Reply to James Hiscox

I will here be responding to a (very) long-winded blog entry by one James Hiscox, who is an online Skeptic. Hiscox takes exception with arguments like those I presented in the chapter, in this issue, from Shattering the Christ Myth, regarding Justin Martyr's statement on diabolical mimicry.

Hiscox addresses several apologists who take up this, or related arguments, including me. He is the sort of Skeptic who says he has "benefited from" the works of fringe authors like Earl Doherty, Acharya S, and Kenneth Humphreys.

At more than 30 pages, Hiscox's first entry on this subject qualifies badly as a rant in need of an editor, and we'll be editing out a great deal of the babble and getting right to the points. We may begin by quoting for reference the critical portions of Justin's work.

"And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter...." [Justin Martyr, 1st Apology to the Greeks, Chapter 21]

"But those who hand down the myths, which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. And these things were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they (the demons) heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain." [Ibid, Chapter 54]

"The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discoverer of the vine, and they number wine (or, the ass) among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven. [Ibid]

Hiscox begins with an address to one of his other targets on this subject, James White. White's argument is not the same as ours, and so without any comment on its value or lack thereof, we will skip over what Hiscox has to say about White's take on the subject (thus also sparing us a couple of pages' worth of ennui).

Hiscox then proceeds to an analysis by Albert Mcllhenny, one of our colleagues in popularizing scholarship. Mcllhenny's argument is much the same as ours. Hiscox wastes a great deal of time summarizing Mcllhenny's arguments in minute detail, even points that have nothing to do with the subject at hand. He then gets to my argument, and for clarity I should note that although Harper wrote the chapter in SCTM, I also turned it into a video on my YouTube channel:

Hiscox at this point acknowledges that my arguments are much the same as Mcllhenny's, though there is much Mcllhenny adds which Harper and I did not discuss. Mcllhenny himself has engaged his own defense against Hiscox, so we will dial down to arguments having specifically to do with our core claims, which are: pagans of Justin's day didn't see any parallels; Justin argued for parallels based on the idea that Satan had done a lousy job anticipating what was ahead.

Hiscox's first effort:

The fact remains that Albert and J.P. have absolutely no grounds at all upon which to state that pagans of Justin's day were not making claims of Jesus being similar to pagan gods. They have absolutely no evidence for pagans of Justin's day denying any relationship between Jesus and their own gods. Rather, both Mcllhenny and Holding have conveniently inferred this conclusion from the fact that Justin uses the argument about similarities between Jesus and pagan gods as part of an argument to deter the Romans from persecuting Christians and accuse the Romans of hypocrisy for doing so.

Hiscox is arguing that pagans DID see parallels between pagan gods and Jesus. Does he have any documentation of them actually doing so? He claims that there is "considerable evidence" for this, but it takes him several more pages of babbling needlessly to get to it; however, in between, we get a clue that it won't be a good answer:

However, when dealing with pagan gods that were born of a miraculous virgin birth, suffered, were resurrected and ascended to heaven he feels the need not only to relate this parallel to the work of demons, but then to give a truly ridiculous explanation as to how the wicked demons managed to imitate Christ before he had even been born.

Indeed? WHAT "virgin birth" would that be? WHAT "resurrection"? Such parallels are accomplished, as we have noted, by terminological equivocation, not evidence. At this point, we can't say more specifically. Hiscox does not deign to name or explain a parallel, in spite of the fact that both myself and Mcllhenny have written substantially on such alleged target figures like Mithra-we'll see what parallels he does claim shortly.

Hiscox finds it "extremely noteworthy", for some reason, that I did not mention "the passage in chapter 54 of Justin's apology in which Justin stated that the demons had created the parallels in advance 'to deceive and lead astray the human race', with the hope that they could create the impression that 'they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets'." Well, he should have bought my book and read Harper's chapter, since he DOES mention that chapter from Justin, and even quotes it twice. My videos are, generally, shorter on detail than the written works they are based on, but apparently Hiscox can't be bothered with anything as complicated as doing serious reading or checking reference material.

Hiscox's presentation at this point becomes a muddle as it is, at times, hard to separate whether and when he thinks what he says applies to me, or to Mcllhenny. Hiscox states, "If Justin was simply trying to create parallels for the purpose of halting persecution of Christians, than one may wonder why on earth he would not only go to the length of arguing for pre-cognitive, prophetic diabolical mimicry, but also why he would concede that it would make people reject the things said about Christ as being mere myths." I don't think Justin forced parallels to end persecution; I think he forced parallels because he was trying to refute the Roman disdain for anything that was new, which-in turn-he may have been using indirectly as a way to discourage persecution, but it was not the single step Hiscox describes.

Further than that, regarding Justin "conced[ing] that it would make people reject the things said about Christ as being mere myths", we need to look more closely at that quote:

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvelous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.

What Hiscox fails to grasp is that Justin is arguing here that the intention of the demons was to deceive humans into thinking that the stories of Christ were merely tales; but he also is arguing, at the same time, that the demons did a lousy job of trying to do this, which is why the pagans don't see the parallels. In reality, this is just a further illustration of how hapless the whole "pagan copycat" theory actually is: It comes about because the parallels are so forced. In Justin's case, however, because he is trying to establish the antiquity (and therefore authority) of Christian ideas, he has put himself into an unworkable bind: He wants parallels, but he doesn't want them to be too close, otherwise he opens up precisely the charge that the Christians were just copying from pagan ideas. If he gives too much, he loses all he has.

In reality, this whole trend of argument was fruitless, for the same reason it is for modern theorists like Hiscox. They want for Mithra to have a virgin birth so they can create a parallel to Jesus. And like Justin, they are thereby cornered into an excess of ludicrous rationalization to achieve it. To that extent, Hiscox is right that Justin's argument makes no sense, which is precisely one of the points that Harper and I were trying to make. Ironically, Hiscox even says that the parallels Justin drew between the OLD Testament and pagan gods were "absurdly weak" and that Justin's argument on this point is "just plain stupid", but he then manages to say that Justin was downright brilliant when it came to New Testament parallels. Hiscox's error lies in failing to appreciate just how narrow the tightrope was that Justin was walking.

What, then, of the parallels Hiscox finds? He chooses a couple which, we can assume from his very selection of them, must represent what he thinks are the strongest of the lot, but they are nothing more than the usual resounding failures accomplished by terminological equivocation.

His first example is that of Perseus, the son of Danae, who was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a golden shower. Yes, that made for a virgin birth...but it's still also an implanting of divine seed, and what's needed for a match is a virginal conception with no seed at all: Rather, the ex nihilo creation of Jesus in the womb of Mary that is indicated by Luke. There is no parallel here, though Hiscox tries to force one by the usual dishonest means of selecting lowest common denominator phrases, which ignore the important distinctions (like, "non-sexual conception") and using the standard excuse of "syncretism" (e.g., "sure it's the same, with a few changes to make it look different"). By such means, again, I have shown it is possible to wrench parallels out of virtually anything, and so, for example, argue that the assassination of Kennedy was merely a copy of Lincoln's. Thus let's rewrite Hiscox's own analysis: "Albert seems to be under the impression that the differences in the details of Kennedy's assassination narrative from those found in Lincoln's nullify any apparent similarities, and he mocks anybody that claims different as apparently being ignorant as to the nature of American history. Unfortunately for him, the case of Kenney's assassination has multiple significant points of contact with the assassination narrative of Lincoln. For any viewer that didn't get it they include; being killed on a Friday, while using special seating, accompanied by their wives and another couple, by an assassin who was also later killed, and finally and most importantly, explicitly being shot in the back of the head. For Albert and J.P. to state that there is no real parallel between the assassinations of Kennedy and Lincoln ignores the reality of syncretism, and the fact that commonly causal relationship exists between two sources even when there are startling differences between them. Causal relationships do not necessitate that the new source takes on all the exact details of the earlier source. Rather, what is more common is that a general motif is transferred into a new context with differences in the details, revealing both their relationship and the uniqueness of both sources."

Hiscox's second example, of Dionysus, is no better. He even expands the category from "virgin birth" to "miraculous birth", and adds in the broad category of "resurrection", and generally fails to address any of my specific points about copycat claims and Dionysus (link 1 below). He also fudges the data on Osiris and his "resurrection." Of that point, I wrote:

This is where we find some of the biggest misuse of terminology, including by some Egyptian scholars of religion (who do not go on to posit a "copycat" relationship!). Osiris resurrected? Not if "resurrection" is defined as coming back in a glorified body. On this point Miller has done some substantial work, reporting the words of J. Z. Smith, so I will let these speak to begin:

"Osiris was murdered and his body dismembered and scattered. The pieces of his body were recovered and rejoined, and the god was rejuvenated. However, he did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have 'risen' in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern (as described by Frazer; most certainly it was never considered as an annual event."

"In no sense can the dramatic myth of his death and reanimation be harmonized to the pattern of dying and rising gods (as described by Frazer"

"The repeated formula 'Rise up, you have not died,' whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead."

Frankfort concurs:

"Osiris, in fact, was not a 'dying' god at all but a 'dead' god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead, as Tammuz was. On the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king." [Kingship and the gods: a study of ancient Near Eastern religion as the integration of society & nature. UChicago:1978 edition, p.289]

Perhaps the only pagan god for whom there is a resurrection is the Egyptian Osiris. Close examination of this story shows that it is very different from Christ's resurrection. Osiris did not rise; he ruled in the abode of the dead. As biblical scholar, Roland de Vaux, wrote, "What is meant of Osiris being 'raised to life?' Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence. But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead.... This revived god is in reality a 'mummy' god."... No, the mummified Osiris was hardly an inspiration for the resurrected Christ...As Yamauchi observes, "Ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death." But it is a mistake to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the biblical doctrine of resurrection. To achieve immortality the Egyptian had to meet three conditions: First, his body had to be preserved by mummification. Second, nourishment was provided by the actual offering of daily bread and beer. Third, magical spells were interred with him. His body did not rise from the dead; rather elements of his personality-his Ba and Ka-continued to hover over his body. ["The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Myth, Hoax, or History?" David J. MacLeod, in The Emmaus Journal, V7 #2, Winter 98, p169]

Frazer wrote that every dead man was given Osiris' name on top of his own in order to identify with the god. [Fraz.AAO, viii]

So O's "resurrection" is no resurrection at all, and in fact was actually a sort of function of the way the Egyptian gods were, shall we say, being half Frankenstein, half Lego set. There are in fact many stories of the Egyptian gods flinging various body parts around, and to no overall harm, because "divine bodies were thought to be impervious to change" and so O's dead body neither rotted nor decomposed as it waited to be put back together. [Meek.DL, 57]

This is how it was with all these Egyptian gods: Seth and Horus have a fight in which they throw dung at each other, then they steal the others genitals. [Bud.ERR, 64] Horus' eye is stolen by Set, but Horus gets it back and gives it to Osiris, who eats it. [ibid., 88] Horus had a headache, and another deity offers to loan him his head until the headache went away. [Meek.DL, 57] Osiris did pay a price for his dismembering death, in that he was limited to the world of the dead (and manifestly ignorant as a result of what went on "above ground"). [Meek.DL, 88-9] But that is only because he had actually died once before when his father accidentally killed him. [ibid., 80]

Whether Hiscox has ever seen my explanation I cannot say, but if he has, he dutifully ignores it. This is ALL he has to say that's even close:

Many Christian apologists have argued that this is still distinctly different to the Judeo-Christian conception of bodily resurrection, as in that Christians and Jews believe that they will rise in a new body, eternal and immortal. In contrast they claim that the Egyptian concept is more like zombification, as it is the same rotten body that they died with. However, such claims are made out of ignorance, since Egyptians clearly believed that they would be made immortal in the afterlife.

Sure, Judaism and Christianity are not identical to the Egyptian religion so we should not expect their concepts of resurrection and the afterlife to be identical. Those that object to referring to Osiris as resurrected, state that he remained dead, and that he simply went on to live eternally in the afterlife. They contrast this to the example of Jesus who they say came back to life on earth, and remained here for a while before he ascended to heaven.

However, the point that they are missing is that ancient Egyptians did not believe that they would naturally live forever after death in the afterlife; rather, they clearly believed that they would naturally cease to exist, and that they required magical resurrection in order to live again. Hence, Osiris most certainly was brought back to life, and the aim of the Egyptian funerary practices was to raise the dead back to life, only not to earthly life but to a new immortal life in the Egyptian equivalent of heaven. There are more factors that are relevant here in response to the claims that Osiris was not resurrected, however I will leave them alone and those interested can read my book when it comes out.

Of course, the non-parallel is far more complex than what Hiscox describes, and the bulk of his analysis amounts, once again, to collapsing very different concepts down into lowest common denominator descriptions to force a parallel (e.g., "brought back to life," "immortal life"). We can only hope he'll actually engage the facts when this alleged book comes out. He does here address one thing said by Smith:

"...He did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have "risen" in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern...the repeated formula "Rise up, you have not died," whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead." [J.Z. Smith, Dying and Rising Gods, Encyclopedia of Religion]

However, his "answer" doesn't touch on the very real problems of semantic equivocation that I lay out in my quote above. He also offers a very peculiar diversion of C. S. Lewis' death and return to life of Aslan, which we would of course say Lewis intended to be a resurrection in every technical sense (the narrative of the story itself is compatible with that), but how Hiscox thinks this erases vast differences between, for example, the processes underwent by Jesus and Osiris, is hard to say. Hiscox seems to think Christians will argue that the only difference is that Osiris is "raised" in another dimension i.e., the underworld.

In terms of Dionysus, Hiscox also calls that a "resurrection." Regarding that I said:

Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25th. I have found no evidence to support the "March 25th" claim. In terms of rising from the dead, there have been a variety of ideas: one, a single inscription from Thasos that describes D as "a god who renews himself and returns every year rejuvenated", whatever that means, as we have no context with which to refer it. [Col.VFG, 280] An idea that D went into Hades to rescue his momma, and came back (Frazer says that this return was celebrated annually by one group, the Argives, and he notes that whether it was a spring festival-not even guessing at an exact date-"does not appear"). A story is that D was chased and persecuted by Lycurgus and descended to the depths of the Alcyonian Sea, and to the land of the dead. [Ott.DMC, 68] Also the heart-rejuvenation above, which in another version has the heart placed in a body made of gypsum. [Harr.PGR, 490]

Frazer did try to piece together such a story of resurrection, first by appealing to a version of the Titan story in which Apollo (or Rhea), at the command of Zeus, reassembled the pieces and buried them. [Fraz.GB, 323] Frazer goes on to say that "the resurrection of the slain god is not mentioned, but in other versions of the myth it is variously related"! How? Well, in one version, which has D as son of Demeter, momma reassembles the pieces and makes D young again (our scholar calls this "an eccentric minority variant"). In others, "it is simply said that shortly after his burial he rose from the dead (in what form?) and ascended up to heaven, or that Zeus raised him up as he lay mortally wounded, or that Zeus swallowed the heart of D and then begat him afresh by Semele...[or] the heart was pounded up and given in a potion to Semele, who thereby conceived him."

With such a panoply of options, it may be no surprise that at least one variation bears a superficial resemblance to what happened to Jesus ("rose from the dead and ascended to heaven"), but this vague description does not match with the Jewish concept of resurrection, which the pagans found abhorrent. Our scholar adds, "Exactly - and where's the Dionysiac promise of resurrection for all believers?" There are also notes of a grave of D found at Delphi, and of a date associated with the awakening of D as an infant: November 8th, except on one island where the date is in January. [Ott.DMC, 103, 194]

Hiscox argues for no details beyond this, no more can be said.

With that, Hiscox proceeds to a quote from another early Church father, Minucius Felix:

And you behold the swallow and the cymbal of Isis, and the tomb of your Serapis or Osiris empty, with his limbs scattered about. Then consider the sacred rites themselves, and their very mysteries: you will find mournful deaths, misfortunes, and funerals, and the griefs and wailings of the miserable gods. Isis bewails, laments, and seeks after her lost son, with her Cynocephalus and her bald priests (just like me!); and the wretched Isaacs beat their breasts, and imitate the grief of the most unhappy mother. By and by, when the little boy is found, Isis rejoices, and the priests exult, Cynocephalus the discoverer boasts, and they do not cease year by year either to lose what they find, or to find what they lose. Is it not ridiculous either to grieve for what you worship, or to worship that over which you grieve? Yet these were formerly Egyptian rites, and now are Roman ones. Ceres with her torches lighted, and surrounded with a serpent, with anxiety and solicitude tracks the footsteps of Proserpine, stolen away in her wandering, and corrupter. These are the Eleusinian mysteries.

What does Hiscox find significant? That "pagans held annual rites centered upon a god dying and coming back to life..." True, but a huge "so what"? Jesus did not come to life annually, and none of these were resurrections; in any event, Felix apparently makes these observations for the same reason Justin did, to convince a pagan that there were parallels the pagan didn't see. That isn't a surprise, because pagans considered the concept of resurrection to be an absurd and corrupt variation of a theme. As I have quoted repeatedly the dictum of Pheme Perkins: "Christianity's pagan critics generally viewed resurrection as misunderstood metempsychosis at best. At worst, it seemed ridiculous."

The very problem was that it did NOT sound familiar, and did NOT sound like Osiris or Dionysus. Hiscox, however, won't cover that problem here, and is content to collapse all the elements under the vague and general category of "a god dying and being brought back to life", and thereby pretend that he's now finished.

Hiscox finally gets back to the matter of Justin, having spent all this time avoiding the topic. He accuses McIlhenny and I of conveniently neglecting to discuss certain evidence, which turns out to be non-evidence: First, that we "don't really have any surviving anti-Christian polemics from around the exact time Justin was believed to have written his 1st apology, nor before." Yes, and so what? Hiscox believes this means we can't be sure whether pagans of Justin's time saw parallels or not, this after he has spent so much time assuring us that they did see parallels...apparently because he does. As far as real evidence, he toddling takes us over to the text of Celsus; he wastes some ink supposing I might say that's 30 years later, but frankly, it makes no difference. What he ends up with is a handful of quotes from Celsus (by way of Origin) starting with this one:

And since Celsus has introduced the Jew disputing with Jesus, and tearing in pieces, as he imagines, the fiction of His birth from a virgin, comparing the Greek fables about Danae, and Melanippe, and Auge, and Antiope, our answer is, that such language becomes a buffoon, land not one who is writing in a serious tone.

Here, Hiscox says, "Origin [sic] states explicitly that Celsus had written that the virgin birth story of Jesus was a work of fiction, similar to Greek fables." Yes...and so what? Hiscox seems to have missed his dictum about not assuming what a text says when we don't have said text. Celsus compared the stories, and how did he do so? What did he say about it? Origen only says he does say in a way befitting a buffoon, but doesn't tell us what that means. Chances are Celsus thought of the Greek stories as superior, and (in line with the dictum of Perkins), the virgin birth account as an imperfect and unsuitable variation undeserving of being in the same class. This quote says nothing to favor Hiscox.

The second quote Hiscox offers from Origen:

And there is no absurdity in employing Grecian histories to answer Greeks, with the view of showing that we are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind. For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo. And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings."

Hiscox reads this as if Origen "concedes that the similarities are there", but if we are right, then like Justin, he would want to argue that way because it would deflect the charge that Christianity was not to be believed because it was new, and had new ideas. Either way, this has no bearing on the particular of concern here, whether pagans saw any parallels or not...and, in any event, nothing here can be called a "concession."

In the third quote, Hiscox says, Origen discusses "resurrection":

The Jew continues his address to those of his countrymen who are converts, as follows: 'Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered. Yet how many others are there who practice such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who gain by their deception - as was the case, they say, with Zalmoxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Taenarus, and Thesus. But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness?'

Hiscox blithely says that, "Celsus has his accusing Jew address Jewish Christians and ask them how it they believe that Jesus really resurrected from the dead and yet dismiss various similar examples from pagan mythology as merely being fictitious tales," and thinks this proves something. It does, but not what he thinks: This has nothing to do with stealing ideas, or with ideological parallels, but is a calculated insult by the Jewish interlocutor dismissing Christian claims as being no more believable than pagan fables. Hiscox thinks McIlhenny and I "forgot" this one, but there was no need to "remember" it because it argues for nothing Hiscox could actually find useful for his cause.

Hiscox blathers on for a few more lines, repeating himself, but presents no more new ideas or substantive arguments until he gets back to Justin, and this quote:

...And when I hear, Trypho, said I, that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.

And as we have shown what?

Hiscox calls this a "checkmate, a slam-dunk, case closed", but he never explains exactly why this is the case, or what on earth he thinks this proves. This fits just fine with the idea Mcllhenny and I have stated; namely, that Perseus was just another imperfect foreshadow in Justin's eyes, and so it was, at least ideologically, yet just another dirty version.

We now go to Part 2 of our look at James Hiscox on Justin Martyr, and for this one, I won't be making much of an appearance in Hiscox's prose; he's content to dispense with me as quickly as he can by supposing he can just throw Richard Carrier at the problem (without acknowledging that Richard Carrier has had responses from me thrown right back at him). Instead, Albert McIlhenny is his target, and particularly, a response McIlhenny offered to the same material we addressed in Part 1. To that extent, my commentary here will be more of a supplement to whatever McIlhenny had to offer.

As before, Hiscox is a living incarnation of a rant in need of an editor, so it takes some time to get to anything noteworthy. Initially, he accuses McIlhenny of ignoring most of his arguments and evidence (which was less than a tenth of all of his prose anyway), and then recites a tediously extended accounting of the history of exchange between himself and McIlhenny. A note of humor emerges when he says:

The thing is however that I am yet to see any Christian apologist reference anything beyond Smith's encyclopedia article when citing Smith as supportive of their dismissal of pre-Christian resurrections for Osiris (and others).

Really? Then it seems Hiscox hasn't been paying attention. My own article on Osiris and resurrection (link 1) referenced Dimitri Meeks on this subject in which I made use of a couple of other sources, but none had any material bearing on the question of "resurrection", and for good reason: No Egyptologist would take such claims seriously for the very reasons Meeks explains. Comparing the Lego-like Egyptian deities with Jesus as a resident of a glorified human body is comparing apples to oranges. Hiscox, it seems, would rather waste his time accusing J. Z. Smith of being a spin doctor than actually investigating why Smith argued as he did, and then explaining why he is wrong. It is not enough to say Smith is guilty of "reductionism" when you have utterly failed to do more than commit "expansionism."

Much more space is wasted on an excursus into "scholarly consensus" and accusing McIlhenny of (again) ignoring most of Hiscox's arguments. Then much more time is wasted babbling about McIlhenny's "attitude" and about Acharya S' Christ In Egypt. Hiscox repeats the charge that McIlhenny and I ignored Celsus and Trypho, which we addressed in Part 1. Then a great deal of space is spent on a technical question of whether Celsus was aware of Justin's work; this matter is one unique to McIlhenny's work, and does not concern us here. The only point of interest is that Hiscox admits his error in supposing Celsus had not seen Justin's work, though he takes several extended paragraphs (as usual) to discuss the matter.

The first point at which we might comment is Hiscox's query ,"[W]hy on earth would Justin concede that similarities between Christ and pagan gods would lead people to believe that the things said of Christ were mere myths, if Justin's argument was only being used on the front foot (i.e., in attack) and solely in the context of correcting pagan ignorance of Christian beliefs?" Our answer has been given in essays of ours Hiscox made no effort to find: Justin is caught on the hook of Roman prejudice against the new and novel. He is trying to force (not "concede") similarities to overcome this argumentative burden. This sentiment against the new and novel was universal, and so also explains, better than Hiscox can, why Justin's readers might also find his arguments useful…or, so Justin supposes. In reality, the argument was ill-advised, as the poverty of the parallels show. It also would not be likely to fool pagans into giving Christianity the benefit of antiquity.

Further on, Hiscox strains for the point that "there were a number of different Christological views that were being taught by different Christian sects at the time of Justin", such as Jesus as a mortal human, but he opens that can of worms offering no arguments or reasons why these views were no more than late aberrations, which, in any event, Justin was not defending. Indeed, it might be supposed that these compromise positions were created upon the same vanity that Justin himself was pursuing; namely, trying to wrestle antiquity out of Christian beliefs by distorting the truth.

The following represents yet another point at which Hiscox fails:

The insults that pagans were launching against Christians (such as that they worshipped a criminal) were actually unrelated to the reasons why they experienced persecution under Roman rule. The Romans did not persecute Christians because they worshipped a man who had died as a convicted criminal; rather they persecuted Christians because they refused to take part in the state religion, in which it was expected that all citizens would propagate the gods (through worship and sacrifices) and likewise offer the same towards Caesar.

This is not quite the whole story. The worship of a crucified criminal was one reason why Christians would be persecuted, to the extent that it was one facet that illustrated their deviancy. Such persecution, however, would not come from the state; it would come from neighbors and others in the Christians' social world. At the same time, it can be said that the worship of this crucified criminal was precisely one of the things that led Christians to reject the state religion. In that sense, it is all of a piece of the whole; Hiscox cannot simply artificially pare off the concepts for his own personal convenience.

Hiscox then returns to vain babbling in which he affirms that the birth of Perseus had parallels to that of Jesus, a point we addressed in Part 1…but this may be a good place to say more. Were Jews seeing parallels where pagans were not? Given the poor quality of the parallel, it is not beyond comprehension that at least one of Justin's Jewish opponents came up with the idea; but in so doing, chances are that their purpose wasn't so much to say that a parallel existed as it was to insult and dishonor Jesus, and to mock the claims of the virgin birth.

Trypho's parallel to Perseus is of a piece of the Talmudic legend of ben Pandera: A calumny made up to poke Christians in the eye with, as opposed to a serious argument. Trypho is hardly to be taken as saying the Christians read the story of Perseus and used it as inspiration; indeed, his exact words imply no such thing at all. Specifically, after describing how Perseus was begotten, he tells Justin that Christians "ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs…." This is the language of mockery and insult, not an accusation of inspiration by copying. Nowhere does Trypho say that Christians had no idea of a virgin birth until one of their theologians read Perseus. Indeed, his language further on points to any parallel being unwitting: "…do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks." If Trypho is making accusations of copying, this is very poor language for transmitting such an idea.

Hiscox then engages several paragraphs concerning a matter of a quotation of Jerome, which McIlhenny says Hiscox misquoted. This goes beyond our concerns here, so we will ignore the four pages of excess Hiscox offers on the subject, and pick up on the other side where he discusses McIlhenny's responses to his prior material on diabolical mimicry. Hiscox first states that, "…Justin's Dialogue establishes beyond any possibility of rebuttal that Justin's diabolical mimicry argument WAS in fact composed in response to accusations of Christians copying from pagans. As Justin himself states in the intro to his Dialogue that he encountered the arguments contained within shortly after his conversion to Christianity, this means that by his own word he originally developed his response prior to the composition of his 1st Apology to the Greeks." The Dialogue, as just noted, is an exchange with a Jew, whereas the Apology responds to pagans. In the former case, Justin is responding not to a claim of copying, but an insulting mockery. In the latter case, Justin is not responding to an argument, but trying to convince a Roman Emperor that the Christian faith is deserving of the respect accorded a system of antiquity. So again, in neither case is a "copying" argument being made to which Justin is to respond.

Finally, Hiscox is brazen enough to take on J. Z. Smith's dismissal of copycat claims with respect to Jesus' Resurrection. After repeating his inclination that vague conceptual parallels rooted in illicit semantic expansion are good enough for him (e.g., "died and came back to life in various ways and forms"), Hiscox satisfies himself, and no one else, to simply say that Smith was obviously wrong: Osiris "died and came back to life," so there's your parallel, now shut up.

So concludes our look at Hiscox.

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