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Interview with religion and mythology scholar Acharya S. (D.M. Murdock) examines the effects of early Christianity on other religions of the time.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Acharya S. author of, Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ.  During the interview Acharya talks about the religion and myths:

Alex Tsakiris:   One of the things that your work is really important in doing, and it’s something we didn’t talk enough about, is that it’s a really thorough analysis of the power and practices of cultish behavior, of power formation, and power manipulation. I think unless we really come to grips with this we can’t separate out what happened to these religions.
On one hand we have these traditions and these myths and those that made the myths, and on the other hand we have the same characters that we see on the landscape today that say, “Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I can make a buck off of this. Maybe I can control things. Maybe I can make my group superior and win out over the other groups. And maybe I can use these myths to do it.”

Unless we thoroughly understand that stuff, and at the same time appreciate the possibility that there is some genuine non-biological-robot, spiritual experiences that may be happening; until all that’s on the table, we can’t really get our arms around it.

Acharya Sanning: What I’m just doing is writing a factual recitation of what has happened in these places. It’s very empowering to know this stuff.

Also, when we were talking in the beginning about being in the middle between extremists on either side, this mythicism position that I am discussing which looks at supernatural beings in antiquity as mythical figures, not real people who landed on planet Earth and did a bunch of magic tricks. This is really a neutral position because you don’t have to believe in it and you don’t have to dismiss it. You don’t have to be a theist or an Atheist. You can be either one to enjoy this information.

All I’m doing is collecting religious and mythological ideas from as far back as we can tell and putting them together and showing their influences on our thinking today. It doesn’t require any kind of belief or any kind of joining or any kind of control…

(continued below)

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Today we welcome Acharya S. to Skeptiko. Acharya, whose real name is D. M. Murdock, is a first-rate Biblical scholar and an expert in religious studies and mythology. She is also the author of numerous books including, The Christ Conspiracy, Who is Jesus?, and Sons of God. She also runs a website that is absolutely chock-full of high quality articles and research on the topics we’re going to talk about today. That website is at www.truthbeknown.com.

Acharya, it’s great to have you on Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me.

Acharya Sanning:  It’s nice to be here, Alex. Thanks for inviting me. I also have a blog at www.freethoughtnation.com. In fact, I have another one, www.stellarhousepublishing.com. You can search across all my websites and a forum. People are invited to ask questions of me in the forum, as well.

Alex Tsakiris:   I’m going to look forward to joining your forum after I’ve published this because I think it’s going to be interesting. Hopefully we’ll touch on some things that aren’t entirely consistent with everything you’ve talked about before and maybe get some interesting dialogue going on there.

I say that because one of the reasons that I was especially grateful for you accepting this invitation is because we did have a chance to talk a little bit about my skepticism of some of the new Atheism dogma when it comes to science. We were able in our email exchange beforehand to separate that and say that my position is that I’m very open-minded to much of what you’ve researched and I am appreciative of much of what you’ve researched; that is separating out mythology, religious dogma, from history because as we talked about, I think it’s one thing, like I have come to understand through my research,  it is possible perhaps that people might be having genuine spiritual experiences.

That’s my belief–that doesn’t have to be your belief—and separate that out from the fact that we also have to observe and deal with the fact that people seem to have this tendency to do this cultish, myth-making, crazy stuff. It’s going on in our contemporary society and it goes on in just about every part of history we can look at. I think it’s very worthwhile to do the kind of work that you’ve done to look back and sort through this history to the best we can and figure out where the data really points us in terms of what’s historically accurate and what isn’t, if you know what I mean.

Acharya Sanning:  I think we’re on a similar page because I’ve tried to clarify that. My work is not Atheistic, per se, in that I’m just trying to debunk the concept of God or gods. That’s a whole different field that other people are engaged in, like the Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris group. They like to debate the existence of God whereas I don’t call myself a Theist or an Atheist. I would prefer not to have a label, obviously, and I don’t disbelieve or believe. I just think what I consider to be appropriate thoughts in any given moment.

I like to give this example: when something horrible happens to a small child I think it’s appropriate to ask yourself—you don’t have to say it out loud but in your own mind—“Where is the good God in all this that’s supposed to be in charge of everything and why is He allowing this child to die horribly?” I think that’s an entirely appropriate thought to have. You can even say it out loud as far as I’m concerned.

So that’s an Atheistic-type thought but then if you want to go up onto a mountain and look over a gorgeous valley and have the sun shining down on you and you feel like having some kind of cosmic communion and want to call that an experience with God, I think that’s also appropriate and entirely up to the individual. So I’m not pushing some kind of dogma or doctrine here of what you must believe in. I like to say that the thoughts that are in your own mind are your own business. It’s none of my business to be inside your brain and tell you what to think at any given moment.

That’s what religions try to do. There’s a lot of mind control, right? They threaten you with Hell and promise you Heaven if you think a certain way. This concept of mind control is taken to an even greater extent by claiming that there’s a giant being called God who is separate and apart from humanity but omniscient so He’s really inside your head. There are even certain cults who say that you’re connected like a network to this giant being, but not in a good way. Not in a spiritual experience; more of an enslaving way. You’re just a manipulated puppet according to that mentality.

There are spiritual experiences that do have profound effects on people and can be long-lasting and can change someone completely and dramatically. I don’t have any problem with those concepts or those experiences. I’ve experienced mystical things in my past, intentionally to see what a particular religion, sect, or cult is all about. The doctrine, the dogma, whatever. I’ve done a lot of meditation and I’ve gone to groups where I’ve done out-of-body work, all this kind of stuff, to see what mankind’s extremely ancient religious traditions have meant to humanity.

You can’t really understand the religious mind in order to analyze it without having gone through the experiences. I was a Born-Again Christian and that was a sincere moment that actually led me to where I am now. Which brings me back to what you were trying to differentiate between, which is this notion of spirituality being the private domain of an individual and what has actually happened in the third dimension, in physical reality. These are separate issues.

Alex Tsakiris:   I don’t know that I’d quite go there, since you said that’s what I said. I totally agree with you in terms of someone’s private thoughts being their own business and no one else’s business. But I think that the new Atheists have a point here, although the point cuts both ways, and that’s that to the extent that our private beliefs work their way into our stated beliefs, our stated values, and how we exercise those beliefs and values in terms of laws we create and how we want to move society in one direction or another, it is our business.

I’m interested, as you are, although I think we might have different conclusions about that but probably not that different–how we conceptualize some of this information that we’re going to talk about about history and what that means for us.

I think there are two different discussions we can have there but where I really want to get eventually is I want to hit the middle ground. I think what has happened in this culture war debate over science versus religion, whether we want the debate to go this way or not, is it’s become polarized like all these debates do. I think we have these Fundamentalist Christians, these Fundamentalist Muslims, Fundamentalist Jewish people, take your pick, and they’re on one side. They’re throwing out Bible verses or sacred texts and they’re talking about Armageddon or whatever crazy stuff that they are. Most people are looking at that and going, hey, that’s not me. I can’t buy into that.

On the other hand, I think sometimes the Atheist community doesn’t realize that. Sometimes the Atheists come across as wacky when they’re telling us that we’re biological robots and life is meaningless and you have no free will. The majority of people are sitting there going, I know that’s bull, too. They’re trying to sort out something between these two extremist positions.

What I see you doing is, in a very sober, scholarly way, going back and saying, “Okay, I know my position isn’t very popular here. I’m going to openly consider the possibility that Jesus was a myth and that it looks more like other myths of the time. I know that isn’t popular but I’m going to sort through the best historical data and try and lay that bare.”

That’s the kind of stuff more people in the middle need to open themselves up to and say, “Hey, I’m going to take that in. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with it but I’m just going to take it in. I’m going to take it in not saying that that has to lead me towards Atheism or that I have to do this or that. I’m just going to take it in and see what happens.”

Acharya Sanning:  Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to distinguish. That’s what I meant when I said what’s happening in the privacy of your own mind. I always qualify that by saying it’s not my business until it spills out deleteriously onto others. If you can sit there and think of some glorious concept in your brain and you can keep it there without insisting and imposing it on the rest of us through all the kinds of means that we’ve seen—this is part of my work, separating the pathological chaff from the wheat of man’s religious traditions.

Another metaphor I like to use is the trimming of man’s religions tree, which has deep roots going back thousands of years but there are these pathological dead ends that need to be cut away for it to really blossom thoroughly. So that’s basically what I’m doing. I’m not telling people what to believe or what to disbelieve.

I’m analyzing what has really happened on Earth and if it didn’t happen on Earth what does it mean? We know that if we look back at the world’s religions around the globe they’re now considered mythology by many people because of the teachings of Christianity, for example, or Islam or Judaism. The three monotheistic Abrahamic cultist expressions, they’re telling us that everything else is a myth. So you’re looking at the cultures of Rome, Greece, Europe, Central America, Asia, India, all these myths. Parts of Africa. All their religions are all myths.

That’s what these monotheistic cults are trying to tell us, of course. So we want to look back at those myths and figure out what they mean. Since they’re myths, why are the supernatural tales of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam not myths? So I’m looking at those other supernatural tales and I’m saying, “You know what? These are myths and they’re traceable to the pre-Christian, pre-Judaic, pre-Islamic world.”

What do they mean? Why were they told? Why were they created? What do these personifications represent? We have personifications of clearly supernatural beings that, in my mind, can be demonstrated to be mythological.

Alex Tsakiris:   Let me stop you there because you’ve wandered into this topic that I think is an important one and I think it also comes up again and again in your work in, I think, a very convincing and important way. That’s to maybe restate what you just did and that’s one of the ways to test the claim that gets made by folks who a lot of times are pretty secular folks, you know? Who are just going through life who are trying to fit their worldview in with the common culture.

They’ll say things like, “Christianity has done a lot of good through the ages.” Or sometimes what you’ll hear is that even among secular people that Jesus is a model of a good teacher. We may not accept the Bible, that it’s inerrant, that’s it’s perfect, but we can accept Jesus and that He was a model for how we should be. I think what your work does is you go right to the heart of some of those claims like you just talked about.

One of the claims that slips in there a lot of times is this idea that Christianity is somehow special. Somehow unique. You’ll hear Christians say that this moment in time was really special and what happened during Jesus’ life never happened before in history. I think you have some really strong evidence that directly refutes that. It just blows that out of the water and I think that’s a really important point.

I think part of that is what you’re talking about with the pre-Christian cross but I think part of it is also what you just talked about and I hope you can go into it in more depth. When you really dig into Christian doctrine we see patterns that are being repeated over and over again. Of course, we can say the same thing about Islam, we can say the same thing about Judaism. It’s not that we’re just picking on the Christians but let’s pick on the Christians since it’s such a dominant force in our culture.

Do you want to pick up on that thread?

Acharya Sanning:  Well, first of all I don’t really pick on people.

Alex Tsakiris:   That’s my word. I hear you.

Acharya Sanning:  I have to make this clarification because when I critique Islam invariably someone will say, “You’re bashing Muslims.” That is completely fallacious. If we are criticizing Christianity are we bashing Christians? No. In fact, we’re analyzing an ideology. We’re not abusing the people who follow it unless, of course, they’re behaving badly and then we can say something about that as an individual issue. But to analyze an ideology and see its flaws is important. It’s not picking on someone or bashing or abusing. It’s important.

It’s important because the blind following of that ideology, in this case Christianity, has caused immense suffering. So when we say Christianity has brought this and that and this and that, you might be able to find a few seeds in the bag of dog poo but you might as well just go buy a big bag of seeds instead of trying to pick through the other. We need something new and fresh and different.

Alex Tsakiris:  Yeah, yeah, maybe, but that’s the usual sidetrack, throwing mud across the street at each other kind of thing. I’ve been in that debate; I know you’ve been in that debate. Rather than saying, “Okay, let’s look at this claim that Christianity is something special in history and that it happened that this part of history was never repeated.”

Acharya Sanning:  Sure. I’ve been picking apart the Gospel story and its various components for decades now and I’ve pretty much taken every element of it, the vast majority of it anyway—there may be a few details here and there that are required to weave the story together—but I’ve shown that basically what the writers of the story have done is they have taken numerous elements from pre-Christian religion and mythology from Greece, the Romans, Egypt, India, and other parts of the known world at the time including the Mediterranean which had a large amount of cultural exchange going on for thousands of years.

In fact, one of the major ways of disseminating religious ideas was through the wine trade. That becomes a really huge factor in this. That’s a story for another subject but all those wine elements, Jesus’ blood as the blood of the grape, the Communion with drinking wine as His blood, all of that wine emphasis is traceable to Dionysian cult, which should not surprise us if anyone knows anything about Dionysus. In fact, it’s practically lifted right out of Dionysus worship.

That would be one aspect of looking at the elements of the Gospel story and finding a precedent in pre-Christian mythology. One of the reasons I like to do this also is part of this trimming of the pathological branches on the world’s great religions tree is that these earlier renditions actually had sensible reasons for a lot of these mythical motifs. Their culture has been basically usurped, dominated, destroyed, had its myths and religious traditions ripped off and re-packaged. Many people are completely oblivious to ancient religion and mythology because of the bias and bigotry of Christianity, if we’re going to speak about that.

Alex Tsakiris:   Give us some examples that people could wrap their arms around.

Acharya Sanning:  I was telling you about the business about wine. Wine, of course, was the blood of Dionysus before it became the blood of Jesus. So that’s pretty important. The main element, the blood of Christ, is not original to Christianity.

Then we have the pre-Christian god on the cross and this long study I’ve done, 35 or 40 pages of figures in cruciform meaning they’re either hung on a cross or in cross shape and in-between two thieves. In fact, this is a solar symbol. There are many impressions of a divine figure in the center between two other elements. They generally are humans or anthropomorphized so that there’s this trio of images.

That is a solar symbol. The image in the center, the cross in the middle, is the sun in its totality and on either side is the sun in the morning and the sun in the evening, also interpreted as the sun as it goes towards the winter solstice and the summer solstice. It could also be the equinoxes. It’s a very solar symbol, this cross with two crosses on either side. You can find this going back thousands of years in some form or another.

Alex Tsakiris:   And in your book you have actually reproduced photographs of relics. What is the evidence that we have of that that you present there?

Acharya Sanning:  I have both photographs and line drawings of artifacts. I have a lot of them in here showing different cross shapes from before the Common Era or into the Common Era but having nothing to do with Christianity. There’s one thing people must understand: when we say the turn of the Common Era, which other people call the Christian Era which would be B.C. or B.C.E., A.D., C.E. timeline, just because we say something is after that artificially created timeline does not mean that it’s automatically influenced by Christianity.

There are still places in the world today, 2,000 years later, that have never heard of Christianity. There are like 100 don’t-touch tribes, non-contacted tribes, around the world that have never heard of Christianity. They are living in pre-Christian times. Just because something came after that dividing line does not mean that it was influenced by Christianity. We have crucifixes that are post-Common Era that are clearly not influenced by Christianity. We have also all these other images of gods and heroes and other sacred figures or legends in cruciform or hanging on a cross, using the same words as Christ crucifixion. The same Greek words.

I have a lot of analysis in original languages in my work because read a dozen or more languages. That’s an important aspect that you can’t get in a lot of other writings on these subjects.

Alex Tsakiris:   You also make a point related to this that I was hoping you would expound on a little bit. That’s that even very early on, the First Century if you will, there is this myth-making going on and some of the other religious groups are complaining to the Christians and the Christians are dialoguing back with them and it creates an interesting window into how this whole process is happening. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Acharya Sanning:  I think you’re thinking of Justin Martyr when he is addressing the Polemics against Christianity. That would be in the Second Century when Christianity really starts to become known to the outside world, so to speak. Justin Martyr was an early Church father around 150 who had to address some of the complaints of his unbelieving friends. In his First Apology he has a section, Chapter 1, called “The Analogies to the History of Christ.” He really just admits against interest left and right, talking about how Jesus’ death and resurrection and virgin birth and so forth, he is expounding nothing different from what the pagans believed regarding those whom they esteemed Sons of Jupiter.

Alex Tsakiris:   “I’m no worse than you guys.” That’s the defense.

Acharya Sanning:  Yeah, it is. He’s basically saying we propound nothing different from the pagan belief systems. So why are you making fun of me?  You do find this throughout the Second and Third Centuries where the Christian defenders are constantly admitting that their ridiculous beliefs are no more ridiculous than the ridiculous beliefs of the pagans. So it’s like a battle between people who like Superman and people who like Spiderman. There’s this big battle and the people who like the Judo-Christian Superman are the ones who won out. That’s a whole other story.

Alex Tsakiris:   But to me this is one of the most compelling parts of your work is that no matter how you sort everything out at the very end one of the things you clearly establish is this idea we have of “the early Christians.” History tells us that it’s dramatically different than what we have come to believe. For example, you touched on a couple of things there that I want to get back to, like Josephus and who he was and why we might not take what we think we know about him and swallow that whole. Maybe you can touch on that.

But I also want to talk about Paul because Paul was really the person responsible for the Christian Church as we know it. In particular, to get back to this point that I was raising about your work, who is Paul writing these letters to? I think most Christians accept that there are all these Christian churches that are formed and Paul is running around to them and all that. But that’s not the case, is it?

Acharya Sanning:  In A Pre-Christian ‘God’ on a Cross? ebook that I have on my website by stellarhousepublishing.com, I’m also discussing the orphic Dionysian cult that was extremely popular. I touched on it as it spread with wine production. Wine was very popular and very important all around the Mediterranean. A major part of the economy as it is today.

Part of this orphic Dionysus proselytizing tells the legend of Orpheus who was not a real person–but there were several people going around the Mediterranean proselytizing the Cult of Dionysus–but Orpheus is a fictional demi-god character. Oddly enough, he is depicted as going around almost the same places where Paul is depicted as going to proselytize the word of Bacchus or Dionysus.

It’s like they took the story of Orpheus and reworked it as Paul. Was there a historical Paul? Yes, there was somebody who wrote those letters but the character in the New Testament is another fictional compilation of characters. In this case there would be a person doing this proselytizing but he is buried in with the acts of Orpheus, elements out of Josephus, possibly the Saul of Josephus, and other figures. So we have a kind of compilation in our impression of what Paul was.

These letters may have been a kind of standard proselytizing formula that was being taught at mystery schools. These places where he goes to in the story, Ephesus and along the Levant, Turkey, Asia Minor area, these have brotherhood seats or schools there for centuries. So basically what we’re seeing when he’s addressing these so-called churches is he’s addressing these brotherhood centers that are already in existence and had been for a long time.

Those texts are reworked. There’s a lot of Gnosticism in them. The Pauline Epistles are reworked to give it a more dense appearance of historicity whereas he could be talking about ideas that were already in place. There’s no need for a historical founder of what he’s talking about. There are all these epithets for divine beings that they use like “Soter” which means “savior” or “healer” or any of these epithets that Jesus is called by. “King, Prince, Lord,” these are all applied to pre-Christian gods all over the place.

So when you have someone proselytizing and invoking a being by these epithets it does not immediately indicate it’s Christianity or that it’s a real person they’re talking about or that it was a historical founder. If you say, “The Lord did this and that,” in pre-Christian times you would be talking about possibly Yahwah in the Bible or Zeus. You could be talking about Dionysus. Everybody was called “the Lord.” All over the Levant, where the Old Testament draws its mythology from, the gods over there are called “Lord.” There’s Lord Baal and just so many of them.

As a matter of fact, if you go back to the Canaanite texts such as the Ras Sharma, the Ugaritic text, you’ll find a whole pile of what are considered to be Christian motifs and elements in there.

There’s a “God the Father.” That’s  the god L. There’s a Virgin Mother. Her name is Anat. And there’s a son of God who dies and resurrects from the dead. His name is Baal. He’s a fertility god.

Alex Tsakiris:   I take two things out of what you’re saying. Even if someone isn’t convinced of the Jesus is a myth, I think the very least one has to take away from this research and they really need to pick up this book and/or go to the website www.truthbeknown.com and really look at the extent to which you document this. There are numerous scholars that are onboard with what you’ve said and the rigor that you put into documenting this from numerous sources in a very scholarly way.

What I’m getting back to is the very least someone has to come to say, “Wow. This picture that’s emerging of this period of time when Christianity was supposed to form is definitely a lot different than I thought it was.” What we walk away with is it’s seeped into our culture. Even people who are not Christian have this idea that boom! This religion sprung up organically because there was this important historical figure that was unlike anyone who ever came before and everyone just gravitated around his ideas and this religion was formed. So whether or not you believe in a historical Jesus, that myth that I just said I think is blown apart by what you’re just talking about.

Acharya Sanning:  Absolutely. That is a really incomplete picture of the world. That’s part of what motivates me because these ancient cultures have been unfairly derogated and buried and hidden from sight. To me, what I’m digging up—I’ve always been a digger. It started when I was two years old and I was fascinated with digging in the ground. So I actually did archaeological excavations but this kind of work is excavation and digging.

It’s very exciting to find like what I just told you about, the God the Father, Virgin Mother, and dying and rising Son of God in the ancient Ugaritic texts. It’s very exciting to me to find this information. I’m not threatened by it at all. I find it fascinating. I think it’s important. It restores humanity to these other cultures, as well.

The only way that we could have been so ignorant to believe in that fictional tale of the great dawning of divine revelation upon this people and the dark world surrounding them—it’s so fake. The only way that could be promulgated is to force people to be ignorant of the religion and mythology in pre-Christian times in appropriate areas. You have to bury that information. You have to drive people away from it. You have to force them not to be interested in it.

Also, physically there was a massive amount of destruction of these artifacts to keep this information from leaking out. Burying, covering up. They would build churches over pagan temples so that no one would ever see those temples again.

It gets even worse. They would move deranged, crazy monks in there to live on the pagan temple sites and to physically abuse them by defecating on them. This was how our great religious traditions that apply to numerous cultures—the cultural loss is enormous.

Alex Tsakiris:   And if we take a step back and try and bring it into modern day times, we have a well-documented history of how that happens. If we’re going to promote our own interests and our own culture we eventually get to this hard decision that we make that the best way to do that is to just steamroll over everyone else’s culture. In a very cold, analytical way of looking at it the picture you paint makes a lot of sense in terms of what we know about how we work and how societies advance.

Let’s just pick up on a couple of examples of what you’re talking about in terms of this obfuscation of history, rewriting of history. You mentioned Josephus a minute ago. Tell us who Josephus is and what we “know” about Josephus’ writings on Jesus.

Acharya Sanning:  Well, Josephus was a Jewish historian. He was actually a general first, of the First Century whose major works were composed around 90-100 A.D. In them appears the infamous Testimonium Flavium. It’s a short passage that abruptly interrupts the surrounding texts and briefly introduces Jesus Christ in a very short statement of faith essentially that He was the Messiah and He still has followers, blah, blah, blah. Everybody knows this. It’s so infamous.

Alex Tsakiris:   When you run across Christians—and this happened to me the other day. I was out in the soccer field with my daughter and this person comes up and we start engaging in this conversation. I don’t normally get into these things but one of the first things this person said was Josephus. “Hey, we’re Christians. Part of the reason we know that Jesus is real is this ancient historical text of Josephus. He was a Roman and he even acknowledges that Jesus lived.” So this is a common Apologetic cornerstone of the whole Jesus thing.

I’m sorry—please continue.

Acharya Sanning:  So I’ve written pretty extensively on this subject. I have a full draft of a book on the Josephus issue alone but it’s going to require a while. Every time I write something, as you can imagine, it takes me forever because it’s heavy duty stuff. I’m analyzing Greek.

I’m at www.freethoughtnation.com. Just look up Josephus and you’ll find some significant writings on this issue.

There are many reasons to claim that this is an interpolation and I don’t want to go into all those arguments of why it’s interpolation but I’m convinced and I have shown reasonably and scientifically that the passage is not original to Josephus. Josephus had never heard of this individual.

Alex Tsakiris:   One of the points you make that’s very compelling is that for hundreds and hundreds of years it’s been accepted that this probably isn’t real.

Acharya Sanning:  Yeah, there’s the partial interpolation serial. There’s a total interpolation. And there are people who believe the entire thing is real. The people who believe the entire thing is real are not among the scholars these days as far as the majority goes.

The majority of the common folk, so to speak, may believe that the entire thing is real but most scholars today, even devoted Christians, will adhere to the partial interpolation theory. But previously it had been for at least 100 to 200 years accepted as a forgery because it had been thoroughly demonstrated to be such in toto. By the beginning of the 20th Century people were writing about it as if it had been proved to be a forgery.

But as I say, in any event, even if we allow that it isn’t it still does not serve as contemporary evidence of the existence of this individual.

Alex Tsakiris:   Okay, but before you go down that path I want to put this in a little bit of context for people who haven’t dug into this as thoroughly as you have. I can hear in your explanation that you’re leaving room for all this detailed debate on it which is good, but I think the big picture is it probably ain’t real, folks.

One of the things we can use to understand that is to put it in the context of all the other stuff we know that was created after the fact. One of the things I always point folks to who love to rattle off scripture is John 8 when Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I always tell people, “Look in your Bible and down at the bottom of the page you’ll see a little asterisk there. Then you can follow that asterisk and you’ll find that this, like so many things in the Bible, when we really have dug into it have said, “You know, we’re not really so sure that that was really in there.” And if you dig further, what they say is that it wasn’t really in there.

Acharya Sanning:  Like the Resurrection in the Gospel of Mark. I actually discuss a lot of this scholarship in my book, Who Was Jesus?, which does not talk about the mythology behind it very much. It just addresses the Gospels on their face. That book is quite useful for that kind of discussion.

It also talks about the other supposed witnesses, writers from Pagan antiquity like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny, and so forth who supposedly serve as evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. I analyze all of those claims, too. And I analyze the claim of whether or not there was any place called “Nazareth” that he could have been from.

Alex Tsakiris:   Talk a little bit about that.

Acharya Sanning:  I have another article that I wrote that appears in our book refuting Bart Ehrman’s attack on us by Frank Zindler. We talk about Nazareth and I go through and analyze the usages of the phrase that is now being translated into “Jesus of Nazareth.” I discovered that that phrase really is barely in the New Testament. Most of the time they’re identifying Jesus as a Nazarene which is a pre-Christian sect, interestingly enough, of carpenters. Hmm.

And there’s another fascinating motif that I go into detail about; this whole idea that Jesus was a carpenter. Well, unbeknownst to the masses there are entire carpenter guilds with the god as a carpenter. This idea of God as a carpenter or a craftsman, God Himself, a God, any God. There are gods in every culture. There’s one in Ugaritic culture, there’s one in Egypt. These are craftsman gods and in Egypt it’s Ptah. It’s Lothar in the Ugaritic. So the carpenter god motif is also pre-Christian when you say He’s a carpenter. I go into practically every detail of this story.

But to get back to Nazareth, it turns out in my mind that what they’re doing here is incorporating the Nazarene factor. A very important group of people who are hidden. A lot of these mystery schools and sects are not overtly named in the Gospel but they’re indicated by their landmarks, their artifacts that identify them. For example, this whole carpenter thing. In an instant, just by identifying Him as a carpenter you’ve incorporated the Nazarenes.

Most of the skills in antiquity would have a god attached to them. In the Greek we know the smith god by the name of Hephaestus. There’s the mason cult; there’s the carpenter cult; there’s the wine cult. It goes on and on and on. This is how the ancient world looked. This is where everybody’s missing the background when they see this divine Christian revelation concept.

Alex Tsakiris:   There’s also an important point you make related to that. You dispel another myth and that’s that in this time period there isn’t a lot of communication between different sects and groups about these traditions, myths, whatever you want to call them. You really blow that apart. There is all sorts of information flow going back and forth about this stuff. People really care about this stuff; they talk about it; they share ideas, right?

Acharya Sanning:  Yeah, they’re not sitting around watching TV. If you cut out TV you can see that there’s a whole different world out there that people are going to be fascinated with. It affects them profoundly. It depends on where you’re living. For example, people in Northern Europe are subjected to a significant amount of darkness and coldness per year and the sun to them is a magnificent savior and healer. They rejoice every day the sun is in their presence. That would mean in the morning and at the end of the winter especially.

Of course, the winter solstice is marking the beginning of the rebirth of the new sun. A lot of cultures had their years beginning at the winter solstice, which we celebrate as the birth of Jesus. Hmm.

Alex Tsakiris:   And what about these practices in India and in Egypt making their way over? I think there has always been the implication that there was no way anything from India could have made its way into…

Acharya Sanning:  You can only claim that by utter ignorance of the history of the region. For one thing, there were already Indians, the Metani, in Asia Minor and there were other Indo-Europeans, the Hittites. The Hittites made their way to what is now known as Jerusalem, right in the southeastern border of that area. In fact, they’re mentioned in the Bible as being the ancestors of the Israelites. The Hittites, the Amorites, the Jebusites. There are already Indo-European influences.

The commerce between India and the West had been going on for thousands of years. As far as distances go, if you follow the genetic paradigm of humanity’s exodus out of Africa the mainstream right now is claiming at least 70,000 thousand years ago human beings started migrating out of Africa. They did it to the East. They did it up along the Nile. They did it through the Sinai Desert in exactly the region we’re talking about where all of this stuff percolated for tens of thousands of years.

Alex Tsakiris:   And in this case we don’t even need humanity, per se. We don’t need large numbers of people. You need a handful of people with some ideas and books that then get transmitted to other people and then that gets transmitted, right? We don’t need a large migration of people to have these ideas come across.

Acharya Sanning:  Right. In fact, what happened with many of these ideas—and again we go back to Dionysus significantly because in the Dionysus rituals are the death and resurrection of the god in text before the Christian era. We would call this “diffusionism” of culture. It’s not always the same. It’s not going to be the same every time a myth hits the shores or mountains of a particular area because as I was saying earlier, it depends on where you’re located.

The people in Northern Europe greet the sun. The people in the desert regions of Arabia are not keen with the sun at all. They are sleeping during the day and going out at night, so their gods are more focused on the night sky. We have a lot of lunar and stellar mythology within Islam and Judaism. There are a lot of solar religions in the European cultures, of course.

But the main diffusionists in antiquity seem to be the Phoenicians, who were named that term by the Greeks probably about 3,000 years ago, but they existed long before that. We can call them Canaanites, Syrians, Byblians from the town of Byblos. They were in cultural exchange with Egypt for thousands of years. You’re talking 7,000 years ago doing exchanges back and forth with Egypt, which again is not an extraordinary concept. They were very close together in terms of mileage.

Then knowing that everybody comes from up the Nile pretty much, then going back and forth is not that big of a deal. But there are cedars of Lebanon in Egypt that prove this exchange going on. You have these two cultures empowering each other. The Phoenicians became amazing sailors. They built incredible ships from these massive cedars. They settled in the region because of the cedars, of course, and they became extremely wealthy and they were able to sail all around the Mediterranean and then eventually they went around the tip of Africa, as well.

There are indications that they made it to Great Britain and were mining the tin mines there. Then, of course, there’s the whole America issue which is a completely different show. I won’t get into that right now.

But in sailing around the Mediterranean, they exchanged culture tremendously and eventually they invented the alphabet. What the alphabet did for the world is mind-blowing. So you can see where the Phoenicians went, where their writing went. Then they were able to record other people’s cultural details and elements and then take this along with them.

They brought wine with them; they brought the wine cult; they brought the wine god. Vine growing. This is all part of the same thing. Everything was considered to be divine.

The serpent, the snake is involved in this because the serpent is seen to help the soil was a symbol of resurrection because it would go underground where people were buried and it would come back up alive. So they used that as a symbol. The serpent is another huge aspect. Jesus is compared to the serpent that Moses raises up.

Alex Tsakiris:   I’m always a little bit reluctant when we start saying, “This is what this means and this is why that means this.” But I’ll grant you that.

Acharya Sanning:  We know these things from ancient texts so it’s not that difficult to…

Alex Tsakiris:   Let’s talk about that for a minute. One of the things that we have in contemporary research is we have people who have hallucinogenic experiences and bring up some of these same motifs that seem to come from other cultures and can’t really explain how they did that. There’s a lot more mystery to the mystery than I think we know about. But that’s my hunch, you know?

You can have a hunch that we can really explain the mystery by people just interacting with their natural environment and nature and that explains the mystery. So I don’t even want to get into that debate but I think there’s a real debate to be had there.

What I do want to do is address this question that I think has to be popping up in people’s minds and that is how do you know what you know? We didn’t really talk a lot about your credentials. People might be surprised to see that there isn’t a Ph.D. after your name. But as many have said, your books probably represent at least a couple of pretty darn good dissertations there if they were ever published in that form. People need to go and look at the body of work, analyze the scholarship, the rigor that you use, and not worry about the letters after your name.

Acharya Sanning:  First of all, I am an alumna of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece where I did excavate there. That is a very good institution so my scholarship has been given the stamp of approval. You also have to remember that great scholars like Joseph Campbell did not have a Ph.D. He got a Master’s degree but when he started to go into a Ph.D. program he said, “Forget about it. You’ll stifle me.” So I know exactly how he feels. The letters after the name are given away by universities and colleges and started out at Christian theological seminaries so they’re not going to give me a Ph.D.

Alex Tsakiris:   We’ve touched on so many topics. Tell folks if they go to your website, www.truthbeknown.com, and they find your books, what is a good starting point for people? What are some of the most popular books that you have or articles that people might use to shoehorn their way into this thing?

Acharya Sanning:  There are a lot of articles for free on there that can whet appetites for a variety of my writings. I have ebooks; I have Kindle. I have some video. I have several books.

I think for a mildly Christian person who is still involved in Christianity, if they really want to know the issues with the Gospels themselves and what mainstream scholars and theologians and New Testament scholars and experts are talking about and discussing my book, Who Was Jesus?: Fingerprints of the Christ, is a CSI-type analysis of this current scholarship which finds issues with the claim that the New Testament is an inerrant word of God.

It’s an almost all-Christian bibliography in that book. John Ankerberg, Craig Blumberg, F. F. Bruseling. I cite these individuals as showing they have some skeptical commentaries that people should know about. That’s a good book to start with for people who are still involved in Christianity to any extent. Then for people who are trying to debate with Christians it contains a lot of factual research on that front.

For people who are interested in the astral mythology behind these ideas my book, Sons of God: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ Unveiled shows the solar nature of many deities and legendary heroes and so forth.

The Christ Conspiracy, I’m in the process of doing a revision of it, but that’s my most popular book.

Then there’s my book called, The Gospel According to Acharya S, which is a little different approach. It’s a series of what were essentially rants from about 20 years ago where I go into what is prayer, is belief in God righteous, the abuse of women in the mainstream religions, and many different subjects. It’s a little more spiritual, talking about what is God and whether or not we should be following an organized religion and things like that.

That book has been very helpful to a lot of people. It’s easy to read; it’s thin. It helps them get away from what I call the “organized cults.” I think that anything that’s trying to coerce you into believing in it is a cult in my mind. If they’re dangling promises of Heaven and trying to smack you in the butt with threats of Hell it’s a cult. If they’re telling you that you’re going to Hell if you leave, you’re going to Hell if you don’t believe, you’re going to be killed if you’re an Apostate, any of that rubbish it’s a cult.

Alex Tsakiris:   One of the things that your work is really important in doing, and it’s something we didn’t talk enough about, is that it’s a really thorough analysis of the power and practices of cultish behavior, of power formation, power manipulation. I think unless we really come to grips with that we can’t then separate out what happened, too.

On one hand we have these traditions and these myths and myth-making, but on the other hand we have the same characters that we see on the landscape today that say, “Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I can make a buck out of this. Maybe I can control things. Maybe I can make my group superior and win out over the other groups. And maybe I can use these myths to do it.”

Unless we thoroughly understand that, and at the same time thoroughly understand or appreciate the possibility that there is some genuine non-biological robot, spiritual experiences, until all that’s on the table then we can’t really separate it out either because then we come to the conclusion that the Eskimoes would have done it better. Well, we don’t know.

Acharya Sanning:  That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying an individual living in a particular area just investigating…

Alex Tsakiris:   I totally agree with that part.

Acharya Sanning:  There’s no need for organization at all. I can go up to a mountain here. Is there any kind of nature-worshipping traditions with it? Maybe I’ll go and look for that. Just in this way, though, most of this has to do with observations that cannot be controlled by others. For example, all the solar mythology is part of astro-theology. I have these astro-theology calendars, by the way, that have some really nice pictures and data about this kind of information.

I’m not asking anyone to believe in any of it. What I’m just doing is writing a factual recitation of what has happened in these places. It’s very empowering to know this stuff.

Also, when we were talking in the beginning about being in the middle between extremists on either side, this mythicism position that I am discussing which looks at supernatural beings in antiquity as mythical figures, not real people who landed on planet Earth and did a bunch of magic tricks. This is really a neutral position because you don’t have to believe in it and you don’t have to dismiss it. You don’t have to be a theist or an Atheist. You can be either one to enjoy this information.

All I’m doing is collecting religious and mythological ideas from as far back as we can tell and putting them together and showing their influences on our thinking today. It doesn’t require any kind of belief or any kind of joining or any kind of control.

Alex Tsakiris:   Well, it’s an impressive body of work. I think anyone who goes to www.truthbeknown.com and from there branches out to any of your work, picks up some of your books, or bounces over to your blog www.freethoughtnation.com, or joins the forum–and I can promise you that I’m going to be on that forum after this show is published—I’d love to exchange ideas with some of the folks who follow your work.

It’s been absolutely great having you on, Acharya. Thank you so much for joining me on Skeptiko.

Acharya Sanning:  Well, Alex, I really appreciate being able to discuss this important information with someone who is erudite and thoughtful. So thank you for having me on.