About a decade ago, I wrote a harsh review of a book called The Christ Conspiracy by one Acharya S. The book set forth the Christ Myth theory, of which I am also an adherent, but it took a very different approach. I felt the need to distance myself from her work lest I be painted with the same broad brush that tarred her in many quarters—and still does. This review, I am sorry to say, caused Acharya considerable sorrow and trouble.
Some years ago, I happened to get in contact with her via an e-mail we both received on a list from a mutual acquaintance. Actually, Acharya contacted me, commenting that she was surprised I seemed somewhat open to changing my mind on a certain point that had also come up in my review of her book. I took advantage of this friendly feeler to join in conversation with her, to clear up a couple of misunderstandings, and, most of all, to apologize for the anguish I had caused her. I did not retract any critical judgments I had made of her work, but I was very sorry to have caused her such pain. Acharya was quite forgiving, and we have become friends. Since that time, a number of people, some of whom hold critical opinions closer to mine, have expressed astonishment, even anger, that I removed my review of her The Christ Conspiracy from my website. I withdrew from the chorus of denunciations of my new friend. Why? And have I come to recant my criticisms?
I disliked what I deemed the militantly anti-Christian tone of the book and considered it a sign of adolescent or village atheist behavior (not that my own writings are always without it!). Now I think such things are utterly beside the point. It is the content that matters. Plus, she no longer writes with such evident and understandable rage. If it was immature to begin with, she has matured since then. (I hope I have, too!)
There were a number of issues she mentioned in a kind of too-encyclopedic survey approach, speculations about the Masons, ancient civilizations (a la Colin Wilson, whom I also know and much respect), and the like. I still think these matters did not belong in the same book with her Christ Myth arguments. They are entirely unrelated questions, and I have no expertise at all in evaluating them. Still don’t. I should have ignored them in my review, and I do not care what she may believe about these things now. The beliefs of devout Christian scholars (e.g., Joachim Jeremias, T.W. Manson, and Vincent Taylor) do not make me hesitate to learn from their work, and it should be no different with Acharya. And, in case you had not noticed, all such issues are absent from her subsequent, much more tightly focused books such as Suns of God and Christ in Egypt.
Astrotheology of the Ancients
To me, the most interesting aspect of Acharya’s work is her pursuit of old, now ignored theories by comparative religionists and mythologists suggesting that Christianity embodies a perennial theology of the heavenly bodies, their motion and the common reflection of this astrotheology in the myths of all nations. The implications of this theory led its advocates to draw parallels between New Testament mythemes and those gathered from much farther afield, e.g., Hindu, Mexican, Egyptian and Chinese religion. This was the approach taken by the Christ Mythicists of past generations, including James M. Robertson and Kersey Graves. I find that such multiplication of supposed parallels reaped from so wide a field tends to deflate the value of closer, more easily demonstrable parallels between Christianity and historically, geographically adjacent phenomenon like Gnosticism and the Mystery Religions. Acharya’s approach seems to me to make everything tantamount to everything else. I still have this hesitancy and prefer to argue from within a narrower framework. But this isn’t much of a criticism. And if it is, let me mitigate my criticism in two ways.
First, Acharya has made me rethink the astrotheology business. Ignaz Goldziher had already convinced me of the propriety of F. Max Müller’s (now unfashionable) “solar mythology” hermeneutic: that many Old Testament (and maybe even New Testament) figures began their narrative lives as fictive personifications of the heavenly bodies. Samson, Elijah, Enoch, Esau, Moses were plainly, like Hercules, Mithras and Apollo, sun gods. So it is no great leap to trace at least some prominent features of the Jesus myth to solar faith.
And how else do we explain the occurrence of the cross as a religious symbol all over the ancient world unless it was based on something all races had access to: the phenomena of the night sky? Makes sense!
I took issue with some of her older sources, where she found claims of icons and effigies of crucified gods or heroes, alleged to be Krishna or Indra. I still think the evidence is sketchy, but it has to be explained some way. There must be something going on there, as when we discover nearly identical bas reliefs featuring a horned man in the lotus position, surrounded by forest animals—in both India and Ireland!
Second, my criticisms and others in the same vein seem to have sent Acharya back to the drawing board, determined to unpack and display the evidence for parallel cases of solar symbols and mythology shared between Christianity and other religions. She has delved into the arguments of the old Mythicists to ferret out their sources and how they formed their opinions. I love this history of scholarship approach, and the most interesting part of my original review to write was a similar investigation of the alleged parallels and the evidence cited by these old scholars. The variety of old, now-ignored sources, on the fringe of the better-known Higher Criticism, was fascinating, too, and it was Acharya’s use of them that introduced me to much of this material. I am grateful. But my point here is that Acharya is no longer uncritical about these old authors, if she ever was.
I find the books of Acharya S/D.M. Murdock to be researched in amazing depth, comprehensive with a scope that fairly makes my head spin, and written blessedly without the stuffy technical jargon present in much mainstream scholarship. Is she “reduced” to publishing her own books? So what? So was Hume.
I am very glad to call her a friend. I admire her work and learn from it. And if that were not so, I wouldn’t lie about it just because we are friends. I am very sorry I once vilified her, and I wish that anyone associated with me would stop vilifying her, too. Grow up. If you reject her thinking on this or that point, fine. There’s no need to get nasty about it.
Response to Robert M. Price by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
Many thanks to my wise and classy friend Bob Price for his ongoing interest and inspiration. His original criticisms did cause difficulties for me, not necessarily because of perceived and correctable errors but because of the viciousness with which my critics jumped upon them and pilloried me relentlessly across the internet and beyond. In any event, as Bob notes, I have spent the past decade+ backing up many of my major and minor contentions, as well as citing various errata and issues that have developed since that time.
Righteous Indignation at Atrocity and Deceit
As concerns the tone of my first book The Christ Conspiracy (1999), I doubt that anything I wrote therein – the vast bulk of which was factual and not vitriolic in the least – ranks as any more “immature” than a good Christopher Hitchens rant. As a woman, I continue to be perturbed by the destruction of women’s spirituality that has resulted in an incredible amount of abuse and suffering heaped upon females. As a human being, I remain disturbed by the blatant injustice in having a deleterious hoax thrust upon humanity that has resulted in bloody atrocity and tremendous destruction globally.
In my forthcoming second edition of The Christ Conspiracy, I don’t know that I will lessen all of the “anti-Christian” sentiment, as most of it is directed at Christian institutions and a few individuals I continue to maintain were very unpleasant, such as the early Church fathers, who castigated and pummeled their opponents with more calumny than I could muster in a dozen lifetimes. Nor could my brief ranting approach anything like the horrors of the Inquisition, witch burnings, pogroms against “Christ-killing” Jews, invasions of foreign lands and the slaughter of millions in the name of Jesus Christ. I began my book with exposure of these atrocities, and, yes, I do believe a modicum of irritation at such a legacy is appropriate. As is my personal annoyance at having been fooled by an ideology – I was raised a Protestant and briefly became a born-again Christian many years ago – which involves rabid misogyny, sexism and derogation of my gender. This denigration of the female permeates the Bible, and trying to fit into the subservient position laid out therein, when such subjugation is based on falsehood and myth, should make anyone angry.
Over the years since I’ve been online, beginning in 1995, I have heard from many people who are likewise angry at having been defrauded, wasted their lives, alienated themselves from the rest of humanity, parted with a significant portion of their income, and all the rest of the trappings associated with being a regular church-going devotee. In this regard, not a few people have thanked me for the caustic bite now and again. As is said, one doesn’t run from a menacing dog – one must shake a big stick at it and shout for it to go away.
In any event, I should add that I have never claimed for myself the epithet of “atheist,” or “theist” for that matter, so my work is not a reflection of a “village atheist,” whatever that may be. I am a person who was once deceived but who can now see. I prefer the moniker of “freethinker,” so that I may be able to think freely in any given moment. But, again, I highly doubt that my relatively few zingers directed at this abusive ideology compare to the stark and often shrill arguments against Christianity by the vast atheistic cacophony of Dawkinsians and Hitchenites, et al.
Masonry and Avocation Cults
As concerns the more speculative and esoteric aspects of my first book, such as my discussion of masonry, there remains much to be considered, including the fact that mason cults can be found all over the world, along with carpenter cults (Nazarenes), smithy cults (Hephaistos), undertaker cults (Mithraism), merchant cults (Pochteca), farmer/planter cults (Mesoamerican), seamen cults (Poseidon/Neptune), hunter cults (Artemis/Diana, Mixcoatl) and so on, with virtually every occupation and vocation, including and especially masonry. Wherever there is a religious building in stone, you will find the product of a cult engaged with masonry, and Christianity with its “cornerstone that the builders have rejected” is little different. (Matthew 21:42)
In this regard, it was the great freethinker Thomas Paine who linked Christianity, Masonry and the sun, in an essay I included in Christ Conspiracy entitled “Origin of Freemasonry”:
The Christian religion and Masonry have one and the same common origin: Both are derived from the worship of the Sun. The difference between their origin is, that the Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun, in which they put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun, and pay him the same adoration which was originally paid to the Sun…
Paine continues in his discussion of Christianity and Masonry, and it is difficult to ignore his commentary. (See my ebook Jesus Christ: Mason of God for scriptural and other evidence of the masonic imagery and influence within the Bible and Christianity. See also my ebook Jesus as the Sun throughout History.)
Global Comparative Religion
It should be noted that, for the second edition of Christ Con, I have removed the chapter, “Evidence of an Ancient Global Civilization.” Not at all entirely unrelated to the quest of Christian origins, this “global civilization” chapter remains very important in the studies of comparative religion and mythology worldwide, as my work since then has demonstrated. This subject deserves a monograph of its own, using the most modern research and data, including a more scientific and sophisticated analysis based on discoveries since the first publication in 1999.
Charles Dupuis and Classical Education
Regarding the astrotheological origins of much religious and mythological ideation, I hark back to one of the earliest mythicist scholars in a modern Western language, Charles Dupuis (1742-1809). In his multivolume composition in French, Origine de tous les cultes ou religion universelle or Origin of All Cults or Universal Religion, the extremely erudite Dupuis laid out the numerous parallels between ancient religions and Christianity, and he showed where they come from and what they mean. Dupuis was followed by many learned scholars writing on these subjects, such as Volney and Taylor. (Heck, even Thomas Jefferson got in on the action, translating Volney’s Ruines into English.)
These earlier scholars in Europe and America were very well educated in Classics, Roman and Greek Civilizations, and they were fluent and well read in Greek and Latin, as well as European languages. When they cited their contentions, these sources were so well known that the authors often assumed their equally erudite audience would know them already. We are discussing an age, of course, when in general only the elite were able to afford such an education, and the whole conversation took place in the hallowed halls of academia, as well as among clergy, rulers, kings, politicians and so on. The masses were largely left out of the equation.
Today we find a similar situation, in that relatively few people are educated in the Classics and can read Greek and Latin. I am one of these few, so I am able to drill down from where these earlier pioneers had led us, to bring forth their evidences, which, again, they had right in front of them because everyone was reading them at the time. Indeed, for centuries Classics was the education many academics pursued, and one could hardly be considered learned without it. All Churchmen of any worth studied the ancient Greek and Roman classical writers. They knew this material very well, and many of them contributed to the mythicist literature, as they came across startling similarities and disturbing developments.
Using these sources, Dupuis was able to follow the dots and tie everything together – astonishingly, his work remains quite valid in many ways, and that fact is because he used valid primary sources from antiquity. In my first book, I did not consider that so many people would be unfamiliar with the sources that I was indirectly citing by quoting these later authorities. Hence, I did not dig down and include all of them in my first effort, which did not benefit at the time from the immense current reach of the internet but was limited largely to books at hand.
I have spent the past more than a decade finding and providing these numerous primary sources in a wide variety of languages dating back to the remotest ages. As I have demonstrated in these later works, most of Christ Con is sustainable through ancient sources or erudite exegesis. Hence, one need not resort to any of these authors found objectionable whom I cited previously, albeit for the most part they themselves have been the subject of undue calumny, as I have essentially proved in the case of Gerald Massey, for example. (See Christ in Egypt.)
Universal Archetypes and Patterns
Concerning the numerous parallels between Christianity and other religions, since Bob’s piece was written, I have continued to bring forth the research which shows these similarities to be real and significant, in both hemispheres of the world. (See “Why do the Maya believe Jesus is the sun?” as but one example of numerous such analyses.) These patterns or archetypes can be explained in a few ways: 1. They are shared between cultures (diffusionism); 2. They are part of the mass human psyche and develop independently (isolationism); and 3. They are a combination of both. This debate requires a great deal of space and figures significantly in my “global civilization” or “lost religion” research previously discussed.
These patterns unquestionably are based on nature worship and, significantly, astrotheology, which is simply astronomy and religion combined, the exact formula we find all over the world, in countless human artifacts, including massive pyramids, temple complexes, statuary, wall carvings and hieroglyphs, as well as, most importantly here, myths galore. Here is a major reason the commonalities exist: Because we can all see the sun, moon, stars and various constellations from different parts of the world. We all feel the wind and thrive on the same things, such as food and water. I am interested in this underlying archetype and its numerous expressions worldwide. This pattern or archetype jumps out at one from the pages of the Bible as well, both Old and New Testaments.
Crosses and Cruciforms
Regarding the widespread and ancient motif of gods on crosses or in cruciform, in my book Christ in Egypt I discuss the solar deity Horus with wings outstretched and as a forerunner of the Gnostic figure of Horos-Stauros or “Boundary-Cross.” As I explain in CIE, the antiquity of Horos and Stauros as pre-Christian philosophical concepts, as well as this idea of deity in cruciform, can be found in Plato (Timaeus 35 A-36 D). Gnostic expert Jean Doresse discusses this Platonic passage thus:
…Plato imagines the creation by the Demiurge of the circles of “the same” and of “the other”—i.e., of the celestial equator and of the ecliptic intersecting in the form of a cross. Taking over this notion, the Gnostics saw this imaginary cross, traced upon the celestial vault which is the utmost bound of our eyesight, as “the limit” separating the higher universe from the material world in which we are confined. A Christian interpretation of this idea, analogous to that which Valentinus develops, is already to be found in the Apology of St. Justin (I. 60) who puts it this way—”Plato with a cross upon the universe.”
Midway between the Being which is indivisible and remains always the same and the Being which is transient and divisible in bodies, He blended a third form of Being compounded out of the twain, that is to say, out of the Same and the Other; and in like manner He compounded it midway between that one of them which is indivisible and that one which is divisible in bodies. And He took the three of them, and blent [sic] them all together into one form, by forcing the Other into union with the Same, in spite of its being naturally difficult to mix….
Next, He split all this that He had put together into two parts lengthwise; and then He laid the twain one against the other, the middle of one to the middle of the other, like a great cross…
In his book The Spirit of Liturgy (180), Cardinal Ratzinger, the current pope, explains further:
The Fathers belonging to the Greek cultural world were more directly affected by another discovery. In the writings of Plato, they found the remarkable idea of a cross inscribed upon the cosmos (cf Timaeus 34ab and 36bc). Plato took this from the Pythagorean tradition, which in its turn had a connection with the traditions of the ancient East. First, there is an astronomical statement about the two great movements of the stars with which ancient astronomy was familiar: the ecliptic (the great circle in the heavens along which the sun appears to run its course) and the orbit of the earth. These two intersect and form together the Greek letter Chi, which is written in the form of a cross (like an X). The sign of the cross is inscribed upon the whole cosmos. Plato, again following more ancient traditions, connected this with the image of the deity: the Demiurge (the fashioner of the world) “stretched out” the world soul “throughout the whole universe.”
“Plato took this [idea of a cosmic cross] from the Pythagorean tradition, which in its turn had a connection with the traditions of the ancient East.”
As we know, rumor had it antiquity that Pythagoras traveled to India, which is likely the “ancient East” where he procured this notion of a cosmic cross. This cosmic concept also exists independently and significantly in Mesoamerica, where crosses were so abundant and so much a part of Maya religion, for example, that the invading Spaniards were completely flummoxed by their existence and meaning. As it turns out, the Mesoamerican crosses are permeated with meaning, as they are considered representative of the sun, the cosmos, the Milky Way, the World Tree, the king, sacrifice, resurrection, immortality, the afterlife, salvation and practically everything Christianity likewise attributes to its cross. My argument, of course, is that the Christian cross is a very pale imitation of the earlier and more cosmic “pagan” cross. The Maya usage of the cross essentially proves this fact.
Moreover, the Mesoamerican cross itself was viewed as alive, so it too represented a divine figure in cruciform, an idea we discover, in reality, in numerous places, such as demonstrated in my forum post here: “Cruciforms/Gods on Crosses.” One usage of cruciform gods and goddesses is over doorways, while another is in crossroads. Both of these uses are logical and undeniable, and this tradition must be very old, found in India and elsewhere, whether or not as concerns Krishna per se. (In Suns of God, I included a lengthy chapter entitled, “Krishna Crucified?” which traces the history of this contention and discusses the pre-Christian motif of deities on crosses or in cruciform.)
Regarding me having my own publishing company, it was a logical choice, as there is no real industry that deals well with mythicist literature; hence, I have created my own. My publishing company is not limited to my own works, as I have also edited and published a fabulous book by the great mythicist Barbara G. Walker, Man Made God, and there are several others that I hope to have time for, including of the Buddhist mythicist school as well as, hopefully, something by Bob Price!
All of this being said, I thank Bob Price for taking the time to prod me in the right direction, as his criticisms and input have not gone ignored. I consider him a friend, colleague and muse in a shared endeavor to raise up this fascinating debate and the colorful cornucopia and unifying undercurrent it exposes, to the world’s great benefit.
Robert M. Price’s website
D.M. Murdock with Robert Price on Point of Inquiry Radio
Did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson Believe Jesus was a Myth?
Jesus as the Sun throughout History
Why do the Maya believe Jesus is the sun?
Jesus Christ, Mason of God
Astrotheology of the Ancients
Gods on Crosses and in Cruciform