33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Written in 175 (or so) CE, Celsus reads a lot like modern day critics of Christianity such as Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens. Anti-Christianity arguments haven't changed significantly - just refined over the centuries. Celsus is the most accessible early Christian critic because of one of his opponents. Origen of Alexandria, a Christian apologist from the 3rd century has provided us with maybe 70% of the text of Celsus's "On the True Doctrine."
Some of the criticisms offered by Celsus:
*Jesus was born, not of a virgin, but as a result of Mary's tryst with a Roman soldier named Panthera.
*Since a religion had to be old to have any credence, Christians stole their legacy from the Jews.
*All the stories of the Jewish writings either originated from earlier mythology or were made up to prove a theological point or otherwise enhance the religious heirarchy.
*The same goes for early Christian writings, but with heavy reliance on any Jewish writings that could possibly be interpreted as a prophesy about Jesus.
*Rome had inherited its savior myths from far and wide, including resurrections from death - its re-enactment by the Christians in their gospels was transparent.
*All of the numerous early sects of Christianity fought over dogma and accused each other of heresy, frequently altering scripture to suit their local beliefs.
*The development of complicated theologies in Christianity happened because of the persistent embarrassing problem that Jesus never came again.
Celsus ridicules 2nd century Christians for being credulous enough to buy the story - rather than being a critic of Christian creeds. At times, he does it with quite a flair. The story of Noah and the flood is cast as a re-cycling of the Greek myth of Deuclion and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. When he comes to the part about the dove coming back with a fig leaf, Celsus sarcastically adds, "or was it a crow."
This is a uniquely fascinating study from a very literate philosopher from the 2nd century, well versed in the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, and the religions of the time. Any student of this time period should find it of immense interest and I recommend it highly.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2000
While I had read numerous books with references to Celsus in them, I have just gotten around to reading a translation of his book "On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians."
I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to read (due largely in part to the translator, R. Joseph Hoffmann). The text flows well from section to section, though it seems to be in no particular order.
Thankfully, the translator has included both a detailed introduction and 'notes' section. Both were extremely helpful in understanding certain passages contained within the main text, and the introduction (specifically) would be of interest to anyone who wants a better understanding of Celsus and/or the anti-Christian sentiment that existed during his time.
All in all, a good read, but not recommended for anyone who is staunchly Christian (i.e. cannot "willingly suspend disbelief) or does not have at least a general understanding of Christianity (obviously, there are numerous references both to Judaism and Christianity).
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2006
After reading much about Julian the Apostate, the Roman Emperor who after Constantine's adoption of the faith, tried to revitalize syncretic pagan Hellenism as the state religion of Rome, I stumbled on this book.
The writing is lively and humorous. It challenges Christian dogma in many ways which moderns will recognize and find familiar and in some ways the reader will find most intriguing.
Atheists will find confirmation of their beliefs in this work, and Christians who can meet and answer the critique will be enriched as well.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2010
Celsus's tract `On the True Doctrine - A Discourse Against the Christians' could be partly recovered from the treatise by Origin of Alexandria `Contra Celsum'.
The excellent reconstruction and translation, together with a perfect introduction, by R. Joseph Hoffmann, reads like a modern text. All the issues involved are still highly relevant.
Introduction by the translator R. Joseph Hoffmann
Christianity began as a non-doctrinal apocalyptic movement with participants who believed in a message of eschatological judgment, a widespread view in Hellenistic Judaism in the first century (John the Baptist). This eschatological thinking bred both an ascetic form of piety (`the right belief') and an antinomian enthusiasm with sexual self-indulgence, `as if the participants were going to die on the morrow'. This latter tendency (the libertine sects) was completely eradicated from Christianity.
On the one hand, one can catalogue Celsus as a rationalist in the tradition of Lucretius, when he points at the inconsistencies and absurdities in the Christian message as well as at their anti-reason stance.
On the other hand, one can also see him as a defender of the status-quo and the ruling class: `to love the emperor and to serve God are complementary duties.'
Jesus and the Christian Doctrine
Jesus' life as told by its followers is for Celsus `monstrous fiction'. Jesus fabricated the story of his birth from a virgin. When his mother's deceit was discovered that she was pregnant by a Roman soldier, she was driven away by her husband and convinced of adultery.
For Celsus, `anyone who believes without testing a doctrine is certain to be deceived'.
For him, the Christian doctrine is completely inconsistent and absurd.
A few examples: `Saying that God made man in his own image is failing to realize that God is not at all like a man.' `How can it be that God should make what is evil? If God decided to deliver the human race from evils, one wonders why he sent this spirit of him only to some little backwater village? Why did he wait for such a long time?'
`On the one hand, the Christians yearn for the restoration of this earthly body. On the other hand, they prescribe casting the bodies of all those who discredit them into hell, as if the body were of no value at all.'
Christian teaching and internal divisions
The Christians do not want to give or to receive reason for what they believe, they only have faith. Their favorite expressions are: `Do not ask questions, just believe.' Also, `make sure none of you ever obtain knowledge, for too much learning is a dangerous thing; the soul that acquires knowledge will perish.'
`At the start of their movement, the Christians were very few in numbers, and unified in purpose. Now there are divisions among them - factions of all sorts, each wanting to have its own territory.'
This astonishing text written in the second century AD (not a very long time after the controversial facts happened) is a must read for all heathen and Christians of all kind.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2010
Mr. Hoffman does the lay public a service by taking the time to render a translation of Celsus' "On the True Doctrine". Celsus, writing in the latter part of the 2nd century, is matched by few historians before, during and after his time. I was surprised by his eloquent writing style and personal passion for what he viewed as a plague: a new religious superstition sweeping across Rome.
He is unlike many authors, in the simple fact that not only does he offer his sources, but quotes them verbatim as well. Something Roman historians, such as Tacitus and Suetonius, should have adhered to more often, if at all. He cites Plato often, but one can also find Aristotelian views in his work as well. These views are found when he discusses nature, specifically bees, and how they are viewed more favorably by god, because unlike man, they have not had the opportunity to corrupt themselves by taking up the practices of magic and sorcery.
His discourse against the Christians was well written, showcases excellent parallel construction throughout, maintaining a proper historical and scientific methodology (at least by standards of his own time). Point by point, he illustrates for the reader the flaws of the Christian doctrine, and what he views as meagerness of their leader - Jesus of Nazareth. Celsus also takes the liberty of explaining in detail the foundational problems with the creation story offered by not only Christians, but the Jews as well. It is apparent that Celsus may of in fact even traveled, or learned specific doctrines by the Gnostic Christians during his time and his valuable knowledge is matched by no one.
I recommend this book to all peoples, regardless of religious affiliation, not only for its valuable information, but also to Celsus' proper use of historical methodology. We are lucky to have preserved the writings of Celsus throughout the course of history and unfortunate that the Church itself, destroyed so many writings from early pagan opponents of Christendom. What we may have learned from them would have been beneficial to all.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2007
The only serious criticism that can be levelled at Hoffmann is that we do not, in fact, know for sure what Celsus wrote. But that is only because all of Celsus' writings were destroyed by those he criticized, the Christians. However, if one compares Hoffmann's reconstruction of Celsus with surviving fragments of Julian's "Against the Galileans" (which Hoffmann has also reconstructed), and other writings by other Pagan philosophers - then certainly Hoffmann's reconstruction holds up.
Paganism was not monolithic, but it was a coherent religious phenomenon. We can see this going back as far as the writings of Herodotus, whose "History" provides a fascinating view of the ancient Pagan approach to "comparative religion". According to Herodotus, most Pagans worshipped more or less the same Gods, just using different names, and, of course, different rites and so forth. The same perspective is echoed in Plutarch's "Isis and Osiris".
In addition to being coherent and "universal", Paganism was a "natural" religion. In fact, it's "naturalism" was the source of its coherence and universalism. It is the Gods who teach religion to humans, and what They teach tends to be consistent from place to place, with the differences lying in the details, not the fundamentals. As Julian says in his "Against the Galileans" human beings are born with an innate sense of the Gods "without having it taught us." The same idea is echoed in Iamblichus' "On the Mysteries of the Egyptians". Indeed, the idea that we "know" about the Gods innately is at least as old as the Stoic and Epicureans schools of philosophy.
This is an excellent book to read in conjunction with, for example, Linda Johnsen's "Lost Masters".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2012
Sadly this book, like countless others, is currently lost, but a decent amount of the text survived as quotes in Origen's Contra Celsum (Origen takes Celsus's points and refutes them). I originally wanted just read Origen's book but due to its length (5x this) and cost ($60), I decided to just start with this recreation of Celsus's original work.
This book was pretty interesting, the translation seems clear and he put the points together in a somewhat logical order. As for the book itself, I found it pretty interesting to see just what remains of what Celsus said about the Christians. I had a decent idea of what to expect from first reading Wilken's The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, but it was nice to read some of it for myself.
In this book Celsus tries to convince the reader that Christianity is a dumb religion and they're better off staying with the traditional Roman gods.
I don't have the book in front of me, but from what I remember:
He thinks that the creation account is stupid and Moses was stupid to have written it (day and night happens before sun and moon are created).
The flood was just a copy from other roman tales (I forget which one).
Mary was seduced and got pregnant by a roman soldier named Panthera, she made up the pregnancy by god to convince her Joseph to marry her.
He thinks that most of Jesus's best points were already said by Plato and Jesus just copies them.
He thinks most of the ideas of the Eucharist and the sacraments are just copies from the Mithra cult.
He really hates that Christians are exclusive in there beliefs, he feels that all people have worshiped the same supreme god, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, although they call him by different names, where as Christians think they exclusively know him and he can't believe that Christians also raise a man Jesus to being equal to the supreme god (showing that back in 150AD Christians were already worshiping Jesus as god).
A decent part of this book is also spent refuting the gnostics which must have already been pretty prevalent by this time.
Overall this was a pretty interesting to get into the mind of a Roman pagan and see his thoughts on the early Christians, this book is also important because it caused some of the earliest apologetics to combat the claims made in this book (now I need to get Origen's refutations).
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2006
Celsus' On the True Doctrine is one of the few surviving anti-Christian tracts to have escaped the pyre [see also, *Julian's Against the Galileans and *Porphyry's Against the Christians]. This is owing to Origen, who preserved this discourse in its entirety while offering his sagacious and long-drawn rebuttal in his polemic the Contra Celsum. The tract is unique as an artefact of ancient comparative religion, and it will be useful for anyone who wishes to gain a greater perspective on the Hellenistic-Christian debate. And with the outstanding introductory essay and the extensive footnotes this volume will greatly accommodate readers in the classroom and at home.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2010
If you are interested in the early history and criticism of Christianity, you should get this book. The same arguments presented in this book could be made today. Of course any learned christian apologist will point out that the source of this book is quotations captured from a pro-christian tract, but the new testament suffers from its own source and accuracy problems as well. If you like to study Christianity with your brain and intellect instead of you "faith", you should read this book.
29 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2006
There are few critiques of the religions of both Moses and Jesus better, than that offered by Celsus almost two millenia ago. This translation by Hoffman provides the modern reader with sage wisdom on the inherent flaws of not only Christianity and Judaism, but so-called "monotheism" in general. No religions are responsible for more bloodshed and suffering than those springing from the religion of Moses. Mankind has been on the receiving end of about two millenia of "monotheistic" tyranny, mass murder, and brainwashing, all in the name of "God". Fortunately, Celsus's ancient dissection of a relatively new Christianity, and a then ancient Judaism, exposes them to be based upon falsehood and zealotry. Celsus's critique does much to explain why the world, especially the west, has become so messed up under the sway of these two revolutionary faiths.
The ascendency of Christianity and Judaism, ushered in a "Dark Age" for the West. We've been led to believe that this dark age ended with the European Renaissance. Like so much surrounding Christianity and Judaism, the truth is quite another story. The fact is, the dark ages actually continued unabated through the renaissance culminating in the hellish twentieth century! Both religions have given birth to a society based primarily upon lies and ignorance, where the ability to think independently, is under relentless attack. Under these religions, each generation of westerners has effectively become more corrupt than their predecessors. Zealously building upon their evil deeds of the last century, Christianity and Judaism are now poised to deliver humanity to a bleak Orwellian future!