Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Historicity of Christ and More on Mithras

Well, there are some people who are saying that Christ was not a historical figure but rather based on a conglomeration of mythical constructs, most especially the god Mithras, whom I mentioned somewhat in my last post. I'm not going to defend the historicity of Christ, cause I just can't prove anything. But I will defend that Christ isnt Mithras. Here's why...

Mithraism focuses so much on astrology as to be silly. Mithras slays the bull of heaven, representing the decline of the age of taurus and the dawn of the age of pisces, in order to bring salvation to the world. While I definately see the parrallels in terms of it being a savior cult that requires a sacrifice, which Christianity certainly is and does, the astrology just isnt there in Judaism the way it is in Mithraism.

Jewish astrology didnt really get going until c. 300 AD anyway. The stuff before then wasnt really keyed to doctrine so much as it was keyed to early Jewish fatalism. People being born on specific days exhibiting specific results etc. This doesnt even violate an omniscient and omnipotent God perspective since God could simply decide on which day someone would be born.

Also, Judaism was the most resistant to change of any of the religions in the Roman empire at the time. Their refusal to atleast accept Roman gods into their beliefs caused no end of difficulty with the occupying Roman forces. The Roman soldiers believed Judea to be the most miserable place to be stationed. The Jews really really didnt like being occupied, but more than that they didnt like being told what to believe. Every once and awhile they'd rebel and the Romans would have to reconquer them. The most famous instance of this is during 70 AD when Titus sacked Jerusalem and raided the temple. So you can see why it is highly unlikely that the Jews contrived Christ out of existing pagan practices.

Another thing that some people bring up is that all the records of Christ were written well after his death and by people who were already Christians themselves. This isnt really true. The author Suetonius, who admittedly did live awhile after Christ, writes in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars that during the reign of the emperor Claudius, he was forced to do some bad things to the Jews because a man named Chrestus had the Jews causing a disturbance. Most scholars believe this Chrestus to be a reference to Jesus Christ. Suetonius doesnt really have any reason to embellish this story at all, and it is only mentioned in passing so it is fairly believeable as far as ancient texts go. Some scholars believe that this repression of the Jews occurred as early as 43 AD. The actual year for the birth of Christ is somewhat debated, but most the range is somehwhere between 4 bc and 4 AD. So, if Christ lived 33 years, he could have died as late 37 AD, making only 6 years between his death and the activities of the early Christians in Rome. So, if those who claim a Mithraic influence are willing to admit that the beginning of the Christian movement happenned at the same time as the biblical context, then that just doesnt really leave enough time for the pagan practices to have modified existing Jewish beliefs so radically.

In addition, if there were to be a crossover between Mitrhaism and Judaism it is unlikely to have created a pacifist as the primary prophet. Mitrhaism was only open to males and was predominantly found among the soldiery. This would coincide better with a Davidian style Messiah who comes to reunite Israel with military might, which was what the Jews believed would happen anyway. As it was, Christ was clearly a pacifistic figure and stands in contrast to both the Jewish and Mithraic traditions in that regard.

We also know that St. Peter and St. Paul were executed in 64 AD after the great fire in Rome during the reign of Nero. As an aside, Nero's accusations that the Christians set the fire could have been more accurate than history is willing to believe. Apparently, the early Christians had quite a few converts among the fire brigade, so even if they hadnt committed arson they might very well have simply let it burn. But back to Peter and Paul, it isnt unreasonable that they could have been alive, as the gospels state, during the ministry of Christ. Unless we believe that they were simply preaching lies to the people, it isnt unreasonable to believe that Christ was a historical figure.