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Diabolical Mimicry (Plagiarism In Anticipation)

Posted by RIP Joe Bloe , 08 July 2012 · 3,841 views

Did Jesus really exist, or did a small Jewish sect simply take the basic story told about the pagan gods and adapt it to fit their expectations of a coming messiah? Today the usual Christian response is that Jesus really did exist and Christianity is unique; nothing at all like the pagan religions of the Roman Empire.

But 2,000 years ago it was quite a different story: Justin Martyr (one of Christianity's most famous authors) was born less than a hundred years after Jesus was allegedly crucified, and he claimed there were many similarities between the pagan gods and Jesus.

In chapter 21 of his book, "The First Apology of Justin Martyr" he wrote,

And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding [the pagan son's of god]

He went on to describe,
  • Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all
  • Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven
  • Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb
  • Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils
  • the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus.
  • Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars
  • And what kind of deeds are recorded of each of these reputed sons of Jupiter, it is needless to tell to those who already know.
And in chapter 22 he gets down to specifics:
  • Jesus was the Word of God - so was Mercury
  • Jesus suffered a cruel death - so did the Sons of Jupiter.
  • Jesus was born to a virgin - so was Perseus
  • Jesus healed the lame and the blind - so did Æsculapius.
Reinforcing those points in chapter 28, he writes:

...by declaring the Logos, the First-begotten of God, our Master Jesus Christ, to be born of a Virgin without any human mixture, and to be crucified and dead, and to have rose again and ascended into heaven, we say no more in this than what you say of those whom you style the sons of Jove.

Why was Justin Martyr so keen to make these comparisons? Well at the time Christians were being persecuted by the Romans and Justin was trying to explain to the emperor that such persecution was unfair because Christians had pretty much the same beliefs as the pagans. He was pointing out that the pagans were not persecuted for believing in Sons of God who were born to virgins, preached the Word, got themselves put to death and then ascended into heaven - so why were the Christians being made to suffer for preaching the same message?

As it happens, Justin answers his own question in chapter 31 when he admits that the Christian message is not quite the same as the pagan message. The pagan stories (he says) are absolute bullshit from start to finish, while the Christian message is completely true in every detail ! Jesus was the one and only Son of God, and all the others were ridiculous myths!

...whatever we have declared from Christ and His preceding prophets is true and older than any of your writers, and that we desire to be believed, not because we deliver many the same things with them, but because we deliver the truth, and nothing but the truth, and that Jesus alone is properly the Son of God, as being the Logos, and First-begotten, and Power of God, and by His counsel was made man, and taught these doctrines for the conversion and restoration of mankind.

If anything was going to piss off the Romans, it may well have been just that sort of pomposity.

But now that he had revealed the similarities between Christianity and paganism, Justin Martyr had created another problem for himself: If Jesus really was the only true son of god, Justin had to explain why the pagans had been telling the same stories for centuries before Jesus was (allegedly) born - and that's where he shows just how conniving a Christian can be.

Still in chapter 31, he goes on to reveal his theory of "Diabolical Mimicry" or "Plagiarism In Anticipation". The Devil (said Justin Martyr) knew that Jesus was coming to save all mankind and so the Devil tricked earlier generations into telling the Jesus story as if it was a fable and then, when Jesus finally arrived to perform his miracles, he appeared to be just another mythical character with no more substance than the other sons of god who had preceded him:

...these same evil spirits, by their instruments, the poets, dressed up fables to represent these things as already past and over, on purpose to defeat the good designs of His coming; just such another pack of scandalous wicked lies they have at present invented to render Christians odious

Later, in chapters 69 and 70 of his "Dialogue With Trypho" Justin Martyr provides even more details about his theory of Diabolical Mimicry:

Chapter 69

"Be well assured, then, Trypho," I continued, "that I am established in the knowledge of and faith in the Scriptures by those counterfeits which he who is called the devil is said to have performed among the Greeks; just as some were wrought by the Magi in Egypt, and others by the false prophets in Elijah's days.

For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by [Jupiter's] intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?

And when they tell that Hercules was strong, and travelled over all the world, and was begotten by Jove of Alcmene, and ascended to heaven when he died, do I not perceive that the Scripture which speaks of Christ, 'strong as a giant to run his race,' has been in like manner imitated?

And when he [the devil] brings forward Æsculapius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?"

Chapter 70
"And when those who record the mysteries of Mithras say that he was begotten of a rock, and call the place where those who believe in him are initiated a cave, do I not perceive here that the utterance of Daniel, that a stone without hands was cut out of a great mountain, has been imitated by them, and that they have attempted likewise to imitate the whole of Isaiah's words?


And when I hear ... that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this.

When the conclusion is reached in advance, the arguments just need to fill in some of the spaces between the lies.
This is fascinating stuff. Especially considering the origins of Christianity through the lens of memetic evolution. Very interesting indeed. Thanks Joe.