• Homer, the Gospels, Gullotta and Mythicism

    The following is a long comment I wrote in response to someone who was daring me to discredit Daniel Gullotta’s awful review (published in the Journal of the Study for the Historical Jesus) of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. So, I picked the section of the review which was about Dennis MacDonald’s book The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark and tore it to shreds. As we will see, pretty much everything Gullotta says about this book is just shamelessly mistaken (and refuted within MacDonald’s book itself) much as the commentary on Carrier’s book is shamelessly mistaken and typically either already answered inside the pages of Carrier’s book or self-evidently false.

    Gullotta says, “If Mark intended his audience to notice and understand his ‘Homeric flags’, then this would mean that only MacDonald (and his followers like Carrier) have been intelligent enough to spy Mark’s original intentions.”

    Why that’s nonsense: In The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark MacDonald repeatedly points out that ancient people did see the Homeric connections; The Santiaga cult in Spain understood that James and John were Christianized Dioscuri (Homeric Epics p.30-32), and that later Christian legends about John and James were clearly modeled them after the Dioscuri. Ancient artistic depictions (that is: paintings) of the cleansing of the temple are deeply similar to the artistic depictions of the very scenes MacDonald suggests Mark emulated literarily (For example: ancient paintings of both episodes include people using trapezia [small tables] as shields, see p.35).

    Gullotta asks, “[W]hat possible polemical situation which centered on Homer would have motivated Mark to write his gospel?”

    Homeric polemics were not the primary reason Mark’s Gospel was written, and one can posit Homeric polemics without believing that said polemics were the primary reason the gospel was written. Easy as that.

    Gulotta: “Carrier cannot reasonably justify why Mark chose to subvert the image of Odysseus, when other and more logical candidates were available.” [Gulotta suggests the Caesars and Romulus as alternate choice].

    John Dominic Crossan’s book The Power of Parable also discusses connections between the Caesars and the gospel depiction of Jesus, though I don’t know that Crossan specifically dubs these similarities “polemics.” One way or another, similairties between Jesus and the Caesars indicate the author trying to depict Jesus as on par with the former. As for Romulus, I would refer you to Richard C. Miller, “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical AntiquityJournal of Biblical Literature [Note: this paper is on iTunes for $6]. Gulotta seems aware that there are indeed polemics / connections between the Caesars and Greek gods, and says, “To put this another way, Jesus rivalling Caesar makes sense, but Jesus rivalling Odysseus does not.” But if Jesus already “rivals” various Jewish Patriarchs and heroes like Moses and Abraham and Joshua, Caesars, and Romulus, why *wouldn’t* he also rival Greek heroes like Odysseus?

    Gulotta complains that, “Also problematic is that many of MacDonald’s comparisons, and in turn Carrier’s appeal to them, come across as extremely forced and farfetched at times.”

    The point of MacDonald’s book was to see how many parallels there were between the Homeric Epics and the gospel. Critics of the book inevtiably zoom in on the weaker parallels and invariably ignore the stronger ones. The same situation exists with the gospel and the Old Testament: there are weak parallels (Hosea 6:2 and the resurrection, for example) but there are also parallels that are undeniably strong (like the slaughter of the innocents in both Moses’ and Jesus’ life) and the former don’t negate the latter. In fact, MacDonald makes the same point I’d say one of MacDonald’s strongest examples is James and John as the Dioscuri, but you’ll never hear a critic of MacDonald offer a reasonable alternative explanation for the supporting facts that that’s built on.

    To return to a point Gulotta makes early on in his review, “Because Carrier’s presuppositions about the Gospels’ genre, style, and meaning is so indebted to MacDonald’s work, much of the criticism applied to MacDonald’s claims can be equally applied to Carrier’s.”

    If Gullotta means that Carrier is wedded to MacDonald’s *specific* thesis about Homeric borrowing, that would be false: Carrier’s thesis requires only symbolic interpretations for the gospels, not Homeric ones in particular. If Gullotta means that Carrier’s thesis requires use of, say, MacDonald’s criteria (or something like them) to detect emulation between the Old Testament and the Gospels, that may be true, but then again, nobody at all including Gullotta denies such emulation, nor is it reasonable to deny such.

    Who would deny that the scapegoat ceremony of Leviticus 16 is emulated in Mark? In a nutshell, the scapegoat ritual in Leviticus 16:6-10 prescribes that (a) We take two goats (b) release one (c) sacrifice the other for remission of sin. Now look at Mark’s Barabbas narrative (Mark 15:6-15). Little known fact, Barabbas means “son of the father” and Jesus, of course, is a “Son of the Father.” The plot of the story is that (a) We have two sons of the father (b) One is released (Barabbas) (c) The other (Jesus) is sacrificed for remission of sin. These parallels cannot be said to be only in Carrier’s head: Matthew strengthens the connection by dubbing Barabbas “Jesus Barabbas” (Matthew 27:16), and the early church father Origen, one of the first on historical record to comment on this, also noticed Scapegoat imagery in this passage, see for yourself.

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    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I used to blog at Answers in Genesis BUSTED! I took the creationist organization Answers in Genesis to pieces. I am the author of Atheism and Naturalism and Extraordinary Claims, Extraordinary Evidence, and the Resurrection of Jesus. I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, and Skepticism in general.

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    1. I have a number of Dr. Dennis MacDonald’s books and find them fascinating:

      1. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (2000)
      2. Mythologizing Jesus (2015)
      3. The Gospels and Homer (2015)
      4. Luke and Vergil (2015)
      5. The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides (2017)

      I am especially interested in 4 and 5 because they outline the mimesis between the New Testament and Euripides “Bacchae” (as does Robert M. Price’s article “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash”)

      I have always been intrigued by the line in the “Bacchae” in which Cadmus says:

      “Even though he (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still, say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele. For this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on our race.”

      It’s also interesting when Richard Carrier explores the idea that Christianity may have been based on a lie. For instance, Carrier writes:

      “[A] case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.” see https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12263

      This would agree with the promotion of the Noble Lie in Plato. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy characterizes Plato’s Noble Lie as:

      “For Plato we should live according to what reason is able to deduce from what we regard as reliable evidence. This is what real philosophers, like Socrates, do. But the non-philosophers are reluctant to ground their lives on logic and arguments. They have to be persuaded. One means of persuasion is myth. Myth inculcates beliefs. It is efficient in making the less philosophically inclined, as well as children (cf. Republic 377a ff.), believe noble things… In the Republic the Noble Lie is supposed to make the citizens of Callipolis care more for their city. Schofield (2009) argues that the guards, having to do philosophy from their youth, may eventually find philosophizing ‘more attractive than doing their patriotic duty’ (115). Philosophy, claims Schofield, provides the guards with knowledge, not with love and devotion for their city. The Noble Lie is supposed to engender in them devotion for their city and instill in them the belief that they should ‘invest their best energies into promoting what they judge to be the city’s best interests’ (113). The preambles to a number of laws in the Laws that are meant to be taken as exhortations to the laws in question and that contain elements of traditional mythology (see 790c3, 812a2, 841c6) may also be taken as ‘noble lies’.”

      Justified lying is also present in the Judeo Christian tradition (even God lies). For instance:

      1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh. (Exodus 1:18-20)
      2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies. (Joshua 2:4-6); (James 2:25)
      3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah. (1 Samuel 21:2)
      4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die. ( 2 Kings 8:8-10)
      5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.” (Tobit 5:16-18)
      6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.” (John 7:8-10)
      7. Even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets. (1 Kings 22:21-22)

      It’s fascinating stuff! I’ve written a blog post about it if anyone is interested: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/

          1. Absolutely! This is not simply Dr. Dennis MacDonald’s idiosyncratic hermeneutics. I see nothing odd, for instance, in Courtney J. P. Friesen’s point about “John’s Jesus, thus, presents himself not merely as a ‘New Dionysus,’ but one who supplants and replaces him (Friesen, “Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Cultural Contestations of Greeks, Jews, Romans and Christians,” 2015), when we consider that everyone agrees Matthew’s Gospel presents Jesus as the new and greater Moses through mimesis.

            1. Come to think of it, I think I recall the ‘water into wine’ miracle paralleling a miracle of Dionysus?

            2. Nick said: “Come to think of it, I think I recall the ‘water into wine’ miracle paralleling a miracle of Dionysus?”

              Dr. Robert M Price Price also notes this in “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash.” Price writes “Water into Wine (John 2:1-11):[T]he central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus.”

    2. Yes, Dionysus was known for wine miracles.
      Pliny the elder says:
      “In the island of Andros, at the temple of Father Bacchus
      [another name, from ‘grape’, for Dionysus], we are assured by
      Mucianus, who was thrice consul, that there is a spring,
      which, on the nones of January, always has the flavour of
      wine; it is called d??? ?e?d?s?a (Gift of the God Zeus?)-”

      “According to Mucianus, there is a fountain at Andros,
      consecrated to Father Liber [another name, meaning
      “free one”, for Dionysus], from which wine flows during the
      seven days appointed for the yearly festival of that god,
      the taste of which becomes like that of water the moment it
      is taken out of sight of the temple.”

      Diodorus Siculus says:
      “The Teans advance as proof that the god was born among them the
      fact that, even to this day, at fixed times in their city
      a fountain of wine, of unusually sweet fragrance, flows of
      its own accord from the earth”

      I’m pretty convinced that Jesus was made to be the ultimate savior/hero. He’s an amalgamation of Jewish and Greco-Roman saviors/heroes.

      1. Here is an interesting quote about Dr. Dennis MacDonald’s reading of the relation between Jesus and the Dionysus of Euripides’ “Bacchae” in MacDonald’s new book:

        “‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.’ Dennis R. MacDonald offers a provocative explanation of those scandalous words of Christ from the Fourth Gospel, an explanation that he argues would hardly have surprised some of the Gospel’s early readers. John sounds themes that would have instantly been recognized as proper to the Greek god Dionysos (the Roman Bacchus), not least as he was depicted in Euripides’ play The Bacchae. A divine figure, the offspring of a divine father and human mother, takes on flesh to live among mortals, but is rejected by his own. He miraculously provides wine and offers it as a sacred gift to his devotees, women prominent among them, dies a violent death, and returns to life. Yet John takes his drama in a dramatically different direction: while Euripides’s Dionysos exacts vengeance on the Theban throne, the Johannine Christ offers life to his followers. MacDonald employs mimesis criticism to argue that the earliest Evangelist not only imitated Euripides but expected his readers to recognize Jesus as greater than Dionysos.”

    3. On a side note;

      Gulotta: “Paul never mentions Jesus having a father (besides God) and does not name Jesus’ mother. Carrier’s argument that this somehow indicates that Jesus was not believed to be a human being, however, is at best an argument from silence.”

      In the Bayesian analysis carefree world of Gulotta, Carrier’s argument is twisted into an “an argument from silence”, rather than the argument on how well each theory predicts each item of evidence, which items of evidence count, and how they count towards the most probable Bayesian conclusion.

      1. True. The argument from silence is a rather wide problem. It’s rather striking to me that Paul says “he opposed Peter to his face” in Galatians, which is a rather strong indication that he is talking about a human on earth, whereas Jesus, who is mentioned hundreds of more times than Peter, isn’t mentioned with any clear indication that he was a person that Paul’s contemporaries had actually known.

        Some try to come up with reasons specific to Paul to solve the problem of silence, but then that doesn’t explain the silence of 1 Clement and Hebrews! Others try to come up with generalized explanations for the silence, but those fall apart because second century documents, for example, often contain many indications that Jesus was an earthly human whom first century Christians would have known directly!

    4. Richard deals with comparisons to Romulus in respect of G.Lk. The Emmaus and Proculus episode are very similar. Element 47 is practically all Romulus; chapt 4.1 ditto. The words of Dionysos are spoken by Jesus in the Acts Road to Damascus episode. Does this numptie not realise people can crack open books?

      1. “The words of Dionysos are spoken by Jesus in the Acts Road to Damascus episode.” Can you cite a source for this?

        1. Taylor, John (2007). Classics and the Bible: Hospitality and Recognition. A&C Black. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-7156-3481-3. @ https://books.google.com/books?id=xVnwAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA64
          Bacche was a popular play in antiquity, often alluded to by later authors: indeed it acquired something approaching the status of a sacred text. [cited: Griffin (1980b) 53.] For several passages in Acts a convincing case can be made for direct influence. The escape of Dionysus from prison in a miraculous earthquake (Ba. 580-603) is very similar to the experience of Paul and Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:25-30). Richard Seaford shows that this scene in Bacche also resembles a more famous episode in Acts: the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 93-9). [cited: Rutherford (2001b), 265.]”

          Griffin, Jasper (1980). Homer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-287533-4.
          Rutherford, R. B. 1982. ‘Tragic form and feeling in the Iliad’, JHS 102, 145–60, repr. with afterword in D. Cairns (ed.) Oxford Readings in Homer’s Iliad (Oxford 2001), 260–93.

        2. Per Neil Godfrey (26 August 2013). “Jesus and Dionysus in The Acts of the Apostles and early Christianity”. Vridar. @ https://vridar.org/2013/08/26/jesus-and-dionysus-in-the-acts-of-the-apostles-and-early-christianity/

          Acts 26.14: ‘it is hard for you to kick against the pricks’[Jesus to Saul in the third telling of Paul’s conversion]

          Bacchae 794-5: ‘I would sacrifice to him rather than become angry and kick against the pricks, a mortal against a god’ [Dionysus in disguise advising Pentheus]

        3. Dr. Dennis MacDonald points out that In both “Bacchae” 600-607 and “Acts” 9:3-7a, the persecuted deity produces a supernatural light that drives people to the ground and dumbfounds them. In both cases the deity commands those who have fallen to arise and take heart (see Dennis MacDonald, “Luke and Vergil: Imitations of Classical Greek Literature, vol 2, 2015, pg. 54)

      2. Paul’s conversion in Acts is a fascinating use of Euripides’ “Bacchae.”

        Regarding Paul’s conversion story, Dr. Barrie Wilson, Author of “How Jesus Became Christian,” argues “Paul’s conversion story is clearly made up, to give himself credibility. What people don’t realize is that, if true, it would undermine the whole point of Jesus’ mission. If all it took was a vision, why waste time with a 3-yr mentoring process?” Dr. Wilson points out that another example of a highly dubious vision is Peter’s setting aside the Kosher laws.

        And the narrative of the conversion in Acts is hardly history. Dr. Price comments:

        As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does.

        Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi (Portefaix, pp. 170), Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness… After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).

    5. Umm … no. This is another garbled attempt for mythicists to choke up mythicism into reality again. Gullotta made no errors. Just taking your first objection to Gullotta and its incredible mistake is enough to demonstrate this.

      “Why that’s nonsense: In The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark MacDonald repeatedly points out that ancient people did see the Homeric connections; The Santiaga cult in Spain understood that James and John were Christianized Dioscuri (Homeric Epics p.30-32), and that later Christian legends about John and James were clearly modeled them after the Dioscuri.”

      Umm … no. That isn’t nonsense at all. I have three of MacDonald’s books including this one, MacDonald never argues on pp. 30-32 that the medieval Santiago cult got this Oddyseuic idea from Mark himself. In fact, MacDonald several times explains exactly what Gullotta said … that this reading has been lost for 2,000 years. He writes on page 7;

      Readers for two thousand years appar­ently have been blind to this important aspect of Mark’s project.

      Have you read MacDonald’s book yourself without simply skimming through? Did you read page 7 at all? Or other pages for that matter where MacDonald says exactly what Gullotta said he did?

      1. MacDonald is certainly not a mythicist. That said,

        Describing “The Homeric Epics and The Gospel of Mark” book, Dennis MacDonald says ancient readers would have understood that Mark “presented Jesus as superior to the likes of Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus (MacDonald, The Gospels and Homer, pg.3, 2015).”

        Regarding the “Bacchae” and the fourth Gospel, MacDonald says “the Johannine Evangelist not only imitated Euripides, he expected his readers to esteem Jesus as greater than Dionysus (MacDonald, The Dionysian Gospel, pg. 27, 2017).”

        1. MacDonald, Dennis R. (2000). “Mark and Mimesis”. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. Yale University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-300-08012-4. @ https://books.google.com/books?id=8JkFqMXX6WAC&pg=PA3

          I have come to conclude that Mark wanted his readers to detect his transvaluation of Homer.

          MacDonald, Dennis R. (2014). The Gospels and Homer: Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts. 1. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 2f. ISBN 978-1-4422-3053-8. @ https://books.google.com/books?id=8amDBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA2

          In 2000, I published ”The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark” with Yale University Press. Since that time I have argued for imitations of classical Greek literature in several other Hellenistic Jewish and early Christian texts (see the Bibliography). Mark’s imitations of Homer can account for much of the information about Jesus in Mark that outstrips anything found in Paul or the lost Gospel. […] Mark’s authorial voice is different from that of Q/Q+ in large measure because he imitated or, better, emulated Homeric epic. One must not confuse these imitations with plagiarism insofar as the author advertised his literary debt and presented Jesus as superior to the likes of Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus.

      2. “MacDonald never argues on pp. 30-32 that the medieval Santiago cult got this Oddyseuic idea from Mark himself.”

        The Santiago cult clearly recognized James as Dioscuri. These ancient people recognized what they were reading in the gospel of Mark, thus full-blown Christian Dioscurism came from “Mark’s seminal images” (as MacDonald puts it. So it is just a lie to say that Odyssian / GrecoRoman parallels sat inside the gospels unrecognized, the Santiago cult recognized them, as did others that I clearly mention in the review. Also, re: “no one ever saw it before” check out MacDonald’s response in ‘My Turn’ from page 15: http://iac.cgu.edu/drm/My_Turn.pdf

        1. MacDonald, Dennis R. (2000) [now bolded]. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. Yale University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-300-08012-4.

          In 1913, J. Rendel Harris published an extensive study entitled ”Boanerges” in
          which he suggested that the sons of Zebedee were christianized Heavenly Twins, avatars of the Dioscuri. […] According to Harris, the origins of Dioscurism lay in prehistoric astrology and superstitions concerning twins. […] Evidence of this myth among Christians includes the depiction of Judas Didymus Thomas as Jesus’ twin in the Acts of Thomas; twinned saints of medieval Europe; and the cult of Santiago (from ”Sanctus Iacobus”), which held James to be brother not of John but of Jesus. Jesus’ naming the sons of Zebedee Sons of Thunder, argued Harris, is Mark’s window to a landscape of early Christian Dioscurism.

        2. This is the last time I’ll explain it to you. MacDonald never says the Santiago cult found Homer in Mark. He says that they thought James was Dioscuri. He never says this claim they made had anything to do with Mark. I’ve explicitly quoted MacDonald saying this reading has been lost for 2,000 years. That is undebatable.

          I’ve read MacDonald’s ridiculous self-published “my turn” nonsense. He never addresses any of the specific criticisms made on his parallels; he only tries to adduce more. The first parallel he adduces is not there and the real source for the stilling of the sea is Psalm 107:23-32 (there are outright linguistic parallels). He spends a third of the paper trying to provide parallels with Homer and the Gospel of Nicodemus — a 4th century document that has no bearing on the debate. MacDonald literally seems to see Greek mythology in everything he reads — the Acts of Pilate, Gospel of Nicodemus, Mark, Luke, John, etc. It’s honestly ridiculous.

      3. I’m going to do a little acid test here: I’m going to present you with an undeniably clear Greco-Roman parallel to Jesus and see if we get acknowledgement of it or further wallowing in rationalization and denial. If the latter, there may be no point in continuing this conversation with you. So here it is:

        “They say that Aristeas, who was in birth inferior to none of the citizens, entered into a fuller’s shop in Proconnesos and there died; and the fuller closed his workshop and went away to report the matter to those who were related to the dead man. And when the news had been spread abroad about the city that Aristeas was dead, a man of Kyzicos who had come from the town of Artake entered into controversy with those who said so, and declared that he had met him going towards Kyzicos and had spoken with him: and while he was vehement in dispute, those who were related to the dead man came to the fuller’s shop with the things proper in order to take up the corpse for burial; and when the house was opened, Aristeas was not found there either dead or alive. In the seventh year after this he appeared at Proconnesos and composed those verses which are now called by the Hellenes the Arimaspeia, and having composed them he disappeared the second time.” (Herodotus, History, Book 4, 14-15)

        1. Dissertation by Friesen, Courtney J. (2013). Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae Among Jews and Christians in the Greco-Roman World. @ https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/158159/Friesen_umn_0130E_14153.pdf?sequence=1
          “Dionysiac themes are present in some of the earliest Christian practices and writings. Indeed, the numerous similarities between Christianity and Dionysiac myth and ritual make thematic comparison particularly fitting: both Jesus and Dionysus are the offspring of a divine father and human mother (which was subsequently suspected as a cover-up for illegitimacy); both are from the east and transfer their cult into Greece as part of its universal expansion; both bestow wine to their devotees and have wine as a sacred element in their ritual observances; both had private cults; both were known for close association with women devotees; and both were subjected to violent deaths and subsequently came back to life. (As Albert Henrichs observes “of Hellenistic soteriological religions” there is an especially “high suitability of the cult of Dionysus for a comparative study of Judaeo-Christian versus pagan self-definition and religious identity” (“Changing Dionysiac Identities,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition III: SelfDefinition in the Greco-Roman World [ed. Ben F. Meyer and E. P. Sanders; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982], 137–60 [at 137]).)”

        2. And in this other comment, you do perhaps the most dishonest thing possible: frame the debate. “If you don’t agree with this fringe theory, you’re a meany poopyhead liar!” And then you produce some account from Herodotus. I’ll summarize it.

          Aristeas, born above every other, enters a fullers shop and dies there. The fuller closes the shop and goes to report this, and the news quickly spreads that Aristeas is dead. A man claimed that he had seen and talked to Aristeas. The body went to be retrieved from the shop, but it was not found there.

          So, are there highly vague similarities? Yes. Does this account have anything to do with Christianity? Obviously not. It’s just another one of the countless translation accounts out there.

          1. His body goes missing, and he is later seen alive. So it’s a resurrection account. Do you deny Aristaeus is the risen Lord? He was seen alive after his death, and if that’s not enough for you, then what about the empty Shop? 😉

            Further, Aristaeus is also depicted as a deliverer of scripture, as is Jesus. That is in no way vague. But anyway, thanks for confirming the obvious: You aren’t worth the time of day, as your insanely deluded comments re:MacDonald also demonstrates. You don’t want to see anything that might shake up your worldview. So I’m sending you on your way.

          2. Pease, Arthur Stanley (1942). “Some Aspects of Invisibility”. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 53: 1–36. doi:10.2307/310789.

            The disappearance of the body of Jesus from the tomb presents likenesses to certain pagan traditions.

            Miller, Richard C. (2010). “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity”. Journal of Biblical Literature. 129 (4): 759–776. doi:10.2307/25765965.

            First, scholars tend to subsume Mark under a Judaic literary domain, thus seeking its primary semiotic indices and cultural conventions within early Jewish literature. There appears, however, to be little basis for this appetence, except a rather non-scholarly insistence on a “pristine,” “non-pagan” well from which the academy ought to draw nearly all cultural, literary, and ideological antecedents.

            [Second] Such aversion combines with what one may best describe as a fundamental misapprehension of the processes and principles governing Hellenistic literary production; that is, a given story, when juxtaposed with the array of analogous Mediterranean ”fabulae”, must either match uniformly or the classification be summarily dismissed as nonapplicable. This not only comes as a false choice but betrays a gross misconception regarding the phenomena of syncretic adaptation in the Hellenistic Orient.

            Third, and perhaps most obstructive, the persistent sacred nature of the narrative, for many in a field overgrown with faith-based scholarship, has typically confused subject and object, yielding a paucity of effective historical, literary-critical treatments.

            Cf. Neil Godfrey (24 October 2015). “The Disappearances of the Bodies of Jesus and Other Heroes”. Vridar.

    6. Per Carrier (16 December 2017). “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review”. Richard Carrier Blogs:

      As for the arguments Gullotta deploys against MacDonald (including the one he incorrectly lays against me on p. 339), I would encourage you to actually find and read MacDonald’s refutations of them. Because it’s not like any of this is new to him. Gullotta, notably, never mentions MacDonald’s rebuttals.

        1. Gullotta quotes Watts (2013).

          Watts, Joel L. (2013) [now bolded]. Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-62032-289-5.

          An author may choose a style based on a theological crisis.[…] Mark was in crisis, no doubt, but MacDonald fails to establish how such a great theological crisis is in anyway connected to a Hellenistic poem with mythological heroes foreign to the Jews. […] To suggest Homer as a hypotext, especially when no one knew Homer was in Mark’s Gospel, is to do one of two things. First, it is to suggest that Mark was not a very good writer, in that his writing failed to produce mimicry and failed to notify his readers of his epic journey. Second, it is to suggest Homer was not as huge a theological crisis in early Christian [sic] as MacDonald would have us believe…

          MacDonald (2006), My Turn A Critique of Critics of “Mimesis Criticism”:

          Objection 9: No one seems to have recognized these imitations before. For example,
          Mitchell claims that “[W]e have no text that corroborates a Homeric reading of Mark.” (Mitchell also claims that I do “not adequately account for the massive and complete interpretative failure by the history of exegesis and the use of the text, even in the face of the glaring contradiction that as “sophisticated” a Greek author as Luke did not recognize these patterns in his source, Mark. This damnable counterindication is rendered even more logically problematic by the fact that, according to MacDonald’s own argument, Luke is himself supposed to have followed the same procedure of Homeric recasting”)

          1. “An author may choose a style based on a theological crisis.[…] Mark was in crisis, no doubt, but MacDonald fails to establish how such a great theological crisis is in anyway connected to a Hellenistic poem with mythological heroes foreign to the Jews”

            Why would the Hellenistic heroes be foreign to Jews? Were there not hellenized Jews? Obviously the writers of the New Testament were familiar with Greek religion, they wrote their gospels in Greek. We know that Hellenistic religion influenced pre-Christian Jewish religious beliefs.

            Here’s one example from “Greek Religion and Culture, the Bible and the Ancient Near East” By Jan Bremmer:
            “In the twentieth century, the binding of the fallen angels has regularly reminded scholars of the myth of the Titans. And indeed, the Jewish translators of the Septuagint, erudite as they were, could hardly have failed to note the vague parallels between the Titans and the gigantes they introduced into Genesis 6.4. The interpretation even gains in probability, if we remember that several scholars have also noted parallels between Prometheus’ instruction of primitive men in all kinds of arts in the Prometheus Victus (454-505) and the instruction of men in technical skills and magic by the Watchers in 1 Enoch 6-7. Now the combination of the myths of Prometheus and the struggle of the Titans against Zeus in the same passage may not be accidental. The figure of an inventive Prometheus in the pseudo-Aeschylean Prometheus Vinctus was probably modeled on Ea in Atrahasis through the mediation of the already mentioned Titanomachy. Knowledge by the authors of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, or their source, of the Greek myth of the Titans via the Titanomachy, directly or indirectly, can therefore hardly be doubted…The myth of the Titans has appeared to be an extremely interesting example of the cultural contacts in the Mediterranean. From the Hurrian and the Hittites it migrated to the Greeks who, in turn, proved to be a source of inspiration to the Jews.”

            1. Good find! Greek background knowledge of the culture of the New Testament writers and their audience is also addressed by Dr. Dennis MacDonald in places like: “MacDonald, The Gospels and Homer (2015) pp. 7-10,” and “MacDonald, Luke and Vergil (2015) pp. 11-12.”

            2. Mack, Burton L. (1993). “Mythmaking and the Christ”. The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins. HarperSanFrancisco. pp. 219f. ISBN 978-0-06-065374-3.

              The evidence from Paul’s letters is that the congregations of the Christ were attractive associations and that their emerging mythology was found to be exciting. A spirited cult formed on the model of the mystery religions…

              Price, Robert M. (2002). “Christianity, Diaspora Judaism, and Roman Crisis”. Review of Rabbinic Judaism. 5 (3): 316–331.

              [Suitors and Seducers] The temptations and challenges of the Diaspora only served to increase the diversity of ancient Judaism, a diversity directly reflected in emerging Christianity, which demonstrably partakes of Jewish Gnosticism [Schmithals, 1975; Scholem, 1965], Zoroastrianism [Welburn, 1991], the Mystery Cults, etc.

            3. DB,
              Yes, I think Christianity started as something like a mystery cult.

              From “An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity” By Delbert Burkett:
              “Certain Christian rituals show similarities to those of the mystery cults. The initiation ceremonies of the mysteries generally included
              a ritual purification in water, just as Christianity had an
              initiation ceremony(baptism) that involved immersion in water.
              Also like the mysteries, Christian ritual included a sacred
              meal shared by the worshippers.”

              From Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey By Mark Allan Powell
              “After all, Christianity was regarded as a mystery religion by
              some Romans when it first appeared on the scene,..”

              From “Exploring The New Testament World An Illustrated Guide To The World Of Jesus And The First Christians” by Albert Bell:
              “Most of the gods associated with mystery cults had some
              connection with a cycle of death and rebirth or with
              going into the underworld and coming out alive….
              The association of grain or vegetation of any type with
              death and rebirth is not difficult to make. Each year the
              seed is put into the ground (buried) and comes up again (rebirth,
              resurrection). This was a familiar symbol to an agrarian
              society, so familiar that Paul even used it in his
              discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44”

              From “Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Cultural Contestations of Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Christians” by Courtney Friesen:
              “Early observers of Christianity also noted its resemblances with Dionysiac religion. Pliny the Younger, for example, the earliest extant writer on Christianity, in his famous letter to Emperor Trajan in 112 CE (Ep. 10.96), describes Christian activities in Bithynia and requests the emperor’s advice on how to proceed. Robert Grant has argued that Pliny’s account is significantly shaped by the description of the Bacchanalia affair written by Livy, whom Pliny was known to have read and admired. As in Livy, the Christians meet at night, they sing hymns and take oaths, and they share a common meal (Ep. 10.96.7; Livy 39.8, 18). Moreover, contrary to accepted social and religious practice, as in Livy, participants include a mixture of class, gender, and age, and come
              from both the city and the country (Ep. 10.96.9; Livy 39.8-9). Jean-Marie Pailler builds on these observations, arguing that in addition to the verbal parallels adduced by Grant, there are wider similarities in the manner in which Pliny conducted his investigation. His request for direction in policy from the emperor is analogous to that of the consul’s relationship with the Senate in Livy; his question as to whether Christians should be punished because of the name itself (nomen ipsum) or only for offences committed (flagitia, 10.96.2) follows the distinction made by Livy in the prosecution of the Bacchanalia affair between those who were merely initiated (initiati erant) and those who committed actual crimes (39.18.3-4). In addition, Pailler argues that Pliny’s description of the Christians’ folly appears “bien ‘bachique’”:
              “Others were of the same madness” (Fuerunt alii similis amentiae, 10.96.4). If the thesis of Grant and Pailler is correct,then Pliny’s Epistles 10.96 indicates that at least one early observer of Christians—the earliest extant example—interpreted their religious behaviors in close connection to Dionysiac mystery cults. In the following
              chapter, we will see that this perceptioncontinues with Celsus who, writing about six decades later, similarly compares Christianity with Dionysiac mystery cults and contrasts Jesus with Dionysus.”

              “Not only does Paul employ language that reflects mystery cults in several places, his Christian community resembles them in various ways.They met in secret or exclusive groups, employed esoteric symbols, and practiced initiations, which involved identification with the god’s suffering and rebirth. Particularly Dionysiac is the ritualized consumption of wine in private gatherings (1 Cor 11:17-34).”

            4. Nice collection of sources! Reminds me of David Fitzgerald’s ‘Jesus Mything in Action’ series (part 3) where he has several “Gotcha!” moments with Bruce Metzger re: the mysteries.

            5. The structure of the original Christian religion was also reflective of the mystery religion, characterized by the inner group being “in the know,” while outsiders were not privy to the truths of the religion. For instance, in Mark we read:

              “And He told them, ‘The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is expressed in parables, so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding” (Mark 4:11)

    7. Gullotta” “Carrier cannot reasonably justify why Mark chose to subvert the image of Odysseus, when other and more logical candidates were available.”

      Brouwer, René (2014). The Stoic Sage: The Early Stoics on Wisdom, Sagehood and Socrates. Cambridge University Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-1-107-02421-2. @ https://books.google.com/books?id=rrZEAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA111
      “There is evidence that the Stoics identified these ‘one or two sages’ with Odysseus and Heracles. […] Further evidence for Odysseus as a Stoic sage is to be found especially in ps.-Plutarch, On Homer 2.136, who reports that the Stoics found Odysseus described as a sage in two passages in the Odyssey…”

      Massimo Pigliucci (23 May 2017). “Odysseus and the Stoics”. How to Be a Stoic. @ https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/odysseus-and-the-stoics/
      “We have recently examined how the Cynics, the cousins and partial inspiration of the Stoics, treated the mythical figure of Odysseus as a role model. […] The Stoics were apparently enthusiastic about Odysseus, beginning with the founder, Zeno, who in fact wrote five books of Homeric Problems. […] One difference between the Cynic and Stoic treatments is the episode in which the hero dresses like a beggar in order to begin his revenge against the suitors, once back in Ithaca. While the Cynics did like the image of the king-beggar, it did not really fit well with their overall philosophy, because Odysseus didn’t choose a minimalist existence, he simply wore the clothes of a beggar in an instrumental fashion. This was not a problem for the Stoics, however, who taught that one has to adapt to the circumstances, especially in order to follow the will of the cosmos (which in the episode is personified by the goddess Athena, who helps Odysseus).”

      1. Gullotta: “Within the Roman Empire, Odysseus’ wit and humor appealed to the Cynics, but did not have universal influence. [cited: Montiglio, Silvia (2011). “Yearning for Excellence: Odysseus in Cynic and Stoic Thought”. From Villain to Hero: Odysseus in Ancient Thought. University of Michigan Press. pp. 66–94. ISBN 978-0-472-02750-7.]”

        Massimo Pigliucci (18 May 2017). “Odysseus and the Cynics”. How to Be a Stoic.:

        The Stoics thought that role models are important, because that’s how you pattern your behavior toward virtue. One can explain, perhaps, what it means to be virtuous, but it is far more efficient and inspiring to study the biographies and follow the examples of great men and women.

        1. Massimo Pigliucci (30 May 2017). “Odysseus and the Epicureans”. How to Be a Stoic. @ https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/odysseus-and-the-epicureans/

          [W]e have seen that the three sects we examined — the Cynics, the Stoics, and the Epicureans — each found a way to interpret the figure of Odysseus, sometimes twisting the earlier sources a bit, in a way congruous with their respective teachings. The Cynics emphasized the episode of Odysseus in rags. The Stoics paid particular attention to his ability to accept circumstances and deal with them in the best way he can. And the Epicureans emphasized his humility and love of peace.

          Odysseus may not of had “universal influence” but he certainly had “significant” influence.

    8. Gullotta: “The foremost difficulty with MacDonald’s thesis is how this so-called Homeric retooling by Mark has been completely overlooked within the entire history of exegesis.”

      Carrier (2000). “Review of Dennis MacDonald’s The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark“. infidels.org.:

      Another theme that becomes apparent throughout this book is how quickly Christians lost touch with this allegorical meaning. Even the other Evangelists, when borrowing from Mark, stripped out the key and telling details and thus obviously missed the point; and only one other author, that of the Acts of Andrew, did anything overtly comparable in comprehensively recrafting Homer. By itself, this might be evidence against such a meaning actually being in Mark. But the evidence that this meaning is present is overwhelming on its own terms, and we can only conclude of early Christian ignorance, instead, that the real origins and message of the earliest Christians was all but lost even to the second or third generation. By the time there was a church in a significant sense, Christianity had been radically changed by the throngs of its converts, and, amidst the din of outsiders who stole the reigns, the very essence of that original Church of Jerusalem faded, powerless to survive under the mass of superstition and arrogance.

      MacDonald (2014): “[Per The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark] I have [since] argued for imitations of classical Greek literature in several other Hellenistic Jewish and early Christian texts…”

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