Thursday, September 5, 2013

Discussing Parallels with an Apologist

Over at Parchment and Pen, C. Michael Patton has been doing a series titled Top 5 Resurrection Myths.  Naturally a myth is any explanation other than "Jesus really rose from the dead."  Yesterday he posted #3 The Resurrection Was Borrowed from Ancient Myths.

I'm wary of these kinds of discussions because it can be very difficult to prove direct borrowing.  Just because a sports movie ends with the underdog making a last second comeback doesn't mean that it was borrowed directly from Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, Hidalgo, The Karate Kid, The Fighter, Breaking Away, or any of who knows how many other movies.  Nevertheless, I can still recognize the lack of originality, so I couldn't resist commenting on Patton's claim that
The primary reason why the idea that Christianity borrowed from the ancient mystery religions [fails] is that upon examination the parallels are simply not there. Of course there is always some borrowing from the culture of the day for liturgical or cultural reasons, but when it comes to the key doctrines of Christianity–especially the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ—the so-called parallels are not very striking.
Now what is or is not "very striking" may be somewhat subjective, but the fact that early Christians thought it necessary to address the parallels would seem to me to preclude the claim that they aren't there at all.  In Dialogue with Trypho, ch 69, Justin Martyr wrote
For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by (Jupiter’s) intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that (the devil) has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?
Clearly Justin Martyr saw some similarities between pagan beliefs and Christian beliefs.  So I pointed out to Patton that I thought that Justin Martyr's comments pretty well settled the question of whether the parallels existed although I conceded that their existence was not proof of borrowing.

Any good politician knows that the best way to conduct a press conference is to answer the question that you wanted the reporter to ask rather than the one he actually asked.  Similarly, a standard tactic of internet apologists is to respond to the argument they wanted the skeptic to make rather than the one he did make.  Patton came up with a new twist though.  Rather than respond to the argument that he wanted me to make, he demanded that I make the argument he wanted me to make.
Please make an argument for them [the parallels]. Make sure that you argue how Christianity borrowed from them and give the text.
Although I told him again that I was merely addressing the question of whether the parallels existed, he kept insisting that the burden was on me to prove that borrowing had occurred. After some pointless back and forth, I finally wrote

Why is there a burden on me to defend a claim that I haven’t made rather than a burden on you to defend one that you have?

You asserted that the parallels are “simply not there” and “not very striking.” I’ve suggested that your assertions are belied by the fact that an early church father–who was surely in a much better position than you to judge the existence and the significance of the parallels–felt compelled to attribute the parallels to demons.

Rather than address the argument that I’ve actually made by defending the statement that you actually made, you keep insisting that I make some other argument (a typical apologist’s diversion I might add).
That comment got deleted and in its place Michael wrote
Vinny. Which parallel do you want to deal with?

And, have you actually read these parallels yourself?

Brother, in my worldview there is a concept of a sinful waste of time. I am done here until you give me examples. My post has some examples. The burden is yours. But I do think you have demonstrates the point of my post well.

To the rest, just ask people to give you examples. It works.

To which I responded
If by “works” you mean "avoids responding to the argument that the skeptic is actually making and avoids defending the apologist's misstatements," then yes, it works quite well.
Not surprisingly, that comment didn't make it through either. I'm not sure whether Michael has banned me permanently, but we'll see. If so, one less website to waste my time at.


  1. At one time I appreciated C. Michael Patton’s genuine approach to doubt—especially his own. Now I see him as another deceptive apologist. In perusing his recent entries (I don’t follow him anymore) I noticed a link to the disciple’s death. I hopped over to his blog entry and reviewed the comments. I remember making a number of comments and asking questions.

    All are now deleted and/or missing. If one read the blog entry now, all the comments say how wonderful C. Michael Patton is. The ones (by me and if I recall correctly, others) questioning his research and pointing out errors….gone.

    At the least this is deceptive. At the most it is outright dishonest. For a belief Christians are “so certain” about…it seems odd their claims cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny.

    In the entry about parallel myths, I laughed when I read Patton’s statement, “Then ask them to give specific evidence for their claims. Do not let anyone get away with broad statements that have no backing. Ask this person which myth they think relates to the Resurrection and have them read the text with you. Make sure you discuss the date of the text as well.” [Emphasis in original]

    This is EXACTLY what I was requesting him to do on his “Death of the Apostles” blog entry—read the text! If he won’t do it himself…seems a bit hypocritical to demand it in others.

    1. There is a comment from someone who purports to be writing about the mystery religions for his dissertation. He offers two explanations for the parallels that Justin Martyr addresses: (1) he probably didn't understand the the beliefs of the mystery religions that well; and (2) there's no evidence were around when Christianity arose.

      If my comments were still being allowed, I would want to ask (1) where his understanding of the mystery religions comes from and whether it doesn't necessarily depend in part on Justin Martyr's writings; and (2) whether Justin Martyr doesn't constitute evidence that the mystery religions were around before Christianity (as he thinks the devil created them in anticipation).

  2. To be fair to Patton, I did a little searching and it turns out that your comments are still there. You were probably looking at the wrong year. Patton ran What Happened to the Twelve Apostles: How Their Deaths Evidence Easter in 2009 and 2010. You posed your questions in 2010, which probably explains why he didn't run it again in 2011.

    I particularly loved his assessment of the relative quality of the evidence for the apostles deaths in those posts. It makes "Do not let anyone get away with broad statements that have no backing" all the more amusing.