The Apostle John and Apollonius of Tyana

Many people have pointed out the similarities between Apollonius of Tyana and Jesus.  DM Murdoch, who died a few weeks ago, made the case that the Apostle Paul resembled Apollonius a great deal.

Apollonius lived from 15-100 CE and was a travelling, ascetic (denying oneself of earthly pleasures), religious magician-type who healed people and had a scribe named Damis, which is remarkably similar-sounding to Paul’s companion, Demas.

Apollonius’ journey around the world also resembles Paul’s quite a bit – in fact, DM Murdoch pointed out that this journey was typical of young wealthy people who were becoming initiated into the mystery schools (ekklesia) of the day – these ekklesia were often converted to Christian schools.  These schools, and the communities that made them up, were roughly in competition with each other, but there was also a symbiosis between them.  When you look at Gnosticism and Kabbalah, it’s easy to see how one of these mystic religions probably influenced the other (or, there was probably a loop of influence between them).  A deeper investigation reveals other influences in Gnosticism, aside from the Kaballah, including Zoroastrianism.  I think these details add weight to the notion that Gnostic Christianity preceded Apostolic Christianity, and that it was the Apostolic line (pre-Catholicism) that hijacked Jesus from the Gnostics, and not the other way around, as Christian historians like to argue.

I’ve pointed out that the references to the “educated Alexandrian” in Acts of the Apostles 18:24 might very well be a reference to Apollonius (“A Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, and he was mighty in the Scriptures…being acquainted only with the baptism of John…”).  Apollonius is referred to as Apollo in “The Life of Apollonius of Tyana”.

The Apollos from Acts first appeared in Paul’s own writings, such as 1 Corinthians when Paul struggles trying to bring in the Apollos faction into his own theology:

For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? 5What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one

But compare the detail in Acts 18:24 with “The Life of Apollonius of Tyana“, which describes Apollonius of “purging” the Ephesians of the plague that was afflicting their town.

The accuser here interrupts me, you hear him yourself do so, my prince, and he remarks that I am not accused for having brought about the salvation of the Ephesians, but for having foretold that the plague would befall them; for this, he says, transcends the power of wisdom and is miraculous, so that I could never have reached such a pitch of truth if I were not a wizard and an unspeakable wretch.

The undercurrent of the story of Apollonius is that he is mightily revered, particularly in the places where there was a groundswell of early Christianity, such as in current-day western Turkey.  In fact, the thing that prompted Julia Domna, wife of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, to call on the sophist Philostratus to write the book on Apollonius’ life was her excitement from reading existing excerpts of Apollonius’ life.

In Smyrna, Apollonius supposedly predicted a coming earthquake:  “These words he uttered under divine impulse, because he foresaw, as I believe, the disasters which afterwards overtook Smyrna and Miletus…”

Smyrna, you’ll remember, was the home of Polycarp, and together with Sardis and Ephesus, created a triangulation of cities, each about a day’s walk from one another, and which appears to be ground-zero for Johannine Christianity (ultimately the “winning” sect of Christianity that controlled the eventual theological movement to Catholicism).



One of the interesting details of Apollonius’ life is that he was arrested by Domitian, just like the Apostle John supposedly was.  The quick story of John was that he moved from Judea to Ephesus right before the destruction of the Jewish temple is Jerusalem in 70CE.  After that, John was arrested and banished to the Island of Patmos (off the coast of modern Turkey), where he supposedly wrote Revelation.

John and Apollonius were both arrested under the rule of Domitian, and both freed by Emperor Nerva (who reigned from 96-98 CE), and both died around 100CE.  According to tradition, both lived an exceedingly long time – well into their 80s or 90s.  And both died in “mysterious ways” (John supposedly had Prochorus bury him neck deep in the sand, and died – Appolonius simply disappeared).

It seems clear to me that these stories exist because of the original oral traditions and legends.  Anyone who wished to have legend attached to their name (or likewise, anyone who people wished would have legend attached to their name) needed to have legendary acts associated with them.

The cheapest way to do this is to hijack an existing tradition.  For example, a person says to Iron Age cult member:  “Apollonius of Tyana did a great many things.”  Iron Age cult member responds: “No, you’re thinking of the Apostle John.”

That is why so many of these characters have similar attributes – ranging from Judas of Galilee to the Apostle Paul to John to Jesus.  They all were inheritors of this fuzziness inherent in oral tradition.

There didn’t seem to be any shortage of this sort of hijacking.  The people who (I think) euhemerized (converted from outer space messiah to earthly messiah) the cosmic messiah Jesus were all acquainted with the intellectual fodder of the day – they’d read Josephus, they were familiar with oral traditions, and they had the means to write and produce texts which supported their position.

This idea ties into  my hypothesis that the Apostle Paul didn’t really exist; rather, he is a historical composite of Apollonius of Tyana, the euhemerized Jesus, and Marcion of Sinope, originally fitting the description of Simon Magus, but that name was eventually parsed out by the Johannine line (particularly Polycarp and Irenaeus) so as to integrate the Marcionite community into the broader orthodoxy – this move also served to pacify the Valentinians who had reverence for Paul, and who were already members of the orthodoxy, but conducted secret rituals and meetings in order to reveal their secret Christianity to those who were educated enough to understand it.  The implication here is that Paul’s writings were not in the 40s through 60s; rather, they were Marcionite writings in the early 2nd century.  This supports another hypothesis I have that Mark and the other gospels were written between 125 and 150CE.  This also puts Acts of the Apostles in at least 150CE (maybe even closer to 175CE).

I’m actually in the process of writing a book…basically an introduction to mythicist theory.  I plan on expanding this hypothesis quite a bit more…I’m always aiming for around 1000 word blog posts, and the effect of that goal is that my ideas come off scattershot and have sort of a stream of consciousness feel…I plan to be more careful and articulate in the book I’m writing.

Matthew vs Paul: A Race To Invent Jesus

In the summer of 2015, I had a proselytizing Baptist minister come to my door to invite me to his church – he was going door-to-door, trying to kick up support for his church.

I was friendly to him, and told him I wasn’t a believer, but I said I’d let Christian friends know about his church.

He said he was concerned for me, and went on a short diatribe about how we’re all fallen because of those damn miscreants in Eden.

I let him finish, and brought up how I thought it was silly that an all-knowing God couldn’t have predicted great-grandma and grandpa’s behavior.  I also asked him if he thought it was ethical to punish offspring for their parents’ mistake.  I was cordial though.

We talked for another 10 or 15 minutes, and in the conversation, I asked him about his thoughts about Galatians vs Matthew, which give obvious inconsistencies that came about from obviously different theologies.

He gave the standard response, which is to say that Jesus came first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles.  I wish I’d had thought to ask him about a different passage in Mark, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

The specific contradiction I brought up begins with Paul’s writings in Galatians:

Galatians 5
3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5:5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.

Compare Paul’s anti-circumcision position to Matthew 5, where Jesus is on the mount:

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Obviously these do disagree – and they disagree very specifically.  Circumcision was the first commandment given to Abraham.  Given that the 10 commandments were later provided to Moses, circumcision might have been the least of the Mosaic laws.

Put into historical context, though, if you are of the opinion that Matthew was written after 80 or 85, more like 130 or 140, then the disagreement between Galatians and Matthew is really just a proxy war between the Marcionites and the Jewish Christians.

For Jewish Christians, probably in and around Jerusalem in the first half of the 2nd century (130s), there probably were attributes within the Marcionite sect that were attractive, but the idea that the god of the Old Testament was lower than the god who sent Jesus was simply unacceptable; in my opinion, that is what gave rise to the Gospel of Matthew – it was the Jewish version of Mark’s Gospel, complete with a reminder not to ignore the law.

From that perspective, it is interesting that such a heresy as Christianity was able to survive at all among those who were still loyal to Mosaic law, and I think the reason for it is because of how much persecution Jews had experienced, particularly during and after the Bar Kokhba revolution.  Given that Christianity was increasingly offering theological solutions to increasing problems inherent in Judaism (notably a lack of an atonement solution after the temple destruction of 70), that might explain how many components of the Gospel of Mark worked their way into the Jewish Christianity, while the Marcionite/Paul theology completely fizzled.  The messiah-man who offered alternative atonement was well-received, but the supplemental texts which talked about the archons, the Demiurge, and the celestial warrior Jesus, were rejected entirely.

I wish I would have brought up to the Baptist minister Mark 9:38-41.

38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 9:40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Here, the text makes reference to someone who is doing work in Jesus’ name.  Even the most conservative estimate of Mark (70CE) puts the text well after Paul.  I think Mark was written between 100 and 125, and I think the reference Mark is making here is to Paul and his contemporary theological doppelganger, Marcion.

Compare this text with Matthew 7:

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Catch that?  Mark says it’s great if someone casts out demons in Jesus’ name, but Matthew’s Jesus said “I never knew you.”

There’s no doubt in my mind.  This is a reference to the Pauline/Marcion theology – given the strong Jewish undercurrent in Matthew, it’s easy to see why the writer (borrowing from Gospel of the Hebrews) would have been so uncomfortable with Marcion’s Jesus – specifically, an alternative higher God above Yahweh, which was not only a theme in Marcion’s Christianity, but also existed in earlier Christian iterations, particularly the Alexandrian ones (Sethians, etc).  There are even echoes of a higher God above Yahweh in the Gospel of John 8:44, when Jesus said to the Jews:

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning…

The echoes of Marcionism in the New Testament hardly get more obvious than that passage.  Of course, one could make the argument this goes back to Sethianism, as well.

The canned response about Jesus first coming to Jews, then Gentiles, is not only historically wrong (given a complete absence of evidence of 1st century Christianity in Jerusalem), but as a response to the Galatians v Matthew concern, it’s total bullshit.

If you look closely, sometime between 120 and 140, all these guys – Marcion, Valentinus, Polycarp – they all went to Rome, which is where it would seem the gospels of Mark and Luke were written.  Yet all these guys were from the East.  Stephan Huller makes the point that our beloved bishop of Lyon (France), Irenaeus, might never have actually lived in Lyon; rather, Huller puts him in Rome –

This is an interesting detail, and I think it adds weight to the following:

  1.  Marcion was a much bigger part of the early orthodoxy than Irenaeus later gave him credit for
  2. The Gnostics (or heretics, if you prefer) were a much bigger part of the early orthodoxy than tradition suggests
  3. The accumulation of these “heavy hitters” in Rome c. 120-140, coupled with the fact that these guys’ fingerprints are all over the earliest canon (and the current New Testament), adds weight to the notion that the gospels came much later than what many historians suggest (Mark-70; Matthew-85; Luke-95; John-100).
  4. I think Revelation came first.  Not the whole thing, but the middle of it is so abstract, and so based in the “outer space” that was the foundation in Gnosticism, that it would seem that the gospel’s version of Jesus (and maybe even the Pauline letters) were divined from Revelation.

The Apostle Paul, Simon Magus, And Marcion

I think the connection between Simon Magus and the Apostle Paul is fairly compelling.  In Acts of the Apostles 8, Simon Magus, a baptized member of the inner circle, tries to buy a seat at the Apostles’ table:

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria…When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter (Cephas) answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money

Compare Peter’s scorn and the money issue with Paul’s description of an event in Galatians 2:

James, Cephas (Peter) and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along… When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned

Here, we have a rift between Peter and Paul where Paul called into question Peter’s ideological commitment to Mosaic law.  The final word here was to “remember the poor” – a reference to money exchange of some sort.  Are we talking about the same story here, told by 2 different participants?  Seems plausible to me.

How does Marcion fit in?  According to Robert Price, Marcion was the first person to really use Paul as a foundation for his theology – Price says Marcion “discovered” Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Tertullian used the word “finding” in his book “Against Marcion” – book 4, chapter 3 – I’m up in the air about whether Tertullian meant he discovered it – I’d have to see the original Latin to get better insight).  The story of Marcion goes that he was a wealthy shipyard owner who lived in Northern Turkey.  He was a prominent member of, and had donated a large sum of money to the Roman church.  After Marcion was deemed a heretic, sometime in the 130s, the church returned that money to him, and ex-communicated him (or whatever the church did at the time).

I think this hypothesis fits – at least tentatively: Marcion invented Paul, who was in turn originally demonized by some groups in the early Christian church, but eventually converted to Simon Magus for the purpose of reintegrating Paul into the canon, notice that in Acts, as well as a couple epistles, a character named Apollos is introduced as a man educated in the Greek tradition, hailing from Alexandria.

In previous posts, I’ve linked Apollos to Philo of Alexandria to create a plausible link between Philo’s earliest notions of a Judaic messiah and the eventual historicized Christ.

I think it’s equally as plausible that Apollos in the Pauline texts and Acts was simply a representation of Apollonius of Tyana, whose life greatly resembles both Jesus Christ and Paul.

I think the great link here, to get from Paul to the proto-orthodoxy is the Valentinians.  It’s well-known that the Valentinians did not secede from the church; rather, they remained in the church, on the lookout for people who were ready to receive gnosis.  The Valentinians were fond of Paul (and claimed Valentinus received instruction from Paul’s disciple Theudas, as well as revelation from Jesus).  The Valentinians were also fond of the Johannine texts, which probably originated in Western Turkey.  Who lives in Western Turkey?  Polycarp.  All signs point back to Polycarp, whose disciple was Irenaeus, who in 180 was quite zealous to deem Marcion and Valentinus as heretics.

The Lipid Hypothesis Is Wrong

Lipid Hypothesis:  measures used to lower the plasma lipids in patients with hyperlipidemia will lead to reductions in new events of coronary heart disease.

In other words, a link is posited such that consuming dietary fat leads to increased blood cholesterol levels; increased cholesterol levels lead to heart disease.

About 60 years ago, the government started telling us that saturated fat is bad for you.  In particular, saturated fat raises “bad cholesterol,” otherwise known as Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), which by the way is not technically cholesterol.  This bad cholesterol is sure, according to our dear government, to kill you in a most unpleasant way.

As Richard Feynman said, “if it doesn’t agree with reality, it’s wrong”. If the hypothesis is that saturated fat raises your triglycerides, raises your cholesterol, and increases the likelihood that you’ll die early, then the minute saturated fat doesn’t do that, it seriously throws the hypothesis into question. At the very least, when we see saturated fat not causing harm en masse, it should prompt us to ask the question, were we wrong?  Indeed, the data proves the hypothesis is shit.

Why is it that a person who cuts carbs and significantly increases their saturated fat intake gets healthier and loses fat quicker than the traditional reduced calorie, high grain diet?  Why is it that reduced carbs and increased saturated fat, on average, drastically reduces triglyceride levels? Why is it that SO MANY people are having a lot of success controlling blood sugar, weight, cholesterol, and triglycerides, even though they’re getting 50%+ of their diet from fat?

There is no mechanism I am aware of that could lead to increased LDL cholesterol from eating saturated fat; on the contrary, the only way to raise LDL, as far as I know, is by consuming excess carbohydrates.  The way it works is that you overeat carbohydrates, the liver converts those excess carbohydrates to fat, the liver then packs said fat into a VLDL lipoprotein and sends it out to the bloodstream.  The VLDL delivers the fat to fat cells, and voila, you’ve got LDL.

Saturated fat follows a similar looking trajectory, except, instead of being packed onto a VLDL, it gets loaded onto Chylomicrons.  It also skips the liver – it enters the blood through the thoracic duct.  The handoff between the lipoprotein and the fat cell looks similar to the excess fat released by the liver; however, the remaining chylomicron is shrunk down much smaller than LDL. In other words, saturated fat doesn’t raise your LDL level.

Aside from technical aspects of this mechanism, there are a few things that are clear, based on the disastrous consequences of the last 60 years of public health policy:

1.  It is overwhelmingly harmful to rely on cohort surveys to drive health policy.  Cohort surveys have a place in science and medicine, but should not be the only tool used to demonstrate something’s benefit or harm.  Well-designed control trials are the only reliable tool to demonstrate causation
2.  Saturated fat and cholesterol are not the problems the government and “health experts” have been making them out to be for the past 60 years.  In fact, external (exogenous) cholesterol has negligible effects on blood cholesterol.  Moreover, there is no biological mechanism for saturated fat to affect cholesterol levels
3.  The success of various diets (veganism, paleo, ketogenic, traditional reduced calorie) makes it clear that sugar (sucrose), high fructose corn syrup, and processed flour are the primary problems.  Vegetable oils with a high amount of omega 6 are probably a problem too

There are plenty of people who articulate this better than me, but I think the takeaway of our observations in reality should be that the fixation on the relationship between saturated fat and blood cholesterol should be critically re-examined.  Better alternatives, based on best practices, should be favored over dogma and demonization.

Secular Morality

The presupposition for many Christians is that there can be no morality without God, and, like-it-or-not, God is the moral compass by which we navigate our lives, and he created the framework within which we exist.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I can’t prove this God character *didn’t* exist, but then again, there are a lot of things I can’t disprove, such as invisible garden gnomes or transparent fire-breathing dragons.  Luckily, I don’t believe it’s my burden to justify my disbelief in those fantasies.

I suppose the best we can do is to put forward the question:  can we define a moral code without invoking God, religion, or any of its byproducts?

There are a lot of people who are more articulate about this matter than I am (eg Matt Dillahunty, Daniel Fincke), but for me, I think that a moral way to live is to try to identify what is best for everyone, in terms of their physical and emotional well-being, and to do our best to maximize everyone’s well-being, while simultaneously minimizing harm.  Details for how to maximize benefit and minimize harm can be demonstrated via empirical evidence, buiding models, comparing inputs and outputs, and identifying best practices.

Of course, this framework creates dilemmas from time-to-time, but last time I checked, we live in a complicated world which is exacerbated by social relationships and competing interests, and this dilemma is not unique to the faith-less.  But the advantage this framework gives is that it has the capacity to identify a conflict of interest when it exists, and it does not create a hierarchy such that one party is always prone to benefit while others are always prone to being harmed, such as the case with various implementations of Christianity.

The other advantage of this agile implementation of morality is that it does not have a rigid ruleset.  It is self-correcting.  It does not presuppose that text in a particular document is an absolute standard for behavior, because behavior is relative to the time and situation.  It always has the capacity to improve or adjust in the event of moral or logical inconsistency.

The hazard of an implementation like this is that models are never perfect – their predictive capacity can diminish under certain circumstances.  For example, a society might conclude that what is most beneficial for the majority is that we should kill minority groups who some claim are detrimental to society.  If there are 95 in the majority, and 5 in the minority, it’s quite clear how to maximize benefit if the majority is convinced that the minority is harmful.  Indeed, various historical figures have successfully convinced the masses that some minority group (or even a majority group) is harmful to the overall well-being of society, and used that argument to justify mass killings.

I have a couple responses to this concern:

1.  It’s not like that claim is isolated to non-theistic societies.  There have been a lot of religious claims put forward over the past couple millenia to justify mass extermination.

2.  In an agile moral framework which forces people to consider well-being and harm for all competing interests, it would be quite difficult to gloss over harm caused by mass extermination, especially when there is no rigid text that condones this sort of thing.  The Christian bible, on the other hand, has several examples that justify mass extermination.  Rigid textual frameworks are the antithesis to secularism’s agility.

People can be duped, and people can be convinced that “the other” causes them harm, even if they’ve never even met “the other”.  This is a human failing, and it’s a theme across cultures, religions, and time.  Humans have a difficult time getting along, and religion often exacerbates this, as does resource scarcity and desire for power.

Secular morality is a better solution, because it doesn’t create a framework that give peoples license to claim themselves “chosen” or more innately good because of their birthplace, tribe, or family.

Claims, Hypotheses, and the Burden Of Proof

What evidence do you have that God DOES NOT exist?  If you’re a reasonable person, your response should be somewhere in the neighborhood of “absolutely none.”  Interestingly, this is roughly the same evidence you have that underwear-stealing gnomes don’t exist, or, for that matter, that leprauchans don’t exist.

It’s a very unscientific position a person takes when they ask someone to prove that something does not exist.

In science and medicine, various statistical measures are used to test claims.  For instance, if a drug company is testing to see if the drug they’ve developed is any good, the core hypothesis they test against is whether there is any difference between their drug and placebo.  Framed as a hypothesis:

H0:  Drug A = Placebo [this is the null hypothesis]
HA:  Drug A (not equal) placebo [this is the alternative hypothesis]

If you ever read a scientific paper regarding claims like these, they’ll often make reference to P-values.  These P-values represent the probability that H0 is true.  In other words, the lower the P-value, the more likelihood that what is being tested means something.  A P-value of 0.01 means that there is a 1% chance that Drug A has the same outcomes as placebo.  The effect of a statement like that is that it’s very unlikely that Drug A has the same outcomes as placebo; in other words, Drug A is different than placebo.

Framing the God question in these terms, you’d arrive at a hypothesis like the following:

H0:  God = 0 (God does not exist)  [this is the null hypothesis]
HA:  God > 0 (God exists)  [this is the alternative hypothesis]

This is not a very testable hypothesis.  How could you demonstrate that God > 0?  If you answer something like:  look at how life exists…or the universe is proof that God exists, my response would be:  why does that require God?  Are you certain that it couldn’t have come from something else?  Or are you certain that the answer to these things isn’t something that we haven’t yet discovered? If so, how so?

This framework by which we approach hypothesis testing is quite reliable.  We construct tests that are designed to deliver a probability that the null hypothesis is true.  Because of that framework, we hardly ever get to say we’ve proved something.  We only frame it such that we’ve disproved something, or failed to reject something.  In other words, we can never know if we’re right…all we can know is if we’re wrong.  But arriving at the same conclusion over and over again (either by rejecting or failing to reject a claim), we get good insight into the likelihood a hypothesis is correct or not.

This is a humble way to approach the natural world.  It puts the burden of proof where it belongs, and it’s reliable.  If we test a hypothesis many times in many different ways, and we consistently find that we fail to reject a hypothesis, that adds weight to that hypothesis, and with other corroboration, might allow it to graduate to a theory, which is the highest level of science (general theory of relativity, theory of evolution, theory of gravity, etc).