The historical experience of a god-man called Jesus the Christ has never been questioned by Filipino Christians. It is presumed that he truly existed as a real person around 2,000 years ago, was executed by the Romans, was buried, and on the third day he lived again. This is recited like a mantra by all Christians during Mass.
But it may surprise many that the historical existence of Jesus has been debated by biblical scholars and historians from the earliest years of the Christian era.
The reason is the undeniable but little known fact that no contemporary historian during Jesus’ time, like Tacitus, Josephus and Pliny the Younger, ever mentioned his actual existence, except in relation to the belief of the early Christians.
In other words, they were merely quoting what Christians themselves said about who their founder or leader was. There was never any independent source of his actual existence outside of the Christian Gospels.
Such an absence of witnesses to Jesus as a historical figure is quite curious, considering the extraordinary miracles he was reported to have performed and demonstrated during his lifetime.
On the other hand, Buddha, who lived some 500 years before Christ and who never performed miracles as Christ did, had a more complete documentation of his life and historical existence from eyewitnesses.
I find this really strange, and it makes one wonder whether such a person as Jesus really existed and was not merely a myth created by the early Christians.
Because historians and critics have, from the very beginning, questioned Jesus’ real existence as a person, the early apologists or defenders of the Christian faith made an impassioned and vigorous effort to prove that he actually existed and labeled those who didn’t believe in him to be heretics and anti-Christian.
Their stance has never changed until modern times. They still call those who don’t believe in his historical existence heretics and anti-Christian.
However, it cannot be denied that centuries before the advent of Jesus, there were already pagan beliefs in dying and resurrecting god-men, which paralleled the story of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels adopted by the early Christians in 320 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Constantine. These beliefs preceded Christianity by at least 600 years.
British authors Timothy Freke, a philosophy and religious scholar, and Peter Gandy, a classics scholar, did in-depth research into the earlier beliefs in dying and resurrecting god-men among the pagan religions and discovered, to their initial shock, that the story of Jesus was not unique at all but could even be said to be an adaptation of much older pagan stories.
In their 1999 book entitled “The Jesus Mysteries,” Freke and Gandy reconstructed the story of the god Osiris-Dionysus from various pagan beliefs in a dying and resurrecting god-men. These stories, which were circulating way before Jesus appeared on Earth had a striking resemblance to his life, to wit:
1. Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh and called the savior and the son of God.
2. His father is God and his mother a mortal virgin.
3. He is born in a cave on Dec. 25 before three shepherds.
4. He offers his followers the chance to be born again through rites similar to baptism.
5. He dies at Easter time as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
6. After his death, he descends into hell, and on the third day he rises from the dead.
7. He ascends to heaven in glory.
8. His followers await his return as the judge during the last days.
9. His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine.
I may add here that a small gold coin dating back to pre-Christian Roman era was found by archaeologists. It depicted an image of a crucified man, but the caption read “Osiris- Dionysus.”
As expected, not everybody agreed with Freke and Gandy. Chris Forbes, an ancient historian and senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has criticized their work and said that Freke and Gandy “are not real scholars, they are popularizers.”
And that their arguments about Jesus are “grossly misconceived, and their attempt to draw links between Jesus and various pagan god-men is completely muddled. When you break it down and look at it point by point, it really comes to pieces.”
But calling Freke and Gandy “not real scholars” but “popularizers” does not prove their findings and conclusions wrong. Saying that the parallelism between Jesus and the pagan myths of the god-men are “completely muddled” without showing how they are muddled is a clear break in logical thinking. In elementary logic, we call this the “Ad Hominem” fallacy. It does not destroy their argument, but attacks their credibility. So, the debate continues.
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