Christian “Truth” in Shreds: Epic Takedown 3

“…the greatest prank in history.”


It’s almost entertaining to watch liberal Christians squirm out of the clear messages of the New Testament. John’s gospel declares that Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus inherited that role as a human sacrifice after animal sacrifice had come to an end with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.  So this idea is firmly anchored in Christian doctrine by John’s gospel—and elsewhere, of course—so Christianity is stuck with it. Yet, in a 20 April 2019 article in the New York Times, Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, said: 


“The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own son to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.”



Well, yes, it’s a terrible idea and bad theology, but that didn’t stop early Christian theologians from compounding the error. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he promised salvation to those who believe in their hearts that God raised the human sacrifice from the dead. (Romans 10:9) That’s quite a spooky combination: human sacrifice and resurrection. It’s not a benefit to humanity that billions of people remain committed to these ancient superstitions.   


But how do we get people to snap out of this fascination with resurrection—especially since they’re heavily invested in the promise that they themselves will get to live forever…by believing that Jesus walked out of that tomb? It’s hard to penetrate that with rational arguments. 


Hence it’s probably no good to talk about science and probabilities, i.e., bodies that have been dead for days are pretty foul—as Lazarus’ sister put it, “There will be a stench.” The deterioration of the flesh can’t be reversed. But we’re told, “God can do that miracle, praise be to God!” Case closed. 


We might make more headway if we ask devout folks to read the four gospel accounts of Easter morning, and tell us which one is accurate. It takes a lot of ingenuity—and Christian apologists are pretty good at this—to reconcile these four stories. Something is amiss. It sure looks like the different authors created freely, as fantasy writers do. Richard Carrier has done a good job ridiculing defense of these accounts. Here is his take-no-prisoners analysis in March 2018:


“Easter this year lands most fittingly on April Fool’s Day. Because indeed, the resurrection of Jesus is akin to the greatest prank in history. Not because anyone actually faked it. But rather, because the stories of it happening—written a whole generation after the belief began, in a foreign land and language, after all the real witnesses appear to have been dead and far from where they ever lived—did pull a fast one. Fake stories, that modern Christians still totally swallow, hook, line and sinker, the true April fools they are.”


This is the opening of his 10,000-word essay, Dying-and-Rising Gods: It’s Pagan, Guys. Get Over It. This indeed is an epic takedown of Christian “truth.” Yes, do urge the faithful to try to make sense of the different gospel accounts of the Empty Tomb. But then invite them to investigate where their cherished ideas about the Risen Jesus came from. Carrier points out:


“…the idea of a personal savior god dying and rising from the dead to live again was not original to Christianity. It was, in fact, fashionable. Many cultures all around the borders of, and traveling and trading through Judea, had one. It was all the rage. It was thus not surprising in that context, that some fringe Jews decided to invent one of their own…Jesus is just a late comer to the party. Yet one more dying-and-rising personal savior god. Only this time, Jewish.”


“Every dying-and-rising god is different. Every death is different. Every resurrection is different. All irrelevant. The commonality is that there is a death and a resurrection. Everything else is a mixture of syncretized ideas from the borrowing and borrowed cultures, to produce a new and unique god and myth.”


Well, isn’t this enough to make Christian apologists shut up and go home? The dying-rising-savoir god was a common superstition in the religious milieu that gave birth to Christianity. The Jesus cult borrowed and adapted. Carrier is blunt about the useless maneuvering of apologists:


“N.T. Wright’s coverage of the subject (in The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 80-84; 64-68) so egregiously ignores vast amounts of evidence as to be effectively fraudulent. Likewise the treatments of Ronald Nash (The Gospel and the Greeks, e.g., pp. 159-62) and Eddy & Boyd (The Jesus Legend, pp. 142-46). Those authors essentially do no actual research, and grossly misrepresent the facts. Valid methodology is replaced with apologetic rhetoric. Their work on the subject is entirely useless to any serious scholar.”  


I think of Dr. Carrier as a stealth bomber that, a few years ago, caught Christian scholarship by surprise. New Testament and Jesus studies have long been dominated by scholars with heavy faith biases: they go into the field because they believe in Jesus. But Carrier, with a PhD in Ancient History from Columbia and no faith bias, has demonstrated his expertise in the cultures that contributed to the birth of Christianity. Understanding of this context—in depth—is, in fact, fatal to taking the Jesus cult seriously. It’s hardly a surprise that there’s a high level of anti-Carrier alarm among Christian apologists, enough to make me suspect that many of them haven’t read his major works. There’s a knee-jerk abhorrence of his brutally honest analysis of Christian origins.


And this essay especially, on dying-and-rising gods, is essential homework for grasping how the Christian faith sprang to life. Carrier offers a twelve-point list of elements that these cults had in common, despite multiple differences, including:


   They are joined through baptism (the use of water-contact rituals to effect an initiation).

   They are maintained through communion (regular sacred meals enacting the presence of the god).


A major portion of the essay is a description of nine holy heroes who died and resurrected, some in ways far more interesting (and entertaining) than we find in the Jesus story. For example, Dionysus:


“Dionysus (also popularly known as Bacchus) had many different tales told of him, just as Osiris did. But in one popularly known, he was killed by being torn apart as a baby; he was then resurrected by a human woman conceiving a new body for him in her womb after drinking a magic slushy made from bits of his corpse. This is a literal resurrection again, just by an elaborate mechanism. The god definitely dies, and then returns to life by acquiring the same kind of body he once had, assembled and ‘regrown’ from parts of his old one.”


And I thought Christian theologians were masters at making things up! Properly fired imaginations can come up with amazing stories—and the author of Matthew’s gospel is a competitor (take a look at his account of Easter morning!). Please read all the details about these nine holy heroes. Carrier notes what one early critic of Christianity had to say:


·      “When making fun of Christians for their absurd religious beliefs, the 2nd century critic Celsus listed a number of other resurrected gods and heroes whose myths he accused the Gospels of emulating.”


·      Celsus also mentioned the Dioscuri, who “… were half-mortal brothers who die repeatedly in order to switch places in the underworld, which fact entails they rise from the dead back to life repeatedly as well, else they could not keep dying. And they weren’t the only pair to do this. We know of several other pairs like this; and indeed Pliny the Elder said gods ‘living and dying on alternate days’ were popular in public belief. Just another way to be a dying-and-rising god.”


Carrier hammers home the point that Christian theology emerged from this milieu:


“The Christians were not selling something new. They were actually getting in on an already popular game. Indeed, the pre-Christian historian Theopompous wrote that ‘according to the [Zoroastrian] Magi, men will be resurrected and become immortal’ in the apocalypse. The notion of resurrection itself, especially of the whole world at a designated end-times, was itself pagan. It only entered Judaism in the centuries before Christianity arose. By then, Christians might not have even known the idea had originally been pagan; though the Zoroastrian teaching remained widely known across the Empire…”


“In these worldviews at the time, it was essentially being taught that we too would rise from the dead to become gods. Christianity was not unusual in suggesting the same. Even its use of a model example in its savior figure, was likewise emulating a popular practice of constructing dying-and-rising savior gods, in whose triumph over death we too can share, through baptism and communion.”


“Resurrections were everywhere. The type of resurrection could vary (it could be an eternal resurrection in a supernatural body, like Romulus, or back to a merely mortal life again, like Aristeas), but that’s simply a matter of esoteric theological tweaking of a more generic yet ubiquitous concept: that men and gods could be, and often were, raised from the dead.”


Esoteric theological tweaking. Theologians of all brands have specialized in this—trying to keep their products marketable—even as the scientific revolution undermined mindless speculations about the gods. As humans have come to understand how the world works—and even in modern times as theology has failed to identify credible epistemologies—apologists seem more determined than ever to salvage the Ancient Jesus Mystery Cult (but…why not stick up for all the others that Carrier describes?). Robert Conner has called them out:


“The Evangelical Resurrection Industrial Complex (ERIC) has churned out scores of scholarly tomes, hundreds of erudite disquisitions in professional journals, dissertations and commentaries, as well as debates and conferences beyond numbering, and the tsunami of dishonest verbiage shows no sign of receding.” (On this blog, 6 September 2017.) 


In a companion article about the virgin birth, published in September 2016, (Virgin Birth: It’s Pagan, Guys. Get Over It), Carrier said this—and it applies to both of these Christian doctrines about the beginning and end of Jesus’ life:


“Christians just need to get over this, and accept that their religion is just another evolution of paganism, one more splinter sect of competitive superstitions and mythologies. Its ideas have been cobbled together from the dismembered parts of other religions that preceded it.” 


This Carrier essay takes aim at just one aspect of the resurrection fable, but so much else has been written about it:


·      John Loftus’ essay, The Resurrection of Jesus Never Took Place, in his anthology, The Case Against Miracles.

·      Robert Price’s essay, Explaining the Resurrection without Recourse to Miracle, in the Loftus anthology, The End of Christianity.

·      And recently published, The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story, by Jonathan MS Pearce. Richard Carrier’s evaluation: “This book is the definitive starting point for anyone intent on questioning or defending the resurrection of Jesus. Introductory and aimed at a broad audience, but thoroughly researched, all the key works are here cited and arguments addressed, and with sound reasoning. If this book cannot be answered, belief in the resurrection cannot be defended.”


Defenders of the Jesus Resurrection Event are in the same category as flat earth advocates and anti-vaxxers: we know how wrong they are, but as Jonathan MS Pearce has noted in his new book, “apologetics is an inexhaustible well of post hoc rationalizations.” The errors of all these obsessively held beliefs have been demonstrated massively. For the resurrection especially, there has been one epic takedown after another. 


The article Christian “Truth” in Shreds: Epic Takedown 1 is here. #2 is here.  



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.


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