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12 thoughts on “3 Comment Covenants”
First, your logical comments about how ‘b’ is not copying ‘a’ merely because it comes after ‘a’, would, if taken seriously, require you to stop saying Apollonius of Tyana was copying Jesus just because he came afterward. Will you allow atheists to adopt your exact reasoning and thus insist that the Life of Apollonius wasn’t copied from earlier savior-god motifs, but that the parallels must be explained some other way? Should those who commit plagiarism today use your logic when they are sued?
Second, there are documents predating the 1st century asserting that Danae was still a virgin at the time she gave birth to Perseus:
“Perseus, the son of Danae, who they say was conceived in a spontaneous shower of gold. But when the virgin goddess had released that beloved man from those labors, she created the many-voiced song of flutes so that she could imitate with musical instruments the shrill cry that reached her ears from the fast-moving jaws of Euryale.”
That is from Pindar’s Pythian Ode 12., which originated several hundred years before the first century. See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DP.%3Apoem%3D12
I can imagine you will quibble and say it only calls her a virgin around the time she gave birth, but doesn’t quite say she was a virgin during birth. But she would hardly be given the distinctive title “Virgin”, if she was like nearly every other woman impregnated by a god, and lost her virginity through divine sexual union. Her Virginity is seen by the author as a trait more unique to her than virginity is a trait of just any woman before she has sex. And in the context, there’s a reason why she was a virgin when giving birth…she was not impregnated by normal sex, but by a “shower of gold”.
Furthermore, only a fool would read “the shower of gold broke Danae’s hymen during the conception!” into the text of this story. We all know that the Greek myths, like the gospels, have their variations, and there’s no compelling reason to think the sexual form of the Danae episode was anything more than a wholly speculative embellishment of the earlier “shower of god” version.
Third, Celsus argued that the gospel authors borrowed in part from the myth of Danae in telling of Jesus’ virgin birth:
Origin, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter XXXVII.
And since Celsus has introduced the Jew disputing with Jesus, and tearing in pieces, as he imagines, the fiction of His birth from a virgin, comparing the Greek fables about Danae, and Melanippe, and Auge, and Antiope, our answer is, that such language becomes a buffoon, land not one who is writing in a serious tone.
Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second. (Page 412). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.—————-
I think you need to reconsider the danger Origen left himself open to when he chose to avoid answering on the merits and simply called names. Since I’ve already demonstrated here in 2016 that the Danae virgin birth story was pre-Christian, Origen, the greatest textual scholar of the early Church likely wasn’t ignorant of that fact. If that be so, then Celsus had a valid point (virgin births were known before the first century) and Origen did not feel comfortable addressing that particular parallel. Is there some reason why it can only be that Origen knew how to refute the charge on the merits? Isn’t it true that when somebody refuses to answer on the merits, one of the possibilities is that they have encountered an unassailable argument and they know their only hope is to now ignore it?
I readily admit there are pre-Christian versions of this story that explicitly describe Zeus impregnating Danae via sexual intercourse and thus taking away her virginity, so that Perseus could not have been born of a virgin.
But that is a moot point…all that matters is whether the concept of being born of a virgin pre-existed Christianity. It did.
Medusa of Greek mythology was very unique in description…but her uniqueness counts for nothing toward establishing her real existence, now does it. If that be so, then the only reason apologists scream so loud against Jesus being a copycat savior is because they are presupposing, consciously or unconsciously, that Jesus’ uniqueness argues for his historicity. It hardly needs arguing that uniqueness does absolutely nothing to suggest historicity. What I perceive is going on is that apologists, like everybody else, intuitively realize the latter copies the older, and knowing one pre-Christian parallel to Jesus will destroy their religion, thus fight tooth and claw to avoid that inevitable conclusion.
What you fail to appreciate is that Matthew and Luke surely knew that when 1st century Greeks read about Jesus being born of a virgin, that would make him slightly more attractive to them since Jesus would then have attributes they commonly expected any god-man to have. In that culture, your savior god had to be like the prior gods, if you wished to pawn him off on the culture of those times.
Notice, why does Justin Martyr bother drawing parallels between Jesus and the gods of the Greek audience he addresses, if as you and apologists say, any such parallels are pointless? Is it not because the parallels will help convince the pagan audience to respect Jesus for possessing a few divine qualities? Is it not because the more he makes Jesus sound like the pre-Christian gods, the more likely these pagan Greeks will respect Jesus?
Why do you suppose Matthew and Luke intended to do anything different?
Hej Barry. Thank you for your comment. It has being forever since I visited my own blog. I am not sure though what is the issue above. Is your case above:
1. If there exists parallel idea, such as virgin birth, that are similar but pre-date Christianity then that existence of such parallel ideas to Jesus destroy Christian religion
2. There exists ideas, such as virgin birth, that are similar but pre-date Christianity
3. Therefore existence of such parallel ideas to Jesus destroy Christian religion
Let me know if I understood you correctly Barry.
I know that other skeptics say pre-Christian stories of virgin births destroys Christianity, but I don’t. It could very well be that Jesus truly rose from the dead, but Matthew and Luke could not resist embellishing the truth by making Jesus sound more like the pre-Christian gods. Extremely happy people sometimes cannot help exaggerating.
I prefer to be objective, and simply conclude virgin-birth stories that can be reliabiy dated before the first century strongly argue that the allegedly very knowledgeable first-century authors of Matthew and Luke were not writing true history when saying Jesus was born of a virgin. Whether such a proof of non-historical writing is sufficient to rationally justify rejecting the entire religion as purely human in origin, might be the topic of a separate debate.
So can you answer my last post directly? If similarity between a and b cannot be explained by the later copying the earlier, then do you want Christian apologists to cease accusing the later Apollonius of Tyana of being a copy of the earlier Jesus? The issue is not whether parallels ‘proves’ copying, but only whether the existence of parallels rationally justifies the conclusion that the later copied the earlier.
Hej Barry. I believe a clarification of the position I hold is needed.
1. If A and B are documents containing accounts that are parallel to each other, and B comes later than A, then the parallel accounts in B do not necessarily means a copy of A accounts.
2. Parallel accounts in B of A could be common cognitive environment. E.g. The creation stories, floods, babel tower etc. are found in ANE. That we find similarity, does not necessarily mean copying, but common knowledge about the world (common worldview).
Example: Consider reading documents written by ancient Hindus 3,000 years ago about the eternal universe, cyclic universe and cosmic egg. And then we read contemporary cosmologists works of Borde, Guth, Vilenkin, Mithani, among other, documenting similar ideas. It would be absurd to hold that contemporary cosmologists are copying ancient Hindus.(See http://now.tufts.edu/articles/beginning-was-beginning)
In a nut shell, my position is that parallelism does not “necessarily” mean copying. This applies both ways. I do not know what Christian apologists or none Christian apologists ought to do. What I know is that we ought to be careful in our thinking.
Did I answer your question Barry? Let me know if you need me to explain further. Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts.
BTW: We could exchange mails, if you have more questions, objection, or have issues with Christianity that I might be able to walk with you through them. Sadly I am not using my blog as I used too. It is my hope that I will come back one day.
Every Christian apologist I’ve talked to has insisted that the biography of Apollonius of Tyana only attributes certain miracles to him that sound like gospel miracles, because this biography came later and was copying the gospels.
If you think the apologists are right, then you set the basis that where A and B have parallels and B is later, B is copying A.
If you think the apologists are wrong, and maybe Apollonius’ biographer attributed miracles to him that sound like Jesus’ miracles only because of ‘common cognitive environment’, then there is no reason why the gospel authors could not be subject to the same explanation, so that everybody was creating stories about their gods with the subconscious desire to assert that their god’s birth, life and death were beyond the normal to one degree or other.
The quickness with which copycat-denying apologists assert that the story of Apollonius is just copying off of the earlier gospels, is a nightmare from which they will never recover. But either way, I’ve shown that there is a pagan virgin birth story that pre-dates first-century Christianity by several centuries, so I’ve forced the scholarly discussion about “whether” there are actual parallels to cease, and I’ve forced it to focus instead on whether similarity proves borrowing.
Also, I refuse to cede the ground apologists naturally take for granted. They insist Jesus’ virgin birth was unique because there was no sex involved. I disagree. In Luke 1:43, Gabriel describes the act of conception as God “overshadowing” Mary (episkiazo). Louw-Nida first says this word means to cast a shadow by means of interposing an object into the light illuminating something, then they quickly back off the obvious with “A strictly literal rendering of in Lk 1.35 could be interpreted in some languages as being a rather crude reference to sexual intercourse, and this interpretation should be avoided.”, but they give no reason, except perhaps their existing theological presuppositions, why episkiazo is supposed to be something other than a mystical sexual union in that verse. Like all Christians, they offer no grammatical or contextual justification for reading episkiazo there in such a narrow way.
Before you say the word need not ‘necessarily’ imply god-human sexual activity, an important hermeneutical consideration is how the first-century pagans would have understood the overshadowing spoken of in Luke 1:35 (remember, Luke is the gospel to the Gentiles, he likely knew perfectly well he was writing to an audience who already were familiar with what happens when a male god approaches a virgin and “overshadows” her. And his writing to specifically “Theophilus” does not mean he intended only that man to read it, since Luke famously states in his preface that he was aware of prior written accounts of Jesus, and he was writing for the purpose of nailing down exactly what happened, so Luke clearly would have hoped his gospel would take precedence over the prior written accounts floating around). Luke could very easily have been more vague about the process of the creative act upon Mary, but he chose to employ terminology that he, a Gentile, and probably a doctor and thus reasonably educated, likely knew the pagans would read in the broader way that you today insist surely cannot be correct. What was the point of giving Mary the specifics that the power of the highest will ‘overshadow’ her, if “the Holy spirit has created seed within you”, or “God has caused you to conceive seed without sexual relations” was the correct answer?
The problem is that under the conservative Christian understanding of “overshadow” intended to exclude sexual activity, it then broadens that act so that any miracle-working power in a human could be said to have as its basis God’s overshadowing them. And yet the NT does not use episkiazo
to describe any other miracle…except when Luke himself is describing obviously physical overshadowing…Luke 3 9:34. There is no objective grammatical or contextual reason to view the 1:35 overshadowing as anything other than a sexual act. The only motive to argue otherwise is one’s theological presuppositions that God is not physical, a point that I would contend is false. The God of the NT might be invisible and spirit, but that does exclude physicality. As you know, the wind is invisible and the Greek and Hebrew words for it are the same ones we also translate as “spirit” or “soul”, and yet we all know wind to be physical nonetheless.
Hej Barry. I pointed out that “parallelism does not “necessarily” mean copying. This applies both ways.” You can point out to your Christian apologists that parallelism could be common cognitive geography.
‘Common cognitive environment’ does not mean inventing/”creating” common stories about gods. It simply means worldviews. How people understood the world in a particular geo-location and time. It,thus, does not follow that if P and Q share common cognitive environment, and accounts of Q are untrue, then accounts of P are also untrue.
You brought in another topic all together, viz., the concept of Spirit of God overshadowing(“episkiazo”) Mary and stated that “There is no objective grammatical or contextual reason to view the 1:35 overshadowing as anything other than a sexual act”. It is problematic understanding “episkiazo” as sexual activity since there exist a similar usage in Luke 9:34 “[…] a cloud came and “episkiazo”/them [that is Peter, John and James]” If you are correct, then we would have to conclude that a cloud(“understood as presence of deity”) had sexual activity with Peter, John and James, which is absurd.
Outside Luke, but with same author is Acts. In Acts 5:15, Peter’s shadow “episkiazo” sick people/’s things for healing. It is absurd to think that this means that Peter is having sexual activity with sick people/’s things.
I do not know how God caused Mary to conceive, but we can know that “episkiazo” does not give clue that its is sexual activity. Maybe there was a sexual activity, but the text does not say.
We also have to be careful with the term “virgin/ parthenos”. The term simply means young unmarried woman of marriageable age. In their times, young unmarried women were assumed to be “virgins”. Moreover, it is wrong to read Luke in light of Greco-Roman worldview. We are to read it in light of Jewish worldview (Virgin birth is found in Jewish literature Isa 7:14. Since Christianity was Jewish in origin, then we expect it to be within Jewish worldview).
Last, virgin birth or not, I hope that this is not your problem against embracing Christianity. In my web-of-belief, virgin birth is not central at all. To me, the truth of resurrection of Jesus is at the center. It is here were my belief stand or fall.
The work that helped me in this subject and has so much historical data & bibliography is N. T. Wright ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’. It is not written for lay people but for scholars. Thus it is packed with historical documents and bibliography to help you go deeper.
Once again, thank you, Barry, for your thoughts
Oh man 🙂 I thank you for the follow – my only wish being that you are able to get past my position on God and judge me by my perspective on life rather than my firm and unshakable belief that it doesn’t matter one iota if a person believes in a God or not. 🙂
I surround myself with friends holding different worldviews than my own because I enjoy a company that provoke me to think and rethink my worldview. 😉
I like how you think 🙂 No pressure to do this but I find one of the best ways to get to know someone is to read a handful of their favorite posts.Would love to have you send me yours.
I’ve written close to 650 posts in the last 2 years – off the top of my head, a few that I really like….
Argh! I have to stop myself 🙂 Looking forward to an exchange if you feel so inclined 🙂
I like your perspective:) This post from last year is a good place to start understanding of mine….
Three excellent rules! I quite enjoy your blog
Thank you Paul for your kind words.