The Son-Sun pun strawman
- Acharya S
In his book Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman singles me out for especial berating, suggesting repeatedly that I am “making things up” and placing me in a category of mythicists whose writings constitute “sensationalist claims that are so extravagant, so wrongheaded, and so poorly substantiated that it is no wonder that scholars do not take them seriously.” According to Ehrman, our books – including Freke and Gandy’s Jesus Mysteries – represent “inaccurate and poorly researched publications.”
It is with unfortunate irony that we realize Ehrman himself – whom conservative Christian critics have styled “Error-man” – has been accused of much the same calumny for his own works, which have served to throw serious skepticism upon the gospel story and early Christian history. Apparently, taking Ehrman’s own skepticism to its logical conclusion warrants receiving a similar abusive tirade of mischaracterizations and accusations passed down the line. Since Ehrman himself knows what it is like to challenge the academic status quo – termed “career suicide” or “occupational suicide” – is it really surprising to him that few scholars will publicly admit to enjoying the forbidden mythicist works?
In Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman claims my book The Christ Conspiracy is “filled with so many factual errors and outlandish assertions that it is hard to believe that the author is serious.” It should be noted that Bart says pretty much the same thing about Earl Doherty’s book, so I’m in good company here. Again, Ehrman’s Christian critics have likewise enunciated similar sentiments about his work. He also goes through a list of “howlers” that I have contended for in my book, stating: “Just to give a sense of the level of scholarship in this sensationalist tome, I list a few of the howlers one encounters en route, in the order in which I found them.” As we shall see here and in our forum thread rebutting DJE, that unflattering categorization may be turned on Ehrman’s book as well.
At one point regarding a major theme in my book that concerns the solar nature of “Jesus Christ” as depicted in the New Testament and extrabiblical Christian literature – a characteristic I and others have described as “the son of God is the sun of God” – Ehrman remarks:
He was not originally a sun-god (as if that equals Son-God!); in fact, in the earliest traditions we have about him, he was not known as a divine being at all. He was understood to be a Jewish prophet and messiah. There are no astrological phenomena associated with Jesus in any of our earliest traditions.
Here Ehrman espouses the typical evemerist position, a view my book is designed to address throughout – Bart gives many such indications he did not read my entire book but simply skimmed through it, without studying the substantiation for my claims.
The Son-Sun pun
While ignoring the significant body of literature demonstrating Christ’s solar nature, including the styling in the Old Testament book of Malachi (4:2) of the coming messiah as the “Sun of Righteousness,” Ehrman falls back on mocking the “Son of God is the Sun of God” English play on words, as if it possesses any merit in this mythicist argument. Over the years since the publication of The Christ Conspiracy in 1999, I have repeatedly addressed the son-sun pun issue waved about by those who do not know its long and celebrated usage by numerous renowned English poets. In using this convenient and clever English figure of speech, I am simply following these poets’ logical and playful suit, not employing the pun to prove a point. Such “howlers” as this false insinuation and strawman by Ehrman give a sense of the level of scholarship in his “poorly researched” and “sensationalist tome.”
In this instance, it would have benefited Bart to research my work a bit more, as he would have found the following response to Australian Christian historian Dr. Chris Forbes, regarding him bringing up this son-sun non-issue as well (adapted for this present rebuttal):
This entire discussion is a strawman argument raised in order to knock it down easily. Nowhere do I claim that the English words “son” and “sun” are cognates and that this pun extends to antiquity. I and many others over the centuries have merely used existing language in order to describe a real phenomenon, mythologically speaking. This son-sun pun obviously does not occur in any ancient or non-Germanic language, and no one is making that absurd claim.
In the meantime, we are hardly the first to utilize this son-sun pun in relation to Jesus Christ in particular, as its use has a long and venerable tradition that a scholar of history might wish to know about. As I say in my ebook Jesus as the Sun throughout History, this sun-son word play has been noted many times previously in history by a variety of individuals, including English priest and poet Robert Southwell in the 16th century and English poet Richard Crashaw in the 17th century. (Davies, 165) English poet and preacher John Donne (1572-1631) and Welsh poet and priest George Herbert (1593-1633) likewise engaged in the son/sun pun as applied to Christ. (Foxell, 8; Wilcox, 306) In discussing Donne, Dr. Arthur L. Clements, a professor at Binghamton University, remarks that the “Son-sun pun” is “familiar enough.” (Clements, 71) Comparing Christ to the “day star,” famous English poet John Milton (1608-1674) was aware of the “sun/son of God” analogy and “revel[ed] in the sun-son pun.” (Miller, D.M., 32) In his book about English poet Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), Dr. Nigel Smith, a professor at Princeton University, comments that “Jesus was also thought to have been referred to in Mal. 4:2 (thereby involving a pun on Sun/Son of God)…” (Smith, N., 42) Puritan minister Edward Taylor (1642-1729) engaged in the same punning by describing Christ as “the onely [sic] begotten Sun that is in the bosom of the Father…” (Miller, D.G., 90)
“Famous English poet John Milton was aware of the ‘sun/son of God’ analogy and revelled in the sun-son pun.”
Furthermore, in describing the actions of the Church fathers in adapting sun myths to Christianity, Thomas Ellwood Longshore declared in 1881: “They merely changed the visible ‘Sun of God’ for the invisible ‘Son of God,’ or for this personage they called the ‘Son of God’…” (Longshore, 103) While addressing the Shakespearean character Petruccio’s “arrogation of the son/sun pun” in “The Taming of the Shrew,” Dr. Peter Holland, a professor of Shakespearean History at Notre Dame University, says that this play on words is “normally used to glorify Christ…” (Holland, 91) In An Introduction to English Grammar, Dr. Sidney Greenbaum, a professor of English at University College London, comments, “Religious poetry traditionally puns Sun with Son, Christ the son of God…” (Greenbaum, 182) Dr. Stephen C. Behrendt, a professor of English at the University of Nebraska, called the pun “longstanding.” (Behrendt, 153) The sun-son play on words as applicable to Christ has also been deemed so “common” as to represent a “devotional pun.” (See, e.g., Rowe, 252; Oberhaus, 79.) (For the bibliography of the sources cited here, see my ebook Jesus as the Sun throughout History.)
Obviously, this “devotional pun” was widely recognized centuries ago by the English-speaking intelligentsia and educated elite; thus, those who use it are in eloquent company. Therefore, shallow criticisms of the statement that the son of God is the sun of God represent illogical strawmen reflective of ignorance of these facts, and should be dismissed as such.
The Sun as the Son of God
Regardless of the son-sun pun in English, the concept of the sun being the Son of God is pre-Christian, as elucidated in numerous myths, such as the Greek and Egyptian, as well as by philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. As related in The Book of the Sun (1494) by Neoplatonic-Christian philosopher Marsillio Ficino concerning Socrates:
According to Plato [Republic, VI, 508c (Ferrari, 215)], he called the Sun not God himself, but the son of God. And I say not the first son of God, but a second, and moreover visible son. For the first son of God is not this visible Sun, but another far superior intellect, namely the first one which only the intellect can contemplate. Therefore Socrates, having been awakened by the celestial Sun, surmised a super celestial Sun, and he contemplated attentively its majesty, and inspired, would admire the incomprehensible bounty of the Father. (Voss, 211)
“According to Plato, Socrates called the Sun not God himself but the son of God…”
As Pico della Mirandola (163) says: “…when Plato in the Republic calls the sun the visible son of God, why may we not understand it as the image of the invisible Son?”
Adding to this “sun of God” theme, in Jewish mythology appears a figure called Shamshiel or שמשין אל in the Aramaic and Σεμιήλ in Greek, also transliterated as Samsâpêêl, Shamshel, Shamsiel or Shashiel. Shamshiel is one of the “Watchers” in the mysterious book 1 Enoch (3rd-1st cents. BCE), representing a “sun angel” and called by a name that means “sun of God.” Evidently based in significant part on the Babylonian sun god Shamash, in Shamshiel is a clear Jewish precedent for the “sun of God” found the New Testament, Jesus, who at Malachi 4:2 in fact is labeled שמש shemesh or Shamash.
As we can see, there is much more to this subject than meets the eye, a vast body of literature, in fact, that cannot be swatted away with a few recycled insults and hand-waving dismissals.
The Son of God is the Sun of God
Rebuttal to Dr. Chris Forbes regarding ‘Zeitgeist, Part 1’
Jesus as the Sun throughout History
The phallic ‘Savior of the World’ in the Vatican
Bart Ehrman: ‘Mythicists’ arguments are fairly plausible’
Did Jesus Exist? forum thread
— Religion and History (@AcharyaS) February 10, 2014