Posts Tagged ‘Celsus’

Book Plunge: The Christians As The Romans Saw Them

July 7, 2014

What do I think of Wilken’s book on how Romans viewed the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Wilken’s book has been seen as a classic in the field on investigating what were the opinions of the Romans on the Christians that goes from Pliny all the way to Julian the Apostate.

As one goes through the book, they see that over time, attitudes change as the Roman Empire has to get used to the growing Christian church. For Pliny and Tacitus, it was just this bizarre little group and hopefully it will go away before too long. For Celsus, it was a threat to true religion that needed to be dealt with. For Porphyry, it was here to stay, but let’s try and make it fit into the Roman system.

Let’s start with Pliny. Pliny saw the Christians as people who were practicing a bizarre superstition. In fact, it was hard for him to know what Christians really did believe as all manner of rumors were told about them, such as that the Lord’s Supper was a meal of cannibals and that regular orgies went on at their “love feasts.”

Pliny made it a point to sentence any Christian who was brought to him, but he also did not go out seeking out the Christians. There was not much study done of them directly and they were seen by people like Pliny as a burial society that would make sure the deceased in the group were given proper honors when they died.

This goes on to people like Tacitus and others. A recurring theme that shows up is that the Christian religion was new and as new, it was viewed with suspicion. Picture the crowd you see at a Baptist church saying “We’ve never done it that way before!” The people who the ancients saw as the ancients were deemed to be the closest to the gods. The best way to live was to follow their pattern. If you went against that, you would bring about the wrath of the gods. New beliefs were looked at with suspicion.

As time passes on, we get to Galen, a physician who actually saw the new movement as a philosophy. It was clear also he had read some of the writings of the Jews and the Christians as he referred to Moses and Christ and what they taught. He did not accept what they taught, but Galen was someone who was never married to any one philosophical school but studied them all. At this point, Christianity is starting to come more into its own and starting to interact more with the academics of the day.

Once we get to Celsus, we have the first real argument against the Christians that we know of. What’s most fascinating when we get to these critics is that the objections they raised are still around today. Ever hear the claim that the Gospels are just hearsay? It was around back then and it was being investigated back then. Ever hear the claim that Christians are people who don’t think and just believe on blind faith? Celsus himself raised that charge. He claimed that it was the foolish people who believe this stuff but the Christians grow quiet when the scholars come around. There was even raised the question about “What about those people who came before Jesus or who never hear about Jesus?” Yes. There is nothing new under the sun. These people were answered back then and they must be again every generation.

Porphyry takes another stance. In fact, he was seen as the most dangerous critic from a purely intellectual perspective and was still being answered centuries later. He had heard Origen’s answers to Celsus and he was not convinced. He began his own writing and he was the most learned critic of them all.

Porphyry could have been said to know the Bible as well as his opponents. He raised objections about the dating of the book of Daniel and questions about consistencies in the Biblical record. If that was all that he had said, he would not have been seen as the most dangerous critic of all. Once again, those questions were debated and addressed back in the day.

What made him most dangerous was his challenge that Jesus should be accepted but as another wise man who was just divinized over time. (Bart Ehrman has not produced a new idea at all.) Jesus had taught the Kingdom of God and the worship of God and his apostles came and changed it into a message about Jesus.

Because of this, worship was being changed from the worship of the true God to the worship of Jesus. It’s not a shock that within a century of Porphyry’s death the Arian controversy broke out. Porphyry put Christians in a puzzle as he did highly praise Jesus and esteem Him, but He said Christians were getting it wrong by worshiping Jesus.

The last one looked at is Julian the Apostate. He became emperor with people thinking he was a Christian, only to find out that no, he wasn’t, and he decided to use his power as emperor to try to restore paganism. His main aspect get at was that of Christianity and Judaism. How could Christianity claim a connection to Judaism when it cut itself off from Judaism?

Interestingly, for the Christians of the past, the destruction of the temple was seen as a way of saying that God was done with the Jewish system. As long as the temple was in the state of destruction, then God was certainly out of covenant with the Jews. This was seen as evidence He had moved to the Christians.

This is particularly interesting since Julian decided he would rebuild the temple and lo and behold, he died shortly after that and the project was abandoned and never finished. It would be interesting to see what he and the Christians would think of so many modern dispensationalists who see it as their duty to help rebuild a temple in Jerusalem.

Despite this, Julian’s objections are still around. They have also still been answered. Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it. The sad reality is that too many skeptics think they are finding new objections that have not been answered when they have been, and too many Christians are doubting severely and sometimes abandoning the faith not knowing the answers they need might have already been given centuries ago.

Wilken’s book is an amazing read to learn how Christians were viewed by those on the outside. It’s worth noting as well how many arguments were not made. It was never claimed Jesus never even existed. It wasn’t even claimed that Jesus never did miracles. These are seen as main arguments today, but they weren’t in the time of the first critics of Christianity.

I encourage people to get this book and read it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Mythicism Should Not Be Taken Seriously

June 24, 2014

Should Christ-mythicism really be treated as a respectable position? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many of my friends in this field have already taken the official stance that they do not debate people who claim Jesus never even existed. I’m not one of them. I will still debate mythicism, but that is because these people need to be answered if not for them, for those who are watching. That more and more people are coming to this position shows that it is a problem.

Note they’re not coming to the position because they’re doing good research! On the contrary! They’re coming to the position because of poor research! Their main authorities on people on YouTube and people who write blogs and those people they’re interacting with are not reading scholarly material. Some of you could say that I am not a scholar. You are certainly right! What you will find here by contrast to mythicist works is a constant interaction with scholarship. On the podcast, you will hear interviews with Christian scholars who have done the hard work. For now, consider this place a conduit to get the scholarly information. I still urge you to always be open to checking everything that I say.

Yet mythicism is a position that has come about because of the age of the internet where people might read much, but they will study little. These people will accept just without any research the claims of someone on the internet the way the Christians they condemn will accept the claims of Scripture or their minister. Now of course I want you to accept the claims of Scripture, but I want you to also research and test those claims using the best information on both sides.

To show an example of what I am talking about, consider a group shown to me recently of Mythicists in Milwaukee. In a debate with them on the Unbelievable? group, I was told that they had an exposing quote to show me. In fact, the quote supposedly came from an early church father. Who was this father?

Celsus.

celsusjesusmyth

Some readers who have not looked at this issue might wonder what the problem is.

To begin with, Celsus was NOT a church father. In fact, he was an opponent of the early church. To say a statement like him is exposing is like saying a statement from Ken Ham that evolutionary theory is not true is exposing on evolutionary theory or that a statement from Richard Dawkins on why creationism is false is exposing on creationism.

That’s the first mistake there. Anyone who had done five minutes of research would know Celsus was not a church father. Just for the heck of it, I even did a Google search and the descriptions of the web pages in fact told me that Celsus was an opponent of Christianity.

It is hard to say how it could get worse, but it does. Celsus was an opponent of Christianity but he never once denied that Jesus existed. In fact, no early opponent of Christianity ever made such a claim.

And it gets worse from there! Not only did Celsus hold that Jesus existed, he also agreed that Jesus did many works considered miracles. He just attributed it to sorcery that Jesus learned in Egypt.

Yet the case gets even worse for these people! The arguments we were given amounted to the quotes coming from “Against Origen.” Anyone who knows this field knows we don’t have Celsus’s words themselves. We only know what he said because Origen quoted it profusely!

Is there more? Yes there is! The quote itself is not right! Here is what it really says.

“The Jew continues his address to those of his countrymen who are converts, as follows: Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered. Yet how many others are there who practise such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who make gain by their deception?— as was the case, they say, with Zamolxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Tænarus, and Theseus. But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness? That while alive he was of no assistance to himself, but that when dead he rose again, and showed the marks of his punishment, and how his hands were pierced with nails: who beheld this? A half-frantic woman, as you state, and some other one, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or under the influence of a wandering imagination had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, which has been the case with numberless individuals; or, which is most probable, one who desired to impress others with this portent, and by such a falsehood to furnish an occasion to impostors like himself.”

See Chapter 55

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with paraphrasing at times, but if you claim something is a quote, you should make sure that it is a quote.

So what do we have here?

We have a group of mythicists saying that Celsus was a church father (He wasn’t) as if that bolsters their claim (It doesn’t) and that the book comes from a work called Against Origen (That doesn’t exist) and the quote itself is inaccurate!

When I say this position is not to be granted respect in the academic community, I mean it. No one who wants to consider themselves an academic should hold to such a view. The academic community does not take this seriously at all. The claims that are really popular on the internet are not at all discussed by academic scholars in the field.

And that’s not because these scholars are Christian! A great number of them in the field are not! It is because these claims are dead. They do not pass peer-review. They do not get serious treatment. You might as well talk about the Earth being flat or the holocaust never happening.

And if you think I’m making this stuff up about these people using these sources, I am not. Just look for yourself.

Acharya S. and Peter Joseph as sources? Where are the scholars in the field? You will not find them because scholars do not support this stuff!

Now some might think I am giving them undue attention. Sadly, one has to to expose this material, but let it be clear that this position should be treated like a joke. If you meet someone who holds a position on this, just laugh and ask “Do you really believe that?” Let it be the case that people are ashamed of holding to a stance like this one.

Now if you want to hold the position that Jesus existed but He was not the Son of God and/or never claimed to be or He was not the Messiah and/or never claimed to be and that He never did miracles even if it was believed that He did and that He never rose from the dead, then fine. I disagree with those positions, but you will find scholars who side with you on that one.

By all means, mythicists must be answered lest they continue spreading to those who do not do research, but when answering it, do not treat the position with any respect whatsoever. How you respond to the person can differ, but the position itself is not a serious one at all. Make it clear that those who hold to this position have zero respect in the scholarly and academic community.

We could end this by asking this position one question that we already know the answer to.

scholarship

In Christ,
Nick Peters