Sunday, January 15, 2006

When Luke Wrote About Mary Having Sex With A Dove, Was He Borrowing From Pagan Mythology?

Dave Wave has posted another response to me at his blog (the second comment here), and that latest response is similar to the earlier ones. He ignores much of what's already been said. He makes dubious historical assertions without citing a single source. He claims that scholarship agrees with him, but cites no scholars. He misquotes the person he's responding to. Etc. I'm not going to reply to Dave's latest material line-by-line, but I will respond to a few portions of his post for the benefit of those who have been following these discussions. As before, his comments will be in red, and mine will be in black.

One of the difficulties involved in interacting with somebody like Dave Wave is that he's so arbitrary and inconsistent. He'll change his arguments in the middle of a discussion, and the reader can get the impression that there must be something wrong with him (the reader) rather than with Dave, even though the problem is actually with Dave. Anybody who has been involved much in debating on any subject, whether religious or otherwise, should know from experience that arbitrary and inconsistent argumentation can be more difficult to interact with than a more reasonable argument that's presented well. Dave's arguments are like a tangled web that we first have to untangle in an attempt to make sense of what he's saying. By the time we've untangled the first argument, we find another tangled argument that turns out to be inconsistent with the first one after we've untangled both. Even after a few weeks of interacting with us, Dave doesn't seem to be making much of an effort to be coherent and consistent.

First, in his latest reply, he tells us that it's unreasonable for Christians to expect pagan parallels to the virgin birth to be so specific as to involve virginity. Dave tells us that it's sufficient for the pagan account to be "miraculous", even if the birth isn't a virgin birth:

"Everybody expected a unique birth for a god-man back then. Christianity provided the world with another one among many. Sorry, but Christianity seems to have accepted the general view of the pagans, that a man, if he is a god-man, is expected to have a miraculous birth. Why exactly you demand something of a mirror image copy of Jesus to be found in pre-Christian pagan literature (because you think unique birth isn’t parallel enough), only proves your ignorance of ancient mythology, and implies you are setting the bar very high so that the gainsayers will not be able to meet you fallacious standard of evidence. No non-Christian mythologist today, that I have ever read, insists that the parallels between Jesus and earlier pagan god men aren’t strong enough to warrant the conclusion that Christianity borrowed heavily from paganism. It’s only Christians, with an agenda to defend Jesus as totally unique in a culture where god-man were a dime-a-dozen, who raise the bar that high."

But later in the same post, Dave tells us that he "never said" what he did say in the quote above:

"Strawman, I never said that supernatural birth was sufficient parallel to say the New Testament accounts were derived from pagan mythology."

Which is it? What Dave tells us in the first quote is the opposite of what he tells us in the second. Like I said before, one of the difficulties in interacting with Dave is that you never know which of two or more contradictory arguments he'll use from one post to another or even within a single post.

Elsewhere in his latest reply, Dave makes one of his strangest claims yet, while commenting on Luke 1:35:

"'overshadow'? How can a woman get pregnant by a dove without having sex with it? Second, did you forget Zeus and Danae? How do you get 'sex' out of a golden shower that impregnates a virgin?"

First of all, where is he getting the concept that the Holy Spirit came to Mary as a dove? What are we to conclude about the mindset of a person who would assume that the Holy Spirit is a dove in Luke 1:35 just because He took the form of a dove in another passage?

And notice how Dave contradicts himself from one sentence to the sentence that immediately follows. On the one hand, he claims that Luke 1:35 is evidence that sex occurred. On the other hand, he goes on to argue that the account of Zeus and Danae didn't involve sex. But the Holy Spirit had no previous pattern of behavior involving having sex with women. Zeus did. Why would Dave assume that sex occurred with the Holy Spirit, but not with Zeus? And why would the early Christians call it a virgin birth if sex was involved? And why has Dave been calling it a virgin birth if he doesn't think the conception was said to have occurred without sex? Why has Dave been telling us that there's a parallel if he now wants to argue that the two accounts are different on this issue of virginity? Like I said before, Dave's arguments are often like a tangled web, and when you untangle them, you always conclude that it wasn't worth the effort.

On the subject of resurrection, Dave once again quotes the passage he's been citing from Justin Martyr, and he writes:

"What part of 'rose again' don’t you understand?"

But I've already quoted Justin himself saying that the parallels he's drawing are only partial parallels, accompanied by some differences. Dave keeps ignoring the other comments of Justin that Gene Bridges and I have documented, and he keeps quoting the same passage he began with over and over again. But any honest, thoughtful treatment of this issue would have to take all of Justin's comments into account, not just some of them. And any honest, thoughtful treatment of this subject would have to take into account the evidence we have from other sources, not just Justin. Even if the comments of Justin that Dave keeps quoting were the only comments we had from Justin on the subject, we would still have to take into account the other comments on the subject made by other sources. And those other sources tell us, repeatedly and in a variety of ways, that paganism not only didn't accept the Jewish and Christian concept of resurrection, but also considered it repulsive. When Justin refers to concepts similar to Jesus' resurrection in pagan mythology, he's referring to vague similarities accompanied by differences. To quote Justin referring to the similarities, while ignoring what he said about the differences and ignoring what we know about the differences from other sources, doesn't make sense. It's the sort of behavior you'd expect from somebody dishonestly approaching these issues, not from somebody approaching them honestly.

Dave also repeats one of his most common themes:

"Was Justin just a complete fool beyond comprehension, for drawing such a parallel where none, according to you, exist?"

I didn't say that no parallel exists. What I've said is that the parallels aren't specific enough to prove borrowing from one source to another.

Dave goes on to use his Caps Lock key to make his point more effectively:


Let's follow Dave's logic here. According to Dave, Christianity shouldn't repeat a common theme found in non-Christian sources. Therefore, if pre-Christian pagan mythology involves characters who eat food, then the New Testament should never refer to anybody eating anything. And if pagan characters die, then nobody should die in the New Testament. Nobody should speak or sleep either. And there can be no discussion of any afterlife of any type, since that concept had been mentioned prior to Jesus' birth as well. How would somebody writing in the first century A.D. go about writing an account of events on earth without repeating any common themes from previous literature?

In closing, I think we ought to ask why it is that Dave has repeatedly tried to avoid evaluating the events recorded in the New Testament by normal historical standards. Why has he tried to prearrange any historical conclusions we would reach by telling us that we should begin with the assumption of naturalism? (He's been inconsistent on that point, as he has been on others, sometimes arguing that we must begin with naturalism and sometimes denying that he expects us to begin with it.) When his argument for naturalism fails, he moves his emphasis to the pagan borrowing theory, so that such vague similarities as "a miraculous birth" or "coming back to life" are sufficient grounds for concluding that Christianity was derived from paganism. He doesn't address the details of the historical evidence for something like Jesus' resurrection. He just asserts that Christianity was borrowing from pagan mythology, based on vague similarities.

Dave made vague references earlier to how he would attempt to explain something like the resurrection. He referred to the possibility of hallucinations or some other sort of psychological disorder. But he didn't say much about the subject. Instead, his emphasis has been on concepts such as naturalism and pagan borrowing, both of which allow him to avoid getting into the details surrounding something like the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. Why is it that Dave has taken this approach? Could it be that he knows that he doesn't have a good case when we look more closely at the historical evidence? Could it be that he's trying to dismiss any examination of the details with a more vague theory, such as naturalism or pagan borrowing, so that he can avoid the details?