|Was the story of Jesus stolen from pagan figure Alexander of Abonuteichos?|
A well-known atheist denizen says that in the account of this figure, found in the works of Lucian, we have something that "illustrates how easy it was to invent a god and watch the masses scurry to worship it." Easy to invent a god? Yes. Secure a reaction? Guaranteed. Make that cult stick? Not so fast. We are told that Alexander's cult "lasted well beyond his death in 170 A.D., drawing the patronage of emperors and provincial governors as well as the commons" and "may have even lasted into the 4th century, although the evidence is unclear."
Well enough then. Based on the clear evidence, this is exactly what we would expect of a false movement. What I have asked of Sabbatai Sevi elsewhere, I now ask here: Why then did Christianity not die out? But there is more to this mix than that, and we need some background data. Here from our denizen is how Alexander's religion came about:
The official story was that a snake-god with a human head was born as an incarnation of Asclepius, and Alexander was his keeper and intermediary. With this arrangement Alexander gave oracles, offered intercessory prayers, and even began his own mystery religion. Lucian tells us the inside story. Glycon was in fact a trained snake with a puppet head, and all the miracles surrounding him were either tall tales or the ingenious tricks of Alexander himself. But what might we think had there been no Lucian to tell us this?
All this is quite on the mark, but we can add a few things. In Culture and Society in Lucian (which our denizen uses, but only as far as it suits his purposes) and elsewhere we also learn that Alex:
Does this sound like Jesus to you? It sounds, actually, more like Peter Popoff, or an Old West snake oil salesman; Alexander's story only "illustrates how easy it was to invent a god and watch the masses scurry to worship it" if the god is not very demanding and appeals to baser instincts. Alexander did little more, apparently, than deliver poetic oracles (with the help of a professional writer, no less!), keep a clever mouth running, do a little ventriloquism, and ask for some money in return, and later added some sex in the mix for good measure. This is a religion of the Tom Cruise variety, not a faith for the faithful.
One may justly ask how this compares, in terms of demand-for-belief ratio, to someone who claimed to be the Word and Wisdom of the only God, claimed to be at the helm where eternal life was concerned, and came out of a background of despised superstitions (Judaism), and demanded top-flight behavior. Alexander's demands for belief were on the level of today's Omar Bradley astrological columns and the Psychic Friends' call-in. There is (in that context) a low level of demand for acceptance.
Believing in Alexander did not require offending friends and neighbors (other than an old stodge like Lucian, of course), did not require giving up all else you believed in (just a few bucks maybe) and was not dripping with social unacceptability -- indeed Alexander helped himself by blasting away at the unpopular Christians. (And the Epicureans as well!)
Had Alexander stopped asking for drachma, and started seriously asking for pledges of souls and proclaimed himself sole and universal deity to the exclusion of Roman gods, we can be sure he would have had to pass some higher level of muster. Alex's story also illustrates what happens to flash-in-the-pan religions -- and leads us to note that this obviously did not happen to Christianity, while it clearly should have if indeed there was nothing substantive to it.
Some religions thrive by being vague (Rastafarianism) or by having only philosophical demands, or demands beyond verification (Buddhism, Hinduism). Others staked a claim to survival by isolation (Mormonism) or by the sword (Islam). Christianity did none of these things and had none of these benefits, other than a late flirtation with the sword when it was already a secure faith.
It doesn't matter how many statues, coins, or officials Alexander laid claim to, and the craze of Alexander does nothing to "explain why a new and strange religion like Christianity could become so popular, and its absurd claims so readily believed." Rather, it does a great deal to explain how far down Skeptics need to dig in order to try to refute Christianity.