Jesus of Nazareth starkly stands out as unique in His manner and purpose
of death, among claimants to "all authority in heaven and earth"! (cf. Matt 28.18)
There are material, significant, and pervasive similarities between the
Jesus Christ of the New Testament and other Dying God-figures
(and/or Savior-figures), and that these similarities are best explained by
the hypothesis that the figure of Jesus is materially derived from
(or heavily influenced by) these other Dying God/Savior-figures.
Now, before we try to analyze this notion, we need to gather some established
criteria (from scholars) on how to detect and establish that 'borrowing'
(especially "content/material" borrowing) has occurred.
Fortunately, there are a number of established criteria for this (so we don't
have to 'make up' or 'create' our own), drawing largely from the work of scholars
working in the area of Semitic influence on the Greek/Western world
(e.g., Walter Burkert, Charles Pengrase, M. L. West),
so let's start with some of their work:
"Since the discovery of the Akkadian epics and of Gilgamesh in particular,
there has been no shortage of associations between motifs in these and in
the Homeric epics, especially the Odyssey. These motifs can be highlighted
and used to surprise, but hardly to prove anything: Approximately the same
motifs and themes will be found everywhere. Instead of individual motifs,
therefore, we must focus on more complex structures, where sheer
coincidence is less likely: a system of deitites and a basic cosmological idea,
the narrative structure of a whole scene, decrees of the gods about mankind,
or a very special configuration of attack and defense.
Once the historical link, the fact of transmission, has been established, then
further connections, including linguistic borrowings, become more likely, even
if these alone do not suffice to carry the burden of proof." [OTRNEI:88; his
examples often contain elements that are 'holdovers'--elements that appear
in the borrower that only made sense in the original source...they are
unexpected and without purpose in the new usage, since they have been
removed from their original context.]
"I can anticipate at least two possible lines of criticism that may be employed
against my work. One would be that, in stressing similarities and parallels,
I have ignored the great differences between Greek and Near Eastern literatures
my answer will be that of course Greek literature has its own character, its own
traditions and conventions, and the contrast that might be drawn between it
and any of the oriental literatures might far outnumber the common features.
If anyone wants to write another book and point them out, I should have
no objection...But even if it were ten times the size of mine (600+ pages!),
it would not diminish the significance of the likenesses, because they are
too numerous and too striking to be put down to chance.
You cannot argue against the fact that it is raining by pointing out that
much of the sky is blue." [HI:EFHWAE:viii]
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