“Logically, it is the New Testament accounts that are
far more reliable than those of Apollonius”.
We read at: http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/apollonius-tyana-also-did-miracles-and-rose-what-about-him
Apollonius of Tyana also did miracles and rose.
What about him?
by Matt Slick
Apollonius of Tyana (a city south of Turkey) is sometimes offered as a challenge to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It is said that Apollonius, who lived in the first century, also performed miracles, had disciples, died, and appeared after his death the same as Jesus. Therefore, critics conclude, what Jesus did isn’t unique. Some even say that this is evidence that the Christian account of Christ’s healings, miracles, and post death appearances were merely copied from the accounts of Apollonius. Are these accusations supportable? No, they aren’t.
First of all, the accounts of Apollonius were written well after he is supposed to have lived by a man named Philostratus (170 – 245 A.D.). This is long after the New Testament was written. Therefore the written accounts of Apollonius were not written by eyewitnesses as were the gospels. If critics want to maintain that the New Testament is full of myth and must be discredited, then so must the accounts of Apollonius since the writings are written several generations after the fact. By contrast the New Testament was written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life. Logically, it is the New Testament accounts that are far more reliable than those of Apollonius. Also, this would mean that if any borrowing was done, it was done by Philostratus, not by the gospel writers.
Second, the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament writers were written before the close of the first century. For example, we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts do not contain the account of the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D. This fall included the destruction of the Jerusalem temple which was prophesied by Jesus in Matt. 24:1, Mark 13:1, and Luke 21:5. Such an incredibly major event in Jewish history would surely have been included in Acts and the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) if they were written after 70 A.D. since they would verify Jesus’ predictive abilities. But, it is not included. Therefore, it is safe to say that they were written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, unlike the accounts of Apollonius.
Third, Philostratus is the only source for the accounts of Apollonius where the Bible is multi-sourced. In other words, we have different writers writing about Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc., are different writers who’s epistles were gathered by the Church and assembled into the Bible. That means that there is no verification for Apollonius other than the single writing of Philostratus.
Fourth, Philostratus was commissioned by an empress to write a biography of Apollonius in order to dedicate a temple to him. This means that there was a motive for Philostratus to embellish the accounts in order satisfy the requirement of the empress.1
It is not likely in the slightest that the gospels borrowed from Apollonius. It is most probably the other way around, especially since Philostratus had a motive to satisfy the empress who had commissioned him to write a biography of the man for whom a temple had been constructed.
- Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998, p. 120.
Apollonius is clearly another of those many pagan appropriations of Old and New Testament biblical characters (e.g., Buddha, and also various Greek mythological heroes, appropriating Moses; Socrates a composite of the prophet Jeremiah, Eleazer of the Maccabees, and Jesus; Julius Caesar a composite, including of Jesus Christ; Mohammed a composite of Tobias and of various New Testament figures, including, once again, Jesus Christ).
Robert M. Price asks the question, at:
Was There a Historical
Apollonius of Tyana?
Apollonius of Tyana is a fascinating character in his own right, intrinsically deserving of scholarly attention. But much contemporary discussion of this ancient superhero is due to his possible relevance to the question of the historical Jesus, for his story as we read it in Philostratus’ third-century hagiography The Life of Apollonius of Tyana bears a striking resemblance to that of the Christian Savior at many points. The parallels raise the question of literary genre, possible literary dependence, and euhemerism (whether a legendary superhero may be a magnification of an actual historical figure whose features may be dimly discerned via historical criticism). My focus is narrower still. It is sometimes observed that in Apollonius
we have a strong precedent for Jesus as most scholars see him, as a genuine historical figure subsequently embellished by his admirers. After all, if we can discount the miracle stories attached to the sage of Tyana and still believe he existed, why not Jesus? Both figures conform in a whole host of details to the Mythic Hero Archetype,1 but such figures may result from Man becoming Myth, or from Myth becoming Man. What are the deciding factors? And which was the case with our pair of subjects?
I shall suggest that all signs point to Apollonius having originated as a purely mythical hero, precisely like Asclepius, Hercules, Dionysus, and Theseus. Remember, these ancient heroes were also believed to have walked our earth in mortal form and to have worked wonders among the mortals whom they outwardly resembled. They were supposed to have been begotten upon mortal women by deities visiting from heavenly Olympus. When their earthly missions were complete, these demigods returned to heaven themselves. But they never in fact lived on earth.
The only real difference between these ancient superheroes and Apollonius is that his (fictive) sojourn among mankind was imagined to have been more recent.
Philostratus informs us that he derived his biographical data on Apollonius from various sources including local legends/folk memories emanating from shrines boasting of visits from the philosopher-thaumaturge (much as tour guides cross their fingers behind their backs while
telling visitors to Glastonbury that no less than Joseph of Arimathea, King Arthur, and Queen Guinevere lie buried there). But, he says, his principle source of information was the journal kept by Apollonius’ disciple Damis the Assyrian, who carefully recorded every word and every
movement of his master. But all this is a pose, a ruse, no more to be believed than Edgar Rice Burroughs when he claims his novel A Princess of Mars was recounted to him by Captain John Carter who had astrally travelled to the Red Planet. We do not believe, and of course are not intended to believe, that Carter actually encountered green-skinned, four-armed Tharks on Mars. Are we going to believe that Apollonius and company ran across dragons and humanoid giants?
A narrative, as D.F. Strauss warned us, has no more credibility than the least believable parts of it.2 And that pretty much poisons the well for Philostratus’ hagiography of the man of Tyana.
But even if we did not have these fairy tale elements to contend with, we would still have to regard the whole work as fiction. There is simply no way Damis could have taken down Apollonius’ discourses in such detail and with such eloquence unless the gods had provided him with a tape recorder. As we read, enthralled by the wit and wisdom of the philosopher, we find ourselves suspending disbelief. We look no deeper than the placid surface of the polished
narrative, as when we watch a movie or read a novel (which is what we are doing here). It is possible that Philostratus was working from a set of notes taken down by Damis, but what reason is there to think so? Occam’s Razor warns us not to posit redundant and superfluous explanations. If it reads like a work of de novo fiction, why should we complicate things by positing extra ostensible causes for the effect, which do nothing to make the work more understandable? So fiction it is.
But why the pose that Apollonius was a figure of recent history? Apollonius supposedly lived in the first century CE. Philostratus was writing about him in the third. Others had written of Apollonius, e.g., Moeragenes, whose account did not meet with Philostratus’ approval. But does the fact that this character, as a character, already existed establish his existence as a historical figure? It only proves that Philostratus was not his inventor. More simply, it is by no means unlikely that Philostratus and Moeragenes were alike simply taking for granted the result of the process of “euhemerizing” an ancient, mythic hero, distilling a whittled-down, hypothetically historical prototype, just as euhemerists like Herodotus posited a historical Hercules, an ancient Steve Reeves.
In the case of Apollonius, scholars have reasoned that, if Philostratus felt he had to clean up his hero’s reputation, making him a sublime philosopher instead of a charlatan conjurer, wouldn’t that imply that Apollonius actually was a magician? Why would he invent such a strike against Apollonius? But this fails, too. It seems rather that Philostratus was trying to rebut a general disdain of philosophy and philosophers by those who considered them no more than frauds and parasites…. Nero was opposed to philosophy, because he suspected its devotees to be addicted to magic, and of being diviners in disguise; and at last the philosopher’s mantle brought its wearers before the law courts, as if it were a mere cloak of the divining art. I will not mention other names, but Musonius of Babylon, a man only second to Apollonius, was thrown into prison for the crime of being a sage, and there lay in danger of death; and he would have died for all his gaoler cared, if it had not been for the strength of his constitution. (4:35)4
I want to start with a form-critical analysis of the miracle stories starring Apollonius in order to determine, if possible, where they came from and what purpose they served. Do they seem to presuppose or imply an origin in a genuine historical figure or only the evolution of a mythic character like Hercules or Asclepius? And what light do they shed on claims for an eyewitness origin of the narratives?
To his mother, just before [Apollonius] was born, there came an apparition of Proteus, who changes his form so much in Homer, in the guise of an Egyptian demon. She was in no way frightened but asked what sort of child she would bear. And he answered, “Myself.” “And who are you?” she asked.
“Proteus,” he answered, “the god of Egypt.” (1:4)
Does this open the possibility that Apollonius is a fictive historicization of the mythical Proteus? Obviously, this annunciation tale is mythical. No one disputes that. The real question is whether the larger Apollonius narrative of which it forms a tiny part, is of any different character. In one sense, it is, insofar as the Apollonius epic is made the vehicle for huge amounts of philosophical paraenesis aimed (where else?) at the readers for their edification. Apollonius becomes the mouthpiece for Philostratus himself, just as Socrates was for Plato. This becomes blatantly obvious when it comes to the trial of Apollonius. The sage is called before the fiendish emperor Domitian. There is an exchange, but then Apollonius abruptly and literally vanishes into thin air, to reappear across the Mediterranean to the speechless astonishment of his disciples, whom he had sent on ahead.
But then Philostratus shares with us the speech Apollonius would have given had he not so rudely departed. Wait a minute! Which is it? Philostratus has already made it clear (in a passage to be considered presently) that Apollonius planned to teleport away from the courtroom, as he did, so he could not have prepared the speech Philostratus shares with us. And was Apollonius planning to read the speech? And how would Philostratus have obtained a copy? He thus reveals himself as the omniscient narrator using his hero as a ventriloquist dummy.
As for the actual “events” of Apollonius’ life, is any of them free from strong suspicion of being entirely fictive and fanciful? I think that the sage of Tyana is here revealed as being fully as mythical as the shape-shifting god Proteus of whom he is the avatar. Traditionally we have supposed these fanciful episodes and anecdotes were merely decorative embellishments to highlight the greatness of his hero for the edification of his original audiences. But if the whole
thing looks like a myth-cycle, why should we suppose it rests upon any (in any case indiscernible) historical basis? Let William of Occam again be our conscience: the notion of a more modest, historical Apollonius is a fifth wheel, a redundant and superfluous pseudo-explanation.
One more note: Proteus, like various ancient gods, could assume any form at will, which means he had no true form at all, but only seemed to be this or that. Thus Proteus’ announcement of his own impending birth as Apollonius means that the birth itself was a holy sham, as is pretty
much made explicit in this passage. My point, here as elsewhere, is that Philostratus is actually presenting his hero as a theophany, not as a wise mortal later rewarded by exaltation to heaven.
The Life of Apollonius of Tyana begins (and continues) by extolling Apollonius as superior to all rivals. But eventually we are surprised to see our author lionizing someone else. When Apollonius betakes himself to India, he gladly defers to the venerable Gymnosophists, or naked philosophers,5 as wiser than himself. He does not presume to teach them aught, but rejoices to sit under their instruction. Apollonius almost becomes a John the Baptist glorifying a greater:
“The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29b-30). It would appear that Philostratus himself greatly admired what he knew of Indian philosophy and used his commission to eulogize Apollonius6 as an opportunity to promote exotic Oriental mysticism to his Hellenistic readership. This may account for the similarities between the annunciation to Apollonius’ mother and annunciation/nativity stories of the Buddha. First, here is Apollonius’ birth story.
Now he is said to have been born in a meadow… [J]ust as the hour of his birth was approaching, his mother was warned in a dream to walk out into the meadow and pluck the flowers; and in due course she came there and her maids attended to the
flowers, scattering themselves over the meadow, while she fell asleep lying on the grass. Thereupon the swans who fed in the meadow set up a dance around her as she slept, and lifting their wings, as they are wont to do, cried out aloud all at once,
for there was somewhat of a breeze blowing in the meadow. She then leaped up at the sound of their song and bore her child, for any sudden fright is apt to bring on a premature delivery. But the people of that country say that just at the moment of the birth, a thunderbolt seemed about to fall to earth and then rose up into the air and disappeared aloft; and the gods thereby indicated, I think, the great distinction to which the sage was to attain, and hinted in advance how he would transcend all
things upon earth and approach the gods. (1:4-5)
Now, two versions of the Buddha’s annunciation and birth:
Before she conceived, she saw in her sleep a white lord of elephants entering her body, yet she felt thereby no pain. […] In that glorious grove the queen perceived that the time of her delivery was at hand. Then… from the side of the queen… a son was born for the weal of the world, without her suffering either pain or illness. […] When in due course he had issued from the womb, he appeared as if he had descended from the sky, for he did not come into the world through the portal of life; and, since he had purified his being through many aeons, he was born not ignorant but fully conscious. (Buddhacarita, i. 4, 8, 9, 11)7
Bodhisattva, the foremost in three worlds, worshipped by the world, seeing the (right) season, freed himself from the wonderful Tusita abode8… and… became a baby white elephant with six tusks… the set of tusks made of gold… and entered on the right side, the womb of his mother… Mayadevi, sleeping on a comfortable bed, had this dream: “A lordly elephant the colour of snow or silver, with six tusks… entered my womb.” […] Then Mayadevi… arose from her beautiful bed… descended from the top of the magnificent palace, going into the asoka grove, seated [herself] comfortably in the asoka grove. […] Then Mayadevi, entering the Lumbini Park…, walked from tree to tree… until she came gradually to that plaska tree, the greatest and most excellent jewel of trees… Then that plaska tree, bent by Bodhisattva’s glory, bowed down. Then Mayadevi stretched out her right arm like
the lightning in the sky… Magically arriving in this fashion, Bodhisattva remained in his mother’s womb. At the completion of ten months he issued from the right side of his mother. (Lalitavistara, VI. 2, 3, 22; VII.22)9
You can see that both Buddhist Nativity stories make clear that the infant to be born (in a purely illusory manner) is an illusion, only outwardly a baby, as he merely uses a woman’s womb as a conduit. He is a pre-existent heavenly being, already filled with supernatural wisdom. Furthermore, both the Buddha’s mother and Apollonius’ mother give birth in a peaceful rustic location, and both births are signaled by either a lightning bolt or a gesture reminiscent of one. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Apollonius Nativity has been influenced by its Buddhist counterpart. And of course both are not only equally mythical, but they are part of completely mythical epics. If there was a historical Gautama Buddha, as most assume, whoever and whatever he may have been, he cannot be found in the canonical hagiographies. I side with older scholars who discounted any historical existence of the Buddha. ….
That Nineveh anachronism again
“… Nineveh was so laid waste that it was considered a total myth of the Bible
throughout most of the recent centuries, that is until it was discovered
by Sir Austen Layard in the nineteenth century”.
Archaeology of Ancient Assyria
Poor old Nineveh!
That ancient city gets dragged into various pseudo-histories purportedly belonging to AD time.
And so I could not help exclaiming at the beginning of my article:
Heraclius and the Battle of Nineveh
What! What! What! The Byzantine emperor, Heraclius (reign, 610 to 641 AD), fighting a “Battle of Nineveh” in 627 AD!
And here I am mistakenly under the impression that the city of Nineveh was completely destroyed in c. 612 BC, and that it lay hopelessly dead and buried until it was archaeologically resurrected by Layard in the mid-C19th AD. ….
Again I found that the Prophet Mohammed, a supposed contemporary of Heraclius – the latter being suspiciously, I thought, “A composite character to end all composites”:
Heraclius and the Battle of Nineveh. Part Two: A composite character to end all composites
was likewise supposed to have had various associations with the (presumably long dead) city of Nineveh. See e.g. my article:
Prophet Jonah, Nineveh, and Mohammed
Now I find that Apollonius of Tyana, supposedly of the C1st AD, was guided in his extensive travels – somewhat reminiscent of those of Tobias and the angel Raphael in the Book of Tobit (including “Nineveh”, “Tigris” and “Ecbatana”):
A Common Sense Geography of the Book of Tobit
by one, Damis, said to have been a native of Nineveh.
And this Apollonius of Tyana is thought by many to have been the real model for Jesus Christ.
I would have to agree with the following comment:
The case of Apollonius of Tyana is not comparable with the evidence we have for Jesus. We have multiple sources for the life of Jesus, while we only have one source for Apollonius. This source, Philostratus, claims to have recorded what eyewitnesses said about Apollonius, but your professor probably neglected to mention that the only eyewitness Philostratus mentions is one Damis from Nineveh. This city didn’t even exist in the first century (which means Damis probably did not exist, either). ….
If Nineveh did not then exist, and Damis “probably did not exist”, then I think it would be safe to say that neither did Apollonius of Tyana probably exist, but was a fictitious Greek appropriation of Jesus Christ whom Apollonius occasionally resembles quite remarkably.
In the amusingly entitled: “APOLLONIUS CREED VS. JESUS THE ROCK”, David Marshall writes:
One of the supreme principles of modern thought is that there must be no great inexplicable “gaps” in Nature. This is the source of controversy in biology, where proponents of Intelligent Design claim that life reveals micro-machinery that naturalistic evolution cannot explain. Critics of ID reply that no, all such “gaps” can in principle be explained, and the more we understand the story of life, the more such gaps have and will continue to close. Likewise, those who affirm miracles say that events such as the Resurrection of Jesus, or the sudden healing of a loved one after prayer, cannot easily be displayed on naturalistic grounds. Skeptics again beg to differ: “Nothing to see here, move along, folks. We may not have all the details, but nothing has happened that cannot in principle be explained by deceit, inattention, cognitive dissonance, the Will to Believe, confused reporting, or perhaps a timely group hallucination or two. These are all events that happen commonly in the natural world, and as Hume explained, prosaic explanations are therefore infinitely more likely than a miracle.” Which sounds like begging the question to believers. The same debate has now raged for two centuries over the person of Jesus, and reports about his life. Here, it appears, lies a God-sized gap in Nature if ever there was one. A man who healed the blind! Who spoke with a voice of thunder, casting traders out of the temple as if the place belonged to him! Who fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and raised the dead! Who claimed to be “one with the Father,” and spoke as if all of Israel’s history, indeed all world history, would somehow be consummated by his mission, which involved his own sacrifice and then ultimate conquest of that ultimate boogeyman, death! All skeptical “historical Jesus” scholarship can be seen as a Herculean attempt to plug this gap in the universe. That includes the most famous and popular such attempts in our day, such as the work of scholars like Bart Ehrman and Paula Fredrikson, populists like Reza Aslan, the writings of the famous (or infamous) Jesus Seminar (and stars emerging from that constellation like John Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, and John Spong), and the more radical writings of people like Richard Carrier and less-educated fellows on the “Jesus mythicist” fringe.
I believe Christians should look on their colossal effort to “plug the gap” as an act of kindness. Opponents of the Christian faith are doing wonderful work for truth: they sift ancient writings over hundreds of years (Thomas Jefferson was already part of the game), turning every stone along the Sea of Galilee, sifting every play, drama, epic and farce out of Athens, tunneling under the pyramids of Egypt, knocking on the doors of forest mystics along the Ganges, climbing the Tibetan plateau, in the world’s greatest scholarly manhunt. Our skeptical friends (atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, nominal Christians) have been searching high and low for centuries, to locate their “missing man:” someone, anyone, who faintly resembles Jesus of Nazareth. Or, to put the matter another way, those who find the Jesus of the gospels both attractive and threatening would dearly like to find a genuine “Fifth Gospel.” (A term that has been used for both the so-called “Gospel of Thomas” and for Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov). To summarize what I think is the true state of affairs, the actual results of this massive manhunt, let me begin autobiographically. Then let’s take a brief look at one of the most popular ancient comparisons to Jesus. I have argued in three books that this search for a credible analogy to Jesus of Nazareth has utterly failed. (Or, from the Christian perspective, succeeded wildly, by showing just how huge the gap is between Jesus and all those the world would compare to him). I first set this argument down in a book called Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could. After detailing twelve fatal errors committed by Jesus Seminar fellows, I described 50 characteristics that define the gospels, and make them unique. (Having to do with setting, style and literary qualities, character, moral teachings, pedagogy, social qualities, and theology). I then analyzed some works that are often compared to the gospels, including the “Gospel” of Thomas and Apollonius of Tyana, and found that when analyzed objectively, at best these supposed “closest parallels” only resemble the real gospels on 6-9 out of 50 characteristics. (The closest parallel I have found so far is The Analects of Confucius, which is our best source for the life of Confucius – though it lacks many of internal qualities that demonstrate the general historicity of the gospels). Later, for a Harvest House book called The Truth About Jesus and the “Lost Gospels” I analyzed all extant Gnostic “gospels.” In doing that research, I found myself in for an even greater shock. It turned out that eminent scholars, having searched the ancient world high and low, offered up ancient “parallels” to the gospels that were as different from them in almost every meaningful way as a sea slug is from a falcon. “Great scholars” like Ehrman, Crossan, and Elaine Pagels had clearly fooled themselves, and their followers, to a monumental degree, seeing what just was not there, and missing what was. As C. S. Lewis memorably put it (so I quote roughly, from memory), “They claimed to see fern seed, and overlook an elephant standing fifty yards away in broad daylight.” Finally, in a chapter of Faith Seeking Understanding called “The Fingerprints of Jesus,” I focused on five qualities that the gospels share: his aphorisms or sayings, how he treated the weak, the cultural transcendence of his teachings, his revolutionary attitude towards women, and the particular character of his miracles. I made the case that like fingerprints, “These traits help the gospels grip the mind of the reader and mark them as unique. They are not the sorts of things a disciple would add intentionally, or in some cases even could invent.” This “forensic” argument for Jesus and the gospels is distinct from, but I think complements, traditional and more purely historical arguments. (Such as those made by Craig Blomberg in his excellent “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels”). In the gospels, I argue, we meet a unique person, a person whose personality has imprinted itself powerfully on the minds of those who recorded the strange and wonderful events that took place in Palestine. Skeptics OUGHT to easily find numerous real parallels to the gospels. Again and again they seem to have persuaded themselves that they have succeeded and found this unholy “holy grail.” But all such parallels have turned out to be mirages, a room full of grails as fake as those in Indiana Jones. (But much more obvious!) Every such attempt collapses upon sober analysis, as Lewis again noticed decades before the Jesus Seminar was yet a twinkle in Robert Funk’s eyes: “I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this.” Space and time being limited, I cannot give a very full argument here. I will, therefore, focus briefly on one of the most popular alleged parallels: The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius is mentioned again and again by skeptics who hold him up as proudly as a fourth-grader with a five-pound trout. About 300 AD, the Roman governor Hierocles already compared the “god-like” Apollonius favorably to Jesus in his Lover of Truth. Like Jesus, Apollonius was said to have done miracles and to be “divine.” Harvard Jesus scholar Paula Fredriksen likewise wrote that Apollonius “had numerous miracles attributed to him: spectacular healings, exorcisms, even once raising someone from the dead,” showing that Jesus’ miracles were not “unprecedented or unique.” Funk also advised us to compare stories about Jesus with “what was written about other teachers and charismatic figures of his time,” placing Apollonius at the top of her list: “It is revealing to know that there are other stories of miraculous births, that other charismatic figures healed people of their afflictions and exorcised demons.” In my debates with Robert Price and Richard Carrier, both similarly pointed to Apollonius as a strong parallel to the life of Jesus. Carrier said, “Now everything he says about the gospels is true of all kinds of faith literature in all religions . . . There are other examples that look more like the gospels, for example, the Book of Tobit. Or Plutarch’s biography of Romulus. Or Philostratus’ biography of Apollonius of Tyana. There are a lot of these examples of faith literature that look more like the gospels. And if you wanted me to sit down and research and find the most similar example, I could. But it’s not necessary. There’s plenty of examples like this that have all the characteristics of the gospels . . . ” This “gap” in the universe has thus, in their eyes, been completely filled. Until, that is, you take the time to actually read the Life of Apollonius, or any of these works. (The ones he gives here are quite ridiculous. Another, perhaps even more comical parallel Carrier gave elsewhere in the debate was The Golden Ass – the story of a man who accidentally bewitched himself and turned into a donkey until he ate some roses and turned back into a man). When one stops laughing, one has to shake one’s head. The sober historian will begin by reminding skeptics that not only did Apollonius live after Jesus, his “life” was written up some 150 years after the gospels. In fact, it was written by one Philostratus, for the Empress Julia Domna, an early 3rd Century patroness of the arts and opponent of Christianity. The story tells how a popular 1st Century philosopher journeyed (like Hercules) to exotic locales, from Africa to India. The author claimed to work from (among other sources) letters his subject wrote to kings and philosophers, and from the diary of his Boswell and most famous disciple, one Damis of Ninevah. (A city which, unfortunately, did not actually exist at the time of the diarist’s alleged birth, however). As I reminded Dr. Price, if you want parallels to Jesus to show that Jesus is really not so special, it is best to find some that are credibly independent of the gospels. If Apollonius were at all like Jesus, if his “miracles” were at all like the ones worked in the gospels, one very plausible hypothesis would be that Philostratus prettied him up to match his competitor. (A common tactic in religious entrepreneurship). Given that the book was sponsored by an opponent of Christianity, this hypothesis seems even more credible. And Philostratus may indeed have intended that at times. But one need not stress this point too much, because if you read the two sets of writings, what cries out to the heavens, the “elephant” in the room, is that in fact, Apollonius is nothing at all like Jesus. Not even his miracles, ripped off as some likely were from the gospels, are much like those of Jesus. I found that in fact, Apollonius of Tyana only shared six of 50 characteristics with the gospels fairly strongly, three weakly. Most of what they shared was not very important to historicity: that like Jesus, Apollonius was a teacher, and used a Q&A format to teach, and that the book tells stories. Let me briefly detail eight points of difference that are historically relevant: 1. The gospels were written within the plausible life-times of Jesus’ first followers. Apollonius was written some 150 years after most the events it allegedly records. Such a gap is of deep significance to historicity. 2. Jesus carries out a remarkable, and unique, dialogue with the Hebrew tradition. He is Jewish from head to foot, steeped in the traditions and faith of his people. But he also challenges that tradition to the core, citing and fulfilling a plethora of prophecies and types and images from the ancient Hebrew world. One cannot do justice to this unique quality of the gospels, to which I know of no parallels, in a few words. Apollonius is not a dialogue with tradition, it is a monologue. In some ways a typical tourist, Apollonius floats dreamily across the world on a cushion of Greek arrogance. He is pleased to find his hosts in Babylon and India speak Greek. (This often happens in Greek novels, which center on lucky coincidences in far-away places). He visits all the sights, and takes the proper verbal snapshots, like backdrops to a James Bond flick. He is warmly welcomed by foreign priests, whom he instructs in superior (Greek, presumably) ritual. Why does this matter to those who want to know whether the gospels are telling the truth about Jesus or not? Apollonius is the kind of work a moderately clever writer could produce from his veranda, in pajamas and slippers. The gospels are not: they record an earthshattering encounter with a unique historical person who challenged his beloved tradition to its core. 3. The gospel writers relate many details about places correctly. Dozens of facts have been confirmed independently from Luke’s description in Acts of the Apostles, for instance. By contrast, Philostratus sends us a series of post-cards from prominent cities on the edges of the ancient world. He describes how the citizens of Tarsus congregate by the river “like so many waterfowl,” a tunnel under the Euphrates River, and a city in India hidden by what Star Trek fans might call a cloaking device. His account of geography and customs bare a relation to reality so long as his guru sticks to ground trampled by Macedonian army boots. But when he ranges past the conquests of Alexander the Great, Damis proves an “errant story teller:” “His description of the country between the Hyphasis and the Ganges is utterly at variance with all known facts regarding it . . . Damis, in fact, tells nothing that is true about India except what has been told by writers before him.” (JW MCrinkle, quoted in Phillimore, Apollonius of Tyana, preface) Apollonius also describes special Indian fauna: griffins, phoenix, apes that cultivate pepper trees, sluggish, 30 cubit marsh dragons, and lively alpine dragons: “there is not a single ridge without one.” 4. The Gospel narrative is mostly understated, “Just the facts, Ma’am” in a style that contrasts sharply with the words of Christ. Everyone else is a straight man, not because the disciples lack personality, but by contrast to the unforgettable central figure. “Master, master, we are perishing.” “Are you the one, or should we look for someone else?” This distinguishes the gospels from Job, Bhagavad Gita, Candide, or most ancient novels or plays, in which the animating genius appears not as a figure within the text, but the literary puppet-master who brings all characters to life. All the characters in Job, for example, speak with the same gusto, even God. But in the gospels, the “spice” comes from the words of Jesus, not from Mark or even (usually) John. This, too, reflects the fact that the gospel writers were talking about a real, memorable person, not merely telling pretty stories. But Philostratus is telling stories. Apollonius contains much dialogue, in easy, colloquial tones, full of phrases like “But tell me,” “By Zeus!” and the idiom of informal philosophical discourse: “So then . . . ” “And what else could it be?” “We may rather consider this to be the case.” The words of Apollonius do not much stand out from the text, in my opinion. 5. The gospels are full of realistic details, as even A. N. Wilson pointed out, when he was still a skeptic. It is often said that novelists can easily make up such details. But did they? Philostratus wants us to know his subject was remarkable, and tries to show this through the reaction of onlookers. At one point, Apollonius took a vow of silence. But when he entered a town in conflict, he shamed it into making peace by a gesture and the look on his face. Another time, the sages discussed how boiled eggs keep a child from alcoholism. “They were astonished at the many-sided wisdom of the company.” It is hard to believe anyone was so impressed by such folklore, even in the 1st Century. One rare realistic touch comes when the sage talks to an Indian king through an interpreter. But this is spoiled by an earlier claim that he spoke all languages without studying. (As Eusebius already pointed out 1700 years ago). Besides crested dragons, spice-loving panthers (an addiction that proved their downfall), and 400 year-old elephants that shoot at enemies with their trunks, the hero’s surprising fame in India, and his inane observations, which little justify that fame, allow the text to “work” for a modern audience only as a farce. Imagine the following dialogue between Steve Martin as Apollonius, and Bill Murray as a customs official, who at first takes Apollonius for a spirit: Bill Murray: “Whence comes this visitation?” Steve Martin: “I come of myself, if possible to make men of you, in spite of yourselves! All the earth is mine, and I have a right to go all over it and through it.” Murray: “I will torture you, if you don’t answer my questions.” Martin (baring teeth): “I hope that you will do it with your own hands, so that you may catch it well, if you touch a true man.” Murray (batting eyes): “By the gods, who are you?” Martin (with a magnanimous flourish): “Since you have asked me civilly this time and not so rudely as before, listen . . . I am Apollonius of Tyana . . . I shall be glad to meet your king.” Subdued, the official offers gold, which the sage refuses. Then he suggests a barbecue, but recalls with horror that Apollonius is a vegetarian. Finally he offers vegan hors d’ouvres — unfortunately not organic: Murray: “You should have leavened bread and huge dates as yellow as amber. And I can offer you all the vegetables that grow in the garden of the Tigris.” Martin: “Wild, natural vegetables are more tasty than the forced and artificial!” The unintended comedy of Philostratus’ work makes me rather glad that skeptics often appeal to it as a parallel to the gospels: I would have missed the fun of reading this unconsciously silly book otherwise. One wonders, though, how so many brilliant, highlyeducated skeptics can seriously claim Apollonius as some sort of parallel to Jesus. They are none so blind. 6. Jesus noticed and cared about individuals. Where the disciples noticed a “Samaritan” “woman,” Jesus saw a hurting individual with a history of failed relationships who hungered for God. He often noticed individuals – a lady who had endured much from doctors, a woman about to be stoned, a man of faith, Zaccheus the Short – where others saw members of a class – tax collector, blind beggar, guide. Jesus possessed a quality rare in the healing profession, of looking a patient in the eye. With the sick, too, he saw not just a condition to attend, but a mother or brother or friend. If we possessed divine healing powers, would we think to ask a blind beggar who called on us, “What do you want?” Jesus did not dispense medicine to a procession of charity cases: he met and cared for human beings. Richard Carrier claimed that “Apollonius of Tyana notices individuals,” as Jesus does. In fact, the disciples of Apollonius seem a nebulous lot. In his early days, the sage gathered seven, of whom nothing is said, apart from this parting shot when the philosopher set off for India: “I have taken council of the gods, and I have told you of my resolve . .. Since you are so soft, fare you well, and be true to your studies. I must go my way where Science and a higher Power guide me.” But Apollonius’ servants are forced to accompany him. Damius, whom he meets later in Ninevah, is probably no more than a rhetorical device. He serves two rhetorical purposes: to chronicle his master’s adventures, and as foil to allow Philostratus to comment on sights along the way. When needed, extras appear, like the servants. They are just props. When confronted by two men with rival claims to buried gold, Apollonius judges their claims from universal principles: “I cannot believe that the gods would deprive the one even of this land, unless he was a bad man, or that they would, on the other hand, bestow on the other even what was under the land, unless he was better than the man who sold it.” With pompous disinterest in real people like that, no wonder Apollonius became a wandering sage. So no, Apollonius does not really notice individuals – he’s too busy preening and offering “wisdom.” As for that alleged wisdom: 7. Jesus’ teachings were surprising, shocking, paradoxical, and challenging. They were always original and surprising in form or context. G. K. Chesterton explained: “A man reading the gospel sayings would not find platitudes. If he had read even in the most respectful spirit the majority of ancient philosophers and of modern moralists, he would appreciate the unique importance of saying that he did not find platitudes. It is more than can be said of Plato. It is much more than can be said of Epictetus or Seneca or Marcus Aurelius or Apollonius of Tyana. And it is immeasurably more than can be said of most of the agnostic moralists and preachers of the ethical societies; with their songs of service and their religion of brotherhood.” The gospels startle a reader by “strange claims that might sound like the claim to be the brother of the sun and moon,” “startling pieces of advice,” “stunning rebukes,” and “strangely beautiful stories.” An objective reader: “Would see some very gigantesque figures of speech about the impossibility of threading a needle with a camel or the possibility of throwing a mountain into the sea. He would see a number of very daring simplifications of the difficulties of life; like the advice to shine upon everybody indifferently as does the sunshine or not to worry about the future any more than the birds. He would find on the other hand some passages of almost impenetrable darkness, so far as he was concerned, such as the moral of the parable of the Unjust Servant. Some of these things might strike him as fables and some as truths; but none as truisms.” By contrast, Apollonius of Tyana is choked with platitudes: “Is there any form of consumption so wasting as (falling in love)?” “Blessed are you then in your treasure, if you rate your friends more highly than gold and silver.” Apollonius says little that is unique, and is often simplistic, making raids into the inane. But Philostratus is supposed to be one of the more clever writers of his time. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John (according to our skeptics) are all anonymous writers, except maybe for Luke. Even on the traditional account, Jesus’ disciples were a motley and mostly low-class crew. So why do the sayings of Jesus shine so much brighter than those of the “great sage,” as transcribed by a “leading writer?” (And why do his words stand out from everyone else in the gospels?) The simplest explanation is clearly the best: the words of Jesus truly do trace to one unique genius, and represent a genuine, early memory of the actual teachings of our Lord. 8. But what about miracles? Isn’t Apollonius proof that the miracles of Jesus were nothing special? Actually, I think such claims are proof, again, that some of our skeptical friends need to visit the eye doctor. The uber skeptic, Morton Smith, argued that miracles appear in the gospels because, indeed, Jesus did such things: “All major strands of the gospel material present Jesus as a miracle worker who attracted his followers by his miracles. All of them indicate that because of his miracles he was believed to be the Messiah and the son of a god. Anyone who wants to deny the truth of these reports must try to prove that within 40 to 60 years of Jesus’ death all the preserved strands of Christian tradition had forgotten, or deliberately misrepresented, the most conspicuous characteristic of the public career of the founder of the movement.” (Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God?, 4) Smith’s own solution was to conflate “miracle” with “magic,” which as I argue in Jesus and the Religions of Man, shows a failure in critical observation in itself. (Another way Smith dealt with Jesus was by inventing a saying of Mark to make Jesus look gay, probably as a gag). But this observation is accurate: Thomas Jefferson aside, one can’t credibly take the miracles out of the gospels, anymore than one can de-bone a horse and still ride it. Glenn Miller has shown in a detailed summary that for two and a half centuries before the time of Jesus, miracle workers were essentially absent from the Roman world. (“Copy-Cat Savior” at ChristianThinktank.com). Skeptics like John Crossan often point to alleged parallels like Honi the CircleDrawer and Hanina ben Dosa, who strictly speaking, did no miracles at all. One prayed for rain, and rain came in a timely manner. But even that was reported long after the fact, and after the writing of the gospels. The desperation on the part of those who would make Jesus less lonely, is palpable. It is stunning that such seem to be the closest parallels skeptics can find, after an epic canvassing of ancient records. The search for an historical person who parallels Jesus on these points – the character and fact of his miracles – should convince us not that miracle workers were common, but exceedingly rare. No one seems to have found any records in the ancient world that parallel the realism, piety, practicality, and historicity of the miracle stories of Jesus. So what about Apollonius’ “miracles?” Philostratus begins his work by reminding us that a philosopher can dabble in magic without tainting his credibility, as he says Plato, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Anaxagoras all did. For the most part, he prefers to describe Apollonius as philosopher rather than magician. Occasionally, though, his hero disappears or foretells the future. The Hindu gurus also practice levitation, for which a metaphysical explanation is given. The secret to virtue is not magic, but “science.” Often, when called on to cure people of an illness, Apollonius chose to rebuke them of sin, instead, and let them know they had what came to them, coming to them. Often this looks like blaming the victim. Anthropologist Rene Girard even used Apollonius as a case study of scape-goating. When the people of Ephesus asked the good sage to save them from a plague, he did so by having them stone a beggar to death. Beaten to a bloody pulp, the beggar’s eyes glowed red, thus revealing him to be a demon. Girard reacted to this “horrible miracle” by noting, “Jesus is poles apart from Apollonius. Jesus doesn’t instigate stonings; rather, he does all he can to prevent them.” (Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, 54) Philostratus also raised a girl from apparent, but possibly misdiagnosed death. Even those at the scene “could not decide” whether or not she had been alive. So while Philostratus, writing long after the gospels and probably aware of them, claimed his sage did miracles, too, they were infrequent, and of a totally different character from those of Jesus. Parallels with Christ’s miracles are therefore superficial, and this “proof text” is the exception that proves the rule. There simply are no serious parallels to Jesus in the ancient world, on this, as on many traits, or the sum total of those traits, even less. For two thousand years, skeptics have tried to find some parallel to the life of Jesus, so as to render it less unique, and, if possible, dismiss it as “just another tall tale.” This attempt has utterly failed, revealing Jesus as unique indeed. Apollonius of Tyana is a dreadful choice as a parallel Christ. It is about someone whose career mostly occurred after the life of Jesus, was written up hundreds of years later, perhaps purposely in order to compete with or undermine Christianity. Yet even so, read these two sets of ancient writings, and no comparison could be more incongruous. No one could be less like Jesus than the cocky, banal, self-satisfied, inane, and ridiculous Apollonius, who has nothing much to say that has not been said better on Saturday Night Live. Why is that? Philostratus is supposed to the more cosmopolitan and clever writer. Something obviously much deeper and more remarkable is going on in the Gospels than mere literary cleverness. It says something about the gospels that so many skeptics have spent so much time looking for parallels, yet the best they can come up with is something like Apollonius of Tyana. Divine fingerprints rest upon the gospels, of a visitation to which no remote parallel has yet been found. ….