Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Who was this man?
Randel Helms begins his myth-busting book Gospel Fictions with this puzzler:
In the first century of the Common Era, there appeared at the eastern end of the Mediterranean a remarkable religious leader who taught the worship of one true God and declared that religion meant not the sacrifice of beasts but the practice of charity and piety and the shunning of hatred and enmity. He was said to have worked miracles of goodness, casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead. His exemplary life led some of his followers to claim he was a son of God, though he called himself the son of a man. Accused of sedition against Rome, he was arrested. After his death, his disciples claimed he had risen from the dead, appeared to them alive, and then ascended to heaven. Who was this teacher and wonder worker? (p.9)
John Ouvrier knows. John is, if memory serves, a former WCG minister stationed in Hawaii who led a breakaway group back in the late 1970s, temporarily dallying with the Church of God (Seventh Day) before presumably dissolving into the mists. These days John occasionally writes for The Painful Truth.
In any case, Bob Thiel (bless him!) has drawn attention to an article by John that answers Helm's question. The wonder-worker from Century One is Apollonius of Tyana.
Bob wonders who too. Scratching his noggin, Bob notes that there was an early church leader called Apollonius, but he'd be too late to fit the bill. It seems a bit strange that Bob, a self-designated authority on the Early Church, should be unaware of Apollonius of Tyana's existence. That certainly makes his attempt to refute Ouvrier look a little lame.
I found John's article interesting but flawed. He leaps well beyond the evidence (which is fascinating enough not to need flights of fancy) to some truly hair-raising conclusions. Worse, he indulges in blatantly anti-Catholic conspiracy theories (why do the equally ancient Greek Orthodox get off scot-free?) But, that said, John does us all a service by bringing Apollonius to everyone's attention. While he is well documented in the scholarly literature (which Bob must have avoided I guess), Apollonius is largely unknown in the wasteland of the pews. Bob can't have read W. H. C. Frend's monumental Rise of Christianity, a classic text which does indeed mention Apollonius. But to suggest that Jesus was Apollonius is to join the dots right off the page. Yet nobody can deny that figures sharing a great many common traits with Jesus were not exactly unknown in the first century.
There is no conspiracy to hide Apollonius' existence, at least among those who can be bothered to pick up a reliable text, but it would be fair to say that he hasn't received the attention he deserves either. Exact details surrounding his life are disputed (see the Wikipedia entry) - but that's hardly surprising when details of Jesus life are equally contested. It was a very long time ago.