The Pagan Christ
The Pagan Christ, Tom Harpur, Allen & Unwin, 2005 (Australasian edition)
Review by Lloyd Geering
Some may have heard the author on Radio New Zealand recently when he was here to promote this book. He comes with good credentials, being a Canadian ex-Anglican priest and one time professor of New Testament studies at Toronto. Some who heard him (as I did not) urged me to read it.
I approached it with an open mind and read it reasonably carefully; but I became increasingly disappointed. On the surface the book appears to reflect breadth of research but on closer examination it shows no depth of understanding.
The author lacks a critical mind and resorts to much emotive language. While strongly critical of Christian fundamentalists for reading the Bible literally, he betrays a fundamentalist mind-set himself by blindly accepting his new position as a dogma.
He became convinced that there was no historical Jesus and the Christian story is a fabrication based on an ancient Egyptian myth. (He believes it is none the worse for that, calling upon the support of Joseph Campbell to emphasize the essential truth to be found in myth.)
He confesses that he is greatly dependent on the works of Alvin Boyd Kuhn and Gerald Massey but does not realise how mesmerised he has become by them. These two expound the theosophical theories (better classed as dogmas), which originated with Madame Blavatsky in the 19th century.
Theosophy, starting from a Hindu base that it still reflects, contends that the essential truth in all religions is basically the same. It has little interest in history, for it believes ultimate reality to be non-material and essentially spiritual.
Harpur draws upon modern biblical scholarship when it suits his cause (and this gives his book a faint air of respectability) but ignores it when it doesn’t. Many of his quotes are taken out of context and made to support a viewpoint their authors would not agree with. He quotes some of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar and then criticises them for clinging to the traditional view that there was an historical Jesus.
None of his arguments stand up to close examination and some of them, particularly in the field of linguistics, are unadulterated rubbish.
One wonders how such reputable publishers as Allen and Unwin allowed themselves to be so taken in by this book, or did they simply see the profit to be made from a gullible public, which has been turned off by traditional Christianity?