Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2. How do we know the resurrection story was not a borrowed myth?

There are several aspects of the story of Jesus death & resurrection that are fairly unique.  He dies once, so that the sins of mankind can be forgiven.  He predicts his own death & resurrection.  Predicting your own death isn't a big trick if you are suicidal, but fulfilling that resurrection part is a little harder for the rest of us. That's not the point here, though. The point is those details aren't found in earlier myths. Earlier cultures & religions had stories about gods that died yearly & came back to life again to explain the seasons or the crop cycle.

The story you are most likely to be familiar with is from Greek mythology.  Demeter was the goddess of the harvest & fertility.  Her daughter was Persephone.  When Persephone grew up & became a beautiful young woman, she was kidnapped by Hades & taken to the underworld to be his wife.  Demeter is upset & saddened when she can't find Persephone.  All things green & growing start to die.  When Zeus figures out what happened, he decrees that Persephone will spend 6 months of the year with Hades & 6 months with Demeter.  Persephone goes to Hades in the fall & everything dies.  When she comes back in the spring, Demeter is overjoyed & everything starts growing again.  Other cultures change the names & the details, but the myths still deal with the seasons or the crop cycle. There's no death once & for all time & no forgiveness of sins for all mankind.

There is one story that is very similar to the story of Jesus death & resurrection.  It is in a biography of Apollonius of Tyra written by Philostratus about 200 years after the death of Jesus. Philostratus was commissioned to write the life story of Apollonius to commemorate a temple dedicated to him, because the roman empress Julia Domna was a follower.  Philostratus' writings are the only record of this story.

Jesus died around 30-33 A.D. and the books of the New Testament are accepted as having been written in the first century (more details in a later post). All of this implies Jesus' story was written long before the story of Apollonius.  If there was any borrowing going on, it is more likely that Philostratus was the one guilty of plagiarism.

At first I thought, well, Philostratus was lucky Julia Domna never read any of the gospels, but then I found out she died before he finished his work.  Heck, if my assigned term paper was never going to be graded because the teacher died, I would be tempted to just slap my name on the cover of the Cliff Notes & turn that in too!

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