The Roman legacy

by Manu Rodríguez (translated from Spanish)



Rome not only opened Europe’s doors to our Greek brothers, but also to the Syrians, and the Phoenicians, and Jews, and the Persians, and to the Egyptians…

It was a flood, a deluge of Eastern cults. Finally, nothing could be saved because we were not anchored onto anything solid. Uprooted, we went astray after a process of self-destruction that had even corroded our very roots, our very fundamentals (courtesy of our Cynic and Skeptic philosophers and Stoics). We navigated adrift, without a North; a wind without North. We laid at the mercy of anyone, of any clever devil. And that’s what happened to us: a clever devil caught us, and we were held captive in his cave for more than a thousand and five hundred years.

In no way did we need any morality or Eastern cult. The European natives (indigenae, born of the interior) had their own gods (indigetes, divinities of the interior), i.e., their own laws, norms, morals. We were doing well: they were the treasures of the families, the ancestral legacy. While these values were maintained nothing bad could happen to us.

It was the contempt for such symbolic significances what marked the beginning of our decline and ruin: the neglect of our being. We should have been stronger. Instead, notice our superficiality in detaching ourselves from the highest value; our folly, our decline, our stupidity, our decadence, our weakness. We disappointed our parents who are in heaven. We were perfidious, unfaithful, disloyal, infidels; unfair.

Anyone who abandons his people, his mother country, is an outcast, a bastard. Those who abandon their Fathers and their legacy, these are the true stateless. They have no country, no parents; they’re only infidels. But that was precisely our behavior. That’s what they did, by force or degree, all of our ancestors: the Romans, Greeks, Germans, Celts, Slavs… All of them disowned the Fathers during the fateful Christianization of Europe. I speak for our ancestors. Upon us falls such guilt, such error, such treachery.

We, the present generations of Europeans, have to repair such perfidy, such disloyalty. We must reclaim the thread with our ancestors, the legacy; give it life again.

Here’s what we missed, what we throw overboard, what was lost of our sight. I speak of the genius of Rome, from her being and her becoming, of a living branch of the Indo-European tree that has not perished. Of her success and failure we must all learn. They succeeded in both keeping their identity, which made them strong, and their ethical significances, moral and civic, so familiar.

The symbolic significances I mention below are taken from the Atlas of World History by Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, page 88. They are slogans that provide strength and firmness, and moral courage. They were the weapons that we could have used then, and failed to do; but we can use them now. There is still time. It is time to recover what makes us strong and asserts us. Let’s see if those significances remain valid. The following is a summary.

The preservation ( disciplina potestas) of the domestic or household order is made by the father (both parents we would say today without objection), by the authority (sapientia), the maturity of judgment (consilium) and integrity (probitas). The circumspection (diligentia), the rigor (severitas), and self-control (continentia, and temperantia) define the solemn character (gravitas) of their actions, acquired by the industriousness (industria) and tenacity (constantia). The offspring are educated in adult models (mos maiorum). Humility (modestia) and worship (reverentia) are the virtues that should govern the relationship of the younger generation with the older. Young people are also demanded obedience (obsequium), respect (verecundia) and purity (pudicitia, integritas morum).

As for the training of citizens this is what it says: Valor (virtus), independence of judgment and action (libertas), glory, devotion (pietas), fidelity or reliability (fides) and propriety in public life (dignitas) constitute the ideal virtues of a Roman citizen; something that he must put in the service of the community (res publica) in order to contribute to a greater power and greatness of his people (maiestas populi romani). The common good is the highest law (salus populi suprema lex).

cicero

I also recommend the reading of the treatise De officiis (On Duties) of Cicero.

Each of these Latin terms has a wider semantic field that expresses the translation (that I copied from the original). The auctoritas had a sense of moral standing, as when we say “so and so is an authority in a particular science or branch of knowledge.” The sapientia is both the wisdom, knowledge as intelligence, sanity. Pietas is the devotion we owe to the manes or Parents, the elder (mos maiorum) and to the res publica, the mother country. Sacrae patria deserere and deserere patriam were Roman expressions that designated desertion of the Fathers and the adoption of a foreign religion. Gloria is precisely fame, good reputation, be renown; reaching general and public honors after a cursus honorum full of merit, in the service of my people, for the greater glory of my people.

These values can be reclaimed today with dignity and without any demerit.

I remind my fellow citizens this past story because presently Europe (and the Magna Europe) runs a similar risk to that loss in the ancient world. This time it will be much worse because it is foreign people and foreign to our being what will dominate us. That was a purely ideological domination; this will also be a demographic domination. We will be clearly disadvantaged on earth and in heaven.

The decline was soon shown in Greece (since the Alexandrian period) and Rome (since the Carthaginian wars): corruption, despotism, injustice, immorality, treachery—in all areas of life. Polybius and Cicero warned in Rome, and Columella and Sallust, Tacitus, Persius and Juvenal. Everyone noticed it and pleaded: “Go back to the sources, Roman: return to the Fathers, purify and recover the aura, the prestige (auctoritas), the majesty.” All in vain. The echo of that failure still resonates today.

No, it was not the alien cults, nor the Jews or the Christians… It was us, our indifference and our nihilism, the cause of our destruction. There laid our weakness. We were not up to par. We failed to respond adequately to the Christian apologists, for example. There was no Demosthenes, no Cicero in the first Christian centuries. We watched them destroy our foundations. The philosophical schools provided arguments to the Christian propagandists (criticism of our gods, traditions and customs, our values). We weakened the security and confidence in ourselves, in our science, knowledge and powers. The future lords of Europe had little to add.

Doesn’t this story sound familiar to you, European? Behold our times. Haven’t we for more than two centuries been destroying ourselves? Which result we get from our current nihilism, our skepticism, our relativism, our political, moral and cultural indifference; our profound boredom? We repeat that history. We make the same mistakes. Again, we will be defeated.

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Chechar’s note:

“We failed to respond adequately to the Christian apologists, for example. There was no Demosthenes, no Cicero in the first Christian centuries…”

Actually, we did not fail. But the imperial Church’s hate speech laws of the time managed to silence its critics to the point that only scholars of early Christianity have heard about the names of those who debunked and refuted the apologists. Joseph Hoffmann said about the wisest Roman intellectual during the first centuries of our era:

Throughout its first three centuries, the growing Christian religion was subjected not only to official persecution but to the attacks of pagan intellectuals, who looked upon the new sect as a band of fanatics bent on worldwide domination, even as they professed to despise the things of this world.

Prominent among these pagan critics was Porphyry of Tyre (ca. 232–ca. 305 C.E.), scholar, philosopher, and student of religions. His book Against the Christians (Kata Christianon), condemned to be burned by the imperial Church in 448, survives only in fragments preserved by the cleric and teacher Macarius Magnes.

Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains, translated by Hoffmann (Prometheus Books, 1994), is a must read for post-Christian nationalists.

The historical Jesus

and the Platonic Fallacy



When back in 1985-1988 I was struggling to give up Christianity, with the fear of eternal damnation driving me mad, an article by Cullen Murphy summarized handsomely the extensive reading on the subject about the search for the historical Jesus I had been undertaking by myself.

As I recount elsewhere, I lived in San Rafael, California when struggling against my parental, religious demons. Presently, unlike the Murphy article I would only recommend a thoroughly secular approach of this fascinating field of research to those who are still suffering the agonies of apostasy.

I have already quoted Joseph Hoffmann (pic below) at length in my entry about my favorite philosopher, Porphyry: whose works were destroyed by the Christians in the centuries when the Romans committed cultural suicide. Tonight I would like to reproduce a piece Hoffmann wrote as a response to the Jesus Seminar, “The Historical Jesus and the Platonic Fallacy”:





Crouching somewhere between esthetic sound byte and historical detail is Michelangelo’s famous statement about sculpture. “The job of the sculptor,” Vasari attributes to il Divino,” is to set free the forms that are within the stone.” It’s a lovely thought—poetic, in fact. If you accept the theory of Renaissance Platonism, as Michelangelo embodies it, you also have to believe that “Moses” and “David” were encased in stone, yearning to be released—as the soul yearns to be set free from the flesh in the theology of salvation. You will however be left wondering why such a theory required human models with strong arms and firm thighs, and why the finished product bears no more resemblance to real or imagined historical figures than a drawing that any one of us could produce. We may lack Michelangelo’s skill and his deft way with a rasp and chisel, but we can easily imagine more probable first millennium BC heroes—in form, stature, skin-tone, and body type—than the Italian beauties he released from their marble prisons. In fact, the more we know about the second millennia BC, the more likely we are to be right. And alas, Michelangelo didn’t know very much about history at all. And what’s more, it made no difference to his art, his success, or to his reputation. That is why idealism and imagination are sometimes at odds with history, or put bluntly, why history acts as a control on our ability to imagine or idealize anything, often profoundly wrong things.

If we apply the same logic to the New Testament, we stumble over what I have (once or twice) called the Platonic Fallacy in Jesus research. Like it or not, the New Testament is still the primary artifact of the literature that permits us to understand the origins of Christianity. It’s the stone, if not the only stone. If we possessed only gnostic and apocryphal sources as documentary curiosities and no movement that preserved them, we would be hard-pressed to say anything other than that at some time in the first and second century a short-lived and highly incoherent religious movement fluoresced and faded (many did) in the night sky of Hellenistic antiquity. The Jesus we would know from these sources would be an odd co-mixture of insufferable infant a la the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a hell-robber, like the liberator of the Gospel of Nicodemus, a mysterious cipher, like the unnamed hero of the Hymn of the Pearl, or an impenetrable guru, like the Jesus of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Despite the now-yellowed axiom we all learned as first year divinity students of a certain generation and later in graduate school (the one where we are taught that “no picture of early Christianity is complete without availing ourselves of all the sources”), I will climb out on a limb to say that these sources are not so much integral to a coherent picture of early Christianity as they are pebbles in orbit around the gravitational center we call the canon. They are interesting—fascinating even—in showing us how uniformity of opinion and belief can wriggle out of a chaos of alterative visions (maybe the closest analogues are in constitutional history), but they are not the stone that the most familiar form of Christianity was made from. That recognition is as important as it is increasingly irrelevant to modern New Testament discussion.

So, how do we approach the New Testament? What kind of rock is it? We know (to stay with the metaphor) that it’s “metamorphic”—made of bits and pieces formed under pressure—in the case of the New Testament, doctrinal and political pressure to define the difference between majority and minority views and impressions, once but now unfashionably called “orthodoxy” and “heresy.”

Whatever the root-causes of canon-formation, canon we have. The Platonic Fallacy comes into play when New Testament scholarship labors under assumptions that emanated from the literary praxis of Renaissance humanists and then (in methodized form) fueled the theological faculties of Germany well into the twentieth century (before a staggering retreat from “higher criticism” by neo-orthodox, and then existentialist, postmodern, and correctness theologians).

The sequence of Jesus-quests that began before Schweitzer (who thought he was writing a retrospective!)—and the succession of theories they produced were honest in their understanding of the metamorphic nature of the canon and the textual complexity of the individual books that composed it. The legacy, at least a legacy of method, of the early quests was a healthy skepticism that sometimes spilled over into Hegelianism, as with F. C. Baur, or mischievous ingenuity, as with Bruno Bauer. But what Left and Right Hegelians and their successors—from Harnack to Bultmann to the most radical of their pupils—had in common was a strong disposition to approach the canon with a chisel, assuming that if the historical accretions, misrepresentations, and conscious embellishment could be stripped away, beneath it all lay the figure of a comprehensible Galilean prophet whose life and message could be used to understand the “essence” (the nineteenth-century buzzword) of Christianity.

Whether the program was demythologizing or structuralist exegesis, the methods seemed to chase forgone conclusions about what the Gospels were and what the protagonist must “really” have been like. Judged by the standards of the chisel-bearers of the Tübingen school, Schweitzer’s caution that the Jesus of history would remain a mystery (“He comes to us as one unknown…”) was both prophetic and merely an interlude in the effort to excavate the historical Jesus. If it was meant to be dissuasive, it was instead a battle cry for better chisels and more theorists. In the latter part of the twentieth century, it has involved a demand for more sources as well—not to mention cycles of translations, each purporting to be “definitive” and thus able to shed light on a historical puzzle that the previous translation did not touch or failed to express. Judas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene have achieved a star-status far out of proportion to anything they can tell us about the historical Jesus, let alone consideration of literary merit or influence on tradition. When I say this, I am not asking modern scholarship to embrace the opinions of “dead orthodox bishops” or “winners,” but to get behind the choices the church’s first intellectuals made and their reasons for making them. The politicization of sources, the uninformative vivisection of historically important theological disputes into a discussion of outcomes (winners, losers) may make great stuff for the Discovery channel or the Easter edition of Time, but it is shamelessly Hollywood and depends on a culture of like-minded footnotes and a troubling disingenuousness with regard to what scholars know to be true and what they claim to be true.

Moreover, it is one of the reasons (I’m loathe to say) why a hundred years after the heyday of the “Radical School” of New Testament scholarship—which certainly had its warts—the questions of “total spuriousness” (as of Paul’s letters) and the “non-historicity of Jesus” are still considered risible or taboo. They are taboo because of the working postulate that has dominated New Testament scholarship for two centuries and more: that conclusions depend on the uncovering of a kernel of truth at the center of a religious movement, a historical center, and, desirably, a historical person resembling, if not in every detail, the protagonist described in the Gospels. This working postulate is formed by scholars perfectly aware that no similar imperative exists to corroborate the existence (or sayings) of the “historical” Adam, the historical Abraham, or Moses, or David—or indeed the prophets—or any equivalent effort to explain the evolution of Judaism on the basis of such inquiry.

The Platonic Fallacy depends on the “true story” being revealed through the disaggregation of traditions: dismantle the canon, factor and multiply the sources of the Gospels, marginalize the orthodox settlement as one among dozens of possible outcomes affecting the growth of the church, incorporate all the materials the church fathers sent to the bin or caused to be hidden away. Now we’re getting somewhere. It shuns the possibility that the aggregation of traditions begins with something historical, but not with a historical individual—which even if it turns out to be false, is a real possibility. Even the most ardent historicists of the twentieth century anticipated a “revelation” available through historical research; thus Harnack could dismiss most of the miracles of the Gospels, argue for absolute freedom of inquiry in gospels-research (a theme Bultmann would take up), insist that “historical knowledge is necessary for every Christian and not just for the historian,” all however in order to winnow “the timeless nucleus of Christianity from its various time bound trappings.”

The Jesus Seminar was perhaps the last gasp of the Platonic Fallacy in action. Formed to “get at” the authentic sayings of Jesus, it suffered from the conventional hammer and chisel approach to the sources that has characterized every similar venture since the nineteenth century, missing only the idealistic and theological motives for sweeping up afterward. It will remain famous primarily for its eccentricity, its claim to be a kind of Jesus-vetting jury and to establish through a consensus (never reached) what has evaded lonelier scholarship for centuries.

The Seminar was happy with a miracle-free Jesus, a fictional resurrection, a Jesus whose sayings were as remarkable as “And how are you today, Mrs. Jones?” It used and disused standard forms of biblical criticism selectively and often inexplicably to offer readers a “Jesus they never knew,” a Galilean peasant, a cynic, a de-eschatologized prophet, a craftsman whose dad was a day-laborer in nearby Sepphoris (never mind the Nazareth issue, or the Joseph issue). These purportedly “historical” Jesuses were meant to be more plausible than the Jesus whose DNA lived on in the fantasies of Dan Brown and Nikos Kazantzakis. But, in fact, they began to blur. It betimes took sources too literally and not literally enough, and when it became clear that the star system it evoked was resulting in something like a Catherine Wheel rather than a conclusion, it changed the subject. As long ago as 1993, it became clear that the Jesus Seminar was yet another attempt to break open the tomb where once Jesus lay—I’m reminded of a student’s gospel paraphrase of Luke 24.5, with 24.42 ["They gave him a piece of cooked fish..."] in view—to find a note that read “Gone Fishing,” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. It was then that I commented in a popular journal that “The Jesus of the Westar Project is a talking doll with a questionable repertoire of thirty-one sayings. Pull a string and he blesses the poor.” I was anticipated in this by none other than John Dominic Crossan (a Seminar founder) who wrote in 1991, having produced his own minority opinion concerning Jesus, “It seems we can have as many Jesuses as there are exegetes… exhibiting a stunning diversity that is an academic embarrassment.” And Crossan’s caveat had been expressed more trenchantly a hundred years before by the German scholar Martin Kaehler: “The entire life of the Jesus movement,” he argued, was based on misperceptions “and is bound to end in a blind alley… Christian faith and the history of Jesus repel each other like oil and water.”

If we add these to the work of the Jesus Seminar, the “extra-Seminar Jesuses,” magicians, insurgents, bandits [the author is probably referring to the work of Morton Smith and Hyam Maccoby], we end up with a multiplicity that “makes the prospect that Jesus never existed a welcome relief.”

Bruce Chilton is one of a number of scholars who comes away from the Jesus Seminar sadder but wiser and hopes that the Jesus Project will not be another stuttering attempt to break rocks and piece them back together to create plausible Jesuses, as Michelangelo created a plausible Moses for the Italians of the sixteenth century. His challenge to the Project is fair enough. In fact, one of the benefits we inherit from the Seminar is a record of success and failure. It raised the question of methodology in a way that can no longer be ignored, without however providing a map for further study. Its legacy is primarily a cautionary tale concerning the limits of “doing” history collectively, and sometimes theologically, and the Jesus Project must take this seriously.

Let me add to this commentary a special concern as I watch the Project unfold. Jesus-research—biblical research in general—through the end of the twentieth century was exciting stuff. The death of one of the great Albright students last year, and a former boss of mine at the University of Michigan, David Noel Freedman, reminds us that we may be at the end of the road. Albright’s careful scholarship and research, and his general refusal to shy away from the “results” of archaeology, were accompanied by a certain optimism in terms of how archaeology could be used to “prove” the Bible. In its general outline, the Bible was true; there was no reason (for example) to doubt the essential biographical details of the story of Abraham in Genesis. Albright’s pupils were less confident of the biblical record and as William Dever observed in a classic 1995 article in The Biblical Archaeologist. His central theses have all been overturned, partly by further advances in Biblical criticism, but mostly by the continuing archaeological research of younger Americans and Israelis to whom he himself gave encouragement and momentum. The irony is that, in the long run, it will have been the newer “secular” archaeology that contributed the most to Biblical studies, not “Biblical archaeology.” New Testament archaeology is a different house, built with different stones. To be perfectly fair, the biblical appendix lacks the geographical markers and vivid information that suffuse the Hebrew Bible. If the Old Testament landscape is real geography populated by mythical heroes, the New Testament trends in the opposite direction. For that reason, New Testament scholars in my opinion have tried to develop an ersatz-“archaeology of sources” to match the more impressive gains in Old Testament studies.

The reasons for the “new sources” trend in New Testament research are multiple, but the one I fear the most is Jesus-fatigue. There is a sense that prior to 1980 New Testament scholarship was stuck in the mire of post-Bultmannian ennui. Jesus Seminars and Jesus Projects have been in part a response to a particular historical situation. Five gospels are better than four. The more sources we have the more we know about Jesus. Q (a) did exist, (b) did not exist, or (c) is far more layered and interesting than used to be thought. Judas was actually the primary apostle. No, it was Mary Magdalene.

When we considered developing the Jesus Project, it was not out of any malignant attempt to “prove” that Jesus did not exist. (The press releases have done an immeasurable disservice by harping on this as the agenda). As a Christian origins scholar by training, I am not even sure how one would go about such a task, or be taken seriously if it were undertaken. Yet the possibility that Christianity arose from causes that have little to do with a historical founder is one among many other questions the Project should take seriously. Inevitably, scholars and critics (if not always the same people) will ask, And just how do you go about doing that?, and neither the answer “Differently” or “Better” will suffice. The demon crouching at the door, however, is not criticism of its intent nor skepticism about its outcome, but the sense that biblical scholarship in the twentieth century will not be greeted with the same excitement as it was in Albright’s day. Outside America, where the landscape is also changing, fewer people have any interest in the outcomes of biblical research, whether it involves Jericho or Jesus. The secularization of world culture, which will eventually reach even into the Muslim heartlands, encourages us to value what matters here and now. As one of our members, Arthur Droge (Toronto) mentioned at the recent meeting of the Project in Amherst, NY, most of us were trained in a generation “that believed certain questions were inherently interesting.” But fewer and fewer people do. Jesus-fatigue—the sort of despair that can only be compared to a police investigation gone cold—is the result of a certain resignation to the unimportance of historical conclusions.

Reaching for the stars and reaching back into history have in common the fact that their objects are distant and sometimes unimaginably hard to see. What I personally hope the Project will achieve is to eschew breaking rocks, and instead learning to train our lens in the right direction. Part of that process is to respond to Droge’s challenge: Why is this important? And I have the sense that in trying to answer that question, we will be answering bigger questions as well.

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(Original article: here)

The Christian problem encompasses the Jewish problem



judeocristianismo

“Christian” is a codeword for artificial Jew.





No subject is so dangerous to address among White nationalists as the Christian religion.

Many Whites make a fundamental mistake when they portray new civil religions as part of an organized conspiracy of a small number of wicked people. In essence, civil religions are just secular transpositions of the Judeo-Christian monotheist mindset.

Christianity became thus a Universalist religion with a special mission to transform the Other into the Same. The seeds of egalitarianism—albeit on the religious, not yet on the secular level—were sown.

Tom Sunic



All of this quoting from dust-covered books of my small library that I had read long ago has to do with our hypothesis that the Jewish Problem can only be understood as the deranged altruism resulting from the secular fulfillment of universal Christian values, a point that most nationalists, especially the monocausalists,* find it too hard to digest:

Basic:

Kemp

J. Varlaan

The Red Giant

Tomislav Sunić


Pierce & Klassen:

On Christianity

Pierce on Christianity

Jesus was a Jewish liberal


Classic:

The Fall of Rome

Porphyry on Christianity

Persecution of Christians


Julian the Apostate:

Briefest review

Julian on Christianity

On Gore Vidal’s Julian


Overmen:

Hitler on Christianity

Nietzsche on Christianity

Nietzsche on the Aryan race


Contemporary:

Franklin Ryckaert on Christianity

White nationalists on Christianity

Greg Johnson on Christianity

Alex Linder on Christianity

Capitalism & the Church

A VNN exchange


My 2 cents:

On Erasmus

Bicausalism

Isildur’s mess

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* Monocausalism is the orthodox view in many white nationalist circles that Jewish influence in our civilization is the sole cause of the decline of whites. Monocausalists do not believe that there is a Christian problem or that whites, including atheists, agnostics or new agers, are inherently wired the wrong way as a result of the programming of Christian meta-ethics through the last millennia.

The Christian problem does not only refer to Christian dogma, but also to the moral grammar of what we are calling “secular Christians,” a group that could even include the anticlerical Jacobins. See the entry “The Red Giant” linked above to clarify this apparently paradoxical issue.

From our viewpoint, allowing the Jews to take over our societies, a process that started right after the French revolutionaries emancipated them, is the primary infection —the “Christian / Secular Christian problem”— and Jewish depredations in our society, a secondary infection. (From this point of view the Islamization of Europe would be a tertiary infection.)

A final solution to the Christian problem

The following excerpts are taken from the introduction and epilogue of Joseph Hoffman’s book on Porphyry. Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:



Persecution is a slippery term in the annals of the early church. An older generation of church historians, using the martyrologies and writings of the church fathers as their sources, believed that the era from Nero to Constantine was one of almost unremitting slaughter of professing Christians. Their opinion was enfeebled somewhat by the certainty that the Romans could have tried a “final solution” to the Christian problem much earlier, if they had wanted, and the fact that along with boasting of their many martyrs, church writers like Origen also bragged that rich folk, high officials, elegant ladies, and illuminati were entering the church in great numbers. The pagan writers tried to counter this trend in their insistence that Christianity was really a religion for the lazy, the ignorant and superstitious, and the lowborn—“women, yokels and children,” Celsus had sneered. But the ploy was ineffective. Diocletian’s persecutions revealed that Christianity had crept into the emperor’s bedroom: his wife, his daughter, their servants, the treasury official Audactus, the eunuch Dorotheus, even the director of the purple dye factory in Tyre, were Christians or Christian sympathizers. Insulting the new converts did not stop the process of conversion. The political solution of the third century, therefore, was an attempt to scare people off—to make being a Christian an expensive proposition. Persecution was the strong-arm alternative to failed polemical tactics by the likes of Celsus, Porphyry and Hierocles.

In 250 Decius decreed simply that Christians would be required to sacrifice to the gods of Rome by offering wine and eating sacrificial meat. Those who refused would be sentenced to death. To avoid this punishment, well-to-do Christians seem to have given up this new religion in substantial numbers, becoming in the eyes of the faithful “apostates,” a new designation derived from the Greek word revolt. The apostates also numbered many bishops, including the bishop of the important region of Smyrna, as well as Jewish Christians who rejoined the synagogue, as Judaism was not encompassed in the Decian order.

In the reign of Valerian (253-260) the focus shifted from the practice of the Christian faith to the church’s ownership of property. In August 257, Valerian targeted the wealth of the clergy and in 258 the riches of prominent Christian lay persons. The tactic was obviously intended to make upper-crust Romans think twice before throwing their wealth in the direction of the “beggar priests” as Porphyry called them.

On 31 March 297, under the emperor Diocletian, the Manichean religion was outlawed. Like Christianity it was an “import” of dubious vintage. More particularly, it was Persian, and Rome was at war with Persia. Holy books and priests were seized and burned without much ado. Professing members of the cult were put to death without trial. The most prominent Roman Manicheans (the so-called honestiores) were spared, but their property was confiscated and they were sent to work in the mines. The process against the Manicheans boded worse things to come for the Christians.

Diocletian published his first decree against the Christians in February 303. The edict to stamp out (“terminate”) the Christian religion was issued. Diocletian had hoped to cripple the movement. Termination would have meant extermination. But the survival tactics of the movement made police work difficult. Christians had become sly. The enthusiasm of martyrdom was now paralleled by accomplished doubletalk.

Executions increased, especially after rumors reached Galerius that plots against the throne were being fomented in Christian circles. New edicts were issued with regularity, each a little more severe than the one before. The fourth edict (304) required that all the people of a city must sacrifice and offer libations to the gods “as a body,” Christians included. Diocletian abdicated, in declining health. Galerius issued an edict of toleration.

Maximinus Daia, who had an active retaining program in place, designed to reeducate lapsed Christians in their pagan heritage. But the life was going out of the movement to repress Christianity. The pagan critics had not succeeded in stemming the popularity of the movement, and the “persecuting” emperors (except perhaps Diocletian himself) had miscalculated both the numbers and the determination of the faithful. The movement was Rome’s Vietnam, a slow war of attrition which had been fought to stop a multiform enemy. Even at their worst under Diocletian, the persecutions had been selective and, in their intense form, short-lived. And (as has been known since the seventeenth century) the number of martyrs was not great.

The goal of the fourth edict against the Christians in 304, in fact, had been to compel loyalty to unpopular rulers, and in 308 the greatly detested Maximinus tried the same tactic, “to offer sacrifices and wine-offerings.” The tactic was ineffectual, Eusebius says, because even the enforcers had lost their heart to impose the penalties and to support the machinery required for the “sacrifice factories” Maximinus tried to set up.

Unhappy with this failure, he sponsored a literary attack, circulating forged gospels and memoirs containing the stock slanders against Jesus. These were posted in public gathering-places and schoolteachers were required to assign portions of them to children as lessons. To substantiate charges against the moral habits of the Christians, Maximinus then hired agents (duces) to round up prostitutes from the marketplace in Damascus. Tortured until they confessed to being Christians, they then signed statements to the effect that the churches routinely practiced ritual prostitution and required members to participate in sexually depraved acts. These statements were also distributed to the towns and cities for public display.

Desperate times, desperate men, desperate measures.

By the time Galerius issued his edict of toleration in favor of the Christians on 30 April 311 three waves of attack had failed: the erratic policies of emperors Nero and Marcus Aurelius; the literary and philosophical attacks, carried on in collusion with imperial sponsors; and the more sustained persecutions of the third century, ending in 311. Paganism was dying. Maximinus’ plan for “reeducating” Christians in the religion of their ancestors had failed.

After Constantine’s conversion—whatever it may have been—only Julian (332-363), his nephew, remained to pick up the baton for the pagan cause. Julian did his best to reestablish the old order. He reorganized the shrines and temples; outlawed the teachings of Christian doctrine in the schools, retracted the legal and financial privileges which the Christians had been accumulating since the early fourth century; wrote polemical treaties against the Christians himself, and—in a clever political maneuver—permitted exiled bishops to return to their sees to encourage power-struggles and dissention within the church. Naturally, the Christians despised him. The distinguished theologian Gregory of Nazianzus had been Julian’s schoolmate in Athens, where both learned a love for the classical writers (but where Julian had been converted to Greek humanism). Cyril of Alexandria wrote a long refutation of Julian’s Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians), parts of which hark back to Porphyry and Hierocles. All in all, this pagan interlude—never really a renaissance—lasted only three years, until Julian’s death in June 363.

In the middle of this period we have just described stands Porphyry of Tyre. Born in 232, Porphyry was eighteen when the persecution broke out under emperor Decius. Twelve years later, his dislike for Christianity was firmly established. Porphyry had heard Origen preach, studied the Hebrew scripture, especially the prophets, and the Christian gospels, and found them lacking in literary quality and philosophical sophistication. He had joined a “school” in Rome (ca. 262) run by the famous neoplatonic teacher, Plotinus, where he remained until about 270. In Sicily, following Plotinus’ death, and back again to Rome, Porphyry developed an intense dislike of popular religion—or superstition, as the Roman intellectuals of his circle preferred to call it, regarding Christianity as the most pernicious form of a disease infecting the empire. In a work titled Pros Anebo he pointed out the defects in the cults. Then he tackled Christian teaching in a work. Popular under the rescript of Galerius in 311, the work was targeted for destruction by the imperial church, which in 448 condemned all existing copies to be burned.

The first thing to say about Porphyry’s fifteen books against the Christians is that they are lost. The exact title is not known, and its popular title, Kata Christianon, can be dated securely only from the Middle Ages. Opinions radically differ over the question whether the books can be substantially restored. A few facts can be stated succinctly, however. First, the church was unusually successful in its efforts to eradicate all traces of Kata Christianon from at least 448. Not only were Porphyry’s books destroyed, but many of the works of Christian writers incorporating sections of Porphyry’s polemic were burned in order to eliminate what one critic, the bishop Apollinarius, called “poison of his thought.”

Second, the ninety-seven fragments gathered by Harnack, half of which were taken from the fourth-century writer Macarius Magnes, are enough—if barely enough—to give us shape of Porphyry’s critique. That Macarius does not name his opponent and sometimes seems to characterize rather than quote his opinions could easily be explained as a strategic decision by a Christian teacher who wished his defense to survive. Naming his adversary—or quoting him too precisely—would have almost certainly guaranteed the burning of Macarius’ defense. Put appositely, anyone wishing to write a defense of the faith in the fourth or fifth century would have been foolhardy to identify the enemy as Porphyry.

[Third], I think we owe it to Porphyry and his “interpreters” to permit them speak to us directly. Having been buried—more or less successfully—since 448, the words should be permitted to breathe their own air.

My two ¢:

I took the trouble to type these excerpts directly from Hoffmann’s book of Porphyry’s literary remains. Take it as an invitation to purchase a copy and enjoy a work that, we can surmise, reflects “the master mind of Porphyry.”

Porphyry on Christianity

From the dust jacket of Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains, translated by Joseph Hoffmann (Prometheus Books, 1994):

Throughout its first three centuries, the growing Christian religion was subjected not only to official persecution but to the attacks of pagan intellectuals, who looked upon the new sect as a band of fanatics bent on worldwide domination, even as they professed to despise the things of this world. Prominent among these pagan critics was Porphyry of Tyre (ca. 232–ca. 305 C.E.), scholar, philosopher, and student of religions. His book Against the Christians (Kata Christianon), condemned to be burned by the imperial Church in 448, survives only in fragments preserved by the cleric and teacher Macarius Magnes.

Of Hoffmann’s translation of Porphyry I’ll quote only a few excerpts:




Critique of the gospels
and their authors

Apocrit. II.12-II-15

The evangelists were fiction writers—not observers or eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. Each of the four contradicts the other in writing his account of the events of his sufferings and crucifixion.

Apocrit. III.1-III.6

[John 5.46-7] “If you believed Moses, then you would believe me. For he wrote about me.” The saying is filled with stupidity! Even if Moses said it, nothing of what he wrote has been preserved; his writings are reported to have been destroyed along with the Temple. All the things attributed to Moses were really written eleven hundred years later by Ezra and his contemporaries.

Poverty saves. It seems unlikely to me that these words belong to Christ. They ring untrue to the ear. They seem to be rather the words of poor people who wish to deprive the rich of their property. Why, only yesterday Christian teachers succeeded—through quoting the words, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven”—in depriving noble women of their savings. They were persuaded to squander what they had on the beggars, giving away what was rightly theirs and making themselves beggars in return. They were turned from having to wanting, from rich to poor, from freedom to slavery and from being wealthy to being painful! In the end, these same women were reduced to going from door to door to the houses of the well-off to beg—which is the nethermost point of disgrace and humiliation. [Hoffmann’s notes that the view that women are duped by Christian “beggars” is conventional in anti-Christian polemics of the age]

[Matt. 14.25; Mark 6.48] Another section in the gospel deserves comment, for it is likewise devoid of sense and full of impossibility; I mean that absurd story about Jesus sending his apostles across the sea ahead of him after the banquet, then walking [on the water] “at the fourth watch of the night.” It is related that they had been working all night to keep the boat adrift and were frightened by the size of the storm surging against the boat.

Those who know the region will tell us that, in fact, there is no “sea” in the locality but only a tiny lake which springs from a river that flows through the hills of Galilee near Tiberias. Small boats can get across it within two hours. And the lake is too small to have whitecaps caused by storm. Mark seems to be stretching the point to its extremities when he writes that Jesus—after nine hours had passed—decided in the tenth to walk across to his disciples who had been floating about on the pond for the duration!

As if this isn’t enough, he calls it a “sea”—indeed, a stormy sea—a very angry sea which tosses them about in its waves causing them to fear for their lives. He does this, apparently, so that he can next show Christ miraculously causing the storm to cease and the sea to calm down, hence saving the disciples from the dangers of the swell.

It is from fables like this one that we judge the gospel to be a cleverly woven curtain, each thread of which requires careful scrutiny. [“each thread of which requires careful scrutiny” is nothing less that the science of New Testament analysis that, because of the fierce persecution, would not start until the publication of Reimarus’ Apologie fifteen centuries later]


The attack on Peter the apostle

Apocrit. III.19-III.22

[Acts 5.1-11] Peter is a traitor on other occasions: In the case of a man named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, Peter put them to death for failing to surrender the profit from the sale of their land and retaining for their own use—even though they had done no other wrong. How can it been wrong for them to retain a little of what belonged to them instead of giving it all away?


The attack on Paul the apostle

Apocrit. III.30-III.36

Anyone saying both “I am a Jew” and “I am a Roman” is neither, even if he would like to be.

The man who hypocritically pretends to be what he is not makes himself a liar in everything that he does. He disguises himself in a mask. He assaults the soul’s comprehension by various tactics, and like any charlatan he wins the gullible over to his side.

[1 Corinthians 9. 20-22: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people...”]

Whoever accepts such principles as a guide for living cannot but be regarded as an enemy of the worst kind—the kind who brings others to submission by lying to them, who reaches out to make captives of everyone within earshot with his deceitful ways. And if, therefore, this Paul is a Jew one minute and the next a Roman, or a student of the Jewish law now, but an another time an enemy of the law—if in short, Paul can be an enemy to each whenever he likes by burglarizing each, then clearly he nullifies the usefulness of each tradition.

We may conclude that Paul is a liar. He is the adopted brother of everything false, so that it is useless for him to declaim, “I speak the truth of Christ, I do not lie” [Rom. 9.1]; for a man who one day uses the law as his rule and the next day uses the gospel is either a knave or a fool in what he does in the sight of others and even when hidden away by himself.

I am astonished at this man’s pious regard for the law, since it is occasioned by his need to get donations from those who listen to his words.

The same man who writes, “The law is spiritual” to the Romans, and “The law is holy and the commandment holy and just” now puts a curse upon those who obey what is holy! Then, as of to confuse the point further, he turns everything around and throws up a fog so dense that anyone trying to follow him inevitably gets lost, bumping up against the gospel on the one side, against the law on the other, stumbling over the law and tripping over the gospel—all because the guide who leads them by the hand has no idea where he is headed.

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