Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

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

Follow-Up I:
Debates on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board
On the subject of Minucius Felix

Following the exchange between myself and GakuseiDon on our respective websites, the debate moved to the Internet Infidels Discussion Board (Biblical Criticism and History Forum), involving GDon, myself and several other posters discussing the "smoking gun" passages in the second century apologist Minucius Felix. I am reproducing here a selection of my own postings in that debate.
I would call the reader's attention in particular to two of these: No. 3, presenting an overall picture of the diversity of "intermediary Son" expression in the documentary record of the period; and No. 4, offering a set of definitive 'proofs' in regard to Minucius Felix which I call an "irrefutable trio." (While I am not reproducing postings by others in the IIDB exchange, some of their comments, to which I am responding, will appear as quotes in my own postings.)

Also in this series: Debating "The Ascension of Isaiah" on the IIDB

Posting #1:

I said in my Rebuttal article that Don was guilty of “atomism,” which is a technical term for taking words or phrases out of context and giving them a significance the atomist chooses to read into them, rather than what they are actually saying or what purpose they serve within that context. (This is commonly done in regard to the OT “prophecies” of Jesus, for example.) Don has claimed to be interpreting Minucius Felix’s statements about the crucified man and his cross according to their contexts, but his analysis of those contexts is done atomistically. He seizes on words and phrases which strike him as supportive of his case, without a proper analysis of how they fit into the passage. For example, from a recent post in reply to Ted Hoffman:


Since you think that I am giving a "black is white" spin on this, I'd like you to clear this up. You are saying that M Felix dismisses the man and also his cross; the latter because it is unimportant.

M Felix writes, "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"

He also compares the sign of the cross to "when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched"

And also that "the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it".

These are certainly positive statements, are they not? Esp the "adores God with a pure mind".

Well, of course, the words and phrases in bold can be said to be “positive” in nature, per se. Highlighting the words “swelling” and “expanded” as having some relevant positive significance is certainly reaching a bit, but this actually epitomizes the atomistic approach: if it sounds in any way supportive, or fitting the desired meaning, take it and claim that it supports one’s case. The proper question is, how do these phrases and sentiments relate to the statements about the crucified man and his cross? A much more detailed and nuanced analysis of what they mean and what role they serve in the line of thought one can trace throughout this passage is required before it can be declared, based on such phrases, that Felix is speaking in a positive fashion about the crucified man and his cross. This is Don’s basic deficiency, in that he fails to provide this comprehensive and comprehensible analysis. In fact, by being atomistic in this way, he has been led down the wrong road to the wrong conclusions. This I hope to demonstrate as we go along.

But let’s start at the beginning. Don tries to claim (and he’s not the first to do so) that the way both Caecilius’ accusation and Octavius’ response are presented or phrased has certain implications which will enable him to extract meanings which are not evidently there at the surface level. This is a cousin to atomism, and a common approach to texts in the apologetic field (and even scholarship in general). When one doesn’t like what the text seems to be saying, force it to be saying something else. Allegorical interpretation of the bible, going back into pre-Philonic Alexandria, is one such device, and it’s still employed where something like Genesis is concerned. Here we don’t have allegory, but the claim of “implied meaning.”

Let’s first examine the pagan Caecilius’ accusation in chapter 9. Here, and elsewhere, I will use my favorite translation, that of The Fathers of the Church (which I referred to in my rebuttal article).

“And anyone who says that the objects of their worship are a man who suffered the death penalty for his crime, and the deadly wood of the cross, assigns them altars appropriate for incorrigibly wicked men, so that they actually worship what they deserve.”

The accusation as stated here is that the Christians’ objects of worship include (a) a man crucified for a crime, and (b) the cross itself; the latter is hardly the very cross he was crucified on, but the cross as symbol of the manner of the man’s death. But something is going on here that has hitherto been overlooked. Caecilius sets this accusation in the context of labeling such objects of worship (man & cross)—which he metaphorically refers to as “altars”—despicable things (implied by “appropriate for” wicked men), and as such fitted for despicable people. In other words, the two are alike, and one deserves the other. I call this a ‘complementary linking’. It might be compared to a modern person claiming that mind-altering drugs are evil, and that the people who use them are evil, and thus the thing used and the users themselves make a fitting combination, one complementing and deserving the other. Thus, Caecilius has offered his accusation by doing two things at once: he states it and editorializes it all in one breath..

The same approach first appeared a few sentences earlier, when Caecilius makes another accusation:

“I am told that, because of I know not what foolish belief, they consecrate and worship the head of an ass, the meanest of all animals—a religion worthy of and sprung from such morals.”

Again, he is editorializing by offering another complementary linkage between the object worshiped and those doing the worshiping: Christians worship the head of an ass, which, being the meanest of animals, is a worthy fit with those who do so. The two belong together, one complements the other.

Now, Caecilius, even if he is a fictional character created by Felix, may be said to represent common pagan thinking about Christianity at the time, but it is the author himself who is responsible for the particular words put into his mouth and how they are presented in context. Those two examples of the type of editorializing I have pointed out (linking the object worshiped and the people worshiping it and calling them similar and complementary) are literary devices, hardly matching the content of actual word-on-the-street accusations. The crucified man and his cross being “altars appropriate for wicked men” (including the metaphorical use of “altars”) has not been lifted from common parlance. That type of subtle commentary is too sophisticated for general oral usage or transmission. It can only be a literary twist provided by Felix. The matter is clinched by the fact that the complementary linking approach is used twice in the same passage, regarding two separate accusations. It is impossible that multiple examples of such a sophisticated manner of expression would be found in oral usage. Thus, one has every right to conclude that such sentiments must reflect Felix’s own attitudes, since he has arbitrarily inserted them. (This kind of methodological process of identifying a writer’s personal imposition of his own—or his community’s—ideas and orientation on a passage or tradition, such as in the case of the Gospel evangelists, is a common feature of critical biblical research.)

And I might add that since the same device is used in regard to two different accusations, the same attitude on the part of Felix must be in common with them both. It logically follows that the denigrating attitude clearly present (and which no one would doubt) in regard to worshiping the head of an ass MUST be present in regard to worshiping the crucified man. In other words, the alleged distinction between all those other accusations and the one about the crucified man and his cross cannot stand in the face of Felix's identical editorializing treatment of both the man and the ass.

So we can further enlarge on one of my regular objections to the orthodox spinning of this document, both in the accusation and response passages. Not only has Felix included the central and most sacred aspect of his own faith as part of a wretched litany whose associations of horror are at the very least bound to rub off on it, he offers, in addition, his own editorializing on the subject which further compounds the negativity. I maintain that it would be impossible for a Christian writer who believed in now-orthodox doctrines to do such a thing.

One of Don’s strategies has been to focus on the specific wording of the passage in Latin. Literally, it says “those who speak of their ceremonies (of worship) (as directed to) a man punished with the ultimate penalty for (his/a) crime, and the deadly wood of the cross…” Because Caecilius’ words do not refer to the man directly as a criminal, but rather as one “put to death for a crime,” this is supposed to remove him in Felix’s mind from any aura of guilt or negativity; it is supposed to offer the option that Felix regarded him as not actually guilty of the crime. I suggest two things: (1) Caecilius’ words would be a very (perhaps the most) natural way of referring to a criminal and his fate in the context of the idea that he was guilty. Let’s try an analogy. “Ted Bundy was put to death for killing two dozen women.” This simply means what it says. (Bundy was a notorious American serial killer, executed about 15 years ago.) It would hardly be anyone’s chosen way to suggest that no guilt is being implied, that he was executed on false charges and was not guilty of the murders after all. Yet this is what Don would have us believe. If that were what the writer meant to say or imply, he would certainly have had to qualify this statement in a way which clearly stated and demonstrated why Ted Bundy was not guilty of such a thing, and why he shouldn’t have been executed (and why, moreover, it would be OK to hold him in high esteem when the outside world is condemning you for doing so). And (2), in the matter of Felix’s crucified man, it would (as we can see by the analogy) be too subtle and obscure to overcome the overwhelming negativity and detrimental effect resulting from how the accusation has been presented, and how it will be answered.

These things will become even clearer when we move on to the response to Caecilius in chapter 29. Since we have introduced Ted Bundy, let’s try presenting Octavius’ remarks in those terms. I’ll paraphrase the Fathers translation.

“Moreover, when you ascribe to us the reverencing of Ted Bundy, a murderer of women, you are traveling a long way from the truth, in assuming that a murderer deserved, or that a psychopath could bring it about, to be accorded such reverence. Foolish indeed any group that would give special regard to such a man, when his execution by a justice system that found him guilty demonstrates his clear lack of worthiness and benefit to us.”

What is this analogy saying? That Ted Bundy was not a murderer? That he was not a psychopath? Is the person being addressed “traveling a long way from the truth” in that Bundy was NOT either of these things? Of course not. And no one would take it that way—without some very explicit statement to the contrary, making it clear that Bundy did not in fact murder these women and was wrongfully executed. Rather, the meaning is that the accuser is a long way from the truth in declaring that we reverence Ted Bundy. That is the most straightforward and natural interpretation of what is being said. And it would be universally so interpreted without some clear and explicit comments to point us in a different direction.

Why does the speaker include his comments after “a long way from the truth”? Simply as an explanation for why the accuser is wrong in saying we reverence Ted Bundy. The speaker is protesting: how can you think that a murderer deserves such reverence? How can you think it would be possible for a psychopath to gain that reverence? What fools we would be to reverence a man like Ted Bundy, in the face of the sentence meted out to him, for how could we appeal to the memory of such a monster and gain any respect or benefit from it?

Where in this analogy is the qualification, where are the words to imply that Ted Bundy was innocent, not a monster, someone worthy of reverence? Of course, they are not there. Nor, I maintain, when we switch to the passage in Felix, are they supplied in the remarks that follow about the Egyptians, even by subtle implication (and in any case, why merely imply, why be subtle?). But that part of it is for another day.

So let’s move from Ted Bundy to Octavius’ crucified man.

“Morever, 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.”

These are the Christian Octavius’ words. They are certainly blunt. He calls the man in question a “malefactor” (“criminal” in the ANF). In the next sentence he calls him an “evil-doer” and a “mortal”. Why is Caecilius “a long way from the truth”? Because no evil-doer deserves to be worshiped; because no mortal could get himself to be believed a god. Any person who places his hope in a mortal is “to be pitied” because any benefit from him ceases at his death. This is no less straightforward and universally interpretable than the analogy with Ted Bundy. The language and sequence of ideas is exactly the same. The lack of any qualification or statement to point the reader in a different direction is equally lacking. Octavius takes over Caecilius' terminology about the man being a criminal, with no attempt to soften it. The negative tone and effect is identical, if one does not choose to read something into it which can’t be found in the words. Yet Don insists on adding a whole new layer of meaning and implication: “But it’s OK that we worship this man, because he wasn’t a criminal and he wasn’t a mere man.” This is asking an awful lot of the reader’s intuition and his ability to read between the lines.

Don asks why Felix added those remarks after “far from the truth” if he didn’t want to imply something? Why not? They are perfectly natural. They are not an implication of anything, they are an explanation of why Caecilius is wrong. What was Felix/Octavius to say? “No, we don’t!”? That wouldn’t get him very far. Maybe, “Ah, yer muther duz too!” Perhaps he might have said, “Come and see our ceremonies, and you’ll see that we don’t.” That’s pretty weak, and offers no immediate reason for Caecilius to see the error of his accusation. What Felix does offer is actually quite powerful, at least to a rational person. And it’s philosophical, which is right up Felix’s alley. He has discredited the accusation in the best way he knows, by showing how and why the thought that Christians would worship a crucified man is unacceptable and ridiculous—even an “indecency” which has to be defended against, as he puts it in his comment immediately preceding, a comment applying to the whole list of accusations. He is offering REASONS for his denial: that the criminal “doesn’t deserve” and the mortal “isn’t able.” These remarks are in perfect alignment with Felix denying the whole idea, especially when they occur in juxtaposition with his response to the other accusations, which no one would doubt for a moment that he is denying.

Let’s look again at the context, the juxtaposition with those other accusations. Let’s ask somewhat facetiously, does Felix offer qualifications in regard to them? Does he try to explain why it’s OK to reverence the genitals of the priests, or maybe that it’s not really the genitals at all, but only the priest’s knees? “You wander far from the truth in thinking that it’s the genitals we are bowing toward; rather, it’s to those knees on which the priest rests when praying to God, which thereby deserve reverence.” Does he try to point out that the pagans are misunderstanding the Christian rite of child sacrifice, that it’s OK to slay an infant, perhaps because they are following God’s original instruction in regard to Isaac and the demand he made of Abraham?

Naturally these would be ridiculous claims, and Felix does not try to excuse the accusations or offer qualifications. The point is, why include in this passage something which you would have to claim does need qualification or excuse, something which is the direct opposite of those other accusations? Why offer the accusation about the crucified man in the same list as the others if, (1) Felix did not regard them in the same category of reprehensibility, and (2) he did not want the risk of having the reader take them all the same way, a risk that was exceedingly high, if not guaranteed, given the manner of his presentation? This aspect of the question is so blatantly obvious, it amazes me that anyone is incapable of seeing it. It has nothing to do with any arguments of mine; it is simply there in the text itself.

The only way Felix could extricate himself (and Jesus) from a bad situation which has been entirely of his own doing, since he has presented his material this way, would be to unequivocally and plainly spell it out. “No, he wasn’t a criminal; no, he wasn’t a man; no, this accusation is not like the others. I agree that reverencing the priest’s genitals and sacrificing children would be utterly reprehensible and I adamantly deny that we do so, but the accusation that we worship a man and his cross is entirely different, and I was an idiot to include the latter with the others…”

Needless to say, Felix doesn’t do this. And to claim that the remarks about the Egyptians serve this purpose is demonstrably false. Such a demonstration was provided in my rebuttal article. In fact, I have shown that they serve to do the opposite. Rather than rescue the crucified man, they support Felix’s condemnation of the accusation. We can revisit that demonstration, as well as cover further points such as Felix’s discussion about crosses, though I won’t do it in this posting, which has probably exceeded the limit of the average person’s attention span (or at least, that was Don’s opinion—I don’t think I misread his reference to the aspirin—in regard to the somewhat lengthy explanation of the smoking gun passages in my rebuttal article). In any case, if Don disagrees with that demonstration, then I invite him to do his own. Let him trace in detail—not just atomistically lift out certain words and phases, as I quoted at the beginning—the connective tissue between the sentences about the crucified criminal and mortal, through those referring to the Egyptians, and show us, not only how my demonstration was incorrect, but how the Egyptian remarks can logically be seen as reversing the plain meaning of the crucified man remarks.

Posting #2:
(Only select portions of this posting are included here)

....But for me, the main point in what you've said here is your use of the word "qualification." I think you are trying to suggest that what Felix says after "you wander far from the truth" is a qualification of the crucified man accusation, meant to discredit or change its meaning. This, of course, is your basic claim in your analysis of this whole passage. But let's break up the passage into its two elements:

A - “Morever, when you ascribe to us the worship of a malefactor and his cross, you are traveling a long way from the truth...

B - 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.”

B isn't a "qualification" of A (in the sense of discrediting the legitimacy of the accusation), it is an "explanation" of why the accusation is wrong. A paraphrase of both would be:

A - "When you say we worship a criminal and his cross, you are wrong...

B - ...because an evil-doer doesn't deserve, and a mortal can't get himself, to be believed a god. We'd be fools to have placed our hope in a dead mortal."

You are trying to see B as meaning: "it's OK to worship someone whom you say was a criminal and now dead, because he wasn't a criminal and he isn't a dead mortal." That would be a qualification, designed to deny the characterization of the man referred to. Again, this requires subjectively "reading into" the passage ideas that are not present in the words, an unjustified reading between the lines. My way of taking it is much more straightforward, in that B is an explanation for why the accusation is false. We don't do it because...and as I've said, Felix's explanation is a rational and compelling one.

If someone said to me, it's rumored you spend all your money on prostitutes, and I answered, "You are wrong, no responsible man would consider prostitutes to be worthy of giving all his money to," would you think that I was thereby saying that the women were not prostitutes, but good women I was simply dating? That would be pretty obscure. Why would anyone take it that way without some direct prompting in that direction, prefereably a clear statement that the women weren't prostitutes? So my rejoinder is not a "qualification" (trying to change or discredit the accusation of consorting with prostitutes), it is an "explanation" of why you are wrong to make such an accusation, why the accusation itself is irrational. It's irrational, from my point of view, not because the women were not prostitutes (which I never say), but because no reasonable man would spend all his money on prostitutes (which I do say). And note that I keep referring to the women as prostitutes. Let my words mean what they are clearly saying.


I think you are not grasping the point of my discussion about the way Caecilius (which is to say, Felix, the author) presents the pagan accusation. It is not that pagans weren't making the basic accusation itself (that Christians worship the man and his cross, or that Christians worship the head of an ass), it is that they weren't presenting it in the way that Felix presents it, the way he puts it into Caecilius' mouth. The point may be subtle, but it shouldn't be that subtle. And I am convinced it's an absolutely crucial one to make and to have understood, so I'll spend a little more space on it.

To repeat, Caecilius doesn't merely say that Christians worship a crucified man and his cross. That basic part of it would be a reflection of what is being said by the pagans. But he also puts it in a certain way. He gives it an added dimension, and this is the part that I maintain would not be a reflection of what pagans were saying, because putting it this way is not something that would arise or spread in oral circles among the hoi polloi. It has too "literary" a nature, if you like. Let's break the statement into A and B again:

A - “And anyone who says that the objects of their worship are a man who suffered the death penalty for his crime, and the deadly wood of the cross,...

B - ...assigns them altars appropriate for incorrigibly wicked men, so that they actually worship what they deserve.”

It is B that would not be found in pagan parlance. That is Felix's own editorializing. It's too subtle, too sophisticated for an oral setting. First of all, the use of "altars" is a metaphor worthy of an imaginative literary craftsman. But even more polished is the device I've called a "complementary linking": equating crucified man and cross as being in the same category as those who worship them. Both are wicked, making the things worshiped and the people doing the worshiping equally reprehensible.

For example, if I accuse a group I call backwoods hicks of drinking homegrown moonshine which I have characterized as crude and poisonous, and I say that the latter is appropriate to the former and those alcoholics drink what they deserve, I am quite clearly linking two sides of an equation that are being equally denigrated.

Lest one doubt that such an equation is being made by Felix, consider this. If the crucified man and his cross, according to Caecilius' words, were not to be regarded as wicked, if the man were not to be regarded as an actual criminal (not just 'accused' of a crime while really innocent, according to Don's attempt to read a fine distinction into things), then the phrase "appropriate for" would make no sense. If something is appropriate for wicked men, then that thing must itself be wicked. If despicable men worship what they deserve, this is a clear indicator that the thing they worship is itself despicable. (The justification for regarding him as such would be that he had been a criminal.)

The only way for this device of Felix's presentation to work, is for both sides of the link to be viewed in the same way. The man who "suffered death for his crime" has to be as much an evil, criminal, wicked entity as the Christians accused of worshiping him, since he has said that the former is "appropriate for" the latter, that the latter "deserve" the former. To put it another way, if Felix (who created that editorializing, complementary linkage, not the pagans) did not in his own mind regard the crucified man as a criminal and something despicable, he wouldn't and couldn't have fashioned that literary comparison and declared them equal.

And remember, as I pointed out in my last post, Felix has done exactly the same thing, made exactly the same kind of complementary equation, in regard to the accusation about worshiping the head of an ass. This common editorializing approach between the two accusations has to indicate that both accusations are being treated the same way, with the same intention to denigrate the element involved, crucified man and head of an ass.

Minucius Felix's smoking gun is turning out to be a six-shooter.

Posting #3:

I think a lot of the confusion arising out of what Minucius Felix is saying is due to a lack of understanding of how he fits into the picture of early Christianity, and that’s because most people are still under the influence of the traditional paradigms: that the movement was a single phenomenon (even if splintered, or immediately going off on different trajectories) arising out of some kind of historical figure in Palestine. It misleads us into thinking that there has to be a coherent relationship along those lines between the various communities and expressions represented by the wide range of documents that have come down to us. The whole Jesus Puzzle case is dedicated to showing that this is an imposed view, and that the documentary record shows something quite different. As for Krosero’s remarks, we don’t know whether Felix “doesn’t believe there was any human being at all to begin with.” He’s not clear on that point. He simply wants to deny that proper Christians would do such a thing as worship a crucified man and his cross. If I had to guess, I’d probably put him in the same camp as Tatian, who seems to label such a concept a “story” like the myths of the Greeks.

But in one respect, Felix is quite unlike Tatian and the other major apologists. He has no Christ at all, no Son and Logos. At least, he is silent on them. If he is silent yet actually does subscribe to a Logos-type entity like the others, at least he doesn’t make any statements which would rule out such an entity as part of his faith, as the others do; he doesn’t say that ‘I am telling you everything there is to say about our faith.’ Thus, though I know Don would like to do so, one can’t parallel such a silence with the silence we find on the historical Jesus in the major apologists as a whole (other than Justin). I don’t think it is possible to answer the question of whether Felix had a “Son/Logos” figure, so I am going to leave it unresolved. Perhaps we can get some idea on the question when looking at the wider picture.

Krosero seems to recognize one thing. He doesn’t fall into the trap of regarding Felix as a “mythicist” in the sense of having a mythical Christ like that of Paul. He judges that “Felix doesn’t seem to be a mythicist.” Such a misconception was addressed here on IIDB a few weeks ago after my rebuttal to Don was posted. In my first “Response” to Don’s critique, right near the end of it, I pointed out that the apologists were adherents to a type of “Logos religion” which did not involve a mythical savior-god figure who had performed a redeeming act in the supernatural world. Their Logos concept was more abstract, an emanation of God through which God revealed himself and taught humanity, and it was that reception of knowledge through the Logos which “saved”. This and this alone, as I argued with Don through my website articles, is the picture created even in Justin’s Trypho when he recounts his conversion experience with the old man by the sea. In a broader sense, such a Logos could be said to be a “mythical” entity, in that it inhabits the spiritual dimension, and its interaction with the material world is on a “mythological” plane (see my Note 8 in The Jesus Puzzle for a discussion of this term). But the Logos as found in the apologists is not “mythical” in the sense that Paul’s is, in being a descending divine being with a character of his own who undergoes suffering and death and interacts with evil spirits, etc.

So let’s see if there is a picture available, derived from the documentation, which can make sense of all this variety and seeming incompatibility on the first and second century scene.

I have said that the dominant religio-philosophical idea of the Hellenistic Age was the “intermediary Son” concept. If you make God transcendent, so pure and lofty that he can’t have any contact himself with ‘imperfect’ matter, then you have to invent an intermediary entity that can, an “emanation” of God, a “Son” of God. For philosophies like that of Middle Platonism, this became the Logos; for scribal Judaism it became Wisdom, though being “feminine” it was not styled as a Son. This intermediary then takes on the roles of creation, sustaining the universe, revealing God and his wishes, providing salvation in one way or another, etc. Once this fundamental idea of the intermediary Son is established, it can be carried in all sorts of directions, limited only by a given thinker, or a given sect’s, imagination, prompted by scripture or any other precedent or elements of the philosophies of the day, in one’s own or neighboring cultures.

While earlier Jewish writings, like Proverbs, speak of a creative and revelatory Wisdom figure, perhaps the first full-blown expression of this phenomenon is Philo of Alexandria. We know he was part of a ‘school’ or trend of thought that preceded him, since about a half century earlier, Aristobolus, in surviving fragments, was also talking of a Sophia (Wisdom) and Logos, who confers knowledge of the truth and guidance. And he bases these interpretations on both Jewish and pagan philosophers, from Solomon to Homer and Aristotle. Philo, of course, is the ultimate expression of this Hellenistic Judaism, the process I’ve referred to above of bringing together different philosophies and cultures to produce a syncretistic product. That’s essentially what almost all forms of “Christianity” were: a wedding of Jewish and Greek concepts and trends of thinking. In principle, we do not have to see such trends and developments as the product of any single person, let alone as based on or inspired by any historical individual. They arise out of the conditions and mindsets of the times, thinkers and groups absorbing what lies in the air around them, and evolving new expressions of those ideas. Because there is no centralized origin or authority involved, variety is what we are going to find, common elements but also contradictions and incompatibilities. Trying to impose unity on them is futile and misleading.

Philo regarded the Logos as “first-born” of God, and while he didn’t quite turn it into a personal divine being, it was a “force” that could be instilled in people (like Moses), to confer knowledge of God and Philo’s own brand of ‘mystical salvation’. There was no sacrificial element to his Logos, but his philosophy of it so resembles certain aspects of the Pauline type of Christ that he has been styled the “grandfather” to Christianity. I don’t think it would be a misnomer to style Philo’s philosophy as a “Logos religion.” Did it give rise to a movement? I’m pretty sure it did. What we can read behind the scenes in 1 Corinthians is that Apollos of Alexandria was going about preaching a figure or force that conferred spiritual perfection and salvation through the acquiring of wisdom, dispensed through such a figure. And as I’ve argued in my website article on Apollos (No. 1), he seems to have denied the “crucified Christ” of Paul. Whether Apollos used the term “Christ” for his mythical Revealer figure is unclear, but if he did, it would have been an advance on Philo, just as Paul finding or confirming in scripture that his Christ Jesus had been sacrificially crucified (“we preach Christ crucified”) was an advance, on a different trajectory, over Philo’s philosophy of the Logos. Not that Paul directly drew on Philo necessarily, but on that trend of thinking of the day which we have no reason to believe would have been restricted within the walls of Alexandria. Paul laments that other apostles “of the Christ” are going about “preaching another Jesus” which he condemns as Satanic, so all in all we have a picture in the earliest days of varied and competing religio-philosophies about the intermediary Son, some of which adopted the term “Christ” to refer to such a figure, probably under the influence of Jewish tradition.

And note that it is syncretistic. That is, it is a product of more than one philosophy and culture. Christianity is not exclusively Jewish. Nor is it exclusively pagan or Platonic. It’s a blend of the two. And the fact of this blend is more ill-fitted to the idea that it arose out of the preaching of a singular Jewish rabbi through followers that were Jewish, than that it was the outgrowth of the cauldron of ideas and activities of the period, that “seething mass of sects and salvation cults” of the first century in John Dillon’s colorful phrase.

The single best example, in my estimation, of that syncretistic activity is the epistle to the Hebrews. Again, no apparent or historically demonstrable connection with Paul, or any other document of early “Christianity.” It’s saturated with Alexandrine Logos philosophy (epitomized in 1:1-3); it is thoroughly Platonic in its higher and lower worlds and the relationship between the two. It has a Christ, and he is a savior figure. He is found in, and speaks from, the Jewish scriptures. That voice—from scripture, not historical teaching—is the new method of God’s communication “in this final age” (1:2), supplanting the prophets of old. But its Christ is never located on earth, never identified with a Jesus of Nazareth, and his sacrifice is placed in heaven, based on a scriptural “archetype-antitype” comparison. This community, and its Christ, lives in an entirely scriptural universe.

Off in a different corner of the Levant is the Odes of Solomon, probably late first century or early second. The Odist reverences God, but also his Son and Beloved, one of the emanative entities of heaven who serves as revealer, but (despite the best efforts of J. H. Charlesworth) shows no sign of incarnation, sacrificial death or resurrection, and no name “Jesus,” much less a Gospel-type career on earth. Much the same is true of the Shepherd of Hermas, probably around the same time, which has a Son (no “Jesus” or “Christ”). Salvation comes “through the Son.” The Fifth Parable has the Son “cleansing the sins of the people” but not through sacrifice or atonement. Though neither of these documents uses the term “Logos” itself (though the use of “Word” might be said to be just that) and have a predominantly Jewish character, it is all intermediary-Son philosophy, and could be categorized under the general heading of “Logos religion.” The fact that the Shepherd’s “Son” is occasionally merged with the Holy Spirit and the Jewish Law shows the fluidity enjoyed by the concept, and we find the same fluidity elsewhere.

I might stick in here the 2nd century (around 130) Epistle to Diognetus, another reflection of a Logos/Word religion, but this one has tentatively added the element of atonement, though without historical details. I was originally willing to accept that it also suggested incarnation, but I have withdrawn that on further examination, as I outlined in my Response article to Don. Here, then is a Logos religion that has taken a step toward the mythical redeemer camp, though not far enough to use the name Jesus.

As everyone knows, the Odes have much in common with elements of the Gospel of John, and it is precisely those elements which I think identify the basic and original nature of the beliefs of the Johannine community. They are found in the “teachings” put in Jesus’ mouth about himself, being the “Bread” and “Water”, the “Resurrection and the Life”, and so on, which fit the sort of intermediary Son philosophy (entirely spiritual) of the Odes. Things were completely recast when the Synoptic Gospel story was brought in and the two ideas became melded together. When a Logos hymn (perhaps pre-existing) was added on, the transformation was complete. (But more about the Gospels later.)

Thus far, we can see a landscape dotted with all sorts of trees of different varieties, though all of them growing out of the same soil and some sharing in certain common ‘DNA’ in their wood and foliage. Which variety or varieties were more dominant? Whose branches were elbowing whose for more space to grow, to gain the greater amount of nutrient? Did the elms share ground or borrow from the maples, were the oaks spurning the encroaching pines, did the poplars claim that the willows were growing in crazy directions? That’s what the documents show us. The writer of 1 John railed against the “antichrists” who denied Jesus had come in the flesh. Ignatius was spurning the “mad dogs” who didn’t preach that Jesus was born of Mary and crucified by Pilate. Early docetics were claiming that a Jesus on earth couldn’t have been really human, only a phantom. The Gnostics emerging from the woodwork in the early second century, with their heavenly Pleroma and dual God and Demiurge, at first had a spiritual redeemer who brought them salvific gnosis, but then they liked the look of some of the neighboring trees that had been watered by the Gospels and decided to change their own foliage into a Jesus of Nazareth, but giving him their own colors and shapes. They emphasized the revealer element, and often, like John, reworked the sacrificial one to make it more in keeping with their own preferences.

Other trees had darker hues. One of the features found in several species of intermediary Son religion, and other related expressions of the time, was Jewish apocalyticism. The Christ in the book of Revelation has attached to him all sorts of mythological motifs of the day, both Jewish and pagan, he’s a sacrificial figure but without a career on earth (as chapter 12’s birth of the Messiah painfully shows). This one is close to Paul’s version, but without the universalism Paul was preaching, and it shows less dependence on Logos-type thinking than Paul does. I have a feeling that the picture in Revelation is a personal projection of its writer in his preaching, probably at the end of the first century, to communities that may have been a little more enlightened than he himself was, but there is no denying that his redeemer is more ‘selective’ in his salvation net than other views were. But that’s another class of distinction between the various expressions of the day: do we cater to an elect, or do we welcome all comers? Syncretism didn’t always work to the same degree. Gnostics made clear distinctions among different classes of people, and never could agree on who was to enjoy salvation. And generally speaking, the more Jewish-oriented a sect was, the less it tended to be, due to the weight of its own tradition, universalist. The Similitudes of Enoch have a Messiah/Son of Man/Righteous One who represents the (Jewish) righteous on earth. Then there’s the Ascension of Isaiah, whose fully “mythical Son” operates in the heavens (until an interpolator got his hands on chapter 11), in order to rescue the righteous from Sheol. This kind of “paradigm” feature, that the savior is the heavenly counterpart and guarantor for a group on earth, has both pagan and Jewish roots, the latter in Daniel 7.

So what kind of picture do we have when we get into the second century? A riotous one, I would say (and we still have to fit the Gospels in). And remember that the pagans themselves, unrelated to any Christ belief, had their own range of subordinate deities who descended, underwent sacrifice, and redeemed devotees. Some common elements among them all, but a lot of incompatible diversity. Hardly all arisen, where Christianities were concerned, within the space of a century, from one man and one point of origin. Such a thing would be unparalleled within history. Is there room for the second century apologists in this unrestrained madness? I can’t see why not. Actually, they are a bit of a voice for reason amid the crazier expressions of intermediary Son and savior philosophy around them. Remember, too, that this surrounding diversity shows no sign of unity, no commonality of now-orthodox ideas or alleged historical figures and events. There is no central authority on any side. We cannot say that the Ignatiuses outnumbered the Odists, that historicists trumped the mythicists, that Pauline theology enjoyed a greater following than Gnostic mysticism. The existence of a group of writers, of congregations of ‘believers’ who followed a devotion to the Logos concept while rejecting just about everything else that swirled around them, is quite conceivable.

Could such a group and coterie of writers regard themselves as “Christian” while rejecting all those other things? I maintain that they could. First of all, they subscribe to the basic concept underlying all these diverse expressions: the “intermediary Son”. That’s what the Logos is. And they use the term “Logos” far more than they use the term “Christ” or “Christian.” Remember, too, that this broad trend of belief is rooted in Judaism, appealing to Jewish concepts and especially the scriptures. Apologist after apologist says that it was the Jewish scriptures that not only determined their beliefs and orientation, it was usually what led to their conversion. Thus the adoption of a term like “Christ” and “Christ-follower” (Christian) would be in keeping with that foundation. It has become a widely-used term for the Logos by the movement as a whole. As such, it is part of the inherent opposition to paganism on the part of the movement and especially to the pagan mythology of the traditional gods. This is why perhaps the most prominent aspect of so many apologetic writings is attacking that old Greek and Roman mythology. The Logos-followers have an undying disdain for it all. Not only is it ridiculous, it compromises morality and intellectual integrity. They’d like nothing better than to pull down the whole rotten structure. To replace it, they offer the Jewish God, but it’s a God that can only be approached and understood through the Logos, the “intermediary Son,” and thus the Logos itself becomes a central object of faith and even worship.

In the absence of any central organization, any commonality of doctrine (other than the most basic one), any universal or even majority traditions identifying a time or place or historical figure as the root genesis of the intermediary Son religion, there is nothing to prevent the apologists I have focused on from regarding themselves as the “true” expression of the faith, and from approaching the emperors or their pagan readers in general as representative of the movement, ignoring the overblown expressions around them. For that readership, the animosity they feel toward the Logos/Christ-believers is not for their Logos beliefs (which are close, in any case, to basic Greek philosophy) but for their rejection and ridicule of the traditional mythology, the traditional state religious observances, the refusal to accept any other deities (including the deified emperor) beside the Jewish God. This makes them "atheists" and underminers of society, and casts them as hating the world beyond themselves, more than enough reason for persecution.

No doubt, especially as the century progressed, the pagans are not oblivious to some of those more outlandish beliefs of certain Christian circles regarding a crucified man, and may quite naturally confuse the various expressions, but because the apologists don’t want to taint themselves with such things, and because they regard them as without foundation, either in history and/or in faith, they will ignore them in presenting their case. (This is quite different from the standard claim that such things were actually part of the apologists’ faith and were suppressed by them for whatever reason.)

Can we trace a theoretical line of development from the beginnings of intermediary Son philosophy in Philo to a general “Logos religion” presence in the second century, one that had bypassed or ignored all the rest of the paraphernalia that had been attached to it in other quarters, a presence that could have taken a prominent place on the second century stage, capable of presenting itself to the emperors and pagans in general as the proper “Christian” religion? I believe we can. The essence of it is the Logos as revealer, the intermediary channel to God, enabling one to be “saved.” As Justin puts it, in relating his conversion experience, “if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God…you may become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, after being initiated, live a happy life.”

This, essentially, was Philo’s outlook, though the Logos was also his path to mystical experience and immediate contact with God, something the more grounded apologists don’t get into. When we move on from Philo, what can we uncover? I believe something very revealing can be found in what are termed the “Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers” imbedded in the Apostolic Constitutions of the 4th century. A full discussion of this can be found in my Article No. 5, “Tracing the Christian Lineage in Alexandria”. In these prayers, we can trace an evolution of “Logos” thinking and terminology within a Hellenistic Judaism setting, into “Christ” terminology in much the same setting, and finally into full-blown Gospel-Jesus thinking when later Christianity fully absorbed these prayers. That intermediate stage is the telling one. It seems to show a progress of Philonic-type Logos philosophy into Logos religion, that is, into regarding the Logos as a distinct divine entity (which Philo did not) having a definable role in creation and salvation, though still without any sacrifice or atonement, with such an entity attracting a kind of devotion Philo had not accorded it.

Which leads us to the key document, one lurking lonely and ignored on the sidelines in most examinations of the documentary record. That is the “Discourse to the Greeks” erroneously attributed to Justin Martyr. It’s brief, but it epitomizes in clear fashion the two elements of the Logos religion I have accorded to the second-century circles we can see represented by the apologists. The first four chapters are devoted to a vicious denunciation of the divine mythologies of the pagans and the immorality they give rise to. The fifth and final chapter offers the alternative:

“Henceforth, ye Greeks, come and partake of incomparable wisdom, and be instructed by the Divine Word, and acquaint yourselves with the King immortal.…For our own Ruler, the Divine Word [logos], who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul….The Word exercises an influence which does not make poets: it does not equip philosophers nor skilled orators, but by its instruction it makes mortals immortal, mortals gods; and from the earth transports them to the realms above Olympus. Come, be taught; become as I am, for I, too, was as ye are. These have conquered me—the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word….the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul….Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free from the ills in which it was sunk up to the neck, it returns to Him who made it. For it is fit that it be restored to that state whence it departed, whence every soul was or is.”

This is hardly speaking of Jesus of Nazareth. The Word/Logos is an entirely spiritual entity, worthy of worship: not the bowing-down kind, but a reverence of morality, guidance and perfection, and a knowledge of the true and estimable God. This is the natural outgrowth of Philonic philosophy, and it is in the same vein as so much of what we find in the second century apologists, including aspects of Justin. (See, for example, chapter 10, Book 2, of Theophilus’ “To Autolycus”.) For them, the Logos was the antidote to the base mythology of the pagans. It and they have preserved (except for Justin, who succumbed to the Gospel lure) a purity which others adulterated in a crude historicism that has forever hamstrung western culture. The irony is that such Logos-believers adamantly condemned pagan mythology with its stories of the gods’ and heroes’ activities as base and corrupt, not only leading to immorality but obscuring the purity and perfection of the one true God, and yet Christianity was in the process of evolving into a dominant form which fell into the very same trap. It turned its mythology into literal history and adopted every word and deed of Jesus as fact and guide. Since there is a wealth of dross among the few Gospel pearls, we have inherited bigotry, inquisition, superstition, intellectual ignorance, rigid fundamentalism, hatred of Jews and non-believers, and a host of other albatrosses that we are only now struggling to remove from our necks after 2000 years…But I am digressing.

It seems to me that these documents attest to a strong presence of a Logos-religion form of Christianity throughout much of the second century, one that could regard itself as the true and best form of the faith. To judge by the writers, it ignored or scorned those circles which had gone off in questionable directions. All versions of Christianity seem to have been persecuted equally, but that, as I say, was principally for its rejection of the Greek gods and culture in general, and the whole movement may also have been tainted by those extremist expressions of an apocalyptic nature, expecting or advocating the overthrow of society and its eschatological downfall. The apologists could speak for the faith as a whole, without having to address the historical fantasizing with which the Gospels were gradually infecting the entire scene.

And what about those Gospels? How do they fit into the intermediary Son picture of the Christ-belief trend? I view them as coming out of left field, indeed out of a different ballpark. Their pre-Markan roots are something entirely different. If we accept Q—and I think this entire picture lends credence to the idea of such a document and the setting that produced it—those roots lie in a preaching movement that had nothing to do with Christs or Logos religions. Neither the Messiah nor the Logos appears in a reconstructed Q, no saviors, no atonement doctrines. No human or spiritual entity is a special channel to God. Q and its Sitz-im-Leben is again a syncretistic product: Jewish apocalyptic expectation of the Kingdom, having an End-time figure who is not a “messiah” but the Son of Man (a peculiar derivation from Daniel), and Greek Cynic social mores relating to another kind of expectation and itinerant apostleship. It inhabited a sphere of its own, until one of those strange twists of history whose details we will probably never know brought it into the ken of the intermediary Son religion. Somebody must have thought the two were made for each other. The founder figure invented for Q (which happened before Mark) and the words and deeds Q bestowed on him, offered a new dimension for the Logos Savior, now appearing on earth. It gave him a ministry and an (allegorical?) setting for a sacrificial redemption. That ensured the movement would have legs, and the Logos in the guise of Jesus of Nazareth galloped ahead of the competition, eventually leaving those second century purists in the dust. Felix never knew what hit him.

Posting #4:

An Irrefutable Trio

It is becoming plain to all, I’m sure, that this debate on Minucius Felix is spinning its wheels. It has degenerated into seemingly endless speculation by the defenders of orthodoxy on what given passages could be saying or implying, based on dubious interpretation, the occasional outright mistranslation, and simply their own imaginations; such speculations are then used as though something akin to established fact. An idea is read into one passage and is then claimed to have an effect on another. More speculation is offered about the state of Christianity in the larger world of the period, and then this is allowed to impose itself on claims of what Felix could or should have meant or written. Rarely is the plain meaning of a passage accepted, or its context properly taken into account.

Little is to be gained by continuing to pursue the same merry-go-round of argument. So I am going to cut to the chase. I am throwing down my own gauntlet and challenging Messrs. Don, Ted, Krosero and any others (like Roger Pearse) to directly address it. In the course of my contribution here and on my website, I offered three observations which I have all but called “foolproof” for revealing what Felix meant, his personal attitude toward the crucified man and his cross. If that is true, everything else is superfluous. Taken together, I consider that those three observations make the case irrefutable. Needless to say, they have been largely if not completely ignored.

So here’s my line in the sand. We don’t go any further (at least, I won’t) until the meaning and implication of these three observations have been dealt with thoroughly and honestly, until my analysis has been demonstrated false and the conclusions drawn from it invalid. These observations are based entirely on the text itself. I will go so far as to say that there is no speculation involved, no might’s, no if’s, no could’s, no “readings into” the text, no bringing in outside considerations, wider pictures, or misinterpretations of the nature of Christianity at that time, and no appeal to what other authors allegedly said or meant. This will be a closed laboratory. We will feed Minucius Felix’s own words, ideas and parallels found in the text through the test tube of logical understanding and see what is distilled from it.

You’ve heard all three of them from me before, in separate posts, one of them in my website rebuttal to Don, but here I am going to put them under a spotlight and present them in the clearest fashion I can, undistracted from any other material. If anyone thinks they can undermine the legitimacy and logic of that layout and interpretation, we will proceed from there.

Number One

The first is in the accusation passage by Caecilius in chapter 9, and I have called this feature by the term “complementary linkage”:

[A-] “He who says that the objects of their worship are a man who suffered the death penalty for his crime, and the deadly wood of the cross, [B-] assigns them altars appropriate for incorrigibly wicked men, so that they actually worship what they deserve.”

In my earlier post in which I pointed out this feature, I presented a principle familiar to NT scholars. Certain things, such as manner of presentation, style of wording, consistent and unique theological content, plot sequences (as in the Gospels), etc., can be identified with virtual certainty as the product of the writer, and not something he has taken over from oral tradition. That principle applies here. The ideas contained in part [B-] of the passage above are literary products of Felix, not something that would have been floating about in ordinary pagan street parlance. The basic accusation that Christians worship a crucified man and his cross are straightforward enough and represent pagan impressions, but the rest is too styled and sophisticated, too literary, and can thus legitimately be seen as the author’s product. What are they? First, the metaphor of “altars” as applied to the man and cross, second—which is the crux of the matter here—the “complementary linkage” of the worshiped objects (man & cross) with the people doing the worshiping, the Christians.

The former is “appropriate for” the latter, says Caecilius. In order for one thing to be appropriate for another, they must show some common central characteristic. For X to be appropriate for Y, they must in some key element be the same; they are complementary. This element in regard to the worshiping Christians, the only element mentioned, is that they are “wicked.” It logically follows that wickedness is being assigned also to the objects of worship, the man and cross. This is virtually a mathematical equation, and just as certain. The final phrase restates the complementary linkage in a different way: “They worship what they deserve.” Evil deserves evil. X is equivalent to Y. Wicked people deserve to worship wicked things. They can hardly be said to deserve good things.

Because those ideas in [B-] are not something which Felix will have derived from outside expression (and there is certainly no evidence to show that they have been), they are his product. It has already been admitted that the debate is a literary device and that Caecilius could well be a fictional character. Thus, the author has fashioned Caecilius’ accusation himself and given it these sophisticated literary features. Thus they must reflect his own thinking, not contradict his own thinking, else he could never have chosen to put things this way. (This is supported even further by how he handles Octavius’ response to the accusation in the later chapter.) The inescapable conclusion is that Felix regarded the idea of worshiping the crucified man as reprehensible, wicked, deserving of condemnation—just as his words, when plainly read, indicate. Our trio of apologists (Don, Krosero and Ted) must demonstrate how this reasoning and its premises are incorrect, without bringing in any extraneous and irrelevant considerations. The above argument is self-contained and stands on its own, a rational and inevitable reading of the text. It must be dealt with in the same way and within the same parameters.

Number Two

I don’t remember if I’ve given this a term, but let’s call it “parallel treatment.” In general, of course, I’ve often made the point that by including the accusation of the crucified man and his cross in with his treatment of all the other accusations, which no one would deny relate to reprehensible things, Felix is indicating that he regards them all in the same light. I’ll repeat again that he didn’t have to fashion things this way, since he was the arbiter of how the debate would be set up, what questions would be dealt with, the order they would be addressed and the language brought to them. On this general point, no one has yet attempted an effective answer as to why, if he really held orthodox views on the crucified man, he would insert it among the others, with a commonality of argument and language creating the strong impression that he is equally critical of them all. There would have been nothing to prevent him from dealing with it separately and creating a far different impression than he has.

But there’s more to it than that. It is not just the inclusion itself of the crucified man in that list of abominations. I have pointed out that they are all dealt with in exactly the same way: similar—even identical—arguments, similar wording. Let me itemize these features of Felix’s response to the several accusations, though I’ll leave the crucified man until last. (a) itemizes the content, (b) is the response designed to deny it, (c) is the “back-at-ya” accusation against the pagans.

(a) “Thence arises what you say that you hear, that an ass’s head is esteemed among us a divine thing.
(b) Who is such a fool as to worship this? Who is so much more foolish as to believe that it is an object of worship?
(c) unless that you even consecrate whole asses in your stables…and religiously devour those same asses with Isis. Also, you offer up the worship…etc.”

2. THE PRIESTS’ GENITALS (this one is very abbreviated, but we can identify the three features):
(a) “He also who (b) fables [fabulatur] (a) against us about our adoration of the members of the priest, (c) tries to confer upon us what belongs really to himself.” (There follows an account in the Latin of alleged licentious practices on the part of the Romans which no translation I’ve seen actually translates. The ANF presents the original Latin in its place, while others leave out the passage entirely. Victorian sensibilities, extending well into the 20th century, one presumes.)

(a) “Next, I should like to challenge the man who says or believes that the rites of our initiation are concerned with the slaughter and blood of an infant.
(b) Do you think it possible that so tender and so tiny a body could be the object of fatal wounds? That anyone would murder a babe, hardly brought into the world, and shed and sip that infant blood?
(c) No one could believe this, except one who has the heart to do it. In fact, it is among you that I see newly-begotten sons at times exposed to wild beasts and birds…”

4. THE INCESTUOUS BANQUETS (this one conforms a little less rigidly to the pattern, but the elements are still there):
(a) “And of the incestuous banqueting,
(b) the plotting of demons has falsely devised an enormous fable against us, to stain the glory of our modesty, by the loathing excited by an outrageous infamy...
(c) For these things have rather originated from your own nations. Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed...”

5. THE CRUCIFIED MAN: Between Nos. 2 and 3 above, as he has done in fashioning Caecilius’ accusation passage in chapter 9, Felix inserts his response to the crucified man charge:
(a) “Moreover [Nam], when you ascribe to us the worship of a malefactor [hominem noxium: criminal, man guilty of a crime] and his cross,
(b) 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 (ANF: “miserable”) indeed, whose entire hope rests on a mortal man, at whose death all assistance coming from him is at an end.
(c) I grant you that the Egyptians choose a man for their worship…But this man… (I will be examining this passage in more detail as my Number Three item; here we can note that it is in the same vein as the other (c) points in the rest of the list.)

Thus we can see that in all five cases, Felix’s response pattern and the nature of its elements are the same. After (a) itemizing the accusation, he makes (b) a scoffing remark about how stupid, foolish, outlandish or outrageous such an accusation is, how erroneous (a fable, a lie, a wandering far from the truth) it is to think that we are guilty of this, that it is simply not credible, followed by (c) the comeback accusation that the pagans are guilty of doing those very things themselves. (In all this, the author shows surprisingly little imagination; he really is a one-trick pony.)

It should be self-evident that if Felix has imposed the same pattern of response and ideas on all five, that he means the same thing in all five cases, that he has the same attitude—as he has spelled it out—in all five cases. It is simply too bizarre to think or to claim that in one of these cases, he has a precisely opposite attitude, that he does not intend to heap scorn on the accusation that Christians worship a crucified man. If one case stood out with an opposite meaning for him, he would hardly have thought, consciously or unconsciously, to treat it with the exact same response pattern.

No matter how you read (b) in the crucified man case, it is doing the same thing as the others, regardless of whether he has opted for a little different way of expressing the (b)-type of thought. With the ass’s head, it’s a straight scoff: who is such a fool as to worship an ass’s head? That’s all that is needed. It’s self-evident in his eyes, he expects it to be so in the pagan’s eyes, and it certainly is in ours. In regard to the priests’ genitals, he’s even briefer: this is a fable, he says. When he gets to the slaughter of an infant, he expresses the same incredulity: how can you believe such a thing? How could one possibly be guilty of such an abomination? Regarding the incestuous banquets, it's a fable, an outrageous infamy. As I said in an earlier post, he is reacting to the offensiveness of the activity involved in the charge. When he addresses the charge of worshiping a crucified man, he is still reacting in exactly the same way, but now he adds a nuance to his standard (b)-type response. Unfortunately, that nuance has been responsible for 1800 years of misunderstanding, and provided meat for the apologist’s mill. Instead of just calling it an insult, or saying something like: how foolish do you think we are to worship a criminal and his cross, how could you think we would do something like that? he evidently decides that this would not be enough, probably because the point isn’t quite as blatantly self-evident as it is in the other cases. And so he fashions his (b) to include the reasons why it is foolish for anyone to worship a crucified man and for the pagans to think that they would. And what are those reasons? Because no criminal would deserve to be so worshiped, and no mortal could get himself to be so worshiped. These are the reasons why it would be foolish to do so, reasons Felix felt constrained to supply. It is Felix’s way of highlighting and driving home his dismissal of the validity of the accusation.

To our great chagrin (though the passage would probably not have survived otherwise, and we wouldn't be here today), what Felix has said also turned out to create the impression of a veiled ambiguity, and this is how the passage has been read ever since. Every Christian commentator who has read it has chosen to look behind the lines and find something that is not there. Felix’s valid and very powerful justification for regarding the worship of a man and his cross as foolish and unthinkable—just as the other accusations are foolish and unthinkable—has been turned 180 degrees to mean the opposite. Since Felix declares it is foolish because no criminal deserves to be worshiped, lo! this means he meant to say that the man wasn’t a criminal! Glory be! Since Felix declares it is foolish because a mortal could never get himself to be thought a god, lo! this means he meant to say that the man wasn’t a mortal! Hallelujah! He meant all this, even though he makes no clear statements to that effect, something he could easily have done. This is a totally unnecessary and invalid imposition of meaning on the passage, because, as I’ve shown, the other meaning is there on the surface, in plain sight, fully understandable. It is fully in keeping with the pattern he has established throughout his set of responses. All the charges are the same. They are foolish and unthinkable. The only difference is, in the case of the crucified man, Felix has expanded his (b) response to show why it is foolish and unthinkable.

Let’s see if we can draw even more out of that (b) passage, why he may have chosen to express such thoughts and what it might tell us. We have all admitted that Felix was undoubtedly familiar with sects calling themselves Christian, associated with his own by the pagans, who held to a worship of a crucified man (probably, by this time, based on the Gospels). Felix thought it was poppycock, and could never bring himself to associate it with the faith of his own group, his own Logos-belief. Why? For the reasons he states to Caecilius. They are clearly emotional reasons, he is viscerally against the thought of worshiping a criminal. (If the man was crucified for a crime, then the assumption is he was a criminal.) He is against the thought of turning a mortal into a god. And so he put those emotional reasons into his response to Caecilius—and there they stand, a witness to how some who called themselves Christians would have no truck with others of the same name who had adopted doctrines that were offensive and philosophically repugnant.

(I might point out in passing that the early documentary record shows all sorts of examples of this kind of diverse, incompatible, antagonistic expressions among the various sects that fall under the general “intermediary Son” umbrella: Ignatius’ condemnation of those who don’t preach a Jesus conforming to his convictions, the author of 1 John referring to certain apostles whom some Christians accept into their homes who are nevertheless “antichrist,” Paul himself rejecting and condemning other “apostles of the Christ” as agents of Satan, masses of heretics and Gnostics and docetists on the second century scene, each one a ‘son of Satan’ in the eyes of another. The picture presented in Minucius Felix represents another one of these differences, and is completely understandable in that context.)

Before leaving Number Two, I’ll will point out, as I have before, the effect created by the insertion of his general comment after his responses about the ass’s head and the priests’ genitals, and before his responses about the crucified man, the slaughter of infants and the incestuous banquets:

“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.”

Why he chose to insert this in the midst of his list instead of before or after it we don’t know, but the comment cannot be regarded as applying only to the preceding cases. It must also apply to those following, since Felix would have no reason not to have it refer to the infant slaughtering and incestuous banquets charges (it clearly does, and would be covered in his mind by the word “similar”), and because those following the comment show the same pattern of response as the first two—indeed, they are the same as the comment itself reflects, which follows the same pattern of (a) the reference to charges he labels as “indecencies”, (b) calling them false and disgraceful, and (c) the counter-accusation. He has ipso facto labeled the crucified man accusation an “indecency” with all the others, “disgraceful” and something to be defended against.

This multi-faceted pattern of common, parallel thought imposes its necessary meaning on all of the accusations involved: all are to be regarded and treated in the same way. To think that Felix would have fashioned his writing this way and yet meant something entirely different in regard to the one accusation, would be to attribute to him some form of schizophrenia or sheer idiocy. Nothing in the document indicates either. It is this principle of “parallel treatment” and the conclusion to be drawn from it, that I regard as undeniable. It has been done simply through a reading of the text itself, and thus it is irrefutable that the author of Minucius Felix rejected the idea of worshiping a crucified man and was in no way orthodox in his brand of Christianity. To dispute this, Don & Co. would have to demonstrate the invalidity of my analysis here, not through speculative if’s or could’s, not by appealing to extraneous allegations, but by direct examination of the text and my contentions about that text. When an equation is demonstrated as valid on a blackboard, the student who wishes to dispute it must approach the blackboard and use the chalk to demonstrate otherwise, not bring up what the professor had for breakfast, or whether the sweater he was wearing might have affected his markings, nor appeal to what the student heard or understood about what some other professor in a different department wrote on his blackboard.

Number Three

This has been discussed by many of us in the past, so I’ll reduce it to its barest elements.

After (a) itemizing the accusation and (b) giving his reasons for why it is foolish to worship a criminal and put one’s hope in a dead mortal, Felix provides (c) his counter by discussing the case of the Egyptians. What does he say here? He has just expressed the thought that the pagan accusation that Christians worship a crucified man is wrong ("far from the truth"), because no criminal deserves, and no mortal is able, to be believed a god, and foolish is the person who places his hope in such a figure. Then:

“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…”

So far, he has said, ‘Now I know that the Egyptians have chosen to worship a man as a god, but the truth is he is not a god.’ The clear implication here is that Felix disapproves of the Egyptian practice, simply because it’s based on a falsehood and makes a man something he isn’t, and which he knows he isn’t.

“…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.”

Here Felix offers a further example of the practice of deifying men, in this case princes and kings. Again he is disapproving. He states outright that “praising them as god” is the wrong thing to do. They should simply be “hailed as great and outstanding men.” Enlarging on this last recommendation, he says that the best thing to give to “a man of distinction” is “honor,” and to a “benefactor” it would be “affection.” (Using the ANF translation Don prefers, I would phrase it: the best thing to give to “an illustrious man” is “honor,” and to “a very good man” it would be “love”.)

Look at the words, look at the sequence of ideas. Don and others have completely twisted the meaning and implications of this passage. Felix is saying only this: ‘The Egyptians worship a man as a god, but they shouldn’t; he’s certainly not fooling himself. One should never turn even princes and kings into gods, but instead give them honor and love.’ This is totally incompatible with the orthodox meaning imposed on the crucified man remarks: that the man was not a criminal, that he was not a man but a god and therefore it’s OK that we worship him. How is this compatible with Felix then going on to say that it is not OK for the Egyptians to worship a man as a god? How is the admonition that princes and kings should simply be loved and honored as men compatible with the claim that Felix means that the crucified man was a god and it is OK to treat him as such? That would make the two elements of the passage completely contradictory. Again, Felix would have to be schizophrenic, he would have to fail to see the incompatible dichotomy created by what he has said. There are no if’s, might’s, or could’s involved here. This is seeing the passage for what it says, for the only thing it can be saying.

Appealing to our previous item of discussion (Number Two), if the passage about the Egyptians represents the (c) portion of his response to the accusation, which it does in conformity to the universal pattern, then it represents something he is counter-accusing the pagans of doing, namely worshiping a man. Here, as in my discussion of the (b) portion earlier, Felix has added a dimension of explanation to this comeback: ‘you are the ones who do it [worship a man], but you shouldn’t do it, and here’s why.’ If he is critical of the practice for the Egyptians and condemns it, then he must be condemning it for the crucified man. In this way, it conforms to the “parallel treatment” pattern in all the other charges.

Looking at it from another angle, condemning the practice for the pagans can hardly serve to imply that it’s OK for Christians to do it. That makes zero sense. Since the pattern principle demonstrates that Felix is using his (c) remarks as a follow-up and aid to the denials in his (b) remarks, then the passage about the Egyptians and princes and kings is logically serving the same purpose here. Otherwise, what is he doing? Is this a stream of consciousness writing? Is there no internal coherence present or intended by the author? That is hardly the case. If he is saying it is not proper to worship men as gods, not proper to give them such praise, but only proper to treat them as men, how can this serve to turn the crucified man into a god, how can it serve to make it proper to worship him, which is what Don and his compatriots are claiming is the relationship between the two parts of the passage? It is quite clearly the very opposite. He condemns the Egyptians’ worship of a man as an enlargement on his view that the Christians don’t (or shouldn’t) do so because of the reasons he’s given in his (b) remarks. The appearance of a reference to “a good man” in the (c) remarks is simply a coincidence. It serves as part of the point Felix is making about how one should treat a man as a man. It is Don and others who, donning their atomistic hats, have once again cried “Hallelujah! This ‘good man’ is a reference back to the crucified man, and shows that the alleged criminal was really regarded as good!” At that point, of course, the atomistic usage breaks down, because the “good man” has been specified as a man, not as a god. But, equally of course, they will take what they can get and run with it.

This analysis of the passage, the relationship between the (c) and the (b) and how one elucidates the other, is undeniable. It is there in the text. The marks are on the blackboard. It, too, is virtually a mathematical equation. To refute it, Don or Krosero or Ted would have to demonstrate how my reading of the sequence of thought, the content of the ideas, is erroneous and give us a better sequence, a better reading of the passage. Place your own marks on the board, and do it without speculation, without extraneous “what if’s” or appeals to other writers, or any of the other paraphernalia of tactics that have been employed.

While it is not a necessary part of my demonstration here, we could glance at the subsequent reference to crosses, just to cover all bases. This, too, conforms to Felix's regular response pattern. First comes the denial (b): “Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for.” Then the (c) portion. He starts out true to form by accusing them of doing that very thing: “You who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods.” Then he goes on to broaden the topic and adds several examples of the simple appearance of the cross symbol in Roman artifacts, in ships, and in the prayer stance. These additions, of course, he is no longer being critical of. His motive for adding them is simply to point out that the cross is also a natural and common phenomenon, perhaps to make the point that Christians would hardly worship something so universal. (His point is not completely clear here.) But the two together are offered to counter the accusation that Christians worship crosses, and they illustrate—again true to the pattern—the (b) statement that “we neither worship crosses nor wish for them.” Since all of this makes logical sense and consistently shows that the latter phrase means what it says on the surface, in plain fashion, there is no reason for Don & Co. to twist the whole thing into an opposite meaning. As in the case of the phrase “a good man” in regard to the Egyptians, the reference to the prayer stance is simply happenstance. Felix has brought it up to serve as one example of the natural occurrence of the cross sign, nothing more. It cannot with any logic or justification be claimed to have some kind of reference back to the accusation about the cross, to legitimize it for the Christians or reverse the plain meaning of “crosses we neither worship nor wish for.” This is again Don and his supporters thinking—and wishfully thinking—under their atomistic hats.

I challenge anyone to demonstrate, with a thorough and logical explanation we can all understand, that each of these three observations on the text is not to be taken the way I have laid them out, and that—especially when all three contribute their collective weight—the conclusion I have drawn from them is not irrefutable.

*     *     *

Further follow-up debates on the IIDB:

To date there has been a further discussion on the Internet Infidels forum, this one concerning the document from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha known as The Ascension of Isaiah. This Jewish-Christian sectarian document is perhaps the most significant extant example of the concept of a god descending through layers of a Platonic universe on a mission of salvation, and places the crucifixion of "the Son" in the firmament (sublunary sphere) at the hands of Satan and his evil demons. This picture has been hotly disputed by a number of Christian apologists on the IIDB, and I offer some of my postings in that debate here:

Debating "The Ascension of Isaiah" on the IIDB

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