Sunday, October 04, 2009

From An Associate Of Justin Martyr

Tatian, an associate of Justin Martyr, wrote:

"We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man. I call on you who reproach us to compare your mythical accounts with our narrations. Athené;, as they say, took the form of Deïphobus for the sake of Hector, and the unshorn Phoœbus for the sake of Admetus fed the trailing-footed oxen, and the spouse us came as an old woman to Semele. But, while you treat seriously such things, how can you deride us? Your Asclepios died, and he who ravished fifty virgins in one night at Thespiæ lost his life by delivering himself to the devouring flame. Prometheus, fastened to Caucasus, suffered punishment for his good deeds to men. According to you, Zeus is envious, and hides the dream from men, wishing their destruction. Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales. If you speak of the origin of the gods, you also declare them to be mortal. For what reason is Hera now never pregnant? Has she grown old? Or is there no one to give you information? Believe me now, O Greeks, and do not resolve your myths and gods into allegory. If you attempt to do this, the divine nature as held by you is overthrown by your own selves; for, if the demons with you are such as they are said to be, they are worthless as to character; or, if regarded as symbols of the powers of nature, they are not what they are called. But I cannot be persuaded to pay religious homage to the natural elements, nor can I undertake to persuade my neighbour. And Metrodorus of Lampsacus, in his treatise concerning Homer, has argued very foolishly, turning everything into allegory. For he says that neither Hera, nor Athené;, nor Zeus are what those persons suppose who consecrate to them sacred enclosures and groves, but parts of nature and certain arrangements of the elements. Hector also, and Achilles, and Agamemnon, and all the Greeks in general, and the Barbarians with Helen and Paris, being of the same nature, you will of course say are introduced merely for the sake of the machinery of the poem, not one of these personages having really existed. But these things we have put forth only for argument's sake; for it is not allowable even to compare our notion of God with those who are wallowing in matter and mud." (Address To The Greeks, 21)

The allegorizing and dehistoricizing Tatian refers to were common among ancient pagans, as, for example, both Celsus and Origen note repeatedly in Origen's Against Celsus (2:55, 8:45). While the ancient Christians affirmed and argued for the historicity of events like those recorded in the gospels and Acts, often with corroboration from non-Christian sources, ancient pagans were often denying the historicity of their own accounts and attempting to allegorize them out of embarrassment. Some Christians also allegorized, but in addition to accepting the historical core of the religion, not as a replacement of it. Origen, for example, despite his widespread allegorizing of scripture, affirmed the historicity of the virgin birth, the Bethlehem birthplace, Jesus' performance of miracles, etc. He wasn't allegorizing instead of accepting such events as historical. Rather, he was allegorizing in addition to accepting such events.

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