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The Criterion of Embarrassment in 177 AD

This has nothing to do with the historicity of Jesus but I stumbled upon an interesting passage while reading A Plea for the Christians written by Athenagoras in 177 A.D. In chapters 28 through 30 he is arguing that the Greek gods were really just men; kings who came to be worshiped as gods.

At the end of chapter 30 he deploys the criterion of embarrassment to make his point! He quotes what must be something written by Callimachus, a librarian at Alexandria, denying the tomb of Zeus is legitimate. The point he is making is that if the gods had tombs, if they had suffered and died, they were men, and no one would have invented such sufferings and deaths unless they were true! After all, the poets and multitudes wished these gods to be venerated, so why would they invent sufferings and deaths?

“The Cretans always lie; for they, O king, Have built a tomb to thee who art not dead.”

Though you believe, O Callimachus, in the nativity of Zeus, you do not believe in his sepulchre; and whilst you think to obscure the truth, you in fact proclaim him dead, even to those who are ignorant; and if you see the cave, you call to mind the childbirth of Rhea; but when you see the coffin, you throw a shadow over his death, not considering that the unbegotten God alone is eternal. For either the tales told by the multitude and the poets about the gods are unworthy of credit, and the reverence shown them is superfluous (for those do not exist, the tales concerning whom are untrue); or if the births, the amours, the murders, the thefts, the castrations, the thunderbolts, are true, they no longer exist, having ceased to be since they were born, having previously had no being. And on what principle must we believe some things and disbelieve others, when the poets have written their stories in order to gain greater veneration for them? For surely those through whom they have got to be considered gods, and who have striven to represent their deeds as worthy of reverence, cannot have invented their sufferings.

Series Navigation<< Josephus, Jesus and Bayes’

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