Jim Davila noted a few bizarre things about Jesus in the news. One is yet another claim about Aramaic/Syriac texts having been discovered that are supposedly important historical finds related to Jesus. They look like fakes, and they look a lot like other fakes that have incomprehensibly continued to make headlines in the news, particularly in Turkey but often also reaching the United States and/or the U.K.
Low-budget Amazon Prime documentary prompts explosion of interest in theory Jesus was a Greek man called Apollonius. ‘What about this person, Jesus? Was he real? Was he created? Was he an alien?’ film asks – to the general annoyance of theological experts (Tom Barnes, The Independent). I was going to ignore this story, but it seems to have gained some traction thanks to the recent coverage in Sputnik.
Yes, it is annoying. This is not a theory. It is not even a hypothesis. It is a notion that has no basis in any kind of historical reality. The sources for Jesus are much earlier and better than those for Apollonius. I don’t doubt that Apollonius was a real philosopher who lived in the first century, but our main source for him is a biography by Philostratus written in the third century. You can read the whole, long work in the Loeb Classical Library translation here and here (for free).
There are some interesting similarities between Jesus and Apollonius as divine mediator figures, but they were quite different people and it takes willful obtuseness to suggest that they were the same person.
He followed up in a second post after Newsweek mentioned the story:
The headline is unfortunate. This “documentary” is not credible and no specialist is defending it. There is no controversy.
But otherwise the article is good and I commend it to you. The interview with Prof. Sam Boyd of the University of Colorado, Boulder, gives an overview of why the claim of the film is wrong and what the actual interesting points of comparison between Apollonius and Jesus are.
It is unfortunate that the film is spreading misinformation. But the positive side is that Apollonius of Tyana is getting some publicity. And the media, to give them due credit, are generally correcting the errors of the film.
If you’re skimming this post and just want to know what the experts have to say about these and similar sensationalist claims about Jesus and alleged textual finds, here are the key takeaways: We know about a variety of ancient figures. Many of them are more like one another than like us, and portrayed along similar lines because of cultural and literary norms from the ancient Mediterranean world. They should not therefore be smushed together in a bizarre conspiracy theory that claims that they were the same person. There is no evidentiary or logical reason to do that.
Likewise, if there were a discovery of genuinely interesting new texts about Jesus, you would find them being discussed and studied by mainstream scholars. It never, ever makes sense to believe an obscure press report that alleges in sensationalist terms that a new and important find has come to light, even if it tries to persuade you that “scholars say” or “scientists conclude.” If you read what academics write about the (sometimes sensational and often extremely interesting) texts that we know about and that are genuine, you’ll get a clear sense, I hope, of how those texts and the study of them differs from sensationalist hype in certain media sources.
Of related interest, see the Washington Post article on how TV shows use serious archaeology to promote bogus history.