This could very rapidly deteriorate [in]to a contest of his scholars and my scholars. At the end of his speech, he put a transparency on the screen where someone said something to the effect — and I won’t ask you to put it back on — but someone said something to the effect that it’s ridiculous to think that the mythology, pagan mythology, had anything to do, any kind of influence, with the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Well, I can, I can cite references all day long of people who would take the opposite point of view.
I would suggest if you’re taking notes that you write this down. Joseph McCabe, The Myth of the Resurrection. And you will find if you read that that this was a man who was born into a devout Catholic family. He was educated in the Catholic education system in the last century, and he taught at a Catholic seminary. And he got to investigating this very thing that I’m talking about, and that was the thing that caused him to reject the Catholic religion, or the Christian religion, and become one of the most prolific of skeptical writers.
Now Mr. Horner said Osiris became Serapis and Serapis became Attis, or something like that. Anyway, you said that Osiris became Sarapus. And he’s exactly right in saying that. This god was Osiris in Egypt. But he was Adonis and Attis in places that were under Grecian influence. He was Tammuz in places that were influenced by the Babylonians. And they believed that this god died, and that he was resurrected, and this happened centuries before Jesus of Nazareth allegedly lived. And you can take the Hindu savior, Krishna, and if you’ll study his life you’ll find some of the most striking parallels of all of the pagan, savior gods, in the life of Osiris [Krishna].
He said there was no dispute over the Resurrection in the early Church and I believe he said in the centuries, the early centuries after that. Well, Mr. Horner, have you ever heard of the Bishop of Lyon, Iranaeus? And are you aware of the fact that he claimed that Jesus was never crucified? And he made this claim because he said that he had gotten it from the Apostle John. And he contended that Jesus was not crucified, that he lived to be ninety some years old, and he died a natural death. Well that sounds to me like that there was a dispute in the early Church over the resurrection story.
He said there would be no history if we accept Till’s criteria for history. Well I don’t see how he gets that. My criteria is simply the same criteria that Thomas Paine enunciated in The Age of Reason. We accept from history those things that are credible, those things that are ordinary, and we reject those things that are extraordinary. He said, "Otherwise we would have to believe that the Emperor, Vespasian, cured the man who was blind and the man who was lame, as Tacitus said. Now Thomas Paine made a mistake when he said that Tacitus said that, because it wasn’t really Tacitus who recorded it; it was Suetonius who recorded it. You can read the history written by Suetonius, and you’ll see that’s exactly what he said. The blind man and the lame man came to the Emperor Vespasian and begged him to touch them so that they would be healed. He touched them and they were healed. That sounds very familiar to some of the things that Jesus did. Well, if he reads it in the New Testament that Jesus cured a blind man, he says, "Yes, yes, that’s true, we have to believe that." But if Suetonius said it, "No we have to reject that."
Well, my criteria are very simple, or rather I should say my criterion is very simple, Mr. Horner. If it’s something that someone wrote in the past that is very ordinary, we’re willing to accept that. But when we get into the realm of miracles, we’re not willing to accept that. I’m going to step over here just a minute and get my notebook because I forgot to bring it with me [walking away momentarily]… And I want to get to this matter that you need two or three generations before a legend has time to develop. We talked about history. History doesn’t agree with that, and I’m going to throw some names out to you: Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James. How many legends developed about these people in their own lifetime before they were dead? You know, Wyatt Earp died just four years before I was born. Who will ever know the truth about the shootout at the O.K. Corral, because there have been so many legends built around that?
But let’s take an example. Have you ever heard of a fellow named Sabattai Sevi? He was a seventeenth century, messianic pretender who gathered a large following in the Mediterranean area. And Sevi’s biographer, Gershom Scholem, reported that there was a sudden explosion of miracle stories that developed around this man everywhere he went.
I’m going to read a quotation from Scholem’s biography of Sabbatai Sevi, which was published by Princeton University Press: "The realm of imaginative legend soon dominated the mental climate of Palestine. The sway of imagination was strongly in evidence in the letter sent to Egypt and elsewhere and which by autumn of 1665, the same year that he visited Palestine, had assumed the character of regular, messianic propaganda in which fiction far outweighed the facts."
Here are some examples of the legends that developed around this man in his lifetime. Many swore that when the prophet spoke that he was often encompassed with a fiery cloud and that the voice of angel was heard to speak from that cloud. Now keep in mind I am talking to you about legends that developed in the lifetime of this messianic pretender, well before he died.
It tells also that there was a time when Sevi commanded that a fire be built in a public place, and after the fire was built, he walked through the fire three times with no harm to his clothing or to his body. Letters are know to exist in which the claim was made that when Sevi was imprisoned his chains miraculously broke away and that he left the prison through closed doors. He once killed a group of highway, a group of bandits with just the word of his mouth; I suppose much in the same way that the Apostle Peter pronounced death upon Ananias and Sapphira in the fifth chapter of Acts. I suppose that if I asked Mr. Horner does he believe that Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead as recorded in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts, he would say, "Yes, I believe that," but he probably wouldn’t say that he believed that this messianic pretender in the seventeenth century was able to say the word and cause people to drop dead. Some of the letters written about him by his disciples made the claim that he even raised people from the dead.
And let’s, let’s talk about Charles Manson; That’s a name that you recognize. And Charles Manson had a following, of course. If you’re familiar with the history of the atrocious crimes that he committed, you know that the man is now serving a life prison, rather a term of life imprisonment. While Edward Sanders was researching his book, The Family, he uncovered that numerous legends were circulating already about Manson’s followers. Or that is among Manson’s followers. One legend maintained that while they were on a bus trip through Death Valley, Manson levitated the bus over a creek where there was no bridge. I’m sure if I ask Mr., Mr…. [pausing to look at Horner] Well, I forgot your name… [Horner says, "Horner."] Mr. Horner, that he would say no, he does not believe that.
But I’m giving you examples of legends that developed in the lifetime of people who secured a following. Now this is just an arbitrary assertion that he is making. Oh, we know that all of those stories about Jesus have to be true because the Gospels were written before legends had time to develop. And he also said that when you read these accounts in the New Testament, they just don’t sound like legends. Oh, they don’t?
Well, let’s take the book of Matthew for an example. The women were on the way to the tomb, and suddenly there was an earthquake and an angel came down and sat on the stone. Now, that doesn’t have the ring of legend to it? It sounds to me just like the many legends that you would read about in the literature that was written at that time. That was why I was pressing him to tell us can he name a single, miraculous event from that period of time, from the literature of the other nations that he would accept as historical fact. And he couldn’t think of a one. But if it’s recorded in the Bible, you see, he is automatically willing to accept that. That’s why I say that every argument that he’s making assumes that whatever the Bible says is historically true, and we can’t let him assume that.
Cross-examination, Michael Horner
Horner: Is your alternative hypothesis to the resurrection hypothesis that the Resurrection is a legend, or deliberate fabrication, or some combination, or something else?
Till: Well, you said that you had heard of Sabattai Sevi. If so, you know that he converted to Islam. And you would think that that would have killed the movement, but it didn’t …
Horner: That’s not the question I’m asking you. Farrell; the question I’m asking you is: what is your alternative hypothesis to the Resurrection?
Till: Cognitive dissonance reduction is the term that’s used to describe it. And I was using the disciples of Sevi as an example of that.
Horner: Okay, carry on.
Till: He was the Jewish Messiah that they expected. And he converted to Islam. Did that kill his movement? No. They began to tell such things as, "Well, he did this so that he could explore the depths of evil and then accomplish more good, or …"
Horner: I’m not, … I don’t think you’re answering my question.
Till: Well, I think I am. Some of them said that this isn’t really Sevi; Sevi actually died, didn’t die, but this is a pretender who looks like him, and he’s the one who actually has, has been converted to Islam, and he did that to try to destroy the movement.
Horner: So is your position that the Resurrection is a legend. Is that what you’re trying to tell us?
Till: My position is that it’s an example, could be an example of cognitive dissonance reduction, as in the case of Sevi. When something traumatic like that happens to people who put a lot of trust and confidence in an individual, instead of saying, "Well, he was a phoney; he was a fake, they try to rationalize." Is it possible that the disciples of Jesus were so disillusioned by the fact that this man died, that they started telling stories of a resurrection?
Horner: Of course the question is not is it possible, but is it probable. Second question is: are history books made up only of firsthand, eyewitness accounts?
Till: No, certainly not. But who’s going to accept fantastic claims that are written in history books that come to us secondhandedly or thirdhandedly …?
Horner: Well you seem to assume, thought, that only eyewitnesses can write reliable history.
Till: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that if a history book contains examples that are fantastic, and there’s no eyewitness testimony to it, well certainly you’re going to automatically reject that, you’re not going to accept secondhand and thirdhand testimony.