Lessons Learned Walking 192 Miles Across England

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 29 June 2005 0 Comments
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Have you read Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ? What are your thoughts concerning his belief that Christianity was copied from pagan religions that existed many years before Christ? Mr. Harpur, probably the most well-known and popular religious writer in Canada, even says there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. So many of the events reported in the Bible have a very similar event in the pagan religions (e.g., dying on a cross, rising on the third day, miracles, etc.) Your thoughts?


I know Tom Harpur and admire him. His latest book, The Pagan Christ, has been on Canada's best selling list since it came out. It is well written and exciting to read. Tom bases his case on two primary sources, which he quotes at length. I am not convinced that either his sources or Tom Harpur make his case.

When you read The Epistle to the Galatians, you will discover that Paul gives a rather graphic account of his activities since his conversion. The noted Church historian Adolf Harnack has dated that conversion not less than one year or more than six after the crucifixion. This would mean that if we date the crucifixion about 30 C.E., which is the best estimate of scholars today, that Paul came into the Christian Church somewhere between 31 and 36 C.E. Paul writes (Gal. 1:17,18) that following his conversion he went to Arabia for three years. This would bring us to 34 to 39 C.E. After those three years he says he went to Jerusalem to consult with Cephas i.e. Peter. He describes that conversation which also included James, who Paul calls 'the brother of the Lord.' Next Paul says "after 14 years, I went up again to Jerusalem." That would bring us to somewhere between 48 and 53 C.E. Most scholars date Galatians in the early 50's. I go over these first hand Pauline references to demonstrate that Paul knew the people who knew Jesus, which makes the idea that Jesus was a mythological character created by inventors of a religion a rather preposterous claim. Myths take far more time than that to develop. Paul certainly did not think that he was being told about a mythological figure. He was talking to people who knew the Jesus of history.

Of course an interpretive framework was placed on Jesus by the time the Gospels were written (70 to 100 C.E.). This framework was drawn from many sources. In the book I am working on at this moment (scheduled for publication in 2007) I will try to cast light on those interpretive sources.

I think you can debate the accuracy of the claims made about Jesus in the Gospels, but I do not think the historicity of Jesus is in doubt.

My best wishes.

--John Shelby Spong

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