Saturday, June 06, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part Five

I have just recently gone through the seventh chapter of Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ. At this point, he gets into the historicity of the bible in general, and ends up dismissing most -if not all- of the stories in the old and new testaments as pious myths. Here are the statements made by Tom Harpur in that chapter:

The lead article in the March 2002 issue of the prestigious Harper's magazine, titled "False Testament," bluntly stated that archaeology now refutes the Bible's claim to history. Over the past several years, dispute over biblical historicity has marked scholarly conferences and been the focus of articles in The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report, a cover story in the December 2002 issue of Maclean's magazine, and a hard-hitting piece by the archaeologist Ze'ev Herzog in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. But the Harper's expose, by the journalist Daniel Lazare, was the most trenchant, current account I have seen yet.

Citing the most recent evidence (or rather, for the most part, the lack of it), Lazare pulled the foundation out from under almost every major historical beam in the edifice of accepted wisdom about everything from the existence of Abraham and the other biblical patriarchs to the Exodus from Egypt, the supposed gories of Kings David and Solomon, and even the reputed conquest of the Promised Land (Canaan).[1]

The way it is written sounds very sensationalistic, especially when you get to the part where he talks about Lazare "pulling the foundation out from under every major historical beam in the edifice of accepted wisdom". The fact that these things are being published in popular (oftentimes Liberal) magazines and newspapers rather than scholarly scientific journals should already be enough to raise some red flags. Further on, he writes:

Lazare stated baldly that on the basis of his research and a survey of current scholarship, he'd concluded that all of this is "bosh." In the past quarter century, he said, archaeologists have seen "one settled assumption over who the ancient Israelites were and where they came proved false." Instead of a band of invaders who conquered Canaan, "the Israelites are now thought to have been an indigenous culture that developed west of the Jordan River around 1200 B.C.E."

The epic stories of Abraham, Isaac, and the other patriarchs "appear to have been spliced... out of various pieces of local lore." The whole account of David's empire is now viewed as "an invention of Jerusalem-based priests in the seventh and eighth centuries B.C.E. who were keen to burnish their national history," he wrote. (By the way, a study of comparative religions shows that all ancient peoples did the same.)

According to Lazare's findings, Jewish monotheism--that is, the exclusive worship of a Semitic deity called YHWA--didn't fully "coalesce" until sometime between an Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. and the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah in 586. The Bible indicates this happened much earlier. As we shall discover, the true origins appeared in Egyptian religious thought.

The situation gets even more problematic for the traditionalists in every camp. Abraham, as Kuhn had long insisted, was utterly mythological. "Not only is there no evidence that any such figure as Abraham ever lived but archaeologists believe that there is no way such a figure could have lived given what we now know about Israelite origins," Lazare wrote. In other words, as Kuhn said much earlier, he was a leading figure in the larger myth.[2]

Just so you know folks, it's YHWH, not YHWA. There is no Hebrew equivalent for the letter A, or any of the vowels, for that matter. Also, if the Exodus never occurred, that just makes you wonder how "Egyption religious thought" could have influenced the religious thought of the Israelites.

Now, he claims that there is no archaeological evidence that Abraham was a real historical figure, a position that is held only by a small minority of historians and archaeologists, not to mention certain sensationalistic journalists. In reality, we do have extra-biblical corroboration for the existence of Abraham. In particular, there is a record that comes from the reign of Pharaoh Sheshonq I, whom many scholars equate with the biblical Shishak (1 Kings 11:40, 14:25-26). In an inscription found in the Temple of Amun in Karnak, there is a mention of "The fort [or fortified town] of Abraham," which is located in the Negev desert, and has been equated by some scholars with Beersheba, a city founded by Abraham (Genesis 21:32-33). This is due to the fact that both are found in the Negev, it is unexplainable that a city as prominent as Beersheba could have been omitted from the Pharaoh's records, unless it is the very same city that is called Fort Abram by the Egyptians. [3]

Moving on, we have Harpur quoting Lazare to further disprove the Exodus, as well as the existence of David and Solomon. Here he says:

And Lazare didn't stop there. The Exodus never occurred, he asserted, a conclusion he based upon a growing body of evidence about ancient Egyptian border defences, desert sites where the fleeing Israelites allegedly camped, and so on. The Old Testament description of Canaan thus "turns out to be fictional as well."

King David, said by the Bible to have been a mighty potentate and empire builder, "was rather a freebooter who carved out what was at most a small duchy in the southern highlands around Jerusalem and Hebron." In fact, there are some archaeologists today who maintain, because of the absence of concrete evidence, that he too never existed. The name of David appears on one lone inscription on a stone block, or stele, from the ninth century B.C.E., and that's all there is. As Lazare points out, "If David and Solomon had been important regional power brokers, one might reasonably expect their names to crop up on monuments and in the diplomatic correspondence of the day. Yet, once again, the record is silent.

Fundamentalists once took delight in evidence from the 1930s that the walls of Jericho had on one occasion fallen down, much as the Book of Joshua describes. However, Lazare reminds readers that the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, in more recent times, has demonstrated from pottery shards in the ruins that the destruction occurred no later 1300 B.C.E., almost a hundred years before the conquest (if there was one) could have happened. Joshua may well not have "fit the battle of Jericho" after all.[4]

The argument from silence is not a very good one. Besides, one inscription alone should be enough to prove that there was a historical David. Remember that archaeological records from the bronze/iron age aren't always well preserved. For example, the writings of certain figures as Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), Thucydides (460-395 B.C.E.) and Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.E.) are only preserved in a few manuscripts (no more than 5-10 in number each), and these manuscripts are from anywhere between nine to fourteen centuries after these characters lived, yet we do not question that they existed as historical figures. [5]

Thus, it would be too biased if anybody was to apply a different standard on the Bible and the figures mentioned therein. If we were to apply such a standard consistently, then we don't know what anybody from back then said or did, and we wouldn't know if any of the major historical figures of that period even existed!

Also, if the archaeological findings on Jericho disprove anything, it is only that Jericho fell later than 1300 B.C.E. We do not have a definite date for the conquest, so it could well have occurred before the aforementioned date. In fact, archaeology does support the idea of an Israelite conquest. According to Dr. David Livingston, "Cultural changes favor an early (1400 BC) Conquest." He quotes Frederic Brandfon, one of the staff at the Beer-Sheba excavation, who makes this statement:

. . . most of the [Iron Age] villages were established prior to the destruction of the urban centers on the nearby tells. . . . Villages so characteristic of the Israelite settlement period began at a time when the Late Bronze Age cities had not yet been destroyed. The resulting archaeological picture is one of cultural overlapping, with urban and rural settlements existing side by side. . . . Sites typical of the Late Bronze Age -- the Canaanite cities -- and sites characteristic of the Iron Age -- the Early Iron Age villages are now known to have been contemporary. In relative terms, the Iron Age appears to have begun earlier than previously suspected. The excavations of the village sites has raised the date for the beginning of the Iron Age, while the Lachish and Tel Sera inscriptions have lowered the date for the end of the Late Bronze Age. The result is a broad range of overlap between what is commonly known as the "Late Bronze Age" and the "Early Iron Age" lasting almost 100 years, from about 1230 to 1150 B.C.E. [6]

"This," according to Dr. Livingston, "admirably addresses the situation of Israel living in the countryside in tents while the towns and cities remained Canaanite, but were gradually taken over by Israelites." (link)

Moving on, we have a rather ridiculous assertion coming from Kuhn, who is quoted extensively by Mr. Harpur:

In The lost Light, Kuhn makes some startling comments on Abraham, who he says categorically was never a historical figure. Kuhn even unlocks the meaning of the patriarch's name, A-Brahm, arguing it is a combination of the alpha privative (as in the words "armoral" and "anoxia" and Brahm (as in Vedic or Hindu), and means, therefore, "not Brahm." He writes that "Abraham the patriarch, or oldest of the emanations, was not Brahm, the Hindu supreme deity, Brahma, the absolute, but the first emenation from Brahm. He was the first life that was not Absolute, but from the Absolute, a kind of demi-god, or sun God." [7]

This theory of emanations sounds like something out of Gnosticism. That aside, the problem with the assertion made by Kuhn (and Harpur by quoting him) is that Abraham is a Hebrew name, while the alpha privative is a feature of the Greek language, and Brahm comes from the Hindus, who lived way too far away to have possibly exerted any influence on Jewish religious thought. It is way too much of a stretch to assert that these two somehow influenced the Hebrew tongue to produce the name "A-brahm".

The same method is used again by Harpur on the names of Lazarus and of the town of Bethany (John 11:1 ff). Notice the amount of grammatical stretching and amalgamating of different (sometimes unrelated) languages that he resorts to in his "scholarly analysis:"

Consider this a form of detective work for a few moments and see how scholarly analysis reveals the true meaning of what is going on. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Anu, called Heliopolis in Greek (meaning "city of the sun"), was the theological name of an actual Egyptian city where the rites of the death, burial, and resurrection of Osirirs of Horus were enacted each year. The name is a combination of nu, the name for "mother heaven", or primal, empty space, "the abyss of of nothingness," and the alpha privative--hence, A-Nu, or "not nothingness," a world of concrete actuality, the world of substantial manifestation. In other words, Anu was precisely a place where units of divine consciousness (or souls) go to their symbolic "death" in every human (incarnation) and later rise again to glory. Anu was called, among other things, the place of "multiplying bread." (Significantly, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, means "the house of bread." We will not stop here, tempted though we may be, to show the intimate connections between this concept and the Gospel Christ who multiplies loaves and fishes for the crowds.) The Hebrews added their prefix for "house," beth, to Anu and produced Beth-Anu, or the House of Anu. But because the u and the y were interchangeable in antiquity, we ended up with the New Testament counterpart Bethany. The point here is that when we read the Egyptian text, we find that the Egyptian Christ, Horus, performed a great miracle at Anu, or Bethany. He raised his father, Osiris, from the dead, calling unto him in the cave to "rise and come forth."

These clues help us solve the question of who Lazarus was originally. According to the great Egyptologist Sir Wallis Budge, as well as my major sources and other eminent authorities on the texts, one ancient name for Osiris was Asar. The Egyptians reglurarly expressed their reference by place the definite article "the" before the names of their gods. Just as Christians say, or should say, "the Christ," the Egyptians say "the Osirirs." But that was the equivalent of saying "Lord Osiris". When the Hebrews took up the name of the Osiris, or Lord Osiris, they used the Hebrew word for "lord," el--hence El-Asar. Later on, the Romans, speaking Latin, of course took El-Asar and added the us ending used for most male names. The result was El-Asar-us. In time, the initial e "wore off," as linguists describe it, and the s in Asar changed to z, its constant companion in language. Thus, we have Lazarus, the Osiris of the Beth-Anu story. So it is that, beginning with massey, these scholars convincingly conclude that Jesus' raising of Lazarus at Bethany is "but a rescript of the old Egyptian dramatic mystery in which Horus, the Christ, raised his 'dead' father Osiris from the grave." It is written in the hieroglyphics that Horus followed the divine Meri to the place where Asar (Orisirs) lay buried in his tomb, just as Jesus followed mary, who had come forth to meet him on the way to Bethany. The most important point is that this Egyptian recital was in the papyri perhaps as long ago as five thousand years B.C.E. [8]

To even the semi-unbiased person, the verbal gymnastics and constant reading into the text should be plainly obvious. I would like to see where Harpur found the alleged text where Horus resurrects Osiris (I already covered Horus and Osiris in part three of this series, and no mention is ever made of such an event).

Also, I guess it is irrelevant to Mr. Harpur that there is an actual historical city named "Bethany", and that the actual meaning of its name is "house of dates". Besides, how do you get "Beth-anu" out of the original Greek word "βηθανιας" (Bethanias)?

Also, the Hebrew word for Lord is actually "Adonai". "El" (short for Elohim) actually means God, so that exposes another one of the grammatical errors of Mr. Harpur. That aside, the rest of Mr. Harpur's eisegesis involves way too much stretching to be considered credible (especially the part where he alleges that a Hebrew prefix and a Latin suffix are both arbitrarily added to an Egyptian word. Besides, the New Testament was written in Greek, not Latin, so the name actually reads as "λαζαρος" (Lazaros).

All of this is used by Harpur to justify his "esoteric" interpretation of the scriptures, where we who have "the Christ within" must symbolically "die and rise again" in this life.

Finally, I must deal with one last objection from chapter seven of the book. This is a rehashing of an old argument raised time and time again by skeptics against the historicity of the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Here, Harpur writes:

Luke tells how a decree went out from Augustus that "all the world should be registered." The trouble is that there is absolutely no trace--in a well-documented period--of such a decree. It's simply a means of getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for theological reasons. The messiah had to be of Davidic descent, and thus from Bethlehem. Luke says the birth occurred while Quirinius was governor of Syria. That means it could not have happened before 6 C.E., the year we know he took office. At the same time, Matthew says Jesus was conceived while Herod the Great was in power in Judea. But Herod died in 4 B.C.E.! The author of The Jesus Mysteries points out that Mary's real miracle, if both references are taken as genuinely historical, was "a 10-year pregnancy." For Matthew, Jesus' hometown was Bethlehem. For Luke, it was Nazareth.

As we have already seen, the stories of the angels and the shepherds, in Luke, and of the wise men, in Matthew, are rewrites of Egyptian mythical themes from at least two thousand years earlier. They are portrayed in the art at Luxor. There is no historical record of Herod's alleged edict regarding the "slaughter of the innocents" either. Common sense tells us that such an order was an impossibility in any case. Did Herod intend to kill the children of his friends, his soldiers, his civil servants, tourists passing through, and so on? You know for certain the whole matter is symbolic once you realize that an attempt to slaughter a holy child appears in all the ancient hero myths, from Moses to Horus to Sargon to Hercules. As noted earlier, the threat to the newly born Horus, the Egyptian Christ, came from Herut, the serpent. [9]

Actually, such decrees were quite common during the time of the Roman empire, and there is plenty of papyrus evidence to back that up. For example, one decree dated to around 104 C.E. reads:

Gaius Vibius Maximus, Prefect of Egypt [says]: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their provinces to return to their own homes, and they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments. [10]

Notice the mention of "the regular order of the census". This shows such orders were quite commonplace at the time, so it is well within reason that such an event would have taken place. Mr. Harpur also claims that Matthew makes Bethlehem Jesus' hometown, but this is just another argument from silence. Just because Matthew does not explicitly state what Luke states doesn't mean that Matthew was proposing a different origin for Joseph and Mary.

Also, Mr. Harpur claims that common sense tells us that it was impossible for Herod to have ordered the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16). I guess Mr. Harpur's "common sense" does not take into account the fact that Herod was a very murderous man who had no qualms about condemning even his own relatives to death. The account of his ordering the execution of his own sons is well documented by the Jewish historian Josephus:

As for Herod, if he had before any doubt about the slaughter of his sons, there was now no longer any room left in his soul for it; but he had banished away whatsoever might afford him the least suggestion of reasoning better about this matter, so he already made haste to bring his purpose to a conclusion. He also brought out three hundred of the officers that were under an accusation, as also Tero and his son, and the barber that accused them before an assembly, and brought an accusation against them all; whom the multitude stoned with whatsoever came to hand, and thereby slew them. Alexander also and Aristobulus were brought to Sebaste, by their father's command, and there strangled; but their dead bodies were in the night time carried to Alexandraum, where their uncle by the mother's side, and the greatest part of their ancestors, had been deposited.

And now perhaps it may not seem unreasonable to some, that such an inveterate hatred might increase so much as to proceed further, and overcome nature; but it may justly deserve consideration, whether it be to be laid to the charge of the young men, that they gave such an occasion to their father's anger, and led him to do what he did, and by going on long in the same way put things past remedy, and brought him to use them so unmercifully; or whether it be to be laid to the father's charge, that he was so hard-hearted, and so very tender in the desire of government, and of other things that would tend to his glory, that e would take no one into a partnership with him, that so whatsoever he would have done himself might continue immovable... And this temper he showed in what he did afterward, when he did not spare those that seemed to be the best beloved of his friends that were left, wherein, though the justice of the punishment caused those that perished to be the less pitied, yet was the barbarity of the man here equal, in that he did not abstain from their slaughter also. But of those persons we shall have occasion to discourse more hereafter. [12]

Given this murderous nature of King Herod, it would have been well within his reason to kill all the infants in the little town of Bethlehem in order to preserve his own kingship, and such an action would have been so characteristic of him that it would have seemed redundant for anyone to record such a commonplace event. It might seem strange to the modern mindset, but it fits well with the bloody landscape of 1st century Palestine.

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 116.
2. Ibid, p. 117.
3. Dailey, Timothy J. Ph.D. and David M. Howard, Jr. Mysteries of the Bible. Publications Internatonal, Ltd., 1998. p. 35-36.
4. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 117-118.
5. Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. The Bible and Its World. InterVarsity Press, 1977. p. 131.
6. Herzog, Ze'ev. Beer-Sheba II: The Early Iron Age Settlements. Tel Aviv University: Institute of Archaeology, 1984.
7. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 121.
8. Ibid, p. 133-134.
9. Ibid, p. 125-126.
10.McRay, John. Archaeology and the New Testament. Baker, 1991. p. 155.
12. Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 16, Chapter 11.

UPDATE (July 13, 2009)

Those who have read an earlier revision of this article might be wondering why a citation has been dropped from it. The reason behind this is that I realized that the information presented therein is not as accurate as I had hoped it to be. For a clarification on this, check out this blog post.

Further Reading

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