Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Strange Case of Apollonius of Tyana

Appollonius of Tyana was what many would claim Jesus of Nazareth was. I think it is helpful to compare and contrast the two men. Appollonius was a standard moral philosopher who gave out moral maxims similar to those of other philosophers of the day. He also was claimed to have accomplished certain miraculous deeds, the deliverance of a demon-possessed individual, deliverance from a vampire, and an encounter with the ghost of Achilles. He was also said to have lived a exceptionally long life and to have mysteriously disappeared when called before the emperor. Given that he lived somewhat after the time of Jesus, I suspect these stories were inspired by the stories of Jesus, but I cannot prove it. There were also a number of stories told about him that fit, not into the miraculous, but the fantastic. (The miraculous is that which involves supernatural intervention; the fantastic is things seen as part of the normal, natural world that are not credible.)  These included levitating Hindu magicians, lilliputian-sized men, and fights between elephants and dragons. But the impression given is of a fairly standard philosopher who had various interesting legends tacked on to him. Because he was just a fairly standard philosopher, it is not really clear why he should have had these miraculous powers. And because he was a fairly standard philosopher, in spite of his supposed miraculous powers, he never developed much of a following and vanished quietly into obscurity.

Jesus, however, is never in any of the accounts of Him presented as a standard moral philosopher. The basic letters of Paul, generally considered the earliest sources on Christianity, present Him as the Son of God who came to pay the price for sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Romans 1:4; Galatians 3:6-14). The gospels also clearly put forth this idea (Mark 10:45; Matthew 11:27; 23:34). Even the pagan observers, such as Pliny the Younger and Lucian, characterize Christians as worshiping Jesus as God. The miraculous is not tacked on embroidery, as in Appollonius,  but is the very heart of the message. It is difficult to see, if Jesus were simply like Appollonius, how His message could have gotten so completely changed in that short a period. Also, if Jesus had been in no way different from Appollonius, He would have suffered the fate of Appollonius and disappeared into a footnote in the history books. Now this does not prove Jesus was who He claimed to be. He could have been a clever swindler or some form of madman. But it does cast considerable doubt on the idea that Jesus was a great moral teacher who legends grew up around. We know what that looks like, and we know its fate.

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