What do I think of Porter and Bedard’s book? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Unmasking The Pagan Christ is a response to the book of Tom Harpur’s called “The Pagan Christ.” It’s important to note that the reason authors like Bedard and Porter are spending time on this topic is not because the idea of Harpur’s is a serious debate in the academic community. It’s not. They wrote it for the same reason I had my recent debate with Ken Humphreys. It is because this is affecting the rank and file of the church and instilling doubt in them. This is also because we as the church have been doing an abysmal job at equipping Christians to answer challenges so much so that even the craziest of theories has an impact.
Such is the case with Harpur’s book. Harpur’s idea is that Jesus wasn’t a historical figure. Instead, he’s a sort of mishmash of varios pagan deities, though especially Horus and Osiris. He wants to go instead with a sort of Cosmic Christ. A universal Christ as it were. Yet to do this, the historical figure must simply be banished.
Thankfully, there are people out there like Bedard and Porter who are doing the work to make sure that this kind of material is dealt with. A large number of scholars have had the right attitude towards mythicism (This is nonsense) but had the wrong response. (Therefore if we ignore it, it will just go away.) This is especially so for Christian scholars who ignore this not at their peril, but at the peril of their fellow Christians who aren’t as equipped.
Of course, atheistic scholars and others have a role to play in this as well. There are atheistic scholars out there who are frankly quite embarrassed by how many atheists are jumping on the mythicist bandwagon, as they should be. For atheists who complain about Christians arguing against them on evolution without studying science (And they are certainly right to do so!), it looks like too many atheists are jumping on this idea without really studying history.
Bedard and Porter take us through a course in what Egyptologists really say about Horus and Osiris and how what Harpur says just doesn’t match up. They also demonstrate that Harpur relies on outdated scholarship like Massey and Kuhn, that quite frankly wasn’t even taken seriously in its own day. One aspect I think quite helpful in the look at Egyptology is to point out that the word KRST that shows up in Egypt does not mean Christ, but rather refers to burial. This is commonly cited by mythicists.
The authors use the work of actual Egyptologists who reference what the original works about Horus and Osiris themselves say. They then demonstrate that the parallels that Harpur claims to see are more forced and read into the text instead of being read out of the text. They do demonstrate that there are some parallels, but these are parallels we can expect from all religions. (It’s not much of a shock if many religions use water as a means of cleansing, have people share food together in a meal, etc.)
Along the way, the authors also give us a look at Mithras, another favorite of the pagan copycat crowd. They point out that if anyone dies and comes back in the story of Mithras, it is not Mithras, but rather it is the bull that he kills. Those who claim Christ is a copy of Mithras have likely never read any real scholarship on Mithras.
After that, we get to a more positive case. What is the evidence that Jesus existed? Here I think the authors do a fine job, though the arguments will not be new to people in this field. The authors point out how Harpur misunderstands sayings of the church fathers and does not deal adequately with the extra-biblical evidence.
I am thankful that books like this one exist and I hope more do come. Mythicism cannot be ignored at this point. It is not because it is a powerful theory. It is not. It is because it is a theory that leads away people from doing sound and real history. It results in a conspiracy theory thinking that is extremely anti-intellectual and anti-historical. It is my hope that scholars of all worldviews and positions will start to deal with this and give it the deathblow and humiliation that it deserves.