etc. Call me silly but that all sounds pretty physical.

But should you reject them, this cuts against your earlier insistence that Paul knows nothing of the historical Jesus since the Gospels certainly do and they maintain a physical resurrection.

Acolyte4236 said...

Here are my first comments which I don't think made it thru.


Let me see if I can piggy back on Michael’s remarks.

Even if it were true that there is a lack of implicit material in Paul for an empty tomb, Paul Is not the only source for such a belief. Consequently if Paul simply doesn’t mention it, it in no way follows that he denies it or that there is no source or evidence for the belief in early Christian writings.

Second, your arguments that Paul never mentions a number of things do not prove that he denied them or never held those views. At best this is a fallacious argument from silence and proves nothing.

Third in order for your argument for Paul’s vision to involve something non-physical and to be along the lines of a hallucination we would need some proof from you of what constituted “visions” in the ancient world, particularly among Jews at the time. So far I haven’t see any reason to accept your gloss on what the Pauline vision was.

And certainly there is in the Gospel material a strong emphasis on an empty tomb and a physical resurrection. Jesus goes out of his way to emphasize his corporeality by pointing out the scars and then sitting down and eating with his disciples. Why would a non-corporeal and non-physical body have scars? The obvious point is to show up continuity between the body that underwent the torture and the one presented to them. Certainly in visions in the OT Jews were perfectly capable of thinking of the difference between a spirit visitation as in the case of Saul and Samuel and a physical resurrection.

Something else to consider is that for much of your argument to go through, you’ll need to present arguments establishing over against liberal critics and some of the hacks you seem to rely on that the material in question is authentically from Paul. If it is not, then I can’t see what evidentiary weight it can have with respect to the claim that the material represents Paul’s views.

As for the supposed parallels with pagan myths and the supposed pagan dependence of the gospel material, let me dispatch these with looking at the case of Osiris since you seem to lay so much weight upon it.

The account of the Osiris is part of the cult of Isis which is of course Egyptian origin. The account develops over time, undergoes major changes beginning with Ptolemy around 300 BC when Ptolemy institutes major changes in the cult, replacing Osiris with Serapis. His rationale for doing so seems to harmonize the existing cult with Greek divinities. Eventually the cult makes its way to Rome and becomes significant under Caligula in the middle of the first century. Now in the pre-Ptolemaic account Osiris is murdered by Seth, recovered by Isis and then re-killed by Seth and dismembered with his body parts dispersed, only to be reassembled, with the penis being the last addition. The myth served a cyclical and agrarian setting. But there are a few things to take note of here. There is more than one version of the story and Osiris does not “come back to life” in every one of them. So it seems first as if there is no unified “resurrection” view upon which to base the claim of dependence as well as the claim that the “resurrection” was along the lines given in the NT. During the later stage with Serapis, a significantly lower figure than Osiris.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...


I don't believe I ever said that there is no source or evidence for belief in an empty tomb in some early Christian writings (e.g., the gospels), just not the earliest (i.e., those of Paul). Recognizing that the writings of Paul predate the gospels by decades (at a minimum), this is plenty of time for various Christian groups to have developed differing understandings of Christ and the resurrection, understandings that were not necessarily consistent with Paul's own. Consider, for example, how many varying interpretations of the events of September 11 have developed in less than a decade! The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple would have been a far more traumatic experience for first century Jews than Sept 11 was for modern Americans.

So, we know from personal experience just how quickly "crazy" stories and conspiracy theories can develop to explain traumatic historical events. But, as regards Christ, we need not rely only on our own modern experiences to hypothesize that early Christians would have done the same, for Paul tells us they did explicitly, warning his followers to reject those preaching a "different Christ" from his own.

There is a fundamental principle of logic and of rhetoric (and therefor of our legal system) that the burden of proof is rightfully placed on the person making a given assertion, not the one denying it. Thus, in civil lawsuits, plaintiffs must prove their case and defendants are free to remain silent if they fail to do so. A defendants silence is not taken as evidence that the plaintiff's contentions are true. Likewise with criminal lawsuits, where the defendant is innocent until proven guilty by the government. Again, the defendant's silence is not evidence that the government's claims are true.

This legal principle of placing the burden of proof on those advancing a specific claim follows from the fact that, as a matter of logic, it nearly impossible to prove a negative. For example, I cannot prove that our universe is not simply a sophisticated computer program (a la "The Matrix"). Said another way, I cannot prove that the reality we experience isn't merely a "virtual reality". And yet, it does not follow that, since I can't prove the negative, the negative is true.

And yet, this is exactly what you argue with respect to Paul. You insist that since I cannot point to any particular language where Paul explicitly denies an empty tomb (though he implicitly does repeatedly), that it follows that he accepted it. Respectfully, you are the one making a "fallacious argument from silence". You insist that Paul's silence be interpreted as supporting a specific positive position. I simply insist that Paul's silence on the subject, one that would have undoubtedly been important to him, provides at least some evidence that he was ignorant of it. How else can we explain Paul's abject failure to mention obvious events from Christ's life or Christ's own teaching on subjects of great importance as described in the gospels? Time and again, all Paul needed to do to cinch his argument was to quote Christ, or to point to one of his his parables or an event from Christ's own life, but Paul almost never does.

In short, as a matter of logic, the burden of proof rightly lies on those who claim that Paul taught empty tomb theology (i.e, those make a positive claim), not those who deny it. I cannot "prove" that he didn't, but that doesn't mean that he did, anymore than the fact that I can't prove that we are not all part of a computer program means we are. I reasonably infer that Paul's silence as to the empty tomb, even when mentioned it would have helped his cause, means he was ignorant of it. You unreasonably assume that his inexplicable silence nonetheless means he believed it (since, by his silence, he never explicitly refutes it). Again, you are the one making "fallacious arguments from silence, not me".

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Acolyte, I don't care how people in the ancient world understood visions. That is irrelevant to my argument. I simply look at what Paul says of his experience with the risen Christ. All he indicates is that he heard a voice and saw a great light. Nowhere does Paul say the he saw Christ's body. Nowhere. Ever. Regardless of how ancients understood visions, this sounds a whole lot like a vision to me. I describe things in modern terms and language, not ancient ones.

Add to Paul's description the gospel accounts where the resurrected Jesus walks through walls, and can seemingly appear and disappear into thin air and ascend into the clouds, and I think the word "vision" is the fairest way to describe things. Any "spirit body" or "vision" (as those terms are commonly understood today) would be capable of doing these things, and every other thing the risen Jesus did, but no physical body could. To the extent that you insist it was a physical body that did these things, it's a physical body has all the characteristics of what today we would say was a vision or spirit. Thus, to distinguish the former from the latter is to make a distinction without a different. It's purely semantics.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Regarding Acolyte's discussion of Osiris, I could say exactly the same things about the Jesus story. The accounts of Jesus' life developed and changed over time (even the gospel accounts vary, and non-biblical accounts, such as the so-called Gnostic gospels, vary even more). It underwent major changes under Constantine who, like the Ptolemies, was motivated by a desire to harmonize the various "one God" sects with various pagan traditions, all under a religion that he could control. Like Osiris, Jesus is murdered, but only in some accounts does he come back to life. There isn't now and never was a "unified resurrection view" as regards Christ.

You are wrong that only two post-Christian sources discuss the Egyptian theme of resurrection. We don't have to rely on third parties when, thank God, the primary sources still exist! Spend some time with a good translation of the Egyptian Pyramid texts or the Book of the Dead and see for yourself. Quite reading what old Greeks or modern Christians say about Egyptians and read instead what they had to say about themselves.

No serious scholar denies that the Pharaoh's were buried with an expectation of resurrecting in the Duat (heavens) among the stars. Everything from the Pharoh's mummification to his burial with necessities in the afterlife to the writings on the walls of his tomb testify not only that they expected resurrection in general, but a bodily resurrection in particular. Where do you suppose this expectation came from? It wasn't merely a political expectation, but a religious one. One anchored in the myth of Osiris/Horus/Isis and others.

Thus, just like Jesus gives Christians hope for resurrection, Egyptian religion did the same for Egyptians, or at least the elite among them. To deny that Egyptians had an expectation of an afterlife is to ignore not only the writings they left behind but virtually all the art and culture that archaeologists have uncovered over the centuries.

I never said that Christianity was "dependent" upon the religion of Osiris or other similar pagan religions, only that it was influenced by and borrowed from it in the same way that even you would admit that Islam borrowed from Judaism/Christianity, or Mormonism from Christianity and Masonry, or Buddhism from Hinduism, or Fascism from Communism. What is unique about Christianity in your view that would make it impervious to outside influence?

I cannot "prove" such influence in the absolute sense that you demand, but I can make a compelling circumstantial case. For instance, if Judaism/Christianity were influenced by themes of resurrection from other religions (to give just one example), I would expect those themes to predate Christianity and not vice versa. They do, as evidence by Egypt among others. I would expect early Jews or Christians to have had exposure to them. They did (witness the Old Testament or the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nag Hammadi Library). I would expect Christians to have had a reason or motive for borrowing them. They did, especially after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

In short, if my hypothesis is true, I would expect early Christians, or a least their Jewish ancestors, to have had the means, motive and opportunity to borrow these themes, and I would expect the result of that borrowing to be similar to but different than the original source, just as Islam is similar to but different from Christianity/Judaism. No one denies that Islam, which came after Christianity and Judaism, borrowed from them (as well as Arab tribal religions). It's obvious that it did. Likewise, it's obvious that Christianity borrowed its basic themes the paganism that predated it. It had the means, motive and opportunity to do so. Indeed, if it didn't, then Christianity is unique among world religions and is an exception to everything we know about the spread of cultures across the globe.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Regarding methods of interpretation, I concede that sometimes writers will speak literally and other times figuratively, and that the key is to know when they do which. Fortunately there are a number of interpretive tools that we can apply when making this determination, not the least of which is the aid of reason. The difference between you and me is that I am consistent in applying these tools as between the Bible and other texts. For instance, I will draw the reasonable conclusion regardless of where it leads me, and you will do the same with any non-biblical text. But, when it comes to the Bible, you no longer count on reason as you guide but rather rely on the "rule of faith", or the traditional understanding of the text handed down through the ages, an understanding that was developed before the age of science and reason. Thus, you will often choose a patently unreasonable interpretation, one contradicts your own personal life experience in every way (e.g., that truly dead bodies can rise again), simply because it's what you want to believe.

Also, I think it is self-evident that the best way of understanding what someones means to say is to place the greatest weight on what they themselves do say. For instance, the best way of understanding Thomas Jefferson is to read Jefferson. To understand Jefferson, we don't give first priority to his contemporary's descriptions of him (for then we must choose between his friends and his enemies, never knowing which is giving accurate information) or other writers of the time. Rather, we look first to Jefferson's own written words, which are voluminous.

And, I do the same with Paul, but you don't. To understand Paul, I read Paul first. But you read the gospels and other canonical books, many of which were written decades after Paul by people who never knew him, and then you interpret Paul through that lens. You begin with the assumption that Paul knew and believed what the authors of the Gospel of Mark, Luke and John believed and that there was little or no daylight between them.

Your interpretative approach reminds me of those naive Americans who have romanticized the founding of this country. The romanticized view among average Americans is that all the Founders were mostly in agreement on the big matters of the day--that America should be a democratic republic founded on "Christian" principles, that the federal government should have limited powers, etc. But, reading the original writings of our founders, we know that this was not true at all. They HATED each other! Jefferson despised Hamilton with a passion. Some wanted Washington to become King. There was great and heated disagreement on the role of the federal government. Some were Unitarians, others Trinitarian, and yet others were Deists. The political campaigns of the time were so vicious and dirty that modern campaigns look like a church service!

America, it turns out, like every other religious or political institution ever observed, was the product of vicious fights and reluctant compromises among the Founders. We know this form the original source material, and we know that romanticized view to be appealing but false. Those who interpret American history in the romanticized way either haven't spend sufficient time with the source material, or else they have developed various convoluted ways of rationalizing their viciousness so as to present the Founders as dignified and unified.

And, that's what you do with the Bible. Being unwilling to consider the possibility that the tenants of Christianity resulted from vicious fights and reluctant compromises among its very human founders, you have developed various convoluted ways of rationalizing their viciousness and harmonizing their writings so as to present them as dignified and unified.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

For example, Acolyte, if Paul says "you are collectively Christ's body and individually members of it", I am fine taking Paul at his word and believing that he may have disagreed with the authors of other Biblical texts as to the nature of Christ. Unless the context of HIS WRITINGS suggest that he means these words figuratively, I am comfortable accepting them literally--that is, that Paul means to say that the risen Christ indwells us (or at least some of us) and is not separate from us.

But, you can't accept this teaching since, for you, Christ is a separate being sitting corporally at the right hand of God the Father, though Paul never says such. To reconcile Paul's beliefs with your own assumptions drawn from the writing of others, and to prevent Paul from contradicting other early Christian writers, you interpret this teaching of Paul as well as his various references to "Christ in me" or "Christ in you" as really referring to the "Holy Spirit". But then, why would Paul call the Holy Spirit "Christ"? Well, silly Sean (you say), because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all ONE, so when a Christian speaks of one he speaks of the other. Paul knew this (you contend, though Paul never provides ANY trinitarian teachings), and so it was perfectly appropriate for Paul to call the Holy Spirit "Christ" even though the "real" risen bodily Christ is still in heaven with God.

This interpretation is rationalization, pure and simple. Such a trinitarian reading isn't the most reasonable or obvious way of interpreting Paul. In fact, reading only Paul, there is little or no basis for a trinitarian understanding at all. But, that doesn't stop you. You insist that Paul can only be properly understood by interpreting them in light of others' writings and by harmonizing Paul's teachings with those others. Respectfully, that's naive. It's (hopefully) not how you would interpret the American Revolution or the founding of any other nation or religion.

In short, your interpretation is purely a product of faith. Can I prove that it is NOT true? Of course not! I can't prove. I can't prove a negative. I can't prove that I'm not in a computer simulation, or that my wife isn't cheating on me, or that Bush didn't orchestrate the Sept 11th attacks. But, for me to believe such unlikely things, I'd have to be prepared to ignore a whole lot of what life has taught me from personal experience and what I know from observation. You're willing to do this with regard to the Bible and only the Bible. I'm not. You're willing to interpret the Bible specially. I'm not.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Regarding Acolyte's contention that my view is not better than his own because, like his, mine depends upon a "presumption", consider that not all presumptions are equal. My presumption that the meaning of the Jesus story is not to be found in history is rooted in premises like "people can't walk on water" or "truly dead bodies don't rise and walk the earth" or "pigs don't talk". These premises have the benefit of being consistent with all my (or your) experiences, as well as the experiences of anyone I (or you) personally know. By contrast, Acolyte's opposite presumptions contradict all of my (and your) personal experience and those of anyone you or I personally know.

Hence, my presumption (that the Bible only makes sense, if at all, only by interpreting such unbelievable things as the resurrection figuratively and not historically) is reasonable and well-founded. Your opposite presumption (that Jesus' walking on water and rising from the dead were actual historical events) is contrary to reason and personal experience. They are anchored in nothing Can I prove they didn't happen? No, I can't prove a negative. But is it reasonable to ASSUME THAT THEY DID when crafting an appropriate interpretation of the Bible? Of course not. By contrast, is it rational to assume that they didn't when seeking to understand the Bible. Of course it is.

So, once again, not all presumptions are equally (in)valid.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Regarding your (Acolyte's) contention that that the risen Jesus didn't walk through walls, you once again make a distinction without a difference. Critics make this claim because no physical human body is capable of such a feat, suggesting that the author of that gospel understood Jesus' risen body as a spirit. Your contention that Jesus instead was moving from one dimension to another doesn't help things any since no physical human body is capable of that either. In common understanding, spirits may be able to "cross over", but not physical bodies. Thus, your trans-dimensional explanation doesn't make it any more likely that the risen Jesus was physical (as we understand that term).

Regarding your contention that "you" don't dwell exclusively in "your" body, then where else do you dwell, Acolyte? Can you inhabit the universe as a whole? Or any other body? Could Paul fairly say to me and my family that "you are collectively Acolyte's body, and individually members of it"? Could Paul say that "Acolyte in me" or "Acolyte in you"? Of course not! You are bound to your body, just like I am and just like the risen Jesus was. Contrary to your suggestion, Christian doctrine has traditionally taught that Christ is indeed bound to his body, at least since the incarnation, acting outside of it only through the medium of the Holy Spirit, a trinitarian concept that needed to be invented to, among other things, reconcile how Christ could have physically resurrected and yet inhabit others per Paul.

Regarding Paul's seed teaching, note once again that he specifically mentions death/rot/decay of the old body such that the new one (the kernel) is released. If Christ's body was transformed in total, leaving behind nothing but empty linen clothes, then there was nothing left behind to decay or rot. Thus, Paul's analogy fails and his explanation doesn't agree with your's or the gospel's. Paul is quite clear that, as for those who had died, the old must die/decay/rot before it can take on the new. Only after this process does the corruptible take on the incorruptible. How could he deny such a thing (since even the graves of Christians were full of rotted corpses)? If he believed that Jesus' experience was somehow different from that anticipated by those buried Christians of his time, he never, ever says so or distinguishes between the nature of Jesus' past resurrection and their future one (only that the former was the "first fruits").

Pagan critics of Paul weren't criticizing Paul or his writings per se, but rather the by-then-common (mis)interpretation of Paul offered up by Christians of the times, who were the true targets of the pagan attacks. If I'm a pagan and my goal is to discredit a rival religious sect, I am going to criticize the views that they held. I'm not going to reinterpret their own writings for them and then attack that reinterpretation. Such an approach would be utterly useless at discrediting them since I'd be attacking a straw man and not their own position.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Finally, regarding my earlier contention that we should interpret Paul without undue regard for the other New Testament books or authors, consider that Paul himself demanded this.

Emphasizing that his experience of the risen Jesus qualified him in every way to be an Apostle and that he wasn't dependent upon any other Apostle for his authority or the contents of his message, Paul says:

"I would have you know, Brothers, that the revelation I revealed to you came not in the ordinary human way, for I did not receive it from a man by way of teaching. Rather, it was directly revealed to me by Jesus-Messiah. For you have heard how I led my life under the Jewish Law, that I was extreme in my persecution of God's gathering, trying to extirpate it, how I surpassed many of my contemporaries in adherence to Jewish Law, more highly devoted to the traditions I received from the ancestors. But when the time came for what God had destined me to from the womb, summoning me by his favor, he directly revealed his son in me, that I might proclaim him to the nations. At this point I consulted no flesh-and-blood person. Nor did I go to Jerusalem, to see emissaries (Apostles) called before me. I went off, instead, to Arabia, when I later returned to Damascus." (Galatians 1:11-17)

This description by Paul of his own experience is absolutely, positively astounding. First, he says that his understanding of the gospel was revealed to him directly by Jesus-Messiah and not by way of the teachings of any flesh. This plainly suggests that the "Jesus-Messiah" Paul "saw" was not a risen flesh-and-blood person as you continually suggest, since he says that he got it from Jesus but no from anyone of flesh. Lest we doubt his meaning, Paul makes it clear when he says just a couple verses later that God "revealed his son in me". Not "by me" or "to me" or "through me", but "IN ME". And again, just to make sure that we don't misunderstand him, Paul says third time that he "consulted no flesh-and-blood person", presumably to include Jesus resurrected in a human body but definitely to include the Apostles who preceded him in the faith.

If Paul is correct that the Jesus-Messiah that he saw was the same as the one that "appeared" to the Apostles who preceded him, then those previous appearances must be something different than is commonly understood. If what Paul saw/experienced is exactly what the others saw/experienced, then Christianity was originally something quite different.

And I would add that, since Paul's resurrection accounts are the oldest ones we have by far (preceding those in the Gospels and Acts by some 50 years), and since Paul is the only witness to the resurrection whose own words we undoubtedly possess, we should use Paul's account to provide context to the accounts in the Gospels and Acts, and not the other way around as you suggest we do. Thus, Paul is very useful in providing context to Acts and the Gospels, but Acts and the Gospels, written much latter by unknown persons, are much less useful in providing context to Paul.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

So, interpreting Paul only by reference to Paul, let's see what he actually says about the resurrection. Consider, for instance (2 Corinth 5:1-9):

"When this transitory housing we inhabit is dissolved, we know another housing is prepared for us by God, a lasting casement in the heavens not made by hand.

Notice here that Paul doesn't say that our "risen" human bodies will resurrect in anything approaching human form and then "go to heaven" as is commonly taught, but that it will be replaced with an altogether different type of body, a "lasting casement in the heavens", or a "heavenly body". And, that heavenly body will appear as different from the human one as a plant does from a seed!

What exactly does Paul mean by a such heavenly body? He tells us elsewhere in Corinthians when describing what the risen body will be like:

"God gives each seed the type of plant he has decreed, a different plant according to which seed is sown. It is likewise with the different types of flesh, for all flesh is not the same--humans, beasts, birds and fish. There are heavenly bodies corresponding to earthly bodies, and the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one thing, the splendor of earthly bodies another. There is one splendor for the sun, another for the moon, and another for the stars--since star from star differs in splendor.

That is how it is with the resurrection of the dead.
Sown in disintegration, it is raised in integrity. Sown in disgrace, it is raised in splendor.***The first man came from the clay of the earth, the second came from heaven. As the first man was of clay, so are others clay-like. And as the last many was from heaven, so are all his fellows heavenly. And as we have borne the likeness of a man of clay, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven."

Thus, heavenly bodies are simply the various orbs that we see in the sky in all their splendor. Different types of "flesh" will resurrect as different types of heavenly orbs, Paul tells us. Thus, all will come to bear the likeness of the "heavenly man". This is an obvious restatement of a very common and ancient pagan teaching that can be found across the globe in places as diverse as Egypt, China, the Americas and Greece. Most every ancient culture taught that certain properly qualified persons would resurrect among the stars and planets, however the extent to which the ancients understood this idea literally is subject to debate. Some suggest that the ancients simply meant that, when we die, we return from whence we came and once again become "one with the Universe", a part of the collective "World Soul". If these ideas aren't already very familiar to you form your studies of ancient cultures, just let me know and I will provide numerous examples to illustrate the point. For now, just see:

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Regarding the contention that Christianity borrowed nothing from paganism, consider that it's first apologists, Justin Martyr, admits the contrary. In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (and in other places), Martyr acknowledges that the Christian ideas of the godman's virgin birth, his death and resurrection, his miracles of healing and raising others from the dead, and his ascension into heaven were all prefigured in paganism (through the process of anticipatory plagiarism, he assures us):

Be well assured, then, Trypho, that I am established in the knowledge of and faith in the Scriptures, by those counterfeits which he who is called the devil is said to have performed among the Greeks; just as some were wrought by the Magi in Egypt, and others by the false prophets in Elijah's days. For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by [Jupiter's] intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses? And when they tell that Hercules was strong, and traveled over all the world, and was begotten by Jove of Alcmene, and ascended to heaven when he died, do I not perceive that the Scriptures which speaks of Christ, "strong as a giant to run his race," has been in like manner imitated? And when he [the devil] brings forward Aesculapius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?...And when I hear, Trypho, that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.

Note that Justin doesn't claim that the pagans based their various godman stories on Christianity or the gospels, for the gospels were too new, and the pagan myths too old, for even Justin to argue the contrary. No, Justin can only rationalize away these similarities by explaining that the devil, knowing via the ancient Jewish scriptures that Christ was to come, introduced these "Christian" themes into the world via paganism, in advance of Christ's coming, so that people might not believe in their true savior.

In light of these admissions, it is simply disingenuous to argue that the idea of a bodily resurrection, not to mention other "Christian" themes, was foreign to paganism prior to Christianity.

MG said...


Before giving a more detailed reply, I want to try and address your hermeneutics. You wrote:

“Hence, my presumption (that the Bible only makes sense, if at all, only by interpreting such unbelievable things as the resurrection figuratively and not historically) is reasonable and well-founded. Your opposite presumption (that Jesus' walking on water and rising from the dead were actual historical events) is contrary to reason and personal experience.”

I actually think your presumption is, implicitly, presumptuous. For you consider only two possibilities: that ancient texts like the Hebrew and Christian holy books are allegorical (“figuratively”) and true (“make sense”) or that they are literal and true. You reject the latter option because of your desire to be consistent: not all supernatural stories can be literally true, because they conflict. You also claim that they are contrary to reason and personal experience (that is another matter). But it seems like the question of literal or allegorical is different from the question of true or false, and that an ancient text could be literal but false or allegorical but false. Thus we need to first answer the question of whether an author intended something to be taken literally before we decide whether it is true or false. For instance, maybe ancient Norse myths about wars of the gods are meant to be taken literally; that is a factual question that must be answered based on internal (linguistic, structural, etc.) and external (writing setting and literary culture, purpose, authorial tendencies, etc.) context clues. But if we have good reason to take them literally, that does not by itself serve as good reason to think that Norse gods are actually real or that they fought each other. We need the assumption that the text is not just intended to be literal by the author, but that the author’s intended meaning corresponds to reality.

So it seems like we should assess the Pauline material concerning the resurrection question in two stages. First we should ask whether Paul makes claims that (implicitly or explicitly) express belief that the resurrection of Jesus’ flesh literally happened. Second, we should ask if these claims have features that indicate that Paul’s belief is probably true. Do you agree that the question of literal and allegorical meanings is separate from the question of truth and falsity?

Unknown said...


I am unconvinced that you have presented adequate counter-arguments to the argumentation that has been presented. For example, when Acolyte4236 presented historical data to undermine your argument regarding Osiris (an argument that was central to your claim that the gospel material was dependent on pagan myths) you answered his counter-argument by suggesting that he was saying "that Christianity borrowed nothing from paganism." Having thus set up this straw man, you proceeded to argue against it with evidence from Justin Martyr. But even if your observations about Justin Marty were correct, that does not suddenly rescue your historically dubious claims about Osiris. To do that, you must engage with the argumentation already on the table, rather than simply introduce new arguments. Otherwise at best you are simply presenting assertion followed by denunciation followed by reassertion without any actual argumentation, and to do that is dogmatic rather than philosophical.

From what I can make out, your basic idea seems to be that you have a consistent hermeneutic of allegorizing everything in a religious or mythological text, and that this is the approach we should prefer when interpreting the texts of Scripture. But this is incorrect because the Christian is not committed to allegorizing everything in other religious traditions or mythologies. Even regardless of whether one is a Christian or not, he or she should not try to allegorize every ancient religious text. Instead, one should try to figure out if the historic author’s meaning involves making literal claims or if the historic author was being allegorical/non-literal. Yet you refuse to look at authorial intent when you say, "Acolyte, I don't care how people in the ancient world understood visions. That is irrelevant to my argument." When making arguments about what people in the ancient world meant, how they understood the subject matter is very much relevant. However, within your schema it loses relevance since your operating assumption is always to assume allegorical meanings. Now it may be that some of the times the allegorical reading is the most appropriate, but we can only know that if there is good evidence that this is what the author intended.

One of the reasons you have given for the allegorical interpretation is that the Christian texts don't make sense otherwise and that the miracles contradict what we know of the world. However, when we come to ancient texts, it is not our obligation to try and reinterpret them in a way that will make them true for modern times. Rather, our obligation is to discover a text's actual meaning and accept or reject that meaning (whether literal or not) based on whether or not it corresponds with reality.
However, you have not done this, and the most you seem to be concerned to do is to show that your hermeneutic is consistent. But proving that your hermeneutic is consistent is very different to proving that it is actually true.

With that, I'd like to ask you some specific questions. When answering the questions please refer to the question's number.

Unknown said...

Question # 1. Do you agree with the following sentence? "If Christianity wholesale borrowed the idea of bodily resurrection from pagan accounts, then this is good reason for thinking that what Paul means is a bodily resurrection; if on the other hand the resurrection is not bodily, then this is good reason for thinking that Christianity didn’t borrow from pagan accounts, but you cannot consistently maintain both theses at the same time so you’ll need to pick."

Question # 2. Are you able to cite one peer reviewed journal article or reputable text from the last ten years supporting your dependence theory?

Question # 3. Are the views you have expressed in the above discussion falsifiable? If so, then what type of evidence would in principle cause you to concede that your have created a false dilemma in postulating that our choice is between a completely allegorical hermeneutic vs. a completely literalistic hermeneutic?

Question # 4. Do you agree what MD said when he suggested that the question of literal vs. allegorical is different from the question of true or false, and that an ancient text could be literal but false or allegorical but false?

Question # 5. If the answer to question # 4 is affirmative, then do you agree that it follows that we need to first answer the question of whether an author intended something to be taken literally before we decide whether it is true or false?

Question # 6. Do you agree with what I said above about authorial intent?

Question # 7. If your answer to question #6 is no, then is your belief that it is no falsifiable?

Question # 8. If the answer to question # 7 is yes, then what are the conditions under which it would be falsifiable and why do you think said conditions are appropriate?

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

MG, thank you for trying to obtain a clear and accurate understanding of my position.

A story can be intended as literal and unknowingly false, intended as literal and intentionally false, intended as figurative and unknowingly false, intended as figurative and intentionally false, intended as literal and unknowingly true, intended as literal and intentionally true, intended as figurative and unknowingly true, or intended as figurative and intentionally true.  The trick is to determine which is which.  

An example of a story that is intended as literal and unknowingly false is a well-intentioned but wrong eyewitness account of an historical event.  Eyewitness testimony has been shown to be highly unreliable because, as psychologists know, we often "remember" history differently than it actually happened.  Our biases influence our memories without us even knowing it.  

An example of a story that is intended as literal but is intentionally false is propaganda.

An example of a story that is intended as literal and is intentionally true is accurate eyewitness testimony.  

I could give other examples, but I think you get the point.  

How do we know which one of the above categories a particular story falls into?  Fortunately, we have some tools to aid us, though none of them are perfect.  

The most useful tool is empiricism.  We know from experience, for example, that people don't throw thunderbolts, can't turn themselves into swans, are not immortal, etc.  Nothing in our personal experience allows us to believe such things.  So, when we read stories claiming that the immortal Zeus did these, and more, we can immediately narrow the above list of options, ruling out any that end with "true".  Thus, we can conclude that the author of these stories either knew they were false and intended them to be taken literally, in which case they are propaganda, or that he knew they were false but intended them to be taken figuratively (because  the only way anyone can convey a personal, internal, subjective  experience is via use of symbols), in which case they are philosophical/psychological/religious teaching tools, or that he knew they were false and intended his audience to view them as such too (in which case they are just entertaining fiction), or that he wrongly believed them to be true (in which case he is an undisciplined thinker at best and insane at worst). 

So, while our options have narrowed, we still have too many.  Fortunately, if we know a little about the author and/or editors of the story, other tools, such as textual criticism, will permit us to reduce the options even more.  In the case of the Greek myths, narrowing our options further is hard because we know nothing of the original authors and the stories have been edited so extensively over the years.  Thus, it is entirely possible that these stories could fall into any one of the remaining categories.  

(to be continued)

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Having said that, the very fact that these Greek stories were so popular for thousands of years and have survived the ages suggests to me that they are special, having a numinous quality and speaking to humanity at some symbolic, subconscious level.  This causes me to think that they were possibly constructed by persons who understood the workings of the subconscious and who attempted to convey that subjective understanding in the only way possible--I.e., through symbolism.  And, I'm not alone in this regard.  The symbolism contained in these stories is so obvious and apparent to anyone who has spent time exploring the subconscious that no less than Jung considered the authors of the gnostic gospels to be among the world's most accomplished psychologists.  But, it is also possible, as Jung noted, that the authors of great stories are compelled to write them for the same subconscious reasons that we find them so appealing.  In other words, perhaps the author is not an adept but merely unconsciously competent, capable of penning a great and numinous story under the guidance of his own subconscious but not comprehending the significance of his own story.  

Fortunately, with the New Testament in general, and Paul in particular, we know much, much more than with the Greek myths. Like with the Greek myths, empiricism allows us to eliminate all the above options that end with "true", since people don't walk on water or rise from the dead. But, unlike the Greek myths, our knowledge of Paul and his Roman editors permits us to reduce the options further by employing other tools, such as textual criticism.  The most basic and useful rule of textual criticism is that admissions against the author's interest can be accepted as almost certainly true (for why else would he have admitted them), while those facts that tend to advance the author's agenda or soften the blow of the admission must be subjected to additional scrutiny.  

For example, knowing what we do about him, I don't think Paul was a cynical propagandist, though some of those who edited his letters undoubtedly were.  Even so, I don't think his surviving letters are merely priestly propaganda.  They contain too much that goes against the interest of his editors to dismiss them as such.  

Thus, we are left with three options:  Either Paul knew that his resurrection story was literally false but intended it to be taken figuratively (because  the only way anyone can convey a personal, internal, subjective  experience is via use of symbols), in which case his letters are philosophical/psychological/religious teaching tools.  Or, Paul, knew they were false and intended his audience to view them as such too (in which case they are just entertaining fiction).  Or, Paul believed them to be true (in which case he is an undisciplined thinker at best and insane at worst). 

Knowing what we do of Paul, I think we can agree to eliminate the second remaining option as highly unlikely.  It is clear that Paul wasn't simply writing good fiction.  

That means Paul was either writing figuratively/symbolically/psychologically, or else he was insane.  That is what I meant when I said that, "IF" such stories "make sense", it is only by seeking to understand their symbolic, figurative meaning.  (to be continued)

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

And...they most definitely do make sense.  Anyone who has had the subjective experience that Paul describes immediately understands its description in his writings.   

Let me see if I can explain:  Imagine that you discovered the location of a secret treasure and that you want to convey the location of that treasure to me.  But, you can't use words or numbers of any type, spoken or written.  Instead, you have to draw a map for me. Your only hope is to make your drawing as detailed as possible.  But, even if you do, the map will be utterly meaningless to me if I have never, ever been to the location that you describe.  

However, if I had been there, in fact, if it were my very home, I would immediately recognize the terrain i(f you do a good enough job of drawing it), and the map would immediately snap into focus.  Your drawing would be unmistakable to me and to anyone else sufficiently familiar with my home.  The likelihood of you drawing a map that happened to look exactly like my home in every detail when you actually intended to draw something else is exceedingly remote, no?

And, this is why I do not think that Paul was simply and undisciplined thinker or insane.  What Paul's writings provide is a detailed map of the subconscious.  Anyone who has been there immediately recognizes it as such.  So, while someone who hasn't been there might interpret Paul's writings in an number of ways (just as someone who had never been to my house might interpret your treasure map in any numbers of ways), there is only one way for someone who has been there to understand him.  And, it's unmistakable.  

Unknown said...

Sean, were those most recent comments of yours meant to be a response to me as well, or just MD?

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Robin, I hope to address your specific questions later today. Thanks.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Sorry for my delay, Robin--

1). No, I do not agree. In fact, its just the opposite.

As evidenced by the early popularity of Pauline Christianity, Paul did more than simply repackage pagan bodily resurrection stories under another name. Instead, he took them and reworked them and changed their emphasis. What Paul did specifically was to make generally known for the first time the "secret" that these stories are parables and not to be taken literally. He explained to one and all that the resurrected godman was reborn "in you" and not as a shade or some resurrecting corpse or even among the heavenly bodies in the sky, as pagan resurrection stories usually went. Paul's was not necessarily a new teaching necessarily, but it had never before been taught publicly and instead was likely limited to initiated members of the pagan mystery schools.

In short, what Paul did was reveal the ancient mysteries to one and all. He cast pearls before swine (I.e., the uninitiated, or rather those initiated by his undemanding means rather than by commonly accepted ones). Pagan detractors accused Pauline Christians of this explicitly, and Paul even admits as much in his writings (in Collossians I believe). He says that he is revealing for the first time the secret hidden in ages past, and that this secret is our "hope and glory." And, what is that secret? "Christ (resurrected) in you!", Paul tells us.

Paul was a revealer and an innovator, not simply a borrower. He was also a populist. This explains his popularity.

2). "Dependence" is your word, not mine. I prefer "influence".

The idea that Christianity was influenced by Judaism and Christianity has been around far longer than peer reviewed articles. Virtually all the ante-Nicene fathers admitted pagan influence and sought to explain it away with silly arguments like anticipatory plagiarism. Pagans writers, mainly Celsus, attacked the young Christian movement mercilessly on this point. If Christian religious themes were dissimilar and unrelated to pagan ones, our earliest apologists could have cinched their arguments with the likes of Celsus by simply noting so. But...they don't. Why? Because they couldn't and still maintain a shred of credibility. Everyone at the time knew the truth that the Christian themes of virgin birth, the death and resurrection of the godman, etc. were prefigured in many different pagan stories. It never occurred to early Christians to deny it because it was undeniable. They could only try to explain it away. Only modern Christians have the luxury of pretending that such was not the case.

So, what did our apologists do since they could not deny the truth? They sought to spin it, of course. They admitted what couldn't be denied (an admission against interest that the rules of textual criticism suggest we should accept as almost certainly true), and then attempted to "rationalize" the truth with theories like anticipatory plagiarism and demonic mimicking and God making separate revelations to the ancients to prepare the world to recognize and accept the truth of Christ once he came. Then, they declared that majority of Christians who openly acknowledged pagan influence, or at least downplayed Jewish influence, groups such as Gnostics and Marcionites, to be heretics.

Even if these self-serving rationalizations offered by the apologists were not patently absurd on their face, rules of textual criticism would suggest that we take them with a very large grain of salt.


Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Robin, the writings of the early apologists and ante-Nicene Fathers are absolutely devastating to your contention that Christianity in general, and orthodoxy in particular, remained immune from pagan influences in it's formative years. You have yet to explain how one can read these apologists with any degree of critical thinking and still maintain that Christianity owes nothing to paganism. Instead, you want to console yourself by trying to bate me into citing modern "authorities."

Except in the hard sciences, where experimental findings by "experts" can be replicated, "peer reviewed" articles do nothing for me. Citing them, or their authors, is simply a variation of argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy as you know. For every authority you can find on any topic in the humanities, I can find a contrary one, and then we resort to arguing about whose cited authority is superior. So, ipse dixit is unhelpful in our debate.

Even so, there is much written on this subject by accepted authorities. As for the general idea that Christianity orthodoxy arose over time and results from a fusing of Jewish, Gnostic and pagan religious ideas, reference the writings of Pagals (on Gnosticism's influence on the evolving Orthodoxy), Bart Ehrman (especially regarding how orthodoxy evolved in response to "heresy", which our earliest apologized often blamed in pagan influence), and Robert Eisenman (especially his exhaustive book on James and his analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls), to name just three.

As recently as the 1800's, before Christian fundamentalism began to reassert itself, scholars like E.A. Wallis Budge and many, many others recognized this. They wrote openly about and documented Christian similarities to Egyptian and Greek religions. Much of this research is out of print today but can still be found in texts that quote them.

Or, just spend time with the Catholic Encyclopedia often implicitly and occasionally explicitly acknowledges influence (always giving reassurance as to why Christians shouldn't make too much of it).

I can come up with more if you want, and I can provide specific quotes, but I can't believe that you are seriously contesting the issue. That Christianity was influenced by both paganism and Judaism is self-evident to all but the most "faithful" these days.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

3). Yes, my theory is falsifiable. For instance, if we had no evidence of pagan belief in an afterlife or resurrection predating Christianity, then my theory would be falsified. If Paul often quoted the earthly Jesus as found in our gospels, or described anything about his earthly life, my theory would be falsified. If our earliest apologists hadn't admitted similarities between new Christianity and old paganism, my theory would be much less sound. If newer New Testament books contained more historical details than our older ones, rather than vice versa, then my theory would be falsified.

I do not believe that I argued that we must take a completely allegorical approach. There may indeed be some actual history in the gospels. It is common to build myths from history. Homer was a master at this (witness the story of Troy). And, it doesn't take long after an historical event for such myths to appear. For instance, we have even already created legends surrounding the likes of George Washington.

My point (and I think Homer would agree) is that the SIGNIFICANCE of these stories is not to be found in their literal history but in their symbolism. For instance, there is "truth" in the story of young Washington admitting to chopping down the cherry tree because he "cannot tell a lie" even though, as an historical event, the story never happened. There is truth in the story of the siege of Troy even though it certainly didn't happen as Homer describes. And, there is truth in the story of Jesus resurrecting even though, as an historical event, it never happened.

All I am saying is this: Whatever actually history is contained in the Bible (or in any other book) will not be garnered by taking every word and story as literally true and divinely inspired, but rather, as with interpreting any ancient text or even a modern news report, by considering the agenda and biases of it's author/editor(s), by using our own common sense, and by employing interpretive aids like the rules of textual criticism.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

4. If I understand your point correctly, then yes, I agree.

5. and 6. It seems that we are stumbling a little over semantics. Perhaps the literal/figurative distinction is no longer helpful in advancing our discussion. Perhaps it's better to talk in terms of history versus myth/parable. Both historical accounts and mythological/allegorical stories can contain truth. Or not.

The author's intent is certainly important to discovering...the author's intent. Intent is important because it helps us recognize the author's biases and agenda so that we can accurately discern truth through aids like textual criticism. But, the author's intent does not determine truth. An historical account can be meant as truthful/literal and fail to properly convey real history. And a false, propagandistic historical account can, despite the author's dubious intentions, reveal some historical truth to the critical reader.

Likewise with allegorical accounts. Due to the influence of the subconscious on an author's fictional writing, such writings can contain discernible symbolic truths even though they were not consciously intended by the author. See my last response to MG for more on this point.

Thus, objective, historical (literal?) truth is discovered, as much as it can be, through application of reason, critical thinking, empiricism, textual criticism, etc. and is independent of the author's intent. Subjective, symbolic truth, or what the ancients called "gnosis", is discovered only by personally experiencing it. The former can be conveyed literally, but the latter can't be. I can't describe to you a subjective, internal experience or insight except via symbolism.

For example, I can give you a literal dictionary definition of beauty, but it will be meaningless to you unless you've personally had the subjective experience of beauty. If you have, then you will instantly recognize it in the definition. But, if not, then the definition will be useless and I will be forced to try to convey the concept by analogy and allegory-- by telling a beautiful story or likening the experience of beauty to something that you have experienced.

Jesus did this often when describing heaven--frequently saying "the kingdom of heaven is like...." He didn't just come out and describe heaven objectively (for instance, it has 777 streets buildings as tall as the sky, streets paved in gold, and all the food and wine you want, etc.) because it's not an objective place. Instead, it's a subjective experience that can't be described literally to anyone who hasn't had it anymore than beauty can be directly explained to someone who hasn't seen it.

Others who have had the experience of beauty, or of heaven, instantly recognize and appreciate its symbolic explanation when they see it. It is unmistakable. Furthermore, the symbolism may be present whether the author/explainer intended it to be or not. An author who has never experienced true beauty may, for example, inadvertently conceive and write a truly beautiful story.

7. and 8. Unless I have already answered then above, I do not understand these questions.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

The orthodox approach to interpreting scripture rests on several unfounded leaps of faith. First is that the Bible (or in the case of Catholics, the traditions of the church) are infallible and divinely inspired and untainted by human shortcoming or outside influence. A second is that these stories/traditions are intended by God to be perfect records of actual history. Third is that we are to discern the religious significance of these texts by understanding them to be perfect historical records.

There is simply no rational basis for any of these assumptions. They are merely articles of faith.

You would never interpret any other document or story by assuming from the get go that it is infallible, that it is free from bias, and that the history it contains, even the unbelievable elements, are literally true in every detail, and that we are to understand the significance of the document by assuming these things. We don't read Homer this way. We don't read Josephus this way. We don't read Herodotus this way. Or Plutarch. Or Herodian. Or...even Fox News.

True, the fact that my approach to scripture is at least consistent doesn't mean that it is "true". However, in scientifically discerning the nature of truth/reality, consistency is viewed as evidence that one is on the right path while even a single determinative inconsistency is enough to reject a theory.

I can never "prove" that my view is true. As scientists recognize, not even science can prove "truth". It can simply show "untruth". Discerning truth is therefore a process of elimination. As we slowly disprove those ideas/theories that are proven untrue (because they are logically or internally inconsistent), we refine our theory of reality to get closer to the truth. The Newtonian view of reality was unseated by particle physics because observations of the latter was inconsistent with the former.

Thus, if you are going to interpret the Bible in a unique way, by making unfalsifiable assumptions that you would not accept in ANY other context, then it is incumbent upon you to justify their use. If you cannot, and you can't, then you should just admit that these things are articles of faith and that no evidence or observation will ever change your mind, in which case you should then explain why you are willing to accept these things on faith and not others? For example, why not instead accept on faith that our reality is simply a computer simulation run by some greatly superior species? Or that the Universe sits on the back of a giant cosmic sea turtle? Or that right is wrong and wrong is right?

Unknown said...

Thanks Sean, but I'm going to begin blocking any more of your comments unless you engage specifically with the counter-argumentation that is proposed, including answering the different questions that are being asked about your position. I have already given examples (which you have not responded to) of the slippery way that you avoid engaging with counter-argumentation but simply restate your own views. Your response to my questions is another example of this. For example, your comments about Question #1 did not address what I actually asked since the question I asked was a hypothetical. Your reply is interesting, but it answers a completely different question to the hypothetical one I proposed. Similarly, I still don't know if your answer to question #2 is yes or no. What you've done is avoided the question by simply restating your original argument and challenging the legitimacy of the question in the first place. You then end by saying that your position is self-evident. Will, if you think you are self-evidently right, then of course you will not need to appeal to credible peer-reviewed scholars when making dubious historical claims.

Can you see that the issue isn't so much that I disagree with your answers, as the fact that you haven't given me any answers to agree or disagree with. In most of these cases you answer questions different to the ones I have asked.

You answer question #3 by saying that your belief is falsifiable but then deny that you hold the belief specified by the question. Now it may be true that your theory is not that we have a choice between a completely allegorical hermeneutic vs. a completely literalistic hermeneutic, but if that is not your theory, then I am confused in what sense your belief can be falsifiable if it isn't your belief. Moreover, if that is not what you believe, what am I to make of your earlier statement: "I interpret all great literature (the Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato, all great poetry, etc.) as attempting to encapsulate into words subjective spiritual/psychological experiences that defy easy explanation."

You answer 5 and 6 only by first re-stating the questions with new terminology, even though my questions employed terminology you had earlier utilized. Moreover, if you agree that the question of literal vs. figurative is separate from the question of true or false, then this is a paradigm shift away from your earlier contention that a reason for interpreting certain events figuratively is that they can't possibly have happened (that is, that they would be false if interpreted historically).

If your position is going to keep changing when you're challenged, and then you refuse to respond to questions that seek clarification (and instead answer other questions different to the ones I asked, as in the above examples) then fruitful dialogue is impossible.

This is similar to the approach you took when Acolyte4236 presented historical data to undermine your argument regarding Osiris. You answered his counter-argument by suggesting that he was saying "that Christianity borrowed nothing from paganism." Having thus set up this straw man, you proceeded to argue against it with evidence from Justin Martyr. But even if your observations about Justin Marty were correct, that does not suddenly rescue your historically dubious claims about Osiris. To do that, you must engage with the argumentation already on the table, rather than simply introduce new arguments. Otherwise at best you are simply presenting assertion followed by denunciation followed by reassertion without any actual argumentation, and to do that is dogmatic rather than philosophical. Such unphilosophical dogmatism has again been exhibited in the way you responded (or rather, didn't respond) to my questions above.

For this reason, all your future comments will be blocked unless I first see that what you are writing avoids the aforementioned tendencies.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Robin, I really hope you will post this as I believe your criticism to be unfair in some respects.

I do not intend to be evasive with my answers. Where I seemingly do so, it is often because I simply do not understand your question or because you have asked a loaded question that posits false mutually exclusive alternatives. From now on I will seek to insure that I understand you before responding, and I will respond more directly whenever I can. In return, I hope you will agree to retrain from loaded questions.

I believe I answered your question 1 hypothetical explicitly with the words "No, I do not agree". How could I have been any more clear or direct? Even so, I went on to say more than that because your question was phrased in a way that contemplated only two alternatives--either Paul borrowed the idea of a bodily resurrection wholesale from paganism, in which case his conception of it should be restricted to the pagan conception, or else his conception was not a bodily one in which case it must be independent of paganism. There is, of course, a third alternative, and that's the one to which I subscribe. That is, that Paul was influenced by the pagan conception of resurrection, but he innovated on it, Judaized it, and allegorized it (or, at least, made it's allegorical interpretation widely known).

Have I now directly answered your question 1? I hope so. Honestly, I'm not trying to be evasive.

Regarding Question 2, I cannot cite any peer-reviewed articles from the last 10 years simply because I don't spend my time reading such articles. I wouldn't even know where to begin looking for them. Thus, in this case, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I can, however, cite specific books from the last ten years written by scholars who frequently write peer-reviewed articles, or at least I assume they do since they have chair professorships at prestigious universities. I can also quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia. And, I can cite from books and articles written more than ten years ago. Shall I do so, or would you consider me doing so to be unresponsive?

Regarding question 3, I once again reject your question's premise, so I naturally cannot directly answer it. As noted above, you frequently ask loaded questions like, "when did you stop beating your wife?", and then you complain when, instead of answering the question directly (which can't honestly be done), I take time to explain that I never have beaten my wife.

For instance, I do not believe that I ever "created a false dilemma [by] postulating that our choice is between a completely allegorical hermeneutic vs. a completely literalistic hermeneutic." Can you show me where I did so?

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

When I said this:

“Hence, my presumption (that the Bible only makes sense, if at all, by interpreting such unbelievable things as the resurrection figuratively and not historically) is reasonable and well-founded. Your opposite presumption (that Jesus' walking on water and rising from the dead were actual historical events) is contrary to reason and personal experience.”

I was not creating a false dilemma between the two things you suggest but rather was juxtaposing the certainty that the Bible doesn't make sense at all when interpreted only literally against the possibility that it does when the unbelievable parts are interpreted figuratively. It's only the "unbelievable things", like the resurrection, that I suggested "make sense", if at all, only when interpreted figuratively.

And, when I said "I interpret all great literature (the Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato, all great poetry, etc.) as attempting to encapsulate into words subjective spiritual/psychological experiences that defy easy explanation", I did not mean to suggest by my use of the word "attempting" that this was always a conscious, intended effort by the author. As I explicitly and repeatedly explained, the human tendency to incorporate numinous symbols and legendary accretions into "historical accounts" is often a result of unconscious motivations (more on this below).

So, I never, ever meant to suggest that the entire Bible contains no actual, literal history and that ALL of it should be interpreted only allegorically. Contrary to your assertion, I never argued for a "completely allegorical hermeneutic." I don't see how anyone could read my prior posts in context and fairly come to that conclusion.

It is your contention that whether something makes sense or not depends upon the author's intent, not mine. In fact, specifically rejected that assertion emphasizing instead that a story can make figurative sense regardless of what the author originally intended. For instance, the author could have intended to write a literal history and simply got it wrong, being pulled by his subconscious to include fantastic and legendary material, or to willingly suspend disbelief in it. The subconscious paradigms and biases that made these spectacular elements of that history so appealing, so numinous, to the author may nonetheless, when interpreted figuratively, reveal much truth about that author's subconscious (and our own).

Consider that dreams work the same way. Dreams stories are created by the subconscious and are often fabulous and unbelievable, similar to legendary "histories". Even so, most psychologists don't dismiss them as irrelevant or meaningless simply because they are fabulous. Rather, most insist that, interpreted symbolically, they can reveal important truths about the dreamer. I'm simply suggesting that the same thing can happen when people incorporate fantastic or legendary accretions into their "histories." Their "willing suspension of disbelief" says much about them and us.

So, respectfully Robin, you are the one who is creating a false dichotomy between two choices. I am, in fact, arguing a third way, and I always have been. Yet, when I refuse to choose among your false alternatives, you accuse me of being evasive and unresponsive. That's not fair.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Thus, as for question 4, I agree that an ancient text can be literal but false or figurative but false. Likewise it can be literal but true or figurative but true. However, to answer questions 5 and 6, I disagree with your contention that that authorial intent is determinative and must be first determined before we can determine the truth/falsity of a story. Due to the influence of the unconscious mind, an author can intend one thing (a literal history) and create another (a figurative myth that contains religious/psychological significance and truth).

As for question 7, my contention that authorial intent is not determinative of truth or falsity should be self-evident. For instance, we know for a fact that some historians got their facts wrong despite their best intentions, do we not? Do we not know, or at least have very strong reason to believe, for example, that the accounts of the "Last stand of the 300" at Thermopylae contain legendary elements? I.e., that they are, in places, "false" despite that the authors of these accounts likely intended to convey a literal history? And, don't we determine the truth or falsity of the more spectacular portions of a given author's account by use of our common sense, with aids like textual criticism, etc.? So, can't we say that an author's intend to convey true history is not determinative of whether or not he did, but rather that we independently make that determination using MODERN methods and aids? And, can't we say that the author's willingness to "suspend disbelief" and include obviously legendary elements in his history speaks volumes about the (perhaps unconscious) biases and motives of said author?

So, yes, my belief in the general principal that authorial intent is not determinative of the truth/falsity of the historical account is indeed falsifiable. We know that historians have inadvertently written false historical accounts, and we know that truth can often be recovered from even intentionally false accounts through textual criticism and other forensic tools.

However, this is not to argue that we can say with certainty in a given instance which portions of an account are true and which are false. We can only speak probabilistically. But, we arrive at those probabilities using common sense and critical thinking and tools like textual criticism and not by allowing our subjective determination of the author's intent to be determinative. Authorial intent is only one factor, and not even the most important one, influencing the probability that a given story is true or false.

As for question 8, I believe I have answered it above. If you disagree, please advise.

More on Osiris shortly.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Other modern scholars have recognized the same. In his 2001 book "The Riddle of Resurrection", Tryggve Mettinger, says the following:

"From the 1930's through the rest of the century, a consensus has developed to the effect that the dying and rising gods died but did not return or rise to live again. The present work--which is the first monograph on the whole issue subsequent to the studies by Frazer and Baudissin--is a detailed critique of that position. It is based on the fresh perusal of all the relevant source material form the ancient Near East, Egypt, and the Graeco-Roman world and profits from new finds of great importance....The author concludes that Dumuzi, Baal, and Melqart were dying and rising gods already in pre-Christian times and that Adonis and Esmun may well have been so too. Osiris dies and rises but remains all the time in the Netherworld. The deities that die and rise do no represent one type of god (e.g., the Baal-Hadad type) but are deities of widely divergent origin and character."

And, if that were not enough, Mettinger admits that these gods were well-known to early Christians: "Dying and rising gods were known in Palestine in New Testament times", he says.

These quotes by Messinger, not to mention all Messinger's cited research went into it, refutes Acolytes contentions that only Jesus' death was understood as actually happening in history. Followers of Dumuzi (Tammuz), Baal, Adonis, and others understood the same.

As for Acolyte's contention that scholars have abandoned dependence theories in the last 40 years, he can only say that by defining "dependence" very narrowly. Certainly no scholar has argued that Christianity simply took pagan stories, changed the name of the characters, and claimed them as its own. But almost every scholar that I'm aware of admits influence--that is, that Christianity was influenced by pagan themes including those of the death and rebirth or resurrection of the godman. The only question debated among them is how significant this influence was. As the above quotes by Messinger and Porter (not to mention others that I won't cite in the interest of brevity) make clear, scholars are perfectly happy to point out the obvious parallels even if, for reasons of faith or political correctness they do not explicitly state the obvious significance of such.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Porter's quote above confirms that Osiris was understood as having the same power of resurrection as Horus and Jesus, and that the "followers" of the cult of Isis expected to enjoy the same resurrection themselves. Thus, Acolyte's attempt to distinguish Christianity based on the allegedly unique expectations for resurrection of its followers likewise fails.

Acolyte's contention that the fact that followers of Osiris sought to be buried near him belies their belief in his resurrection is silly. Modern Christians flock to the "Holy Land" to be as close as they can to the earthly Jesus. They visit the Garden of Gethsemane. They go to Golgotha. They visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where it is believed Jesus was buried and "resurrected". If they had the option, many faithful Christians would no doubt choose to be buried in or as near as possible to the sepulcher where Jesus resurrected. Does this mean that they believe him to still be there? Of course not.

His contention that "[t]here is sufficient material to account for the ideas in the NT from the OT and Jewish literature without resorting to a thesis of pagan dependence" assumes that: (1) I am arguing "dependence" and (2) that the OT Jewish writers were uninfluenced by Egyptian and pagan ideas (!), an idea that is patently absurd and which no "peer-reviewed" scholar, modern or ancient, would countenance. Must I really recite for you all the scholarly work demonstrating beyond any real question the influence of ancient pagan ideas on OT Judaism? Must I point out all the OT words and phrases that specifically admit as much? Must I note how the ancient Israelites were known pagan polytheists before the cult of Yahweh was imposed upon them by force, repeatedly, and how they often resisted this imposition, and how remnants of their old pagan ideas can still be found throughout the OT? Surely you are aware of these things and do not dispute them. In any event, his assertion is just plain wrong as evidenced by the quotes I provide above.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Regarding his contention that Christ's death and resurrection can be distinguished from others in that the former was considered "atoning" while the latter weren't, this is simply not the case either. In the interest of time, I won't spend the effort now documenting all the reasons why and citing authorities. I will simply say that, even if Acolyte is correct on this point (and he isn't), this is not fatal to my argument. I have never argued that Christianity "depends" on the pagan religions in the sense that it lifted pagan stories wholesale, changed the names of the characters around, and called them its own. That clearly didn't happen. Rather, I have argued that Christianity was influenced by paganism since it represents a fusion of paganism with Judaism, a fusion that took place originally in the very person of Paul. Paul was influenced by certain pagan themes, such as the resurrection of the godman, but also by Jewish ones, such as atonement theology. He melded pagan ideas with Jewish ones, allegorized both, and the result was Paulene Christianity.

Finally, his assertion that Jesus died "voluntarily" while the pagan god's didn't is just not supported by either the Bible or the pagan stories. After all, wasn't Jesus "arrested" and taken by force to stand trial where he was convicted by Roman authorities and sentenced to death? Wasn't he whipped and beaten and ultimately crucified? The fact that he did not "resist" these things is not evidence that he died "voluntarily". Many who are arrested don't resist. Does that mean that they were voluntarily arrested? Of course not. The statement that he died voluntarily assumes that Jesus was God and could have avoided it. If i make the same assumption about pagan gods, I can then likewise conclude that their death was "voluntary."

I could go on and on and on and on, but hopefully I've provided enough basic information to refute Acolytes claims concerning Osiris and other pagan gods and to respond to your criticism that I've been evasive. Now that I have done so, the burden should be on you to research these issues yourself, something you clearly haven't done.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

I just responded in detail to you and acolyte, but it seems I may have posted draft rather than a final version of some thoughts. if so, it should be apparent since it will have partial sentences and paragraphs, etc. I can't check to see since I can't see my comments once I've submitted them for approval.

If indeed I did post a draft, please let me know and I will resubmit a "final" version.



Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

This one quote by Porter undermines nearly every one of Acolyte's contentions. Even if we ignore the Egyptian's own writings (such as the Pyramid Texts, the Book of the Dead, the Coffin Texts, etc.), Diodorus, writing before Christ, confirms beyond any doubt that the theme of the rebirth/resurrection of the godman existed in his time. He even used the exact same word that would later be used to describe Jesus's "resurrection"! Thus, Acolyte's contention that pagan resurrection themes were "too late" to have influenced the developing Christian religion is demonstrably untrue. Not only do we know such themes existed from the Egyptian's own writings, but we know that pagans were well aware of them as evidenced by Diodorus and others.

Modern scholars have recognized the same. In his 2001 book "The Riddle of Resurrection", Tryggve Mettinger, states the following:

"From the 1930's through the rest of the century, a consensus has developed to the effect that the dying and rising gods died but did not return or rise to live again. The present work--which is the first monograph on the whole issue subsequent to the studies by Frazer and Baudissin--is a detailed critique of that position. It is based on the fresh perusal of all the relevant source material form the ancient Near East, Egypt, and the Graeco-Roman world and profits from new finds of great importance....The author concludes that Dumuzi, Baal, and Melqart were dying and rising gods already in pre-Christian times and that Adonis and Esmun may well have been so too. Osiris dies and rises but remains all the time in the Netherworld. The deities that die and rise do no represent one type of god (e.g., the Baal-Hadad type) but are deities of widely divergent origin and character."

And, if that were not enough, Mettinger admits that these gods were well-known to pagans and early Christians: "Dying and rising gods were known in Palestine in New Testament times", he says.

These conclusion by Messinger, not to mention all Messinger's cited research that went into them, refutes Acolytes contentions that only Jesus' death was understood as actually happening in history. Followers of Dumuzi (Tammuz), Baal, Adonis, and others understood the same. And, according to the orthodox myth, so did followers of Osiris.

As for Acolyte's contention that scholars have abandoned dependence theories in the last 40 years, he can only say that by defining "dependence" very narrowly. Certainly no scholar has argued that Christianity simply took pagan stories, changed the name of the characters, and claimed them as its own. But almost every scholar that I'm aware of at least implicitly admits influence--that is, that "Christian" themes such as the death an resurrection of the godman predate Christianity and were common in pagan religions and that early Christians were well aware of this fact. The only question debated among scholars is how significant this influence was. Modern scholars like Porter and Mettinger are perfectly happy to point out the obvious parallels between Christianity and paganism even if, for reasons of faith or political correctness, they do not explicitly add one and one together to arrive at two.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Here's a little additional evidence that Paul, or at least some early Christian who wanted us to believe he was Paul, did not, contrary to Acolyte's assertion, conceive of Christ's death and resurrection as a one-time historical event:

In Col 2:11-12, "Paul" tells believers that they have been both "buried with Christ" and "raised with Christ" by virtue of their baptism. He doesn't say that believers were simply "raised", or even that they are raised "like Christ was" or "by Christ" or "similarly to Christ", but that they were "raised with Christ"--i.e., contemporaneously in time. That is, when they were buried and raised at their baptism, Christ was also buried and raised.

This "with Christ" theme is something that "Paul" repeatedly emphasizes, saying in another place, for instance, that "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."

Clearly, every one of Paul's followers was not literally crucified and resurrected with a historical person named Jesus, so Paul must be speaking figuratively/spiritually as to each of them. Is he not also doing so as to Jesus? Does "Paul" ever affirmatively distinguish Christ's experience of death and resurrection from that of his believers? It doesn't seem so. In fact, Paul tends to specifically, unequivocally and intentionally equate them.

Modern Literalists deny this. They try to argue that "Paul" meant something different when he emphasizes this "with Christ" theme. Specifically, they insist that Paul is analogizing Christ's literal/historical death and resurrection to the figurative/spiritual one experienced by believers during baptism. But, this argument fails on many accounts. First, it makes folly of the "with Christ" language. Paul doesn't emphasize only that believers were buried and raised "with Christ", but that they were crucified, buried, raised, and even seated in heaven with him. How could this be? Perhaps if Paul had spoken in the future tense, or has said "by Christ" or "like Christ", this interpretation might make at least a little sense, but he doesn't do either.

"Paul" is even more explicit on this point in other places. Take, for instance, Ephesians 2:5-6 where "Paul" says, "Even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ...and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places." What an amazing statement! Paul says that he and his readers have already been "raised up with" Christ and, with Christ, were seated next to God in the heavens!
If Jesus's resurrection and assumption were one-time historical events, then how could "Paul's" very-much-alive audience already be "raised up" (past tense) with Jesus and already reside with him in "heavenly places"?

Clearly, when it comes to believers, Paul was not talking about some one-time, objective historical event when he says in these various places that believers were "crucified", "buried", "raised" and "seated", all "with Christ". Thus, when Paul mentions Christ's own crucifixion, burial, raising and seating, why do we assume that he means something different--that he means to describe some one-time historical event separate and apart from the experience of his followers? After all, if believers were crucified, buried, raised and seated "with Christ", then doesn't it follow that Christ is crucified, buried, raised and seated "with believers"? I think it does. And, if it does, then the resurrection of the Christian godman "with believers" is a recurring thing, just like the resurrection of the godman with pagans was recurring.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Robin, I have three times sent through for your review the first part of my comments on Osiris that contains the quote by Porter referenced in my post above, but it does not appear anywhere above. Have you not gotten it, or have you simply chosen not to approve it?

Unknown said...

Sean, to date I have published everything you have posted. There are no pending comments.

Sean King, JD, CPA, MAcc said...

Here is the first portion of my comments on Osiris containing the Porter quote noted in my comments above. Not sure why it did not previously go through:

The assertion that "the rebirthing of the deity in this cult is only evidenced in two post Christian accounts, both from the second century" is demonstrably false.  For one, he ignores the Egyptian's OWN PRE-CHRISTIAN WRITINGS to arrive at this conclusion.  Consider, for instance, Chapter 64 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which the deceased takes on the role of Osiris who says (via the presiding priests), "I am Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, for I am born again and again."  Birch translates a portion of this chapter as follows:  "I am the Yesterday, the Morning, the Light at its birth the second time; the Mystery of the Soul made by the Gods...Lord of mankind seen in all His rays, the Conductor coming forth from the darkness...I am the Lord of Life."   Faulkner renders a portion of this as "I have risen as a possessor of life".  There are many more such passages in the Book of the Dead, not to mention similar ones on the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, etc.  

Second, Acolyte ignores the writings of Diodorus (60 BC to 30 BC) which discuss the resurrection of Horus explicitly.  Horus was Osiris's son and was in some ways considered to be "one" with his heavenly father, Osiris, in the same manner that Jesus was deemed one with his heavenly Father, Yahweh.  Mettinger says that Osiris was deemed to have "resurrected in Horus."  Many scholars often write of "Osiris/Horus" as one deity because...well...they kinda were.   

At Diodorus 1.25.6, Diodorus recounts a very abbreviated version of the story of Horus' resurrection.  After describing Diodorus's Horus resurrection story in the peer-reviewed "Journal for the Study of the New Testament" in 1999, Stanley E. Porter wrote the following:

"The word used [by Diodorus] for raised from the dead is anastesai, widely used in the New Testament for 'resurrection' as well.  This same power, evidenced also in Isis's husband/brother Osiris, was then in some sense transferred to all later initiates, who went through a process of initiation into the cult of Isis."

(How about that?  I found a quote in a peer-reviewed article written *almost* within the last ten years!)

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