CBC Documentary
The Pagan Christ (“TPC”)
December 6, 2007, CBC News
December 8, 2007, CBC Newsworld

An Afterword

The overall response to the documentary was phenomenal. The TV audience of close to two-thirds of a million made it one of the top-rated CBC documentaries of 2007. The phone lines and the discussion board on the “net” at CBC.ca. hot docs were jammed immediately afterwards and for some time beyond that. While most such documentaries on CBC garner “about 1000 views on average” on the website, TPC received over 18,000. There was a torrent of e-mails on the Tom Harpur website, some angry, one or two even very nasty but the great majority, roughly 90%, very positive indeed.

A few people complained about airing such a program at that time but December 6 is hardly Christmas (except in the wholly commercial mind) and when would have been a better time? Surely anything trying to put the spiritual Christ back into Christmas deserves an airing in Advent Season. In any case, although the program was based upon my book, I was given no say whatever in the decision to put it in the programming at the spot where it eventually landed.

Considering the amount of territory covered by the book, I thought the director Cindy Banks and producer David Brady did an amazing job within the confines of a CBC “hour” i.e. a little less than 45 minutes! Those keen to see more will have the opportunity when the longer version on DVD comes out. News of that will be posted on this website and elsewhere. 

The two critics on the show

Stanley Porter’s main critique seemed to focus on the Egyptian material in TPC. Those who have gone on to read the 2007 sequel to TPC, Water Into Wine (2007), have seen the appendix there with its considerable contemporary scholarly witness to the dependence of the Jesus Story on ancient Egyptian theology. A reading of Siegfried Morenz’s book Egyptian Religion (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1973 - see especially the footnotes on Horus, etc.) and a reading of  Erik Hornung’s  The Secret Lore of Egypt and its Impact on the West, will help cure any vagueness on this subject.  Hornung, who is without question one of the leading Egyptologists of our time, says pointedly on page 73: 

“Notwithstanding its superficial rejection of everything pagan, early Christianity was deeply indebted to ancient Egypt. In particular, the lively picture of the Egyptian afterlife left traces in Christian texts;  thus among the Coptic [Christians] … we encounter a fiery hell quite like that of the Egyptians. The descensus [descent into hell] of Jesus, which played no role in the early church, was adopted into the official Creed after 359, thanks to apocryphal legends that again involved Egypt. Christ became the sun in the realm of the dead, for this descent into the netherworld had its ultimate precursor in the nightly journey of the ancient Egyptian sun God Re…”  

He goes on with many other parallels including:

“the Christian slayer of the dragon [St.George] had its model in the triumph of Horus over Seth and there was a smooth transition from the image of the nursing Isis—Isis lactans—to that of Maria [Mary] lactans. The miraculous birth of Jesus could be viewed as analogous to that of Horus, who Isis conceived posthumously from Osiris, and Mary was closely connected with Isis by many other shared characteristics.” (See especially p.75.)

Ward Gasque, who has been a relentless, outspoken opponent of the views expressed in TPC right from its publication in 2004, is a professor of Church History. But in the documentary, as edited (not by the author)  his remarks confined themselves almost entirely to an expression of  comments on the alleged validity of the New Testament  Gospels as evidence for an historical Jesus. This was unfortunate. Any first year seminary student [except perhaps at the most extreme conservative Bible Colleges in the country] knows that the four Gospels are decidedly NOT “four independent witnesses” of  the supposed historical Christ. For example, Matthew and Luke plagiarize Mark, the earliest Gospel, to the extent of reproducing between them roughly 75% of Mark’s material, often verse for verse. The last 200 years of biblical criticism has shown beyond any shadow of doubt that the Gospels are faith documents, benign propaganda, if you like. But they are NOT history or even biography. If indeed there is, as Gasque has said repeatedly and not just in the documentary, “incontrovertible evidence” of Jesus’ historicity why does he never produce even a shred of it? The scholarly world itself is waiting.

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Finally, I would add this: the book was not written to stir controversy, nor was the documentary  produced with that in mind. Our purpose throughout, both in TPC and in its sequel, Water Into Wine, has been to show there is another, hopefully better, more universal, way to understand the Jesus Story and its meaning for our lives than the dead literalism that abounds today. If anyone has found the Meaning of Christmas and of  their own spirituality richer, deeper, more all-embracing as a result of this often demanding, even exhausting project, then the Spirit has indeed been leading and empowering through it all. To all who read this, every blessing on your journey.  Benedicte Deus Semper.

Tom Harpur
Winter Solstice, 2007

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