Jesus and Santa: Comparing Fundamentalist and Mythicist Parallelomania

Jesus and Santa: Comparing Fundamentalist and Mythicist Parallelomania December 8, 2014

Stuff Fundies Like shared this bit of Christian polemic against Satan…I mean, Santa:

jesusvssanta

jesus-santa-comparison

(If you cannot read the text in the image above, click through to read the chart on the Cutting Edge website).

This is exactly the same way that fundamentalists identify ‘predictions’ in the Jewish Scriptures that supposedly match up with Jesus. And mythicists, being mostly former fundamentalists, accept the claims of similarities that cannot be coincidence, and merely explain them in terms of borrowing.

But a look at the list above ought to lead to a different conclusion, namely that many of the supposed parallels are strained, and in the imagination of the fundamentalist conspiracy theorist, while even those that are not do not tell us anything serious about either Jesus, or Santa, or whether the latter is a satanic imitation – or any other sort of imitation – of the former.

Some get excited at slim connections – “Look, north connects Jesus and Santa – and also, the grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street in the JFK assassination!” Critical scholarship, on the other hand, has to ask deep, probing questions which allow both for the possibility of borrowing, and the possibility that superficial similarities on a chart designed explicitly to offer such similarities, may obscure more substantive differences.

It is striking that we see this in two very different streams of mythicist – on the one hand, in lists of alleged parallels between Jesus and Inanna or Horus or someone else, and on the other hand, in lists of alleged parallels between New Testament texts and the stories in the Jewish Scriptures from which some (e.g. Thomas Brodie) think they were drawn.

See also the article by Lawrence Mykytiuk in the Biblical Archaeological Society’s Bible History Daily on mythicism and the evidence for Jesus.


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  • Let’s see a chart now with the differences. I’ll start. Jesus – God Incarnate, Santa – Might be a Time Lord….

  • Actually the ratio of mythicists with fundamentalist type background to those from other backgrounds is about the same as the ratio of these two in the general population as a simple check of claims to the contrary demonstrates. I wonder if these same figures would be approximated in the scholarly academy. Would not be surprised if they do.

    Further, I think most critical scholars acknowledge the debt of some of the gospel narratives to Old Testament counterparts. It was in the mainstream scholarly literature that I was first made aware that scholars acknowledged what most Bible literates recognize on their own – that Jesus’ raising of Jairus’s daughter and his call of the first disciples are all based on comparable Elijah-Elisha accounts.

    Oui, n’est ce pas?

  • The comparison chart is pretty silly. Some of the parallels are simply long stretches, others have to do with really basic things like the fact that men do grow beards, and many cultures at various times encourage this; some are not surprising given that St. Nick was originally a Christian saint (would a Christian tell kids to disobey their parents?) Others I have simply never heard of. Since when has Santa ever sat on a throne? He sits in a big chair in department stores, but if that’s a throne, then every dad who sits in a big recliner is justified in calling that a throne too.

  • > mythicists, being mostly former fundamentalists

    Cite?

    That characterization certainly does not fit Richard Carrier.

    Parents were freethinking Methodists (mother was church secretary)
    Went to Sunday School, and to church on holy days
    Philosophical Taoist at the age of 15
    Atheist (Secular Humanist) at the age of 21

    Brief Biography of Richard Carrier
    http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/bio.html

    But even if your claim is true of a majority of mythicists, are you trying to merely explain them in terms of borrowing from fundamentalism?

    • Citation: Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Arguments or Mythicisist Myths?, London: Bloomsbury, 2014, pp.1-41 and passim.

      That there are exceptions to any rule is no surprise. Michael Behe is a biochemist and he find Intelligent Design persuasive. That doesn’t change the overall situation, surely?

      But be that as it may, if mythicism turned out to be completely unrelated to religious fundamentalism, the similarities in shoddy thinking and the offering of unpersuasive parallels would still be a problem. In this case, the point is not about origins and genetic relationship, but similarities which, whatever the reasons for them, are similarly problematic.

      • Are your (and or Casey’s) parallels between mythicists and fundamentalists somehow not shoddy?

        • What do you find shoddy about Casey’s treatment of this subject in his book?

          • You claim making parallels is shoddy, except when making parallels suits your purposes. That you are engaging in the very behavior you are sharply critiquing seems problematic.

          • I presume you are a mythicist, then, given your lack of concern to accurately understand and/or represent what I wrote. I did not say that making parallels is shoddy. I said that mythicists and conservative Christians make shoddy parallels.

          • You make shoddy parallels in the same way you accuse others.

          • Would you care to provide evidence supporting that assertion?

          • I already have. Would you care to consider your shoddy parallels? Tell us again exactly how Carrier’s peer-reviewed book is related to santa silly season stuff you found, and then you’ll have your evidence.

          • Here is my treatment of one of the two types or parallelomania I refer to: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/03/mcg388024.shtml

            Fact check any of the lists of alleged parallels between Jesus and Horus for the other kind.

            I don’t find at all persuasive the approach that says “Michael Behe has published peer-reviewed work, therefore I can dismiss your response to online ID proponents.”

          • By the way, did you steal “parallelomania” from Richard Carrier? He sees it in the Jesus-Horus parallels.

            Parallelomania is the particular disease of Jesus myth advocates who see “parallels” everywhere between early Christianity and all manner of pagan religions. Many of those parallels are real; don’t get me wrong. Some are even causal (Christianity really is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, which point I will soundly prove in my coming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). But most parallels are not real, or are not causally related (remember that basic rule in science: correlation is not causation).

            […]

            Thus you cannot explain the origins of Christianity by saying they just
            revamped a godking narrative about Horus-Osiris (which was really a
            narrative applied to the Pharaohs).

            That Luxor Thing
            Richard Carrier
            freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/294

            Care to backtrack gracefully on your smearing Carrier with the Horus strawman and the silly Santa stuff?

          • Avenger

            You may be interested in a discussion at earlywritings.com about Carrier’s comparison of Jesus to the Rank-Raglan hero type. According to one of the participants, Carrier confirmed in an email that he had changed the original criteria. The new criteria create a closer parallel between Jesus and the mythic heroes. See this comment: http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1052&start=40#p24702

            This is what the commenter says:

            Now, it would be possible that Carrier had just copied these new criteria from someone else and was just being sloppy in not checking the source, but I emailed him and he admitted that the criteria were written by him. I certainly don’t have an axe to grind against Carrier … but I have to call it like I see it. And this is intellectual dishonesty, and perhaps worse, academic dishonesty as well.

            I think this is pretty serious. Certainly, the fact that Carrier’s book passed peer review must be taken with a pinch of salt.

          • If the Santa Claus mud doesn’t stick, find another handful.

          • Avenger

            You seem to be confusing legitimate criticism with mud-slinging. If Carrier has manipulated the Rank-Raglan criteria in order to create a closer parallel between Jesus and the mythic heroes than there would otherwise be, then he certainly deserves to be criticised. In fact, an accusation of parallelomania would appear to be justified.

          • So we’re all done with Santa Claus then? This is the new topic?

          • arcseconds

            You still seem to be supposing that because Carrier doesn’t like the Horus parallels, this somehow makes it untrue or unfair to characterize such parallelism as typical of mythicist arguments.

            Do you not understand how generalizations work?

          • Careful now, don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. If all parallelism is somehow “mythicist,” then the Gospels themselves are mythicists “parallelomaniac” documents.

          • arcseconds

            It’s a good thing no-one’s claiming that all parallelism is mythicist, then, isn’t it?

            I’m not sure I understand what you are suggesting about the Gospels. Maybe you could be more explicit? Are you suggesting the Gospels inappropriately assume that parallels are evidence of common cause in places? If so, where?

          • Gospel Parallelomania exists between OT passages (actually the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament) and Jesus’ life.

            The Gospels are Hellenistic religious narratives in the tradition of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which constituted the “Scriptures” to those Greek-speaking Christians who wrote the four canonical Gospels and who appealed to it, explicitly or implicitly, in nearly every paragraph they wrote. A simple example is the case of the last words of Christ. Mark presents these words in self-consciously realistic fashion, shifting from his usual Greek into the Aramaic of Jesus, transliterated into Greek letters Eloi eloi lama sabachthanei (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?—Mark 15:34). Mark gives us no hint that Jesus is “quoting” Psalm 22:1; we are clearly to believe that we are hearing the grieving outcry of a dying man.

            But the author of Matthew, who used Mark as one of his major written sources, is self-consciously “literary” in both this and yet another way. Though using Mark as his major source for the passion story, Matthew is fully aware that Mark’s crucifixion narrative is based largely on the Twenty-second Psalm, fully aware, that is, that Mark’s Gospel is part of a literary tradition (this description would not be Matthew’s vocabulary, but his method is nonetheless literary).

            Aware of the tradition, Matthew concerned himself with another kind of “realism” or verisimilitude. When the bystanders heard Jesus crying, according to Mark, to “Eloi,” they assumed that “he is calling Elijah [Eleian]” (Mark 15:35). But Matthew knew that no Aramaic speaker present at the Cross would mistake a cry to God (Eloi) for one to Elijah—the words are too dissimilar. So Matthew self-consciously evoked yet another literary tradition in the service both of verisimilitude and of greater faithfulness to the Scriptures: not the Aramaic of Psalm 22:1 but the Hebrew, which he too transliterated into Greek—Eli Eli (Matt. 27:46)—a cry which could more realistically be confused with “Eleian.”

            Luke is even more self-conscious literary and fictive than Matthew in his crucifixion scene. Though, as I have said, he knew perfectly well what Mark had written as the dying words of Jesus, he created new ones more suitable to his understanding of what the death of Jesus meant—an act with at least two critical implications. First, that he has thus implicitly declared Mark’s account a fiction; second, that he self-consciously presents his own as a fiction. For like Matthew, Luke 23:46 deliberately placed his own work in the literary tradition by quoting Psalm 30 (31):5 in the Septuagint as the dying speech of Jesus: “Into your hands I will commit my spirit” (eis cheiras sou parathsomai to pneuma mou), changing the verb from future to present (paratihemai) to suit the circumstances and leaving the rest of the quotation exact.

            This is self-conscious creation of literary fiction, creation of part of a narrative scene for religious and moral rather than historical purposes.

            Randel Helms (1988) Gospel Fictions. Prometheus Books.

          • arcseconds

            I think you need to go back and read the definition of parellomania that you provided from Carrier.

            This is an example of parallels, and ones that have a common cause, what’s more: the Gospel of Matthew parallels the psalms because the author is deliberately invoking the psalms.

            The only example of parallelomania here could be Helms’s work, if the parallels he’s spotted are just completely spurious.

          • Messianic Parallelomania is the particular disease of Jesus as Messiah advocates (Gospel authors) who see “parallels” everywhere between Jesus and all manner of Old Testament passages. No, the Messianic Parallels between OT and NT that Helms recognizes are not “spurious,” they’re essential to the Gospel authors, and they are contained in the Bible for all to see. Try reading it some time.

          • Avenger

            You may wish to redefine the term so that it refers to a mania for using parallels rather than a mania for spotting them, but this is unlikely to be helpful.

            Know Jesus
            Know Peace

          • I’m one of three commenters so far to make note of such Messianic Parallelomania; I’m clearly not “redefining” much.

          • Avenger

            If I am writer accused of plagiarism, I may say that my accuser is guilty of parallelomania: i.e., seeing parallels that aren’t there. My accuser, on the other hand, may say that I am guilty of parallelomania because the parallels really are there! This could get very confusing. Better to restrict the term to the first sense and scrap its use in the second sense.

          • I wondered repeatedly over the past several days whether Mr. Leibowitz is a troll. His recent responses to another commentor have made me decide that he is. But such considerations aside, he clearly didn’t understand what the topic of discussion was, how terms were being used in it, and other aspects of the matter. I wonder how the conversation might have unfolded differently if he had simply asked questions first, instead of plowing in and then defending things said in ignorance…

          • Avenger

            It’s nice to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if you look at his comment history you realise that he has no interest in serious discussion.

          • arcseconds

            On further consideration, maybe the Gospels could be considered a form of parallelomania. Or at least, typology could be, couldn’t it?

            If you think that the Bible contains parallels to Jesus’s life and death (Melchizedek the priest, etc.) that were deliberately put there by God long prior to Jesus’s existence, then that’s paralellomania of a kind. Is it not?

          • Avenger

            Yes, you could look at it like that. Or perhaps it could be described as self-plagiarism 🙂

          • arcseconds

            Are you asking whether James ‘stole’ the term ‘parallelomania’ from Carrier? The term was popularized by Sandmel in a biblical studies article in the 1960s, and is basically a term of art in Biblical studies.

            Maybe you’d better go accuse Carrier of stealing the term from Sandmel.

            And why are you assuming that any generalization about mythicists is somehow a statement about Carrier? Are all statements about mythicists in general somehow a statement about Carrier, in your view?

          • Parallelomania is the particular disease Carrier, Feb 20, 2012
            My recent use of the term “parallelomania” McGrath, Aug 3, 2013

            It’s not a big deal; I’m just asking.

          • arcseconds

            The use of the word ‘steal’ seems more like you’re ‘just accusing’, not ‘just asking’.

            McGrath’s post that you link to says it was popularized by Sandmel, and encourages the reader to read Sandmel’s article!

            You might want to actually spend 2 minutes reading your own material or googling the term before deciding the most likely situation is that it originated with Carrier (an odd thing to decide, really).

            Or if you can’t be bothered investigating it yourself, ask more open-ended questions with less prejudicial language.

          • But if I use less prejudicial language, I’ll be abandoning your good example. Decisions, decisions.

          • arcseconds

            Gee, it’s a long time since I’ve had the whole

            “I know you are, but what am I?

            Full stop, you can’t say it back”

            response.

            If you genuinely feel I’ve been prejudicial in my use of language, rather than are just engaging in playground antics, please be more specific.

          • You made that decision easy.

          • arcseconds

            What decision? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

            Can I ask what are you trying to achieve here, exactly?

            You come in here and make points which are unclear, wrong, or obvious, you don’t even read the material you link to, and you’re gratuitously obnoxious to everyone. You don’t seem genuinely interested in discussing the points that you raise.

          • Are you projecting? You’re certainly describing your own behavior accurately. What’s your problem?

          • OK, this has gone far enough. Your behavior even before this comment made me wonder whether you are a troll, but then some of your comments seemed to genuinely be interested in substantive matters. But the troll trick of behaving badly and then blaming someone who calls you on it is going to bring down the level of discourse on this blog in ways that I do not consider acceptable. Please engage in substantive discussion and save insult-hurling and projection of projection for places where the standards are lower.

          • Somehow, “believing badly” is always equated to “behaving badly.”

          • No, it isn’t. This is a blog which has no interest in defending any kinds sof orthodoxy and looks at a lot of critical historical questions in a way that tries to avoid not just the pole of gullibility that merely accepts everything, but also the other pole of gullibility that uses pseudoskepticism in the interest of promoting views that are just as poorly founded in evidence.

            If you ever think you can treat the people who have been commenting here for many years, and who have show great interest in serious discussion of academic as well as other subjects, with the respect that any human being ought to be shown, get in touch and I will happily let you comment here again.

          • What was shoddy about Casey’s treatment? Well, for one thing he included in his list of mythicists scholars who are not mythicists at all. Some of these and others who have expressed sympathy with mythicism Casey quite wrongly branded as ex-fundamentalists — their past religious affiliations were nothing like that; and of others who did have fundamentalist associations Casey happened to overlook the fact that they had also had as much involvement in liberal churches.

            A simple check-list of some of the names he included shows just how shoddy Casey’s caricatures were. See Who’s Who among Mythicists.

            As for his distortion of my own background see my defence here and here.

            Another example: I have myself written strong criticisms of Acharya’s (Murdock’s) work but at least I base my remarks on what her arguments really are. Yet Casey faulted her for arguments and statements she does not make. If you can’t find real faults in the case of Acharya but must resort to fabricated data then you really are on shoddy ground.

            If you want any more indications of shoddiness in this work by Casey see the posts in this series here.

            If you want to trust Casey’s words because he is a reputable scholar who had no axe to grind then I suggest you are unaware of the background to his book and are not following the principles of scholarly engagement.

  • Joe Wallack

    The ironic part is that the first significant author of your religion had even worse proof-texting

  • lists of alleged parallels between New Testament texts and the stories in the Jewish Scriptures from which some (e.g. Thomas Brodie) think they were drawn.

    I don’t know if Brodie has ever published a “list of alleged parallels” but I do know that he has published many detailed arguments for intertextuality — and in the process citing common literary practice of the day. The literary practice was not confined to the classical world either but was well-known in Jewish literature — the gospels’ relationship to the OT being only one example.

    Were not Brodie’s publications on the whole peer-reviewed? And were not many of them published in partnership with other mainstream scholars? Do not many mainstream scholars admit and even point out in commentaries that at least some of the gospel narratives are indeed based on OT passages? (e.g. Jesus’ miracles comparable with some of those of Elijah and Elisha, the calling of the disciples ditto)

    Of course these parallels do not of themselves prove mythicism but I don’t know of any mythicist (I’m not including the likes of Acharya and co) who argues that such parallels of themselves do indeed prove mythicism.

    Carrier, for example, only mentions such parallels as one piece of background knowledge out of a total of 48 pieces. So he hardly uses them to make his case.