Friday, December 23, 2016

Why I'm Not a Mythicist, Part III: Out of Egypt

The primary argument of the Mythicists- whether you're talking about Jesus, Paul or any of the early Church Fathers- essentially boils down to this;  because there are elements in the biographies of these figures (particularly the Gospels) that bears similarity to myths associated with other well-known figures in pagan religion and/or Judaism the stories are, by necessity, also mythological.

So because we can find parallels for some- some, mind you- of Jesus's miracle stories in the stories of pagan fertility gods like Adonis and Osiris or in the solar savior canon of god-men like Hercules, this is definitive proof that Jesus is also a mythological figure.

That ancient Roman and Jewish authorities- who were universally hostile to Jesus and his movement- took it for granted that he was a real person (and a sorcerer of some ill-repute) is dismissed out of hand. On what grounds exactly, I'm not entirely sure.

But believing Jesus or Paul were real people doesn't mean you need to buy into the tenets of orthodox Christianity, or of any other kind of Christianity, for that matter.

Look at it this way: in 1966 a movie called Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter was released. Now, as far as I know Jesse James never met Frankenstein's daughter, because I'm pretty sure Frankenstein was a fictional character. Do we then assume that Jesse James was also a fictional character? 

That same year the same production company also released Billy the Kid Meets Dracula. Now, Billy the Kid was a real-life outlaw who became the object of a number of shall we say apocryphal stories, in the pulps, in comics, in serials. Dracula was a real-life warlord who became a vampire in the famous novel written by Bram Stoker, and from then on unleashed a torrent of fictional narratives in various media.

Do we assume Dracula never existed? After all, he wasn't a vampire and didn't live in the 19th Century. He never met Billy the Kid either. Are they both fictional characters?  

Of course the obvious argument is that all three of these men were recorded (and in Billy the Kid and Jesse James' case, photographed) during their lifetimes. But I would argue- again- that there really was no reason for anyone to take notice of Jesus, who in the eyes of the authorities would seem to be nothing more a small-time troublemaker with an insubstantial following who was summarily executed as soon as he got in someone's hair.

Jesus was a mystic and a magus, preaching an explicitly spiritual message during an intensely political time. Palestine was a powder-keg of conspiracy and rebellion and would explode into full-scale insurrection a few decades after Jesus' apparent execution. There was no shortage of would-be messiahs, and probably a lot of them had much bigger followings than Jesus'. They would by necessity.

What's more, I think Jesus was probably not a native Judean, was apparently rejected out of hand by the Jewish religious authorities, and as we saw in the previous installment was not very highly regarded during his lifetime.

Everyone has their theory and mine is that Jesus was, first and foremost, a magician, part of a very ancient tradition that literally dates back to Sumer. He was quite possibly an Egyptian Jew who came to Palestine to follow John the Baptist, didn't necessarily speak Aramaic (or spoke very little of it), was finally a reluctant revolutionary whose flirtation with rebellion got him arrested and executed.

But I believe that his mysticism struck a special chord following the fall of Jerusalem, thanks in large part to the religious genius of Paul, who as the Bible makes clear, had a special relationship with the Praetorian Guard, the CIA of the Roman Empire. 

Ah, there's no getting away from it, is there?

We've looked at the evidence for magic- or I should say we touched upon it, in the previous post. That Jesus may not have even been seen as a genuine Jew is evidenced in the language of the Gospels, which some historians attribute to later editing but is corroborated by the references to Jesus in later Jewish writings.

Note that even Jesus' own brothers (who may have come to Palestine either to join him or on other business if they too were Egyptian- Egypt and Palestine were both Roman provinces with large Jewish populations) thought he'd gone off the grid, theologically:
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
His own brothers didn't believe in him? Why write that? Think about it.

There's also a passage in Acts that is quite curious, because it tells of an Egyptian Jew who knew Jesus' teachings but was in fact a follower of John the Baptist (whose style of ministry also quite literally dates back to Sumer). Note the pagan Greek name here:
24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.
This passage tells us a lot, and following the "criterion of embarrassment" that we established in the previous post, also reveals that Jesus was essentially copying John's teachings. I think there's a deeper message here and tells us about Jesus' origins as well. There's a lot more to explore here but I just wanted to put this card on the table.

But we don't need to lapse too far into speculation when connecting Jesus to Egypt. There are two major precedents in Jewish history for the Christian movement, and those are the Therapeautae and Philo of Alexandria. 

The Therapeautae were based in Alexandria and took a mystical symbolic approach to Judaism. They are also generally credited with instituting the monastic system in the West, as they were given to quietism and solitude. Philo wrote:
(T)he entire interval from dawn to evening is given up by them to spiritual exercises. For they read the holy scriptures and draw out in thought and allegory their ancestral philosophy, since they regard the literal meanings as symbols of an inner and hidden nature revealing itself in covert ideas.
Several of the early Church fathers mistook them for a Christian sect:
The 3rd-century Christian writer Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263–339), in his Ecclesiastical History, identified Philo's Therapeutae as the first Christian monks, identifying their renunciation of property, chastity, fasting, and solitary lives with the cenobitic ideal of the Christian monks. 
Philo himself is another interesting figure. The scion of a wealthy family, Philo sought to synthesize Judaism with Platonic Hellenism. Most people don't remember him today but he was incredibly influential in his own time and beyond. The author of the Gospel of John was surely familiar with his teaching:
Philo thought that God created and governed the world through mediators. Logos is the chief among them, the next to God, demiurge of the world. Logos is immaterial, an adequate image of God, his shadow, his firstborn son. Being the mind of the Eternal, Logos is imperishable. He is neither uncreated as God is, nor created as men are, but occupies a middle position. He has no autonomous power, only an entrusted one. 
Many historians and scholars see him as a major influence on the Apostle Paul and the early Church Fathers and as a key figure in the development of Christianity as a major philosophic religion. 

Could Jesus have studied under Philo? If not, why? If nothing else, Philo and the architects of Christianity seemed to have sailed the same waters. Perhaps Jesus tired of philosophy and then discovered magic. Alexandria would have been the place to do it.

Which brings us to our next topic...

The interesting thing about Jesus' use of Aramaic is that it always seems to be used in a ritual or magical context, seeing that the rest of the text is written in Greek. So in other words there seems to be a big show made that Jesus is speaking Aramaic because he seems to be doing it in the context of spellcraft. A famous example:
Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” -- Mark 5:41
Why break the fourth wall, as it were, to point out Jesus is speaking Aramaic here? It seems a bit incongruous, don't you think? Well, it makes sense if you place it in the context of spellcraft and the use of grimoires and so on. It especially makes sense if Jesus didn't usually speak Aramaic.

Which an Egyptian probably wouldn't.

Speaking of Egypt, there's also the ritual connecting to the resurrection of Osiris that you've probably seen other researchers point out, with the name Lazarus acting as a cipher for El-Osiris in the Hebrew ("Osiris the God"), and Mary being roughy homophonic with Meri, which is one of the epithets of Isis.

There are two other interesting things to note if we're looking at, if in fact we're looking at a conscious mythologizing, either speaking to Jesus's syncretic Egyptian origins or to the work of later writers trying to appeal to pagans with a concocted story.

First of all, Martha is essentially the same name as Nephthys, who accompanied Isis in her lamentations.

Second, Bethany- a name which has confounded historians for centuries- could be derived from Beth-Anu, or House of the Sky God, Anu being the Babylonian equivalent of Yahweh. (Nut is the sky goddess of Egypt, significantly) Since there is so much Babylonian magic in these stories we can't dismiss the possibility out of hand.
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 
So there are all kinds of reasons to believe that Jesus was a magician and a mystic, who combined a message of a transcendent "Kingdom of God" with magic dating back to ancient Mesopotamian secret societies.

There's reason to believe this because that's what the available evidence tells us.  

I'm not trying to proselytize and I'm not trying to sell you a sack of second-hand atheism either. I just think we're looking at real people who got mythologized, plain and simple.

As I said, I think Jesus was first and foremost a follower of John the Baptist who began his own ministry after John's arrest. There are all kinds of juicy conspiracy theories about that, but I already did a series on that- you can read that here, here and here.  

But the criterion of embarrassment comes through yet again when looking at how the Gospels treat John. Mark- the earliest Gospel- acts as if Jesus never existed before he met John but dispenses with the matter fairly quickly, adding to the possibility that Jesus may have only been on to the scene to follow John.

Luke, however, spends a LOT more time with John's story and acknowledges that John wasn't quite sure that Jesus was all that special. As I wrote previously:

... the Gospel writer Luke seems to be aware that he is writing for a people that believed that John, and not Jesus, was the Messiah. Some believed that Luke was writing before the fall of Jerusalem and before the death of the Apostle Paul, and that a first draft might have been produced circa 64 AD. Therefore the first chapter of Luke acknowledges the supremacy of John in his audience’s mind by telling his story first.
And as we saw in Acts with Apollos, John's teachings, as spelled out in Luke, are basically Jesus' teachings. All of this speaks to the fact that Luke was trying to sway a large and skeptical audience that was intimately familiar with John's teachings and that saw Jesus as a poseur at best and a usurper at worst (see Luke 4:24):
Most importantly, note that John does not identify Jesus as the coming messiah in the Book of Luke. This is remarkable for a Gospel story, and is in direct contradiction to the accounts of Matthew and John. 
Could it be that that John’s large following was very familiar with his messianic prophecies? Given the detailed account of John’s biography and actions in Luke’s Gospel, it's very likely that there were once written records of John’s life and works which Luke is quoting from, particularly in the third chapter.
If Jesus was a wholly invented character none of this would have been necessary. Luke could have spun the same kind of fables the John Gospel writer did, who was writing in Alexandria long after anyone who would have known either man had died. Luke seems to be struggling to kosher Jesus with John's remaining followers- who might have known, or known of, both men-- and probably not going over very well at that.

John was clearly the better known of the two at the time. But Jesus obviously won out in the long run, thanks in large part to Paul and his writer friends. 

Now, I'm not trying to "demolish" or debunk the Mythicist arguments here, I'm doing what the title says; explaining why I am not a Mythicist myself. Take it or leave it, it's all the same to me. There's a lot more to the Jesus story but really doesn't speak so much to the titular thesis.

But let me just say I think Jesus is a fascinating example of a significant ancient magician, as is John the Baptist. You certainly don't need to buy into the religion to find value in that.

POSTSCRIPT: In a (very) strange way Jesus reminds me of The Velvet Underground. Pretty much everyone hated them at the time, preferring instead to go groove to the Jefferson Airplane or The Mamas and The Papas. But it was said that everyone who saw the Velvets went out and started a band (I'd counter everyone who saw the Velvets went out and became a rock critic, but you get the picture). 

So by the time the Velvets did their reunion tour they ended up playing to tens of thousands of people, since they'd seeped into the culture over time through indirect means. Meanwhile, the Jefferson Airplane were working the country fair circuit with a bunch of replacement members. Pop culture is full of examples like this.


  1. "Could Jesus have studied under Philo? If not, why? If nothing else, Philo and the architects of Christianity seemed to have sailed the same waters. Perhaps Jesus tired of philosophy and then discovered magic."

    Very interesting. Not so coincidentally, I've been reading "Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic" by Kingsley, and a lot of his other stuff, and one of the points be likes to drive at is that the Presocratics didn't see the gap between Philosophy and Magic that Plato and Aristotle did, or that we do. And his point that the sort of tradition be sees descending from Parmenides and Empedocles survived in Egypt and in Islamic Alchemy, I think, does fit in pretty nicely with your argument. In this scenario, Jesus could easily have been a follower of a mystically inclined philosophical tradition, and made a step over into magic over a gap that wasn't even really there in his view.

    Or I may be wrong entirely. Anyway, I am really enjoying this stuff.

  2. Chris,

    It always seemed curious to me that, on the event of his Nativity, the infant Jesus was visited by three Magi. Sure, the CCD teachers were quick to tell us that they were some kind of generic "wise men", or even kings (who seemed to be traveling alone in foreign lands without an escort). But from an early age I knew that "Magi" also meant "Magicians", it being the plural of "Magister".

    Scraps of Latin from old-school pre-Vatican II Catholic books and the occasional D&D module were my teachers. But, I digress.

    Why would three magicians visit him, bearing gifts that, while valuable, were also mighty useful in magical ritual? Baby's First Magic Kit, in essence.

    Later, Joseph and family would escape to Egypt - going to visit one or more of these "kings"?

    Later still, Jesus would be found at a young age debating in the temple. Initiate of a magical order, trying out his lessons on the locals?

    1. Whoops, I meant to say "Magus", not "Magister", though they are related.

    2. The gifts are prophetic: gold for a King, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for the dead.

      He is the Shepherd of shepherds and the King of kings.

      But those magi - there's a riddle. Why three? And what kind of star 'stops' over anywhere? Three men met Abraham on their way to see Lot, y'know, and boy, did they have a time of it.

    3. Frankincense and myrrh also have medicinal value. That gets overlooked a lot today. I think the medicinal value is also relevant.

  3. Some more tunes with Jesus, chocolate., the whole Magi trip is loaded with ceremonial magic. 87

  4. Intriguing stuff. Reminiscent to me of a title used in Jewish mystical tradition called a "Baal Shem" or "Master of the Name":

    Although Catholicism seems to have a monopoly on exorcisms, it once existed prominently in Judaism as well (still does to an extent, among some Hasidic sects). The Baal Shem title's etymology apparently being derived from the Canaanite fertility/storm god Baal Hadad:

    & I'm sure it goes back further than that, probably back to Sumeria since everything else seems to lead back there.

  5. Chris,yours is the best explanation the Gospel Jesus story I've encountered. Thanks.

    Jesus as a magician fits well with my belief of Jesus as a trickster god; outfoxing the authorities, hoaxing his disciples, tricking people to share their wine and food, even cheating death, (or at least his executioners). A merry magical X-mas to you!

    1. MycroftJones, I know only a little of the Sumerian stories; very AAT.

      I've been researching the character, Jack Sparrow of "Pirates of the Caribbean" as trickster type and the whole Xian Gospel tale just popped out at me like a trickster story.

      I'm sure there's Sumerian onnection, too.

  6. I personally believe the 'magic' being referred to is based in the bias against pre-Greek (pre-platonic) cultures which have been described as believing the origin of the universe as 'magical' (even though the Greeks were deep believers in the 'magical' or metaphysical even at the same time they promoted rational thinking). That so-called 'pagan' belief in 'magic' underlying all aspects of the natural world was still in place in Europe right up until relatively recently and still is in more occult circles. In reality, science is 'magic' for those who don't know the meaning and purpose behind the ritual and symbols or the science behind natural processes.

    But of course that way of 'magical thinking' was largely stamped out in Europe by the various synods and ecumenical councils, the crusades (within Europe), various witch trials and the inquisition.

    Of course Egypt is simply one of the most well developed forms of ontology
    concerning divinity in the ancient world, but most don't recognize it because
    it is draped in symbolic language which is in reality a more ancient form of
    cognitive symbolic expression.

    Similarly too you see the same thing in Babylon and Persia from which the term 'Magi' actually originates. Sumer and Babylon were well known believers in omens and portents and 'magical' formuli for all sorts of things.

    The Greeks built on this and expanded on this and eventually laid the basis of modern theology most famously at the Catechetical School of Alexandria or the Alexandrian School.

    In contemporary philosophy, much of this has evolved into cognitive science or 'cognitive science of religion' but unfortunately it is still bogged down in a lot of rationalist baggage. Meaning it pursues cognition as inherently 'logical' and 'rational' contradicting the fact that much of the human mind and psyche is based purely on biological evolutionary processes. Quite literally meaning the brain is an organ 'attuned' to receiving and communicating the ideas that are transmitted to it from the infinite universe itself as a form of 'self programming'.

    And at the end of the day what we are in many ways talking about is 'cognitive agency'.

  7. Hi, I'd just like to wish you all a Merry Xmas/happy winter/a yippee for the return of the sunshine and all the best for the new year.

  8. This entire series is epic, Chris. Keep shining the Light. Your posts are all so inspiring and quickening.

  9. Hi Chris,

    Very interesting points you bring to this post. There are quite a few camps on either side of this question about Jesus being a purely mythological character or a real person in the sense of having left traces in historical records. I tend to think that there maybe something to the story as well in terms of a real individual, but who they really were and what they really said and did may never be fully understood if by understanding we assume to mean the truth of the matter vs ones belief.

    From the meandering journey of my own life, I have trouble recalling events in detail that happened to me or even better--someone else--a couple of weeks ago, let alone a few thousand years buffered by countless billions of people trying to weave a story about it all filtering through questionable and uncertain sources with as many countless agendas and misdirection's. How can we ever really know what happened under such tremendous layers of time and intervention?

    I know, people base their careers on this kind of thing on either side as a believer, a skeptic, a mythicist, however you choose to come into it. Delicate flowerbeds of grandma's ole time religion are not for the timid of heart and those who come better come prepared for stormy weather.

    I appreciate your approach to this topic in that you clearly put a lot of thought and research into your process and are super generous in explaining it all to the rest of us so that we can follow in some measure where you have been.

  10. I don't see why the Jesus thing can't be a both/and sort of situation. Atwill and Murdoch could be right that the Flavians cooked up a scheme to make them feel like somehow the orthodox jews were paying oblique tribute to Ceasar's divinity. The Flavians lasted 30 years. And after 96 CE, whatever project they had regarding Palestine would have been superseded by other people with other agendas. Anyone who wants to burrow into the weeds on Atwill's ideas should dig into the reign of Nerva and the Five Good Emperors.
    According to Atwill (and the Church of the Subgenius!) there were a plethora of Jesii. Some were revolutionaries. One may have been an itinerant Jewish hedge wizard from Alexandria who insinuated himself into the freak scene of Palestine which included people a lot wilder than him like the Essenes.

  11. It may be that the Jordan Lead Codices finally prove Jesus was real (though not that he was the son of God).
    Dracula certainly was real. He is an ancestor of the Queen of England and Prince Charles pops over to his birthplace regularly for this reason. Did Vlad Tepes/Dracula begin the blood drinking habits of the Royals, one wonders?
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