My First Twitter Battle: Jesus = Apollonius of Tyana
I recently got into my first Twitter battle – and it was epic.
Sometimes, when I am done pouring through old books and ancient citations, I do searches in Twitter for various subjects that I had been reading about. A few days ago that subject was Apollonius of Tyana. I quickly found a tweet that simply read:
“Jesus = Apollonius of Tyana”
I decided that I would start a conversation. I don’t know about the legality of reposting a bunch of pictures of my various tweets with my interlocutor, so I won’t post them here, but feel free to go to my twitter profile and search for them: @drosjk. But, be kind: spelling errors and misunderstandings abound!
This short conversation continued to confirm for me that too many people believe bogus things about history.
For some students of the New Testament, as well as other related fields, it can come as a bit of a shock that there are many people who believe that Jesus never existed. To get an interesting picture of this, take a look at Larry Hurtado’s blog post from earlier this year entitled “The ‘Did Jesus Exist’ Controversy and Its Precedents.”
Just a few minutes in the comments section shows that the belief that Jesus didn’t exist (often called Mythicism) is alive and well (and somewhat vitriolic) on the internet.
Although my conversation with my new friend on Twitter was in no way bitter, it does help to illuminate a few misconceptions about the historical Jesus floating around. Essentially, he claimed that Jesus never existed, and a more reliably attested historical figure is Apollonius of Tyana. This isn’t a new claim to me, just a poorly supported one that won’t seem to die.
I just want to make a few points about these types of views with special emphasis on Apollonius.
(1) Jesus existed. Pretty much everyone agrees on that.
As you might expect, historical Jesus studies have typically rendered very diverse pictures of Jesus. But, what virtually all of them have agreed on is that he did in fact exist regardless of how diverse historical reconstructions sometimes are. There are just far too many reasons to believe that Jesus was a real person. I can only think of one outlier, Richard Carrier, who has been criticized for his views multiple times. Click around this blog to see some of that.
(2) Apollonius came after Jesus.
Usually, in popular argumentation, the figure of Apollonius of Tyana is reported to have been the inspiration for the Gospels. Sometimes it is simply argued that there is evidence for his existence, but not Jesus’ existence. Again, this just isn’t the case. The Gospels were completed (or nearly completed) about 150 years before Philostratus composed the only known biography of Apollonius of Tyana. If the Gospels were so much earlier, than there is no serious way to support the idea that Apollonius was source material for the “fictional” life of Jesus. And if the Gospel source material isn’t reliable enough for you to believe that Jesus existed, then Philostratus’ biography of Apollonius certainly shouldn’t be evidence that Apollonius existed. You have to treat historical figures with the same criteria.
(3) There is an information verification problem in modern self-education
Towards the end of my epic Twitter battle, it became clear that sources of information were the root of the problem. Eventually, I asked where my debate partner was getting his information and he pointed me towards “The Historical Origins of Christianity” written by Walter Williams. Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about the credentials of the author of this book. My suggestion to those who would like to argue for the non-existence of Jesus, or other extremist historical views, would be to consider your sources of information. Are they found on poorly designed websites without credentials or peer-reviewed and published with reputable publishing houses?
One side note: please don’t read this and assume that I think everyone who believes that Jesus never existed or that Apollonius is “more real” than Jesus is stupid. I don’t think they’re stupid, just misinformed. I would encourage them to participate in the conversation by reading the correct peer-reviewed monographs/articles/etc.