Problems with Acharya S: A Brief Review
Over the past few weeks I have been getting an increase if fanboys (literally) of Acharya S, who pour in from who knows where (perhaps the Raves and Shindigs are letting out earlier then usual?). Perhaps they mean well, but this is really what the Jesus Mythicist Campaign was meant to expose - the poor and sloppy scholarship of some of the mythicist defenders out there. Among those who would discredit the movement, I feel Acharaya S is a valid candidate who has been among other things sloppy.
Now, let me clarify by saying I think Acharya is a great woman, who seems to be genuine in her desires to expose the flaws of Jesus historicists. And she is definitely a person with a quality personality. But, scholarship is not a popularity contest, despite what Bart Ehrman thinks. Scholarship is based on foundations of scientific observation and inductive reasoning that seems to be missing from the works of Acharya S (although I have yet to read her new book, with a preface by Robert M. Price, whom I think very highly of), and worse yet, her fans seem to be trolling the interwebs with intent and purpose.
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see that her fans are out and about, goodness knows what would happened if they all remained in that room together for much longer, yet why must they all flock to my section of the message board? It is clear from their posts that they have only read her books, and seem to have avoided other more note worthy mythicists like the plague! Worse yet, many of the fans that have come to my website seem to have no rudimentary knowledge of antiquity, nor do they seem to have any grasp of the methodologies employed by modern scholars and historians who have to face a rigid peer review before they publish.
When two of her fans attempted to go head to head with me in my forum, I confronted them are some of their very glaring historical inadequacies. Here is a brief list of some of these errors:
1. Comparing Jesus to Krishna/Buddha
2. Claiming the Moses/Jesus stories are Midrash based on the Bhagavad Gita
3. Claiming that both Julius Caesar and Plato were both said to be born of virgins and sons of God
4. Claiming ALL Caesars were deified
Of course, these fanboys get their information from Acharya's work. Her book Sons of God certainly claims that Buddha and Krishna influenced in some way the stories of Jesus and Moses, that Plato and Caesar were born of virgins and were sons of God. I'm grouping problems 1 and 2 together to make for easier refutations of the claims put forth by these fanboys, and Acharya S.
First, before one can even claim that there were influences on early Christians/Jews by the Bhagavad Gita or the works of Buddha (life of Buddha?), several things must be established:
1.) Settlements. What evidence does one have of Jewish settlements in India? What archaeological finds have been presented for this? Example: We have inscriptions (on tomb stones and buildings) and dedications in Alexandria, Rome, Syria, and Cyrenaica of Jewish neighborhoods and businesses, synagogues and temples. Alexandria has the highest concentration of evidence of Jewish life, however outside the Ancient Near East, we have found settlements in Italy and Greece and that is really it. Please consult J.M.G. Barclay's, Jew's in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (1996).
2.) Holy Book Location. One must show evidence at one of these other Jewish locations, especially Alexandria where papyrus was found and made in great numbers (hence why we have so many manuscripts from Egypt), where the Gita has been found.
3.) Assimilation and Socio-Cultural Accommodation. One must present some level of sociological assimilation or acculturalization where the Jews have lost some of their cultural distinctiveness to the Hindu religion, or the following of Hindu religious practices, such that we see with Orpheus and Orphic traditions (i.e. Poems written in Hebrew to Orpheus, or mosaics in Jewish synagogues of Orpheus) - we should see poems or literature written of Krishna in Hebrew, or some sort of art or graffiti in Jewish living areas dedicated to Krishna. The opposite should also be seen as well: Those who follow Hinduism should have held in some regard the Jewish religion in some areas (where these Jewish Settlements could be found in India) much like the Greco-Roman populace produced many "god-fearers" who although did not become circumcised would have certainly respected (and even tithed) to Yahweh.
4.) Holy Book Access. Not only must the Gita be found in a location near or in a Jewish neighborhood or settlement, but evidence of earlier usage of the Gita before the Gospels, or Paul, where Jews have been accustomed to seeing it, or would have at least had knowledge of it.
5.) Holy Book in the Vernacular. Similarity in languages must be established. Is there evidence that Jews even would understand the Gita if they read it, or would have been in a position to transliterate the language into Hebrew or Greek in a manner which would allow one to show a common link between the Gita and the Gospels in the original languages (not the English summarizations)? Do such translations of the Gita in Greek or Hebrew even exist?
If these five venues can be established, there certainly would be sufficient reason to accept that Krishna and Hinduism would have had some sort of influence on the Jewish culture, to the point where one might suggest acutely that Christ would have been recycled trope from Hinduism. The same five must-haves would also have to be established for Buddha as well. (By the way, all five of these can be established for Orphism, and the traditions of Orpheus.)
Yet this is not what we have. In fact, we have the converse of what we would need to adequately establish a base claim that the tropes of Jesus were taken from Hinduism and Buddhism. Of the many non-biblical Jewish writers we know of, none discuss or refer to any Hindu god or Buddha, nor do they refer to dealings with Hindus or Buddhists, or having ever read the Gita. We have a very loud argument from silence on the part of Acharya's claim here, and this position that is being parroted by the fanboys on the message boards do not help her case.
What of references in non-Jewish sources are also non-extant. Can it be established that Greek city-states or the Roman Republic/Empire had access to these documents and myths? This must also be looked at and considered, and clearly it hasn't.
That isn't to say that there aren't some similarities between Buddha, Krishna and Jesus (Buddha was not a God, hero, king or queen, although Acharya claims so on her site. Nor would Buddha have been called "anointed" or "wetted," as she claims - such concepts were entirely Jewish in nature) but the similarities are themes shared by a wide variety of cultures having absolutely not connection with each other. The theme of life over death for example is one of these. So is the theme of dualism, the battle between light and dark - however in Judaism it is clear such trends developed from the Greeks. Clearly, one cannot be so careless as to assume that Krishna and Buddha influenced the development of Jesus Christ.
Onto the next fallacious claims. Once more I'm going to combine problems 3 and 4 to make for an easier explanation. The claim that Caesar was born of a virgin and that he was the son of a God is fallacious. The contemporary accounts of him that we have, including the ones he himself had written, make no mention of this fact. And Suetonius, a century later, only writes of the instance of which Caesar claimed to be descended from kings and Gods, not that he was born of a union between God and his mother:
"When quaestor [67 B.C.], he pronounced the customary orations from the rostra in praise of his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia, who had both died. And in the eulogy of his aunt he spoke in the following terms of her paternal and maternal ancestry and that of his own father: 'The family of my aunt Julia is descended by her mother from the kings, and on her father's side is akin to the immortal Gods; for the Marcii Reges (her mother's family name) go back to Ancus Marcius, and the Julii, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the Gods, who hold sway over kings themselves.'" (Suetonius, Lives of the Twleve Caesars, Iulius Caesar VI:I)
We also know that Caesar lost his father early on during his teens, "IN the course of his sixteenth year [c. 85/84 B.C.] he lost his father." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Iulius Caesar I:I) So there is certainly knowledge that Caesar has a mortal father. Unlike the story of Jesus, which clearly paints a picture of Mary being impregnated before Joseph, with the Holy Spirit telling Joseph what the deal was (and why his soon to be wife was pregnant), we have no such story with Caesar. Suetonius certainly wasn't under the impression that Caesar was born of a virgin, as he makes no mention of such an act (and you would think he would!). Caesar became deified later on, yes, as a God. That does not make Caesar the son of God, nor does it mean he had a virgin birth. These are stories that don't apply to Julius Caesar, nor to Plato, yet Acharya S has apparently either made this up or sloppily read somewhere about this, and cited without further research these two men in this category. You can also consult The Oxford Classical Dictionary and The Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilization for authoritative data on this very subject. Cicero and Sallust will provide anyone with adequate information on Caesar as they are contemporaneous (Caesar also is enemy attestation).
The claim that Plato was among those born of a virgin and the son of God is bunk as well. Diogenes Laertius, a historian of good calibre from the period, who wrote, "And she became the mother of Plato by her husband Ariston, Plato being the sixth in descent from Solon." (Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, III.I) Certainly, if Diogenes had thought that Plato was born of a virgin, who was impregnated by a God as Acharya claims, why would he make it so clear that Plato was born of a union between his father and mother? Why do we have no such claim made by Aristotle? Certainly if anybody would have thought that Plato was born of a virgin, and was the son of God, Aristotle would have made a mention of it. Yet no reference can be found. Again, as before, no reference to a joining of his mother with a Apollo.
About the deification of the Caesars, it should also be noted that not all the Caesars were deified. In fact, Suetonius makes note that only Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar were deified - and they were deified in the manner by which Charles H. Talbert puts forth in his book, What is a Gospel? (1977) The distinction lies within what the Greeks and Romans saw and understood between "eternals" and "immortals." He says:
"'Immortals' must be understood in the context of a distinction between two types of divine beings, the eternals and the immortals. This typology is mentioned at least as early as Herodotus, who says that Hercules and Dionysus were gods who had a beginning to their existence and had not existed eternally...the distinguishing marks of the immortals were: (1) the deity had originally been mortal, and (2) at the end of his career there occurred a transformation of ascention so that he obtained the same honors as the eternals." (p. 28-29)
Talbert goes on to give prominent examples in Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology of such mortals attaining 'immortal' status. Caesar seems to have attained immortal status after or during his death, but he certainly was not the son of God, nor born of a virgin as Acharya claims. Ironically enough, the one character in Roman mythology who does have a typology similar to Jesus, that of Romulus, is missing from Acharya's list! (Romulus was said to have been the son of Mars and born of the virgin Ilia)
For a historian, comparative religion is a tricky thing. It's very cool to see how different societies have common tropes and themes, but that doesn't imply that these themes CAME from each other - at least not all the time. (And not without loads of data and evidence!) It is next to impossible most of the time to establish the connection many conmythispiracists (kon-myth-a-spiricists: my new title for mythicists who resort to this sort of rubbish) wish to establish. There are better ways, and certainly better explanations, for such tropes to exist in the New Testament. You only need one strong case of recycled tropes to show the Jesus of the Gospels isn't historical. And you only need one strong case of recycled tropes to show that those earlier tropes came from other Near Eastern cultures in antiquity. To go to the extremes of Acharya is not only pushing buttons, but begging for scholarship to look at one as amateurish.
Certainly, Acharya has been sloppy in her research, and her claims seem more like sensationalism than actual scholarship. Certainly she sells books, and that is good. I'm glad she is doing well for herself. We should all be so lucky. But, I will not, nor will I let others, promote such incredulous tripe as what we have seen above. There is certainly reason to be skeptical and even cautious about reading Acharya's work. It should be read carefully, with a grain of salt, and it should always be remembered that such claims need to be researched beyond her books. Certainly she misses some very powerful claims in need of citation, and even more does she need to spend more time reading the works of other historians and scholars in the field.
These are serious mistakes, and they need to be corrected.
For further reading: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/graves.html