The Instigator
Man-is-good
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
Contradiction
Con (against)
Winning
23 Points

The image of Jesus Christ has been influenced by pagan religions (classical and middle east)

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 5 votes the winner is...
Contradiction
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/16/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,075 times Debate No: 16548
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (10)
Votes (5)

 

Man-is-good

Pro

Note:
This debate has been conducted not to discredit the image of the Son of Man nor to call for the acceptance of heathen religions in modern society.

Definitions:
(New Testament): the collection of the books of the Bible that were produced by the early Christian church, comprising the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and the Revelation of St. John the Divine.
[The discussion is exclusive to the image of Jesus Christ, who appears in the New Testament.]
(Pagan):
pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim.
[Note: please use Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Middle East (Babylonian, Sumerian, Assyrian) mythology to define paganism. Other religions will not be accepted in this debate.)

Requirements:
the First Round: Acceptance and start of argument against resolution
the Second Round: my defense and then introduction of pagan parallels
(you may refute my own arguments as well as introducing counter examples as how paganism has been influenced by Christianity)
[This continues until the end of round four]
Round five: closing arguments
(No new arguments will be introduced by either PRO or CON. This is a time to summarize, not continue our debate, our arguments.)

Note:
Historically speaken, the time period covered should be before the establishment of Hammurabi's Babylonian empire to the end of the Roman empire (due to nomadic invasions).
I will also introduce new terms during the course of my argument, and define them.
________________________________________________________________________________
Additional requirements (I forgot to mention this):
All voters should be unbiased. Christian, Protestant, Calivinist, or Lutheran voters--please read the arguments carefully. Do not simply assume that, because you are a believer of the school of Jesus Christ, that you may simply vote for CON all the way. It is an unfair mark of prejudice.
I am neither acknowledging that pagan religion should be accepted with Christianity or that the school of Christ is false. I am only arguing, from a historic and mythological basis, this.
________________________________________________________________________________

Contradiction

Con

I accept my opponent's terms! Good luck.
Debate Round No. 1
Man-is-good

Pro

I thank my opponent for accepting this debate. I hope that we will learn something from each other.

The Elusian Mysteries (oracle of Demeter and especially Dionysus)
I. It was established in 1500 BCE (far earlier than the accepted birth of Jesus Christ, who was born 7-2 BCE (Wikipedia).
II. The Elusian Mysteries have been traced to much earlier cult during Mycenean times (which, understandly, occurred before the birth of Christ. The Mycenean period, which was established in the Balkan peninsula, was known for its divided city states and militant society.) that worshipped agragran gods. Therefore, this precludes the argument that this cult BORROWED from Christianity.
III. The Elusian mysteries, like many other cults--including the worship of the Egyptian gods and goddesses Osiris and Isis--spread to Rome due to: 1. Rome's acceptance of Greek ideals and culture from the villages in the Balkan peninsula, and 2. the hellenistic philosophy. This was in contrast to the state of Christianity, which was forbidden (and persecuted, especially during the rule of Nero who subjected many Christians to crucifications, fights with wild animals in the circus, and slaughter) and therefore unofficial.
IV. Paganism, especially the Elusian mysteries, would not accept Christian traditions since it contradicted their own belief in a set of gods (Demeter,fertility god, Dionysus, god of wine, Apollo, god of light, beauty, prophecy, poetry, Zeus, and so on) and its own ceremonies and rituals.
V. The same, arguably, could not be the same with Christianity. However, one may easily point out the fact that the Christian faith was monotheistic, and therefore could not accept much of the pagan gods, festivals, or rituals. This is the case, bu not with Hellenistic philosphy.
I. Christians accepted Platonic philosophy, especially the concept of Forms (the ideals of every object in the
physical world), which was taught at churches and to early clergies at the time. Aristotlian philosophy argued that
God was the "Infinite" or "Unmoved Mover". Both philosophies influenced the view of God as the greatest in
the ideals of Good, Power, Love, Knowledge, and so on and as omnipotent and omnitemporal.
Ex. Anslem of Canterbury defined God as "the infinite good", a reference to this idea.
Augustine of Hippo, famous for his City of God, once proclaimed, " "But when I read those books of the Platonists I was taught by them to seek incorporeal truth, so I saw your 'invisible things, understood by the things that are made' (Confessions 7. 20).
This is significiant since Augustine of Hippo, for example, an important writer in the Christian canon, is a revered figure
in Christianity and demonstrates the part-influence due to Hellenistic philosophy.
II. How does this affect Jesus? Historians trace the belief in Trinity as far as 110 AD in the writings of the bishop
Ignatius, a few years after the hellenestic age. Therefore, the qualities described above affect the image of
Jesus, for he is a member of the Trinity, with God the Father and the Holy Ghost/Spirit.
VI. One would have to also deny the striking similiarites between Dionysus and Jesus.
(Note: For those unfamiliar to Dionysus, he is the Greek and Roman god of wine who was well known for his orgies with the maeneads.)

Dionysus: significiant usage of wine (especially in ceremony)
Christ: significiant symbol of wine (as blood, in the Eucharist, one of the Seven sacraments)

Dionysus: unsual birth: mother Semele, was incinerated after she asked Jupiter/Zeus to display himself in his true self, leaving the infant Dionysus behind; Zeus was forced to sew the baby into his ribs and nurse it for a while
Christ: somewhat analogous to both his ascension (after his crucification) in which he united with his Father

Dionysus: ceremony involving wine and bread (possibly eaten by the poor)
Christ: the Eucharist, the consumption of wine and bread as his flesh and blood

VII. Why these similiarities are not superficial:
1. Neither Greek religion nor Christianity place a true emphasis on reincarnation or rebirth. Therefore, the two instances of such should not be considered purely coincendental, given the historic relationship between classical paganism and Christianity.
2. There could be a reason how paganism affected Christianity:
I. Scholar Peter Wick argues that the incidence of infant Jesus turning water into wine, another parallel of Dionysus, might have been written to prove Christ's superiority over the gods. I agree with this. Because of the years of persecution by paganism, and the clash of faith, (along with the rising dominance of Christianity and the establishmentof the Church and its dioceses) , paganism might have encouraged Christianity to hone its own beliefs and personages (including Jesus) to appear superior to the older gods and thus affirm the holier nature of the school of faith. This is possible, and might be a reason why such similarities are found.

I rest my case. And, by the way, good luck too! I expect this to be an intense debate.

Contradiction

Con

I'd like to begin by thanking Man-is-good for initiating this debate challenge. The pagan parallel argument is one that is often brought up by detractors of Christianity. As such, I will address it at length here. First, some preliminary comments about pagan parallels.

Parallelomania

The term "Parallelomania" was first coined by scholar Samuel Sandmel to refer to the desires of some scholars to find parallels where none exist. This is perhaps most applicable to the charge that the New Testament portait of Jesus Christ has been significantly influenced -- perhaps even copied -- from pagan religions. Attempts are made to read Christian terminology into pagan doctrines in order to concoct a parallel when in fact none exists.

Osirus for instance, is one alleged pagan parallel cited by my opponent. Now, I'm not exactly sure what my opponent's opening argument is trying to prove -- he did very little to show that Christianity actually borrowed from these religions. Instead, he simply described them without pointing out how Christianity borrowed from them. So, absent a connection between these two religions, there is no reason to suppose there was an influence. A mere description does not prove it.

In fact, there are a plethora of reasons to think that Christianity did not borrow from pagan mystery religions. As scholars Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy point out:

1. "The very category of ancient 'dying and rising god's has been called into question by most contemporary scholars. In short, when each of these myths is analyzed in detail, it turns out that either there is no actual death, no actual resurrection, or no actual 'god' in the first place!" [1]

2. "There is simply no evidence for a line of influence from pagan stories to the early Christians. Indeed, with the exception of Osirus, all the written accounts of these myths date after the birth of Christianity." [2]

So what about Osirus? It's argued that he had twelve disciples, was killed via crucifixion, and rose three days later. Unfortunately, this is very exaggerated. In the actual literature, Osirus was killed by his brother and his body chopped up into fourteen pieces and scattered throughout Egypt. Later, Isis "resurrected" him by reassemling these pieces. As Boyd and Eddy note, "To claim that his account parallels the Jesus story is, in our opinion, quite a stretch." Quite a stretch indeed! It's an instance of reading in biblical themes which simply aren't present. There was simply was absolutely no influence at all. [3]

3. "Scholars agree that ancient myths surrounding the ostensive death and resusictation of a god were associated with seasonal vegetation cycles. The Jesus story, however, could hardly be more different from this." [4] N. T. Wright, a leading New Testament scholar, agrees:

"[W]hen the Christians spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, they did not suppose it was something that happened each year, with the sowing of seed and harvesting of crops. When Paul preached in Athens, nobody said, 'Ah, yes, a new version of Osiris and such like.'" [4]

Echoing these sentiments, scholars J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace point out several flaws with alleged pagan parallel arguments.

The Dependency Fallacy

As KSW point out, simply because there may have been pagan parallels at the time of Christianity (Assuming for the sake of argument that there were!) does not mean that Christianity was influenced by them. They cite scholar Bruce Metzger, who writes: "The uniformity of human nature sometimes produces strikingly similar results in similar situations where there can be no suspicion of any historical bridge by which the tradition could have been mediated from one culture the other." [5]

Adding to Metzger's comments, KSW writes: "We might add that all religions, if they are to gain any converts, must appeal to universal human needs and desires. Should we be surprised, then, to discover parallels between Christianity and any other religion... No, but in such case, it can hardly be maintained that parallels indicate dependence."

The Chronological Fallacy

KSW argue that any alleged parallel is evidence of reversed dependence! "There is so far no archaeological evidence today of mystery religions in Palestine in the early part of the first century. Norman Anderson asserted, 'If borrowing there was by one religion from another, it seems clear which way it went. There is no evidence whatsoever, that I know of, that the mystery religions had any influence in Palestine in the early decades of the first century."

Following Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona [7], KSW argue that "The souce skeptics typically cite as evidence that pagan religions influenced early Christian beliefs postdate the writings of the New Testament. But the chronology is all wrong. Attis, Mithras, and the others show evidence of a dependence upon Christianity." [8]

Platonistic and Aristotlean Influence on Early Christianity?

Pro's argument here is wholly irrelevant. Recall that in his initial post, he defined the parameters of this debate to be within the New Testament portrait of Jesus Christ. Early church theologians such as Augustine and Anselm lived hundreds of years after the corpus of the New Testament was finalized. Hence, the fact that they may have been influenced by Platonism and Aristotleanism has no bearing whatsoever on the Biblical portrait of Christ. Hence, Pro's argument here is largely a red herring.

Belief in a triune God was, moreover, present long before Ignatius and can be found within the New Testament itself and even in portions of the Old Testament.

First Century Christianity

It's not surprising that historical research indicates that the first century Judaism which Christianity emerged out of was very immune to pagan influence. The idea of a hellenized Judaism in the first century carries with it very little historical support. [9] The first century Christianity which emerged out of Judaism was just as robust. KSW note:

"What set Christianity apart was (1) its insistence on historical credibility, which the mysteries didn't even pretend to have, versus the "going nowhere" of the vegetation cycle; (2) Christian proclamation of the gospel as accessible to all people; (3) its insistence on right belief instead of emotional frenzy; and (4) the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming resurrection of believes."

"The mystery religions had far more in common with each other than any of them had with Christianity... Only after A.D. 100 did the mysteries begin to look very much like Christianity, precisely because their existence was threatened by this new religion. They had to compete to survive." [10]

So What to Make of These Parallels?

To be frank, many of the alleged similarities argued by Pro aren't similarities at all. It's just a result of inventing parallels where once isn't there. The actual religions, when examined in their cultural and historical context, have a radically different focus than Christianity (Crop/fertility cycles as opposed to the atonement of mankind).

The overwhelming historical consensus, even in non-Christian circles, is that the pagan parallel argument is a relic of the 19th century school of higher criticism, which as long been debunked.

I now turn it over to my opponent for his rebuttal.
______

Sources

1. Gregory Body and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Baker 2007) 53
2. Ibid, 54
3. Ibid
4. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress: 2003) 81
5. Bruce Metzger, "Methodology in the Study of the Mysterty Religions and Early Christianity" as cited in KSW, Reinventing Jesus (Kregel 2006)
6. KSW, Reinventing Jesus, 228
7. Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
8. KSW, Reinveinting Jesus, 233
9. See Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Baker Academic: 2007)
10. KSW, Reinventing Jesus, 237
Debate Round No. 2
Man-is-good

Pro

I respect my opponent for his thoughtful answer. However, I would like to point out the following points:


The Argument against CON
Pagan parallels however do indicate a certain type of dependence between the two religions. (There is cultural diffusion, the " the process by which a cultural trait, material object, idea, or behavior pattern is spread from one society to another", between the two religions. The worship of Mithras, for example, might have been influenced by Christian notions (who was born of a rock and was worshipped in Roman mystery religions) but that does not necessarily indicate that Christianity (and the image of Jesus Christ, which I will pose later), did not borrow from pagan religions. Symbols such as the cross, the fish symbol, as well as the tradition of miracles,healing the sick, and so on were possibly adopted by Christians, therefore showing that Christianity was not entirely immune to pagan influences. Moreover is the fact that it is completely possibly (and even hypothetical) that pagan influences on Christianity included: Because of the persecution of Christians, and their Church, (and with the hostile relationship with paganism, which worshipped several deities that personified nature and the gods), the similiarites that I accounted for might not be dismissed after all because:
Theory One: I pointed out the similarity between Jesus turning water into wine, and Bacchus' control over wine, as an example of the writers of the gospel, and even the writers of the New Testament, sought to discredit much of the older gods of pagan mythology. In fact, speaking from a historical perspective, there are passages in the New Testament that bespeak a prejudice against paganism: the Lord speaks that giving worship to Moloch is to "profane in his name", the incidence of the golden calf, and the mention of several other pagan deities clearly show a prejudice against pagan gods and religion. Therefore, with Christianity as a forbidden religion that was rivalled by paganism, and the need of conversion (through baptism and other means as well) for the Second Coming, the writers and disciples of the Gospel might have actually based Jesus' own life on the deities to promote his own superiority. I may support this argument with:
1. The instance of Bacchus turning water into water and Jesus Christ's turning of water into wine is possibly a way to demonstrate the coming of the Son of Man as superior to the older deities, especially with the not-so superficial similiarities of

I will elaborate in my next round....
Contradiction

Con

My thanks to Pro for his prompt reply. Be sure to read the footnotes, as in this round I make extensive use of them.

Do Parallels Indicate Dependence?

Pro argues that the presence of parallels [1] indicate a sort of "cultural diffusion" between Christianity and various pagan religions in which cultural patterns are spread from one religion to another. However, this relies on several dubious assumptions.

1. It assumes a similarity between Christian and pagan themes.
2. It assumes that first century Judaism and Christianity were open to pagan influence.
3. It assumes a dependence relation instead of a independent development.
4. Merely mentioning pagan religions indicates an influence by them

Let's look at each of these assumptions in detail.

1. Were Christianity and Paganism Similar?

Christianity and paganism were fundamentally different. The pagan conception of dying and rising gods centered around "the ritual re-enactment of the death and rebirth of the god, coupled with sundry fertility rites." [2] These celebrations were centered around crop cycles, with the hope that these religious rituals would ensure a bountiful harvest. Indeed, as Wright indicates "these multifarious and sophisticated cults eneacted the god's death and resurrection as a metaphor, whose concrete referent was the cycle of seed-time and harvest.... Nobody actually expected the mummies to get up, walk about and resume normal living; nobody in that world would have wanted such a thing, either." [3] As Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace point out, pagan mystery religions shared many traits [3]:

1. Each religion was centered around an annual vegetation cycle which repeats every year. From these vegetation cycles, pagans drew symbolic significance from natural processes such as growth, death, and rebirth.

2. Each mystery religion employed the use of secret ceremonies and initiation rites as a means of "union" with a certain deity and attaining knowledge. Such a trait is decidedly gnostic, as these elements of knowledge were not avaliable to those outside the immediate religion.

3. Doctrine and correct belief took hindsight in these religions. What mattered was the emotions of the devotees, not whether or not their doctrine was correct.

By contrast, first century Christianity was radically different. As KSW point out:

"What set Christianity apart was (1) its insistence on historical credibility, which the mysteries didn't even pretend to have, versus the "going nowhere" of the vegetation cycle; (2) Christian proclamation of the gospel as accessible to all people; (3) its insistence on right belief instead of emotional frenzy; and (4) the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming resurrection of believers." [4]

As Robin Lane Fox points out:

The mysteries "offered a myth of their god, Jews and Christians offered history; the pagan mysteries conveyed a secret experience, whereas Jews and Christians offered a 'revelation' based on texts." [5] Scholar Ronald Nash thus concludes:

"We find that there was no pre-Christians doctrine of rebirth for the Christians to borrow... The claim that pre-Christian mysteries regarded their initiation rites as a kind of rebirth is unsupported by any evidence contemporary with such alleged practices. Instead, a view found in much later texts is read back into earlier texts, which are then interpreted quite speculatively as dramatic portrayals of the initiate's 'new birth'. The belief that pre-Christian mysteries used rebirth as a technical term is unsupported by even one single text." [6]

2. Jewish Resistance to Hellenization

Contrary to what Pro may have us think, the first century Judaism from which Christianity emerged was very resistant to pagan influence. In fact, as Boyd and Eddy note, "the influence of Hellenism actually seems to have strengthened the traditions and beliefs" of Judaism! [7] Additionally, they list seven points which indicate that first century Judaism resisted Hellenistic influence. I will list five [8]:

1. Josephus indicates faithful Jewish adherence to traditional principles
2. Pagan influences are completely absent from Jewish archaeological sites
3. Ceramic wares found in Galilee met Jewish ritual purity requirements
4. Unlike pagan sites, Galilean archaeological sites reveal a lack of pork bones, suggesting adherence to Jewish dietary laws.
5. Large numbers of alluent Galilean homes contained a miqwaoth, indicating that Jews at the time still engaged in ritualistic bathing.

3. Why A Dependence Relation?

Pro simply asserts that there was a dependence without engaging my arguments against this thesis. Let me therefore repeat them.

As KSW point out, simply because there may have been pagan parallels at the time of Christianity (Assuming for the sake of argument that there were!) does not mean that Christianity was influenced by them. They cite scholar Bruce Metzger, who writes: "The uniformity of human nature sometimes produces strikingly similar results in similar situations where there can be no suspicion of any historical bridge by which the tradition could have been mediated from one culture the other." [9]

Adding to Metzger's comments, KSW writes: "We might add that all religions, if they are to gain any converts, must appeal to universal human needs and desires. Should we be surprised, then, to discover parallels between Christianity and any other religion... No, but in such case, it can hardly be maintained that parallels indicate dependence." [10]

4. Does Mentioning Pagan Religions Indicate Influence?

As multiple scholars have noted, the writers of the New Testament wrote with an awareness of pagan religions, but a mere awareness of these religions is certainly not enough to indicate an influence by them. If anything, the New Testament authors were diametrically opposed to pagan teaching (Given my above arguments), so it's very unlikely that they were influenced by them. The mere fact that the New Testament writers may have mentioned pagan religions does not by any mean imply an influence.

So the key point to be drawn here is that an awareness doesn't imply an influence.

But Were There Parallels?

But more to the point: Pro has not responded to my arguments which advance the claim that any such "parallels" are in fact just the result of reading Biblical language into a religion to invent a parallel. Indeed, this view is dominant in the history of religion. Most scholars take the view that any alleged "parallels" are simply non-existent.

I now turn it over to my opponent for his counterarguments.

________

Footnotes

1. That, of course, assumes that genuine parallels do exist. However, as pointed out in my OP, most alleged "parallels" are non-existent. Rather, they are the result of what Sandmel called "Parallelomania," which is one reads biblical language into a pagan religion to create a parallel that simply isn't there.
2. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress: 2003) 80
3. Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 235-236
4. Ibid, 237
5. Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 94
6. Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, 167
7. Boyd and Eddy, Lord or Legend? 35 ; One might wonder why I am discussing Judaism here as opposed to Christianity. The reasoning is simple: Christianity arose from first century Judaism. Because Judaism served as its foundation, we should expect to see signs of pagan influence had there been any.
8. Ibid, 35. See Boyd and Eddy, The Jesus Legend, for a more substantial treatment.
9. Bruce Metzger, "Methodology in the Study of the Mysterty Religions and Early Christianity" as cited in KSW, Reinventing Jesus (Kregel 2006)
10. KSW, Reinventing Jesus, 228
Debate Round No. 3
Man-is-good

Pro

Man-is-good forfeited this round.
Contradiction

Con

Arguments extended.
Debate Round No. 4
Man-is-good

Pro

Man-is-good forfeited this round.
Contradiction

Con

Arguments extended. Vote Con.
Debate Round No. 5
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 5 years ago
RoyLatham
Good debate topic. Too bad Pro didn't make a serious case. Con's claim of "overwhelming consensus" is unsupported and not attacked.
Posted by Contradiction 5 years ago
Contradiction
Not a problem, lol.
Posted by Man-is-good 5 years ago
Man-is-good
I was playing the devil's advocate: truthfully, I do not think that there are pagan influences on Christianity, only superficial ones. But I will still continue the debate.
Posted by Contradiction 5 years ago
Contradiction
Well technically it's four, but it could be shorter.
Posted by vardas0antras 5 years ago
vardas0antras
5 rounds? I wouldn't bother, to be honest.
Posted by Man-is-good 5 years ago
Man-is-good
Now remember everyone: it is history, not prejudice, that determines this argument...
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
That is a decent burden Con, no influence.
Posted by Man-is-good 5 years ago
Man-is-good
It is. He...he....he...It'll probably be the DEBATE OF THE CENTURY (OR YEAR)
Posted by Contradiction 5 years ago
Contradiction
This should be an interesting debate.
Posted by Man-is-good 5 years ago
Man-is-good
Well, I guess you are right, ReformedArsenal. Though, the Atheists seem to have forgotten that the pagan gods are also made up too....
But in this world, logic isn't really important at times. I was hoping to have another debate, but I can see why you passed on this one.
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by Dimmitri.C 5 years ago
Dimmitri.C
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro is defending dead and dying scholarship from the 19th century. Con wins as a result of argumentation, conduct and reliability.
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 5 years ago
RoyLatham
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro forfeits, leaving arguments unanswered.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
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Reasons for voting decision: Started decent, fell apart.
Vote Placed by quarterexchange 5 years ago
quarterexchange
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Reasons for voting decision: had sources, made good counter arguments, and pro forfeited
Vote Placed by wjmelements 5 years ago
wjmelements
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Reasons for voting decision: CON used sources and didn't forfeit.