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The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? (Christian Free University Curriculum) Paperback – May, 1992
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"Professor Nash has written a lucid and superb book, which will prove especially useful to students in colleges and universities who still hear some ill-founded comparisons between the pagan mystery religions and Christianity from their professors." -- Edwin Yamauchi, Professor, History Department, Miami University
About the Author
RONALD NASH is the former Head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University, and the author of over 20 books.
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But you should understand, this is an apologist's book, written by a believer for other believers. It is not written with the rigor needed to withstand unfriendly critical analysis. The analysis, in my opinion, is a bit soft. Specifically:
#1. The theories Dr. Nash refutes are, as he says himself, old and outdated. Beginning in the late 1800s a school of scholars argued that Jesus was a knock-off copy of Pagan dying and rising godmen. Jesus was copied myth by myth from similar ancient gods. By the 1950s it was generally accepted, for good reasons, that the ancient evidence can not sustain this theory.
Yet this is the only theory Dr. Nash refutes.
What he fails to refute is great swaths of recent scholarship tying Christianity not to myth copying, but to assimilation of the basic ideas, prejudices, and primitive science of ancient culture. Ideas like gods up in heaven coming down to earth. Miracles. Prophecies. Life after death. These things were all common in ancient culture. Pagans had them first. Christianity had them second. Dr. Nash ignores this scholarship altogether. A short list of academics' books explaining the current scholarship would include:
Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook for the Study of New Testament Miracle Stories (The Context of Early Christianity, 1) by Wendy Cotter
Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion by Alan Segal
Born Divine by Robert Miller
Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Antiquity (The Context of Early Christianity) by Jan van Henten and Friedrich Avamarie
River of God, The: A New History of Christian Origins by Greg Riley
The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Dennis MacDonald
If Dr. Nash knows about any of this recent scholarship, he doesn't let on. He certainly fails to try to refute any of it.
#2 Chapter after chapter, similarity after similarity, Dr. Nash's recurring argument is that the Christian story is different, in some detail or other, from the Pagan stories. And so could not have been borrowed. Jesus' magical divine father, mortal mother, dream foretold, prophesy fulfilling birth didn't borrow from paganism because Jesus' mother was a virgin--and that makes the Jesus story different from the Pagan's magical divine father, mortal mother, dream foretold, prophesy fulfilling birth stories.
Dr. Nash's refutation is only persuasive if this difference argument is persuasive. Why he thinks it is, he doesn't say.
Dr. Nash seems like a nice guy. The book is clearly and honestly written. It is however a refutation of outdated scholarship that doesn't really need refuting. And it fails to mention, let alone refute, current Christian borrowing scholarship.
On the surface, many folks might think that the topic is very obscure or not all that important. And while it's true that the subject matter is somewhat complicated and can initially appear pretty irrelevant to present day Christianity, it is nonetheless a topic with enormous present day relevance and deserves to be explored. In a nutshell, this book attempts to analyze whether early Christianity was influenced by pagan philosophical systems or by ideas that existed in the pagan mystery religions. There are a number of reasons why such an examination is so important. First, as this book mentions, a link of influence of paganism on early Christianity has been a common tactic among various folks in academia who are looking to discredit the Christian faith in front of an impressionable audience, and while not mentioning it, the Jesus Seminar has also been diligent in advancing such arguments in an effort to dedeify Jesus. And the reason is clear. One can make major inroads in discrediting the authenticity of Christianity if they can demonstrate, for example, that the resurrection of Jesus as described in the Gospels was really a mythical story copied from allegedly similar recountings in the pagan mystery religions. If this could be demonstrated, any number of additional negative ideas could be argued with greater force, such as that Jesus wasn't really God because the resurrection recountings of the Gospels are not historical but mythical and parallel other myths of the time, or that Jesus is no more special or unique than other supposed gods or deities in other religions. It is clear that the ramifications of these kind of theories, if proven, would be devastating to Christianity. Thus, the importance of this book.
Nash carefully divides the book into 3 sections; analyzing the possibility that early Christianity was influenced by pagan philosophy such as Platonism or Stoicism, analyzing the possibility that early Christianity borrowed some of its stories from the pagan mystery religions such as Isis/Osiris or Mithra, and analyzing whether Christianity was influenced by Gnosticism. In each case, Nash does a good job of beginning his analysis by clearly defining the terms of the debate, and fairly representing the claims made by those who positively assert pagan influence on Christianity. These introductions give the reader a very good starting point for seeing how these arguments, when left unscrutinized, can on the surface appear to be compelling. By presenting the arguments fairly and completely, Nash does a good job of peaking the interest of the reader to read on in order to find out whether these arguments really hold water once we get below the surface. And particularly in the analyses of pagan philosophy and the mystery religions, Nash's analyses are very detailed and meticulous. Nash's analyses are very effective in meticulously discrediting these arguments and in most cases, showing very clearly the lazy scholarship that often fuels such arguments. By doing this, Nash not only puts these arguments in their place, he affirms the historical reliability, uniqueness, and truth of the Christian faith as described in the New Testament and clearly demonstrates that there is absolutely no evidence of a pagan influence on Christianity, and in fact, there is sufficient evidence to suggest a Christian influence on paganism.
In summary, after one reads this book, it is likely that they may scratch their heads in wonder when one thinks about why this book had to be written, given the lazy and even contrived scholarship that is the basis for so many of the arguments affirming a pagan influence on early Christianity. One might reasonably wonder how such ideas ever had any credibility to start with when Nash so completely destroys the arguments with very simple facts and analysis. I applaud Nash for being so thorough in the topics covered and in the analysis. There are over 30 pages of footnotes at the end of the book for the reader who is interested in conducting additional research and examining other pertinent resources. I completely concur with what Nash says in this book when commenting on the alleged influence of the mystery religions on early Christianity, "These..arguments against Christian syncretism help us understand why biblical scholars today seldom claim any early Christian dependence on the mysteries. They constitute an impressive collection of reasons why scholars in such other fields as history and philosophy should rethink their methods and conclusions and finally put such views to rest." This is an excellent book, and one that can greatly help any Christian easily and effectively counter the claims of pagan influence on the early faith. A 'must have' for any apologetics collection.