Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Christ Conspiracy, Chapter 14 pt II

Chapter 14 indeed contains several rather remarkable examples of flawed logic, factual errors and terrible sourcing. Since some of the sources are hard to find, I will again post a set of problems I have found with no claim as to completeness - several more posts on this chapter are probably going to appear soon.

The cross and crucifix are very ancient symbols found around the world long prior to the supposed advent of the Christian savior. In the gospel story Jesus tells his disciples to "take up the cross" and follow him. Obviously, the cross already existed and was a well-known symbol, such that Jesus did not even have to explain his strange statement about an object that, we are led to believe, only gained significance after Jesus died on it. [1, p 218]
The cross was a significant Roman execution method before Jesus' time too, as anyone acquainted with the history of Roman occupation would know. Outside of the Roman empire (but within the reach of its influence) Alexander Jannaeus had crucified several hundred pharisees a bit more than a century earlier. It seems - and this may be a misreading - that Murdock tries to debunk the notion that the crucifixion of Jesus was the first crucifixion ever. It obviously was not the first crucifixion ever, but no one claims that either. As for the pericope where Jesus tells his adherents to take up the cross, this does indeed seem to be a later addition to the gospel story added by someone who didn't realize how illogical it indeed does sound. Nevertheless, the cross may have had a (political) significance as a symbol of Roman occupation in Israel before Jesus, and this should be clear. Murdock's objection is based on weirdly halting logic - the particular gospel pericope she is referring to cannot be used to establish that the cross is a pre-Christian religious symbol; however, other evidence indeed can, but the significance thereof is not clear.

The cross, obviously - especially those variations with equal-length arms - is a pretty obvious symbol, one of the simplest possible geometrical figures. It being ubiquitous in religions around the world is no mystery.

She further repeats claims from a variety of not quite trustworthy sources, such as A. Churchward, on the antiquity of the cross as a symbol among the pygmies. Certainly it may be antique among them as well, but Churchward and similar authors had an ability to ascribe way more significance to such facts than is justifiable, and relied on less than reliable evidence.
Easter is "Pessach" in Hebrew, "pascha" in Greek and "Pachons" in Latin, derived from the Egyptian "Pa-Khunsu," Khunsu being an epithet for Horus. As Massey says, "The festival of Khunsu, or his birthday, at the vernal equinox, was at one time celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of the month named after him, Pa-Khunsu" [1, p. 220]
The derivation from Pa-Khunsu seems rather unjustified and requires a fair bit more supporting data - Massey provides no justification, and the Latin for pascha/pessach is not pachons. does not find it in its vast corpus of Latin texts. Thesaurus Linguae Latinae does not know of such a word either. The word does exist in Greek, but does not pertain to Easter, but rather to a month in the Egyptian calendar (still present in the Coptic calendar, although the name has gone through some sound changes rendering it slightly different in its modern form). The month's name indeed derives from Khunsu, but we cannot derive Pesach from that month's name in any reasonable manner.
The word "Hell" is also derived from the European goddess Hel, whose womb was a place of immortality. The Christians demonized this womb and made it a place of eternal damnation, and, since volcanoes were considered entrances into the womb of mother earth, it became a fiery hell. The original Pagan hell had no locality and was often situated in the same place as heaven. [1, p. 222]
The concept of a fiery hell was present in Christianity way before Christianity started entering into areas where worship of the goddess Hel, or concept of her kingdom were commonplace (see, e.g. Luke 16, hinting at such imagery at least being in use in early Christianity). In fact, the word 'hell' (as opposed to the concept, which earlier went by names such as Hades, Gehenna, Tartaros) only entered Christianity as its doctrines were translated into the germanic languages. Even in the first Bible translation into a Germanic language - Wulfila's translation into Gothic, the word is 'gaiaininnan', a clear borrowing of Gehenna. Here, though, the etymological fact she presents is fairly accurate - the Goddess Hel indeed is related to the word Hell, but what many readers will fail to know here is that the origin of words for a concept need not correlate with the origin of the concept. (An important thing anyone worthy of the title 'linguist' understands.) 
... The word astronomers use to indicate the sun in its high point of ascension is perihelion. Now you may notice there is a Hell in this word (peri-hel-ion), at least it can be traced to Hell, or Hell to it. Helion, the last part of this was was pronounced by the Greeks Elios, and is synonymous with Acheron, which is generally translated Hell. So that we have "peri," which means around, about, and "helion," Hell-that is, the sun roundabout Hell.[1, p. 222]

This is industrial-grade wrong. Murdock, claiming to be a linguist, should have some clues as to this, but it turns out she does not. Robert Graves - her source for this entire quote - really deserved more criticism than most were willing to level at him, since this kind of ignorant albeit imaginative unfettered fabrication really stands out as low points in his intellectual achievements. It turns out perihelion is a relatively recent word:

perihelion (n.) "point at which a celestial body is nearest the Sun," 1680s, coined in Modern Latin (perihelium) by Kepler (1596) from Latinizations of Greek peri "near" (see peri-) + helios "sun" (see sol). Subsequently re-Greeked."  N) [2]

The word has nothing to do with "Hell", and Perihelion as a word is way more recent than 'Hell' as a word is (and my awkward insistence on noting that I am speaking of these words as words is due to the sheer amount of obtuseness I have seen when debating Murdock's fans online). The connection between Helios and Hell is also spurious, as Hell is, as already pointed out, a Germanic word - not used in the geographical variations of Christianity whose populations speak French or Greek or Spanish - and one that has been used to translate a Latin and Greek concept into a few Germanic languages. Certainly the Christian notion of hell is of pagan vintage, but it is not derived from Germanic paganism (even if Germanic paganism very well may have shared a similar concept - it is more likely, though, that Christianity derives its concepts from the beliefs that were dominant in the region it developed, that is Roman, Greek and various Semitic belief systems around the Mediterranean). Murdock seems incapable to realize that Christianity, as it entered the anglosphere, caused English both to acquire Latin and Greek terms and to repurpose Germanic words in order to have a sufficient vocabulary to describe its doctrines. She seems to fail to realize that the English names of terms often have nothing to do with the origin of these concepts. English is not a representative language of how things were in antiquity, a thing Murdock often fails to realize: English is not the be-all end-all of how reality and mankind's linguistic conceptualizations thereof interrelate.

In a segment on how the Lord's Prayer is derivative from earlier sources (and therefore made up later), Murdock should have been able to spot the error in this particular claim:
"...the Lord's prayer was a collection of sayings from the Talmud..."[1, p. 228; 3, p. 469]
It is a quote, so not a claim of her own, but even cursory research into it will show that the Talmud is more recent than the NT. Yes, it does contain some material that is undoubtedly old - e.g. Yehudah Hanasi's redaction of the Mishnah is about the same age as the NT and probably in great part based on traditions going back decades and even centuries prior to his life, there is any number of midrashic and targumic notions throughout the Talmud that may go back to pre-Christian times, as well as things that seem to parallel various intertestamental writings - so indeed, Talmudic material may very well predate Christianity at times. However, there is no implication whatsoever that things in the Talmud must be older than things in the NT, as the Talmud was finally redacted in the fifth century.

However, there is a subsequent claim in the same clause, which seems to require some further backing up and not just assertion:
"..., many derived from earlier Egyptian prayers to Osiris." [1, p. 228, 3, p 469]
This full quote is from Barbara Walker. Walker refers to Wallis Budge's Egyptian Magic (New York, Dover Publications, 1971)., p 116. It is worth informing that neither "talmud" or "mishnah" is mentioned throughout that work, nor does it speak about Egyptian texts as sources of other texts. (However, I will admit that the edition I have used is not the same Walker has used, so other authors may have introduced additional commentary to it. In that case, though, the name of the other authors should be mentioned in referring to their writing.) Establishing the existence of similarities needs a comparison between the texts, and nowhere does Walker provide such a comparison - she only provides what essentially is a huge corpus of texts and leaves the act of comparing them to the critical reader. The uncritical reader, of course, will think she actually is referring to a source that has done such a comparison. The provided source does neither pretend to have done that or make any comparable claim, and giving it as a source for the claim that similarities exist is misleading. Murdock, the ability to evaluate the credibility and value of sources is a key skill of any good scholar.

In computer science, there is a somewhat jocular saying that captures the essence of a rather important problem with Murdock's work: garbage in, garbage out. No matter how much effort you put into analyzing the data, if the data is wrong and you are hell-bent on deriving results from it, the result will be worthless.

1) D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy
3) Walker, Barbara. The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, article "Jesus", p. 469

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