Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

"Earl Doherty, the Jesus Myth and Second Century Christian Writings"

Part Two:

Rebuttal Segment
(including a detailed examination of GDon's "Spot the Mythicist" quotations
and the "smoking gun" passages in Minucius Felix)

In some ways, what we have here is akin to a formal debate, beginning with extended opposing statements on either side, followed by rebuttals. In response to GDon's critique of my Second Century Apologists material (book and website), I posted a major article. He has now rebutted that response, and I am following up with a rebuttal of my own.

GDon's follow-up rebuttal, to which this is a reply, can be found at:



Most debates are followed by an open discussion, with questions from the audience and further informal debate between the two sides. Following this website exchange, the debate between GDon and myself moved onto the floor of the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. In the course of that exchange, I presented new arguments and new ways of fashioning old arguments in regard to Minucius Felix. Following on the present article, I suggest that the interested reader can peruse the subject still further through this compilation of my major postings on the IIDB:
Debating "Minucius Felix" on the IIDB

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Opening Remarks

In his Introduction, GDon says that "Doherty's Response to my critique is mostly a restating of his position as far as I can see," and he made a similar complaint on the IIDB. Quite apart from the fact that I offered a considerable amount of new material and arguments over and above those contained in my book chapter and website article (and the present rebuttal offers even more), he seems not to recognize what the chief purpose of a "response" is: to address the arguments he presented in his critique, and to demonstrate how they are invalid or deficient. This I did. He has attempted to do the same in turn with his rebuttal, and in following suit I will endeavor to show that his latest attempt is once again deficient.

He also accuses me of "refus[ing] to engage the literature as a whole" and not "tak[ing] into consideration the broader writings of the Christians of this period. Doherty appears unaware that statements by his 'mythicist' apologists that he deems problematic for historicists appear in the 'historicist' apologists writings as well." This has been his chief complaint and centerpiece argument all along, including on discussion threads of the IIDB following our intial articles.

And what does he present as "the literature as a whole" and "the 'historicist' apologists writings"? In his "Spot the Mythicist" segment here and elsewhere he offers an array of quotations from "Second Century writers." Well, these writers (as he concedes) total exactly two
which is also the number of documents from which such quotations are drawn. One of those writers is Tertullian, who belongs as much to the third century as to the second (a point I made in my Response article), and the sole document quoted from, Ad Nationes, is dated most often to the first quarter of the third century. The other writer is Aristides, whom I did mention in the chapter GDon critiqued, and whose rather primitive work hardly ranks with those of the major apologists of his own (second) century. In any case, I am not saying that such quotes from these two writers ought to be summarily dismissed, but they need to be presented in proper context and with proper analysis, and not in misleading fashion, as GDon is still doing.

As I respond to his rebuttal, the reader may like to keep in mind two threads running throughout. One is GDon's repeated accusation
indeed it is something of a mantrathat I haven't read or taken into account all of the relevant literature. I will examine the basis for this accusation and determine whether it is justified or not, and whether his reliance on this supposedly "neglected" (by me) literaturewhich now seems to amount to the two writers mentionedis especially supportive of his position. Second, he attempts to discredit my reading of the apologetic texts by engaging in his own analysis of what they say, wringing from them obscure meanings which are highly dubious. This is a standard technique of the apologetic process, but one has to ask the basic question: if it takes this degree of strained and convoluted extraction to derive the meanings desired by orthodoxy, how were ancient readers of these texts ever to glean such meanings from them, whether emperor or common pagan? Did Minucius Felix, when looking over his final draft, say to himself, oh well, 18 centuries hence some professional apologist will no doubt be able to piece together what I'm really trying to say?

Another important point can be brought up ahead of time. I have questioned the reliability of some of the dating of the apologetic works I examine, as well as of traditions coming from later times about what a given apologist was supposed to have written in the form of works now lost. GDon takes umbrage at this, calling it "outrageous" and demands to know which dates I now regard as "incorrect." I pronounce none of them, nor such traditions concerning lost works, as "incorrect," but simply not to be taken as 'gospel.' They are especially not to be used in fearless confidence to formulate arguments that certain apologists "must" have believed certain things based on the dating of his works or on traditions that he had written on certain subjects. Nor, in a related matter, can it be assumed that, because later Christian commentators held those earlier writers in high regard, they fully understood what it was they were saying, rather than simply reading into the texts meanings based on their own evolved faiths
as Christians still regularly do in everything from the epistles of Paul to Minucius Felix. It is the texts we have in front of us that are of primary importance and which should govern our analysis, not traditional datings which may not be reliable, nor later claims that a given apologist had written on a certain subject or was greatly prized. At the time of Eusebius, for example, a considerable number of documents had attributions to Melito of Sardis which are now regarded as spurious.

As an example of traditions that are anything but secure, let's briefly look at those concerning Marcion held by Christian writers a mere generation or two after his time. Assuming that Marcion came to Rome (which not all modern scholars accept as certain), when did he arrive there? In Against Heresies, III.4.3, Irenaeus, writing near the end of the century, says that Marcion followed Cerdo to Rome and "flourished under Anicetus," who was bishop of Rome for about a decade during the period between 155 and 170 (scholarly dates for Anicetus vary). Yet Tertullian, writing not much later than Irenaeus, places Marcion in Rome at the time of bishop Eleutherus, in the 175 to 190 range (which seems impossibly late). Justin,
himself in Rome c.150-165, wrote a treatise against Marcion, from which Eusebius quotes; this would apparently place Marcion's activity earlier than either Irenaeus or Tertullian have it, since by Justin's time Marcion is described as an established force to be reckoned with. But Justin's comments could also be interpreted as indicating that Marcion was not on the Roman scene at all, and thus some scholars have actually suggested that the tradition of him coming to Rome was a later invention. R. J. Hoffman (Marcion, p.34) is also suspicious of Irenaeus' reasons for dating Marcion, suggesting that by placing him in Rome at the time of Anicetus' meeting with Polycarp, Irenaeus could give support to the tradition (which itself has the air of the apocryphal about it!) that Polycarp on meeting Marcion called him "the first born of Satan." These are thorny aspects of a very uncertain period, but they serve to illustrate how inaccurate and unreliable testimonies by the early Christian writers could be, and this includes the possibility that traditions were intentionally doctored or fabricated to serve certain interests. GDon's defensive attitude toward the reliability of early Christian traditions and what can be deduced from them is thus naive in the extreme.

Spot the Historicist: Aristides

While I did not entirely ignore Aristides in The Jesus Puzzle chapter on the second century apologists (and the corresponding article on this website), I did not give him as much attention as he perhaps deserves, so let me correct that now. First, on the matter of dating, J. Rendel Harris (the author whose name I lacked when I posted my earlier Response article), devoted considerable space in his The Apology of Aristides (pub. 1891, p.10f) to highlighting the problems in the traditional dating of the work. (Harris, incidentally, was the discoverer of that lost apology in 1889, as well as of the much more important Odes of Solomon in 1909. He found the former at a convent in the Sinai, an area where so much pertaining to the bible has been found
—except, one might note, for any evidence of the Exodus. But I digress.)

Without going into a lot of detail, I will note that Rendel points out some confusion arising from Eusebius' references to Aristides and Quadratus. Both, says Eusebius (History of the Church IV, 3) wrote apologies to Hadrian, making them contemporaries. And yet in IV, 23 Eusebius' discussion of a letter by Dionysius of Corinth which mentions Quadratus seems to place this Quadratus in the time of Dionysius, a good half century later. Through an argument covering several pages, Harris opts to place Aristides in the reign of Antoninus Pius, in other words, sometime between 138 and 161, perhaps a couple of decades or so beyond the usual date (à la Eusebius) assigned to Aristides' Apology, which is 125. As for Quadratus, the leeway with which he can be assigned a date, simply on the basis of material in Eusebius, may be as much as half a century; one wonders how reliable even the attribution of the single preserved fragment to this obscure figure may be. As noted earlier, one can see how the reliability of early Christian traditions, including the dating and ascription of documents, often rests on quicksand.

In the Supplement volume of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (X, p.259f), the translator and commentator of the Apology, D. M. Kay, addresses the diverse interpretations of the date of Aristides. (The discrepancies are due to differing elements of the text between the rediscovered Syriac version, Armenian fragments discovered not too long before the Syriac, and an incorporation of a Greek version in an early medieval romance called The Life of Barlaam and Josaphat.) Kay opts to reject Prof. Harris' findings on the grounds that "this requires us to suppose that Eusebius was wrong," and that "Jerome copied his error." Heaven forbid that anyone should consider that Eusebius might have gotten something wrong, or that later Christian commentators like Jerome might have been mistaken about earlier traditions, and Kay decides "to rest in the comfortable hypothesis that Eusebius spoke the truth." Victorian England may have been quite willing to find comfort in its naivete, but we have surely learned since then that Eusebius is anything but dependable, and that many traditions he reports (and sometimes fabricates) have since been proven to be untenable or highly questionable. Once again, my contention that all such claims have to be taken with a grain of salt, or even set aside as unverifiable (the default position ought to be that early Christian traditions are not to be relied on), is shown to be justified and anything but "outrageous." When a tradition 'preserved' in the early Church proves incompatible, or difficult to bring into conformity, with what we can read on extant pages, there should be little doubt in which direction the weight should lie.

GDon spotlights three quotes from the Apology of Aristides:

"It is impossible that a god should be bound or mutilated; and if it be otherwise, he is indeed miserable." [ch. 9]

"And they say that [Tammuz] was killed by a wound from a wild boar, without being able to help himself. And if he could not help himself, how can he take thought for the human race? But that a god should be an adulterer or a hunter or should die by violence is impossible." [ch. 11]

"And [Osiris] was killed by Typhon and was unable to help himself. But it is well known that this cannot be asserted of divinity....And how, pray, is he a god who does not save himself?" [ch. 12]

Now, let me allow that all these statements do constitute criticisms of features of pagan theology which could be said to have their counterparts in the Christian religion. Certainly, Christ was mutilated, he died by violence, and he did not choose to save himself from death. In ridiculing those ideas in pagan thought, Aristides offers no qualification for the supposed parallel situations in regard to Christ's life, situations we assume he was familiar with, since he refers to "written gospels" (though no authors and only basic details are mentioned). But context is everything, and we need to consider that context. First, let us note that this apology is on a lower level of sophistication than anything produced by the likes of Tatian, Theophilus, or Athenagoras. No Greek philosophical concepts are presented, much less a Logos doctrine. GDon has contrasted these excerpts from Aristides with a quote from Minucius Felix, "...neither are gods made from dead people, since a god cannot die...", but there is no debate here as in Felix, no give and take. Much care was taken constructing arguments in the latter work, while Aristides is clearly an inferior writer and thinker to Felix and most other apologists.

I suspect that Aristides was simply oblivious to any contradictions; they would have gotten lost in the shuffle. The great bulk of his Apology is taken up with diatribes against the theological beliefs of the Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, and Barbarians. He goes into great detail, ridiculing and condemning all, about the worship of natural elements, about the absurdities of the Greek myths and the reprehensible behavior of their anthropomorphic gods, about the stupidity of deifying animals as the Egyptians do; he is a little less harsh with the Jews, though he maintains that they are deceived into directing their rituals toward the angels rather than God himself. In the midst of all this, and quite in keeping with the negative image in which he is trying to cast the other religions, he throws in some criticisms which resemble features of the Christian faith. But even here, we might excuse him for not thinking that qualifications were needed for Jesus, since the contexts are not that close. When he condemns the idea of a god being bound and mutilated, he is speaking of the myth of Zeus doing this to Kronos, one god to another, not of some allegedly historical event on earth; the mutilation involved the latter's genitals. Should we really expect Aristides to worry about an obscure parallel with Christ, let alone trouble himself to offer a proviso in his case?

Osiris, similarly, is murdered in a squabble between rival gods. Tammuz dies as the result of a hunting accident. Neither, Aristides scoffs, was able to help himself and prevent his death, which is the apologist's point. Is this to be considered a pertinent parallel to Christ, who came to earth to willingly undergo the cross for the sake of human salvation? It probably never occurred to the philosopher to offer some saving qualification for Christ's death; it would hardly have seemed applicable. GDon has taken such remarks out of context and made far more of them than they deserve. Moreover, despite the tedious attention he devotes to the mythologies of other religions, Aristides seems little concerned with comparing them to Christ himself, for he gives only the barest outline of the Christian genesis in Jesus and the events of his life, and then only as part of his introduction. In the body of his Apology, what he offers in contrast to the theistic beliefs of the pagans is a survey (distinctly idealized) of Christian ethics, thinking thereby to prove the superiority of the Christian faith and gain the emperor's sympathy.

Nor is the overall situation between Aristides and the other apologists the same. Aristides does mention a human Christ, based on the gospels; no concealment there. The apologists I have examined, with the exception of Justin, do not. If GDon sees a contradiction, supposedly requiring qualification, between the passages he has highlighted and the 'historicist' nature of the author, that is his prerogative; but this is precisely what we do not find in the major apologists, since they contain no such contradictions, having no reference to a human Jesus who had presumably undergone the very things being ridiculed in the pagan myths. This is simply being read into them. Nor does Aristides make statements which contain a denial or exclusion of supposedly key Christian beliefs. There is no silence in the face of requests for "minute detail" about the faith, as there is in Athenagoras. There is no definition of "Christian" given which implicitly excludes an historical Jesus, as there is in Theophilus. There is no equation of Greek myths with Christian stories, as there is in Tatian. There is no rejection of the worship of a crucified man, as there is in Minucius Felix.

In all, I would suggest that the nature of Aristides' Apology when compared with the major apologetic works of the second century makes the lack of any qualification regarding the criticisms he directs at the pagan gods virtually insignificant.

Spot the Historicist: Tertullian

Now for GDon's appeal to Tertullian. Firstly, all of the quotes offered by GDon seem to pertain to one element of contention, namely the question of whether gods could die. When I suggested in my Response article that GDon had not dealt adequately with several quotations from Minucius Felix, these related to a range of subjects, including miracle working, the possibility of resurrection, and grieving over a dead god; I raised further issues in regard to other apologists. In rebuttal, he has reduced his focus of attention to a single point, the question of dying gods. Similarly, he presented in his critique several "historicist" writers of the period who, like my stable of "mythicist" writers (a misnomer, as I pointed out in my Response), made supposedly problematic statements which left out details about an historical Jesus or failed to address implied criticisms. I addressed this issue, and these have now been reduced to two documents by two writers. Initially, GDon accused me of being neglectful and "unaware" of the wider Christian writings of the period. Yet even with this much reduced focus, he is still making the same accusation, so I guess the bar at which my ignorance is reached has been lowered.

In my Response to his critique, I took him to task for his fallacious use of Tertullian's Ad Nationes as an alleged example of an historicist writer "avoiding" mention of details of Jesus life and even of his name. Let me reiterate: in virtually the same breath as this 'avoidance,' Tertullian clearly refers to the "founder" of his sect, and urges his pagan readers to learn as much as they can about this founder so as to make a proper evaluation of the Christian faith. In view of this, and of the fact that the exclusive focus of Ad Nationes is on countering pagan calumnies against the Christians and in condemning the pagan gods (it is not a defense of the faith), a silence on the name or life details of Jesus is completely irrelevant. Yet in his rebuttal GDon still persists in appealing to this so-called 'silence'.

Be that as it may, let's examine GDon's quotes from Ad Nationes (those indented below, translations taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers [ANF]) and consider their contexts. As in the case of Aristides, who is entirely focused on condemning the theistic beliefs of the non-Christian religions, I could appeal to the fact that Tertullian, in the second book of Ad Nationes, is similarly focused on the same thing: ridiculing the myths and beliefs attached to the pagan gods, with no attention given to any comparison with Christian beliefs, and thus he was not likely to have even considered inserting comments or qualifications on anything relevant to Jesus. But I don't need to. There is a far stronger case to be made in another direction, because GDon is guilty of the most egregious misreading of the texts which he has quoted. Once again, context is everything.

I'll start by examining one of those passages closely. Here is what GDon has lifted out of context. It comes at the end of chapter 12, and is the culmination of the discussion Tertullian has engaged in for most of that chapter, a kind of summary comment:

"They, therefore, who cannot deny the birth of men, must also admit their death; they who allow their mortality must not suppose them to be gods." [ANF III, p.142]

The subject has been a type of euhemerism. Tertullian is presenting the case of Saturn, a god of the Romans, and he claims that the record of such a figure clearly shows that he once existed, but as a man in history: "his actions tells us plainly that he was once a human being." Since he was human, he must have come from human stock and not from divinity, as the myths have made of him. From this example, Tertullian declares that he is stating a principle that can be applied to all individuals within that class of primordial heroes and founders of cities who have been made into deities. He concludes with the above quote, stating that in such cases as these in which one is addressing the subject of long-ago euhemerized heroes that we know to have been thoroughly mortal in their lives and origins, we cannot declare them to have been gods and must accept that having been born they also died.

I shouldn't need to point out that this idea has absolutely nothing in parallel with Christian faith about Jesus. It is integral to an argument Tertullian is making which contains the premise that the men being discussed
who inhabited a primordial timewere entirely human in their origins and activities. As such, the quote has a specifically narrow focus that in Tertullian's mind could not be broadened to include the case of Jesus. Thus, his words would have conjured up no qualms about vulnerable Christian doctrine, and he would feel no necessity to insert some kind of qualifier for Jesus. GDon has lifted that quote out of context and misrepresented it.

Two more of his quotes follow directly on that passage, coming at the beginning of chapter 13. The first restates the point made at the end of chapter 12:

"Men like Varro and his fellow-dreamers admit into the ranks of the divinity those whom they cannot assert to have been in their primitive condition anything but men; (and this they do) by affirming that they became gods after their death." [Ibid., p. 142]

Tertullian is continuing his discussion of euhemerized heroes like Saturn, whom the likes of Varro must admit to have been simply men in their pre-divinized stage, which should preclude them from declaring such men to have become gods after their death. Again, there could be no perilous parallel to Jesus in Tertullian's mind. He goes on to ridicule that last point:

"Besides, if they were able to make gods of themselves after their death, pray tell me why they chose to be in an inferior condition at first." [Ibid., p.142]

If humans could turn themselves into gods after death, why didn't they do it earlier? he scoffs. Again, a narrowly focused argument which would not encompass the case of Jesus.

Earlier, in chapter 7, the apologist has engaged in a similar discussion relating to euhemerism. He laments the practice of assigning kings to heaven and turning them into divinities, kings who in their lives were "unchaste men, adulterers, robbers, and parricides." In a nicely fashioned argument, Tertullian chastises his pagan readers for seeking an 'out' by declaring that such traditions are the invention of poets and thus mere fables, and yet they turn about and glorify such poetic license and make such works as those of Homer the basis of their "fine arts" and "the very foundation of your literature." [Ibid., p.135] The apologist thinks to catch his readers in a contradiction:

"But when you say that they only make men into gods after their death, do you not admit that before death the said gods were merely human?" [Ibid., p.136]

He is speaking of the poets making men into gods, and a specific class of men, namely dead kings and heroes. If that is their claim, then the pagans are being irrational in not admitting that such would-be gods must have been simply men to begin with. Once again, this is a specifically focused discussion about a type of pagan practice which Tertullian would hardly think to associate with the case of Jesus, and thus the lack of some kind of qualification in regard to Jesus is of no significance.

In a somewhat different vein, Tertullian has addressed another form of deification in chapter 3, namely that of the "elements." In an argument which is rather turgid, he maintains that it can be shown that the elements are not gods, since they are born of other elements. He states a principle:

"It is a settled point that a god is born of a god, and that what lacks divinity is born of what is not divine." [Ibid., p.131]

The principle is that deity arises from deity, whereas things which are not divine must have proceeded from things which are similarly not divine. Apart from this being in the context of a discussion about things that are not human (the elements), which in itself would tend to preclude any association having to do with Jesus, Tertullian's principle is in fact in keeping with the case of Jesus. For Jesus, in Christian faith, is a deity in his own right, being the son of God (despite having been incarnated through a human mother). Thus, no contradiction would exist and no qualifier would seem to be required.

Unlike his other examples which have all been drawn from Book II of Ad Nationes with its focus on the condemnation of pagan theology, GDon's final offering is from Book I, which is devoted to countering calumnies against Christians. The relevance of this one is the most obscure of the lot.

"What excuse can be found for that insolence which classes the dead of whatever sort as equal with the gods?" [ANF III, p.119]

Here Tertullian is speaking not of any class of individuals, heroes or otherwise, but of the dead in general. The pagans, he says, treat their dead like they do their gods: they honor both, erect temples to both, build altars for both. Tertullian scoffs at treating them as equals, which has the effect of showing contempt for the gods
the very thing that pagans accuse the Christians ofsince it brings the gods down to human level. Thus the above quote has nothing to do with a case like that of Jesus.

Perhaps to make it clearer what GDon has done, let me fashion an analogy. (While not perfectly exact, it captures the idea, I think.) We are all familiar with cartoon films, created by production companies like Disney. My own all-time favorite is the animated Alice in Wonderland. Suppose that in centuries hence it came to be believed by some that the Mad Hatter really existed and Disney's creation was a record of him. An historian sets out to disprove this, showing the genesis of the cartoon character in 1951 and the Hatter's earlier invention in the children's tale by Lewis Carroll. (This is essentially the sort of thing Tertullian is doing
—don't confuse it with any analogy for The Jesus Puzzle!) An apologist for the Hatter comes along and objects. Let us say that a cartoon was created about the Honeymooners (the famous Jackie Gleason sitcom of the 1950s—OK, I'm showing my age) and that Gleason as Ralph Kramden appeared in it in animated form. (Actually, I seem to recall such a cartoon at some time.) The apologist points to this animated rendition of the Honeymooners, and says to the historian, How can you claim that the Hatter is fictitious when we have an example right here of animated characters who are not, since Gleason was a genuine living actor? Shouldn't you have taken that into account? The historian replies: It wasn't relevant or applicable. I'm speaking of cartoon characters which can be demonstrated to have had a literary and filmic origin. Why would I bring in the case of an animated rendition of a real-life actor? GDon has similarly introduced a straw man and placed him on Tertullian's (and my) doorstep. 

All of GDon's examples, which he has made the centerpiece of his rebuttal against my case, have thus evaporated into the fog. There are no parallels in which acknowledged 'historicist' writers have engaged in the same silence as 'mythicist' ones, doing so without embarrassment or perturbation. Instead of "Spotting the Mythicist," GDon is inviting us to Spot the Atomist, namely himself. For this is what he has been engaged in, a form of atomistic exegesis in which passages are lifted entirely out of context and made to assume meanings and significance they do not have. This, of course, is in the best tradition not only of ancient proof-texting, but of more modern purveyors of Old Testament prophecy about Jesus. It seems evident that GDon has simply scanned the text of Ad Nationes, looking for promising keywords relating to gods, death and mortality, something to cast a few nails on the road to waylay the mythicist wagon, then lifted out such passages with no attempt to understand them within their contexts. This is a genuine ignorance of a text and its writer.

Having gone through GDon's objections, let's briefly review the situation in the major second century apologists so as to bring the underlying issue into focus. Looking first at the quote from Minucius Felix which GDon thinks to compare to his selection from Tertullian and Aristides:

"Therefore neither are gods made from dead people, since a god cannot die; nor of people that are born, since everything which is born dies." [23, ANF IV, p.187]

Unlike the case of Ad Nationes, this and other similar statements appear in the context of a debate in defense of the Christian faith, in which the author is presenting an exchange of arguments. There should be no impediment to either side countering an accusation by the other. Thus it makes little sense for the apologist to place in the Christian's own mouth a statement which would rebound negatively on features of his own faith, while providing no proviso or clarification for it. Felix's declarations also have a more universal application than those of Tertullian. I have pointed out that Tertullian's references to "gods" and the deaths thereof are tied to a specific identification with the topic under discussion. By contrast, Felix's claim that "a god cannot die" is not so specific. It is a general statement, and as such, directly contradicts his alleged Christian faith, which is not the case with Tertullian. Felix's character Octavius is presenting and defending his faith, attempting to convert Caecilius. Negative parallels or potential misunderstandings in regard to that faith need to be dealt with. Tertullian faces no such necessity; he is simply trying to get the pagan to see the absurdities of his own mythology. Much the same is true of Aristides who, as I have noted, seems unconcerned with pointing the pagan reader toward a comparison of their respective views of the gods; rather, it is the Christian's ethics which make him superior.

The saving specificity which characterizes comments like those of Tertullian also stands in contrast to several stark statements made by other apologists in addition to Felix, such as Tatian's declaration that he is "God-taught," an exclusion of the idea of any teaching Jesus, or Athenagoras' pronouncement that eternal life is gained by "one thing alone: that (we) know God and his Logos," which is an open rejection of the supposedly traditional basis of orthodox soteriology that eternal life is acquired through Jesus' death and resurrection. And Theophilus has mercilessly ridiculed Autolycus' belief that his gods, Aesclepius and Heracles, were raised from the dead, seemingly oblivious to the identical central tenet of Christian faith. Tertullian, and to some extent Aristides, does not find himself entangled in the same thicket of contradiction and problematic comparisons. Besides, both are forthrightly supportive of Christian orthodox tradition, which cannot be said for Felix, Theophilus, Athenagoras and Tatian.

The alleged point about GDon's list of "problematic statements" supposedly common to all these writers has been that they exist in both "historicist" and "mythicist" apologists, and since neither class of writers offers qualifications for them in the case of Jesus, nothing can be read into anyone's silence. However, a proper examination of these quotations has shown that in fact they have very little in common, but are used in essentially different ways and contexts. At this point, GDon introduces a different notion. The reason why none of the apologists I focus on offers a qualification for Jesus, he says, is not because they lacked such a figure as part of their faith, but because they were aware there was a significant difference between Jesus and the pagan gods in matters of birth and death. They could freely scoff at the pagan conception of gods being born and dying because the idea didn't apply to Jesus. Such an idea was really about "a god coming into existence and its existence coming to an end." Since Jesus was pre-existent, having no beginning, he was never born (despite Mary's likely opinion on the matter), and his death on the cross was not a death because it was not an end to his existence. Thus, so reasoned the apologists, there was no need to offer a proviso for Jesus when ridiculing the idea of the births and deaths of the Greek gods.

One can only shake one's head at such apologetic antics. First of all, in the absence of any discussion of such an alleged distinction, the subtlety of it would surely be lost on any reader, including Christian ones. One can hardly imagine that when hearing about gods being "born" and "dying," Minucius Felix's readers, despite their assumed knowledge about Bethlehem and Calvary, would blithely decide that, oh well, the concepts of birth and death don't apply to Jesus since he pre-existed in heaven and went on to continue his existence there. This also assumes that Christians and pagans alike in the mid-second century were fully versed in and acceptant of the position that Jesus was a pre-existent deity. Apologists always make the mistake of assuming that their tortured ways of viewing things are self-evident and would be clear to all and sundry, both past and present; they assume that the ancients possessed the same sophistication of analysis and argument as the 21st century mind that spends its time calculating the density of angels waltzing on the heads of pins. But quite apart from that, does GDon's distinction really exist? Were the pagan gods regarded as having had no primordial existence? Did we miss the news release that Zeus had died by the middle of the second century? In the mystery cult myths, did the gods cease to exist at the point of their deaths? Certainly not in the case of saviors like Osiris and Adonis. At their mythical 'deaths' such gods hardly puffed into extinction. They underwent their own conquest of death and continued on in an afterlife in which the cultic devotee could share; thus they fall into the same category as the Jesus of Christian orthodoxy, making GDon's argument entirely baseless. And yet as part of this misguided piece of desperation, he has the gall to once again make the accusation that "Doherty clearly hasn't done his homework." But I suppose he's right, in that I have most certainly overlooked all the documents that have made or support such niceties of distinction between Jesus and the pagan gods.

Justin On the Resurrection

GDon notes that I have pointed out a silence on the part of apologists as to the feasibility of physical resurrection. When countering pagan accusations that the body's reconstitution to life is impossible, neither Theophilus nor Tatian appeals to Jesus' own resurrection nor to his miraculous raising of dead people as support for their position. Admittedly, an appeal to such faith declarations might not have had too much impact on the pagan skeptic, but in principle such a silence is left hanging in the air, and the knowledgeable pagan would likely have picked up on it, not to mention the puzzled Christian reader.

Be that as it may, GDon now makes a point that has some validity, but he justifies its use by a bad case of circular argument and begging the question. I am well aware that in his On the Resurrection Justin distinguishes between a faith-based response and one more "secular and physical," suggesting that for a pagan audience it is more appropriate to appeal to the latter in regard to the question of whether the body can be resurrected in flesh. This is all well and good for Justin. We already know through his writings as a whole that he is a believer in an historical Christ and his resurrection in the body. We hardly need to go to this particular document and bother to point out that he preferred secular arguments to support this item of his own faith. Where GDon goes astray is in thinking that he can apply the case of Justin to the other apologists. Justin adopts this approach, GDon is claiming, therefore all the others are doing so as well. But this is begging the question. We don't know from their own writings that the other apologists believe in the physical resurrection of an historical Jesus. They never discuss the relative merits of secular versus faith-based 'proofs' for resurrection, so we don't even know if they had such a distinction in mind, let alone whether they were applying it to the question. GDon is simply assuming both elements and making them a part of the premise of his argument. But at the same time he is declaring them as its conclusion, simply stating that apologists like Tatian and Theophilus had the same approach as Justin, and that this explains their lack of appeal to Jesus' resurrection. I don't know whether he can recognize the question begging circularity at work here
—probably not, as he is once again preoccupied with declaring that I haven't read such-and-such a documentbut this sort of thing pervades too much of his argumentation. (Jacob Aliet, in his article I attached to my original Response, pointed out the same fallacy within GDon's 'adoption of the Logos' argument.)

GDon has also failed to appreciate the distinction between an apologist's concern with providing 'proofs' that might convince a pagan that bodily resurrection is possible, and what sort of response should be approriate and even required of a Christian when he is challenged to "Show me even one that has been raised from the dead!" When Autolycus makes this demand of Theophilus, any preference for secularly argued answers should be beside the point.

Justin and the Old Man by the Sea

GDon is particularly exercised by my analysis of Justin's conversion experience in the early chapters of the Dialogue with Trypho. He claims that "the Dialogue forms a cohesive whole," that what seems to be missing in the conversion account can be filled in from aspects of the total work. But the recounting of the meeting with the old man by the sea can be legitimately analysed as a distinct entity. It is something from his past which Justin is laying out for his hearers. It is not a dialogue (in his capsule paraphrase of these opening chapters, GDon even refers to it as a "monologue"), and Trypho is of course not present on the scene. There should have been no reason not to include some form of reference to an historical Jesus within the conversion account itself, rather than having the reader rely on transporting such a thing into it from other parts of the document. For it is a curious fact that in the discussion with the old man, the historical Christ on earth never puts in an appearance, and in some ways is conspicuous by his absence.

GDon tries to maintain that he is there. The old man has praised the Hebrew prophets who "proclaimed His [i.e., God's] Son, the Christ [sent] by Him." This, supposedly, is a reference to "the most important point," as GDon puts it, in regard to Jesus, namely that Jesus was prophesied in the Hebrew bible, the latter being the main plank in Justin's justification of the faith to Trypho later in the Dialogue. Perhaps so, but this hardly alleviates the void on Jesus and his earthly ministry in the conversion account itself. Besides, it is far from certain that this is the old man's meaning, as I pointed out in my Response. He could simply be stating, in proper Logos-philosophy fashion, that the prophets had proclaimed the nature and existence of the Christ. The "[sent]" element placed in square brackets in the ANF translation, with its assumed meaning of incarnation to earth, is not in the Greek, and any implication of it is extremely uncertain. I went into this in some detail in my earlier Response, though GDon has ignored it.

The main contention GDon grapples with is my point that no mention was made of Jesus the teacher when Justin asks the old man about the necessity and value of "teachers" in regard to understanding the truth. GDon declares: "His [i.e., the old man's] purpose is to contrast the pagan philosophers with the Hebrew prophets. Wise men though those pagan philosophers were, only the ancient Hebrew prophets, 'fearless' and 'filled with the Holy Spirit', announced the truth." But this is hardly an answer; we are still standing at square one. Why, indeed, is this the old man's "purpose"? Why wouldn't Jesus himself, even if in addition to the Hebrew prophets, be juxtaposed opposite the deficiencies of the pagan philosophers? Was Jesus not "filled with the Holy Spirit"; did he not "announce the truth" as well? How could the old man say that the Hebrew prophets alone both saw and announced the truth to men? As well, he has just mentioned that the prophets "were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed." Why wasn't Jesus credited on the same account? Once again, we have what amounts to an outright denial and exclusion of an historical Jesus in a context where he ought to assume a pride of place.

Finding these startling features in a discrete section of Justin's Dialogue, especially when it consists of a recounting of a past experience, is not alleviated by declaring that "the whole Dialogue forms a cohesive whole," as GDon does. Quite clearly, it does not form a whole that is cohesive in this regard, and my recognizing this does not constitute a 'bad misreading' of the text.

Finally, GDon claims that he was not able to follow my "rambling defense" over a statement by Trypho, so I will try to present it in a more succinct fashion. The key passage reads:

"But Christif He has indeed been born, and exists anywhereis unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has not power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."

In the context of the Dialogue, Trypho is no doubt referring to the act of turning a certain historical man into the Christ, since this is what Justin believes and one of the things he is defending. (Thus, in what Justin has made of it, the remark does not constitute the denial of an historical Jesus by his character Trypho.) But Justin, since he includes this accusation in his dialogue, would seem to be dealing with something which was being said in the real world. Otherwise why include it? The question is, what was the nature and context of that accusation in the real world? We cannot simply assume it was the same as what Justin makes of it in his dialogue. In fact, the vague language found in Trypho's mouth, with its lack of a clear reference to an historical Jesus, could well be in keeping with an accusation by the Jews that the Christians had "invented a Christ" from scratch. While nothing can be proven either way, analysts such as Peter Kirby have interpreted the passage only at the superficial level, from the point of view of its context, and have not looked behind that to its possible source and considered what such an accusation could have signified outside the context of the Dialogue. The fact that I have done so does not make this a "bad misreading."

Putting the Touch on Tatian

Apologists have been especially eager to claim Tatian for the historical Jesus camp. Much of their strategy has been to associate him with Justin, whose "pupil" he allegedly was. This information, unfortunately, does not come from Tatian himself, who mentions Justin only briefly, twice. Neither reference tells us more than that Tatian knew Justin and held him in some regard. His status as a pupil is a "tradition" put forward by Irenaeus and Tertullian, and we've already seen the degree of reliability that can be accorded to traditions coming from such figures. Now, they could be right, but the bare bones of the matter does little to justify the usual extravagant claims that, because of such a relationship, Tatian must have shared in all of Justin's views toward the Gospels and the historical Jesus.

GDon tries to challenge my view that Irenaeus knew of Tatian only through tradition, suggesting that they were "contemporaries or near contemporaries in time and space." (Hmmm...was Mary pregnant or only nearly pregnant?) His suggestion that they both "spent time in Rome" may be meant to imply that they could have met, but there is no evidence for this. In fact, it is virtually impossible, as Irenaeus' sole known visit to Rome, from Lyons (he had previously come from Smyrna in Asia Minor to Gaul where he attached himself to the church there), occurred around 177, and by this time Tatian had returned to the East and seems to have died. Nor is there anything to suggest that Irenaeus, in Rome or anywhere else, had become intimately knowledgeable about Tatian's history, character or writings to make his claims about Tatian anything more than "tradition."

To demonstrate the unfounded nature of these types of slants which apologists regularly try to foist on us, let's look at Irenaeus' references to Tatian. These, as I said, total two:

"A certain man named Tatian first introduced the blasphemy. He was a hearer of Justin's, and as long as he continued with him he expressed no such views; but after his martyrdom he separated from the Church, and, excited and puffed up by the thought of being a teacher, as if he were superior to others, he composed his own peculiar type of doctrine..." [Against Heresies, Bk. I; ANF I, p.353]

"False, therefore, is that man who first started this idea, or rather, this ignorance and blindness— Tatian. As I have already indicated, this man entangled himself with all the heretics." [Op cit., Bk IV; Ibid., p.457-8]

There is no hint of personal familiarity here. Irenaeus' information that Tatian "was a hearer of Justin" cannot be said to be any more than a tradition Irenaeus picked up in Rome, more than a decade after the supposed fact. I'm willing to accept that it is basically true, though who knows how much was being read into it
—and is still being read into it—by Christians in the years following Justin's death and Tatian's apostasy and return to the east. The doctrines of Tatian that Irenaeus criticizes were associated with the 'heretical' sect that Tatian formed, known as the Encratites, but this seems to have been the product of his post-Roman period back in Syria. We don't know how Irenaeus acquired the information he gives about Tatian's heresy, whether from documents or hearsay, whether from Rome or the east. But we have to keep in mind that Irenaeus devoted his life after 177 to the task of documenting and condemning the various heresies that rivalled the new orthodoxy of his day, so the fact that he possesses this data is no secure indicator that it was available to everyone or even that many were familiar with it. We cannot, as GDon does, "assume that Tatian's beliefs were widely known," especially to the average Christian without printing press, libraries or an internet. The Roman empire was saturated with a cacophany of apostles and apologists of every sort, most of whose voices have been lost. GDon also worries about what the pagans would have thought Tatian or Theophilus meant by their "Logos" and how they would have compared it with Justin's, but this is being far too analytical, as one can hardly envision pagans having any detailed knowledge or interest in the matter, taking little notice of such esoterica much less losing any sleep over it.

Irenaeus' opinion that Tatian did not express any heretical ideas until after his association with Justin, whatever it might have been, tells us nothing. Silence is not regarded as heretical, and from Tatian's surviving Address to the Greeks we might assume he made no outright denial of an historical Jesus which Irenaeus could have found objectionable. In his late second century world on the edge of the civilized empire, Irenaeus would simply have read into whatever of Tatian's writings he had access to the same things everyone else has tried to see in them since that time.

As for why Tatian did not offer an open objection to Justin's acceptance of a Gospel-based historical Jesus (GDon asks, "why not say Justin was wrong?"), we might answer that it could have been out of deference to a man he regarded as "admirable." But we might also say that, in a somewhat subtle way, Tatian did just that. "We too tell stories," in which an earthly incarnation of the Son is presented, could well be a gentle chiding on his part that such a thing is only a fable, much like the Greek myths are only fables, though he is not prepared to go so far as to ridicule it in the same way he does the pagan stories, and so he defends those of his own religion as being "not nonsense." (Let's not look for consistently elegant expression and careful presentation in the give-and-take of emotional argument among defenders of the faith.)

This might be the place to introduce a fresh idea, one that proceeded from a query in my recent Reader Feedback. It was suggested by a reader that the reason Gospel details are not included in most Christian writings until around 180 CE (the major exception being Justin) may have been because they were viewed as non-literal myths meant to convey spiritual truths. Justin and a minority of Christians took them literally, while educated apologists and others did not. As I responded, this could allow us to accept the Gospels as products of the late first century and early part of the second, known perhaps in many circles but not regarded as historical documents for several decades, in some places for longer than others. It would allow us to grant most of the apologists a knowledge of those Gospels, yet because they viewed them as a form of allegorical mythology, they could ignore or dismiss them in their presentations of the faith. This would involve only a little tweaking of the position I've hitherto held, and it may be an attractive and useful way of looking at the question. It offers a better reason than the usual explanation for the apologists' silence on an historical Jesus, and it fits rather nicely into what Tatian has to say on the subject. Even if some confusion may have arisen in pagan quarters over the question of historicity, the apologists would not have faced the same criticism for failing to include the Gospel character and events in their defenses of the faith. It might be objected that we ought to find some plainer reference in the documentary record to a dispute over "allegory vs. history" in regard to Jesus and the Gospels, but hints are there, and the initial view would not technically have fallen under the heading of a "heresy." In any case, it's an idea worth giving further consideration to.

Beating Around the Bush

In discussing Theophilus of Antioch, GDon quotes a passage from his apology which offers a description of the Word/Logos, claiming that "any pagan or Christian reading that passage would have believed that this IS an inference to the incarnation." I won't quote the rather lengthy passage, but simply point out that it is nothing but pure Logos philosophy, with no such inference. In this passage Theophilus speaks of the "spirit-inspired" men whose holy writings "teach us," and he names one of them
"John"apparently quoting from the opening of the Johannine Prologue. This is enough for GDon, who maintains that "the reason for this is to associate the Word with the events in the Prologue of John, which includes 'the Word became flesh and dwelt among us'." But here is the point I raised at the beginning of this rebuttal, and I will continue to focus on it. Why be so obscure? If this is presumably as late as 180, when everyone was supposed to know everything anyway, why not spell out this "association" with a life on earth directly? Why do it by convoluted inference, one that is in danger of being lost amid other inconsistencies in the apologist's presentation? If "John" is regarded by Theophilus as an apostle of the Christ (with his name actually included in the original text as opposed to being a marginal gloss), someone who had created a supposed historical record through eyewitness, why refer to such an author as "spirit-inspired," implying knowledge through revelation? Why, when going on to speak of the Word's activities, does Theophilus not plainly present the career on earth, the "dwelling among us in flesh" which GDon claims is inferred, rather than the highly esoteric and thoroughly Logos-philosophy idea of the Word being sent by God to some "place" because he is capable of being "found in a place." (Rather than an inference to incarnation, this is an idea that has to do with the nature of God and his aspects, as I explained at length in my Response article). I ask again: what purpose would be served by being so obscure?

And not only obscure. GDon tries to cope with my question of why, on the face of things, the apologists insist on making apparent denials of the very essence of the Christian position. I quoted Theophilus' astonishing statement that the Word is God's Son

"not as the poets and writers of myths talk of the sons of gods begotten from intercourse, but as...the Word that always exists, residing within the heart of God."

If everyone knew that Jesus the Word had come to earth through the female birth canal (even if  Christians were claiming that the inseminating male member belonged to a spiritual white dove), why make a statement that the average person could only view as a blatant falsification? GDon appeals to the same bizarre rationale he did earlier: that Christians saw Christ as pre-existent and thus not begotten, one who always existed within the heart of God. But if Theophilus was concerned with correcting the misconception that the Word was born of intercourse, he surely needed to explain just exactly how the Word was conceived and arrived on earth, that his eternal existence was something distinct from the other gods (which I showed above is erroneous anyway), not ignore the matter entirely and speak only of his heavenly nature. What reader, pagan or otherwise, could possibly ferret out such implications, such an understanding? But it is not only the hapless ancient reader who is expected to grasp all this, I am once again accused of showing my own ignorance of "the literature of the period" for not realizing what Theophilus' devious mode of expression was getting at, which I guess has to include the epistles of Paul and the like, since they talk of their Christ's pre-existence with God before the creation of the world.

GDon complains that my ignorance is further shown when I object to Theophilus' statement that the Christian doctrine is not recent, that it is "not modern or fabulous but ancient and true." Apparently there could have been no possible misunderstanding in the reader's mind, despite the word on the street being that Christianity had begun with Jesus of Nazareth scarcely a century and a half before. Everyone could be relied on to realize that when an apologist like Theophilus spoke of the faith's ancient genesis in the Hebrew scriptures and prophets, he was really referring to them prophesying the life of that man, despite neglecting to mention the man himself or to point out how such prophecies were fulfilled in him. Well, putting a spin on something is one thing; at least the person or event being spun gets a mention. Leaving out an essential element, or saying something which in the absence of that essential element becomes an evident lie, is another. Once again, GDon appeals to quotations from Ignatius and Justin, who make a clear link in their writings between such ancient prophecies and the man in recent history they supposedly prophesied. Once again, he argues that because certain writers are doing this in the plain light of day, the others who leave everything in the shadows have to be doing the same thing, and how in my ignorance can I not see that? I might ask in response, how can he not see that this is simply begging the question?

But his most outlandish twist comes in response to my objection about Theophilus' declaration that Christians alone possess the truth, "inasmuch as we are taught by the Holy Spirit, who spoke in the holy prophets and foretold all things." I asked if this was not a good example of the outright exclusion of an historical Jesus, who should have been regarded as the prime teacher of Christian truth. Whether the apologists were reluctant to mention him or not, for political reasons or any other, it is hardly acceptable for them to fashion a substitute picture which could make no room for him, which amounted to an outright lie as stated. GDon's explanation? The apologists really were speaking about Christ as teacher, since it was the pre-existent Christ in the guise of the Holy Spirit who spoke through scripture and the prophets. This is a page taken from J. P. Holding, who explains that Paul could speak of "God" teaching us to love one another (1 Thess. 4:9) because Jesus was a part of God, and this makes Paul's words technically accurate as a reference to Jesus. Obviously, the apologists were amazingly trustful of their readers' perception and ingenuity in solving the puzzles they presented, rejecting any notion that the historical Jesus needed to at least be alluded to for the things they were writing to make any sense. Talk about batteries not included!

GDon also tries to wriggle out from under the apologist's notable lack of an atonement doctrine in their statements on soteriology. He declares that there was no such official doctrine of salvation until the fourth century Councils. If by that he means "church sanctioned," of course he is right. Christianity enjoyed not even the semblance of unity for the first three centuries of its existence, and individual apologists and preachers answered to no one. But is any Christian scholar going to maintain that the prime unofficial concept of salvation regarding Jesus of Nazareth was that his death had atoned for mankind's sins (as in 1 Corinthians 15:3), and that his resurrection guaranteed the believer's own (as in Romans 6:5)? The atonement doctrine is also in evidence in the Synoptics (Mark's "ransom for many" in 10:45, and the eucharistic scenes), though the author of John plays it down in favor of a Revealer Son and the acquiring of knowledge through him. If the apologists are presumed to lie in some sort of line from the Pauline and Gospel-based expressions of Christianity that preceded them, how can they so consistently abandon or bury the atonement idea and the historical events of incarnation, death and resurrection it requires?

GDon declares that I offer nothing new on Athenagoras or the Epistle to Diognetus. The latter part of the remark is strange, since I spent several paragraphs detailing my own revised interpretation of Diognetus' view on the question of incarnation. But let's move on to everybody's favorite smoking gun and see how GDon interprets the crime scene found in Minucius Felix. (I should try to interest Jerry Bruckheimer in creating a new CSI franchise out of this fascinating little document
—which, by the way, GDon agrees is probably to be dated around the 155-160 mark, and not in the third century or dependent on Tertullian's Apology.)

A Christian Whodunit

By way of preliminary, I will mention a couple of those 'secondary' passages in Minucius Felix criticizing pagan religion which seem to have uncomfortable consequences for supposed Christian belief. GDon's explanation for how a Christian could, without qualm, have asked "For why, if [the gods] were born, are they not born in the present day also?" was discussed above: his apologetic hair-splitting as to whether a pre-existent god could be said to be "born." At the same time, he has missed the central idea of Octavius' comment, which is that the Greeks had all sorts of myths about gods who had been 'born' in ancient or primordial times, but why didn't it happen that gods put in an appearance and did something on earth in the present time? I think the average mind would certainly consider that the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth and his redemptive career on earth would fall into that category, whether or not he had been pre-existent in heaven prior to his 'birth' in Bethlehem. It is especially bizarre to maintain that a multiplicity of apologists would insist on applying this type of abstruse reasoning to their defenses of the faith.

GDon wields his razor on another hapless hair in explaining the Christian's taunt: "Is it not ridiculous either to grieve for what you worship, or to worship that over which you grieve?" He asks, "Can Doherty show that the Church celebrated a grieving period at Easter, where Christians grieved for Christ's death?" He compares this to the rites where women wept over Tammuz. This is surely the ultimate technicality. GDon can hardly demonstrate that nowhere, in any Christian congregations for the first few centuries, groups of believers did not meditate on the death of Christ and grieve for the suffering and death he underwent, whether it was associated with a particular time of year or not, or whether it was an 'official' practice determined by a centralized "church" (which didn't exist) or not. This ignores the expressions of "grieving" in the writings of individual commentators of the faith. Paul's concern for the "sufferings of Christ" is obvious, as is Ignatius' fixation on Christ having truly suffered in the flesh so that his own sufferings would not be for naught; even the Gospels represent a grieving element on the part of the followers of Jesus after his death. In any case, the deaths of savior gods like Tammuz and Adonis and Attis were part of a pagan belief system which was in direct parallel to the belief system of the dying and rising savior god Christ Jesus, and if grieving over the dying phase was a natural part of the former, is GDon or anyone else going to claim that it was not part of the latter, or would not be perceived as such by any pagan observer? Scoffing at the idea of grieving over a dead god that is being worshiped, such as Felix makes his Christian character do, would invite immediate and caustic accusations of hypocrisy.

But enough of this. Let's convene the court on the central case of the crucified man and his cross, Minucius Felix's true smoking gun, and see if we can't get a final verdict on this "criminal" case. I'll enter into the court's exhibits the relevant passages as presented by GDon in his rebuttal article, including his handy background colorings in blue, green and yellow:

"... he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve..." [chapter 9, ANF vol. IV, p. 177]

"Lo, for you there are threats, punishments, tortures, and crosses; and that no longer as objects of adoration, but as tortures to be undergone..." [chapter 12, Ibid., p. 179]

"These, and such as these infamous things, we are not at liberty even to hear; it is even disgraceful with any more words to defend ourselves from such charges. For you pretend that those things are done by chaste and modest persons, which we should not believe to be done at all, unless you proved that they were true concerning yourselves. For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on mortal man, for all his help is put an end to with the extinction of the man. The Egyptians certainly choose out a man for themselves whom they may worship; him alone they propitiate; him they consult about all things; to him they slaughter victims; and he who to others is a god, to himself is certainly a man whether he will or no, for he does not deceive his own consciousness, if he deceives that of others. "Moreover, a false flattery disgracefully caresses princes and kings, not as great and chosen men, as is just, but as gods; whereas honour is more truly rendered to an illustrious man, and love is more pleasantly given to a very good man. Thus they invoke their deity, they supplicate their images, they implore their Genius, that is, their demon; and it is safer to swear falsely by the genius of Jupiter than by that of a king. Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it." [chapter 29, Ibid., p.191]

First let's hear what the defense has concluded from these passages. Exhibit A is the crucified criminal, as represented by the blue blocks.

"M. Felix declares that the pagans were wrong to think of the person concerned as a "criminal". He wasn't even an earthly man (this matches Tertullian's statement in Ad Nationes: "mortal beings (come) from mortals, earthly ones from earthly"). The Egyptians choose a man to worship, but that man is deceiving others by making himself out as a god. Love is given to a good man."

Objection! I submit that it does not say, directly or indirectly, that the pagans were wrong in thinking that the crucified man was a criminal; nor does it say that he was not a criminal, or that he was not an earthly man. The attorney for the defense is putting words in the author's mouth. What Felix does say is that the pagans are wrong to think that a criminal deserved to be worshiped as a god, or that a mortal is capable of being worshiped as a god. Period. One is not justified in turning that statement inside out and declaring that he means to say that the man was not a criminal and was not a mortal. Rather, in straightforward fashion, Felix is saying that this "criminal" and this "mortal" is not to be worshiped as a god. If he had wanted to convey GDon's interpretation, he could easily have said so in very clear terms. The remarks following about the Egyptian man do not serve this purpose, as I will demonstrate. By claiming that they do, GDon has simply engaged in another of his atomistic practices, seizing on words and phrases which to him seem vaguely pertinent, and holding them up as implying what he wants the passage to say.

"What is the parallel that M. Felix is making to pagan beliefs? Isn't it that Christians themselves also choose a man (who actually isn't earthly, but truly a god), and that he couldn't have been a wicked person, since 'love is only given to a good man'?"

It sounds as though GDon is pleading with the reader to try to see such things in the words, but seemingly not too convinced that they will be able to. And rightly so. I submit that any reader, ancient or modern, would not be able to follow such a line of thought. Nor does GDon attempt to deconstruct the passage to show how this alleged meaning can be arrived at. He certainly offers no analysis which can demonstrate how the later idea that "love is only given to a good man" can reflect back on the crucified criminal and transform his character. This is more long-distance atomism. Instead, I will demonstrate how the passage can be followed to arrive at quite a different meaning.

Nor is it at all clear to me what the defense's reference to a quote from Ad Nationes is supposed to show, or how it even vaguely "matches" Felix's language. Setting them side by side:

"mortal beings (come) from mortals, earthly ones from earthly" [Bk. II, ch. XI; see ANF III, p.142]

"you wander far from the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God."  [I suppose, technically, GDon is saying that it matches his "he wasn't even an earthly man," but these are his own words, a meaning he has imposed on the passage.]

In any case, Tertullian's comment is in the context (we dealt with it earlier in the section on 'spotting the mythicist') of a euhemeristic analysis of the nature of mythical gods like Saturn: if we can see that the descendents are human, then their allegedly godly ancestor must have been human as well. The court can be forgiven if it does not understand how this in any way "matches" either Felix's original thought or what GDon has turned it into. Does GDon himself even know? Or has he simply engaged in another bit of atomistic word association?

Exhibit B: the cross
. The defense includes a passage (noted above) from chapter 12 of Minucius Felix.

"Lo, for you there are threats, punishments, tortures, and crosses; and that [i.e., the latter] no longer as objects of adoration, but as tortures to be undergone; fires also, which you both predict and fear. Where is that God who is able to help you when you come to life again, since he cannot help you while you are in this life?"

I have quoted a little more to show the context. The speaker is the pagan Caecilius, who scoffs at the Christians for believing that their God will lead them to a happy afterlife when he cannot even save them from the horrors of this one. One of those horrors is the cross, and he remarks in passing that from an object of adoration, the cross has become the symbol and experience of their suffering, in that many of them are crucified. GDon quotes this passage as support for the contention that the pagans accuse the Christians of worshiping crosses. No argument there. But then he says: "This matches the charge being brought against Christians: that they adored actual crosses." (This seems somewhat poorly worded, and I gather he means "illustrates" rather than "matches"; perhaps that's the meaning he had in mind earlier, though I can't see that it would elucidate the previous matter any more clearly.) Here, he has drawn a specific inference which I submit is once again a case of hair-splitting. He suggests that Christians are being accused of bowing down before physical ("actual") crosses or representations of them, as opposed to holding the sign of the cross in some kind of reverence or devotion.

Using this distinction, the defense attempts an argument which peters out in a couple of vague statements. Except for one, which is the quote from Felix in response to the cross accusation: "Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for." That seems anything but vague. Whether signs or actual crosses, Felix is denying that Christians worship them, or treat them with any deference whatever. GDon, as I've said, having split his hair, implies that Felix is saying, we don't worship crosses as such, as physical entities, but we value the "significance of the sign of the cross." To prove this, he has presented his green passage above, spotlighting the idea that "the shape is formed when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched." This is simply another atomistic exercise, as though this reference to the assumption of a cross-like stance when praying shows that Christians hold the sign itself in some honor relating to their crucified man. But this claim cannot be demonstrated, and ignores the immediate context of the reference, as I will show.

I will note for the court that his "yellow" passage does a little more than GDon realizes. In the previous chapter (28), Felix has dealt with the calumnies against the Christians that Caecilius in chapter 9 had enumerated up to that point in the list: that the religion of the Christians is one of lust and promiscuity, including incest, and that it reverences the head of an ass and even the genitals of its priests. After his response to these accusations, Felix says (and here I'll use my own translation, which I think is clearer than any I've seen):

"These and similar indecencies we do not wish to hear; it is disgraceful having to defend ourselves from such charges. People who live a chaste and virtuous life are falsely charged by you with acts which we would not consider possible, except that we see you doing them yourselves."
GDon labels this passage as relating to the "pagans are the same" defense. Here again, GDon does not realize the trouble this gets him into. Note first of all that the quote cannot be restricted only to what has come before, and not to what comes after. In fact, GDon's presentation of it implies that it is pertinent to his argument, and therefore he must accord it relevance to what comes after. One of the things that comes after (following the part about the crucified man and his cross) is Felix's response to the accusation that Christians drink the blood of infants they have murdered. This is one of the "indecencies" he has lamented in the quote above, and it continues the theme mentioned there, in that Felix responds by accusing the pagans, and their gods, of doing just that sort of thing themselves: murdering their children and even, in the case of Saturn, devouring them. Are we to believe, then, that these kinds of charges and responses are bookends in a passage which nevertheless contains between them an entirely different charge, one that Felix does not regard as an "indecency" against which it is "disgraceful having to defend ourselves"? Can we believe that this kind of comment would not be seen as in danger of 'contaminating' a subject which should be dear and sacred to him, one he would never want to have associated with those other indecencies?

Yet Felix's own language in juxtaposing the charge relating to Jesus with the horrors of lust, incest and reverencing priestly genitals virtually ensures that such a linkage will be created in the reader's mind. After the passage quoted above, he simply goes on to say: "Nam, when you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross..." Nam is a conjunction meaning "for" or "moreover," and it conveys every implication that Felix is simply offering yet another example of the things it is disgraceful having to defend oneself against. His tone in handling that defense suggests no distinction in nature or quality in regard to the crucified man accusation. None of the translations manages to avoid this uncomfortable progression, although one tries to obscure it by making the division between chapters 28 and 29 fall after the quote above, rather than before it where it belongs.

I suggested that Felix's inclusion of the subject of a crucified Jesus with these other horrors was a "glaring anomaly," that if he held orthodox views toward the subject, he should have conducted his rebuttal to this particular pagan accusation in an entirely separate place, making it a centerpiece of its own. GDon allows: "Perhaps." Common sense would suggest that there is no "perhaps" about it. All GDon can say is that Felix "was more concerned with addressing the criticisms against the Christians of the day," which hardly answers the objection in any logical fashion. (Perhaps he is saying Felix was distracted, and overlooked the unfortunate juxtaposition he was making.) He has also strained logicality in styling the above quote (the yellow passage) as relating to the "pagans are the same" defense. Further to my remarks above, if the pagans are indeed "the same," meaning that they do the very things they accuse the Christians of (which I agree is what Felix is saying), this means that they are "guilty" of the same degree of reprehensibility, and that such things done by either side are something to be condemned. But this idea would encompass all the accusations in the list, not just the 'bookends', and this would include the worship of the crucified man and his cross. If Felix wanted to exempt this particular accusation, and spare it from the clear implications of his own language, he would have to say so in no uncertain terms. GDon has shot himself in the foot here; like so much else, he simply hasn't thought out the implications of his own arguments.

With the court's permission, I will now proceed to deconstruct these exhibits and trace a line of thought throughout the passage which is logically consistent and does not try to read any preferred meaning into it which is not evidently there. This will require a bit of repetition, and an introduction of other translations. We'll start with Exhibit A on the crucified man (I'll preface it with the main 'accusation' passage from chapter 9).

"... he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve..."
. . . .
"For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on mortal man, for all his help is put an end to with the extinction of the man. The Egyptians certainly choose out a man for themselves whom they may worship; him alone they propitiate; him they consult about all things; to him they slaughter victims; and he who to others is a god, to himself is certainly a man whether he will or no, for he does not deceive his own consciousness, if he deceives that of others. "Moreover, a false flattery disgracefully caresses princes and kings, not as great and chosen men, as is just, but as gods; whereas honour is more truly rendered to an illustrious man, and love is more pleasantly given to a very good man."

I shouldn't need to belabor the point that the bare response Felix gives to the accusation ("For in be believed God") contains in itself none of the meaning GDon would like to give it. As I said earlier, it simply says that
the pagans are wrong to think that a criminal deserves to be worshiped as a god, or that a mortal is capable of being worshiped as a god. The sentence itself refers to the crucified man as a mortal and a criminal, and the next sentence is equally negative, calling anyone who rests his hope on such a mortal, especially one who dies, "miserable." GDon tacitly acknowledges this, and relies for his alleged meaning on what is subsequently said and what is the claimed implication of those subsequent remarks for the crucified man. The first point to be made is that if Felix wanted to counter the negative effect of what he has said up to this point, if he wished to show that Caecilius' accusation was erroneous and misguided, he could have done it quite plainly, simply by stating that the crucified man in question was not a criminal, and was not a mortal but in fact a god. He did not have to do it by a process that is so obscure as to be unintelligible, something demonstrated by the fact that GDon's (not to mention others') 'explanation' of the passage is also obscure and almost unintelligible.

Part of the problem is in translation, chiefly in the link between the first two sentences above and the following remarks on the Egyptians. One of the most difficult and idiomatic aspects of a language is in the use of words that serve conjunctive purposes. They are crucial to understanding the relation between one thought and another. In this passage, the sentence introducing the Egyptians begins with: "Aegyptii sane hominem sibi quem colant eligunt": The ANF (used by GDon) translates: "The Egyptians certainly choose out a man for themselves whom they may worship." The Latin "sane" is literally: "certainly, very much so." But what significance does it have? How does it relate what follows to what comes before? I cannot speak for how an ancient Roman would have perceived the writer's intended meaning (neither I nor my Latin training are close enough to that time), but for modern readers, I suggest that the meaning is anything but lucid when one relies simply on the Latin words. In sticking to a literal path, the ANF hardly throws clear light on the matter. Nor does Freese's translation [The Octavius of Minucius Felix], which also uses "certainly." G. W. Clarke [Ancient Christian Writers #39] is a little more innovative and offers: "And I know for a fact that people in Egypt choose a man..." But try reading this after the preceding sentences and see whether it clarifies the relationship between the two, between the declaration that the pagans are wrong about Christians worshiping a crucified mortal and the account of the Egyptians who also worship a man. For me, it does not. There is one translation, however, which I think gets us on an intelligible track, the one in The Fathers of the Church, v.10 (I don't have the specific translator's name). I will give this translation with that of the preceding two sentences (and add a subsequent conjunction):

"Moreover, when you ascribe to us the worship of a malefactor and his cross, you are traveling a long way from the truth, in assuming that an evil-doer deserved, or a mortal could bring it about, to be believed in as God. That man is to be pitied indeed whose entire hope rests on a mortal man, at whose death all assistance coming from him is at an end. I grant you that the Egyptians choose a man for their worship....Yet..."

Here, the conjunctive elements make things intelligible, and do not require twisting any statement into a meaning the words themselves don't have. Felix is saying (I'm paraphrasing): 'please do not accuse us of worshiping a crucified man who was a criminal ("malefactor") and a mortal, for no criminal deserves to be so worshiped, nor could (such) a mortal manage to get himself regarded as a god. In fact, anyone who places that kind of hope in a mortal is pitiable, since his hope will perish with the mortal's death.' Thus far no qualification, no softening of the negative imagery, is offered. Octavius' words are a straightforward condemnation of the ideas expressed in the accusation. Then he says (again paraphrasing), 'now I grant you that the Egyptians do indulge in such a thing, namely that they worship a man as a god...' This thought is given in contrast with what he has just expressed disapproval of. He has condemned what the Christians are being accused of, but then allows ("I grant you...") that the Egyptians do this very thing. But what is his verdict on what the Egyptians are doing? For his comments about the Egyptians to have any possible reflection back on his remarks about the crucified man in a way that would reverse the latter's negativity, in a way that would make it OK to worship a crucified man (let alone to regard him as a god rather than a mortal), Felix would at the very least have to be approving of what the Egyptians do. Yet he is the direct opposite. Look at what he actually says, and here I'll repeat that part of the passage using the Fathers translation:

"I grant you that the Egyptians choose a man for their worship; they propitiate only him, they consult him on all matters, they slay sacrificial victims in his honor. Yet, though he is a god in the eyes of others, in his own he is certainly a man, whether he likes it or not, for he does not deceive his own consciousness, whatever he does to that of others. The same applies to princes and kings, who are not hailed as great and outstanding men, as would be proper, but overwhelmed with flatteries falsely praising them as gods; whereas, honor would be the most fitting tribute to a man of distinction, and affection the greatest comfort to a benefactor [or, " a good man" as in GDon's ANF translation]."

This passage must illustrate the point Felix is trying to make in regard to the crucified man, otherwise he would not include it. It would make no sense if the two sentiments did not agree. But they do: he states disapproval of the worship of a crucified man, and disapproval of the Egyptian practice of treating a man as a god, as well as of deifying kings and princes. He declares the man of the Egyptians (some judge that the reference is to the figure of Anubis) to have been a mortal, even if he has deceived the Egyptians into regarding him as a god, and makes it clear that he disapproves of the whole practice of turning men into gods. How can such a sentiment possibly serve to reverse the effect of Felix's negative declaration about the crucified man of the Christians? Rather, it's supportive, because the idea of condemning the turning of a mortal into a god is common between them both. Felix goes on to another
parallelidea, that kings and princes should not be made more of than they actually are or deserve: they should not be "falsely prais[ed] as gods" but simply "hailed as great and outstanding men." This idea is again hardly supportive of reading the opposite meaning into Felix's remarks about the crucified man, but rather supports once more the condemnation which is clearly there, that Christians should not be accused of turning a man into a god. How could Felix be implying with favor that Christians regarded the crucified man as more than a mortal when he is openly vilifying such a practice by the Egyptians?

Finally, Felix enlarges on his recommendation of how good princes and kings should be treated (that is, hail them as outstanding men, but don't deify them), by saying that a man of distinction
"an illustrious man" in the ANFshould be accorded honor, and that a benefactor"a good man" in the ANFshould be given affection, or love. This statement has nothing whatever to do with the Christian situation; it is a further way of expressing what he has just said about princes and kings. What it does do is make it impossible to interpret the remarks about the Christian situation in a way that is contrary to the plain words, for Felix is saying that love and honor are to be given to a man, that these are the fitting reactions to good men. Nor can one take the simple phrase itself, that "love is given to a good man," and declare that it is meant to reflect back onto the crucified man when no such progression of ideas can be traced through the passage. The phrase cannot serve to reverse Felix's adamant condemnation of Caecilus for accusing Christians of worshiping a criminal and a mortal because the connective tissue simply isn't there. Thus, the atomistic usage for which GDon is trying to co-opt this statement is unworkable. For any reader to perceive such an obscure meaning and effect, if it were intended, would be nothing short of clairvoyant. When one adds the context of the phrase, namely how one ought to treat princes and kings, we would need to supplement clairvoyance with a course in modern apologetics.

Of course, there is a corollary to all this. Not only has a deconstruction of the passage revealed that the remarks concerning the Egyptians cannot possibly support the wishful meaning that commentators have traditionally tried to force on Felix's words, the result is the opposite: those remarks clearly demonstrate that the straightforward negative reading of Felix's response is indeed the right one, despite the refusal of centuries to accept it. The two elements of the passage, the crucified man assertion and its elucidation in the Egyptian example, are mutually supportive and explanatory. This makes it a true smoking gun, for the author of this apology is rejecting the validity or acceptability of the worship of a crucified man as a proper part of the Christian faith. This is not to say he is denying the historicity of such a man or event; in fact, it indicates that some circles of the faith known to pagans held the viewpoint he is rejecting
(a situation hardly surprising, as we know it existed by the middle of the 2nd century). But this does not provide any necessary support for that man or event being historical. On the contrary, if an apologist could dismiss what orthodoxy now regards as the central element of the Christian movement, this would virtually necessitate a rejection of the notion that the religion could have grown out of such an event or initial interpretation of it. In other words, the Christian Jesus could never have existed.

But on to Exhibit B, the cross. Again, there is a juxtaposition of remarks here which the ANF translation fails to make clear. I'll once again have recourse to the translation in the Fathers of the Church:

"As to crosses, we do not adore them, nor do we wish for them. It is clearly you who, consecrating gods made of wood, in all likelihood adore wooden crosses as essential parts of your gods...."

Following on the negativity of the remarks about the crucified man, confirmed by their expansion in the remarks about the Egyptians, the opening statement here that "we do not adore" crosses should be even more securely read as an unqualified rejection of the idea of worshiping or reverencing crosses. The same kind of elucidating expansion as in the case of the crucified man and the Egyptians is in evidence here. As a contrast to what he says the Christians do not do (i.e., worship crosses), the apologist retorts that the pagans themselves are guilty of such things, and that the cross is widely present in pagan artifacts. Here he goes on to say (following on the above quote, from the Fathers translation):

"...What else are your military standards and banners and ensigns but gilded and decorated crosses? Your trophies of victory represent not only the shape of a simple cross, but even that of a man fastened to it. Indeed, we see the sign of the cross naturally formed by a ship when it carries a full press of sail, or when it glides over the sea with outspread oars. When a crossbeam is raised aloft, it forms the sign of a cross; so, too, when a man stretches out his hands to worship God with a pure heart. In this way, the sign of the cross either is the basis of the system of nature or it shapes the objects of your cult."

There is no logical
way that such remarks can be intended (or used by modern apologists) to support an opposite meaning for what is clearly said in that opening statement, that "we do not adore (crosses), nor do we wish for them." If only because the opening statement itself sets a negative tone, the following remarks start out by sounding critical, as the Fathers translation suggests, which can hardly support or convey a positive attitude toward Christians reverencing crosses; if the "you adore wooden crosses as parts of your gods" were not meant to be critical, then Felix wouldn't have had to deny that Christians hold crosses in reverence, or phrase things in a manner that spells denial. He could openly say that it's OK to do so. His subsequent comments on the occurrence of crosses may sound more neutral, but that is because he has gone on to describe their presence in more natural things. (Here, incidentally, we can see that the reference to the cross occurring in the prayer stance is not offered with any pious overtones, as GDon would like to have it; it is given simply as another example of "natural" occurrence.)

Perhaps recognizing the uncomfortable implications conveyed in the passage, GDon tries a different tack. As I said earlier, he implies that there was a distinction between worshiping "actual" crosses and simply regarding the sign of the cross with some devotion. The pagan accusation allegedly related only to the former, which Felix could legitimately condemn while defending the latter. The trouble is, there is nothing in the passage which actually suggests such a distinction, or a dual condemnation-defense based on it. Such an obscure implication would not only be lost on the reader, there would be no necessity for Felix to indulge in it; he could simply spell it out.

As I said, GDon's contention that the passage detailing crosses in the pagan world is positive in tone is based on the reference to the cross being formed "when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched" (meaning arms, sideways). But a reading of this phrase in context has shown that there is no indication that, even if it had a positive connotation for Felix, he has introduced it for that reason, or that its positivity was meant to reflect on anything else. This is GDon's atomistic use of the idea. Felix has in fact presented a mix of things here. His point is, we don't use, value or worship crosses, but you do, and he illustrates this by enumerating a number of things: they are found associated with the pagans' own gods; they appear in their standards and trophies; and they are formed 'naturally,' which he exemplifies in ships and in the prayer stance. These varied arguments are offered to illustrate why it is not legitimate to accuse the Christians of adoring crosses as though it is some kind of evil: because the pagans do it too, because they use the shape deliberately, because it occurs naturally. GDon claims that Felix is "pointing out parallels," but this is his imposed reading. There is no obvious parallel between a statement that says 'we don't do such-and-such a thing' followed by examples in which the opponent does. I submit that in the world of logic, that's a contrast, something in opposition. If Felix did regard all his examples as having positive connotations, there would have been no necessity for him to state anything resembling a denial of Christian interest in crosses, much less put it so blatantly; he could simply have said, we all do it and it's everywhere. For GDon to declare that Felix's "we do not adore them, nor do we wish for them" is meant to be "a defense of the sign of the cross" is to play the apologetic game of making black white.

Once again, the court should draw the corollary that if a Christian writer, without qualification, could openly denigrate a worship of, or devotion to, crosses on the part of his faith, such imagery and ideas based on real historical events could hardly have formed the backbone of the movement from its beginning. This smoking gun is in fact double-barrelled.

These statements have been read from the pages of Minucius Felix for centuries, copied by Christian scribes and 'explained' (or rather, explained away) by confessionally-driven commentators and scholars. The fact that a proper deconstruction of these passages has revealed that they can only mean what they say, illustrates how minds can be efficiently closed to what they don't want to see. I continue to groan every time I read the ANF's footnote in chapter 29 to Felix's 'criminal and his cross' remarks: "A reverent allusion to the Crucified, believed in and worshiped as God," along with the descriptive preface in the chapter heading: "...for they believe not only that He was innocent, but with reason that He was God." The text contains no such statements or implications. In a long and continuing line of those who have simply read such things into it, the Reverend R. W. Wallis was successful at pulling the wool over his own eyes and those of his readers, but I submit that we shouldn't allow it to be pulled over ours any longer.

Appendix: Intelligent Design

GDon has offered an analogy to demonstrate his claim that Christians in the second century "were attempting to re-image Christianity as being consistent with a school of philosophy." He finds a parallel in the present day in regard to Creationism and Intelligent Design theory.

ID (Intelligent Design) proposes that the complexity of the universe suggests the existence of a Designer. While Creationism is generally regarded correctly as nonsense, ID 'theory' is presented as a valid scientific approach. In much the same way as Second Century apologists tried to re-image Christianity as a philosophical school, so modern day Creationists have tried to re-image their beliefs as holding scientific validity.

He offers this quote and comments:

"Phillip E. Johnson has stated that cultivating ambiguity by employing secular language in arguments which are carefully crafted to avoid overtones of theistic creationism is a necessary first step for ultimately reintroducing the Christian concept of God as the designer. Johnson emphasizes 'the first thing that has to be done is to get the Bible out of the discussion'."  

And this, to me, fits what we see in the Second Century perfectly. Johnson, I'm sure, doesn't believe that he is denying the Bible by "getting it out of the discussion". Rather, he is engaging the secular world by using the arguments best suited to his audience. Perhaps, according to Doherty, Johnson should spend his time trying to convince his audience that the Bible was correct before presenting the ID theory, since surely that would be the 'more important' goal. But, since the audience included people who had already either rejected or decided to ignore the Bible, Johnson knows that such an approach would probably fail.

I am surprised that GDon does not realize what is missing here, why it is not a perfect fit and why this analogy fails. In fact, in his opening remark above he inadvertently points us to it: "While Creationism is generally regarded correctly as nonsense, ID 'theory' is presented as a valid scientific approach." Well, not by the same people. That is, those who have come up with ID as a more promising way to sneak religion into the science classroom are not the ones who regard Creationism as nonsense; and we would never find, or expect to find, anything in ID writers stating or implying such a thing. "Getting the Bible out of the discussion" is not the same as denigrating it, or seeming to deny important features within it, much less excluding its very existence.

How many statements of the following sort would one find in the writings of Michael Behe?

"We conclude that an Intelligent Designer is responsible for the existence of the world and development of life, but there was no first man or woman in a Garden of Eden."

"The Intelligent Designer created the laws of nature, but he is incapable of breaking them and producing miracles."

"You have asked to be told everything there is to say about this Designer, but there are no books that tell us about his nature or activities."

"Other religions are to be ridiculed for thinking that the world's languages were divinely created all at once, or that the world was punished by some god in a universal flood, or that a prophet ascended from earth straight into heaven."

"You wander far from the truth in thinking that our Intelligent Designer would send his Son to earth to be crucified to forgive sins. Foolish the man who would regard such a thing as "intelligent," or as anything but a barbaric and primitive superstition. I know some fundamentalists regard such stories as historical, but we sophisticated scientists certainly know that they should be treated only as fables."

I think the point is clear. The apologies of second century Christian writers who are silent on the historical Jesus are full of statements of this nature which cannot be explained away. Moreover, the very fact that GDon can provide us with the quote about Phillip E. Johnson shows that the strategy being used by ID prononents has been clearly stated by them. We can see what they're up to because they tell us what they're doing and why. No such admission or elucidation can be found in the writings of those second century apologists. (Justin Martyr, in his On the Resurrection, states his tactics on which type of proof should be offered to support human resurrection, but this is in the context of a writer we already know is an historicist. It cannot legitimately be used to imply reasons for a blanket silence on the historical Jesus in all the others, because Justin shows no such silence or any consciousness of a necessity for it.)

Nor has any modern ID lecturer stated or implied that everything he has said on the subject of the Designer/Creator is all there is to say, leaving himself open to someone standing up in the audience waving a copy of the bible and asking, "What about this?" Nor has he defined his theory in a way that renders the nature of the Designer as something that would be incompatible with the biblical God.

In any case, the vast difference in context between the situation faced by fledgling Christianity in the second century and that of evangelical fundamentalism in 21st century America makes it difficult and dangerous to base an argument on the comparison GDon attempts. While they have superficial elements in common, it is more misleading than anything else to try to apply one to the other, especially in the presence of other features which don't conform at all, or are outright contradictory, as I've demonstrated above. Let's stick with the second century documents themselves and try to arrive at an interpretation which makes the most consistent sense in the context of the times and the documentary record as a whole, ungoverned by special pleading or the effects of almost two thousand years of uncritical faith.

*      *      *

Most debates are followed by an open discussion, with questions from the audience and further informal debate between the two sides. Following this website exchange, the debate between GDon and myself moved onto the floor of the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. In the course of that exchange, I presented new arguments and new ways of fashioning old arguments in regard to Minucius Felix. Following on the present article, I suggest that the interested reader can peruse the subject still further through this compilation of my major postings on the IIDB:
Debating "Minucius Felix" on the IIDB

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