Monday, May 05, 2014


I saw this plugged by an atheist on Facebook:

Normally, I wouldn't comment on anything that unscholarly, but since things like this can throw Christians for a curve, I'll made some observations:

i) To begin with, this reveals something about the outlook of many atheists. They're on the lookout for something, anything, to debunk the Bible. They don't stop to do any elementary fact-checking. They don't have that mindset. So even though they pride themselves on their superior rationality, they are actually quite credulous. 

ii) The attempted parallels reflect some basic methodological errors, documented in Bruce Metzger's classic a classic "Considerations of Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity"

iii) The attempted parallels fail to make allowance for the probable dates of the sources. Obviously, for the Bible to be indebted to a source, the source must antedate the Bible. 

In addition, the source can't be too far removed in place as well as time. What reason is there to think Bible writers were in contact with East Indian literature? 

iv) The attempted parallels appeal to Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. But here's an obvious problem with that comparison. As Edwin Yamauchi explains:

SOURCESWe need to distinguish sharply between first-hand or nearly contemporary sources and later apocryphal and legendary materials.
Zoroaster (628-551 B.C.). We have what appear to be the genuine sayings of Zoroaster in the Gathas of the Avesta. The mass of Zoroastrian texts, however, are in late Pahlavi recensions (ninth century A.D.). Contemporary Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions betray at best only allusions to early Zoroastrianism. Some Greek and Arabic authors also allude to Zoroaster. The Persian national epic, the Shah Namah by Firdausi (c. A.D. 1000), includes traditions of the prophet.
Buddha (563-483 B.C.). Buddha's teachings, after many centuries of being passed on orally, were written down for the first time in the first century B.C. in Ceylon. The earliest written texts which have been preserved are in Pali, an Indo-Aryan dialect which may be the dialect Buddha himself used. The Pali canon of the Hinayana school (the southern branch of Buddhism, also called the Theravada school) is known as the Tipitaka (Sanskrit Tripitaka), meaning "Three Baskets." Portions of this collection, such as the Samyutta Nikaya, the Majjhima Nikaya and the Anguttara Nikaya, may have come into existence two centuries after Buddha's death, but othted much later.
The Sanskrit canon of the Mahayana school, which spread northeastward to Tibet, China, Korea and Japan, dates, at the earliest, to the first and second centuries A.D. According to Christmas Humphreys, "the later Sutras of the Mahayana School, though put into Buddha's mouth, are clearly the work of minds which lived from five to fifteen hundred years after his passing."3
In the later sources one notes a conspicuous exaggeration of the supernatural elements in Buddha's life. But even the earliest traditions, separated as they are by a century or two from Buddha's time, are not free from amplification. As M. Winternitz observes, "Even what are generally considered to be our oldest documents, the texts of the Pali Tipitaka, speak of Buddha often enough as a superhuman being, and tell us more of the legendary man than of the historical Buddha."4
Let's now turn to some specific claims:
If you are among the approximately 32 percent of the world population that considers themselves Christian, you were probably raised to believe that the Bible was written in some sort of historical vacuum—the various authors being inspired by God alone and having no outside influences whatsoever.

That's a straw man. The doctrine of inspiration championed in conservative evangelical circles is the organic theory of inspiration. Take this classic exposition by B. B. Warfied:

Consider, for example, how a piece of sacred history—say the Book of Chronicles, or the great historical work, Gospel and Acts, of Luke—is brought to the writing. There is first of all the preparation of the history to be written: God the Lord leads the sequence of occurrences through the development He has designed for them that they may convey their lessons to His people: a “teleological” or “etiological” character is inherent in the very course of events. Then He prepares a man, by birth, training, experience, gifts of grace, and, if need be, of revelation, capable of appreciating this historical development and eager to search it out, thrilling in all his being with its lessons and bent upon making them clear and effective to others. When, then, by His providence, God sets this man to work on the writing of this history, will there not be spontaneously written by him the history which it was Divinely intended should be written? Or consider how a psalmist would be prepared to put into moving verse a piece of normative religious experience: how he would be born with just the right quality of religious sensibility, of parents through whom he should receive just the right hereditary bent, and from whom he should get precisely the right religious example and training, in circumstances of life in which his religious tendencies should be developed precisely on right lines; how he would be brought through just the right experiences to quicken in him the precise emotions he would be called upon to express, and finally would be placed in precisely the exigencies which would call out their expression. Or consider the providential preparation of a writer of a didactic epistle—by means of which he should be given the intellectual breadth and acuteness, and be trained in habitudes of reasoning, and placed in the situations which would call out precisely the argumentative presentation of Christian truth which was required of him. 

So even if Melloson's counterexamples were successful, they'd only succeed in burning the straw man he began with. 

There is also a lot of evidence that the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest recorded texts in human history, had an influence on the biblical creation story. The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a man, Enkidu, who was created from the earth by a god. He lives amongst the animals in a natural paradise until he is tempted by a woman, Shamhat. He accepts food from this woman and is forced to leave the place where he lives after becoming aware of his own nakedness. Later in the epic, he encounters a snake which steals a plant of immortality from him. Obviously, there are a lot of parallels between this story and the Graden of Eden from the Bible.

Really? There are online editions of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Here's a standard translation, published by Stanford U.:

Did Melloson Allen even bother to read the relevant portions of the Gilgamesh epic, and directly compare it to Genesis? Or was he relying on some thirdhand summary?

1. Unlike Adam, Enkidu wasn't the first man.

2. He was created by a goddess (Aruru).

3. He didn't live in a natural "paradise." He simply lived in the wilderness (in contrast to urban dwellers). 

4. He has sex with a harlot. Quite different from "accepting food."

5. He wasn't a nudist. To the contrary, he "wore a garment like Sumukan."

6. He left the wilderness, not because he became aware of his alleged nudity, but because he lost his rapport with the wild animals after he had sex with the harlot.

7. Gilgamesh, not Enkidu, encountered the snake who stole the plant of immortality.

8. In Genesis, the "snake" tempts them to eat from the tree of knowledge, not the tree of life

9. In the Gilgamesh Epic, stealing the plant of immortality is an etiology to explain why snakes shed their skin. Nothing like that in Gen 3.

A man is warned of an imminent flood by a god and is instructed to build a large boat in order to survive. The dimensions of the boat are 120 cubits; the building materials are wood, pitch, and reeds; and there are six decks. After the flood, the boat lands on a mountaintop where the man sends out a series of birds to find dry land. He eventually lets all the people and animals free and sacrifices to the god that saved him.Now although these details sound like they were taken directly from the book of Genesis, you’d find the same information in the story of Utnapishtim, found in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

i) Since Noah's ark wasn't cubical, made of reeds, with six stories, the Genesis narrator obviously didn't borrow these details from the Gilgamesh epic. Once again, did Melloson even bother to compare the two accounts directly? 

ii) Yes, there are some genuine parallels. Of course, if you have two independent accounts reporting the same historical event, then you'd expect them to share some details–not because one is literarily indebted to the other, but because both are indebted to a common event. Their shared dependence on a common event generates certain parallels. That's a mark of historicity.

There are a large number of striking similarities between the book of Proverbs in the bible and the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope.

Considering the fact that Solomon had formal diplomatic  relations with Egypt, sealed by marriage to Pharaoh's daughter (1 Kgs 3:1; 7:8; 9:16,24; 11:1), why is that surprising? 

Psalms 29 is a hymn that bears so much similarity to Ulgaritic [sic] (the language of the Canaanites) poetry that some believe that it was originally an hymn to Baal. 

That's disputed, but in any event, that would be a case of polemical theology.

Once again, we go back Zoroastrianism and Persian influence. The prophet Daniel was the first biblical figure to refer to ideas of resurrection and judgement in Daniel 12:2, and this can be easily attributed to Babylonian influence. The word “paradise” comes directly from the Persian religion of Mithraism. The word “Hell” seems to derive from the Norse word Hel, most certainly a pre-Christian concept.

i) Since Dan 12:2 never uses the words "paradise" or "hell," one can hardly attribute his nonexistent usage to other sources.

Once more, Melloson appears to be regurgitating thirdhand sources without even bothering to check them against the Biblical passages he references. 

ii) How is "Babylonian influence" interchangeable with "Persian influence"? 

iii) Yes, hell is a pre-Christian concept. But it's not a pre-Biblical concept.

Yet it is clearly a concept that was influenced by pagan religions existing at the time that Christianity came about. Examples of pagan trinities are: Amun, Re, and Ptah of Egyptian Mythology; Anu, Enlil, and Ea of Sumerian Mythology; and Ishtar, Baal, and Tammuz of Babylonian Mythology.

That shows no awareness of how the Trinity is defined.

Moreover, why would NT writers be influenced by ANE Sumerian mythology? Why assume they were even conversant with something that far removed from their own time, place, and culture? This is jump lumping stuff together that has no historical or conceptional links. 

there are still some remarkable parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Buddha, Mithras, and Zarathustra.

Other issues to one side, it's necessary to distinguish between Iranian Mithraism and Roman Mithraism. 

There is also some similarity between the story of the Ten Commandments and the Code of Hammurapi [sic], dated around 1772 B.C.

So what? ANE law codes reflect similar socioeconomic conditions. Likewise, people tend to commit the same kinds of crimes.

By the same token, it's not surprising that the Mosaic Law uses stock ANE legal jargon and legal formats.

At the same time, there are significant differences where you'd expect them to be different. In Hammurabi's law code, penalties generally vary according to the social class of the offender, unlike the Mosaic law code. 

Finally, this reflects the antiquity of the Mosaic law code, contrary to liberal theories of composition. 


  1. Most of these supposed "parallels" or stories/scripture "stolen" from one source or the other usually boil down to narrative peddling. If you buy into the narrative that religious people are uneducated, uncreative dolts, then you buy into the narrative that the Bible is simply of compilation of myths and legends borrowed from other cultures and made more palatable to Hebrew sensibilities. If you don't buy into that narrative, then the sub-narrative of the Bible being simply a bunch of false stories is much easier to believe.

    Of course, questioning the narrative is verboten. Proving the narrative usually involves lots of shouting and bringing up trivial facts that prove nothing of any significance, but are put into the wider narrative as if adding another chapter in the fictional conspiracy novel "Ignorant and Mean Christians of Past Centuries" proves the other chapters.

  2. I've collected some Christian Responses to Christ Myth Theories and ParallelsHERE.