Monday, December 24, 2012


(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)


Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ (Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2004), 244 pp.

In 1985 the Jesus Seminar was founded. The scholars involved in that decided there was nothing divine and miraculous about Jesus and his life (p. 138.) But the chief flaw in the Seminar’s approach, says Harpur, is that the Gospels and the book of Acts were assumed to be historical records. Tom Harpur doubts that Jesus even lived! (p. 158.) His mission, I guess, is to take heresy to a new low. His ‘Christian’ belief is that Christ never existed. A controversial idea sells a lot of books. 

Jesus is a mythical God-Man clothed in historical dress (p. 20.) This myth has been wrongly treated as biography (p. 85.) ‘Christian third-century falsifiers’ are to blame for turning this mythical life of Jesus into literal fact (p. 113.) This literalist thinking is the cause of ‘most of the atrocities committed by the Church’ and it made the Holocaust possible (p. 186.) Even “the Dark Ages—and so much more—were the eventual result” (pp. 3, 179.) In light of such revelations, and judgments of history, Harpur’s apologies to offended Christians might seem like hollow words. The truth is, when atrocities were committed by the Church, superstition was the cause, routinely, not myth, neither literalism, and the Church of Rome was usually to blame. What Mr. Harper calls literalist thinking is not as bad as he claims it is. If Hitler, for example, had worshiped a literal Saviour who commands literal love to all, would this not have prevented the Holocaust?
Tom Harper maintains that the story of Jesus was literalized to satisfy people who craved a political saviour (p. 157) and to win over the uneducated multitudes (p. 179.) The story of Jesus is just a spin-off from the story of Egypt’s mythological sun-god Osiris/Horus (p. 80.) Even the Old Testament is ‘almost purely allegorical’ (p. 122.) It’s all, or nearly all, just ‘borrowed…Paganism’ (p. 79.) Hence the title, The Pagan Christ. 

Harper’s claim comes down to this: the roots of Christianity are not historical, but mythological. The Pagan Christ is a smoothly told story, and progressively persuasive too. The holes in Harpur’s design are hastily patched over, yes; but unbelievers are okay with that. And the literary glaze on top will serve as pleasure, if not proof. If we were to never mind the context, some of the sayings that Harpur included, remolded, or created, are beautifully orthodox: “Jesus…a man whose mission was so mighty that stars led the way and angels choired and heavenly hallelujahs mingled with earthly songs to celebrate the descent of deity to the planet” (p. 169.) Scholarship seems to ring through Harper’s choice and positioning of words: “Egypt was truly the cradle of the Jesus figure of the Gospels” (p. 77.) This is a seducing piece of academic artwork.

There is no good reason, however, why this rewrite of history should seduce anyone. There is an easy way to finding out whether a scholar should be believed or not. Just get an answer to the question, ‘Does he present his material in a manner worthy of a scholar’? If not, he is either incompetent, or devious; in either case he should not be trusted. Here are several instances of concern. (1) His position is that the life of Jesus is not historical, but just a legend derived from Egypt’s dreamed up gods. That sounds like a monumental discovery! Should we not be given more than a snippet here and there from the Egyptian source to show the similarity between Christ and the Egyptian sun deities and their stories or teachings? So and so said that this and that from the Bible are borrowed, Harper says. Should rumors be sufficient to convince that a literal saving religion is just an empty useless mythology and that the Saviour is nothing more than an Idea? When a parallel is actually cited for proof, this is what it looks like: “’Two thieves of the light’…Here, indeed, would appear to be the authentic Christian prototype of the Gospel Crucifixion between two thieves” (pp. 208, 209.) Is that enough for you? (2) On page 20 Harper states that C. S. Lewis failed to justify the reality of the Lord’s miracles in his book, Miracles. But he does not show how Lewis failed on these ‘philosophical and other grounds.’ Is that scholarly? (3) On page 216 Harpur says that Jesus used the esoteric wisdom of the gnostics when he taught; in other words, that Jesus taught allegory, not literal truth. But Harpur fails to mention that Jesus explained his parables. Tom Harpur is a New Testament scholar? (4) “For Matthew, Jesus’ hometown was Bethlehem. For Luke, it was Nazareth” (p. 126.) Is that good homework? Can Sunday school kids not harmonize the Gospels better? Who does not know that Jesus was born in one place and grew up in another? (5) On page 27 Harpur says that Augustine thought Socrates was “as grand a Christian as any churchly saint or martyr.” Since this information is given as a proof that Christianity existed as a pagan religion long before it was literalized, should we not be directed to where, chapter and verse, this was said? Here is what Augustine thought of Socrates by the time he wrote The City of God, “It is not easy to discover clearly what he himself [Plato] thought on various matters, any more than it is to discover what were the opinions of Socrates” (Book 8, No. 4.) (6) On page 215 Harpur quotes Galatians 4.24, “Which things [the story of Abraham’s offspring] contain an allegory.” Then he comments, “In other words, what seems like a historical narrative is not one at all.” But the verse says that the account contains an allegory, not that it is one. Harpur knows better. (7) On page 84 it is made to appear that it was written of the god Horus that he was ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ But Harpur is just quoting John 14.6 there without giving the reference. Does he really believe that he has found the lost origin and meaning of the Bible? He must have nagging doubts; otherwise he would not resort to trickery to convince us of his view. From my notes I could show more examples of his unscholarly methods. But I have run out of room. Yet I have shown enough to assure the reader that Harpur’s pagan pyramid is not worth a hill of beans: he has proven himself untrustworthy by his mishandling of material and sources.    

This New Age gnosticism will score a lot of points with persons who are ignorant of the Bible and history—but mostly with persons who just hate to think that Jesus is real and the only way to heaven. Imagine, no sins to repent of because man is not fallen (p. 202), no obedience necessary because there are no creeds (p. 183), and no final judgment (p. 97.) What’s not to like? To complete the fantasy, Harpur says that Jesus demanded no confession of faith for salvation (pp. 200, 201.) What would that look like if he did? “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12. 8.) And so verse 9, “But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” Tom Harper is in denial, literally.

Content: C  (An evil dose of heresy to stir up your zeal.)
    Style: A- (Sparkles of literature marred by heretical meaning.)
    Tone: C  (Sinister.)

Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
                         B: an average book: let it go.
                         C: read only if you have to.

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