BOC-Talking to Atheists, Part 1

A BOC first: the debut of an exchange that took place in the comment section on another blog back in April, during the whole War on Easter thing...[Note: I've added hyperlinks where I thought they would add context.]

Well -- lookie here! It seems that some people have been reading the debate blog!

One of the things I have found interesting in this exchange with Brian is that he paints with the broadest possible brush and then expects the reader to accept the broad strokes as actually filling in the blanks.

Let's take the current 2 questions, for example {1, 2}. On the one hand, the history of literature is filled to the brim with people who have copied other sources to create their work. A great example of this is English Renaissance poetry, which takes gigantic cues and even lifts whole passages canto by canto from Italian renaissance poetry. In that case, there is a clear genetic relationship between the English Renaissance and the Italian renaissance, and one has to be somewhat of a spectacular bone-head not to be able to see it.

But in that particular case, we have two things in evidence: one set of writings with a particular subject matter, theme, and aesthetic philosophy, and a subsequent set of works which are a radical departure from the language's previous aesthetic trajectory which now leaps off in the direction of the influencing body of work.

What I have asked Brian for -- and what he cannot provide, because it doesn't exist -- is the sources which produced the NT works in the way he has suggested.

What Brian does say is that Jesus is like Mithra, and Jesus is (apparently) like Zeus, etc. That's fine as a summary or as a thesis statement, but it's not actually an argument. An argument would look something like this:

In Ovid's Metamorphosis, 2.299, Zeus ends one kind of argument with a demonstration of his power; this section of Metamorphosis was clearly influental in the composition of Mt where Jesus drives out the demon which keeps a man blind and mute. So Ovid is clearly a source for the NT.

And so on. The problem is that while Brian may be relying on, um, scholars who assert that there is a logical genetic relationship between Jesus and all the ancient mythic heroes, none of these scholars demonstrate the particulars of the alleged genetic relationship.

What almost all of them do -- especially those who have been carrying on this idea in the last 20 years -- is depend on Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces as a premise for their conclusions. The problem is that Campbell doesn't do the footwork either. Campbell's work on the subject of heroic literature is interesting in that it demonstrates the broad themes of human literature over the span of millenia, but it fails to note how -- if at all -- any of these stories influenced each other.

And that, by the way, is supposed to be Brian's point: heroic stories from the beginning of human history influenced each other all the way up through about 30 AD when the cult of Jesus sprung up, and then about 30-40 years later the cult started producing literature like other cults did.

Yet, problematically, the literature which previous cults produced were in radically different genres; they were based on radically different aesthetic philosophies; they attempted to convey truth by a different measure. And in the end, even if all of that is not enough to demonstrate that the NT is nothing like these works, there is the problem that you cannot find a single passage of the NT which is influenced by any cultice literature before it -- unless you admit that it looks suspiciously like the OT.

And when you make that admission, you have frankly lost the argument that Jesus looks like Mithra, and Osiris, and Orpheus, and Perseus. Why? Because Jesus actually looks like Joseph, and Moses, and Joshua, and David, etc. because there is where the actual logical genetic relationship lies.

Let me close up here with this: I suppose it is possible that the NT is actually a literary smoothie which has all of the near-eastern religious berries and fruits mixed together with Paul's secret fizzie ingredient. However, such a thing itself is simply not repeated anywhere in the history of literature. The hand-off from one generation to the next in cultural literature is, critically speaking, a much cleaner ordeal. When one source influences a later source, the influence can be demonstrated by comparing passages and reviewing the similarities.

All I have asked of Brian is to produce the influencers of the NT -- the texts, the original sources even in translation. If anyone wants to reject jesus as a historical figure on the basis of vague assertions, you are welcome to do it. Please do not pretend, however, that you have decided anything based on evidence.



You keep saying "genetic" this and "genetic relationship" that, but I think the word you're actually going for would be memetic. You should look it up.

It also seems like you've never heard of folklore...



ah, the love of the dictionary! Actually, I do mean "genetic", but there are a couple of words that you might in fact be thinking of that may be confusing you.

The first is "memetic", which has to do with Richard Dawkins' ideas on the transmission of data inside a culture. While that set of theories might have some relationship to this discussion, they are not included in the argument Brian has provided so far.

The next is "mimetic", which of course means imitative, or related to mimicry. And I can se why this may be what you think this is the case in Brian's argument. Unfortunately, it is not what I mean.

I have used the word "genetic" in its most-obvious etymological sense: "relating to or determined by the origin, development, or causal antecedents of something". It's the first definition for the word at

See: Brian's theory is that the NT's origin is not the life of a man named Jesus, but with some sort of syncretic interaction between the culture of Palestine around 30 AD and the pre-existing religious stories of Attis, Mithra, Osiris and so on.

In the Christian account, the genetic origin of the NT looks like this:


In Brian's account, it looks like this:

Cult -
Other Cults --- Jesus Cult -> N.T.

To which I say, "That's interesting: we would agree that there were other cults in the last century BC and the first century AD; we would agree that they had some form of literary expression. Let's compare them to the N.T. and see where they overlap in order to demonstrate your point."

What is puzzling is that I gave a clear example of how this would work vis. renaissance literature (I'll bet you didn't know my MA was in Literature in English, did you?), and still the question -- and so far, it is only a question, expanded here due to the many cries of foul -- is sniffed at as if I was asking for the autographs of the religious literature you claim exists.

I would think that scientific folk like you-all would relish the chance to demonstrate causation. And that's all I'm asking for: demonstrate causation. The genetic source of the N.T. ought to pretty easily turn up if it was in the religous literature of the previous 400 years.


There are many ancient texts that have been unearth over the last 50 years or so, that prove over and over again, that when different cultures intermingled they influence one another. To assume that.. maybe so, but not mine... is childish, silly thinking. Christianity evolved out of the Jewish religion and yet the majority of its followers are not. If that doesnt set bells off for you, check my link to the comparisons between Buddhist texts and the NT. And Buddhism is way older than christianity by a long shot.

say no to christ

Say No:

The question is not whether "cultures" have broadly "influenced" each other in the history of the world. The question is whether the Jewish expectation of a Messiah, based on the prophecies in Daniel in particular, were subverted by (as Brian has pointed out) stories of Mithra and Attis (or others, or all of the others) to create this literary Jesus in the N.T.

It would be quite stupid to assert that the occupation by Rome of Jerusalem had no cultural effect on the Jews. For example, the means and method of commerce changed under Roman law; the political evironment of Palestine changed in large part for the better as it was more stable; many Jews became Roman citizens and liberalized their religious practices. Denying any of that would be simple ignorance.

But whether I deny or affirm any of that, none of it is evident in Brian's argument. The argument which Brian asserts is, in effect, that all cultures had an equal influence on the Jews of Palestine within 100 years of 30 AD, and all that influence simply created this cult of Messiah, and after about 30 years this cult produced a body of literature influenced by all the predecessors in religious lit of the day, which we now receive (in part) as the NT.

Listen: it all sounds pretty good until you think about how broad a statement it is to say that all the previous religious heroes of the near east influenced the origin of Jesus. In the best possible case, it is so broad that it is undemonstrable -- the claim is too broad to have any particular evidence. But even if it is not too broad, it simply doesn't bother to provide any evidence at all.

However, you can prove me wrong: you can list one particular work Brian or his list of expert witnesses have produced and compared to any part of the NT in order to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship. One.

After that, you may be as silly or as childish (your words) as you like.