The Leading Religion Writer in Canada ... Does He Know What He's Talking About?
Tom Harpur began his career as an Anglican priest and professor of New Testament at Wycliffe College, Toronto. Just over thirty years ago, he moved from academia into journalism. Today, he is perhaps the leading religion writer in Canada.
The Pagan Christ is the story of his discovery of the writings of one Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880-1963) and two earlier writers (Godfrey Higgins [1771-1834] and Gerald Massey [1828-1907]), who argued that all of the essential ideas of both Judaism and Christianity came primarily from Egyptian religion.
Toward the end of the third Christian century, the leaders of the church began to misinterpret the Bible. Prior to this, no one ever understood the Bible to be literally true. Earlier, in keeping with all other religions, the narrative material of the Hebrew and Greek Bible was interpreted as myth or symbol, read as allegory and metaphor rather than as history.
According to Harpur, there is no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived. He claims that virtually all of the details of the life and teachings of Jesus have their counterpart in Egyptian religious ideas. He does not quote any contemporary Egyptologist or recognized academic authority on world religions nor appeal to any of the standard reference books in Egyptology or to any primary sources. Rather, he is entirely dependent on the work of Kuhn (and Higgins & Massey).
Who is Alvin Boyd Kuhn? He is given the title ‘Egyptologist’ and is regarded by Harpur as “one of the single greatest geniuses of the twentieth century” [who] “towers above all others of recent memory in intellect and his understanding of the world’s religious.”
As it turns out, Kuhn was a high school language teacher who was an enthusiastic proponent of Theosophy, a prodigious author and lecturer, who self-published most of his books.
Not being myself an expert in Egyptian religion, I consulted those who are about their views of contribution that Kuhn, Higgins and Massey have made to Egyptology and whether they thought some of the key ideas of The Pagan Christ well grounded. So I sent an email to twenty leading Egyptologists — in Canada, USA, UK, Australia, Germany, and Austria.
I noted as a sample the following claims put forth by Kuhn (and hence Harpur):
•That the name of Jesus was derived from the Egyptian “Iusa,” which means "the coming divine Son who heals or saves".
•That the god Horus is "an Egyptian Christos, or Christ.... He and his mother, Isis, were the forerunners of the Christian Madonna and Child, and together they constituted a leading image in Egyptian religion for millennia prior to the Gospels."
•That Horus also "had a virgin birth, and that in one of his roles, he was 'a fisher of men with twelve followers.'"
•That “the letters KRST appear on Egyptian mummy coffins many centuries BCE, and ... this word, when the vowels are filled in., is really Karast or Krist, signifying Christ."
•That the doctrine of the incarnation "is in fact the oldest, most universal mythos known to religion. It was current in the Osirian religion in Egypt at least four thousand years BCE"
•Only one of the ten experts who responded to my questions had ever heard of Kuhn, Higgins or Massey!
Professor Kenneth A. Kitchen of the University of Liverpool pointed out that not one of these men is mentioned in M. L. Bierbrier’s Who Was Who in Egyptology (3rd ed, 1995), nor is any of their works listed in Ida B. Pratt’s very extensive bibliography on Ancient Egypt (1925/1942).
Another distinguished Egyptologist wrote: “Egyptology has the unenviable distinction of being one of those disciplines that almost anyone can lay claim to, and the unfortunate distinction of being probably the one most beleaguered by false prophets. He goes on to refer to Kuhn’s “fringe nonsense.”
The responding scholars were unanimous in dismissing the suggested etymologies for Jesus and Christ.
Ron Leprohan, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Toronto, pointed out that while “sa” means “son” in ancient Egyptian and “iu” means ‘to come,” but Kuhn/Harpur have the syntax all wrong. In any event, the name ‘Iusa’ simply does not exist in Egyptian.
The name ‘Jesus’ is Greek from a universally recognized west Semitic name (“Jeshu’a”), borne not merely by the central figure in the New Testament but also by many other people in the first century.
While all recognize that the image of the baby Horus and Isis has influenced the Christian iconography of Madonna and Child, this is where the similarity stops. There is no evidence for the idea that Horus was virgin born.
There is no evidence for the idea that Horus was ‘a fisher of men’ or that his followers (the King’s officials were called ‘Followers of Horus”) were ever twelve in number.
KRST is the word for “burial” (“coffin” is written “KRSW”), but there is no evidence whatsoever to link this with the Greek title “Christos” or Hebrew “Mashiah”.
There is no mention of Osiris in Egyptian texts until about 2350 BC, so Harpur’s reference to the origins of Osirian religion is off by more than a millennium and a half. (Elsewhere Harpur refers to “Jesus in Egyptian lore as early as 18,000 BCE” and he quotes Kuhn as claiming that “the Jesus who stands as the founder of Christianity was at least 10,000 years of age.” In fact, the earliest extant writing that we have dates from about 3200 BCE.)
Kuhn/Harper’s redefinition of “incarnation” and rooting this in Egyptian religion is regarded as bogus by all of the Egyptologists with whom I have consulted. According to one: “Only the pharaoh was believed to have a divine aspect, the divine power of kingship, incarnated in the human being currently serving as the king. No other Egyptians ever believed they possessed even ‘a little bit of the divine’.”
Virtually none of the alleged evidence for the views put forward in The Pagan Christ is documented by reference to original sources. The notes refer mainly to Kuhn, Higgins, Massey, or some other long-out-of-date work.
Furthermore, Harpur's notes abound with errors and omissions. If you look for supporting evidence for a particular point made by the author, it is not there. Many quotations are taken out of context and interpreted in a very different sense from what their author originally meant (especially the early church fathers).
Acording to Harpur, Christian scholars have a vested interest in maintaining the myth that there was an actual Jesus who lived in history. First, he insists, there was "the greatest cover-up of all time" at the beginning of the fourth century; and thousands of Christian scholars are now participants in this on-going cover-up.
This perspective misses the fact that, for several generations, there have been professors of religious and biblical studies who are Jewish, Unitarian, members of every Christian denomination -- and many of no professed religious persuasion. And there are no religious tests for chairs in Egyptology. Presumably, the Jewish, Unitarian, secular and many very liberal Christians who happen to be recognized scholars have no axes to grind regarding whether or not Jesus actually lived, or whether most of the ideas found in the Bible stem from Egyptian or other Near Eastern religion.
If one were able to survey of the members of the major learned societies dealing with antiquity, it would be difficult to find more than a handful who believe that Jesus of Nazareth did not walk the dusty roads of Palestine in the first three decades of the Common Era. Evidence for Jesus as a historical personage is incontrovertible.
Rather than appeal to primary scholarship, Tom Harpur has based The Pagan Christ on the work of self-appointed "scholars" who seek to excavate the literary and archaeological resources of the ancient world the same way an avid crossword puzzle enthusiast mines dictionaries and lists of words. In short, Harpur's book tells us more about himself than it does about the origins of Christianity (or Judaism).
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Margie Ann Miller - 5/7/2009
Try reading Bart Ehrman's book "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture". He agrees with the assessment of Harpur about early writers corrupting scripture to make it agree with their own theology.
Ehrman is an authority!
Duff Vormittag - 3/15/2008
I think Harpur did a decent job of addressing the challenger's points in a relatively brief format of letter writing.
To these other writers who seek to challenge Harpur's thesis by quoting scripture, they are just grasping at straws. Remember that it's the nature of the scriptures themselves that are also under scrutiny here.
Harpur's book talks about the historical forces at work in the earliest days of Christianity and how a young opportunistic Church handpicked certain manuscripts to support their own agenda. Quoting these very texts as a basis for rebuttal is just nonsensical knee jerk from closed minds, or more simply, denial.
zane ivy - 2/29/2008
Have you all read the book? For just a beginning look into simply one issue raised, here's a link you can visit that provides a chart representing the various positions by various scholars on the Pauline corpus and the historicity of Jesus:
Phil Whitney - 6/4/2006
A book has just been published that refutes Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ:
Stanley E. Porter & Stephen J. Bedard, Unmasking the Pagan Christ: An Evangelical Response to the Cosmic Christ Idea (Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2006), 172 pages.
Arctura Angel Borealis - 6/6/2005
In my humble opinion, religion is just so much of what's wrong with this world. That and politics.
Phil Whitney - 3/9/2005
A couple quibbles: First, it wasn't "Mr. Pratt" – Ida Pratt was a woman. Second, you could have pointed out that it was actually "Ida A. Pratt" ("A." for "Augusta") -- not "B.", as Gasque wrote.
More importantly: Why weren't any of Higgins's or Massey's works listed in Pratt's book? Why weren't Higgins, Massey, or Kuhn listed in the Who Was Who in Egyptology?
Most likely solution: Professional Egyptologists never considered Higgins, Massey, or Kuhn Egyptologists. They were only Egyptologists by self-appointment.
Despite Harpur's many references to cultures other than ancient Egypt (many of which are unsubstantiated), Harpur's work is largely dependent on Egyptology. Yet, he consulted precisely zero living (or recently deceased) professional Egyptologists. The reason is obvious: real Egyptologists would have disconfirmed many of Harpur's claims -- and Harpur doesn't want to hear it.
So, Gasque consulted 10 more Egyptologists than did Harpur.
In a different online version of his article, Gasque provides an additional direct quote, from Peter F. Dorman.
This version of the article also includes the end quotation marks for the quote to which you referred.
You also misspelled Ron Leprohon's name. (At least Gasque got only one letter wrong.)
So, we know that Gasque consulted Ronald J. Leprohon (Professor of Egyptology, University of Toronto), Peter F. Dorman (Associate Professor of Egyptology, University of Chicago), and Kenneth A. Kitchen (Emeritus Professor of Egyptology, University of Liverpool). That's at least three better than Harpur. If you don't believe Gasque's claim of having contacted them, perhaps you should contact them. Contact other Egyptologists as well.
I think that Gasque's point about the "Jesus in Egyptian lore as early as 18,000 BCE" quote was that Harpur seems to have naively believed Herodotus. There is no evidence that Jesus was in Egyptian lore at any time -- and certainly not in 18,000 BCE. We don't have any evidence of any lore about anything from that long ago.
You are clearly skeptical of Gasque's claims. You should consider applying equal skepticism to Harpur's claims. You should note that no New Testament scholars, no historians, and no Egyptologists have come to Harpur's rescue. The only scholars who have responded to The Pagan Christ have viewed it very negatively. Besides Gasque (who has a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Manchester) and the Egyptologists he consulted, Paul L. Maier (Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University), Scott M. Lewis (Associate Professor of New Testament, Regis College, University of Toronto), and Stanley E. Porter (Professor of New Testament, McMaster Divinity College) have read The Pagan Christ and found it unconvincing.
http://www.drewmarshall.ca/listen.html (February 26, 2005)
You may not be impressed by such a short list of scholars. However, scholars are generally too busy doing scholarly work to bother responding to Harpur. A well-read non-scholar named J. P. Holding has posted a lengthy response to Harpur:
Holding points out that many of Harpur's references to ancient figures (including quotes) are bogus. Of course, you are free to be skeptical of Holding's claims. But you should apply your skepticism consistently -- do not grant Harpur immunity.
In order to know what real scholars are saying about the historical Jesus, you should read some of the relevant works by John P. Meier, E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn, Larry W. Hurtado, Markus Bockmuehl, Craig A. Evans, and Ben Witherington. Give scholarship a chance!
So, on closer inspection, Gasque's critique is neither muddled nor deceptive. Harpur's book, on the other hand ...
Chris Roberts - 3/7/2005
There are a number of errors and rhetorical sleights-of-hand in Mr. Gasque's article
"Only one of the ten experts who responded to my questions had ever heard of Kuhn, Higgins or Massey!
Professor Kenneth A. Kitchen of the University of Liverpool pointed out that not one of these men is mentioned in M. L. Bierbrier’s Who Was Who in Egyptology (3rd ed, 1995), nor is any of their works listed in Ida B. Pratt’s very extensive bibliography on Ancient Egypt (1925/1942)."
There are a number of problems with this passage, the most glaring being that the book Harpur cites by Kuhn as being most germane to his subject, "Shadow of the Third Century" was not published until seven years (1949) after the publishing date of Mr. Pratt's book (1942). None of Mr. Kuhn's book's were published before the first edition of Mr. Pratt's work (1925)
(SEE Page 220 of Harpur's book)
Furthermore, to characterize Harpur's work as one which focuses strictly on Egypt is a gross misrepresentation. I have read a grand total of 40 pages of the book (plus accompanying endnotes) and have already come across pre-Christian references to Zoroastrianism, Sri Lankan, Siamese and Japanese faiths, Persian religious practices, Mithraism, Pre-Colombian religious practices within the Americas as recorded by Cortez, and innumerable references to the belief systems of the Greeks and Romans.
This is not splitting hairs. Mr. Gasques has missed perhaps THE central contention of Mr. Harpur's work, namely, that the Christ story, from nativity through resurrection, is predated by not one but a multitude of ancient faiths from around the world.
Furthermore, Mr. Gasque, while claiming to contact 10 academic authorities with his questions, chooses to directly quote only one:
Another distinguished Egyptologist wrote: “Egyptology has the unenviable distinction of being one of those disciplines that almost anyone can lay claim to, and the unfortunate distinction of being probably the one most beleaguered by false prophets. He goes on to refer to Kuhn’s “fringe nonsense.”
Despite the fact that this is the ONLY direct quote in the entire article, Mr. Gasque fails to provide us with the closing brackets of the quotation in order to indicate where the authors' and his own thoughts may be seperated, but also fails to name the author.
Of the two other academic he cites, he spells Ron Leprahan's name incorrectly.
Further while he claims universal support from his viewpoint from the responding academics, he does not deign to back this up with a solitary properly attributed quotation. Further, he only names two of these individuals.
Mr. Gasque also mischaracterizes Mr. Harpur's assertions when he states that
"Harpur refers to “Jesus in Egyptian lore as early as 18,000 BCE” and he quotes Kuhn as claiming that “the Jesus who stands as the founder of Christianity was at least 10,000 years of age.” In fact, the earliest extant writing that we have dates from about 3200 BCE"
What Mr. Harpur in fact says is that the ancient Roman historian Herodotus describes the Egyptian precursor to Jesus as "one of the eight great gods who were described in the papyri as having existed almost twenty thousand years ago." (SEE pg- 39) While one could argue these dates, the dates are not Harpur's, but Herodotus'.
In light of the litany of errors in Mr. Gasque's work where he at least ATTEMPTS to provide a coherent rebuttal, dismal as those attempts may be, it is difficult to trust him when he states that there is "no evidence" for horus' virgin birth or that Mr. Harpur's work is full of errors and omissions.
Considering that Mr. Gasque's article is riddled with errors ina scant 500 words, his leveling of this critique at Mr. Harpur takes some nerve.
Aarmez N. Belair - 2/5/2005
I only just became aware of the discussion around Tom Harpur's book. The last entries were made several months ago, and do not seem to have done very far. I can only hope that all discussion or reading of these entries has not ended.
Aarmez N. Belair
Aarmez N. Belair - 2/5/2005
I am very intrigued by the fact that the Jesus controversy continues to spill so much ink without really coming to any kind of plausible or possibly conclusive statements. Firstly, I do believe that there was a historical itinerant preacher by the name of Yeshuah whose image and persona were eventually transmuted to be Jesus called the Christ.
Since I did not read Tom Harpur's book it is difficult for me to offer any real critique of what might be a seminal book. But I do wnat ot offer some different observations and perspectives which may in fact stand in opposiiton to some of the claims that are made by Tom Harpur.
In order to have a truer understanding of who Yeshuah might have been as a true historical personnage, it is essential to reclaim his Jewishness as opposed to pointing to other systems of mythology. Doing that really provides a truer image of who Yeshuah/Jesus might have been. Judaism is what it is regardless of its imagined sources. I can say that I studied Hebrew and then learned about Judaism in its most basic daily applications first hand from a fellow Jewish student who had taken the course in Classic Biblical Hebrew. We became friends and I was instructed about the way of life by her. Firstly, the word "yeshuah" in hebrew means "help", "aid", "assistance", or "salvation" depending on the context in which the word is used. When the word "yeshuah" is used as a name, it basically has no meaning. In Jewish Tanach, there are many men who carry the name Yeshuah but in translation, they are not named "Jesus" or even translitieratively "yeshuah" but Joshuah, Josiah, and even Jesse. King David's own father's name was Yeshuah but his is rendered in translation as Jesse. Hebrew biblical texts will bear this out to be true. Yehoshuah is a completely diffrent name and with a different meaning from Yeshuah. I've already indicated the meaning of "yeshuah" so the meaning of "yehoshuah" would be "God's salvation, help, aid, assistance" possibly. There is no connection between Yahweh and Jehoshuah as is claimed by Harpur. The YHWH anacronym is derived from the verb to be, is the third person singular of the "hiphil" tense of the verb to be. The "hiphil" tense in Hebrew is an future and intensified tense. What is traditionally rendered as "I am who am" would better be translated from the Hebrew "Eh'yeh asher eh'yeh" as "I will be utterly where I will utterly be." Yeh'veh is the third person of this same same verb and the hiphil tense. It is also the sacred secret name that is never revealed except at Passover when the High Priest pronounces this name while the shofar and drums and a great din is made. I have in fact revealed one Judaism's most deeply held secrets.
Secondly, it must be revealed and understood that within Judaism there were several sects, the Pharasees were one; the Sadducees were another, and then there were the Essenes, but Christian scripture makes no mention of the Essenes. It strikes me as very odd that the Christian documents whether canonical or Approcryphal have no mention of the Essenes. Each of these sects had their pwn particularities as to their origins, their practices. It goes without saying that this is true of the Essenes. But then again within Essenism there were many different sub-groups from the Essenes of the compound of Qum Ran, from the sub sect of Nazareth as well as loner Essenes who lived in the wild totally depent on Mother Nature to provide for all of their needs. Was the historical Jesus as well as his mother and father, Yosef and Miryam, members of a sub-sect of the Essenes? There is not much evidence that they were but I do propose that in fact they all were. Although Jesus is called the Nazarene, this too is a bastardisation of the word "netzirim" which does not mean "nazarene" but the word in Hebrew of "netzirim" means a branch or an offshoot of the main stem or stock of a vining plant. Again a mistranslation. So were Yeshuah, his parents, Miryam and Yosef, member of a sub-branch of the Essenes? Let us entertain the possibilty. They are always depicted as wearing white garments of unbleached cotton or linen. All Essenes reagdless of which branch they belonged to dressed very simply in this way. Garments made of animal fibre were not allowed, no woolen garments at all. The Essenes might be very successful in matters of business, might even be very wealthy but they would never display that quality in the types of clothing that they wore. They also shared their wealth quite evenly with other members of the Essenes; no one went hungry, nor did any of them not have a place to live. There were radical solitary Essenes which Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, Pharasee and astrologer attests to in his auto-biography. Flavius Josephus tells of one Essene named Banus who lived in the wild, wearing bark for clothing, eating only what Nature provided and did not hunt or kill for his food. This strange seeming Banus was essentially vegetarian. One Jewish source I've read even claims that Samson of Samson and Delilah fame was himself an Essene following many of the same practices that Banus did. But Yeshuah, Miryam and Yosef were of another branch, one that was more moderate in observance than Banus or those of Qum Ran compound.
The Essenes had their way of interpreting Torah and how to live by the Mosaic injunctions. They did not really recognise the supremacy of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Nor did the Essenes recognise the authority of the Pharisees to interpret Torah. They did allow for fianancial success without all of the trappings. Even if an Essene was well off, he lived very simply.
It matters not at all that the name "Yeshuah" was a common name even in Jesus time. What does matter is the lack of understanding of Yeshuah's Jewishness and how that makes him significant. I do not believe that Jesus is a saviour nor that he intended to be that at all.
There are many claims that Tom Harpur makes to which I take objection. To list them all is complex and long and involved, and requires a book several essays, especially for the source of the word "Christ". The word Christ is Greek in origin and has absolutely no connection to the proposed Egytian "KRST". The word in Greek is "christos" but even this word has an etymology. the source word for "Christos" is the Greek word for oil which in Greek is "kys". The neo-apostle Paul (in Hewbrew Paul's name Sha'ul, becomes Saul then Paul) is the one responsible for making the name Christian common usage for those who believe in Yeshuah as the "Christ". This may not be obvious, acceptable or even palatable to those who continue to have a simplistic understanding of the Essene Yeshuah. Sha'ul - Paul did not know Yeshuah when Yeshuah ws alive. Paul learned about Yeshuah through the stories that were told about Jesus. Paul had initially been a active member of the sect of the Pharasees. He says so hihmself in his letters. Paul says: "I was a Pharasee and I persecuted the first believers" - this is a paraphrasse of course. Paul initially as a Pharasee was a sworn enemy of the followers of Yeshuah who were never called Christians, the Jewish ones that is. Paul as a devout Jew and Pharasee was responsible for bringing the first believers to court, for being condemned as Jewish heretics, and then being stoned to death. Paul may have been a Helenised Jew from the anicent city of Tarsus in Celicia which is now part of Turkey, but he was first and foremost a Jew and then a Pharasee. Paul did not come to the city of Jerusalem in Israel until the year 35 C.E. approximately, almost a decade after Yeshuah had disappered from view. Non of the first followers ever claimed to have literally witnessed the supposed resurrection of Yeshuah. That Jesus was no longer around as a living breathing human was all that the first followers could claim. So it is no mystery that Paul does not refer to Yeshuah as a real being. Paul never witnessed the supposed miracles or touched Jesus as a real person as had all of the apostles and the many disciples had.
Where was Yehsuah from the age of 12 to the age of 30? there are many conjectures as to the possibility of what Jesus was doing during those years. And there probably will be no significant answer to that as well.
As I stated at the beginning, I have not read Tom Harpur's book, but information provided by the various reviers about the content of "The Pagan Christ" and the fact that I to have a great deal of knowledge about Yeshhuah and Judaism makes me very confident in providing a different perspective. In trying to understand or to explain away a historical Jewish itinerant preacher named Yeshuah, it is my contention that Tom Harpur goes too far afield in his attempts at explanations. He accomplishes nothing on this matter by doing so. Rather than provide at least plausible explanations, he renders even more obscure what is already muddied over. It is only by recovering Yeshuah's Jewishness that we, latter day investigators, can come to a more clear picture of the historical probability of a man named Yeshuah.
I really hope that this entry gets posted since I've having difficulty figuring out how to register and all.
Aarmez N. Belair, B.A.(Religious Studies)
Chester N Scoville - 8/24/2004
It is disturbing that Harpur's defence against Gasque's critique comes largely in the form of a sweeping dismissal of the motives, abilities, and even character of his critics.
Harpur's dismissive and quite personal language -- "nonsense", "some credentials", "resist any intrusion", "deeply threatened", "proselytizer," "biased", "slander", "shotgun blast", "naively", "conservative sophistry", "unaware of this reality", "nit-picking and distorting", and so on -- is not the language of scholarly debate. By contrast, Gasque's critique is about the book that Harpur wrote, and its merits or lack thereof.
Harpur's blanket, ad hominem characterization of his critics as either ignorant of his purposes, resentful of his intrusions, or afraid of his insights is unworthy of such an important topic.
Harpur's defence comes down to a rather weak form of special pleading that says, in essence, if you don't agree with me then you obviously just don't get it. He seems unwilling to entertain the more mundane possibility that his critics do get it, and disagree.
Phil Whitney - 8/22/2004
This is my response to Tom Harpur’s reply to Ward Gasque.
Concerning the categories of criticism of The Pagan Christ:
(i) the lack of lengthy references undermines the book’s integrity, not because it wouldn’t be suitable for a Ph.D. thesis, but because Harpur is putting forth extraordinary claims; he needs to back up these claims with good references;
(ii) the Egyptologists and other scholars -- the point isn’t that scholars are unanimous on everything; the point is that no Egyptologist would agree with the majority of Harpur’s claims, as Gasque noted;
(iii) Harpur appears deeply threatened by ideas that do not support and agree with his beliefs; these threatening “ideas” come from mainstream scholarship in Egyptology and New Testament studies.
Ward Gasque fits into all three categories that Harpur lists: he’s concerned about Harpur’s lack of academic references; he could not find any Egyptologists who agree with Harpur’s claims concerning Egyptology; and he is a conservative Christian who is concerned that Harpur is misleading the general public.
Harpur’s statement that “Paul’s Jesus lacks any human quality for the very reason that, in Paul’s understanding, he was not a human person at all” is doubted by the vast majority of New Testament scholars. It is not surprising that virtually everyone who reads Paul’s letters comes away with the impression that Paul believed in a historical Jesus. Being told that Earl Doherty, B.A., disagrees is unenlightening. From Paul’s undisputed writings, we can learn that Jesus: was a human being, a Jew, a descendant of David; had disciples, including Peter and John; led an exemplary life; referred to God as “Abba;” taught about end-time events, divorce, and a preacher’s wages; instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper; was crucified by earthly rulers, died, and was resurrected. (See Romans 1:3; 6:4; 8:15; 15:3, 8; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2, 8; 7:10-11; 9:1, 14; 11:23-25; 15:4-8; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 10:1; 13:4; Galatians 1:18-19; 2:9; 3:1, 16; 4:4, 6; Philippians 2:6-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 4:15.) A gnostic may read Paul’s letters and hope to interpret all of the statements about the life of Jesus symbolically. But one cannot easily pretend that the idea of a gnostic Jesus arises from a reading of the text itself.
Can Harpur find any living scholars who agree with him concerning the etymology of “Jesus”?
In an email in October 2003, I asked Harpur if he could name any scholars who agreed with him that there was no historical Jesus. He only named Earl Doherty, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, and Harold Leidner. These were the same people he listed in his May 16, 2004, article for the Toronto Star. And we find them listed again in Harpur’s reply to Gasque. This is an unimpressive list: Doherty has a B.A. in ancient history and classical languages; Freke has a B.A. in philosophy; Gandy has an M.A. in classical civilization (wow, a graduate degree!); and Leidner has an LL.B. in law. Certainly, it is possible that people with such credentials could make informed decisions about what to believe regarding history and religion. However, one should be alarmed that Harpur was unable to name any scholars that support his views.
Harpur appears content to believe that the vast majority of Egyptologists and New Testament scholars are wrong about a plethora of facts and interpretations. Of course, Harpur may believe as he chooses. However, he should embrace the fact that he speaks for a minority of lay researchers, instead of pretending that he’s merely popularizing the discoveries of modern scholarship.
Val Jobson - 8/20/2004
Harpur has reponded to Gasque's article on a different thread [and Gasque's article has appeared elsewhere in slightly different form. My own short reponses is at the bottom.
Michael Nenonen posted on rabble.ca/babble "Historical Jesus" thread on Aug 17/04:
I wrote a review of The Pagan Christ for the August 5th The Republic newspaper. Prior to doing so, I asked Harpur what he thought of Ward Gasque's critique. Harpur was kind enough to forward me the following response:
To date, there have been three categories of criticism of The Pagan Christ:
(i) the general professional academic, who despite the explanation at the beginning of the book that it was not written for scholars (hence the minimum of footnotes) insists that the lack of lengthy references, suitable for a Ph.D. thesis, undermines the book's integrity. This is nonsense;
(ii) the scholars with some credentials in Egyptology, who have not yet come across the same findings, who haven't read the same sources, but who resist any intrusion into their field. I have come to realize that if you put any ten Egyptologists into a room you'll get ten different opinions on the same data; and
(iii) the ultra-conservative and/or fundamentalist Christians, who are always deeply threatened by any ideas that do not support and agree with their traditional beliefs.
Ward Gasque fits into the latter category. He is a conservative Christian proselytizer, hence he is biased from the beginning and cannot produce a neutral review. Clearly the book presents a major challenge to his entire position, no doubt accounting for the highly charged nature of his attempted critique. His major criticisms do not stand up under closer scrutiny, and some of them amount to a form of slander. But, he lets off such a shotgun blast that it would be impossible to begin to answer each of his pronouncements. A few cases, however, will serve as an example.
Gasque states that "virtually none of the alleged evidence for the views put forward in The Pagan Christ is documented by reference to original sources." Anyone reading the book will find numerous references to such original sources as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Pyramid Texts, the Book of Thoth. The works of the esteemed Egyptologist E. Wallis Budge are also cited.
Gasque is critical of my statement that "Paul's Jesus lacks any human quality for the very reason that, in Paul's understanding, he was not a human person at all." But, of this claim there can be no doubt - numerous other writers and authorities over the centuries have noticed the same thing. Paul's Jesus is a non-historical, Gnostic or mystical reality, as brought out extremely well most recently by Earl Doherty in The Jesus Puzzle.
His statement that the name Jesus is a Greek derivation of a semitic name "Jeshu'a" borne by many in the first century is grossly misleading. The name Yeshua or Yehoshua is the title of the earliest Hebrew hero, Joshua, many centuries earlier; the Septuagint, (the Greek version of the Old Testament) has the word Jesus about 200 times and it was written c. 300-250 B.C.E.) Yahweh, which is also related to Yehoshua, according to Diodorus Siculus (a primary source) in the first century BCE comes from the Egyptian IAO. I have read Massey and Kuhn on this-which Gasque has not-and he is simply wrong. The origins of Jesus as a name go far back into earliest times and in fact lie behind the much later Jewish terms.
He says there is no evidence for the idea that Horus was virgin born. This is simply false. There are various versions of how Horus was conceived, it is true. But, all of them involve a miraculous birth. In one tradition, Isis was impregnated by "a flash of lightening or by the rays of the moon." In The Golden Bough, Frazer tells how Isis conceived "while she fluttered in the form of a hawk over the corpse of her dead husband." In the ancient Syrian and Egyptian rituals of the nativity, the celebrants retired into inner shrines from which at midnight they issued with a loud cry "the Virgin has brought forth!" The Egyptians even represented the newborn sun by the image of an infant, which on his birthday, the winter solstice, was brought out and exhibited to the worshippers. Isis retained her virginity perpetually and was given the epithets "Immaculate Virgin" and "uncontaminated goddess," as well as "Mother of God." By the way, I nowhere suggest that the N.T. Mary was a goddess like Isis, as Gasque says. But, there were so many images and statuettes of Isis holding the baby saviour, Horus, throughout the ancient Mediterranean world that when Christianity finally triumphed these same figures became those of the Madonna and child without any break in continuity. No archaeologist can now tell whether some of these artifacts represent the one or the other.
Regarding the age of Osirian religion, which Gasque naively assumes began in 2350 BCE, primary sources (which he declares I never refer to) such as the historian Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus make clear that the oral tradition indicates he "walked the earth" as God's Incarnation thousands of years previously. Osiris was both God and man exactly the same as Jesus. So were a host of other ancient deities. What's more, the Incarnation was also believed in for millennia BCE in Vedic religion. Krishna and Buddha both reflect this widespread belief.
Gasque denies that Horus had twelve disciples. This he says is a "questionable claim." However, the twelve disciple gods is a prominent theme in the ancient Egyptian religion (as also in the cult of Mithras). Horus, the sun god, is surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac, his "helpers" and "disciples."
Gasque says that "according to Harpur there is no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived ." It's not according to Harpur-despite all the conservative sophistry there's NO solid evidence for him of an extra-biblical kind contemporaneous with the time of Jesus' alleged advent on earth. The fact that Gasque's unaware of this reality or of the many books (which I cite) being written today on this theme, (eg. The Jesus Puzzle, Doherty, The Jesus Mysteries, Freke and Gandy, The Fabrication of the Christ Myth, Leidner, etc.) argues against his own pompous stance of expertise unlimited. If he possesses such evidence, as he implies, he should produce it forthwith. The entire world waits with baited breath for his
"incontrovertible evidence" of an historical Jesus' existence.
To sum up: Gasque has a problem with my using authors he's never heard of, nor, it should be remembered, has ever bothered to read. That's the whole point of the book! It's high time this material was widely known and studied. It should also be remembered that I am in my own right, not just a classical scholar and veteran journalist in the field of religion, but a long-time student of the Greek New Testament (being a former professor of the same) and did post-graduate work in the early Fathers of the Church at Oxford under some of the best scholars in the world. Religion has been the area of my expertise for over forty years. In other words, I am a scholarly expert in my own right, capable of weighing evidence and making my own judgements. I have met and debated with many of the leading religious figures of our time. The Pagan Christ has a timely message for Christianity, other religions, and the world. All the nit-picking and distorting of its message can't change that.
[ 17 August 2004: Message edited by: Michael Nenonen ]
My reply posted Aug 20/04 on rabble.ca/babble [Val Jobson]
Harpur used the work of "esteemed Egyptologist E. Wallis Budge" Budge died in 1934; I would think the archaeological study of Egypt has advanced over the past 70 years. Did Harpur consult an archaeologist who is still alive?
Harpur claims 10 Egyptologists in a room would not agree on anything; does this mean he could not find even one who would agree with him?
Harpur claims Paul's Jesus was mythical; in 1 Corinthians ch. 9 verse 5 Paul complains that everyone but he and Barnabaus has a wife, including the apostles and the brothers of the Lord. Now if Jesus's brothers were real people to Paul, why wouldn't Jesus be real?
Both Harpur and Gasque have their biases and agendas, but Gasque's article shows more scholarly rigor than Harpur's reply. [I haven't read Harpur's book yet so cannont judge it for myself.]
Val Jobson - 8/12/2004
Dr Gasque, Thank you for your review; I have used it on a different forum about whether Jesus was a historical person; Harpur's book was enthusiastically cited by some posters. [a forum on rabble.ca/babble]
Does anyone know of a multidisciplinary website with critical reviews of books, especially popular ones? Or reviews of specific areas covered by such books?
Harpur's book [which I have not read] apparently deals with more than one field. There is a book about Canadian First Nations which uses archaeology, history and economics to support its thesis [which contains much bigoted nonsense]; I am capable of dissecting the historical nonsense produced by the author; but while I am sure many of his archaeological and economic statements are also ignorant nonsense, I do not have the knowledge to explain why they are ignorant nonsense.
Ralph E. Luker - 8/12/2004
It makes some difference that The Da Vinci Code is marketed as fiction. The book discussed here is marketed as non-fiction.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/12/2004
People take the Da Vinci Code way too seriously. It's a conspiracy/mystery thriller. People will temporarily believe almost anything if it sets up a great chase scene. Brown's self-aggrandizement aside, there's no more 'rot' in his writing than there is in Tom Clancy's or Robert Ludlum's.
Timothy Furnish - 8/11/2004
The sad thing is, there will be people who believe such rot.
Just look at the success of the analogous "Davinci Code."
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing