Mythicist book about Bart Ehrman and the Christ myth
- Acharya S
The collaborative rebuttal of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? is available both in Kindle and hard copy. This one-of-a-kind volume is entitled Bart Erhman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? (Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2012). The book includes the writings of several mythicists, to wit: me, Frank Zindler, Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Rene Salm, Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald. To my knowledge, this book represents the first time articles of so many Jesus mythicists have been published together in one volume, specifically in defense of Christ-myth studies.
Most of the writing is by Frank Zindler, a past president of American Atheists who has written several mythicist articles and the book The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, among others. The present tome was edited by Zindler and Bob Price, who dedicated it to the great Thomas Paine, himself a student of the case for Jesus mythicism and evidently discussed it with American president Thomas Jefferson.
The book’s contents are divided into five parts, covering Ehrman’s tome in the first section, addressing in specific the problem of Nazareth in part 2, with the third part discussing “crucified messiahs,” the fourth and fifth parts composed of lengthy articles addressing various other aspects of Jesus mythicism and Ehrman’s work.
My first essay appears in the initial part, “Ehrman’s Arguments Engaged.” My paper represents a reprint of my writing at Freethought Nation, “The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ hidden in the Vatican,” which bears reiteration for many reasons, including that the popular god Priapus shares several important characteristics in common with Christ, as I also discuss in a follow-up article entitled, “The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ at the Vatican revisited.”
My other article in the Ehrman rebuttal book appears in section two, “The Problem of Nazareth,” in which Zindler and Salm demonstrate that there is no evidence Nazareth existed as a “city” or inhabited place during the era when Jesus purportedly lived. My article in this part is entitled, “Was There a Historical ‘Jesus of Nazareth?’ The use of Midrash to create a biographical detail in the gospel story.” In this paper, I show that there is no reason to assume that Nazareth was a real place, when from the Greek of the New Testament the designation is not “Jesus of Nazareth” but “Jesus the Nazarene,” reflecting a pre-Christian sect of which the Old Testament hero Samson was said to be a member as well. This discussion strikes at the heart of the supposed “Jesus of Nazareth,” who in reality finds no place either in such a town or in history. (See my books and articles for arguments about the “evidence” for Jesus in non-Christian writings from antiquity, such as “Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?“)
I have not read the entire book, but I am quite happy to see that a couple of people have included some defense of my work, in particular Dr. Robert M. Price in his “Introduction.” Beginning on p. xxi, Price writes:
Acharya S (pen name of D.M. Murdock) is one of the prime targets for Professor Ehrman’s haughty derision. Her chief sin in Ehrman’s eyes would appear to be her lack of diplomas on the wall, notwithstanding Acharya’s extensive researches, including on-site investigations of archaeological materials, and her extensive documentation of her theories. She dares to plumb neglected and forgotten works by old writers, separating the wheat from the chaff where these old authors lacked the (more recent) knowledge that would have enabled them to tell the difference. Like a scribe who produces from her treasury goods old and new (Matt. 13:52), she has a knack for displaying intriguing data neglected by “mainstream” scholars who simply do not know what to make of them. Such items of evidence are rejected or ignored by scholars who have long since assembled the jigsaw in a particular way and find that these oddly shaped bits cannot be conveniently inserted. Acharya dissents: she sees the need to start over and to redo the puzzle. One such puzzle piece is the bizarre artifact inscribed with the caption “Savior of the World,” a bust of a rooster-headed man whose beak is replaced by an erect penis! Was this thing an improbable caricature of Jesus Christ? An artist’s conception of the fabled Antichrist? An idol of the god Priapus? Any way you cut it, the ancient world was full of oddities that imply a stranger, more complex picture than many would like to think. Well, Bart Ehrman not only knows not what to make of the dickhead deity (we could forgive him for that); he just wishes it away, declaring it a figment of Acharya’s fevered imagination. Such libel only reveals a total disinclination to do a fraction of the research manifest on any singe page of Acharya’s works. In fact, one inevitably thinks of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? In it he declares, “Without actually consulting Exodus, I seem to remember that the Ark was often surrounded by flashing sparks.” Here Acharya obligingly does what she shouldn’t have to do, providing (again!) the documentation for her account of “The Phallic Savior of the World in the Vatican Museum.” Are Acharya’s hypotheses and speculations debatable? That is no surprise when one ventures, and one suspects that is what Ehrman, safely ensconced in the cocoon of mainstream scholarship, really cannot brook.
Okay, that’s a mouthful! First of all, let me say that I have a draft from last year when Ehrman’s book first came out with some 60 pages of rebuttal, but I had to proceed to other projects. If enough people are interested, perhaps I will dust it off and lob it back at the doubter of the divine dickhead, who has libeled me (and others) several times in his book with the false charge of “fabrication,” disproved handily in this one instance alone.
Secondly, as concerns credentials, I received a degree in Classics, Greek Civilization, from Franklin & Marshall College, and subsequently attended the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece, for post-graduate studies. This education and experience are quite relevant, since I read ancient and modern Greek fairly well, and, as we know, the New Testament was composed in Greek, as was the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, both of which versions I study on a regular basis.
In this same regard, I also spent years in Greece doing both graduate and post-graduate studies that took me the length and breadth of the country, with a focus not only on ancient, classical Greek civilization but also on the nation’s Christian period, dating back to the earliest centuries. In my studies, which included excavating at the site of Corinth, where St. Paul addressed the Corinthians, I gained a great deal of knowledge of the Mediterranean region and history, vital to the study of Christian origins. Because of my formal education, I possess a significant grasp of the milieu of the day and, as Bob Price graciously has acknowledged, an unusual ability to put together seemingly disparate and far-flung pieces of the puzzle.
It should be noted that in my use of “old writers,” I am merely beginning the quest, a simple starting point. In my scholarship, I constantly cite the original, primary sources in their own languages, along with the most up-to-date research and discoveries in the works of credentialed authorities in relevant fields. It should also be noted that the older scholars possessed a broad knowledge that many specialists do not have today, which means they were able to look far afield and see the comparisons that form the basis of comparative religion and mythology studies dating back many centuries. These comparative religion studies, in fact, extend into the early Christian era, with the raising of parallels by Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Minucius and others.
In this present collaborative effort, I do not discuss my usual specialty, which is these very parallels between the Jesus figure and the deities and heroes of antiquity, around the Mediterranean and beyond. For these comparisons, which I included in my first published book The Christ Conspiracy (now in revision), I have spent the past decade digging up the primary sources in their original languages, working in ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Canaanite, Egyptian, Coptic, Sanskrit, Vedic and modern tongues such as German and French.
In dealing with the older scholars, one should keep in mind that their standard education included intense study of classical writers in their original languages, such as Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Diodorus, Plutarch, Suetonius, Tacitus and the early Church fathers. In Europe and America over the past several centuries, in fact, it was de rigeur to be educated in these subjects, and often the scholars refer to these ancient sources as if everyone else will know exactly what they are talking about, without need for citation. As a classics major, I approached the material in the same way, not always realizing that not everyone else these days had studied these classical writers and would know the references. Hence, I have worked diligently to bring forth these sources, highlighting the relevant passages and including them in their original languages.
In this regard, my websites, forums and blogs are full of these citations – one can search freely this blog itself to bring up results across my websites. One can also find these various parallels and many other mythicist arguments in my books and ebooks, such as The Christ Conspiracy, Suns of God, Who Was Jesus?, Christ in Egypt, Jesus as the Sun throughout History and so on.
I find it somewhat amusing that it has been left to me, the sole female in this tome as well as prominently in the field of mythicism in general, to explore the subject of the priapus gallinaceus, the “dickhead deity,” as Bob Price has so eloquently put it. Perhaps in erecting this issue, Erhman felt I would be intimidated by the display of manhood. Needless to say, I am not, and it is my pleasure to wave my own prowess around in return. The priapus gallinaceus represents an entire genre of fertility cult objects, the need for which in human culture and religion has extended back into the hoary mists of time. In Israel itself are discovered similar sacred sex and fertility cult artifacts, such as stone phalluses, and our religious iconography abounds in this imagery, along with the female genitalia, such as the yonic vesica piscis, which has been used even to frame Our Lord and His Holy Mother, among other divines and saints.
As Price hinted, there is much more to this subject of ancient “sacred sex” symbolism, which assuredly has been incorporated into Christianity and which I addressed in the first edition of Christ Con. In consideration of the abundance of sex symbolism within Christianity, it would not surprise us if this ancient ithyphallic genre indeed was applied at some point to the Christian soter tou cosmou or “savior of the world.”
Priapus and Christianity
This contention becomes especially probable when we consider how many similarities there are between the Greco-Roman god Priapus and the Christian god, including, as I state elsewhere, the recognition of Priapus as “God the Father, first person of the Trinity, the ‘Good One.'” Indeed, Priapus was called the “Good One,” as was the Jewish tribal god Yahweh, as well as many other gods and goddesses in antiquity, including Jesus. (See my “Chrestos” series.)
Moreover, like so many other ancient deities, Priapus the Cock was significantly solar, an attribute he shares with Jesus, the “Sun of Righteousness.” So popular was Priapus even into the “Christian” era that, in the Middle Ages, he became a Christian saint, under a number of monikers – causing us to wonder whether or not “St. Peter” is likewise a rehash of Priapus in significant part:
St. Foutin in the north of France in Languedoc and in the province of Lyons, St. Gilles in Brittany, St. Rene in Anjou, St. Regnaud in Burgundy, St. Guignole near Brest, St. Guerlichon in Bourges, St. Cosmo and St. Damiano in Isernia in Italy. Thus, the cult of Priapus was widespread throughout Europe… (Baird, 89)
In any event, there is much more to this fascinating subject, which one can peruse in the various links here. Suffice it to say, in implying that I fabricated or misrepresented this artifact, which in reality is part of an entire genre, is false and calumnious, as well as indicative of a lack of expertise and due diligence unbecoming a professional scholar of renown. For this one gaffe, Ehrman is also pilloried by Richard Carrier, in an unusual defense of my work, which I greatly appreciate. (In the present work, Carrier cannot resist making it known that he disagrees with other writers in this new mythicist book. If he is referring to me, it should be understood that in general he has not studied the massive volume of data I have worked hard to bring forth over the past decades.)
Since the Erhman rebuttal book was put together and edited by Frank Zindler and Robert Price, it is understandable that the bulk of it represents their writings, along with several lengthy contributions by Earl Doherty, who labored to rebut Ehrman’s equally sloppy treatment of his work, producing dozens of articles. I would love to have had other of my rebuttals published, naturally, had I known the book was going to be so voluminous, comprising some 567 pages!
Which brings me to the problems with this volume. The issues with this book stem largely from the fact that we needed to get it done ASAP and, in the midst of the process, Frank Zindler’s beloved wife of 48 years passed away, leaving him and his editor daughter bereft and distracted by grief. During this period of mourning, the book’s files were lost and needed to be reconstructed. It is unfortunate that there exists no index or bibliography, although some of the articles such as my own possess separate bibliographies, and various citations are included in footnotes, so the reader is not left hanging.
Another criticism regards my carefully procured quotes in the Greek alphabet, which now have been transliterated using the Latin script. I understand this need for the lay public, but I do need to state that those transliterations are not original to my articles, which contained the Greek quotes.
Also, as a trivial quibble concerning the editing, single and double quotations are used haphazardly. In American usage, double quotations are for primary quotes, while single marks are employed within the initial citation. In British style, the opposite is the case. Also, as a publisher, I think the book could have been 6×9, reducing its bulk and cost, which likewise would be true with smaller top and bottom margins in the interior. Because of the issues with the files being lost, apparently, italicized text is sometimes extended beyond its original intention, which can be confusing.
All that being said, I truly appreciate the fact that Frank, his daughter and Bob took the time to put together this volume, especially in the midst of such tragedy and illness.
A Salient Historical Work
All in all, this volume constitutes a very significant contribution to the field of mythicist studies – and there does exist such a field, with an enormous body of literature dating back centuries. Before the book’s publication, I was privy to see the exchange of emails between Zindler and Ehrman, in which it becomes clear that Ehrman is not an expert on mythicist studies – as we could tell likewise by his book DJE in the first place – and that he was not interested in knowing the data. This latter fact is a shame, because this scholarship is absolutely fascinating, and it reveals the origins of religious and mythological ideation dating back to remote antiquity. Whispers and threads of the much later Christ character and “Christian” doctrines can be found in religious sects and cults dating back to the first writing, as in the Sumerian, Babylonian, Ugaritic, Egyptian, Persian and Indian texts.
As concerns the Zindler-Ehrman correspondence, which Frank has published in this volume with permission from Ehrman, another thing that struck me was that Frank is an old-school mythicist well versed in this large body of centuries-old scholarship. It is unfortunate that there are so few of us left, but we hope to inspire many more to take a look. Zindler is also impressive in that he works in the original languages, such as Greek, and I feel a certain kindred spiritness with him in that regard.
The importance of this peer-reviewed book cannot be overemphasized. As Zindler says in his “Foreword” (xi):
The struggle here engaged is not just another scholarly quarrel. It is a contest between scholars who see the world through the lens of science and those who cannot yet cut themselves free from the anchors of religious and traditional authority. Until the publication in 2012 of Bart D. Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, scholars who have denied the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth have for the most part been answered only by religious apologists, not genuine historians or biblical scholars. Only occasionally during the twentieth century did secular scholars take critical notice of the growing Mythicist literature and present arguments against even the most uncertain and vulnerable parts of it. For the most part, the strategy of traditional scholars seems to have been, “If we ignore them, sooner or later they’ll give up and go away.”
That strategy worked very well, and notice of the so-called Mythicist position were taken neither in Academe nor in pulpit. Until the advent of the internet, Mythicist evidence and arguments against the Historical Jesus was largely excluded from the ordinary channels of scholarly communications.
Everything changed, however, when the Mythicist position was formally engaged by Professor Bart. D. Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ehrman arguably is one of the most famous and professional respected New Testament scholars in America. In his Did Jesus Exist?, specific Mythicists are named and their works are cited and criticized. This is a milestone in the history of Historical-Jesus studies, and it lends hope that before too long a genuine Science of Christian Origins will be able to supplant Historical-Jesus Studies in the world of secular scholarship.
The present book provides an opportunity for Mythicists to reply to Professor Ehrman’s criticisms in Did Jesus Exist?…
A milestone indeed, because the tome is a show of force, so to speak, that ignoring us has not made us go away. For those unfamiliar with mythicist scholarship, the doubting of the gospel story goes back many centuries, indicated in the polemics of the early Church fathers themselves. Hints of Jesus mythicism can be found from the 17th century AD/CE, in the critical schools of Europe, until the first massive mythicist work by Charles Dupuis, Origine de tous les cultes, was published in the late 18th century. The multivolume original of this opus originally was in French, and only a certain percentage of it has been rendered into English. Dupuis’s erudition was extraordinary and peerless, drawing from as many ancient sources and commentaries as he could muster. One of Dupuis’s pupils was Napoleon Bonaparte, while another was Count Volney, whose mythicist work was translated from the French by none other than Thomas Jefferson.
As concerns the addressing of this centuries-long period of mythicist scholarship by professional scholars, after Dupuis and Volney the din became loud indeed, with many other scholars more or less jumping on the critical bandwagon, including F.C. Baur, Bruno Bauer and David Strauss, the latter of whom lost his occupation merely for questioning the authenticity of various parts of the gospel story. The full-blown mythicist and daring renegade Rev. Dr. Robert Taylor took the bull by the horns so forcefully that he was tried and convicted in England for “blasphemy,” serving two prison sentences in harsh conditions for preaching Jesus mythicism from the pulpit! Taylor’s treatment was so egregious that a young Charles Darwin quaked in his boots at the thought of what might become of him for his own theories.
With such aggression against Jesus mythicists and gospel doubters, which succeeded the slaughter of the various inquisitions and witch burnings designed to compel Christianity upon the masses, it is understandable that mythicists were few and far between. Whenever they have surfaced, they have been abused relentlessly by vitriol and calumny, even by other supposed freethinkers and secularists. Nevertheless, the dissenting voices became so ear-shattering during the late 19th century to early 20th that several qualified scholars did engage them at that time, including Shirley Jackson Case and Sir Frederick Conybeare, with evident disdain. In fact, the backlash against mythicism was so hostile and involved so many scholars and clergymen that, like Darwin, advocates shrank back, fearful for their livelihoods if not their lives.
As Frank Zindler says, with the internet, the cat is out of the bag, and there are more Jesus mythicists alive than at any time in history, and we are able to communicate with each other all over the world, in multiple languages. Certain media have exposed this scholarship to hundreds of millions, unparalleled in history. For that freedom of thought and expression, we should thank our lucky stars we are alive at this moment in time. And this sentiment is doubled by the fact that we now possess for the first time in history to my knowledge an anthology of mythicist articles from some of the most prominent scholars of the subject. Let us hope that more interest will provoke actual study courses in universities and colleges globally.
If anyone is interested in following or participating in the discussion of this book, be sure to come visit our forum thread! Please also purchase the book, Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus (ISBN-13: 978-1578840199), either in Kindle or hard copy, or ask your library to carry it. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for this important research!
Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus (Kindle)
Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus (Hard copy)
Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus (Forum thread)
The Phallic ‘Savior of the World’ Revisited
Bart Ehrman’s Book ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ (Forum thread)
The Jesus Forgery: Josephus Untangled
Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?
Pliny, Tacitus and Suetonius: No Proof of Jesus
Is Suetonius’s Chresto a Reference to Jesus?
Acharya S/D.M. Murdock’s Books and Ebooks
Councils for God and the development of the biblical canon: Another response to Bart Ehrman
The Nazareth / Bethlehem Debate