Tag Archives: Eusebius of Caesarea

Epiphanius didn’t write about a pre-Christian Jesus


Saint Epiphanius of Salamis (about 315 to 403 CE) was a hard-line defender of orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, in modern times there is a surprisingly prevalent misreading of his Panarion (29.3), supposedly telling us that Jesus had lived decades before Herod became king,

For with the advent of the Christ, the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased. The order [of succession] failed and stopped at the time when He was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Alexander, who was of high-priestly and royal race ; and after this Alexander this lot failed, from the times of himself and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, for the times of Herod the King and Augustus Emperor of the Romans ; …

“Alexander” is King Alexander Jannaeus. He died in 76 BCE, about a century before Pilate first took office in Judea. If Epiphanius really taught that Jesus had lived in a different generation than Pilate, then he would flatly contradict his creedal faith which in reality he aggressively championed.

What are the odds of a seasoned apologist making a mistake like that? Jerome and Origen made huge mistakes about what they had read (link and link), but their mistakes reinforced, not denied Christian doctrines.

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Ancient critics disputed a knowable historical Jesus

Detail of a Third Century mystery cult mosaic from Antioch

Detail of a Third Century mystery cult mosaic from Antioch, click to enlarge

Last year, about one in five English adults surveyed thought the better description of their beliefs about Jesus was a “fictional or mythological character” instead of a “real person who actually lived.” Nearly as many answered that they “don’t know.” Christian groups commissioned this poll, which had 2,545 demographically representative participants.

Reacting to the survey result, James Carleton Paget, a senior lecturer in New Testament Studies at Cambridge University, commented “The argument that Jesus never existed, …was not one that the enemies of Christianity in the ancient world ever used.” Some non-academic apologists agree.

In the earliest surviving scholarly confrontations with Christianity, critics complained vigorously against the unreliability of even natural facts alleged about Jesus. The depth and breadth of ancients’ complaints warranted doubts about Jesus’ existence. However, personal doubt is not an argument. Arguments premised on definite non-existence would be ineffective without proof. It is unsurprising that aimless self-observations and doomed arguments aren’t found in early counterapologies.

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