Written By Thomas Perez. June 15, 2010 at 10:55PM. Copyright 2010.
Let’s also take a brief look at the major figures that are prominent in the better known MR’s of the Roman Empire. The ones most often referenced in NT background reference source books such as KOC, DSG, and NTB are the Greek MRs (Eleusinian-based on the rape of Persephone by Pluto; Dionysos (Bacchus)) and the Oriental MRs (Isis, Cybele/Attis-examined above, Mithras) [For a discussion of this breakdown, see NTSE:132-137.] We will only look at the ones of these with “unique” deities that might fall into a semi-DARG category.
The MR of Isis/Osiris/Serapis.
This MR was NOT the same as the earlier Osiris religion we looked at. This was a substantial modification of that religion by Ptolemy I in the Hellenistic period. So:
“Under Ptolemy I, the Hellenistic ruler of Egypt from 305 to 285 B.C., a new cult was established in honor of Serapis, a composite deity whose attributes included features of Osiris (the God of the Nile), Aesclepius (the god of healing), Jupiter (the supreme Olympian god, Zeus, adapted for Roman use), and Pluto (the god of the underworld). In their efforts to create a one-world culture, the hellenistic rulers found a cult as inclusive as that of Serapis enormously useful, because people of diverse backgrounds could unite in honoring this divinity.” [Kee in KOC:77] “We touch here upon a most important element in the comparisons which can be made between Egyptian and Asiatic cults-the influence of the Greeks. They, too, knew “the old Mediterranean ritual of sorrow with its periodic wailing for a departed divinity, hero or heroine,” expressing “the emotion of natural man excited by the disappearance of verdure, by the gathering of the harvest, or by the fall of the year.” The Greeks have not only identified Egyptian gods with their own but have used the Egyptian material creatively for their own ends. The spread of the cult of lsis throughout the Roman Empire is the outstanding example of an adaptation in which the original features disappeared almost completely. Most, if not all, of the information on Egyptian religion which classical authors offer is disfigured from the Egyptian point ofview. Even the oldest Greek source exemplifies the peculiarly Greek tendency to transmute every borrowed trait into an expression of Hellenic thought; Herodotus (ii. 59) equated Isis with Demeter. [Frankfort, opcit, p.291f]
The cult of Osiris (Egyptian) was transformed into an MR of Serapis by Ptolemy. The MR version made inroads into Rome-from Egypt-during the reign of Caligula (A.D. 37-41), and although Osiris was certainly a dying (but NOT ‘rising’) god, we know that Serapis was NOT a dying god at all. He was a deliberate mixture of deities without a DARG motif (e.g., Osiris, Zeus) and he was acclaimed for his healing abilites (because of his assimilation of Aesculapius). But again, the closest any of the component deities come to DARGs is in Osiris, which we have already seen to be dying-but-not-rising. [The Apis bull motif doesn’t help much either, since when the bull dies, it becomes Osiris in the underworld–and thus doesn’t escape the underworld at all. And of course, they then had to go an find a replacement bull (the bulls were actually mummified, signifying their continued existence in the realm of the dead–NOT in the realm of the living.)]
The MR of Dionysos (Bacchus).
Dionysos was the god of wine, and most of the cult was concerned with partying, to such an extent that the Roman Senate restricted its size and meeting frequency in 186 BC (NTSE:133). There were the vague intimations of renewal in the seasonal changes of the earth, but the similarities with Jesus are few and insubstantial. It is one of the older cults, going back into the 7th century B.C. but it was only turned into an MR during the Roman period. This figure had many, many various and contradictory accounts of his exploits, but the two that are most closely related to the DARG scenario are the accounts of his birth:
Here is the first (and best-known) account:
“Philandering Zeus fell in love with Semele, princess of the house of Thebes and daughter of the Phoenician immigrant king Gadmus. Zeus came to her disguised as a mortal man, and Semele was soon pregnant. Hera, Zeus’s queen, inflamed with jealousy, disguised herself as an old woman and hurried to Semele’s door; her hair was straggly and her skin furrowed with wrinkles. For a while the two women chatted. When Semele revealed her affair with Zeus, the disguised Hera suggested that his claim to be king of the gods might be only a ploy; perhaps he was an ordinary mortal who made up the story to bring Semele to his bed. The old woman departed, and Semele doubted. When Zeus next came, she asked for just one wish. Zeus swore by the underworld river Styx that he would give whatever she asked. “Appear to me as you appear to Hera, when you make love to her!” Semele asked. Sorrowful, yet true to his word, Zeus appeared in all his glory, burning Semele to a crisp. Hermes saved the fetus and carried it to Zeus, who sewed it into his thigh. Three months later he removed the stitches, and Dionysus was born again. He was the twice-born god.” [HI:CM3:250; note: I only count one birth here, at most]
And then another account, with logically precedes the other:
“Another myth told about his birth even more clearly established him in this role as a god of the mysteries. Zeus mated with his daughter Persephone, who bore a son, Zagreus, which is another name for Dionysus. In her jealousy, Hera then aroused the Titans to attack the child. These monstrous beings, their faces whitened with chalk, attacked the infant as he was looking in a mirror (in another version, they beguiled him with toys and cut him to pieces with knives). After the murder, the Titans devoured the dismembered corpse. But the heart of the infant god was saved and brought to Zeus by Athena; Dionysus was born again–swallowed by Zeus and begotten on Semele. Zeus was was angry with the Titans and destroyed them with his thunder and lightning; but from their ashes humankind was born.” [HI:CMY6:223; this looks like a real birth and death, but not a ‘resurrection’–going ‘back out’ as Zeus’ seed into Semele is a stretch for the phase ‘born again’…]
The Zagreus myth shows up in ‘regular’ Dionysusian and in ‘Orphic’ Dionysosian cults, in which one possible ritual act-the tearing apart a live animal and eating its raw flesh–is interpreted differently:
“Little is known of the actual mysteries of Dionysos, but presumably they were as diverse as the manifestations of the god. It seems likely that the Dionysian mysteries usually included eating and drinking. At least in the archaic and savage mysteries of Dionysos, as portrayed in Euripides’ play The Bacchae, the initiates were said to tear animals to pieces (sparagmos) and eat the flesh raw (omophagia) as a way of assimilating the Dionysian power embodied within the animal. In more serene Bacchic rites, such as those of the lobacchoi in Athens, the meal was a banquet.” [TAM:63]
But the more savage of the rituals were eliminated early in the cult history, but some traces of these show up in pre-Roman times [HI:CM3:276]:
“The presence of a crowd of witnesses fostered the experience of Dionysian ecstasy, as suggested in myth by the band of followers who always surround the god, the maenads and satyrs. Continuous dancing to the beating of drums and the playing of flutes, and the consumption of wine, led devotees to direct experience of the god. So did the communal tearing apart of an animal (sparagmos) and the eating of its raw flesh (omophagia). In prehistoric times this practice may have taken a cannibalistic form, with human beings as victims. In the myths, Pentheus is torn limb from limb (although not actually eaten) by the god’s crazed followers, Ino boils her son in a pot, and the Minyads eat their own children. The myths no doubt exaggerate the more sensational forms of the cult; cannibalism and human sacrifice were abhorrent by the Archaic and Classical periods. Still, we have inscriptional evidence that Dionysus’ followers really did practice the “eating of raw flesh” as late as the Hellenistic Period. “Greek and Roman religions in general lacked creeds and claimed little moral authority, but they did develop local priesthoods, which eventually became integral parts of the institutions of the state. In this way the savage features of Dionysiac religion disappeared from the festivals of the Classical Period. Nevertheless, on several occasions the worship of Dionysus was felt to be a political threat. In Rome his cult grew to such proportions during the long and painful war with Carthage that in 186 B.C. an alarmed senate, after many executions, brought it under severe restrictions.
[The Orphics are sometimes classified as a mystery religion, under the category of Dionysus, but it is less certain that it constituted a group back then:” The name of Orphism is sometimes used to describe the beliefs and practices of those who took part in mystery cults based on the poems attributed to Orpheus, or who engaged in ascetic practices. However, it is uncertain to what extent Orphism can be thought of as a unified spiritual movement.” [HI:COCCL,s.v. “Orpheus”]They did, however, have an opposite interpretation of the flesh-eating of Dionysus (arguing that it was not consistently understood as ‘union with the god’!):
“About the Orphic mysteries of Dionysos we know somewhat more. Named after their founder Orpheus, whose myths depict him as a Thracian singer who tried to liberate his departed Eurydice from death and who was torn to pieces by Bacchantes (women maddened by Dionysos), the Orphics laid special claim to the god Dionysos, but did so in a peculiar manner. For the Orphics the Dionysian practice of omophagia became the original transgression, and they recounted the myth of Dionysos Zagreus in order to show the enormity of the sin of omophagia. According to the myth of Zagreus, it was the evil Titans who consumed Dionysos. Yet after Zeus incinerated the Titans for their wicked deed, human beings were created from the ashes. Thus, human beings are bipartite, according to the Orphics: they are composed of a Titanic nature (the fleshly body) and a Dionysian nature (the immortal soul). Although the Dionysian soul is imprisoned in a Titanic body (the soma, or body, is termed a sema, or tomb, by the Orphics), the soul may be delivered from its shackles by means of a life devoted to purity and realize its true Dionysian destiny. [TAM:64f]
But in any event, Dionysos career doesn’t reveal “numerous, complex, and detailed” parallels with that of Jesus.
Push-back: “Hey, man, are you gonna completely skip over Jesus’ imitation of Dionysus at the Wedding in Cana?! Just like you Christians to destroy almost all the evidence, and ignore the evidence we DO have…amazing!” Actually, you are too late…the world has once again ‘moved on’…so WBC places this event against its Jewish background, as opposed to some pagan one (note the comments about no real parallels):
“Some scholars view the glory of Jesus here set over against that claimed for Dionysus, the provider of wine, and the fullness of life experienced in intoxication. Various stories were told of this provision, such as the placing of three empty basins at night in the temple at Elis and finding them to be full of wine the next day; or of the spring of wine that flowed in the temple of Bacchus in Andros on the festal day known as Theodosia (see Dodd, Historical Tradition, 224–25). An exhaustive examination of the evidence relating to such parallels was made by H. Noetzel (Christus und Dionysus); he has convinced most scholars that the parallels are insufficient to support the claims made for them. In particular the motif of changing water to wine is not present in the Dionysus legends; the jugs of Elis, for example, were not filled with water but were empty, and the fount of wine in Andros did not replace one of water. To suggest that the Evangelist or his source wished to demonstrate through the Cana miracle that a greater than Dionysus has appeared is a speculation without warrant. [WBC]” Most writers acknowledge that in the Johannine narrative there is an implicit contrast between water used for Jewish purificatory rites and the wine given by Jesus; the former is characteristic of the old order, the latter of the new. There can be little doubt that the change of which the miracle is a sign is the coming of the kingdom of God in and through Jesus. The picture of the kingdom of God as a feast is prominent in Judaism and in the synoptic teaching (see, e.g., Matt 5:6; 8:11–12; Mark 2:19; Luke 22:15–18, 29–30a), and abundance of wine is a feature of the feast (e.g. Isa 25:6). The glory of Jesus, manifest in Cana was a sign of his mediating the grace of the kingdom of God in his total ministry. The glory of God is seen precisely in God’s bestowal of life in his kingdom, and this he gives through the Son. [WBC]
“Older attempts to interpret this sign as a Christianized version of the Dionysus myth (Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, the one who supplied the abundance of life and joy associated with inebriation) or of related stories have largely been abandoned in the light of evidence that the alleged parallels are wholly inadequate. ” [D. A. Carson, John, Eerdmans:1991]
“Indeed, in the ancient literature Plutarch says that there was a spring at Haliartus with clear, sparkling, wine-colored, very pleasant-tasting water in which the newly born Dionysus was bathed . Also, Pliny says that at Andros, on the festival known as Theodosia, a spring in the temple of Bacchus flowed with wine. Pausanias says that at Elis the priests of Dionysus placed three large empty cauldrons in a sealed room to find them filled with wine when they returned the next day. And Ovid says that Liber, the Italian god identified with Bacchus, gave the daughters of the Delian king Anius the power to turn things into wine, a story associated with Dionysus…However, from these references it is obvious that there are significant differences between the Dionysus legend and the story in John 2: the spring at Haliartus flowed with water, and the one at Andros flowed with wine, not water that had once been wine; and the empty cauldrons in the Elis temple were filled with wine rather than water subsequently changed into wine, key elements in John’s story. These differences have convinced most scholars that John or his tradition is not dependent on the Dionysus legend for this story.” [NT:JMW:192]
The MR of Mithras.
This is a strange one, and one that is under considerable re-assessment in the scholarly community. Earlier scholars in the field followed the 1903 standard by Cumont in which the Mithra of the Roman MR’s was connected with the Iranian and Persian deities of the name Mithra/Mitra. This position has been under radical and critical fire for some 25 years, since the only connection between the Middle Eastern cult and the Roman MR was the name. And the bull-ceremony, in which Mithra kills a bull, does not occur in the Iranian/Persian versions. Recent leaders in the fields, such as David Ulanseyhave argued for a strictly Roman origin for this MR, based exclusively on the zodiacial orientation of the period (cf. [HI:OMMU]) If we accept Ulansey’s view [as well as others who interpret the ‘slaying of the bull’ as astrological], then there is essentially no DARG content in the Roman “Mithra” MR; most of it would have been in the Persian/Iranian versions (if at all, see below). And its ties to the East are almost nil: “Mithraism’s ties with the east amount to so little that they can be denied entirely” (MacMullen, [HI:PTRE:119]). Accordingly, there is nothing to be ‘similar to’ and the identification fails. We have noted earlier that there is no ‘suffering god’ in the Roman version of this cult, and it is the Roman version that would have been in ascendency at the time of NT formation.
So, the “Roman” Mithras MR-without a ‘suffering god’ at all-has no bearing on our subject here, since we are essentially trying to find ‘striking’ parallels between the figures of Jesus and other deity/hero figures.We obviously don’t know much about the ‘Roman’ version, but we have already seen that specialists in the field do not consider Mithras a ‘suffering god’ and correspondingly, not a ‘dying and rising god’ either. And even many/most of the alleged ritual parallels are now suspect:
1. The sacrament meal or “communion” : “Francis comments: “Cumont’s systematic description of Mithraic liturgy in Christian terms is now seen to be misleading, not to say mischievous. In particular, his description of the Mithraic meal as ‘communion’ has been called in question.” After a detailed examination of the subject, Kane concluded: But once again I remind the reader that in all this we have not yet found a cult meal, a meal in which all the initiates can participate…On the other hand I have found no support for a “haoma ceremony,” the existence of which is the basic assumption of Cumont’s theory of a sacramental Mithraic meal. Nor can I find any support for Vermaseren’s assumption that Mithraic initiates ate the flesh of a bull and drank its blood so as to be born again, whether from Mithraic iconography and archaeology, Avestan texts, or the Greek and Graeco-Roman milieu.” [cited at OT:PAB:517]
2. The “saved us by eternal blood” inscription: “Beck therefore concludes that this text, ‘which has perhaps been the principal warrant for the interpretation of Mithras’ bull-killing as a salvific act effective because it transcends time, can no longer carry the weight placed upon it”” [cited at OT:PAB:512]
3. Identification of the slain bull with Mithras himself: “The blood is without doubt the blood of the slain bull. Following a suggestion of Alfred Loisy-who was influenced by Christian soterology-Vermaseren entertained the suggestion that the bull was an incarnation of Mithras himself, although he correctly notes there is no evidence for this identification.” [cited at OT:PAB:512]
So, if the Roman one doesn’t fit the bill, does the Iranian/Indian version offer us a DARG?
The Iranian version has a background in Vedic India as well (as ‘Mitra’)…
1. The Vedic version of Mitra is not very emphasised (as compared to his dualistic-twin, Varuna). He is a personification of “contract,” thence ‘friend’. He “appears as basically benevolent, the god who regulates the tiller folk” [WR:CM:48]
2. He has some solar characteristics, but would not be considered a solar deity at the Vedic stage: “Apart from the obvious circle of Dyaus-descended divine characters discussed above, a vague tinge of “solarity” attaches to a number of deities (including Mitra).” [WR:CM:62]
3. In Iran, immediately before Zarathustra, Mithra becomes a little more associated with the sun: “Much as in India the rather faded Mitra took on some solar characteristics and later came to be an appellative ‘friend’, in Modern Persian mihr, mehr still means both ‘sun’ and ‘friendship’. Mithra is one of the most important Old Iranian divinities” [WR:CM:99]
4. When he emerges in Iran-during Zarathustra’s ‘revolt’-he is suppressed at first, then given expanded ‘responsibilities’: “Zarathustra’s exaltatation of Ahura and onomastic suppression of Mithra were symptomatic of his henotheistic fervor that did not survive the reformer. It looks as if Mithra was fleetingly demonized by the prophet’s reductionist and abstractionist zeal but reemerged once the religious revolution had run its course. Outside the onomastic formulas, the conjunction/contrast Mithra and Ahura had of course collapsed, for Ahura was now a kind of pantheonic board chairman increasingly frozen in his polarized stance vis-a-vis Angra Mainyu, while it was left to Mithra to do the mythical dirty work. His roles have in fact expanded: on top of guarding human settlements and social compacts, he employs spies like Varuna and punishes perjurers and contract breakers, champions warriors, wields the thunderbolt and makes the rain fall (largely by default of the demonized Indara), and generally evolves toward a solar-tinged warrior-god not without connotations of cattle and fertility” [WR:CM:100]
5. His relationship to nature was as a ‘weather god’ and to cattle as ‘lord of the wide places’ (a frequent epithet of his): “This particular god, the contract-god, was considered to be both a protector and a judge over all living things, especially humans. Since he controlled the cosmic order he could punish those who turned against the truth and rightness…In the Rigveda, Mithra was a continuous companion of Varuna. Based on these connections and Mithra’s name which can be translated as ‘covenant, contract, treaty’ and ‘friendship’, one can see the focus on the honorable, ethical and just aspects of his divine persona which can reflect the importance of covenant and stability of contracts and structural divisions among the nomadic societies of Eurasia. As such an important concept, Mithra may have been ‘transplanted’ to the Middle East with the arrival of Indo-European nomadic tribes or groups such as the Hittites and the Persians. This argument about Mithra’s ‘arrival’ might be strengthened by his warrior qualities (a mighty warrior on a chariot killing covenant violators with a mace) and his ability to replenish earthly waters by releasing both rivers and rain. The combination of all the above features may have earned him the title of the Anatolian weather-god whose qualities he obviously represented and it might be for this reason that his memory was carried on by the Hittite pantheon in addition to the Rigveda and the Avesta.” [OT:CSME:110]
6. The original Indian Mitra was a sky-god (and therefore, somewhat connected to the sun): “Mithra is the same as Mitra, the Vedic sky-god, and we have already seen him in the Mihir Yasht where, closely connected but not yet identical with the sun…Later Mithra was identified with the Semitic sun-god, Shamash…” [MM:103]
“In Yasht 10 (Mihir Yasht) there is a series of hymns of praise addressed to Mithra as the god of heavenly light, whose victorious power is manifest in the sun…The hymn names Mithra and begins: ‘Who first of the heavenly gods reaches over the Hara, before the undying, swift-horsed sun…” (emphasis mine; note that the sun is called ‘undying’, as opposed to ‘dying and rising’…) [MM:74]
7. He is not known as a ‘dying’ god, but as a beneficient-but harsh-victorious warrior and protector deity: “[In the Avesta] he is depicted as an omniscient warrior god, who blessed his followers but who also inflicted horrible calamities on his foes. The Avestan Mithra was associated with the sun, but was not identified with it. He was especially known as ‘the lord of wide pastures,’ a phrase that occurs 111 times.” [OT:PAB:494]
8. In fact, his relationship with the sun is related to knowledge, instead of identity with it (note: ‘solar deities’ are not generally considered ‘dying and rising gods’ either, cf. Apollo or Sol Invictus of Rome): “He facilitates agreements between men and makes them honor their engagements. The sun is his eye (Taitt. Brah. 184.108.40.206); all-seeing, nothing escapes him.” [WR:HRI1:204]
9. He is specifically NOT a ‘vegetation god’ in the sense normally used: “Such promises explain the adjective that is frequently coupled with his name: vourugauyaoiti, ‘possessing vast pastures.’ Not that Mithra is an agrarian deity to whom one should pray so that crops may grow, but rather that he is a fighting god who brings the victory that makes it possible for the aryas to get control of new territories.” [WR:MYB:2:892]
In other words, we don’t have any reason to suspect that the pre-Roman Mithra/Mitra had any DARG characteristics, either.
[BTW, scholars don’t know how the Iranian Mithra got ‘trans-mutated into’ the Roman Mithra, but some believe the change was somehow connected with Tarsus, a major center for the cult of Perseus, and of course, Asia Minor was the hotbed/home of many of the cults favored by the later Roman emperors (cf. Ulansey, chapter 4 in [HI:OMMU], “The Perseus Cult of Tarsus”)]
So, with the Mystery Religions, we once again come up without “numerous, complex, detailed” parallels with parallel “underlying ideas and structure”…
Push-back: “WHOA, WHOA, WHOA-wait a minute! Did you just say “TARSUS” was a major center for Mithras, and for other mystery cults?! As in the “Tarsus, where Paul was born?!”…You mean the Apostle Paul grew up in a place teeming with the kinda stuff we have been talking about here? And you weren’t gonna say anything about it, were you, O Deceitful Apologist?! Amazing!…but if Paul did grow up there, then that explains EVERYTHING-I can see now why his epistles are TEEMING with MR images: of Jesus being born from a rock, of Jesus slaying a bull, of Jesus partnering with the Sun God, of the Great Mother’s lions and the required castration of all church leaders, of Dionysus’ giant phallus festivals, of all the zodiacal celebrations in caves, of the seven grades of initiation, of Jesus being killed by a boar and turning into a flower–Wow, it all makes so much sense, now!…And to think, I almost believed all this junk you had written so far…”
Wow, what can I say to that?-other than “you caught me”…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maximus culpa…?
Well, all the data we have indicates:
1. That Paul was born there, but didn’t grow up there: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem]. Under Gamaliel, I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. [Acts 22.3]
2. His letters suggest that he was NOT raised there at all (or at least that he didn’t get his Greek education there): “Here, however, for once people have been ready to believe Luke, because if Paul came from Tarsus it was possible to connect him broadly with Hellenistic education and culture and with the syncretistic practices of Syria and Asia Minor from his earliest youth. For it was the verdict of Strabo that in the capital of Cilicia ‘there was so much zeal for philosophy and all the other aspects of education generally among the inhabitants that in this respect they surpassed even Alexandria, Athens, and any other place’. However, it is an open question whether and how far the young Paul in Tarsus acquired any of this ‘general education’ that flourished there, in contrast to his older contemporary Philo of Alexandria, whose nature was so different. Certainly in Paul’s letters we meet a few maxims and commonplaces from the popular philosophers, but these go with the style of missionary and apologetic preaching in the synagogues; by contrast, we find virtually none of the knowledge of the classical Greek literature which formed part of the general canon of education in his letters. It is completely uncertain whether he had ever seen a Greek tragedy or a mime. The most popular drama of the Hellenistic period was Euripides’ Bacchae – an abomination to strict Jews, certainly, and the same went for the lascivious mime. The pious Pharisaic Jew rejected the pagan theatre hardly any less bitterly than the orator and Christian Tertullian in his De Spectaculis.” At best one might perhaps assume that Paul had occasionally heard one of the recitations of poetry which were popular at the time. However, there are no references to this in his letters. His language shows no trace of any knowledge of Greek poetry, i.e. of epics, drama and poetry. The only lyric which he quotes, in I Corinthians 15.33, comes from Menander’s Thais and – like many other verses of the comic poet – had long since become a detached saying. The language of Homer and the Greek tragedians is as alien to Paul as the imitation of the Attic orators or the purity of classical language. Nor does the pseudo-classical verse of the Jews play any part in his argumentation. It only became significant again a century later, for the Christian apologists, through whom early Christianity deliberately made its way into the world of Greek education . “Strabo concludes his hymn of praise to Tarsus by saying that the city also had ‘all kinds of schools of the rhetorical arts’, and intrinsically it would be conceivable that the young Saul also mastered literary Greek at a very early stage, so thoroughly, that for him, ‘the true master of the speech, to whom ideas came in an overwhelming flood’, it became ‘an appropriate instrument’.” The only question is how long he lived in Tarsus.
“I doubt whether Paul was trained in one of the usual schools of rhetoric, since a clear distinction must be made between the Greek elementary school and instruction in rhetoric. Even the question where he received his Greek elementary education must remain open. Both Jerusalem and Tarsus are possibilities, since in Paul it is impossible to separate Greek education from Jewish. Even in Greek garb he remains a Jew through and through.
“Although to outward appearance Paul is a ‘wanderer between two worlds’ ‘ his theological thinking displays a quite astonishing unity. That will already have been the case with the Jew Saul, and the two periods of his life, the Jewish and the Christian, are closely interlocked. This makes it clear that faith in the Messiah Jesus was not something alien to the Jew, something which came from outside.
“Today hardly anyone argues that the later Paul, as HJ.Schoeps and L.Goppelt conjecture, was at least indirectly influenced in his christology by impressions from his youth, going back to the public cult of the vegetation god Sandon-Heracles worshipped in Tarsus, or to titles used in the Hellenistic-Roman ruler cult; this is extremely improbable. Traces of a Cilician ‘syncretism’, or even a syncretism from Asia Minor and Syria, are simply not to be found in the Pauline letters that have come down to us.” [NT:PCP:2-4]
3. We have already seen that he didn’t act very syncretistic when he was preaching/teaching in Asia Minor–and he was constantly around these various cults (and countless more). We saw above the numerous opportunities he had for syncretism (to win an audience and ‘further his cause’), but it seems in every situation he “stubbornly continued” with his exclusivistic proclamation of Jesus, and his abject denounciation of his hearers’ gods as ‘not-gods’ or even ‘demons’…So, even if he had been ‘raised in this pagan stuff’, he must have been a very poor student…
4. We have already seen that recent scholarship has seen Judaism as the background for the various images in Pauline literature (and the gospel literature, for that matter), instead of these cults anyway. So, even if he had been ‘raised in this pagan stuff’, he apparently liked his other education in Jerusalem better…
But I do appreciate you trying to keep me honest…(smile)
Third, there are the more “major players” (e.g. Buddha, Krishna)
To what extent are the lives of Jesus, Buddha, Krisha “almost identical” enough to justify suspicion of borrowing?
Let’s do Buddha first…Let’s use the list from the original (submitted) website. These are the only suggested parallels in that document:
Buddha was born of the virgin Maya.
He performed miracles and wonders.
He crushed a serpent’s head.
He abolished idolatry.
He ascended to Nirvana or “heaven.”
He was considered the “Good Shepherd.”
Now, there are two main questions hiding in here: (1) did the Buddha legend include these legends in the way portrayed-“elements in common with Jesus Christ”; and (2) are these sufficient to conclude “almost identical” or even “material similarity”? The second is relatively easy to answer, given the above discussions. These elements-even IF accurate-would not even be close enough to implicate borrowing. Let’s go back through them.
Buddha was born of the virgin Maya. [We have already seen the radical differences here, and the data that his mom was married before his conception counts against the factuality of this. There ARE later traditions, however, that assert that she had taken vows of abstinence even during her marriage, but it can be understood (so in EOR) to refer only to the time of that midsummer festival.
The first and finest biography of the Buddha, written by Ashvaghosha in the 1st century, called the Buddhacarita (“acts of the buddha”) gives a rather strong indication of her non-virgin status in canto 1: “He [the king of the Shakyas] had a wife, splendid, beautiful, and steadfast, who was called the Great Maya, from her resemblance to Maya the Goddess. These two tasted of love’s delights, and one day she conceived the fruit of her womb, but without any defilement, in the same way in which knowledge joined to trance bears fruit. Just before her conception she had a dream.” (WR:BS:35).] “The oldest accounts of Buddha’s ancestry appear to presuppose nothing abnormal about his birth, and merely speak of his being well born both on his mother’s end and father’s side for seven generations back. According to the later legend he is born not as other human beings, but in the same was as a universal king he descends from the Tusita heaven by his own choice, and with this his father is not concerned. This is not properly a virgin birth, but it may be called parthogenetic, that is, Suddhodana was not his progenitor.” WR:LBLH:36]
He performed miracles and wonders. [We have already seen how this is expected, not surprising.]
He crushed a serpent’s head. [Strangely enough, even though this is commonly associated with the Messianic figure in the OT from Genesis 3, there is no point of contact with the NT portrayal of Jesus. The history-of-religions field, however, argues that this pervasive theme could be related to some primeval religious revelation/insight.]
He abolished idolatry. [Not only is this HIGHLY questionable, given the various deities/tantric deities/manifestations in many of the forms of Buddism(!), but it can also be pointed out that Jesus never did this. Idolatry as a heresy was legally abolished in the Law of Moses, but was practically eradicated in the Exile. Some of buddhism is atheistic; some of it has thousands of spirits/deities. Indeed, the 1st-century buddhist biographer cited above from WR:BS, in canto 21 (“Parinirvana”), in describing the events that happened at the death of the Buddha, says this: “But, well established in the practice of the supreme Dharma, the gathering of the gods round king Vaishravana was not grieved and shed no tears, so great was their attachment to the Dharma. The Gods of the Pure Abode, though they had great reverence for the Great Seer, remained composed, and their minds were unaffected; for they hold the things of this world in the utmost contempt.”]
He ascended to Nirvana or “heaven.” [This is a misunderstanding of the Buddhist teaching on Nirvana. It is not a ‘place’ nor is ‘ascension’ (especially BODILY, VISIBLE, and HISTORICAL ascension as in the life of Christ) a relevant concept. This is another example of imprecise and misleading language. The Buddha is said to have traversed (on his death-couch) all nine of the trance levels–twice, and then his body was cremated (WR:BS:64-65; WR:BIG:42)].
He was considered the “Good Shepherd.” [Again, this is expected and common, especially in pastoral-based cultures; not a cause to suspect borrowing]
These ‘similarities’ turn out to be either superficial, misunderstood, or simply irrelevant. As in most of the cases we will look at in this paper, it is the differences that are the most striking. Just to cite a few: Buddha did not in any sense suffer a voluntary, sacrificial, and substitutionary death-he most likely died of indigestion at 80 years of age [WR:Eliade:27].
Buddha said “there is no savior”; Jesus said “I have come to seek and to save the lost” and “I came not to judge the world but to save it”.
Buddha did not experience a bodily resurrection from physical death; Jesus did. The single alleged prophecy of Buddha’s coming applied only to a FUTURE Buddha (Maitreya), NOT the historical one (WR:BS:237ff); the prophetic stream from which Jesus stepped is rich, varied, prior to Him, and established BEFORE His arrival.
Now, to be complete (and fair), I should mention that when the History-of-Religions school was in full bloom, there were scholarly works that identified possible parallels between Buddha and Jesus, and these were to be evaluated and investigated for possible borrowing by the historian. In WR:LBLH, Edwards lists/discusses several that were discussed in the literature in the first half of the twentieth century:
Simeon in the temple
The visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2)
Praise by Kisa Gotami (Luke 11.27)
The widow’s mite
Peter walking on the sea
The samaritan woman
The end of the world
Choosing the disciples
The Prodigal Son
The man that was born blind
Miracle of loaves and fishes
Edwards then notes that the number of ‘alleged parallels’ advanced is “inversely proportional” to how much a scholar knows about the Buddhist literature:
“If scholars could come to an agreement on what instances are ‘cogent parallels’ or cases of actual borrowing, we should then have the data of a problem for the historians to decide. But so far this hope is illusory. Seydel’s fifty instances are reduced by van den Bergh to nine. In proportion to the investigator’s direct knowledge of the Buddhist sources the number seems to decrease. E. W. Hopkins discusses five ‘ cogent parallels ‘, but does not consider any of them very probable. Garbe assumes direct borrowing in four cases, Simeon, the Temptation, Peter walking on the sea, and the Miracle of the loaves and fishes. Charpentier considers Simeon the only unobjectionable example. Other scholars reject all connexion.” [WR:LBLH:247f]And concludes that the comparision fails, due to lack of “strong parallels” in the important (central) areas:
“In any case the chief events of the life-birth, renunciation, enlightenment, and death, the very items which might give strength to the comparison-disappear from the question” [op cit] creation of the New Testament message and documents…and that is what this discussion is all about.