mardi 20 septembre 2016

Fact Check Alert, Mr Carrier! Fact Check Alert!

Richard Carrier, on his blog ...

Virgin Birth: It’s Pagan, Guys. Get Over It.
by Richard Carrier on September 19, 2016

... cites his own earlier article* in answer to one of Huffington Post:

...For example, in reviewing his infamously miseducating Huffington Post article on the historicity of Jesus, I noted:

... He is forced to assume T]hat they “just happened” to come up with the idea of a virgin born son of god, when surrounded by virgin born sons of god, as if by total coincidence. (Can you imagine it? They independently think up the idea, then go preaching around Gentile cities and discover there are all these other virgin born sons of god…why, golly gee, what a coincidence! See Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78, near the end of chapter 2, where Perseus is an example recognized even by early Christians as being “virgin born”; and to which can be added … Ra, in the tradition that had him born of the virgin Neith; … etc.).

Early Christians may indeed have considered the story of Danaë as possible, but in so far as demonic adultery takes the place of divine such. After the Golden Shower, Danaë was no longer a virgin.

So, using the link he gave in his new article, I go back to see if he can give any reference for early Christians regarding Perseus' birth as a Virgin Birth.

I get to the text passage on ...

Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism ; Mistake #3
by Richard Carrier on March 21, 2012

... and find this passage:

See Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78, near the end of chapter 2, where Perseus is an example recognized even by early Christians as being “virgin born”; and to which can be added, in some traditions, the virgin birth of Romulus: Plutarch, Life of Romulus 3; Ra, in the tradition that had him born of the virgin Neith; Dionysus, in the tradition by which Semele is impregnated with a potion; etc.

This was original form. Now with strikeouts:

See Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78, near the end of chapter 2, where Perseus is an example recognized even by early Christians as being “virgin born”; and to which can be added, in some traditions, the virgin birth of Romulus: Plutarch, Life of Romulus 3; Ra, in the tradition that had him born of the virgin Neith; Dionysus, in the tradition by which Semele is impregnated with a potion; etc. [Update: For more accurate treatment of these and other examples see my new article on Virgin Birth])

I find there exactly ONE thing, namely a link to the new article I started with.

One new thing, that is, I also found a link to the wiki on Danaë.

But what I do NOT find is ANY example of an early Christian on whom Richard Carrier could foist the charge in ...

... Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78, near the end of chapter 2, where Perseus is an example recognized even by early Christians as being “virgin born”; ...

Now, what exactly are we expected to find if we go to a Patristic link after a search for Perseus? St Justin's First Apology, chapter 21:

And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars? And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Cæsar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre? And what kind of deeds are recorded of each of these reputed sons of Jupiter, it is needless to tell to those who already know. This only shall be said, that they are written for the advantage and encouragement of youthful scholars; for all reckon it an honourable thing to imitate the gods. But far be such a thought concerning the gods from every well-conditioned soul, as to believe that Jupiter himself, the governor and creator of all things, was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions. But, as we said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things. And we have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire.

First of all, "was produced without sexual union" does not do full justice to Virgin Birth. Second, he ends the reflection by saying "wicked devils perpetrated these things." The wording without sexual union (I suppose "sine coitu" in Latin**) also applies to test tube babies, and early Christians did consider demons capable of acting successively succuba and incubus to produce such. But test tube babies are no virgin births. They do have fathers, even if these fathers did not have a coitus with their mothers. And the context is "we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter." St Justin is saying to the Emperor "if you have a right to believe in Perseus, we are not immoral for believing in Jesus".

This is rather a far cry from St Justin (admittedly an early Christian) recognising Perseus as a Virgin Birth.

The exact same St Justin is actually objecting when Trypho is pushing an analogue between Jesus Christ and Perseus. Chapter 67:

The Scripture has not, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,' and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather [should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ, [it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.

Trypho, I wish to persuade you, and all men in short, of this, that even though you talk worse things in ridicule and in jest, you will not move me from my fixed design; but I shall always adduce from the words which you think can be brought forward [by you] as proof [of your own views], the demonstration of what I have stated along with the testimony of the Scriptures. You are not, however, acting fairly or truthfully in attempting to undo those things in which there has been constantly agreement between us; namely, that certain commands were instituted by Moses on account of the hardness of your people's hearts. For you said that, by reason of His living conformably to law, He was elected and became Christ, if indeed He were proved to be so.

You admitted to us that He was both circumcised, and observed the other legal ceremonies ordained by Moses.

I have admitted it, and do admit it:
yet I have admitted that He endured all these not as if He were justified by them, but completing the dispensation which His Father, the Maker of all things, and Lord and God, wished Him [to complete]. For I admit that He endured crucifixion and death, and the incarnation, and the suffering of as many afflictions as your nation put upon Him. But since again you dissent from that to which you but lately assented, Trypho, answer me:
Are those righteous patriarchs who lived before Moses, who observed none of those [ordinances] which, the Scripture shows, received the commencement of [their] institution from Moses, saved, [and have they attained to] the inheritance of the blessed?

The Scriptures compel me to admit it.

Likewise I again ask you, did God enjoin your fathers to present the offerings and sacrifices because He had need of them, or because of the hardness of their hearts and tendency to idolatry?

The latter the Scriptures in like manner compel us to admit.

Likewise, did not the Scriptures predict that God promised to dispense a new covenant besides that which [was dispensed] in the mountain Horeb?

This, too, had been predicted.

Was not the old covenant laid on your fathers with fear and trembling, so that they could not give ear to God?

He admitted it.

What then? God promised that there would be another covenant, not like that old one, and said that it would be laid on them without fear, and trembling, and lightnings, and that it would be such as to show what kind of commands and deeds God knows to be eternal and suited to every nation, and what commandments He has given, suiting them to the hardness of your people's hearts, as He exclaims also by the prophets.

To this also, those who are lovers of truth and not lovers of strife must assuredly assent.

I know not how you speak of persons very fond of strife, [since] you yourself oftentimes were plainly acting in this very manner, frequently contradicting what you had agreed to.

In fact, Saint Justin does not answer the charge about Perseus, directly, but takes the other part to which he answers. A little bit later however, he does mention it as an afterthought, chapter 70, last words highlighted by me:

[Justin:] And when those who record the mysteries of Mithras say that he was begotten of a rock, and call the place where those who believe in him are initiated a cave, do I not perceive here that the utterance of Daniel, that a stone without hands was cut out of a great mountain, has been imitated by them, and that they have attempted likewise to imitate the whole of Isaiah's words? For they contrived that the words of righteousness be quoted also by them. But I must repeat to you the words of Isaiah referred to, in order that from them you may know that these things are so. They are these: 'Hear, you that are far off, what I have done; those that are near shall know my might. The sinners in Zion are removed; trembling shall seize the impious. Who shall announce to you the everlasting place? The man who walks in righteousness, speaks in the right way, hates sin and unrighteousness, and keeps his hands pure from bribes, stops the ears from hearing the unjust judgment of blood closes the eyes from seeing unrighteousness: he shall dwell in the lofty cave of the strong rock. Bread shall be given to him, and his water [shall be] sure. You shall see the King with glory, and your eyes shall look far off. Your soul shall pursue diligently the fear of the Lord. Where is the scribe? Where are the counsellors? Where is he that numbers those who are nourished—the small and great people? With whom they did not take counsel, nor knew the depth of the voices, so that they heard not. The people who have become depreciated, and there is no understanding in him who hears.' Isaiah 33:13-19 Now it is evident, that in this prophecy [allusion is made] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks. And this prophecy proves that we shall behold this very King with glory; and the very terms of the prophecy declare loudly, that the people foreknown to believe in Him were foreknown to pursue diligently the fear of the Lord. Moreover, these Scriptures are equally explicit in saying, that those who are reputed to know the writings of the Scriptures, and who hear the prophecies, have no understanding. And when I hear, Trypho, that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.

In other words, he is not saying "Perseus was begotten by a virgin", he is saying "I hear that Perseus was begotten by a virgin, I understand however this is not the real thing."

Precisely as a Christian would say today. Whether he was "mythicist" or "incubist" about the conception of Acrisius' grandson. I am, btw, "incubist" about poor Perseus.

Next link in my google is St Jerome's letter 107. Here "Perseus" is just mentioned as a kind of "scout totem" for Mithras worshippers. Next Stromata, Perseus not in text. Next St Augustine, De Civitate, XVII, chapter 13 ends in a complaint:

Men believed that in those times Perseus and his wife Andromeda were raised into heaven after their death, so that they were not ashamed or afraid to mark out their images by constellations, and call them by their names.

This was, by the way, in the time of Joshua Ben Nun. Or rather after his death. "After the death of Joshua the son of Nun, the people of God had judges, in whose times they were alternately humbled by afflictions on account of their sins, and consoled by prosperity through the compassion of God. In those times ..."

Actually, he mentions Danaë in the chapter too:

These fables, easily found in histories containing a true account of events, bring us down to the Trojan war, at which Marcus Varro has closed his second book about the race of the Roman people; and they are so skillfully invented by men as to involve no scandal to the gods. But whoever have pretended as to Jupiter's rape of Ganymede, a very beautiful boy, that king Tantalus committed the crime, and the fable ascribed it to Jupiter; or as to his impregnating Danäe as a golden shower, that it means that the woman's virtue was corrupted by gold: whether these things were really done or only fabled in those days, or were really done by others and falsely ascribed to Jupiter, it is impossible to tell how much wickedness must have been taken for granted in men's hearts that they should be thought able to listen to such lies with patience.

In other words, whatever person impregnated Danaë, it is a very bad lie to call him "the highest" or "optimus maximus" or "king of heaven". If Greeks were able to do so anyway, they were taking a very great deal of wickedness for granted.

However, that Danaë got pregnant, St Augustine is not denying. And he is very certainly not calling her a virgin, either.

Chapter 8 of Book II of Lactantius' Institutes was mentioning a king Perseus who lived in times when Rome was involved, not the husband of Andromeda.

So, no. That Perseus had a possibly "miraculous" birth (if a demon acting succuba, incubus and inseminator can be described as working a miracle) does not add up to its being a Virgin Birth. Most sources Richard Carrier could hope for don't say, one source speaks of a woman's virtue corruped by gold, and one - the one I think he might have thought of - was speaking of a diabolic counterfeit.

I think Richard Carrier owes historically minded people a somewhat better fact check and some reference, if he has any beyond St Justin.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
Vigil of St Matthew

PS - with Romulus, RC is missing more than one point. First, the god Mars is supposed to have had sex with his mother Rhea Silvia. So, as with Hephaestus, on RC's own words, Romulus does not even on the most supernatural version of the story count as virginally conceived. The idea of virginal conception really is unique.

And the foul legend of the legionary Panthera (which is not recorded as a personal name, as far as I know) is of course refuted by the miracles of Christ. Curing lepers and raising dead is divine. What Romulus got "from Mars" can be better described as a "luck charm" than as miraculous./HGL

* Citing oneself does not mean taking oneself as a reference, it merely means one has occasion to repeat what one has already said and not wanting to write it all over again. ** If this is wrong, Richard Carrier is free to cry "Fact Check Alert, Mr Lundahl! Fact Check Alert!" to me.

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