Choices Borrowing  Different The Bible is true Faith
 
FIRST —Them varmint Pagans done stole from us

 

The majority of evidence for Near Eastern dying and rising deities occurs in Greek and Latin texts of late antiquity, usually post-Christian in date.
Smith, Jonathan Z. Dying and Rising Gods (in Encyclopedia of Religion, M. Eliade ed.),1988, volume 4, pg. 522

How come the Pagans, who were busy killing Christians on account of their religion, thought it was a good idea to copy the religion of the people they were killing for their religion?"
Greg

 

OK, so here's where we are. The ancient evidence under the Facts bar has proven lots of Pagan-Christian similarities. In this Reasons part of POCM we're going through the possible explanations of those similarities, looking at which explanations are comprehensive and consistent. And which aren't.

We're about to talk about Defense of the Faith #3: Christian and Pagan ideas are similar, but Christian ideas came firstThem varmint Pagans done stole from us! We'll see that there are a handful of Pagan-Christian similarities for which this defense makes sense and a few more for which it can't be disproven.

But for the vast majority of Pagan-Christian similarities, there is no doubt whatsoever that Pagan religions got there first. Which 1) blunts the effectiveness of the TVPDSFU as a defense of the uniqueness of Christianity, and 2) means using TVPDSFU raises consistency problems for apologists out to deny borrowing.

 

How the Them Varmint Pagans Done Stole From Us defense got started

N the late 1800s guys like Hatch and Frazer described undeniable similarities between Paganism and Christianity. By the 1920s Christian borrowing was widely believed. Facts were facts. Christian believers could not deny many deep similarities. How to defend the uniqueness of the faith? The strategy believers lit on was to admit similarities but deny borrowing. One way to do that was to wave around the handful of instances where Pagan ideas were not provably older than Christian ideas.

Dr. Nock's Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background is out of print.In 1928 Doctor of Divinity, A.D. Nock, a Christian writing for other Christians in a Christian journal, put out a long essay using this strategy. At several points Doctor of Divinity Nock's defense of his faith turns on what seems to us an odd feature of Pagan religion: sacred secrets. It turns out the wisdom Pagan mystery Gods gave to their believers was so profound and so powerful it could only be understood by believers*. Power like that could not be disclosed to non-believers. The rites, rituals, sacraments and theologies of the pagan mysteries were sacred secrets. Beyond the vaguest general hinting, people didn't write about them. I mean ever. People just didn't ever write them down.

Which means, for most of ancient history we have only the vaguest record of what the mystery religions taught. Of course once Christianity began and only-our-God-is-real Christians began attacking Pagan faith, ancient Christian writers had no problem spilling heathen beans. In a few instances the only ancient sources detailing the rites, rituals or theologies of secret Pagan religions are Christian.

*"Believers" isn't a perfect term here. "Initiates" maybe captures it better.

Which means our only evidence for those theologies dates from after the founding of Christianity. A few secret Pagan theologies are not provably older than the similar Christian theologies.

Doctor of Divinity Nock's defense of the faith is this: maybe the centuries-old Pagan religions developed their sacraments only in the second century. Or the third century. Maybe the fourth. Whenever the first Christian description of them was recorded.

Which is a bigger deal than you might think, because one of those theologies is supposedly the resurrection of the dead godman.

 

Believers in their own words
How does Them varmint Pagans done stole from us work in practice?
I'll show you. Here are two of the most famous, most cited, most quoted anti-borrowing authors, each writing in his most famous, most cited, most quoted anti-borrowing essay, each putting forward his version of the idea that Christianity didn't borrow from Paganism because the date of some specific evidence about Paganism is "late"—after Christianity was founded.

What I hope you notice is neither author talks about how his version of the 'Paganism is late' reasoning fits into a larger theory of Christian origins. The don't ask, "Well OK, the dates being uncertain and all, how do I know who borrowed from whom?", or "How come the Pagans, who were busy killing Christians on account of their religion, thought it was a good idea to copy the religion of the people they were killing for their religion?", or any stuff like that. They just toss up the Them varmint Pagans done stole from us theory and quick like a bunny scamper off to other stuff.

 

Believers in their own words
Professor Jonathan Z. Smith
When the evidence contradicts his theory, the evidence is wrong.

Here's professor Jonathan Z. Smith in his famous encyclopedia article, Dying and Rising Gods, listing four Christian sources confirming Adonis was raised from the dead >>

How to explain this?  Professor Smith imagines maybe the Christians alive back then, you know those Christian people living in a pagan culture, some of whom had converted to Christianity from Paganism, maybe they didn't know as much about Adonis-ism as some people today—associate professors for example. Maybe those Christians back then—all of themjust imagined Adonis rose from the dead.

Or maybe Adonis did rise from the dead—maybe because Them varmint Pagans done stole from us!

Considerably later, the Christian writers Origen and Jerome, commenting on Ezekiel 8:14, and Cyril of Alexandria and Procopius of Gaza, commenting on Isaiah 18:1, clearly report joyous festivities on the third day to celebrate Adonis (identified with Tammuz) having been "raised from the dead." Whether this represents an interpretatio Christians or whether late third- and fourth century forms of the Adonis cult themselves developed a dying and rising mythology (possibility in imitation of the Christian myth) cannot be determined.
[Smith, Jonathan Z. Dying and Rising Gods (in Encyclopedia of Religion, M. Eliade ed. 1988, volume 4) (1988), pg. 522]

By the way

As far as I know Professor Smith's opinions are not guided by Christian faith. That doesn't mean he doesn't have an agenda. He does.

 

The possibilities, according to Professor Smith's analysis, are that:
1) when the evidence contradicts his theory, the evidence is wrong, or
2) the Pagans borrowed from the Christians.
3) the Pagans and Christians both developed the idea of resurrection at the same time, only independently of each other.

Which possibility is correct? Professor Smith's analysis doesn't go into that. He doesn't seem to care.

 

Hey wait ... now that I think about it, is it possible—not certain, not likely, not probable, just possible—is it possible all these multiple accounts from multiple independent sources simply mean what they say, that Adonis did rise from the dead? Sorry. That's the one possibility Professor Smith's analysis doesn't consider. 

It's as if what he's really after is not what happened, it's as if he's just after a reason not to see Christian borrowing.

By the way

Let me mention how truly stunning it is that Dr. Smith's Dying and Rising Gods, the most famous analysis of ancient dying and rising gods, completely ignores the death and resurrection of Jesus -- the one ancient God everyone agrees did die and rise.

Does finding one gold nugget in a stream make it more likely or less likely all those other shiny things in the water are also gold?

Professor Smith's theory fails because it ignores exactly the possibility it is supposed to analyze.

Remember, I'm not telling you about Dr. Smith because I think his analysis is weak. I'm showing you what he wrote because on the subject of dying and rising gods Dr. Smith is the most famous, most admired, most cited, most quoted anti-dying-and-rising-gods scholar there is. And this encyclopedia article is the most famous, most admired, most cited, most quoted anti-dying and rising god scholarship going. And it ignores exactly the possibility it pretends to analyze!

Big puzzle, small pieces
Yeah, there are some Pagan-Christian similarities for which the direct evidence about which-came-first is unclear. But please don't forget we're talking about a few small pieces of a very big puzzle.

God, soul, sin, heaven, hell, demons, miracles, godmen, sons of God, savior Gods, salvation, eternal life, sacred meals shared with the god, mystery religions with initiations by baptism—all those things are unequivocally older than Christianity by centuries.


 

Even so TVPDSFU gets talked about a lot, for a couple reasons.

First, we're talking about small pieces that finish the puzzle. For example there is clear and convincing evidence the God Attis died and rose on the third day. If pro-borrowing scholars fit that piece in the puzzle before Jesus, the argument about Christian borrowing will be over.

But the really really clear account of Attis' resurrection dates from the fifth century AD. I don't know about you but to me, what with the Empire having been officially Christian for 150 years and all, to me it seems likely that by then ideas were flowing the other way, from official Christianity into suppressed and adapting to fit in Paganism.

But just because Attis resurrection was maybe borrowed doesn't mean it was borrowed. There's evidence of Pagan resurrections from centuries earlier, centuries when the idea of Pagan borrowing from Christianity is a real stretch.

Attis' resurrection is an important piece of the puzzle, how it fits makes a big difference to what the whole picture looks like. That's one reason people talk about TVPDSFU.

Stretchulation The second reason TVPDSFU gets talked about is that it works for apologists. In one sense TVPDSFU should work for apologists—in late antiquity, after Christianity was the official region of the empire, Paganism did borrow from it. But the real reason TVPDSFU works for apologists is that they can stretch it to cover years and ideas it really doesn't apply to. Here's what I mean...

Year stretchy. The idea that Paganism in the fifth century borrowed ideas from Christianity is entirely reasonable. Apologists bring that up. Once they've got you thinking that way, they bring up the forth century, and the third. Then the second. One fine fellow even imagines that Mithras-ism in Rome borrowed from Christianity in the first century!, after all Tacitus mentions Nero burning Christians in Rome, so they were certainly in town.

This stretchulation is especially convincing if, like most people, you have a Sunday school understanding of how Christianity grew—from a tiny group in the 40s AD to an empire bestriding colossus by the 100s or 200s AD. It didn't happen that way, but if you think it did, TVPDSFU stretchulation sounds convincing.

[You might be interested to know I occasionally get emails from believers who push Pagan borrowing from Christianity back to creation. Of course Paganism and Christianity are similar—all Pagan religions were degenerations of the Truth God gave Adam.]

Idea stretchy. Look, most discussions of Pagan Christian borrowing are short. A few pages. There's no time to bring up every similarity, let alone the evidence for every similarity, let alone the timing of the evidence for every similarity, let alone an reasoned analysis of the timing of the evidence for every similarity.

So apologists bring up late evidence about one or two ideas, get you to thinking that the borrowing happened the other way, then vaguely suggest most similarities happened just that way. Sound real? Yes it does. If you don't know any better.

Which is another reason TVPDSFU gets talked about a lot.

 

"Scholarship" reality check
Now you're maybe thinking Them varmint Pagans done stole from us is a sloppy way to talk about high-class scholarship. You're right. It would be. If we were talking about high-class scholarship. But we're not. This will surprise you, but there really isn't scholarship behind believer's claims that Paganism borrowed ideas from Christianity.  

By the way  

Don't forget that for the overwhelming majority of Christian-Pagan similarities Paganism undisputedly got there first, generations before Jesus. That means that for all those theologies and sacraments, Pagan borrowing is impossible. The points of similarity available to TVPDSFU theory are few: Mithras' taurobolium baptism, Adonis' resurrection, Attis' resurrection, and a few others.

 

Scholars who put up Them varmint Pagans done stole from us—we'll read the words of two of the theory's most famous proponents in just a minute, in the green boxes—don't support their claims with the results of their research and study and analysis and reasoning. They don't pretend to have done research and study about the idea. It's enough for them that the idea is, in the absence of any specific facts (their theory works better if they choose not to look), conceivable. It is conceivable. It fits their general purpose of defending the faith. They put it up and move on.

.
So here's your reality check. If you're reading this page hoping to get deep into the facts and reasons behind the theory that Paganism borrowed from Christianity, you can stop after the next little paragraph.

The theory that Them varmint Pagans done stole from us does not come from a careful analysis of the evidence. Pagan borrowing is the answer TVPDSFU partisans want to find. Their analysis is simply this: In a few specific cases Pagan borrowing is vaguely conceivable. Therefore Pagan borrowing happened. QED. There is no real scholarship behind the theory.

Alright then, what's on this page?

A review of the "scholarship", such as it is, quoting Them Varmint Pagans Done Stole From Us' most famous proponents.

A look at some of the facts and reasons they left out. When you listen to it all on its own Them varmint Pagans done stole from us sounds plausible, vaguely.

What isn't obvious maybe is that pounding in one tent stake affects where all the other tent stakes go.Them varmint Pagans done stole from us isn't the only reason holding the believers' story of Christian origins to the ground. Pound that one corner of the theory down and you affect how the rest of the Christian origins reasoning fits.  Following that reasoning through is what this page is about...

 
Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue
Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue

Reasons

Vagueness as strategy
You've just read TVPDSFU's most famous proponents laying out their theory in their most famous, most cited, most quoted works. What you didn't see was evidence of Pagan borrowing.

Did you catch that? They didn't give any evidence. They don't have any evidence. TVPDSFU theorists don't have any evidence of Paganism borrowing from Christianity.

 

Remember, for the overwhelming majority of Christian - Pagan similarities Paganism undisputedly got there first, generations before Jesus. That means that for all those theologies and sacraments, Pagan borrowing is impossible. The points of similarity available to TVPDSFU theory are few: Mithras' taurobolium baptism, Adonis' resurrection, Attis' resurrection, and a few others.

But with only a few specific points at issue, TVPDSFU stays vague. TVPDSFU theorists don't give you specific facts that support any of the few vaguely possible specific borrowings. They don't give you facts showing that Mithras' taurobolium was borrowed from Christian baptism. They don't give you facts showing that Adonis' resurrection was borrowed from Jesus'. TVPDSFU doesn't give specifics. its proponents, in their strongest writing, just talk about Pagan borrowing in a general way.

By the way

Don't get me wrong. Doctor of Divinity Nock was a plenty smart scholar of ancient religions. His famous book—Conversion— all about how ancient religions, Pagan and Christian, spread, includes plenty about how Pagan religions copied from each other.

But, according to Doctor of Divinity Nock, real conversion was possible only to Christianity. Pagan religions weren't high class enough.

And in Co version Doctor of Divinity Nock's rules about what evidence indicates borrowing differ from Pagan and Christian.

This vagueness helps the TVPDSFU theory several ways

It saves the chore of supporting the theory with facts and reasons. This lets the theory survive at all.

It gets them as far as they need to go. If TVPDSFU theorizers really cared about what actually happened, they'd work out details of their theory. Stuff like:

The dates of the few items at issue being uncertain and all, what criteria should scholarship develop to decide who borrowed from whom?"

 

What is the evidence that the second century Pagans, who supposedly borrowed from Christianity, had even heard of Christianity?

 

How come the Pagans, who were busy killing Christians on account of their religion, thought it was a good idea to copy the religion of the people they were killing for their religion?

TVPDSFU theorizers don't ask these questions, because when it comes to what actually happened, they really don't care. TVPDSFU is generally put forward by people with the agenda of defending Christianity against the results of reasoned analysis. A shallow dip in TVPDSFU gives the answer they need to do that. From their point of view there's no need to swim one tiny frog kick further.

[By the way, does having and following an agenda mean TVPDSFU theorists are bad people? Liars maybe? No it doesn't. They are, I'm sure, good people doing their best. We all like to dream up reasons our own point of view is right. We can still be friends.]

Idea stretchulation It stretches the theory to cover early 'borrowings' it otherwise couldn't. Remember Doctor of Divinity Nock,
Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background, Harper Torchbooks 1964 "Much of what we know of the mysteries relates to the third and fourth centuries, and at that time some of them were probably assimilated of set purpose to Christianity in the hope of countering its attractions; this assimilation is very obvious as part of Julian's reactionary movement in the years 362 and 363 "

Look, everyone understands that Pagans adopted Christian ideas in the fourth century (the 300s AD). In the fourth century, the emperors were Christian.

The third century (200s AD) was way different. In the third century Christianity was another little fringe sect in an empire bulging with little local religions. In the third century Christians, who denied the state Gods and met in secret, were suppressed by the Roman government as seditious atheists.

Doctor of Divinity Nock's theory asks you to believe that in the century when Christians were outlaws the government tied up and burned, that in that century Pagans borrowed from Christianity just as they did in the generations after Christianity became the popular religion of the Empire. Why Doctor of Divinity Nock imagines this is true, he doesn't say. If there is any evidence it is true, he doesn't give it.

Doctor of Divinity Nock's theory is unreasonable and unsupported by the evidence, but it's not accidental.

Year stretchulation It spreads the borrowing aura around -- to include the taurobolium for e.g., once they've convinced you the resurrection of adonis was borrowed.

 
Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue

Implications
We've just seen it. The big name anti-borrowing scholars bring up Them Varmint Pagans Done Stole From Us, but they never work through the basic implications of the theory. What implications? These here implications:
   1. So they were similar?
   2. So Christianity did borrow?

 
Washed in the Blood of the Lamb
Christianity and Paganism were way way different.
Christianity and Paganism were so similar that Christian sacraments could be borrowed and fit right in with Pagan theologies.

So they were similar? One of believers' other favorite defenses to counter the evidence of Christian borrowing is to say that Christianity was way different from Paganism. Our baptism, that was completely different from their baptism. Our Washed in the Blood of the Lamb is completely different from their Washed (literally, in the sacred rite of the cribolium) in the Blood of the Lamb Flip.

In fact, let's talk about baptism. For the Mithraic taurobolium (salvation by bull's blood baptism) and cribolium (lamb's blood) baptisms, the TVPDSFU theory is that Mithras-ismwhich was completely different from Christianity—plucked up the central sacrament of Christianity and plopped in down in the middle of their Pagan tomfoolery. And it fit.

It fit. That's a big deal. To see how close religions must be to each other to borrow core sacraments, try some other swaps. Try fitting the Hindu idea of salvation and redemption by way of gradual perfection of the soul through many reincarnations, try fitting that into Christian theology. You can't do it. It doesn't fit. Christianity and Hinduism are deeply different.

Try fitting the Aztec idea of world and tribal salvation by way of cutting up little children and eating their parts into Christian theology. You can't do it. It doesn't fit. Christianity and Quetzalcoatl-ism are deeply different.

Back to the Mithraic blood baptism. According to the TVPDSFU theory, Christian salvation and Christian baptism fit right in with whatever ideas about God, sin, soul, prayer, eternal life, redemption, etc., Mithras-ism already had. Mithras-ism and Christianity were similar. Flop.

The believers' They were different and TVPDSFU defenses contradict each other. They can't both be true. Scholars who put forward both these defenses at once are not reasoning with the evidence, they are using kettle logic to further their agendas. Does that mean they are bad people? No, it doesn't. We can disagree and still be friends.

 

So Christianity did borrow? At least that's what you have to figure if you apply the same reasoning to the rest if the evidence. Here's what I mean.

Start with the direct evidence for Pagan borrowing. There isn't any. The only evidence for the TVPDSFU claim, the claim that old established Pagan religions borrowed their ideas from upstart Christianity, is that the record about a few particular elements of a few particular Pagan religions dates after Christianity was founded.

That's it. No Pagan ever wrote, "We thieved baptism from those nasty atheist Christians we were burning at the time." No ancient Christian ever wrote, "Them varmint Pagans done stole from us."

When believers make the TVPDSFU claim, all Doctor of Divinity Nock's careful analysis, all his stuff about being sure the ideas have precisely similar characters, and at exactly the right time and in exactly the right city and with exactly the right intensity, all that stuff doesn't apply here. The way the TVPDSFU theory works is, the mere fact that Christian baptism dates before the first mention of the Mithraic taurobolium blood baptism means that the taurobolium was borrowed from Christianity . They're similar (using the new standard), the second one copied.

OK, fine. Now let's apply that they're similar, the second one copied reasoning to other elements of ancient religions. Paganism and Christianity both had: godmen, Sons of God, miracles, prayer, salvation, rising and dying Gods, sacred meals shared with the God, initiations, virgin births, prophesies, eternal life, etc. etc.

And Paganism had all those things first. So Christianity borrowed all those things, right?

Two problems.

First, no one who puts up TVPDSFU as convincing will admit Christianity borrowed all those other things. As it is applied in the real world, the TVPDSFU's they're similar, the second one copied reasoning gives different answers depending on who's borrowing is being analyzed. For Pagan borrowing TVPDSFU's they're similar, the second one copied answers they did, and for Christian borrowing its answer is exactly the opposite: they didn't.

TVPDSFU'S answer to "who borrowed?" is not guided by who had what and when they had it. The answer to "who borrowed?" is controlled by one simple fact: who you're talking about. The TVPDSFU analysis fails because all the analysis really analyses is who we're talking about.

TVPDSFU is a trick, a way for believers to get to the answer they're after.

Second, even if it's they're similar, the second one copied reasoning does work, the TVPDSFU fails as evidence for Christian uniqueness because it is inconsistent with Christian uniqueness.

Here's what I mean. TVPDSUF tries to prove Christianity is unique. But if it's they're similar, the second one copied reasoning is true, then Christianity did borrow all that other stuff from Paganism. That means that generations before the Mithras-ists could borrow the taurobolium and the Adonis-ists could borrow the resurrection of their godman, Christianity was already Pagan. By then Christianity had already borrowed Pagan godmen, Pagan sons of God, Pagan miracles, Pagan initiations, Pagan virgin births, Pagan prophesies, Pagan eternal life, etc. etc.

And with Christianity being generally Pagan already, it's unlikely Paganism needed to borrow from Christianity—any more than, say, Christianity in general has ever borrowed key doctrines from the Amish. The TVPDSFU analysis degenerates to pure Paganism, all that borrowing, all those ideas fading back into prehistory.

TVPDSFU is kettle logic whose special purpose "reasoning" is only ever applied to Paganism.When TVPDSFU reasoning is applied to Christianity, the answers it gives contradict the rest of the believers' theory of Christian origins.

TVPDSFU is a trick, a way for believers to get to the answer they're after. We can still be friends.

 
Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue

Hey, wait a minute!
Isn't they're similar, the second one copied exactly POCM's reasoning for Christian borrowing? Well, I imagine POCM's reasoning is a little fancier, but basically yes. Yes it is. The point, of course, is that there is no symmetry to the facts. Christianity was unequivocally second -- Christianity developed hundreds of years after Pagan religions.

Who was really first?

Do old established religions get their ideas from new religions, or do new religions get their ideas from the old religions, and the culture, around them?

Lets talk about those details.

 

Who was first?
I can think of several reasons how come the believer's claim that the Christian idea of, say, resurrection, was first isn't true.
1.  Un-ignoring the evidence
2.  Pagan sacred secrets revealed by Christians. Till the lights came on, the room was dark.
3.  Many Christianities
4.  Timing
5. Early apologists give the opposite timing: Them Varmint Daemons Done Stole From Us.

 

1. Un-ignoring the evidence.
As we've seen, one trick believers use to date Pagan beliefs later than similar Christian beliefs is to ignore the evidence. "Evidence? What evidence? I don't see any evidence," they say, whistling and looking up at the ceiling.

 

Remember professor Smith writing in his famous essay about dying and rising Gods?  >>

As the professor says, we know about Adonis' resurrection because Origen (185 - 254 AD) wrote about it. So do Jerome (340 - 420), and later Christian writers.

That Jerome in the fourth century, Cyril in the fifth, or Billy Graham in the 20th wrote about Adonis' resurrection is of course irrelevant to the Pagan belief's dating. Origen wrote about Adonis' resurrection in the second or early third century; the belief was certainly around by the second and early third century.

In fact, thanks to Origen at one end and Jerome at the other, we are certain that during all the long generations between the early 200s and the mid-300s AD Pagans celebrated Adonis' resurrection—but we have absolutely no contemporary record that they did. Proof, if anyone really needed it, that the sporadic ancient Christian evidence is a useless way to time-stamp Pagan theologies.

Considerably later, the Christian writers Origen and Jerome, commenting on Ezekiel 8:14, and Cyril of Alexandria and Procopius of Gaza, commenting on Isaiah 18:1, clearly report joyous festivities on the third day to celebrate Adonis (identified with Tammuz) having been "raised from the dead." Whether this represents an interpretatio Christians or whether late third- and fourth century forms of the Adonis cult themselves developed a dying and rising mythology (possibility in imitation of the Christian myth) cannot be determined.
[Smith, Jonathan Z. Dying and Rising Gods (in Encyclopedia of Religion, M. Eliade ed. 1988, volume 4) (1988), pg. 522]
POCM quotes modern scholars

Origen's evidence is easy for anti-borrowing scholars to explain. Professor Smith, "Now watch this ladies and gentlemen. Nothin' up my sleeve— interpretatio ChristiansProbably Origen, a Christian, just misunderstood non-Christian stories. Yeah, that's it. Origen didn't know what he was talking about. Ta da."


That's the anti-borrowing scholars' argument. When it came to Pagan ideas, Origen didn't know what he was talking about. Do you buy that? Before you answer, let me mention one teensy factlet Dr. Smith left out of his account: Origen was famous for his classical Pagan learning.

Oops.

Here's the fourth century church historian Eusebius, quoting the Pagan writer Porphyry on the point. Unlike Professor Smith, Porphyry actually met Origen. Porphyry gushed on and on about Origen's classical GreekPaganeducation.  >>

 

(6.19.5) Then, again, he [Porphyry] said, "Let us take an example of this absurdity, from the very man whom I happened to meet when I was very young, and who was very celebrated, and is still celebrated by the writings that he has left; I mean Origen, whose glory is very great with the teachers of these doctrines. (6) For this man having been a hearer of Ammonius, who had made the greatest proficiency in philosophy among those of our day, as to knowledge, derived great benefit from his master, but with regard to a correct purpose of life, he pursued a course directly opposite. (7) For Ammonius, being a Christian, had been educated among Christians by his parents, and when he began to exercise his own understanding, and apply himself to philosophy, he immediately changed his views, and lived according to the laws. But Origen, as a Greek, being educated in Greek literature, declined to this barbarian impudence. To which, also, betaking himself, he both consigned himself and his attainments in learning, living like a Christian, and swerving from the laws; but in regard to his opinions, both of things and the Deity, acting the Greek, and intermingling Greek literature with these foreign fictions. (8) For he was always in company with Plato, and had the works also of Numenius and Cranius, of Apollophanes and Longinus, of Moderatus and Nicomachus, and others whose writings are valued, in his hands. He also read the works of Chaeremon, the stoic, and those of Cornutus.

In fact that Greek education, says Porphyry—did I mention he knew Origen?—was where Origen got his allegorical technique for understanding Christian scriptures.

 

From these he derived the allegorical mode of interpretation usual in the mysteries of the Greeks, and applied it to the Jewish Scriptures."

(9) Such were the assertions made by Porphyry..."
[Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.19.5- 9 (fourth century AD),—which you can find in: Cruse, C. F.. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History; Complete and Unabridged (1998 / 2001), pg. 209]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In summary: TVPDSFU can't be true if the Pagans had their stuff before the Christians had their stuff. In many cases, Origen.the resurrection of Adonis is one, the evidence says the Pagans did have their stuff first. TVPDSFU hold-outs get around that by saying, "Those Christians just didn't understand Paganism."

In the case of Adonis' resurrection the Christian who, according to the TVPDSFU theory, didn't understand Paganism was famous, even among Pagans, for his Pagan learning. Man, I wish I was getting paid by the comma for that sentence.

When it came to things Pagan, Origen didn't know what he was talking about—in fact all those Christians recording Pagan beliefs didn't know what they were talking about. . . is a trick, a way to get to the answer anti-borrowing "scholars" are after.

 
Is the sofa here when the light's off?

2. Pagan sacred secrets revealed only by Christians Till the lights came on, the room was dark.
Late tonight go into your living room; keep the lights off. You see a sofa? No you don't. The lights are off.

Quick, turn the lights on. >>

Now you see the sofa. Was the sofa there before? TVPDSFU says it wasn't. Here's what I mean.

Mystery religions' sacraments were sacred secrets. Secrets. Disclosing them to the uninitiated was illegal. Against the law. More than that, disclosing sacred secrets was profane—like masturbating in public. Actually, Diogenes the Cynic was famous for the touching himself in public thing, so: revealing sacred secrets was worse than masturbating in public. People didn't do it.

No sofa.Except for a handful of oblique hints in one chapter of one book (Apuleius' Metamorphosis) no surviving Pagan text ever tells what the sacred secrets—the ritual, the sacraments, the theology—of any mystery religions were.

Was the sofa here before?

Mostly we don't know what the mysteries' rituals and sacraments were. Where we do know, the evidence is from Christian sources.

And, get this, all the Christian evidence dates from after the founding of Christianity! Till the lights came on, the room was dark.

On this lake it is that the Egyptians represent by night his sufferings whose name I refrain from mentioning, and this representation they call their Mysteries. I know well the whole course of the proceedings in these ceremonies, but they shall not pass my lips. So too, with regard to the mysteries of Demeter, which the Greeks term the Thesmophoria, I know them, but I shall not mention them, except so far as may be done without impiety.
[Herodotus, The Persian War, 2.171 (c 440 BC),—which you can find in: Godolpin, Francis. The Greek Historians (1942), pg. 160]

Holy rites of a similar kind were in use also among the Epidaurians, and likewise another sort of holy rites, whereof it is not lawful to speak.
[Herodotus, The Persian War, 5.83 (c 440 BC)] Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Till the lights came on, the room was dark. From which believers come up with the theory that maybe the centuries-old Pagan religions developed their sacraments only in the second century. Or the third century. Maybe the fourth. Whenever the first Christian description of them was recorded.

The more likely explanation is that we have no Pagan evidence of Pagan secrets because...they were secrets.

 

3. Many Christianities
When believers speculate that old established Pagan religions copied sacraments from upstart Christianity, part of their theory is that the Christianity Pagans had available to borrow from was our Christianity, the one you read about in Paul and our modern Gospels.

Maybe. Maybe not. I can't give you all the evidence here, (POCM talks about the great variety of early Christianities at Triumph > After Jesus: Scholarship) but basically early on there were lots of Christianities, and lots of Christian theologies.

 

For example, here's the fourth century orthodox church historian Eusebius describing the Ebionites, a Christian sect that believed:
1. Jesus was not divine
2. Jesus was not born of a virgin.

Obviously Paganism didn't borrow the idea of virgin born Gods from that version of Christianity.

3.27 (1) The spirit of wickedness, however, being unable to shake some in their love of Christ and yet finding them susceptible of his impressions in other respects, brought them over to his purposes. These were properly called Ebionites by the ancients, as those who cherished low and mean opinions of Christ. (2) They considered him a plain and common man and justified only by his advances in virtue and that he was born of the Virgin Mary by natural generation. With them the observance of the law was altogether necessary, as if they could not be saved only by faith in Christ and a corresponding life.
[Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.27 (fourth century AD),—which you can find in: Cruse, C. F. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History; Complete and Unabridged (1998 / 2001), pg. 93] Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

 

  The gnostic Gospel of Thomas never mentions Jesus' saving death.

Does that seem like a trivial point to you? It shouldn't. One of the most powerful and widespread kinds of early Christianity was gnosticism. The gnostics believed Jesus saved not by his dying and resurrection. The gnostics believed Jesus saved by the sacred wisdom he taught. The gnostic Gospel of Thomas never mentions Jesus saving death. If the Adonis-ists borrowed Adonis' resurrection, they didn't borrow it from the gnostics.

As far as Pagan borrowing goes, the question is, did the Christianities the Pagans contacted in the years before Christians first mentioned the Pagan beliefs—Adonis' resurrection, etc.—did those Christianities have the beliefs borrowing scholars theorize the Pagans borrowed.

I don't know. As far as I know the analysis has not been done. I do know there is good scholarship demonstrating that in many places around the ancient Mediterranean the first Christianities were not orthodox Christianities with all the legends and theologies we're used to.

 

There is, for example, Dr. Bauer's: :
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity

For hundreds of years everyone assumed that the earliest Christians were orthodox New Testament Roman Christians, and"heretical" Christianities—like Gnosticism and Marcionism—developed later, branches off the original orthodox trunk.

Then in the 1930s this German guy named Walter Bauer decided to actually look at the evidence. Imagine! What he discovered was that pretty much everywhere he looked—Syria, Palestine, Egypt, etc.—the "heresies" weren't branches off any trunk, they were the original local Christianities. And they weren't small marginal sects, they were the main local Christianities.

The evidence shows that all around the Mediterranean, outside Rome, the orthodox New Testament Roman Christianity was a secondary sect, a sect that became dominant only after the conversion of Constantine gave it the advantage of Roman swords. Wow.

No wonder the big boys call this as a paradigm shattering book. Scholarly and technical, especially in the tedious first section of chapter one. Stick with it, because it gets fun and exciting.

Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity
by Walter Bauer


Out of Print, not available at Amazon. Try a used book seller

Did the Christianities Pagans contacted early on have the theologies believers theorize they did? I don't know. I do know the point is unclear and certainly unproven.

 

4. Timing
Was Christianity around long enough to get important enough for Christian ideas to be borrowed widely enough for Christians to know about and report them? Let's use Professor Smith's own example of Adonis' resurrection.

It's impossible to be specific about what Professor Smith's theory imagines happened because he gives no evidence that he's thought through what happened, beyond the simple fact that Origen 185- 254 AD, mentions Adonis' resurrection.
But basically, for Professor Smith's TVPDSFU theory to work, by, say, 220 AD, these things must have happened.:

 1

Christian sects with a coherent theology of Jesus' resurrection must have developed [remember the Ebionites and powerful and widespread Gnostics did not believe in Jesus' saving resurrection]

 2

those resurrection sub-sects must have grown large enough that Adonis' followers knew about them

 3

the resurrection sub-sects must have been impressive enough the ancient Adonis-ists decided they were worth copying

 4

there must have been time for the Adonis-ists to incorporate their Gods' resurrection into their ancient theology and ritual [did the priests do that, or the faithful? Dr. Smith doesn't say.]

 5

there must have been time for that new theology and ritual to spread through ancient culture

 6

all this must have happened so long ago that Origen, famous for his Pagan learning, didn't know to mention that the borrowing happened in the Christian to Pagan direction.

On what schedule any of this happened, Dr. Smith's theory doesn't say. That #1 the resurrection sects were around is certainly true—Paul was part of one by 50 AD.

When did the Christians become important enough to be known and copied (#3- 4)? We know from Pliny's letter to Trajan that in 117 AD Christianity was so remote and unknown that the emperor Trajan needed a background briefing just to get up to speed on the most basic facts about the new religion.

How Dr. Smith's theory gets from that fact to Origen reporting a mature Pagan theology 80 or 100 years later, Dr. Smith's report doesn't say.

Because, of course, it didn't happen. Couldn't happened. There wasn't time.

 

#5 The early Christian apologists give the opposite timing: them varmint daemons done stole from us—magically, backwards in time.
The apostle Paul wrote about Paganism in the first century AD, mostly just saying "Stay the hell away." By the the 100s AD, Christians were comparing their new faith with Pagan religion, proving to each other their faith was better. Paganism, they said, was silly, mythical, wrong, evil, or daemon sent. But it was never second. In all their aggressive, detailed attacks on Pagan religion, no early Christian apologist ever mentions one Pagan Christian similarity that happened because Christianity came first and Paganism borrowed.

 

Demonic imitation In fact when early apologists mention timing, they say the opposite. They say pagan ideas came first. That bothers them. How to explain that?

Here's Justin Martyr, a mid-first century church father explaining how that worked  >>

 

How that worked, said Justin, was the magical daemons got hold of the predictions of Yahweh's prophets, and the daemons copied Christ before he even happened. Jesus was copied by Paganism—magically, backwards in time.

For example, says Justin, the daemons made Dionysus [aka Bacchus] the Son of God [Jupiter], who died and ascended to heaven.

And the daemons made the God Perseus be born of a virgin and ascend to heaven—just like Jesus. Said Justin, the early Christian apologist.

And Aesclapius healed the sick and raised the dead. First. By daemonic imitation.

 

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they [the demons] heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain. The prophet Moses, then, Was, as we have already said, older than all writers; and by him, as we have also said before, it was thus predicted: "There shall not fail a prince from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until He come for whom it is reserved; and He shall be the desire of the Gentiles, binding His foal to the vine, washing His robe in the blood of the grape." The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that He was the discoverer of the vine, and they number wine [or, the ass] among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, He ascended into heaven. And because in the prophecy of Moses it had not been expressly intimated whether He who was to come was the Son of God, and whether He would, riding on the foal, remain on earth or ascend into heaven, and because the name of "foal" could mean either the foal of an ass or the foal of a horse, they, not knowing whether He who was foretold would bring the foal of an ass or of a horse as the sign of His coming, nor whether He was the Son of God, as we said above, or of man, gave out that Bellerophon, a man born of man, himself ascended to heaven on his horse Pegasus. And when they heard it said by the other prophet Isaiah, that He should be born of a virgin, and by His own means ascend into heaven, they pretended that Perseus was spoken of. And when they knew what was said, as has been cited above, in the prophecies written aforetime, "Strong as a giant to run his course," they said that Hercules was strong, and had journeyed over the whole earth. And when, again, they learned that it had been foretold that He should heal every sickness, and raise the dead, they produced Aesculapius.
[Justin Martyr, First Apology, 54, 2d century AD]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

 
Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue

On to the next subject. Remember we've been taking about how they're similar, the second one copied applies to POCM's reasoning for Christian borrowing? TVPDSFU uses that reasoning. So does POCM. The difference is in the details. We've just looked at Who was really first. Now lets look at:

Do old established religions get their ideas from new religions, or, do new religions get their ideas from the old religions, and the culture, around them?

 

1. Do old religions copy from new ones?
2. Christians were hated and persecuted.
3. Theologically, how is a new theology added to a complex old system?
4. Compare /c adoption other eastern religions—adopted whole religion rather than parts of theology.

 

1. Do old religions copy from new ones?
Can you quick list all the theologies modern Catholicism borrowed from the Mormons? Islam from the Bahaís? Baptists from the Iroquois? Me neither. Our everyday experience is that old establishment religions, with old established theologies, do not drop their stuff and pick up theologies of new religions.

But maybe in the ancient world water ran uphill. Maybe back then establishment religions did borrow from obscure upstart sects.

Good news: this is a factual question with a factual answer. Scholarship does know a lot about how ancient religions spread, and it turns out even back in ancient times water did not flow uphill. POCM doesn't have room for all the details, which run to hundreds of pages, so let me refer you to a couple of the standard books.

Franz Cumont's Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism (1911, with several later reprints) traces the influx of middle eastern religions—Isis-ism, Cybele-ism, MIthras-ism, like that—into Rome in the first centuries AD.

Doctor of Divinity Arthur Darby Nock's Conversion; The Old and New in Religion From Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (1933, with several later reprints) is about how ancient religions traveled from country to country and person to person.

 

 

Cumont was a famous borrowing scholar. Doctor of Divinity Nock was a celebrated defender of the faith. And here's the thing: they both agree (and give plenty primary of evidence showing) that ethnic religions spread like ethnic food: as people moved around the empire, they took their beliefs with them. Gods and myths moved from place to place as whole religions, gods and myths didn't jump from new religions to old religions.

Several ancient middle eastern religions had priests who whipped, cut, even castrated themselves. One of these, the worship of Cybele and Attis, moved to Rome in 204 BC. In Rome Cybele's priests continued to whip, cut and castrate themselves. But the priests of the old Roman Gods never took up the practice. Attis died. In Rome His faithful celebrated His death. But the old Roman Gods Jupiter and Minerva, etc. never added a death and resurrection story to their mythology. In the ancient world, as in ours, old establishment religions did not drop their stuff and pick up theologies from new religions.

The pope doesn't pray from the Book of Mormon. That's another reason the TVPDSFU theory is silly.

 

By the way

When you read Doctor of Divinity Nock's Conversion, I hope you'll notice that he's pretty good at giving evidence about how Pagan religions spread. But when he gets to the part about how Christianity spread, the evidence stops. That's because there is little or no evidence about how Christianity spread. Doctor of Divinity Nock is guessing what happened.

And as usual his guesses are guided the beliefs he had before he started the book. Doctor of Divinity Nock believed what he believed, the scholarship was there to show how Jesus was God, not whether Jesus was God.

2. Christians were hated and persecuted. But the TVPDSUF theory imagines that Pagans—who were busy persecuting and killing Christians for their religion, thought it was a good idea to copy the religion of the people they were killing for their religion.

 

You see, for one thing, the poor devils [the Christians] have convinced themselves they're all going to be immortal and live forever, which makes most of them take death lightly and voluntarily give themselves up to it. For another, that first lawgiver of theirs persuaded them that they're all brothers the minute they deny the Greek gods (thereby breaking our law) and take to worshiping him, the crucified sophist himself, and to living their lives according to his rules. They scorn all possessions without distinction and treat them as community property; doctrines like this they accept strictly on faith. Consequently, if a professional sharper who knows how to capitalize on a situation gets among them, he makes himself a millionaire overnight, laughing up his sleeve at the simpletons.

As it happened, Peregrinus was released from jail by the governor of Syria. The governor had a penchant for philosophy and, fully aware that Peregrinus was enough of a lunatic to welcome a death that would give him a martyr's acclaim, set him free without considering him worth even the customary flogging.
[Lucian, The Death of Perigrinus, 2d century AD]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

   

3. How is a new theology added to a complex old system?

 

4. Compare /c adoption other eastern religions—adopted whole religion rather than parts of theology.

 
Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue

Why the mess? POCM 2012

Introduction | Believers in their own words | Reasons | Vagueness as strategy | Implications | Who was first | Do old religions copy from new religions? | Similarities at issue

The evidence
It's easy to forget we're talking about only some of the evidence here. Most of the evidence of Pagan- Christian similarities is centuries older than Christianity. God, soul, sin, heaven, hell, godmen, sons of God, savior Gods, salvation, eternal life, sacred meals shared with the god, mystery religions with initiations by baptism—all those things are unequivocally older by Christianity by centuries.

So what "late" evidence are we talking about? Here's a partial list:

Mithraic inscription: , Saved by the blood

Taurobolium

Some evidence about the rising part of dying and rising gods
Adonis, Attis

Attis' Hilaria—Plutarch 2d century AD

 
 
By the way

Not having direct evidence about religious borrowing is typical. And except for Christian borrowing, scholars seem to get by just fine.

For example the famous anti-Christian-borrowing scholar Walter Burkert wrote a nice fat book about how Pagans borrowed from other Pagans, in which his criteria for borrowing were pretty loose. As in: "Presumably the connections reach further than can strictly be proved."
[Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (1992), pg. 37]

 

Pagan mystery religions were more than a jumble of myths, they were religions of salvation that must have had a logical structure.

What were the details of of their theologies? We don't know. What we do know is that mystery religions had a godman, initiations, sacred meals, rituals and prayers that combined to bring believers personal salvation. You gotta' figure that each bit fit with all the other bits to get the job done. The point, from a Pagan borrowing point of view, is how was a new sacrament like baptism fit into an already complete religion. TVPDSTU scholars never say.

What the TVPDSFU theory imagines is that Paganism somehow borrowed Christianity's central sacraments and somehow dropped that one sacrament into an already working centuries-old theology. How that worked the TVPSDFU folks don't ever work out.

For example, Reverend Metzger imagines [with no evidence] that Mitras-ism borrowed it's bull's blood baptism from Christianity. Is there any evidence of Mithraic theology or adjusting to the new sacrament? Reverend Metzger offers none. Did Mithraic inscriptions, or iconography or the progression of its sacred orders change? Reverend Metzger offers no evidence they did. Somehow, he imagines, the central sacrament of Christianity is dropped into another religion and—besides the single inscription naming the sacrament—there is no record of any change.

 

 

 

Mithraic inscription: , Saved by the blood

Taurobolium

Some evidence about the rising part of dying and rising gods Adonis, Attis

Attis' Hilaria—Plutarch 2d century AD