Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Without Parallel

The derivation of the word "Easter" from the name of a pagan goddess is peculiar to English and German (which got it from Anglo-Saxon missionaries), and those were hardly the first languages in which the Paschal Mystery was ever celebrated. Likewise, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is entirely without parallel in mere mythology.

The example usually cited is the early Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris. Osiris is murdered by his brother Seth, who then sinks his coffin in the Nile. Isis, wife of Osiris and most powerful of goddesses, discovers her husband's body and returns it to Egypt. Seth, however, regains the body, cuts it into fourteen pieces, and scatters it abroad. Isis counters by recovering the pieces. How does this resemble the Resurrection Narratives in the slightest? Some much later commentators refer to this as an anastasis, but the fact that they were writing in Greek rather illustrates how far removed they were.

In all the mystery cults, no early texts refer to any resurrection of Attis, nor of Adonis, nor, as we have seen, of Osiris. Indeed, according to Plutarch, it was the pious desire of devotees to be buried in the same ground where the body of Osiris was held still to be lying. Of Mithra, popular among Roman soldiers and often invoked at this point, it is not in dispute that stories of death and resurrection were devised specifically in order to counter the appeal of Christianity.

There is no suggestion that any pagan deity was ever held to have risen from the dead never to die again, nor to have appeared in the flesh several times thereafter (and soon thereafter, at that), nor to have been recounted doing so by eyewitnesses, nor even to have lived and died, never mind risen from the dead, at a specific, and quite recent, point in investigable history.

You might deny or dispute this in investigable historical terms, although good luck, because you'll need it. The historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth can be very hotly denied on the Internet by people who have that particular bee in their bonnets, but it is subject to no scholarly dispute whatever. But the present point is that, uniquely, any such investigable claim is made at all.

It is also contended that Attis is supposed to have come back to life four days after his death. There is one account of Osiris being reanimated two or three days after his death, though only one, not four. And it is even suggested that Adonis may have been "resurrected" three days after his death. In the case of all three, there is no evidence for any such belief earlier than the second century AD. It is quite clear which way the borrowing went.

There is, furthermore, no evidence whatever that the mystery religions had any influence in Palestine in the first century. And there is all the difference that there could possibly be between the mythological experience of these nebulous figures and the Crucifixion "under Pontius Pilate".

Hellenism and the Roman Empire did not view the Christian message as merely another legend of a cultic hero, just as neither the philosophical Greeks nor the pragmatic Romans dismissed it as either harmless or ridiculous. Just look at how they did react to it.

As Rousseau said, men who could invent such a story would be greater and more astonishing than its central figure.

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