Is Jesus An Avatar?

Has the true identity of Jesus been revealed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s not uncommon to hear that someone else thinks they know the true identity of Jesus. Naturally, it’s an identity that has nothing to do with Second Temple Judaism and is instead in line with what they believe. So it is with Jeffrey Charles Archer, who was a Southern Baptist minister who embraced a more Hindu position and has said Jesus is an avatar. His work can be found here.

So let’s go through and see how the case is.

It has been well enough noted and touted that there are many uncanny similarities between the Persons of Krishna and Christ.  A Quaker named Kersey Graves (1813-1883) compiled a list of some 346 elements in common between Krishna’s story and Christ’s story.  Indeed, none can reasonably deny that some of the analogies are quite convincing, not the least of which is the phonetic similarity of the names.  Nonetheless, something never quite seemed quite right with that attempt to tie those two purported God-men.  Though I believed that these connections were not without merit, I somehow had a sense they were NOT the same Dude.  Only fairly recently in my own spiritual pilgrimage did I come across accounts of the God named Ayyappa/Shasta, Son of Krishna/Vishnu (when He was manifest as a She) and Shiva, Son of God the Maintainer and God the Destroyer.  Almost immediately something in my intuition else rational faculties told me that Ayyappa was a very likely candidate for the more ancient and abiding identity of the person/Person called Jesus Christ.  Consider as you continue, especially if reading this from a Christian persective, that Jesus is touted to have said to his/His disciples, “I have sheep in other pastures . . .”

So let’s see. Kersey Graves right at the start, which tells us enough. Kersey Graves is someone no one should take seriously today, but of course in the great big world of the internet, the only resurrections that are believed in are of dead ideas that are brought back to life to a new people who have never heard them and don’t understand why they weren’t seriously acknowledged to begin with. (Strange you never see them sharing theories of phlogiston or aether being in the sky.)

But hey, maybe it’s just because I’m a Christian that I’m saying this. Or maybe, maybe it’s just that it’s true. Let’s suppose I went to the other side. Let’s go to the Secular Web and see what they say.

The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Or Christianity Before Christ is unreliable, but no comprehensive critique exists. Most scholars immediately recognize many of his findings as unsupported and dismiss Graves as useless. After all, a scholar who rarely cites a source isn’t useful to have as a reference even if he is right. For examples of specific problems, however, see Hare Jesus: Christianity’s Hindu Heritage,and some generally poor but not always incorrect Christian rebuttals. A very helpful discussion of related methodological problems by renowned scholar Bruce Metzger is also well worth reading (“Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity” 2002). In general, even when the evidence is real, it often only appears many years after Christianity began, and thus might be evidence of diffusion in the other direction. Another typical problem is that Graves draws far too much from what often amounts to rather vague evidence.

Keep in mind that this is Richard Carrier saying this and if Richard Carrier says a fellow skeptic is a crank type, well that’s a serious charge. Still, I actually agree with him this time. Graves is someone to not take seriously.

What about the phonetic similarity between Christ and Krishna. This sounds convincing to a lot of people, such as the ones who make a big deal about the “Son” of God in comparison to the “Sun.” Which, you know, totally works if you assume that the New Testament was written in modern English. Other than that, it’s a useless comparison.

If Archer wants to say there is a case, we would need to compare the words for Christ and Krishna in their original languages and show that there was borrowing, such as Greeks borrowing ideas from the Indians. Archer needs more than just a hunch.

And what about sheep in another pasture? Of course, this is going to be the one statement in the Gospel of John He did say. All those other strong claims He made about Himself absolutely do not even have any remotely historical backing. The comment as it is has an easy enough explanation. It refers to the Gentiles.

During my undergraduate years I was for a time a Southern Baptist preacher.  Though this might not seem a good starting place for a seeker of truth, it was in fact somewhat due to clues proffered by the mostly Southern Baptist professors at Oklahoma Baptist University that I began to question the dogmas of that faith.  Years later after I was introduced to the teachings of  sanAtana dharma I still felt that somehow Jesus was a legitimate expression of God and one who well enough presented and the teachings of eternity (quite literally, “sanAtana dharma”).  Ayyappa was the Person I was eventually drawn to that seemed to present a legitimate connection between my first religious impulses and the abiding truth of sanAtana dharma.

You gotta love how personal testimony never seems to go out of style for these guys. It’s a card they just can’t ever seem to stop playing. Still, there isn’t anything along the lines of evidence to respond to here so we move on.

Ayyappa/Shasta is indeed a unique Son of God, as the Christian title, “the only begotten Son of God,” does tout.  Vishnu (God the Maintainer, known as Krishna in His most popular form), this one time, did come to earth as a Woman in order to deal with a particular menace, a dangerous demon named Bhasmasura.  After Vishnu had defeated Bhasmasura, Shiva asked Him to show Himself again as Mohini, His female form.  Well, as Shiva is the essence of masculine virility, He ends up desiring the lovely and seductive Mohini.  They end up hooking up and Shiva empregnates Mohini/Vishnu with Ayyappa, also known as Shasta.  This certainly seems to fulfill the “only ‘begotten’ Son” scenario proffered by the Christian religion, and in fact does fit rather well with the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” trinity of Christianity.

Of course, we could go to Judaism and find a parallel for the only begotten Son in Isaac’s relation to Abraham. If you think this is anything like the Trinity in Christianity, you might as well think that Trinity in The Matrix is a good parallel of the Trinity. The relation in a Hindu pantheon is not at all like the case of divine identity in Judaism and Christianity, which would have no concept of hooking up in the Godhead.

I mean, if your Divine Mom is generally a Dude, what might you refer to Her/Him as?  Also of note in this guise, as Vishnu is the Paramatma, the aspect of God that dwells in everyone as Atman, God indwelling, then how would Jesus/Ayyappa refer to this Being if not as a “Holy Spirit?”  The first little clue, by the way, seems very likely to explain the rather confused masoginistic tendencies of Christians, even despite the New Testament statement that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, neither man nor woman, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

On the other hand, if your Father is seen as a male figure, maybe you might refer to Him as, I don’t know, Father. As for the Holy Spirit, perhaps the term comes from, and yeah, this might be a stretch, the Old Testament? As for misogynistic ideas, this must explain why Jesus had female disciples, Phoebe and Prisca and others were leaders in the early church, etc.

Thus, assuming my identification of said Persons as the same Being is legitimate, Jesus’s real Mom (again, Mary was a surrogate mom) is generally a Dad, and is to whom Jesus was refering when He refered to “the Holy Spirit.”
You kind of have to wonder what’s going on to make someone think this and think that this is a serious theory.
Another Christian understanding of Jesus is that He was “the Word,” as their scripture says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Ayyappa is very much associated with AUM, the Primal sound (which is almost certainly the origin of the Judeo-Christian “Amen”) another quite obvious correlation between Ayyappa and Jesus.  Yet another obvious similarity is that one of the most prominent stories about Ayyappa is that as Manikantan He healed a deaf and blind boy, as Jesus would later be said to have done.
It’s a mystery why the reference to Jesus as the Word is mentioned. It bears no relation to nothing else here. As for AUM, to say it’s almost certainly the origin of “Amen” requires a lot more than just a claim. Again, one needs to see the words in their original languages, then compare them, and then have actual evidence of borrowing. Finally, with regard to healing, for any deity, miracles of any sort would be part of the repertoire, so this is hardly a parallel.
“Upon completing his princely training and studies when he offered ‘gurudakshina’ or fee to his guru, the master aware of his divine power asked him for a blessing of sight and speech for his blind and dumb son. Manikantan placed his hand on the boy and the miracle happened.”  (http://srinagaroo.blogspot.com/2013/04/lord-ayyappa.html?m=1)
Raising the dead is another miracle attributed to Ayyappa, as His name Lakshmanapranadata, which means Reviver of Lakshmana’s Life, clearly indicates.  Indeed these many indications incline me to believe that the two mythological figures are the same Person, as they have such attributes in common.
The similarities between Krishna and Christ might well be explained by the aforementioned theory, as well, as “the Son” was endeavoring to fill the roles of Krishna/Mohini (the Divine Mother of Ayyappa/Jesus) in His/Her absence.  Again, Shiva is “the Father” in this scenario.
Or they might be just the products of a very fervent imagination. This is the same kind of stuff that produced Graves’s material. Again, there’s a reason these theories are not taken seriously anymore. There are others who have made these claims in the past and made them better and they still fell drastically short.
One last thought along this line of reason is that during the “missing years of Jesus” was when He went away to the east to learn from His Guru before returning to Palestine to teach.  Many other connecting factors wait to be unravelled with this identification of Jesus as Ayyappa in mind, factors which give clue to the history and dance and pilgrimage of peoples and the play of the gods and of God and Goddess throughout history and eternity.  Buddhists tout Ayyappa/Shasta as an Avatar of Buddha.  And to reify that Jesus Christ was indeed and in truth an Avatar of Ayyappa, the appearance of a star never before seen is associated with Ayyappa !!
If Archer ever cracked open any other ancient biographies, he would find a whole lot of other missing years. Did all of these go to India? The problem with the India hypothesis is that we have no hard evidence. In fact, in Luke when Jesus speaks at the synagogue, he is said to have grown up there. There is no indication that he went to India.
So I conclude this with shock of all shocks, being thoroughly unimpressed. It looks like Archer likely went from believing one thing blindly to believing something else blindly. Consider this another example of how we are failing to equip our pastorate. I look forward to a future with a more informed pastorate that knows how to explain what they believe, why, and be able to answer critics.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

5,000+ Gods

How do you know you have the right deity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s understandable that when it comes to major issues, many of us have strong opinions. It’s understandable that many of us seek to be informed on those opinions. It’s understandable that many times we will want to talk to others about those opinions who agree and disagree with us and want to either share encouragement or change minds respectively.

It’s not understandable though that people share nonsense all the while thinking that they are sharing a powerful argument. One such case recently happened on the Unbelievable? Facebook page. An atheist, no doubt convinced he had a brilliant argument, shared the following meme and asked what the way is Christians find out of this particular dilemma.

People who post this stuff really don’t bother to understand world religions at all. For instance, consider the Buddha. Many Buddhists in the classical system would be seen as atheistic and not think the Buddha is a deity. The Hindu pantheon has several lesser gods, some more prominent than others, but nothing seen as a sort of ultimate deity. Many would have no problem saying that of course there are 5,000 gods, but could say that all of them are real.

Let’s start with something simple though. All truth claims are exclusive. If I say 2 + 2 = 4, then any person who says an answer that is contrary to 4 is wrong. We could say to people who think I am the husband of Allie Licona Peters that “There are billions of men on this planet who could be her husband, but don’t worry, the claim that Nick Peters is the only right answer.” Of course, it is.

How could this work with atheism? Just replace gods with worldviews. There are almost 5,000 worldviews being believed by humanity. Don’t worry. Yours is right. After all, atheism is just a strong a claim. It’s a strong claim if the meme is true to say that you worship the right God out of 5,000 or so. It’s a strong claim to say that you are right and everyone else is entirely wrong because none of those deities are real.

The meme when looking at the question also assumes that all deities have the same amount of evidence for their existence and all religions do as well. Are we really to think that, for instance, archaeologically, the Book of Mormon can begin to compare with the New Testament, or even the Old Testament for that matter? You could if perhaps you right at the start assume that all of the systems are nonsense, which would just be begging the question.

This is something Matthew McCormick did in his book The Case Against Christ. He made a list of 500 deities that were thought to be ominpotent, omniscient, eternal, etc. He then said that these gods are no longer worshiped this way. Well, I did something rather odd there. I actually went and looked up all of these gods. Any that were seen that way could be counted on one hand. You can see some of my doing this here including his big gaffe.

What needs to happen then is something that should be obvious to the atheists who say they care so much about evidence, but they often forget. That is to look at the evidence. That means when the theist pulls up the evidence for whatever deity they believe in, you actually look at it and consider it.

If you asked me why I believe in the deity I hold to, I would say that it is the most logically consistent for me. It is very similar to the one Aristotle arrived at in his philosophy. I go with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments. It would be quite long to go into here so that will be for another day.

Then when I look at Christianity, I say the evidence for Jesus is overwhelming. To deny His existence is ridiculous. Other theories I see trying to explain the data surrounding the resurrection I find completely lacking. I say this also by the way as one who has read much on the other side. (I often ask an atheist when the last time they read an academic work that disagreed with them was and I very often get crickets in response.)

There are other points. For instance, the number of other deities is actually much more than 5,000. Also, saying one religion is right does not mean that all religions are entirely wrong in everything that they believe. There are great truths in many of the other world religions.

I am of the firm stance that a meme is not an argument. If you have made your argument, you can illustrate it with a meme, but the meme itself is not the argument. People who think it is I find to generally be shallow thinkers. That includes Christians and non-Christians both. Stupidity can be found among the proponents of any belief system just as intelligence can.

Looking at the thread, I do not see any theist that is concerned about the argument. I’m certainly not, but I figured it would be a good example to post here and one question I’m not sure if I’ve ever tackled on the blog. We can hope that the poster will start citing some academic sources in making his whole argument, but I am skeptical that that will ever happen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/22/2017: Ken Samples

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Is Jesus really unique? We live in a world where there are many religions. Each of them claims to be true. Is there really any way to tell? Why should anyone think that there’s anything special in Christianity as opposed to another view like Islam or Confucianism?

Ken Samples in his book God Among Sages has looked at the religions of the world. He points out positive contributions of each one and ways that we can better understand and interact with adherents of them, but then shows the uniqueness of Jesus. In the end, Jesus does indeed stand out.

This Saturday, we’ll be exploring that claim further. We’ll have an hour together to discuss the matter and we’ll be making the most of it. Still, we need to ask who Ken Samples is. Well….

According to his bio:

Philosopher and theologian Kenneth Richard Samples has a great passion for helping people understand the reasonableness and relevance of Christianity’s truth claims. He is the senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe and the author of several books, including Christian Endgame and 7 Truths That Changed the World.

How does someone approach other religions of the world? As Christians, we can tend to be hyper-skeptical of any of them and not really give them the time and attention they deserve if we want to reach their adherents. Islam is one of the major world religions highly impacting our world today, but how many of us have actually read the Qur’an and informed ourselves about it, yet we often have no trouble commenting on daily news stories about Islam itself as if we know what we’re talking about with it.

It can also be tempting to go on full attack mode with other religions, but there’s no need to do that. There are things that will be correct in other religious beliefs. We also don’t need to rule out automatically the religious experiences of people in other belief systems. If we want them to treat Christianity seriously, we need to treat their belief system seriously.

There is also the question in the end of what about those who have never heard. While Samples and I do fall on different sides of the spectrum here, we both fully uphold the idea that the Great Commission needs to be fulfilled. This is an area that Christians can disagree on, but we must never take it as a reason to be lax in our duties with regard to the command of Christ. As I have said before, the Bible never explicitly addresses the question. It gives us our marching orders and says nothing about if we fail the plan. There is no plan B.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast and I hope you’ll also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the show! It’s always great to see them. Be ready next time to discuss world religions and the uniqueness of Christ.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: God Among Sages

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by Baker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ken Samples has given the church a gift in giving us a guide to understanding other religions and not only what they believe, but good ways to interact with them. His work is meant to compare Jesus to other religious leaders. How is He similar? How is He different?

Samples takes a hard look at the other religions, but also a fair look. He points to beliefs that are exemplary in those religions. These are areas of common ground that can be agreed upon. We can often make a mistake when we study another religion where we say that everything it is wrong. This is quite likely not the case. It’s hard to think of a worldview where absolutely everything is wrong. (In fact, if we begin discussing evidence in objective reality, we at least agree that there is an objective reality.)

He also includes reading for those interested. If you want to go to the scholars of that religion themselves and the ones who hold to it, he goes there. If you want to know about Christians who have written on the topic, he also goes there. I think Samples’s treatment is quite fair. I cannot speak on accuracy per se as I am not a specialist in these religions, but he does not go out to make them look foolish.

When that is done, he will tell you about what to say when you talk to people who hold these worldviews. What kinds of questions can you ask? How can you handle their belief system respectfully? The book is also written with questions that make it appropriate for small groups. Naturally, while this is all good, I would also tell people that if you want to engage with someone in this worldview, try to read their holy book or books yourself as well. (I still remember the time when dialoguing with a Muslim when I asked if he had ever read the NT. His reply was “No. Have you ever read the Qur’an?” I was able to answer affirmatively.)

He starts as well with a defense of the deity of Christ and who He was. I thought this was a good section, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more from the other Gospels besides John. I fully uphold John of course, but many groups like Muslims and JWs have been trained to deal with explicit arguments. I like more the implicit arguments and the ones that are seen to be even earlier than John that show a high Christology.

There’s also a discussion about exclusivism vs. inclusivism at the end of the book. This is the section that I had the most difficulty with. I am not one who thinks that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved. I don’t think Samples’s explanation for the Old Testament is really convincing. I think those in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the pre-incarnate Christ they did not know.

It’s also not because I have a low view of God and sin and a high view of man. I don’t. Aside from the work of the cross of Christ, no one is fit to be in right relationship with God. Samples goes to Romans 10 about people needing to hear the Gospel, and they do, but doesn’t Romans 10 right after 14-15 and 17 contain these verses?

18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.”

Where does that come from? It’s from Psalm 19. Psalm 19 is one of the messages about general revelation. What voice has gone to all the Earth? It is the voice of creation.

Thus, I’m not convinced that we must make a hard line case for exclusivism. Does that mean that people in other religions are saved or possibly saved? No. I think people devoutly following a false faith will be judged for that. However, I am entirely open to someone who knows that the belief system they are in is false and cannot hold up and yet is still seeking the true God. God could reach out to them through dreams, as seems to happen in the Muslim community or other means. There are more than enough missionary stories about missionaries showing up and people there saying something like “We have a tradition that says that one day people will show up with a book that will have the truth and you have fulfilled that today.”

I also don’t think the question of those who have never heard in Scripture is addressed for one reason. It doesn’t need to be. God is not interested in just answering our curiosity. He gave us our marching orders in the Great Commission. That is Plan A and He makes no mention of any Plan B. We could say that some could be saved even without our reaching them, but we have far more confidence if we just go and reach them ourselves.

Of course, this is an in-house debate among Christians. While I disagree with this part, the main reason we read the book is to learn about the other religions, and there I think we have a great guide. I fully encourage Christians reading this text and learning about other religions and how Jesus compares.

In Christ,
Nick Peters