Kriminalgeschichte, 23

Editor’s Note: The book of Porphyry, of which the Christians destroyed all the copies and only fragments remain, is worth more than the opus of all Christian theologians together.

Yesterday I sent a message to Joseph Hoffmann, author of Porphyry’s ‘Against the Christians’: The Literary Remains. I asked him if he is willing to republish it in Lulu, as it is out-of-print (I own the copy I purchased in 1994).

Porphyry, a detail of the Tree of
, 1535, Sucevița Monastery.


______ 卐 ______


Below, abridged translation from the first volume of Karlheinz
Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums

(Criminal History of Christianity)

Celsus and Porphyry: the first adversaries of Christianity

Before looking more closely at these new Christian majesties, let us look briefly at two of the first great adversaries of Christianity in antiquity.

Soon the pagans knew how to spot the weak points in the argument of the holy fathers and refute them, when not leading them ad absurdum.

While it is true that the first Christian emperors ordered the destruction of the anti-Christian works of these philosophers, it is possible to reconstruct them in part by cutting off the treatises of their own adversaries. Celsus’ work in particular is derived from a response of eight books written by Origen about 248. The most influential theologian of the early days of Christendom evidently took a lot of work in refuting Celsus, which is all the more difficult because in many passages he was forced to confess the rationale of his adversary.

In spite of being one of the most honest Christians that can be mentioned, and in spite of his own protests of integrity, in many cases Origen had to resort to subterfuges, to the omission of important points, and accuses Celsus of the same practices. Celsus was an author certainly not free of bias but more faithful to the reality of the facts. Origen reiterates his qualification of him as a first-class fool, although having bothered to write an extended replica ‘would rather prove the opposite’ as Geffcken says.

The True Word (Alethés Logos) of Celsus, originating from the end of the 2nd century, is the first diatribe against Christianity that we know. As a work of someone who was a Platonic philosopher, the style is elegant for the most part, nuanced and skilful, sometimes ironic, and not completely devoid of a will to conciliation. The author is well versed in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and also in the internal history of the Christian communities. Little we know of his figure, but as can be deduced from his work he was certainly not a vulgar character.

Celsus clearly distinguished the most precarious points of Christian doctrine, for example the mixing of Jewish elements with Stoicism, Platonism, and even Egyptian and Persian mystical beliefs and cults. He says that ‘all this was best expressed among the Greeks… and without so much haughtiness or pretension to have been announced by God or the Son of God in person’.

Celsus mocks the vanity of the Jews and the Christians, their pretensions of being the chosen people: ‘God is above all, and after God we are created by him and like him in everything; the rest, the earth, the water, the air and the stars is all ours, since it was created for us and therefore must be put to our service’. To counter this, Celsus compares ‘the thinness of Jews and Christians’ with ‘a flock of bats, or an anthill, or a pond full of croaking frogs or earthworms’, stating that man does not carry as much advantage to the animal and that he is only a fragment of the cosmos.

From there, Celsus is forced to ask why the Lord descended among us. ‘Did he need to know about the state of affairs among men? If God knows everything, he should already have been aware, and yet he did nothing to remedy such situations before’. Why precisely then, and why should only a tiny part of humanity be saved, condemning others ‘to the fire of extermination’?

With all reason from the point of view of the history of religions, Celsus argues that the figure of Christ is not so exceptional compared to Hercules, Asclepius, Dionysus and many others who performed wonders and helped others.

Or do you think that what is said of these others are fables and must pass as such, whereas you have given a better version of the same comedy, or more plausible, as he exclaimed before he died on the cross, and the earthquake and the sudden darkness?

Before Jesus there were divinities that died and resurrected, legendary or historical, just as there are testimonies of the miracles that worked, along with many other ‘prodigies’ and ‘games of skill that conjurers achieve’. ‘And they are able to do such things, shall we take them for the Sons of God?’ Although, of course, ‘those who wish to be deceived are always ready to believe in apparitions such as the ones of Jesus’.

Celsus repeatedly emphasises that Christians are among the most uncultured and most likely to believe in prodigies, that their doctrine only convinces ‘the most simple people’ since it is ‘simple and lacks scientific character’. In contrast to educated people, says Celsus, Christians avoid them, knowing that they are not fooled. They prefer to address the ignorant to tell them ‘great wonders’ and make them believe that

parents and teachers should not be heeded, but listened only to them. That the former only say nonsense and foolishness and that only Christians have the key of the things and that they know how to make happy the creatures that follow them… And they insinuate that, if they want, they can abandon their parents and teachers.

A century after Celsus, Porphyry took over the literary struggle against the new religion. Born about 233 and probably in Tyre (Phoenicia), from 263 Porphyry settled in Rome, where he lived for decades and became known as one of the main followers of Plotinus.

Of the fifteen books of Porphyry’s Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians), fruit of a convalescence in Sicily, today only some quotations and extracts are preserved. The work itself was a victim of the decrees of Christian princes, Constantine I and then, by 448, the emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III who ordered the first purge of books in the interest of the Church.

Unfortunately, the conserved references of the work do not give as complete an idea as in the case of Celsus. We may suppose that Porphyry knew The True Word; some arguments are repeated almost verbatim, which is quite logical. As to the coming of Christ Porphyry asks, for example, ‘Why was it necessary to wait for a recent time, allowing so many people to be damned?’

Porphyry seems more systematic than Celsus, more erudite; he excels as a historian and philologist, as well as in the knowledge of the Christian Scriptures. He masters the details more thoroughly and criticises the Old Testament and the Gospels severely; discovers contradictions, which makes him a forerunner of the rationalistic criticism of the Bible. He also denies the divinity of Jesus: ‘Even if there were some among the Greeks so obtuse as to believe that the gods actually reside in the images they have of them, none would be so great as to admit that the divinity could enter the womb of virgin Mary, to become a foetus and be wrapped in diapers after childbirth’.

Porphyry also criticises Peter, and above all Paul: a character who seems to him (as to many others to date) remarkably disagreeable. He judges him ordinary, obscurantist and demagogue. He even claims that Paul, being poor, preached to get money from wealthy ladies, and that this was the purpose of his many journeys. Even St Jerome noticed the accusation that the Christian communities were run by women and that the favour of the ladies decided who could access the dignity of the priesthood.

Porphyry also censures the doctrine of salvation, Christian eschatology, the sacraments, baptism and communion. The central theme of his criticism is, in fact, the irrationality of the beliefs and, although he does not spare expletives, Paulsen could write in 1949:

Porphyry’s work was such a boast of erudition, refined intellectualism, and a capacity for understanding the religious fact, that it has never been surpassed before or since by any other writer. It anticipates all the modern criticism of the Bible, to the point that many times the current researcher, while reading it, can only nod quietly to this or that passage.

The theologian Harnack writes that ‘Porphyry has not yet been refuted’, ‘almost all his arguments, in principle, are valid’.

Ancient book burning

Excerpts from Roger Pearse’s review of Joseph Hoffmann’s Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains:

The sixteen-book work by the Neoplatonist Porphyry Against the Christians is lost. Constantine ordered that all copies should be destroyed; a century later Theodosius tacitly acknowledged that this had not occurred by issuing a similar edict.

Constantine burning Arian books

Porphyry adopted an “idiot-boy” literalism as his tool to debunk. Anything that could be made to sound discreditable, anything that did not fit with the tenor of contemporary prejudice, any statement that could be made to sound contradictory, could be presented as a reason to deride the Christians. However, such a approach is unimpressive to anyone except a believer. Such people could have their faith in anti-Christianism bolstered, and be encouraged to sneer and have gibes ready to throw. But the unconvinced reader would see easily that such statements can be made about anything, however worthy.

Instead, the essential argument is an appeal to the irrational herd-instinct of mankind and its need to conform. Many of Porphyry’s arguments consist simply of assertion that something is shameful or embarrassing, rather than rational discussion. This can only work if the flavour of the times is such that the subject is unfashionable. To look for a modern analogy, modern readers will be aware that “anti-racism” has not acquired the power it has in our society by rational argument. Instead it relies on repeated assertion and intimidation, to create a climate in which only certain ideas can be said. In the ancient world, likewise, certain ideas went without saying. The Christian ethos was not part of this; and indeed, as a novelty, was embarrassing. The idea that the poor might be important was disgusting. Porphyry simply harps on the subconscious need to the reader to conform to what he knows society expects, rather than reasoning objectively what is right.

But once the times changed, the approach worked in reverse. It was Porphyry’s ideas that went against the tenor of the times.

Christmas gift

If, historically, the One Ring (greed) was the primary weakness for Western man, Christianity is also a major culprit. It is race-blind and compels us to navigate our passages favoring universalism. Based on theism, the belief in a personal, Hebraic god, it is hostile to “pagan” (Christian Newspeak for folkish) bonds for the supposed benefit of the “soul.” Our parents’ religion commands us to love our enemy (even Jews) and worship human weakness (including low-IQ negroes). Catholic and Protestant moral grammar goes at the very heart in today’s untamed equality: what Nietzsche called slave morality.

As Manu Rodríguez, a Nietzschean from Spain, said yesterday (my translation), “Christianity is the art of making wolves and bears into kids and lambs. It is the art of weakening, neutralizing and undermining the morale of the population, making even defense impossible.” Earlier this year another visitor of this blog sent me an email containing this paragraph:

Because of your blog I have ordered tons of books that you have read and thus gain the same insights that you do. I have Hellstorm on my shelf now; I have not read it yet. I am about to commence reading Porphyry’s Against the Christians. I can’t wait. The Bible is a book that has plagued me all my life. It is nice to finally read one of the original refutations of this Jewish nonsense.

A year ago I reposted excerpts of a chapter about the Gospels’ nativity fictions that I typed directly from a book authored by a secular scholar on the Bible. Porphyry (234-305 C.E.) was the forgotten pioneer in this field of research.

The reason white nationalists are uninterested in secular studies of the New Testament is the same they are so reluctant to assess the data about the subject that the dollar will crash. The double-helix of the US was precisely a structure intertweaving capitalism with Christianity. But American white nationalists want to save their race without destroying the One Ring wielded by the Kwa* and without dismissing their parents’ religion. They ignore that the nation of their founding fathers was hard-wired to become New Zion (click on the picture of Mammon on the sidebar).

Since this month we will celebrate Christmas with our families, I must say that an intellectual among those who blame Mammon also blames the other big factor. This is a translated quotation from “Rasse und Gestalt: unsere Identität,” a September 2013 speech by Tom Sunic:

The Christian teaching of equality and its contemporary offsprings, liberalism and Marxism is the main cause of so-called anti-racism and self-hatred as well as today’s mongrelized multicultural society. It’s futile to inspirit race consciousness or folk consciousness and to oppose mass immigration of non-Europeans, without first fighting and eliminating the legacy of Christianity.

I would go further and claim that the word “Christian” was 4th century Newspeak of the time. Translated back to Greco-Roman Oldspeak, we could say that Christian is a codeword for artificial Jew. What most significant can be that in this darkest hour of the West, on June 13 of this year in fact, Pope Francis said: “Inside every Christian is a Jew.”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whose mother language is Spanish, is the first one in history who has adopted the name of St Francis (Francisco I) when nominated Pope. In my compilation of several authors, The Fair Race, you’ll find much support of Sunic’s quote: a deranged Christian sense of compassion à la St Francis did transmute into secular, runaway liberalism.

Elsewhere I have mentioned the image that Kenneth Clark chose to depict St Francis in the 1969 TV series Civilisation: Hesdin’s The Fool. I added that in Erasmus’ most famous book, The Praise of Folly, women, “admittedly stupid and foolish creatures,” are Folly’s pride. Erasmus took a surprisingly modern, “liberal” position about the role of women in society. Since Folly praises ignorance and lunacy, Erasmus reasoned, women must be instrumental for the Christian cause. In his book Folly is only interested in following the steps of Jesus, the exemplar of charitable simplicity against the budding intellectualism of the 16th century. The fact that Erasmus took St Paul’s (a Jew) “praise of folly” against the best minds St Paul encountered in Athens (whites) speaks for itself and needs no further comment.

I must iterate I find it most significant that the current Pope is the first one to use the name of Francis: the feminine, Christian paradigm of charitable simplicity par excellence. Last month, Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament saying that no longer fertile Europe should accept immigrants.

the-name-of-the-roseYes: I’ve put the Pope and all of his Cardinals in my black list for black sorcery

But here I can only say that the saint of Assisi was one of the most venerated religious figures in history and my idol when, at sixteen, I was struggling with my internalized father. Unlike the current Pope, the medieval Church somehow knew that when the purest gospel reached mainstream Christianity it would be the end of civilization. See, for example, Umberto Eco’s depiction of the Fraticelli in The Name of the Rose, which chapter on Jorge de Burgos’ scary sermon about the coming of the Antichrist I reread a couple of days ago.

Online you can also see the final pages of The Antichrist. If Nietzsche were alive, wouldn’t he say that the suicidal folie en masse that in the 20th and 21st centuries affects westerners is but the culmination of the psyop started by St Paul?



(*) Kwa means Amerikwa: a negative word used to describe the degenerate, racially destructive, Jewified, niggrified, pussified, and depressing place that America has become.

For the context of Sunic’s point of view see also “The Christian problem encompasses the Jewish problem”: perhaps the entry I’ve updated the most in this blog.

Like Sunic I believe that reading literature in traditional, printed books is important to understand the darkest hour. My favorite historical novels are precisely Julian (1964), which depicts 4th century Christianity after the death of Constantine and The Name of the Rose (1980), a complete immersion into the zeitgeist of Christendom a thousand years later. If you prefer non-fiction, remember the above-cited words about Porphyry’s Against the Christians (“It is nice to finally read one of the original refutations of this Jewish nonsense”).

Christmas gifts of Nietzsche’s The Antichrist would probably be a little rude, even though the philosopher tells the plain truth about how the authors behind the gospels inverted our Aryan values. But Julian and The Name of the Rose may appear innocuous enough as gifts for our family, at least at the time of delivering the presents.

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).

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.


The following excerpts are taken from the introduction and epilogue of Joseph Hoffman’s book, Porphyry’s Against the Christians. 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.

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.