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Unmasking the Pagan Christ

A Christian response to the cosmic Christ idea expressed in Tom Harpur's, The Pagan Christ.

Just who was Jesus? Each generation sees a new crop of thinkers re-presenting Jesus variously as a proto-Marxist or a deranged messiah figure or a wise man. Recently, radical revisionists who claim Jesus is nothing more than a literary-religious myth have gained a bit of popularity. Canada's contribution to this school is Tom Harpur, whose The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light was first published in 2004.

Drawing on the writings of 19th- and early 20th-century authors Gerald Massey and Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Harpur argues the Jesus story is not rooted in actual events but in the dying-and-rising-god myth that appears in so many ancient near-Eastern cultures.

Ontario writers Stanley Porter, principal and dean at McMaster Divinity College, and Stephen Bedard, pastor of the Woodford and First Baptist churches in Meaford, have collaborated to offer a point-by-point challenge to Harpur's position.

Their 11-chapter book is superbly organized. It opens by summarizing Harpur's claims and explaining the modern history of such claims. Already, serious challenges to the scholarship of Massey, Kuhn and, by implication, Harpur are levelled. These are then expanded in chapters four through eight, where the authors patiently and ably demonstrate the uniqueness of the Christian Gospel compared to the ancient myths of Horus and Mithras.

The next three chapters offer three kinds of biblical and extrabiblical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Why would someone of Harpur's scholarly credentials and experience continue to accept the pseudo-scholarship of Massey and Kuhn? Answering that is the book's fitting conclusion.

The book's style is accessible to a broad readership. Its arguments are exemplary, focused on evidence, progressing clearly and never confusing criticism with caterwauling.

I do disagree with the book's subtitle. This is not an Evangelical response. It is a Christian response by Evangelical scholars—worthy of the widest possible reading.

Tim Perry is assistant professor of theology at Providence College in Otterburne, Manitoba, and can be reached at

Originally published in Faith Today, January/February 2007.




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