Well, I'm up to my eyeballs in heavy lifting, so to speak, and I don't really need this wasteful and time-consuming distraction. In any event, here goes.Parallelophobia, personal attacks and professional jealousy: A response to Richard Carrier's 'That Luxor Thing'
by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
In my first published book, The Christ Conspiracy
, I provided an image from the birth cycle of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III (1386/1388-1349-51 BCE), found in his temple at Luxor, Egypt. Like many others before me, including professional Egyptologists, I contended for a possible influence of such imagery on Christianity, as concerns the birth or nativity stories about Jesus Christ, specifically in the canonical gospels of Luke and Matthew. Here is the image in question:The description reads: 'The Annunciation, Conception, Birth and Adoration of the Child'
In my book, I included a summary derived from the following commentary by Egyptologist Dr. Samuel C. Sharpe (Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity
, 19), in whose book the image first appears:
In this picture we have the Annunciation, the Conception, the Birth and the Adoration, as described in the First and Second Chapters of Luke's Gospel; and as we have historical assurance that the chapters in Matthew's Gospel which contain the Miraculous Birth of Jesus are an after addition not in the earliest manuscripts, it seems probable that these two poetical chapters in Luke may also be unhistorical, and be borrowed from the Egyptian accounts of the miraculous birth of their kings.
Richard Carrier took exception with the language of this contention and wrote a critical essay
, analyzing what he thought was the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription from this image and emphasizing the inscription's sexual nature, as discussed by German Egyptologist Dr. Hellmut Brunner in his book Die Geburt des Gottkönigs
. Carrier argued that the sexual Egyptian birth cycle therefore could not have influenced the virgin birth of Jesus. Subsequently, I included a lengthy discussion of the artifact in my work Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection
, in a section some 20 pages long which demonstrated the mythical virgin birth in Egypt was "alive and well" at the time of Christ's purported birth and which maintained that this Egyptian divine-birth imagery could have influenced the Christian motif. I excerpted this lengthy chapter in an article online entitled, "The Nativity Scene of Amenhotep III at Luxor
." I also pointed out that Carrier had been analyzing the wrong inscription
. Carrier responded, reiterating his contentions and continuing to disagree.
Unfortunately, Richard Carrier's motives in his contentious blog post "That Luxor Thing"
are transparent as glass: He's releasing a new book about mythicism
; hence, he's trying to get attention by attacking others in the field who seem to have a significant following, in order to garner those followers to himself. Such "professional jealousy" constitutes classic behavior - and something I avoid. Indeed, I am very helpful and supportive of other scholars in this field, as my reviews of Earl Doherty
and Bob Price's
books reveal. I could have done the same for Carrier, but he seems to be interested in competition rather than cooperation. (Notice that my review of Doherty's book garnered 180 votes, while Price's received 165 thumbs up - Carrier could have benefited likewise, had he not chosen to be adversarial.)
It's too bad fellow mythicists
feel the need to attack me in order to promote themselves. We should all be working together. Guilt by association
Right off the bat, Carrier uses a "guilt by association" ad hom tactic by lumping me in with 19th-century evemerist Kersey Graves
, author of The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors
. Carrier acts as if he is an expert on Graves's work, but if he does not know the information in my book Suns of God
about the Graves issue, then he is not
an expert on him.
Moreover, my work actually has very little to do with Graves, a fact Carrier would know if he had ever read my work, about which he pretends to be an expert as well. In any event, Graves serves as a mere stepping stone in the middle of the pond, with many other stones of larger and smaller sizes before, after and all around him. I used the stone simply for the first rendition of the "Characters" list in my book The Christ Conspiracy
, a list I have changed, added to and improved numerous times
since that book was published in 1999. In reality, I use very little of Graves's work in my revised essay or in my forthcoming revision of Christ Conspiracy
. Again, Carrier would not know any of these facts, because he has not been following my work and is not an expert on it. Diseased parallelomaniac?
Carrier tries to make me appear to be a "diseased" "parallelomaniac" possessed of poor scholarship. The fact is that Richard Carrier knows very little about the quality of my scholarship, because he has deliberately ignored it. So why pay attention now? To critique someone's work without actually having studied it constitutes a "disease" of intellectual dishonesty unto itself.
Carrier attempts at once to distance himself from "parallelomaniacs" and to set himself up as the "go-to guy" on parallels that he claims are
real: "Many of those parallels are real..." Yes, they are, and I've spent the past 15+ years online exposing those very real parallels. Here are pages and pages of very real parallels, meticulously cited, using primary sources wherever possible:Christ myth articles
I have also produced a number of books and ebooks
on the subject, again meticulously cited using primary sources and the works of credentialed modern authorities in relevant fields.
Nevertheless, Carrier still has not read any of my books, while pretending to be an expert on my scholarship. Instead, even though he agrees with my overall premise, Carrier writes an attack on me - years
after this initial Luxor debate - again, in order to promote his own book:
Christianity really is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, which point I will soundly prove in my coming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.
I absolutely agree that Christianity is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, and I have spent years demonstrating that fact. It makes no sense that Carrier would launch into what amounts to little more than an irrational personal attack on me and an attempt to raise himself above me. Appeals to authority and credentialism
Carrier's continual appeals to credentialism and the waving around of his PhD
are frankly pathetic and puerile. At the moment, I am working with longtime scholars with PhD's they procured 30-40 years ago, professors who have taught at universities in Europe and India for decades. At the time of this writing (3/12), I am finishing a long review and summary of one of their books, on the subject of Buddhism's influence on Christianity. Will Carrier dismiss their decades-long research by calling them "Buddhism parallelomaniacs?"
My Buddhist scholar friends take their claims further: Christian scribes at Alexandria copied Buddhist texts for much of their source material. Carrier endorses The Case Against Q
, but these Buddhist scholars are quite certain they have found Q, so let us sit back and watch the fireworks. If the past is any indication, the response will be self-promoting personal attacks full of errors, special pleading and its own brand of "parallelomania." What we are seeing here is more of the same type of closed ranks by New Testament scholars and Western historians that these highly credentialed Buddhist scholars complain about.
As concerns credentials, one need not be a professional historian to discern religious origins. In fact, the study of these issues requires a background not only in history but also in mythology, languages, art, architecture, archaeology, astronomy, geography, topography, agriculture and other cultural aspects, including human psychology, to perceive the bigger picture. My work serves to bridge all these fields, which is why I attempt to fit all
pieces into the puzzle - a very big puzzle - rather than simply focusing on one small piece.Carrier has not studied my work
Despite his airs of expertise, Carrier proves he has not read my work by numerous of his statements, as well as by insinuations concerning the German study of Egyptian nativity scenes by Dr. Brunner, such as:
...Anyone who reads German and wants to check this for themselves, email me and I’ll send you scans of the key texts (although it should be enough to note that Brunner himself agrees with me in concluding that the narrative depicts sex, and he’s an actual Egyptologist and a leading expert on the Luxor inscriptions).
Carrier's language here is imprecise: Brunner is not
agreeing with Carrier, obviously, since Brunner published his book long before Carrier became involved in the discussion. On the contrary, Carrier is agreeing with Brunner, because he has no other option, since he himself is not an Egyptologist. Therefore, if we go by his credentialist appeal, we should ignore whatever Carrier says on this subject, since he is not an Egyptologist.
In both my nearly 600-page book Christ in Egypt
("CIE") and my excerpted online article
, I too provide the relevant images and inscriptions from Brunner's book, as well as his German commentary and a translation. I spent a large amount of time pouring over Brunner's account, word by word, which is why I noticed that Carrier was working with the wrong nativity scene
In my study of Brunner's work, I discovered that Carrier had been describing the birth scene of the female pharaoh Hapshepsut (1508–1458 BCE) in her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt, while we were interested in the birth cycle of Amenhotep III at Luxor. The Luxor inscription, in fact, had fewer of the "sexy" bits on which Carrier chose to focus, in order to debunk the notion that the Egyptian birth cycle could have served as inspiration for the gospel nativity stories.
Even if Carrier read parts of the section in CIE available on Google Books
, he did not read the entire book. Nor has he read any others of mine. Hence, he is not an expert on my work, and his hand-waving dismissals are just that, shallow and inaccurate.The Luxor birth cycle
In my online article on the Nativity Scene at Luxor
- which, again, comprises only an excerpt of a much longer section in my book - I included a scan of the Amenhotep III inscription in question, from Brunner's book
, a long with a detailed discussion of his German description. Here is the image in question, not from the Deir el-Bahri temple but from Luxor, panel or scene 4, the inscription of which Brunner labels "IV L a":
In my book and article, I wrote that, since we are concerned in reality with the Luxor narrative, let us look at the first paragraph of Brunner's German translation of the inscription in scene 4 (IV L a), in which we find the words of Amun, followed by a description of the initial part of the scene:
Er fand sie, wie sie ruhte im Innersten ihres Palastes. Sie erwachte wegen des Gottesduftes, sie lachte Seiner Majestät entgegen. Er ging sogleich zu ihr, er entbrannte in Liebe zu ihr; er ließ sie ihn sehen in seiner Gottesgestalt, nachdem er vor sie gekommen war, so daß sie jubelte beim Anblick seiner Vollkommenheit; seine Liebe, (sie) ging ein in ihren Leib. Der Palast war überflutet (mit) Gottesduft, und alle seine Gerüche waren (solche) aus Punt.(9)
My translation of Brunner's German is as follows:
He found her, as she rested in the interior of her palace. She awoke because of the god's scent, and she laughed at His Majesty. He went immediately to her, he was passionately in love with her; he let her see him in his Godliness, after he had come in front of her, so that she rejoiced at the sight of his perfection; his love (it) went into her body. The palace was flooded with God-scent, and all his aromas were (such as) out of Punt.
Egyptologist Dr. William Murnane, a director of the Great Hypostyle Hall Project at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, directly translates the Egyptian of the same scene from Luxor:
It was resting in the interior of the palace that he found her. At the god's scent she awoke, and she laughed in front of his Person. He went to her at once, for he lusted after her. He caused her to see him in his godly shape after he had come right up to her, so that she rejoiced at seeing his beauty. Love of him coursed through her limbs, and the palace was flooded <with> the god's scent: all his smells were those of Punt!(10)
As we can see, not only did I read and translate Brunner's German, but I also included an English translation from a qualified Egyptologist who works at Luxor.
If any Egyptologists want to give us a new reading, this image has been on my site for years now. It should be noted further, however, that I accept Brunner's renderings of both the Hatshepsut and Amenhotep inscriptions
, and I include them in Christ in Egypt
. So, this argument is rather moot as to whether or not the inscription is "sexy." Thus, Carrier raises a strawman here, as he does on a number of occasions - in fact, the whole argument appears to be a strawman, since he agrees with me in essentials and even many details.
It is important to note that, from the image
of this scene showing the god Amun holding the "ankh of life" to the queen's nostril, there is nothing overtly sexual about the divine conception. Indeed, as I further demonstrate in CIE
, this life-giving ankh to the nostril is a common motif in Egypt and in itself does not connote sexuality.
If the Egyptians had wanted to make these birth scenes overtly
sexual, they could have included sexual imagery to accompany them - there are several instances of quite sexual imagery in the Egyptian sculptures. In any event, the imagery itself is not sexy
, and it is clear that those pictures
are what we are discussing here, not a wholesale lifting of the Hatsephsut inscription, which we are not even discussing in our original analysis.
The bottom line is that a new translation is not necessary to the suggestion that the gospel writers had such scenes in mind when they composed Christ's birth narrative. These scribes would have relied on the actual images
, rather than a very ancient Egyptian inscription. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sexy or not, the effect is the same
While I accept the supernatural and mythically sexual nature of the Hatshepsut inscription and to a lesser extent the Amenhotep one, the scene on its face has been described frequently in less erotic terms by many different people, including a number of Egyptologists. While Carrier gives the impression that I provide not the analyses of credentialed Egyptologists but, rather, just some opinions of people off the street who agree with me, in my lengthy discussion of the scene in Christ in Egypt
I do in fact include the descriptions by these other Egyptologists.
Regardless, we are still talking about a mythical
scene here, not such an earthy one as many will envision. As I discuss elsewhere, in actuality mythical beings do not possess genitalia, and thus humans are not really having intercourse with them. This mythological "fact" explains why there are so many "virgin mothers
" in ancient stories, dating back thousands of years before the common era and the gospel tale of Christ's virgin birth. (See, e.g., Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso's Virgin Mothers in Antiquity
.) In this regard, the great Egyptian goddess Neith
ranks as a very old virgin mother, as does her later counterpart, Isis
Not only do we possess a sort of "born-again virgin" in Isis - who is depicted in one myth as impregnating herself using Osiris's severed phallus, yet nevertheless remains the "Great Virgin" - but also in Egyptian tradition the pharaoh-king represents the living god Horus, while his mother is the goddess, usually Hathor or Isis. Hence, I maintain that the "sex" between an Egyptian god and a mortal woman is not all its cracked up to be and is not all that different from the conception of Christ by dictum from God the Father: In other words, both stories represent a godly act that produces a divine offspring.
The fact is that, while the Hatshepsut and, again to a lesser extent, Amenhotep inscriptions may sound like soft-corn porn, the birth-cycle imagery bears no overt sexuality, leading to conclusions of a more spiritual nature, which, from FTN forum commenter GA's post on the previous page
, may have been closer to what the common Egyptians themselves envisioned.
Even Wikipedia describes the Hatshepsut conception in a miraculous and non-sexual manner:
One of the most famous examples of the legends about Hatshepsut is a myth about her birth. In this myth, Amun goes to Ahmose in the form of Thutmose I and awakens her with pleasant odors. At this point Amun places the ankh, a symbol of life, to Ahmose's nose, and Hatshepsut is conceived by Ahmose. Khnum, the god who forms the bodies of human children, is then instructed to create a body and ka, or corporal presence/life force, for Hatshepsut. Heket, the goddess of life and fertility, and Khnum then lead Ahmose along to a lioness' bed where she gives birth to Hatshepsut. (Emphasis added)
Thus, it is not only my various sources - including Egyptologists - and I who describe the Egyptian nativity scene likewise. One must therefore wonder why Carrier is not writing rants against the Wiki editors and these others.
In Christ in Egypt
, I cite dozens of the most respected Egyptologists, from that science's inception to the most modern era, in a variety of languages. I also cite numerous Egyptian texts and artifacts - primary sources - along with the original Egyptian hieroglyphs and multiple translations by these same Egyptologists.
Since a significant number of these others I cite are
Egyptologists, Carrier's appeal to authority may be used against him, because he is clearly not paying attention to these
other Egyptologists. In this regard, many qualified Egyptologists such as Dr. Erik Hornung, as well as older such scholars like Budge, Sharpe, et al., have been adamant that there has been extensive Egyptian influence on Christianity, a fact I demonstrate repeatedly in CIE
The Christian religion was not created for scholars who would have known about Hatshepsut's sexy divine-birth inscription. Christianity was created largely for the people - lay
people - who were quite likely well aware of the divine-birth stories concerning their various leaders, birth scenes in clear and easy-to-understand images
, as on the walls of these rulers' birth rooms, which the people visited and admired much like we do today at these ancient sites and in museums.Amenhotep III, not Hatshepsut
Despite the denials and distractions, the fact is that Carrier has been working with the wrong artifact
. From my detailed analysis of Brunner's German - which, again, I provided in my lengthy section in CIE on this subject - it became clear Carrier was looking at Hatshepsut
's birth scene, not that of Amenhotep III, which is the artifact in question. His excuse for this egregious error - which no amateur
would be allowed to make, much less a professional scholar - is to wave his hands around, point elsewhere, engage in ridicule, and raise credentialism and a slew of other fallacies, evidently hoping no one will notice.
Carrier actually asserts it does not matter which artifact one uses. It most certainly does
matter! He then doubles down and compounds his error by claiming that the two scenes were created at the same time by the same person. That contention is completely erroneous. Hatshepsut's artists created her
birth scene, of course, after she was born. They may have even built the walls upon which the later Amenhotep birth scene appears, although even that contention appears to be erroneous, as Amenhotep is likewise claimed to have built the relevant temple at Luxor himself
. In any event, Hatshepsut's artists most certainly did not create the Amenhotep nativity scene, unless they were prescient and knew that Amenhotep III would be born at some point
The visual panels at Deir el-Bahri are in all essentials identical to those at Luxor (with a few minor variances in the section after the nativity sequence, which are thus not relevant here). The D text simply expands the abbreviated text at Luxor. To claim that the shorter text at Luxor doesn’t simply abbreviate the full narrative provided at Deir el-Bahri is thus nonsense. To claim that the two stories are somehow intended to be completely different (despite being visually identical and inscribed in the same decades by the same queen) is even more nonsense. (Emph. added.)
Precision in scholarship is now suddenly "nonsense," a convenient excuse when one has made an egregious error.
Carrier inaccurately asserts: "The D [Hatshepsut] text simply expands the abbreviated text at Luxor." No, it does not. The later
Luxor text abbreviates the earlier
text at Deir el-Bahri - there is a significant difference between these two concepts. In other words, the later Amenhotep III scribes censored the "sexy bits" of the Hatshepsut inscription
- this fact conveniently ignored and turned on its head by Carrier is discussed in detail in my book Christ in Egypt
Furthermore, no one is claiming that the "two stories are somehow intended to be completely different (despite being visually identical and inscribed in the same decades by the same queen)," as Carrier contends. Thus, that sentence constitutes simply imprecise hyperbole (and false contentions), knocking down the imaginary strawman of "completely different." My outlining in CIE of the differences between the two inscriptions is quite precise, not just a blanket and inaccurate statement such as "completely different." As I say, I went through the inscriptions and Brunner's German word by word, which, once more, is how I knew Carrier was discussing the wrong artifact
The fact is that the two panels were not created at the same time.
Amenhotep's was copied three-quarters of a century or more later
than Hatshepsut's, and the text is
different, in precisely the ways in which I have highlighted. Good scholarship does not conflate inscriptions decades or centuries apart by different individuals and then pretend the differences between them are irrelevant and "nonsensical."
In the end, Carrier should have simply admitted his error in using the wrong inscription, rather than compounding the error by mistakenly claiming the two panels were inscribed at the same time by the same person, along with implying that the later Amenhotep III inscription is the source of the earlier Hatshepsut text. Not Deir el-Bahri but Luxor
The site of Hatshepsut's birth inscription and scenes, Deir el-Bahri, is not in the same place as Luxor; it is across the Nile, some miles away. Nor was the Amenhotep III scene created during Hatshepsut's reign - unless she was psychic and correctly predicted his birth, decades after her death
. In reality, after Hatshepsut's death, her successor Thutmose III tried to erase her from history as a pharaoh, and her temple complex at Deir el-Bahri was repeatedly defaced and vandalized over the centuries.
At the same time, the Luxor temple remained a popular pilgrimage and tourist destination for many centuries. It was at Luxor
that Alexander the Great evidently drew some inspiration for his own divine birth tales. Indeed, Alexander was so fond of the Luxor temple that he "renewed the barque shrine" of Amenhotep III and placed his own "bark shrine" next to it, also next to the "birth room" with Amenhotep's nativity scene. As we shall see, Carrier even raises up Alexander's birth story as a possible influence on the gospel tale, but apparently and irrationally wishes to sever the Egyptian sources of the accompanying nativity scenes.
There remains no reason to believe that anyone emulating the famous
birth scenes of pharaohs, emperors and kings would need to rely on the Hatshepsut imagery
, much less the nearly forgotten Egyptian inscription, for inspiration for the gospel nativity scenes. Hence, the Hatshepsut birth cycle was quite likely not
influence on the Christian effort, only indirectly, as it had been copied over the centuries. Again, it is not
her inscription we are interested in, except that it was passed along in the Amenhotep birth narrative, abbreviated to remove most of the sexuality. Egyptian birth houses or mammisis
The fact is that Luxor was visited as a pilgrim destination and tourist attraction into the common era, and many thousands of people would have seen the Amenhotep narrative scene there. This discussion is extremely germane to the subject of the Christian nativity narrative, particularly since the style, if not the actual scene, was widely copied for centuries afterwards. This construction of nativity scenes became fairly common, in "birth houses" or mammisi
, which were popular in the Late Period in Egypt (c. 712/664-323 BCE) into the Greco-Roman Period (323 BCE-395 AD/CE): "The most important surviving examples are from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods in Egypt." There were many of these "birth houses" or smaller chapels attached to Egyptian temples during the Ptolemaic period (323-30 BCE), the very time leading up to the Christian era. Indeed, Brunner himself discusses these mammisis
in numerous places in his book, the full title of which translates into English as, The Birth of the God-King: Studies on the Tradition of an Ancient Egyptian Myth
The mammisis or birth houses were "not a place where human women went to give birth but a place for sacred rituals aimed at manifesting and ascertaining the divine descendancy of Pharaoh." In other words, the birth houses or mammisis
were basically an extension of the earlier birth-cycle imagery
of Hatshepsut and Amenhotep III, which are designed not to demonstrate the Egyptians' love for soft porn but in order to exalt the pharaoh as a divine figure. As stated at GlobalEgyptianMuseum.org
According to the texts and illustrations in these birth houses, this was where the divine child was born and brought up. Another series shows the child being conceived, then being shaped by Khnum on his potter's wheel, and then being presented to his father. These motifs are virtually identical to the scenes in the so-called birth rooms in the temple of Luxor (with scenes showing the birth of Amenhotep III) and Deir el-Bahari (showing the birth of Hatshepsut). Gods commonly connected with the protection of mother and child, such as Bes and Taweret, are also often depicted in the birth houses. (Emph. added)
No mention is made of sexy inscriptions or interpretations, and, again, the debate remains whether the Egyptians themselves perceived their gods as having literal sex with mortals, or in general was the concept more spiritual or allegorical, as is appropriate for myths
In this regard, Egyptologist Dr. Claus J. Bleeker comments:
...the presentation of the divine parentage of Hatshepsut was in no way an exclusively political and constitutional fiction. In the temple at Luxor, for example, is preserved a duplicate of it pertaining to Amenhotep III... Later kings similarly claimed to be the offspring of Re. In the Ptolemaic temples are several reproductions of this divine birth.
And when Alexander the Great had himself recognized as the son of the gods by the oracle of Amon of the Siwa oasis, he acted in perfect accordance with an aged Egyptian tradition which went back to at least the fifth dynasty. (Bleeker, Historia Religionum
, 78) (Emph. added)
Shall we accuse this respect Egyptologist of "parallelomania" and correlation-causation errors for tracing an ancestral lineage of the "son of the gods" motif from Alexander the Great to Hatshepsut? And if, by Carrier's own supposition, Alexander's birth stories influenced Christianity, then we are quite correct in pointing out in turn an evident influence upon, if not the source of, the Greek ruler's nativity tale.
We know that the Greeks - specifically the Ptolemies - emulated the Egyptians in creating birth houses/mammisis, as the Romans imitated the Egyptians in creating mummies and painted coffins. Since it is my contention - and that of many others - that much of Christianity was created at Alexandria, where there was a large Egyptian, Greek and Jewish population, as well as some half a million manuscripts from around the known world of the time, this fact of nativity scene/mammisi popularity in Egypt is highly relevant to our studies of Christian origins. Earlier Egyptian material ancestral to later birth house scenes
By the time of these mammisis/birth houses, the earlier Egyptian inscriptions
were evidently long forgotten for the most part, a fact that certainly held true by the time of the period in question, the centuries surrounding the turn of the common era. However, we can trace the progress of the birth scenes/imagery
over the millennium and a half between their carving and the creation of the Christian nativity scene.
Following the time of Hatshepsut and Amenhotep, during the 25th Dynasty (760-656 BCE) a series of birth scenes was carved in Temple A at South Karnak. Concerning these reliefs, Egyptologist Dr. Richard A. Fazzini remarks:
Temple A's royal birth scenes are hardly an iconographic innovation of [the time]. On the contrary, they are closely related to New Kingdom reliefs, especially those of Hatshepsut and Amenhotep III
proclaiming their rights to the throne as the offspring of Amun and their human mothers... These relief cycles, including Temple A's, depicting the divine birth of a king, are ancestral to the cycles of birth of a child-god from two divine parents known from the specialized temples of D. XXX and later called mammisis ("birth houses")
, the setting for rituals celebrating the birth and renewal of child-gods, with whom any king might be identified. (Fazzini, Richard A., Egypt Dynasty XXII-XXV
, 12) (Emph. added)
Perhaps Dr. Fazzini, a chairman of the Department of Egyptian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, is guilty of "parallelomania" in seeing parallels between the earlier nativity scenes and the mammisi! Maybe he should be reminded that correlation does not equal causation. Or perhaps he is correct - and maybe we are right in following his lead to trace these themes all the way up to the common era and the period of Christian origins.Philae mammisi
The Greek ruler of Egypt Ptolemy III (246-222 BCE) had his mammisi on the famous sacred island of Philae, home to an Isis temple and the last great holdout of the priests of that goddess before their slaughter by Christian fanatics. In Ptolemy III's mammisi appears the "conception of the Horus child as a result of the command given by Amun to Khnum." (Vassilika, Eleni, Ptolemaic Philae
, 39) The rest of the description sounds much like that of the imagery
found at Luxor (and Deir el-Bahri). We read nothing about a sexy inscription, whether in Egyptian or Greek - indeed, there are many demotic inscriptions in the Philae mammisi but no Greek at all. (Frankfurter, David, Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt
Even if there were such an inscription, Christian editors could easily have omitted it in their desire to emulate the basic miraculous, divine and virginal nativity scene. Surely, the impression given by these birth scenes to the lay people was not "soft porn" but the idea that their revered leaders were divine figures, born of gods and goddesses - and that impression constitutes the entire point of this exercise. What would priests of a new religion do in order to seduce followers of the time
, not to impress scholars 2,000 years later?
Boston University religion scholar Dr. David Frankfurter (251) notes that the mammisi (at Philae) is the most sacred space open to visitors - and visitors certainly went there, as deeply devoted pilgrims who could not help be but impressed by this imagery of the divine birth of their ruler.
(For images of the birth house of Ptolemy III, we are directed to Das Geburtshaus des Tempels der Isis in Phila
by H. Junker and E. Winter.)Mammisis at Dendera and Edfu
Concerning the Greco-Roman mammisis
at the Upper Egyptian sites of Dendera and Edfu, Egyptologist Dr. Ian Shaw remarks that they were "used to celebrate the divine birth of the king, and the reliefs in these structures have enough in common with the birth scenes of Hatshepsut to suggest that the former might be a later version of the latter
..." (Shaw, Ian, Exploring Ancient Egypt
, 141). (Emphasis added.)
On p. 140, Shaw describes the scene of Hatshepsut's conception as the result of a "sexual union between her mother Ahmose and the god Amun." Again, the sexiness of the Deir el-Bahri inscription
is not contested, as we are interested in the later and abbreviated Luxor
inscription and - more importantly - the later imagery
inspired by Hatshepsut, copied at Luxor and evidently reproduced many times throughout the centuries. The Hatshepsut inscription
is therefore ultimately irrelevant, while the imagery
is not. On the contrary, the birth imagery
is highly relevant to this question of Christian nativity-scene origins. Indeed, representing one's birth in this divine manner seems to have become de rigeur
among pharaohs, kings and emperors - how, then, could the practice be ignored by the formulators of Christian traditions as concerns their "King of kings?"
Describing the mammisi at Edfu, Shaw (235-6) remarks again:
In the Ptolemaic mammisi, the rituals of the marriage of the goddess (Isis or Hathor) and the birth of the child-god were celebrated. The origins of the mammisi can perhaps be seen in the form of eighteenth-dynasty painted reliefs describing the divine birth of the king, found in the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari...and the temple of Amenhotep III at Luxor. (Emph. added)
Perhaps someone should inform Dr. Shaw that correlation does not mean causation and that his suggestion these later birth scenes were influenced by the earlier ones is mere parallelomania. Note that he does not say the inscriptions
at either Deir el-Bahri or Luxor were copied in the later Edfu birth house - only the scenes
; otherwise, he would easily have been able to identify their source. It is not a big leap from the Edfu mammisi with its innocuous birth scenes - minus sexy inscriptions - to the Christian effort in Alexandria. Roman birth houses
As examples of birth houses during the Roman period, the emperor Trajan (53-117) had his mammisi, as did Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
- long into the common era. Roman emperors were putting their names on Egyptian monuments up to and including the time of Decius (c. 250 AD). The relationship among the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians was highly intertwined and had been for centuries by the time of the Christian effort.Horus and Isis
The term "mammisi" was coined by famous French linguist Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832), major decipherer of the Rosetta Stone - who to my knowledge never obtained a PhD, a degree also eschewed by famed mythology genius Joseph Campbell
, and who described these birth houses thus:
...these Mammisi were always constructed by the side of the larger temples where a triad was worshipped, and they represented the celestial abode where the goddess had given birth to the third person of the triad.
The editor of this Champollion quote adds:
This "third person of the triad" was no other than the king who erected the building. (Auguste Mariette-Bey, The Monuments of Upper Egypt
Thus, the "divine triad" included the pharaoh, who was born of the goddess, generally Isis. Hence, we have the king as Horus, birthed by Isis, who, again, is called in pre-Christian texts "the Great Virgin."
It is not a difficult equation to see, and this simple equation is what the common people
of Egypt would be comprehending, not some complex theology or long-forgotten inscription in an increasingly extinct language. The details of the imagery may not matter at all, as this simple impression/equation is what the average person would likely perceive: To wit, a virgin mother giving birth to a divine child.
In my book The Christ Conspiracy
(115), following earlier scholars such as Massey and Sharpe, I described the birth scene at Luxor as having to do with Horus and Isis. Obviously, the Luxor nativity revolves immediately around Amenhotep III, but in Egypt in general the pharaoh-king was considered to be the living Horus, and his mother was often equated with Isis, as we can see from these later mammisi scenes in which it is clearly the goddess
(Hathor or Isis) who is giving birth to the divine child. (NB: This language will be annotated for accuracy in the revision of The Christ Conspiracy
In this regard, in her mammisi at Hermonthis, famed Egyptian queen Cleopatra is depicted as Isis
giving birth to the divine child, Horus as the sun, fulfilling the "prophecy" at the temple of Sais. (Fletcher, Cleopatra the Great
, ebook) The inscription at Sais, in fact, provides evidence of the Egyptian virgin-birth motif, as recorded by the ancient Greek writer Proclus (21E):
τα οντα και τα εσομενα και τα γεγονοτα εγω ειμι. τον εμον χιτωνα ουδεις απεκαλυψεν. ον εγω καρπον ετεκον, ηλιος εγενετο.
My very literal translation of this inscription can be found in CIE, 146
The present and the future and the past, I am. My undergarment no one has uncovered. The fruit I brought forth, the sun came into being.
Thus, we have the divine solar son (Horus) born of the virgin mother (Isis-Cleopatra) mere decades before the common era, involving a very famous ruler of Egypt. It is quite likely many people were aware of this Egyptian divine-birth scenario both within and outside of Egypt. It should be noted that Cleopatra is a Ptolemy, a Greek, so here we have yet another - and highly important - instance of Greek and Egyptian culture/religion merged.
It becomes increasingly disingenuous to maintain Egyptian parallelophobia at this point. There is much
more of this sort of evidence in my book Christ in Egypt
, for those who wish to study the subject. From Hatshepsut to the gospels
The outline of the "Out of Egypt Theory" as concerns the gospel nativity cycle is quite simple:
1. Hateshepsut (d. 1458 BCE) created a nativity scene, with an inscription that included some "sexy" bits.
2. Amenhotep III (fl. 1386/8 to 1351/49 BCE) copied the nativity scene and parts of the inscription, leaving out the bulk of the "sexy" parts.
3. Birth houses or mammisis were built for numerous pharaohs and Greco-Roman rulers right into the common era, including scenes of a similar nature as the earlier nativities, without the "sexy" inscriptions.
4. These mammisis - as well as the earlier Amenhotep birth cycle at the popular tourist spot of Luxor - could have served as inspirations for the gospel writers, whose efforts, the evidence indicates, occurred significantly at Alexandria, Egypt.
The bottom line is that we have in the Egyptian birth-cycle imagery
up to and into the common era some very suggestive parallels to the gospel birth narrative, and ignoring these facts in a comparative religion study itself ranks as poor scholarship. Judeo-Greek parallelomania or just plain irrationality?
While criticizing others for their supposed "parallelomania," Carrier engages in his own favored parallel theory, insisting that, while Christianity is indeed a rehash of earlier precedents, these are largely a result of Semitic, Jewish and Greek influence:
The nativity stories in Matthew and Luke look like a combination of Jewish nativity apocrypha (e.g., extant and lost Moses haggadot in Matthew; and Isaac haggadot in Luke) and Hellenistic king nativities and their influence on Roman imperial nativities (e.g., tales told of the births of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, the Roman Emperors), structured in specific ways unique to Christian needs.
We are in agreement here, except that Carrier's "either or" proposition represents myopia, as well as "Judeo-Greek parallelomania," ignoring the massive amount of evidence of Egyptian
influence on the Christian effort. Apparently, Carrier's still trying to place the creation of Christianity in (Hellenized) Judea, when the religion was significantly devised in places like Antioch, Rome and Alexandria. Moreover, the Ptolemies were Greeks in Egypt
, as was Alexander, and the Ptolemaic birth narratives are evident copies of the much earlier Amenhotep and Hatshepsut birth scenes!
To summarize: Carrier essentially ridicules me for bringing up the Egyptian birth narrative (specifically of Amenhotep) as a possible influence on the later Christian nativity narrative. He then declares that the gospel nativity is probably a combination of Jewish apocryphal tales and "Hellenistic king nativities and their influence on Roman imperial nativities (e.g., tales told of the births of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, the Roman Emperors), structured in specific ways unique to Christian needs." Yet, these "Hellenistic king nativities" influenced by the tales and/or scenes of "the births of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies" are evidently derived from the Hatshepsut/Amenhotep cycle!
Need I really say more about this time-wasting nonsense?
Astonishingly, after basically ranting at me for suggesting the same, Carrier later concedes that these "Hellenistic king nativities" may have been influenced by the birth stories of the Egyptian pharaohs
That those myths just happen to be adaptations of earlier Akkadian myths is something we now know, but is not likely anything the early Christians knew. Likewise, possibly Egyptian god-king nativities influenced Hellenistic god-king nativity stories (or possibly they were both separately influenced by earlier Babylonian and Sumerian god-king nativities, or by actual royal ceremonies common to all kingdoms of the time), but it was the Hellenistic stories and practices that most likely influenced Matthew and Luke, not the earlier Egyptian material. They probably never heard the story told at Luxor, and would have been repulsed by it if they had. (Emph. added)
Here is yet another strawman. As we have shown, Egyptologists state repeatedly that the Hatshepsut/Amenhotep cycle - the imagery
, not the "repulsive story" in the inscriptions - was
used in the creation of the birth scenes in the mammisi, centuries later. These original Egyptian god-king nativities of Hatshepsut and Amenhotep influenced the "Hellenistic" god-king nativities - those of the Greek
Ptolemies - which in turn, Carrier asserts, probably influenced the gospel story. Well, that is what we have been contending for all along, so what is the problem? Carrier appears to be very confused.
Carrier claims that "it was the Hellenistic stories and practices that most likely influenced Matthew and Luke, not the earlier Egyptian material." Yet, to reiterate, as we have seen, these earlier Egyptian models evidently served as the basis of some Hellenistic king stories, e.g., those of the Ptolemies! Even if the influence was thus indirect, it would represent very poor scholarship not to inspect the models upon which the gospel motifs may have been based.
Moreover, Carrier is insistent that Christians adapted the birth tales of Semitic and Greek
god-kings; yet, he believes they could not have done likewise with the pervasive and obvious birth narratives and imagery of the Egyptian
rulers into the second century AD/CE? Birth stories and images in the very land in which much influence upon Christian most assuredly occurred, i.e., Egypt?
Alexandria is only 200 miles as the crow flies from Jerusalem, and there were huge numbers of Jews at that city by this precise era: Jewish philosopher Philo (c. 20 BCE-c. 50 AD/CE) wrote that the population of Alexandria was about 50 percent Jewish during the first century AD/CE. There is, again, no reason these Egyptian birth cycles - as applied to Ptolemaic or Greek rulers of Egypt right up to the beginning of the common era - were not influential on the Christian effort, especially since we know that Egypt was highly influential upon Christianity beginning in the second century. Indeed, Carrier himself asserts the Christian birth stories were later additions
Furthermore, Carrier suggests that the Semitic, Jewish and Hellenistic birth narratives were later "structured in specific ways unique to Christian needs." That type of adaptation rates as exactly
what we are contending about the original birth cycle imagery
, passed down via the mammisis
, minus the sexy inscription, to be emulated in the gospel story. So, again, why the aggression and hostility? Jewish influence
Carrier insinuates that mythicists such as I have not been factoring in the Jewish influences on Christianity. The fact is, however, we most certainly have been including Judaism in our analysis. In my writings, I frequently discuss the usage of the Old Testament scriptures as blueprints for the New
, as I do with the Jewish intertestamental literature. But Carrier would not know these facts, because in his haste to depict me as incompetent, again, he has not studied my work to any extent.
Many Jewish scriptures and ideas themselves show an influence from Egypt - something we would have to ignore and overlook in order to come to such conclusions as Carrier's. Added later?
Based on the idea of a Markan "Ur" text, apparently, Carrier states that the nativity scenes in the gospel were not part of the original tale; in the same paragraph he says we do not know what the original nativity story may have been:
More importantly than all this is the fact that the nativity stories of Jesus are later add ons. They were not part of the origin of the religion. Thus you cannot explain the origins of Christianity by saying they just revamped a godking narrative about Horus-Osiris (which was really a narrative applied to the Pharaohs). The godking narratives of the Gospels were never a part of Christianity until the Gospels were formed many decades later. There may have been an original nativity story, but we don’t know what it said.
Here Carrier appears to be thinking along the lines that there was
a historical Jesus who really was born at some point but that we do not possess the "original" birth story, only those that were added "many decades later." One wonders if Carrier is really an euhemerist/evemerist
who believes the Christ story revolves around a real person, to whose biography enthusiastic followers added supernatural attributes and myths. Carrier thus himself contends that fictional nativity cycles were added later, but he insists they could only have been originally from Semitic, Jewish and Greek tradition, not the Egyptian. More Judeo-Greek parallelomania and Egyptian parallelophobia?
In reality, if these motifs were added later, all the more reason to suggest an Egyptian
influence, as even Carrier himself admits that Christianity was
influenced by Egyptian religion at some point. If these stories are later editions, why reach back to the Semitic and/or Greek traditions, when Egypt had already become the source of much influence?
If the Christian effort was largely created at Alexandria by educated scribes - does Carrier honestly believe that the polished Greek gospels were written by illiterate, Aramaic-speaking Jewish fishermen in Judea? - there is little to no reason why the gospel writers would not have been influenced by a very prominent feature of Egyptian religion emulated by important rulers right into the era in question. Again, we must remain myopic and place the origins of Christianity into a vacuum in order to maintain such a perspective.Conclusion
To ignore in the analysis of the ultimate "King of Kings" these important Egyptian divine-birth scenes - which feature prominently in the human psyche of the time vis-à-vis important rulers - ranks as an egregious error in itself. As are numerous other aspects of Egyptian religion and culture relevant to the study of Christian origins, the Egyptian birth scenes are highly germane to the study of the Christian nativity. To ignore them is to remain uninformed and unscientific. The Egyptian religion remained a huge force to be reckoned with by the time of the Christian effort, and it simply would not have been ignored - indeed, it was not.
Prior to the creation of the gospels, the Egyptian religion had long spread far beyond the confines of Egypt, and there were Egyptian tutors at Rome, teaching the religion to emperors during the first century, along with shrines to Egyptian gods in as farflung places as Macedonia and Great Britain. Isis was hugely popular around the Roman Empire at the time, but long previously there had been in Israel Egyptian forces who left vestiges of their worship over the centuries. To remain a Judeo-Greek parallelomaniac, we need to ignore all of this Egyptian influence and the proximity of this massively impressive culture to the area of the gospel tale.
The study of the possible influence of Egyptian nativity scenes on the Christian birth cycle remains a viable and valuable pursuit, but there is much more to the story, as I demonstrate in Christ in Egypt
and elsewhere. If readers wish to know the evidence I have raised, they will need to study it themselves and not rely on supposed authorities to do it for them.
To reiterate, I would love to see mythicists work together, rather than wasting time with obsessive and irrational nitpicking and oneupmanship.
For more information, see the following article and book:The Nativity Scene of Amenhotep III at Luxor (excerpt)The Nativity Scene at the Temple of Luxor (CIE)Further ReadingA Rebuttal to Dr. Chris ForbesThe Christ Myth ArticlesStellar House Books and Ebooks