Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter - A Debunker Debunked

One of the predictable elements of every Easter season here in Silicon Valley (and I'm sure we're not unique) has been our local newspaper publishing one or more articles "debunking" Jesus and/or the Gospels. Of course, the "experts" and "theologians" chosen as sources were exclusively (or almost so) of the viewpoint that nothing can be certainly known about Jesus, if He even existed, and that the Gospels could not have been written by eyewitnesses, but were written a generation later. Known manuscript evidence is more consistent with the Gospels having been written during the first several decades of the church, but when the newspaper story writer picks only skeptics as “authorities”, readers (and possibly the writer) won't know that.
Anyway, in honor of this Easter-Debunker Season, I thought I'd have a little fun by showing how one of the common-debunker sneers falls apart when examined. My meditation for Easter written in 2011,, looks at the events of that day and its meaning to Christians and the Christian faith. Today I thought I'd go lighter.
One very common claim made to dismiss and ignore the resurrection of Jesus is that the Christian account is merely a rip-off of other religions' resurrection stories. Very well, let's consider the three pagan “resurrection stories” of which early Christians might have been aware and from which they night have been able to draw.
Osiris - Egyptian; not associated with history; key players were gods or divine persons engaged in a power and family (Osiris had sex with his brother's wife/consort) struggle; Osiris' body was dismembered and distributed across Egypt; Osiris' wife Isis found all but one part; with the help of other gods, Osiris' body was preserved and Isis was able to conceive his son, Horus, who succeeded Osiris; annual death-renewal cycle associated with the annual flooding of the Nile.
Tammuz - Mesopotamian; multiple variants of the story; vague/legendary association with history; annual cycle of descent to and return from the realm of the dead (no clear death event) associated with annual season changes (6 months' livable, 6 months of deadly heat); Tammuz was a god (or divine), as was his wife/consort Ishtar; her plea to and a compromise decision by other gods are at the core of the story; this compromise time allowed Tammuz to split time, annually, between the realm of the dead and Ishtar; mourning for Tammuz mentioned briefly in Ezekiel and condemned.
Adonis - Canaanite-Greek-Roman; vague/legendary association with history in some variants; Adonis' parentage/birth may have been divine, involving divine personages or incest; annual death-return cycle associated with spring and emergence of plants after winter; each variant involved a goddess-lover or a love triangle with goddess-lovers and a plea a goddess-lover to and a compromise decision by other gods; this compromise time allowed Adonis to split time, annually, between the realm of the dead and the lover.
By way of contrast, the account of Jesus' life, death and resurrection are set in a very specific place (Galilee and Judea) and time (the reigns of the Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius), and include many other verifiable historic details. The Tammuz and Adonis myths (which have similarities substantial enough to suggest the Greeks may have drawn from the Mesopotamians) - some variants, at least - are set in quasi-historical legendary “times”. The myth of Osiris is not set in history.
The course of Jesus' life and death is that of a normal human being, His death happening just once, and his resurrection being a true resurrection to life, with encounters and associations with ordinary people. In the myths of Tammuz and Adonis only one of the two clearly died, neither are truly resurrected, both return only to their lover/consort, and both have to return again to the realm of the dead. Osiris is never resurrected in any sense, but remains in the realm of the dead.
In the myths of Osiris, Tammuz and Adonis, all the players are divine personages. Those around Jesus during His life and at His death and resurrection are all ordinary people.
In the myths of Osiris, Tammuz and Adonis, Osiris, et al, are in an annual and perpetual death-and-return cycle that is tied to the regions' climate and agriculture. Jesus' death and resurrection happened once, and its timing was a particular religious festival in a particular year. Good Friday, Easter and Passover celebrations remember historical events, and are not understood as recapitulations of those events.
In the myths of Tammuz and Adonis, those mythical personages' annual journeys to and from the realm of the dead occurred months apart (according to seasons of the year), and were celebrated/commemorated as such. Jesus' death and resurrection happened days apart and are celebrated/commemorated days apart.
It almost seems superfluous, at this point, to state it in simple terms, but the myths of Osiris, Tammuz and Adonis differ so substantially and systematically from the account of Jesus' death and resurrection as to render skeptics' sneer that Christians ripped off pagan resurrection myths absurd.
As a bonus, being slightly related, I will add that the claim by some who are or claim to be Christian that “Easter” (and therefore the celebration thereof) is pagan, “Easter” being derived from the name of the Mesopotamian Ishtar is also false. The word “Easter” is of Germanic etymology, not Mesopotamian. And the name for what Anglo-Germans call Easter in Romance languages is entirely different, derived from the Latin word for Passover. Similarly, the timing of celebrating Easter is tied to the Jewish religious calendar, not the Mesopotamian religious calendar (is such a calendar even known?).

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