Diary of an "Ecked" Elapine

by Sheila Rangslinger

August 10, 2002 -- Hey, guys! This is Sheila. JP has asked me to keep a diary on all the goofy stuff this Stephen Van Eck character says and does, and boy, is it coo coo out the door! I mean, free speech, combined with improvements in the printing press, were a boon for guys in your world (not so much in ours) like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine who used their liberty to overthrow tyranny, but these days the press and freedom are going to crappier uses, such as the sort of thing Stephen Van Eck sent JP today. Eck took advantage of a decision to publish JP's home address in a Skeptical publication (why JP's PO Box on the site was not usable the past 2-3 years is something I guess will remain a mystery) and sent him a couple of his homemade pamphlets with a little note, typed using one of those old-fashioned Unabomber typewriters, that read like this (first paragraph):

So, you want to be a Defender of the Faith, eh? Allow me to help you. I've enclosed copies of two of the tracts that my counter-Christian Ministry uses; and since you're having trouble with money, they're FREE! They should provide you with many happy hours of trying to refute them.

What came with it was something that certainly ought to have been free, considering the technical quality: two articles about ten pages each, typeset using that same Unabomber type, photocopied (not quite right, some of the letters had to be written in), stapled (not well-aligned, either), and for all I know used by the dog as a training pad before they were packaged. "IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCLOSED" screams one banner. "May be too intense for some members of the general public," says another. No confidence lacking here from the usual person fitting this profile. But let's not be too harsh, eh? This is a piece of what you call Americana, as valid as the Stuckey's by your interstate or the Burma Shave sign. It's an example of how your freedoms have been used since Franklin used it to do equally important things to encouraging people to overthrow British tyranny.

Oh. Trouble with money? Skeptics seemed to have this fixation on JP's posted request for donors willing to give $70-80 per year (he found it unnecessary to keep it up by somewhere in 2003, I think). It's the same joke that's been around since Bakker, but really, with Dan Barker's Freedom from Religion Foundation yanking in $500,000 per year, I don't see where the skeppies need to be complaining. Non-profit advocacy groups are everywhere in religion (and anti-religion) and in politics, even on Hearthstone. People support them because they have no time to be advocates themselves. You think I give to the Range Patrol Officers' Union for any other reason? That's the sort of benefit freedom has given us, even here. And if Van Eck doesn't like it, I'm sure Iraq would be more to his liking, where they won't ask for his money, but take it. Or if he prefers, he can time-travel to Mao's Place and give the godless state everything he owns. That's the way the freedom crumbles.

Many happy hours? Maybe a few seconds. Van Eck apparently didn't realize JP's seen all this before. Yeah, someone of Van Eck's caliber could spend a few happy years digging up the needed resources to refute what JP has on his site, and on companion sites like Miller's ThinkTank, which have literally thousands of pages of material that Eck has never laid eyes on. And in fact, not one word Van Eck ecks out in his magnum dopii isn't already covered in one of those places. The Trinity? Whoops, check here Steve, and we already dug you on Krishna. Think that's not enough? Here's all the sort of thing Van Eck delivers:

The deificaiton of Jesus, as the religion became primarily Gentile, was probably inevitable, as pagan mytholohgies were filled with god who'd come down in human form, and heroes who were deified as a result of their amazing deeds. This tendency became even more likely due to the resemblance of the Jesus story to the dying-and-rising gods of the pagan Mystery Cults, which then flourished in the Mediterranean world.

Wha ha! You'll see stuff like this laid down without so much as a footnote, heck, not even a name of one of those "dyin' an' risin'" deities. Who ya talkin' 'bout, Willis? Now Glenn Miller and JP have done their dances on the graves of such ideas (see here and here) but darned if Van Eck knows, cares, or don't think that his single paragraph is an effective case nonetheless. It's every American's goldurned right to make a Mork from Ork of themselves if they want to, and Van Eck takes full advantage of that right, apparently under the illusion that we are going to be impressed by this stuff. Hey, Steve. Every page? Either JP or Miller: Been there. Done that. Wanna fight about it online? Your Krishna stuff is still dead in the water.

Oh, yes. Van Eck added this paragraph too:

But if you do, please try to stick to the issues, and avoid insult, abuse, and ad hominem, okay? Christians like to claim they're morally superior, and when you succumb to stuff like that, you only discredit (further) your religion.

Touching, isn't it? Well, as JP shows here, the "discredit" is brought about by a strawman Jesus, and here maybe even a strawman Christian. JP doesn't claim to be morally superior (he has no idea whether he is or not, he's not out measuring in other people's business), and if folks out there can't stand having their ox gored by satire, they shouldn't go out and make public statements. Van Eck would cry a river if he was running for office and Thomas Nast had gotten hold of him. As for the discredit: Ya may as well decide that wearing top hats discredits Christianity and then go out looking for a Christian wearing a top hat. It's just an arbitrary say so without basis in fact.

Well, Van Eck, here's the deal. You wanna to discuss issues? Start by refuting what I gave you on Krishna and the link above on the Trinity, which you call "profound in its absurdity." Passing out homemade pamphlets may give you the illusion of being a new version of Thomas Paine, but actually, we find you to be more like the guy at the party who doesn't know he needs to use more soap in the shower.

April 7, 2003 Eck, It's More Junk Mail! Yep. The buzzards were circling JP's mailbox again, and I knew something was up. Something....smelled bad.

Memo to Steve Van Eck: Your idea of sending a letter in a "check enclosed" envelope as a joke wasn't too bad. However, it probably would have worked better, had you not attached a return address label with your very distinctive return address on it. More later. Ta ta.

What was it this time? This time it was Stephen Van Eck again, trying to prove Zeus knows what by sending material to JP's published-against-permission home address (we're still trying to figure out why his ministry PO Box scares Eck so much; maybe he's afraid PO boxes cause diseases) that included a letter, plus a new mini-offense-against-scholarship pamphlet titled "Building Blocks of Christianity."

Memo. Van Eck starts his letter by saying , "I finally came across the rather lengthy piece you did on 'me' back in August of last year. Not that you were man enough to notify me, or send me a copy. (And I could see why you didn't.)" You don't see why I didn't, Eck my man. You labor under the illusion that you and JP are equals. That you deserve notice as a courtesy. You don't. No more than Einstein needed to send notice to the kindergartner who thought atoms were made of cheese, or the US Geological Survey owes notice to the Flat Earth Society. I showed you why. You are too technologically inept to figure out how to notice, apparently, though I am still not sure how you followed one link but not all the others. More later. By the way, if that piece was "lengthy" I don't know what Eck would do against one of JP's articles; that one was one of the shortest pieces on a person Tekton has ever featured. He might just faint.

So what's this new "block" head bit about? It's got nothing in the way of academic footnotes, but it does have a nice set of audacious claims of the usual UFO in your backyard variety we have come to expect from Skeptical Ne'er Do Well Publishing Headquarters. THE BASIC GNOSTIC MYTH, screams the first headline. "The world is a battleground in a cosmic tug-of-war between supernatural good and evil." "We are spirits in a material world which is our prison. We are unable to realize this, or the True Reality that lies Beyond, since our consciousness is corrupted by carnality." (And also, apparently, by the gratuitous use of capital letters.) "But those with special knowledge (gnosis) can overcome the world and the flesh. The Supreme Being of Good from time to time takes pity on us and sends a Heavenly Messenger to reveal the true nature of reality to us, and help some to escape."

I'll skip a section here, scream-titled THE MYSTERY CULTS, and get back to it, because the scholarship is so pathetic that it deserves a closer look later. Below that second section I now pass, are the words, "Any of this sound familiar?"

Yes it does. It sounds like elements of every religion worldwide. So what's the problem?

Memo. Eck says a bit more , "What a miserable excuse for a human being you are! I challenged you to deal with my tracts without resorting to abuse or ad hominem attacks, but that's exactly what you did. If that's your idea of what Jesus would do, then you aren't even a good Christian. (Or maybe you ARE!)" It's not MY idea, Ecky baby; it's what Jesus DID do. As I told you before: "Well, as we show here, the "discredit" is brought about by a strawman Jesus, and here maybe even a strawman Christian. I don't claim to be morally superior (I have no idea whether I am or not, I'm not out measuring in other people's business), and if folks out there can't stand having their ox gored by satire, they shouldn't go out and make public statements. I imagine Van Eck would cry a river if he was running for office and Thomas Nast had gotten hold of him. As for the discredit: One may as well decide that wearing top hats discredits Christianity and then go out looking for a Christian wearing a top hat." But really, Eckibaby, your work (not you) DOES deserve a lot of contempt and abuse. It does. In fact, when scholarship gets that dismal, satire and abuse is required by law. More later. Ta ta.

A comparison to Gnosticism like this is easy. By collapsing down elements into a lowest common denominator, you can make Hinduism and Mormonism twin brothers; you can make Lincoln and Kennedy into mimesis victims; you can make dodgeball and hockey the same sport. Like, in both sports:

  1. A round object is used for play.
  2. Teams are used.
  3. The round object moves very quickly through the air in play.
  4. The object can cause pain if it hits you.
  5. Team members move very fast.

Therefore dodgeball and hockey are the same sport. Convinced?

Now then, back to the tissue -- er, pamphlet, we were sent. Under that second screaming headline we have these words: "All had similar characteristics." (Like dodgeball and hockey. Of course.) "All centered on a god-man who was born of a virgin" (100% false, actually. None but Mary were virgins; some were impregnated by oddball means, but none other lacked a divine seed. Sorry. Named specifics addressed below.) "(usually on December 25)" (Actually, none JP has yet found, other than one; more on that shortly.) "who died (usually on a tree)" (Actually, few died, and none ON a tree, other than well after Christianity got moving -- again, specifics later.) "but who rose from the dead." (Ditto -- and "rose from the dead" was also rather slippery.) "Inspired by his example, his followers may also overcome death and achieve immortality through mystical identification with his passion, death and resurrection." (As yet, actually, JP has found no mystery cult that fits this description.) "Mystery cults had sacramental meals of bread and wine" (Actually, these were ancient staples of ALL meals; but so far again, I find no example of this, other than perhaps post-Christian developments.) "which represented the body and blood of the god-man." (Not at all. Sorry. More below.) "They also had baptisms of water, in which sins were ritually washed away" (no, actually, they didn't) "and one in which they were literally 'washed in the blood'" (Yes -- this refers to a very post-Christian rite, the taurobolium, which in fact did not wash away sins whatsoever, at least not until well after Christianity was top dog.) So in conclusion, we are told, "Christianity represents a fusion of these two pre-existing cults, one built atop Judaism and which involkes it for legitimacy. The person of Jesus -- not ultimately a Jewish Messianic type -- represents the figure of the Gnostic Emmisary from Above combined with the dying-and-rising god-man. Thus is had a double-barrelled appeal." Well, the two barrels were apparently full of quality beer, and Van Eck seems to have drunk both of them. Rather than a picture of what appears to be Thomas Paine on the pamphlet, I am thinking it must be Samuel Adams.

Memo again. Eck mumbles, "And you clearly aren't a good apologist, either. Your screed did not address a single point I made, so intent it was on vilifying 'me'." Heck, Eck, we gave you four links to follow to keep you busy; did you follow them? Apparently not: "It won't do to claim that you've already dealt with this or that topic, since as far as I'm concerned, you haven't. You might have sent me copies of your alleged handling of any issue I raised; but then, you weren't man enough to let me know you'd be cheaply using me as cannon fodder." That's about all Eck is good for, since it seems he did indeed miss the links -- and if we read right, isn't even Internet connected; yet he did manage to find what was behind one of the links we gave, as we see below. If that is the limits of his tech-expertise, we may as well ask the naked native in Angola to write scholarly articles for us. You want copies of the articles I linked to there and will link to here, Eck my man? Send me about $10 for paper and printing costs. Or go to your public library -- you know, where they have BOOKS? -- and use the public Internet terminal. But we'll do you a favor this time and provide SOME of what you need to be enlightened. Ta ta again.

Now on the back, we still don't find a single footnote from a scholarly source; we do find that plenty of trouble was went to in order to devise some clever slogans. "RELIGION STOPS A THINKING MIND." (From doing what? Thinking salacious thoughts?) "FREEDOM DEPENDS ON FREETHINKERS." (I know of none I owe any freedom to particularly. Paine was a loudmouth with illogical arguments and lackluster scholarship -- actually, yes, an island could conceivably rule a larger country -- and Jefferson was just one out of dozens, and he was skeedaddling in France when the Constitution was written. Fascinating fact.) "RESIST THE RELIGIOUS REICH." (Yes, support the Reign of Terror, The Great Leap Forward, and the Stalin pogroms instead.) There are words, too, some of them with more than 5 letters in them. "Any attempt to find precedent for the basic elements of Christianity in Judaism is highly strained," we're told like beets, and without a word from David Flusser, E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, or any other scholar who hasn't heard the news. We start off with comparisons to Gnosty-cism.

  1. "Gnosticism, not original Judaism, is dualistic." Meaning, what? "Dualism" is a vague term. It can just mean "good and evil". It can mean "evil beings and good beings." What? Judaism in that sense WAS as dualistic as every other religion on the face of the earth. Christianity of course included. Meaning? Ain't any yet. Let's see:
  2. "Gnosticism, not original Judaism, believes in spirits that are separable from the body." Beg pardon? Original Judaism certainly did believe in such a thing; did Saul stop by the witch of Endor's house for a coffee and a danish? And Judaism of the pre-NT world had a highly developed sense of such things -- partly influenced by Hellenism, but also part of their normal retinue of ideas. (See here for more.)
  3. "Gnosticism, not Judaism, considers the world essentially evil and under the dominion of the Evil Power." That's nice. And, what? If this was meant to imply that Christianity is more like Gnostys than Jews on this count, that's wrong. Of course it does depend on what one means by "essentially evil" and "under the dominion of." That's the sort of specificity, though, that would ruin Van Eck's double-barrelled keg party.
  4. "And the Jewish Messiah is not a Messenger who brings secret gnosis, but a real live (not metaphoric) King, whose Kingdom would be here, of this world, not in Never-Never Land." For people who have technology, we refer them to Glenn Miller's item here that neatly debunks this false notion. For Van Eck himself, please stand by -- we'll give you your homework later.

Memo. Van Eck warbles, "I actually gave you too much credit when my tracts mentioned Mystery Cult gods without specifying them by name. I expected a reasonably educated person to have heard of Mithras and Attis, both of whom are connected to Tarsus (Saul's home town, in case you didn't know)." As a more than reasonably educated person, JP had not only heard of Mithras and Attis, but had also written extensive articles on them, which used the works of REAL Mithraic scholars and scholars of Attis, long before Ecky's first scrap of tissue paper arrived at his door. Which is why JP also knew already that his "Tarsus" connection was bunk. Ecky was also given links to follow, but where I gave too much credit was expecting him to be technologically advanced, perhaps. I was unaware that rather than a computer, Ecky was still using a Speak 'n' Spell. I will help you out at the end of this article. Ta ta.

That's what we're told of Gnostys; now what of Mystery Cults? The cults are all lumped together as though one entity; only two are named (more in a moment), but such lumping treatment is sad enough as it is is. So:

  1. "The Jewish Messiah is a man, not a god-man as in the Mystery Cults." See link just above; but for the meantime, a quote from that article for Van Eck to cut his teeth on:
    Even the Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner (who attempts to minimize 'traditional' notions of the messiah) readily ADMITS that the messianic expectations of pre-Mishnahhic Jewry WERE those of an exalted super-human figure! Neusner believes that the compilers of the Mishnah were attempting to resolve the same issues, but in a different way. In describing this attempt, Neusner gives a telling description of what the 'older' traditions were (in "Mishnah and Messiah", JTM:275): "We focus upon how the system laid out in the Mishnah takes up and disposes of those critical issues of teleology worked out through messianic eschatology in other, earlier versions of Judaism (emphasis mine). These earlier systems resorted to the myth of the Messiah as savior and redeemer of Israel, a supernatural figure engaged in political-historical tasks as king of the Jews, even a God-man facing the crucial historical questions of Israel's life and resolving them: the Christ as king of the world, of the ages, of death itself."

    Oops. Guess Neusner is a mystery-cultist.

  2. "The virgin birth of Jesus is an imitation of the Mystery Cults. The Scripture that supposedly justifies it (Isaiah 7:14) is an egregious misreading. You need to read the whole chapter." You need to do real homework, Mr. Y. Eck. When you get to that library Internet terminal (assuming you have not been kicked out permanently for stealing comic books), go here and while you are there also find us one of those virgin-born mystery gods that do not exist. We'll address the two you do name shortly.
  3. "The fact that the cross (a Roman execution device) is referred to as a "tree" [I Peter 2:24; Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13;29] shows an effort to mirror the mystery cults." No, actually, it shows an effort to allude to Deut. 21:22, but that bus actually stopped long before, when Eck was unable to give us one of these guys who DID die on a tree. He still won't.
  4. "There is no evidence that Jesus was born December 25th. This again is to co-opt the Mystery Cults." Van Eccch came closer to right here than in anything else he wrote. This was addressed in a link I provided before, but to help the technologically inept, we will provide it here -- Mr. Ecccch, this is your first homework assignment, courtesy of Miller's ThinkTank:

    First, let's note that it is not at all certain that this theft actually occurred--the data is mixed:

    • "In regard to the day of Jesus' birth, as early as Hippolytus (A.D. 165-235) it was said to be December 25, a date also set by John Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407) whose arguments prevailed in the Eastern Church. There is nothing improbable about a mid-winter birth. Luke 2:8 tells us that the shepherds' flocks were kept outside when Jesus was born. This detail might favor a date between March and November when such animals would normally be outside. But the Mishnah (m. seqal. 7.4) suggests that sheep around Bethlehem might also be outside during the winter months (Hoehner). Therefore, though there is no certainty, it appears that Jesus was born somewhere between 4-6 B.C., perhaps in mid-winter. Both the traditional Western date for Christmas (Dec. 25) and the date observed by the Armenian Church (Jan. 6) are equally possible. The biblical and extra-biblical historical evidence is simply not specific enough to point decisively to either traditional date. The celebration of the nativity is attested in Rome as early as A.D. 336 and this celebration also involved recognizing January 6 as Epiphany, the day the Magi visited Jesus." [NT:DictJG, s.v. 'birth of jesus']
    • "The exact day of Jesus birth' is unknown. The Gnostic Basilidians in Egypt (late second century) commemorated Jesus' baptism on January 6, and by the early fourth century many Christians in the East were celebrating both his nativity and baptism then....In 274 Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25 as the celebration of the 'Unconquerable Sun," the first day in which there was a noticeable increase in light after the winter solstice. The earliest mention of a Feast of the Nativity is found in a document composed in 336. Some feel Constantine (who died in 337) may have selected this day for Christmas because of a deep-seated respect for the popular pagan solstice festival. Others argue that the date was chosen as a replacement for it, that it, to honor the 'Sun of Righteousness.' Firmly established in the West within a few decades, another century passed before the Eastern church adopted December 25...The only holdout was the Armenian church, which still observes the nativity on January 6." [TK:104f] "Aurelian celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti ("birthday of Sol Invictus") on December 25. Whether this festival was celebrated earlier than the third century is unknown. Nor is it certain that December 25 was the birthday of Mithras as well as of Sol Invictus. This has not prevented many scholars from assuming that Mithraic influence upon Christianity was involved in the adoption of this date for Christmas...Roger Beckwith concludes that 'a date in the depths of winter (January-February) is therefore one of the two possibilities; and it may be that Clement, and through him Hippolytus, were in possession of a genuine historical tradition to this effect, which in the course of time had been mistakenly narrowed down to a particular day.'...Clement of Alexandria (circa 200) in his Stromateis (1.146) noted that Gnostic Basilidians in Egypt celebrated Jesus' baptism either on January 10 or January 6. By the early fourth century Christians in the East were celebrating Jesus' birth on January 6..." [OT:PAB:520f]
    • Later church tradition remembered it as a 'competitive strategy': "The reason, then, why the fathers of the church moved the January 6th celebration to December 25th was this, they say: it was the custom of the pagans to celebrate on this same December 25th the birthday of the Sun, and they lit lights then to exalt the day, and invited and admitted the Christians to these rites. When, therefore, the teachers of the Church saw that Christians inclined to this custom, figuring out a strategy, they set the celebration of the true Sunrise on this day, and ordered Epiphany to be celebrated on January 6th; and this usage they maintain to the present day along with the lighting of lights." (12th century bishop, cited in [HI:CP68C:155]

    "The equinoxes and solstices must have been especially sacred. This was verified for the spring equinox of 172, the day when the Mithraeum 'of the Seven Spheres', at Ostia, was opened to a new community. The vernal equinox marked the anniversary of the sacrifice that had revived the world. Perhaps at the winter solstice (25 December) they celebrated the birth of Mithras emerging from the rock..." (HI:TCRE:234, emphasis mine...and I might ask the question here as to how many solar deities did NOT celebrate the Winter Solstice as a 'rebirth'?! All the ones I know of did (e.g. HI:SSK:157-65), not sure that really counts as a 'historical birthday' in the same sense as Jesus'; so, Eliade: "The anniversary of the Deus Sol Invictus was set at December 25th, the 'birthday' of all Oriental solar deities" [WR:HRI2:411]...)

    Secondly, what difference would it have made? The Roman Empire, with the "conversion" of Constantine, knew quite clearly the difference between the Jesus of the Christians and the Sun God of the Roman elite or the Mithras of the military. There would be no confusion between the two. The fierce struggles "for the minds of men" between Christian thought and pagan thought of the past two centuries kept the distinctions very, very clear..."Converting" a holiday from Sol/Mithras to Christ would even "make sense", given the early Kingdom-theology of the Church (see below discussion)...Just as 'converting' temples would look to them a bit later, and maybe even 'converting' statues (and changing the names, obviously). And you can rest assured that Mithraists no more celebrated the birthday of Christ on that day, any more than the Christians did Mithra's. For someone to assert that this could only happen if the two 'gods' were already very similar, simply does not understand the intense Christian-versus-pagan polemic of those times, and the highly developed positions within that polemic. The major exchanges between the second and third century Christian apologists and theologians, and the sharp and powerful attacks of Celsus and Porphyry, were only the tip of the iceberg. The Roman legislation battles and the constant watchful eye (and interventions) of the Roman government over this 'dangerous sect' insured that the battle lines were always clear to the rulers, elites, and urban middle-class. And, we don't even have to get all the way to 'conversion'--it might have been picked for 'protest' reasons: "The purpose was that it should be celebrated in opposition to the sun-cult" [NIDNTT]


    • It's not clear that it was deliberately set to the same day as the birthday of Sol Invictus (it may have be December 25 anyway)
    • It's not clear that it was established later than the first known celebration of Sol's birthday (Hippolytus is writing before Aurelian's law)
    • It could have been deliberately set to the same day, as a 'protest' or 'opposition' movement, or as a 'conversion' initiative--without true 'borrowing' of the holiday itself (i.e., the content and conceptual meaning of the holiday would certainly be massively different, and clear to the participants, even if the 'trappings' were the same)

    And, therefore, it is not at all clear that the action was a case of 'borrowing pagan ideas' and smuggling them into Christianity.

    Happy Homeworking. Now back to Eck's list.

  5. "And the purpose of the Jewish Messiah is to redeem the nation from oppression, freeing it to obey the Covenant and the Torah -- not to save individiuals from sin so they won't end up in Hell (with the Torah now obsolete, and the Covenant superseded [Hebrews 8:7]. Hell is not an original concept in Judaism, but is of Persian origin." Oops, what a mess of misconceptions this one is. We gave the link above on the Messiah; Hell and eternal punishment was part and parcel of Judaism even before Persian (try Is. 66, for example), and check out on the covenant here, when you get the technology.

Memo again. "Instead of coping with this or any other argument" (actually, I did; Eccch just isn't the Six Million Dollar Man when it comes to technology, or even the Six Dollars and Ninety-Five Cents Man) "you focused on personal attacks." (Had you followed the links, you would have found 95% of the focus on scholarship.) For example, Van Eck informs me that he doesn't use a Unabomber typewriter, but rather, a word processor. Given that he couldn't follow links, who would be able to tell? It's interesting that he uses technology just to get himself back to using the same old font typewriters used. But whatever. Van Eck takes it as a personal attack, and it is after a type -- the attack part, not the personal one. No peer-reviewed academic journal is done so badly; it's simply worth noting that the style and presentation does reflect the scholarship. Van Eck closes, "I produce my materials frugally, since unlike you I do not solicit funds." It shows. Unlike Dan Barker and Infidel Guy, too. I suspect Van Eck is also too cheap to pay for gas to go to the library and do real, meaty research of the sort he should be doing. Back later.

Back to the pampy-let. "Who put these cults together in a novel synthesis with Judaism (to usurp it)? Saul of Tarsus, who admittedly never knew Jesus in his life. Tarsus was where Mithraism was born, and where Attis worship was strong. (Both were god-men who rose from the dead.) All of Christianity rests on his unverfied claim to have had a special revelation of Jesus, one not taught him by the Apostles. [Galatians 1:11-12]." Hum. Too bad Eccccch doesn't also quote that part of Galatians that shows that the Apostles approved of Paul's teachings [Galatians 2:9]. As for the other, on Mithra and Attis, had Eck been able to follow links, he would have found JP's two articles on that subject. But as a public service to the technologically unfamiliar, here are relevant parts of that article (those that I think will "interest" Van Ecccccch), plus another from Glenn Miller on Tarsus. (It is partly addressed to another Skeptic, Acharya S.)

Mithra: Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds. This claim, which I have seen repeated in part by the Secular Web's James Still, is a mix of truth and obfuscations. Let's begin with the December 25th part by noting Glenn Miller's reply, which is more than sufficient: "...the Dec 25 issue is of no relevance to us--nowhere does the NT associate this date with Jesus' birth at all." This is something the later church did, wherever they got the idea from -- not the apostolic church, and if there was any borrowing at all, everyone did it, for Dec. 25th was "universally distinguished by sacred festivities" [Cum.MM, 196] being that it was (at the time) the winter solstice.

Next, the cave part. First of all, Mithra was not born of a virgin in a cave; he was born out of solid rock, which presumably left a cave behind -- and I suppose technically the rock he was born out of could have been classified as a virgin! Here is how one Mithraic scholar describes the scene on Mithraic depictions: Mithra "wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him from the petra genetrix." [MS.173] Mithra was born a grown-up, but you won't hear the copycatters mention this! (The rock-birth scene itself was a likely carryover from Perseus, who experienced a similar birth in an underground cavern; Ulan.OMM, 36.)

That leaves the shepherds, and this is one that is entirely true; although the shepherds did more than "attend" (unlike Luke's shepherds, they were witnesses to the birth; there was no angelic mediator), they also helped Mithra out of the rock, and offered him the first-fruits of their flock -- quite a feat for these guys in any event, considering that Mithra's birth took place at a time when (oops!) men had supposedly not been created on earth yet. [Cum.MM, 132] But the clincher here is that this scene, like nearly all Roman Mithraic evidence, dates at least a century after the time of the New Testament. It is too late to say that any "borrowing" was done by the Christian church -- if there was any, it was the other way around; but there probably was not. (It is fair to note also that the Iranian Mithra didn't have a "born out of rock" story...his conception was attributed, variously, to an incestuous relationship between Ahura-Mazda and his mother, or to the plain doings of an ordinary mortal woman...but there is no virgin conception/birth story to speak of. [Cum.MM, 16] Acharya says that the Indian Mitra, "was born of a female, Aditi, the 'mother of the gods,' the inviolable or virgin dawn; this is simply yet another case of her applying terminology [a "dawn" as "virgin" -- so when does the dawn start "having sex" and how?] illicitly. So likewise this word game: "It could be suggested that Mithra was born of 'Prima Materia,' or 'Primordial Matter,' which could also be considered 'First Mother,' 'Virgin Matter,' 'Virgin Mother,' etc..." -- it can be "considered" no such thing except by vivid imagination; merely playing on the psycho-linguistic similarity of sound in the English words "matter" and "mother" and trying to equare "first" with "virgin" isn't going to do the job.)

Acharya now adds in her work iconographic evidence allegedly showing "the babe Mithra seated in the lap of his virgin mother, with the gift-bearing Magi genuflecting in front of them." One is constrained to ask how an icon reflects that Mithra's mother was a virgin, since it is obviously not stated. One also wants to know if any of this evidence is pre-Christian (it is not). Quoting others who merely say it is indicating a virgin birth, yet offer no more evidence, is not an argument. Finally, we are told of the "largest near-eastern Mithraeum [which] was built in western Persia at Kangavar, dedicated to 'Anahita, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of the Lord Mithras'." This is a very curious claim which is repeated around the Internet, but no source is given for it, and Acharya attributes it to a "writer" with no name or source. I believe, however, that I have found the terminal source, and it is a paper written in 1993 by a then-high school student, David Fingrut, who made this claim without any documentation whatsoever himself. His paper is now posted on the Net as a text file. That said, it is inaccurate to start with, since the building at Kanagvar is not a Mithraeum at all, but a temple to Anahita (dated 200 BC), and although I have found one source of untested value that affirms that Anahita was depicted as a virgin (in spite of being a fertility goddess!), she is regarded not at Mithra's mother, but as his consort (though it does offer other contradictory info) -- and it knows nothing of such an inscription as described; and the mere existence of the goddess Anahita before the Roman era proves nothing. Acharya appears to be throwing ringers again.

Mithra's followers were promised immortality. On this one, Acharya is making no more than a guess, although probably a good one: As one Mithraic scholar put it, Mithraism "surely offered its initiates deliverance from some awful fate to which all other men were doomed, and a privileged passage to some ultimate state of well-being." [MS.470] Why is this a good guess? Not because Mithraism borrowed from Christianity, or Christianity borrowed from Mithraism, or anyone borrowed from anyone, but because if you don't promise your adherents something that secures their eternity, you may as well give up running a religion and go and sell timeshares in Alaska! In practical terms, however, the only hard evidence of a "salvational" ideology is a piece of graffitti found in the Santa Prisca Mithraeum (a Mithraist "church" building, if you will), dated no earlier than 200 AD, that reads, "And us, too, you saved by spilling the eternal blood." [Spie.MO, 45; Gor.IV, 114n; Verm.MSG, 172] Note that this refers to Mithra spilling the blood of the bull -- not his own -- and that (according to the modern Mithraic "astrological" interpretation) this does not mean "salvation" in a Christian sense (involving freedom from sin) but an ascent through levels of initiation into immortality.

As the "great bull of the Sun," Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace. This description is rather spun out into a sound-alike of Christian belief, but behind the vagueness lies a different story. Mithra did not "sacrifice himself" in the sense that he died; he was not the "great bull of the Sun", but rather, he killed the bull (attempts to somehow identify Mithra with the very bull he slayed, although popular with outdated non-Mithraists like Loisy and Bunsen, were rejected by Vermaseren, who said that "neither the temples nor the inscriptions give any definite evidence to support this view and only future finds can confirm it" [Verm.MSG, 103]; it was not for the sake of "world peace" (except, perhaps, in the sense that Cumont interpreted the bull-slaying as a creation myth [Cum.MM, 193], in which he was entirely wrong). Mithra could only be said to have "sacrificed himself" in the sense that he went out and took a risk to do a heroic deed; the rest finds no justification at all in modern Mithraic studies literature -- much less does it entail a parallel to Christ, who sacrificed himself for atonement from personal sin (not "world peace").

He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again. His resurrection was celebrated every year. I have to classify these two as "ringers" -- I see no references anywhere in the Mithraic studies literature to Mithra being buried, or even dying, for that matter [Gordon says directly, that there is "no death of Mithras" -- Gor.IV, 96] and so of course no rising again and no "resurrection" (in a Jewish sense?!) to celebrate. Freke and Gandy [Frek.JM, 56] claim that the Mithraic initiates "enacted a similar resurrection scene", but their only reference is to a comment by Tertullian, significantly after New Testament times! Wynne-Tyson [Wyn.MFC, 24; cf. Ver.MSG, 38] also refers to a church writer of the fourth century, Firmicus, who says that the Mithraists mourn the image of a dead Mithras -- still way too late, guys! -- but after reading the work of Firmicus, I find no such reference at all!) Acharya adds the assertion of Dupuis that Mithras was killed by crucifixion, but from the description, either Dupuis or Acharya are mixing up Mithra with Attis!

His religion had a eucharist or "Lord's Supper," at which Mithra said, "He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved." This saying is appealed to also by Freke and Gandy [Frek.JM, 49], and it took me some digging to discover it's actual origin. Godwin says that the reference is from a "Persian Mithraic text," but does not give the dating of this text, nor say where it was found, nor offer any documentation; that I found finally in Vermaseren [Verm.MSG, 103] -- the source of this saying is a medieval text; and the speaker is not Mithras, but Zarathustra! Although Vermaseren suggested that this might be the formula that Justin referred to (but did not describe at all) as being part of the Mithraic "Eucharist," there is no evidence for the saying prior to this medieval text. (Freke and Gandy, and now Acharya, try to give the rite some ancestry by claiming that it derives from an Iranian Mithraic ceremony using a psychadelic plant called Haoma, but they are clearly grasping at straws and adding speculations of meaning in order to make this rite seem similar to the Eucharist.) This piece of "evidence" is far, far too late to be useful -- except as possible proof that Mithraism borrowed from Christianity! (Christianity of course was in Persia far earlier than this medieval text; see Martin Palmer's Jesus Sutras for details.)

The closest thing that Mithraism had to a "Last Supper" was the taking of staples (bread, water, wine and meat) by the Mithraic initiates, which was perhaps a celebreation of the meal that Mithra had with the sun deity after slaying the bull. However, the meal of the initiates is usually seen as no more than a general fellowship meal of the sort that was practiced by groups all over the Roman world -- from religious groups to funereal societies. [MS.348]

Attis. Attis was born on December 25th of the Virgin Nana. Freke and Gandy make Cybele Attis' virgin mother, but this comes from Ovid and perhaps from some statues -- it is not the chief story. We've already talked twice now, with Mithra and Dionysus, about Dec. 25th and why it doesn't matter -- but as gravy, let me add that I have found nowhere any indication that this date was associated with Attis in any way. That said, what of Attis' virgin birth? Herodotus records nothing about such a thing; the story alluded to comes much, much later, and rather than being a virgin birth, it is rather another case of Zeus playing the role of dirty old god -- albeit this time, much less directly.

As the story goes [Verm.CA, 90-1; VermLAGR, 4, 9], Zeus (as Jupiter) was running around looking for ways to get his jollies and saw Mt. Agdus, which looked liked the goddess Rhea. (Don't ask how, but I guess if you're a sexual maniac like Zeus, after a while maybe even a mountain looks good.) In the ensuing fracas, Zeus drops some of his seed on the mountain, and from this arises a wild and androgynous creature named Agdistis. The gods don't like the obnoxious Agdistis, so Dionysus sneaks up and puts wine in Aggy's water to put him to sleep. While Aggy is asleep, Dionysus ties a rope around Aggy's gentials, ties the other end of the rope to a tree, yells "Boo!" and -- well, you can take it from there. From the resulting blood, a pomegranate (or almond) tree springs up, and much later, Nana happens by, picks some of the fruit, and puts it in her lap, and then it disappears -- upon which, she finds herself pregnant with Attis. Virgin birth? Sort of -- virgin conception? No -- it's just Grandpa Zeus being the deadbeat dad again. The baby Attis is abandoned, but does end up being raised by goats.

He was considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind. On we go, to Attis' soteriology -- and to put it mildly, this is nothing but Baloney Sandwiches. In a study devoted entirely to the subject of "soteriology" in the Attis cult, Gasparro finds no "explicit statements about the prospects open ot the mystai of Cybele and Attis" and "little basis in the documents in our possession" for the idea of "a ritual containing a symbology of death and resurrection to a new life." [Gasp.AAO, 82] Put it bluntly: Attis was no savior, and was never recognized as such. The closest we get to this is from a writer named Damascius (480-550 AD!) who had a dream in which a festival of Attis celebrated "salvation from Hades" (see more below). We also see some evidence of Attis as a protector of tombs (as other gods also were, guarding them from violation); use of Attis with reference to grief and mourning -- but when it comes to the gravestones of devotees of Cybele and Attis, they are "all equally oblivious to special benefits the future life guaranteed by such a religious status." [Gasp.Sot, 90-4]. Attis may indeed have been raised somehow (see below), but it didn't do us any good! We do see some evidence of a soteriology in a related rite, however, and that we will save for later (pun not intended).

His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers. Freke and Gandy add, based on a note from Godwin, that initiates of the Mysteries of Attis "had some form of communion" in which they ate from a tambourine and drank from a cymbal, and then say, "What they ate and drank from these sacred instruments is not recorded, but most likely it was bread and wine." [50] Despite the footnote to Godwin's text at the end of this sentence by Freke and Gandy, Godwin makes no such assertion in his text; what Godwin does say is that "what they ate or drank we do not know" -- not a word is said about it being "likely" bread and wine, and Freke and Gandy's footnote is therefore a partial fabrication. Vermaseren, the dean of Attis studies [Verm.CA, 118-9], adds more. Vermaseren confirms the use of the cymbals, and the eating and drinking, but suggests that milk was the drink of choice, because wine and bread were forbidden during the Attis festivals -- if wine and bread was the snack of choice, it would have had to have been an exception to this rule. Nevertheless, as usual, this stuff about the snacking habits of Attis' devotees comes from Christian writers -- and at best would reflect the sort of communal meal all ancient societies practiced (being that bread and wine were the key ancient staples).

On "Black Friday," he was crucified on a tree, from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth. I have found utterly no verification for any of this -- Attis died under a tree, not crucified on it; there is no reference to it happening on a Friday, much less a "Black" one; Attis did shed blood, but all it did was make flowers (especially violets), in some stories -- if you want to call that "redeeming" the earth, then maybe your local farmer is doing the same thing by rotating the crops. It sure didn't "redeem" anything or anyone with reference to sin or do those of us outside the floral business a heck of a lot of good.

After three days, Attis was resurrected on March 25th (as tradition held of Jesus) as the "Most High God." Doane is recorded as saying that Attis was represented as a "a man tied to a tree, at the foot of which was a lamb, and, without doubt also as a man nailed to a tree..." Jackson is reported as saying that on March 22nd, a pine tree was felled and "an effigy of the god was affixed to it, thus being slain and hung on a tree..." Later the priests are supposed to have found Attis' grave empty.

I'm putting these three together because they are intimately related -- is there any indication, generally, of life after death for Attis, in particular a resurrection? Well, yes, but chew on these stories for a moment.

In one story [Verm.CA, 91], Attis is getting married, when Agdistis (remember him?) shows up at the wedding. Apparently Aggy shows up ticked off and takes a page from Dionysus' book, driving everyone nuts. The bride dies; Attis then gets upset, falls under a pine (or fir) tree, and out of sheer rational contemplation, emasculates himself, and then dies. Aggy, seeing this, goes on a guilt trip and asks Zeus to resuscitate Attis. Zeus, in a playful mood, consents minimally: Attis' body remains uncorrupted, his hair continues to grow, and his little finger moves continuously.

Didn't like that one? Try this [ibid., 91-2]: Cybele falls in love with Attis, who prefers a nymph. Cybele kills the nymph; Attis goes nuts and emasculates himself; from his blood, flowers grow out of the ground, and he turns into a pine tree.

Still not a happy enough ending? OK, try #3 [ibid., 92]: Cybele, who unknown to herself is the daughter of a king, marries Attis; when the king finds out about this, he kills Attis and makes sure the body is never found.

Still no good? What about Doane's story? The closest I can find to this is a story reported by Frazer [Fraz.AAO, 288] in which a Phrygian satyr who was a good flute player vainly challenged Apollo to a fluting contest and lost -- and so was tied to a tree, then flayed from limb to limb. Frazer suggested, because the satyr was also a comforter of Cybele, that he was somehow to be equated with Attis, but this seems more like creative writing by Frazer than sense. And there is no lamb in the story at all.

So, do you see a resurrection here? You won't -- because any of that that there is comes later, after Christianity gets going, as Fear says, a "late-comer to the cult." [Fear.CC, 41] But in this case we do have some connection with the dates given (though as with Dec. 25th, Mar. 25th is a much later choice of the church with no Biblical verification or apostolic roots), so let's get into detail on that first [Verm.CA, 113ff].

Based on a calendar dated to 354 AD, there were six Roman celebrations to Attis -- dated March 15, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28. The one on the 22nd was indeed as Jackson relates -- a pine tree was felled, and the figure of Attis attached, although it represents his death under the tree -- the figure being affixed to the tree therefore being no more than a matter of practically depicting the scene, since the figurine of Attis isn't just going to float along while the tree is carried by the processioneers.

The problem with all of this, though, is that the only one of the six feasts known certainly to have crossed paths with Christianity was the one on the 27th, which is the only festival attested on a calendar dated 50AD. A sixth-century writer says that the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) instituted the festival on the 22nd. (The 23rd was a day of mourning; on the 24th the priests of Attis would flagellate themselves.) And what the "resurrection" on the 25th? It is here, on the festival called the Hilaria, that a return from the underworld is implied (but not directly pronounced). It is attested no earlier than the 3rd or 4th century AD [Gasp.Sot, 57; contra Verm.LAGR, 47, who interperts pictures of Attis only dancing, as early as the 4th century BC, as somehow celebrating his release from death -- Robert Price believes that this is evidence of Attis' release from death, saying that this is proven because dancing was also what Attis did after release from death in later depictions; he gives no evidence supporting this assertion, but we would point out that proof of release from death, not just proof of dancing, is required; otherwise the evidence only indicates that later Attisians assimilated an episode of Attis-dance into their mythology!]. There were undoubtedly joyous celebrations in the cult prior to this, as early as the 1st century, but with reference to Attis returning to life, the sources "do not of course express the idea of a 'resurrection' of Attis, of which there is no trace in contemporary sources, but rather the certainty of his survival, either in the form of physical incorruptibility or in that, religiously defined, of his constant presence in the cult beside [Cybele]. Moreover, the mythical image of the body of Attis saved from dissolution and able to grow and move, albeit only in certain features, expresses the idea that his diappearance is neither total nor final." [ibid., 59] And so, in summary: All of our detailed information on these festivals, with reference to their alleged similarity to Christianity, come from late Christian authors -- such as the fourth century writer Firmicus Maternus, 350AD, who says that Attis comes back to life to comfort Cybele -- and connects Attis' "resurrection" with the return of vegetation (and thus, as Gasparro notes, the term "resurrection" is not suitable, for there is really no death, just a cycle of presence and absence -- the vegetable connection is confirmed by iconographic evidence) [Gasp.Sot, 48]. We'll tie all this together with one last entry.

On Tarsus: -- courtesy of Glenn Miller again, though in light of the above, this is "icing on the cake":

Well, all the data we have indicates:

  1. That Paul was born there, but didn't grow up there:

    "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem]. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. [Acts 22.3]

  2. His letters suggest that he was NOT raised there at all (or at least that he didn't get his Greek education there):

    "Here, however, for once people have been ready to believe Luke, because if Paul came from Tarsus it was possible to connect him broadly with Hellenistic education and culture and with the syncretistic practices of Syria and Asia Minor from his earliest youth. For it was the verdict of Strabo that in the capital of Cilicia 'there was so much zeal for philosophy and all the other aspects of education generally among the inhabitants that in this respect they surpassed even Alexandria, Athens, and any other place'. However, it is an open question whether and how far the young Paul in Tarsus acquired any of this 'general education' that flourished there, in contrast to his older contemporary Philo of Alexandria, whose nature was so different. Certainly in Paul's letters we meet a few maxims and commonplaces from the popular philosophers, but these go with the style of missionary and apologetic preaching in the synagogues; by contrast, we find virtually none of the knowledge of the classical Greek literature which formed part of the general canon of education in his letters. It is completely uncertain whether he had ever seen a Greek tragedy or a mime. The most popular drama of the Hellenistic period was Euripides' Bacchae - an abomination to strict Jews, certainly, and the same went for the lascivious mime. The pious Pharisaic Jew rejected the pagan theatre hardly any less bitterly than the orator and Christian Tertullian in his De Spectaculis." At best one might perhaps assume that Paul had occasionally heard one of the recitations of poetry which were popular at the time. However, there are no references to this in his letters. His language shows no trace of any knowledge of Greek poetry, i.e. of epics, drama and poetry. The only lyric which he quotes, in I Corinthians 15.33, comes from Menander's Thais and - like many other verses of the comic poet - had long since become a detached saying. The language of Homer and the Greek tragedians is as alien to Paul as the imitation of the Attic orators or the purity of classical language. Nor does the pseudo-classical verse of the Jews play any part in his argumentation. It only became significant again a century later, for the Christian apologists, through whom early Christianity deliberately made its way into the world of Greek education . "Strabo concludes his hymn of praise to Tarsus by saying that the city also had 'all kinds of schools of the rhetorical arts', and intrinsically it would be conceivable that the young Saul also mastered literary Greek at a very early stage, so thoroughly, that for him, 'the true master of the speech, to whom ideas came in an overwhelming flood', it became 'an appropriate instrument'." The only question is how long he lived in Tarsus.

    "I doubt whether Paul was trained in one of the usual schools of rhetoric, since a clear distinction must be made between the Greek elementary school and instruction in rhetoric. Even the question where he received his Greek elementary education must remain open. Both Jerusalem and Tarsus are possibilities, since in Paul it is impossible to separate Greek education from Jewish. Even in Greek garb he remains a Jew through and through.

    "Although to outward appearance Paul is a 'wanderer between two worlds' ' his theological thinking displays a quite astonishing unity. That will already have been the case with the Jew Saul, and the two periods of his life, the Jewish and the Christian, are closely interlocked. This makes it clear that faith in the Messiah Jesus was not something alien to the Jew, something which came from outside.

    "Today hardly anyone argues that the later Paul, as HJ.Schoeps and L.Goppelt conjecture, was at least indirectly influenced in his christology by impressions from his youth, going back to the public cult of the vegetation god Sandon-Heracles worshipped in Tarsus, or to titles used in the Hellenistic-Roman ruler cult; this is extremely improbable. Traces of a Cilician 'syncretism', or even a syncretism from Asia Minor and Syria, are simply not to be found in the Pauline letters that have come down to us." [NT:PCP:2-4]

  3. We have already seen that he didn't act very syncretistic when he was preaching/teaching in Asia Minor--and he was constantly around these various cults (and countless more). We saw above the numerous opportunities he had for syncretism (to win an audience and 'further his cause'), but it seems in every situation he "stubbornly continued" with his exclusivistic proclamation of Jesus, and his abject denunciation of his hearers' gods as 'not-gods' or even 'demons'...So, even if he had been 'raised in this pagan stuff', he must have been a very poor student...
  4. We have already seen that recent scholarship has seen Judaism as the background for the various images in Pauline literature (and the gospel literature, for that matter), instead of these cults anyway. So, even if he had been 'raised in this pagan stuff', he apparently liked his other education in Jerusalem better...

More details? Get a computer. Follow the links.

Memo again: Van Eccch, writes, "You also, without ever having met me, thought you could 'profile' me my [sic] appending a long psychological treatise on 'incompetent' persons." (Hmmm -- so why couldn't he follow the OTHER links as well?) "So I'm incompetent, am I?" (Yes, you are. Next question?) "Well, at least I didn't lose my librarian job, and become relegated to begging, like you." (JP didn't "lose" it either, Ecky baby -- you've believing one of those Skeptical lies taught you by the same boo-hoo you got my address from. JP left of my own volition. Now we're still seeing who else is "incompetent and unaware of it." One more memo after this. Ta ta.

And so it is, we are told, that Saul "took a Jewish Messianic pretender" and Gnosticized and mysticized him for a pagan audience. "...there can be no argument about who ripped off whom," Van Ecch yeechs. Indeed there isn't. Argue with Ulansey, Fear, and the other scholars quoted above and see where it gets you. "...stressing minor difference between Christianity and Gnosticism, and Mystery Cult [sic] and Christianity, does nothing to establish that Christianity is not derivative of both." (Stressing major differences, though, tends to spoil the plot.) In close: "Any religion with such clear human origins cannot claim to be a divine revelation." We say in reply, any cheapskate Skeptical publication with no documentation and such poor scholarship cannot claim to be worth anything but use as scrap paper. In fact, JP's little Pomeranian-poodle mix might find it useful to pick his nose with. Here, Toby, come here, boy...

Closing memo. "It's all too easy to attack people behind their backs," Van Eck whines, "It's just not manful." Van Eck is right. I propose to immediately take up burping, armchair sitting, beer swilling, and announcing my opinion without study, just like Van Eck does. "I'm giving you one more challenge: Post this letter in full on your website." Done, other than a few words. "And show the world what a Christian response would be, rather than a punk-a** one." We did that before, Mr Eck; you just either couldn't or didn't follow the links. Too bad. Now you have no excuse. We gave you reams of homework to do. I suppose we'll see you in 30 years -- half to find this article, and the other half to do your homework. Ta ta for now.

July 14, 2003 -- Eck, He's At It Again! The vultures were circling yet again, but I had some other clues that Stephen Von Eck (rhymes with "yeck") had written JP again, even before I opened the envelope.

Memo to Van Eck: Putting a return address label from your pal in Ohio solves part of the problem of trying to fool me into not knowing it is you writing, but not all. For one thing, why would I get mail of any kind from "Leland Ruble" whom I know not from Adam? For another, why the heck would someone living in Toledo send a letter with a postmark from Friendville, Pennsylvania? And really, your habit of using windowed envelopes is quite distinctive. I take it they were on sale at Wal-Mart? You've got a ways to go before you're half as sneaky and clever as you need to be. More later. Luv and kisses, Sheila.

If you think Eck went out and researched Mithraism or something in response to our last encounter, think again. No, there was no mention of anything at all in that last article (though allusion is made to "prolix gyrations" which is presumably intended as an all-refuting compact statement) and there are the usual bawlings about how "Christian love" is not represented by satire (try again on that); and it is said that there was a "great amount of verbiage" which he found it incredible I went through for one I deem "worthless".

Memo to Ecky: Actually most of that article had already been written and it was just a matter of copy and paste. When you have the resources already in hand, that makes it more worth the time to take the little fellows to the cleaners. You'll see the same for the latest you sent. The article anyway took me only about 30 minutes. You're worth that, though not much more. Now any chance we'll see you actually ANSWER any of that? Didn't think so. Kisses, Sheila. PS, ever seen JP's list, "You may be a fundy atheist if...?" This one applies: "...you think if a Christian won't address your arguments, they are too frightened to do so, or know they can't answer them; but if they do address your arguments, you think it is because they are 'threatened' by them."

So what was in the package this time? Nothing new:

And that's all for this round. In close.

Memo to my man Eck: I'm so glad we found you something to do with your life. Now how about answering that material on Mithraism? Or even anything I wrote? Didn't think so. Ta ta. Planning on driving to Ohio next time to mail your letter, BTW?

September 14, 2005 -- Utter Inecktitude, or, Lessons in Ancient Table Manners and Other Stuff -- Gosh, stupid isn't even a strong word for this Stephen Van Eck guy. I mean, the man sends around junk mail like it was being used to heat Pittsburgh! It's been two years since JP last handed me a bunch of scrap paper this Eck guy sent him with all sorts of goofy stuff on it in the same Unabomber type he likes. One thing here says that Joshua 11:15-17 is some sort of problem because -- oh wait, JP told me when I do this, I should quote these things when I use them. Hang on -- open, copy, paste, ta da!

Joshua 11:15-17 As the LORD commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses. So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them.

OK, so like, this absolute moron Van Eck says, that this "must mean that [Joshua] succeeded in wiping out all seven nations specificed in Deuteronomy 7 & 20" and then he makes a big deal over how there were still Canaanites around in Joshua 16 and later in Judges. Duh! I mean, come on! Where I'm from we don't have your Bible, of course, but it doesn't take a lot of brains to see that if this really were an error, it would be one of the stupidest ever made, so stupid that this Eck character must think Joshua ran face first into walls all the time. I mean, come on, the context itself says specifically what Joshua did. How in the heck does Eck take v. 15 to say that in that instant, Joshua went out and fulfilled every jot and tittle of unfulfilled command? I guess he's reading that "nothing" like some sort of pathological literalist. Good grief! How much brains does it take to see that "nothing undone" refers to what happened within the specific context of previous parts of the story, the places where Joshua DID conduct war and followed the commands for it right? I mean, if you wanna be THAT pathological, why not say that 11:15 means that Joshua ALSO did what the Lord commanded Moses not just in Deut. 7 and 20, but also say back in Egypt when Moses was commanded to do all sorts of stuff? Why not say it also applies to when God commanded Moses to approach the burning bush? I mean, COME ON, guys, this is ridiculous! I think Van Eck needs to lay off the mercury-laden fish for a while.

By the way, Eck also makes a big deal over what he says is archaeological evidence that Israel "gradually infitrated" Canaan instead of conquering it, like he thinks the Bible says. JP says he doesn't get into this subject, but he does have this book by a guy named Kenneth Kitchen (gosh, is he married to someone named Betty Bedroom???) who says that the whole idea of reading out of the Bible some big fighting conquest is wrong anyway. Kitchen says that if you read the Bible closely, what you find IS more like an infiltration than a conquest. But if you want more of that JP says go to this place.

Ok, so what else do we have here? Oh, please! Now this is a really sick item here, where Van Eck makes fun of Ezekiel for doing stuff like lying on his side for 430 days and calls it "bizarre". I swear, some of these guys are such bigots! I mean, as JP said someplace, this is just like "performance art" you guys sometimes do in your world. Even a Skeptic by the name of Callahan knew that much, and he's no smarter than Van Eck is! Guys, Zeke wasn't "crazy" or anything like that when he did this, as Eck (eck!) says. This is just Eck acting like some Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who would have as much appreciation of Louis Armstrong as Eck does of Ezekiel. Oh yeah, he also mentions some prophecy about Tyre. JP says send him here (though, like, I get the idea that Eck is way behind on repying to what JP has sent him back already!).

OK, that leaves one more sheet and JP said he saved the best for last. I guess I'd better do this first -- copy, paste, blase squase.

Luke 11:37-44 And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.

OK, so like, Van Eck once again makes some big deal about this and asks a bunch of really dumb questions, but I better explain WHY they're dumb first. Now you see, JP has told you guys a lot about how the world of the Bible was, like, an "honor and shame society," right? We got some of those too, where I live, and even though I don't live in one of them myself, I do have some good friends from there (Brett and Annabelle Ketterling -- she's so sweet!) so I do understand how things work for them. Now first of all Eck makes a big deal over how the Pharisee was sure nice to invite Jesus to dinner, and how rude it was for Jesus to argue with him. Ha ha! Hogwash! Van "Ick" definitely had never been in any kind of honor and shame setting himself to say something stupid like this. First of all, Eck is shooting the moon if he thinks the Pharisee was being "nice" by inviting Jesus to dinner. He wasn't! Put it this way: It's like you invited Jed Clampett to dinner knowing the place would be filled with people like Thurston Howell the Third. (Yeah, we have some of your old shows on my world; don't ask how we get them. No one wants them.) The whole point of the invitation was not to be nice to Jesus, but to embarrass him in front of the other guests! The whole thing is what you call an "honor challenge" -- and Jesus can't refuse to come, because to do so would be like admitting he's a loser already. The Pharisee asks that question as a challenge -- think of it! He asks this in front of everyone, knowing Jesus has a reputation as a teacher, and so he himself makes a big deal ("marvelled" -- what a funny word!), and that would mean here he probably loudly commented at the table about how that dumb rube Jesus didn't wash before dinner. (Oh by the way, this refers to ritual and public washings that the Pharisees would do to show off how closely they followed the law -- not to your ordinary santizing wash.) The whole point was to shame Jesus in front of everyone else and try to hurt his reputatation as a teacher. Well, guess what! In that case, Jesus' reply is just what the doctor ordered. He's got the Pharisees trying to shame him, so the proper response for an honorable person in his time is to fight fire with fire! I mean, LOOK -- the Pharisee ALSO invited all sorts of scribes and stuff who were WAAAY above Jesus in the public honor department, and even Eck admits that Jesus was just some itinerant preacher, so does he really think the Pharisee was being NICE when he made the invitation?!? Give me a break!!!

Van Eck makes a few other dumb statements, too, about how he thinks Christianity was a "Gentile cult" and all sorts of other crap, and how he thinks the Pharisees were "unfairly maligned" by this passage and others, but look guys -- if he doesn't even know how to read Luke 11 in light of honor and shame principles, he sure as Eck doesn't have any of THAT right either. Eck doesn't get it -- sure, the Pharisees had some respect from the people at large, but that's only because they shared a common enemy: the oppressive priestly caste and their Roman masters. And the way it works in these societies is, the enemy of your enemy is your friend -- at least where you have common interests. The everyday people liked the Pharisees for some things, but on others they didn't -- what Jesus says here is exactly what we would expect when there was interaction between the Pharisees and the peasant class. And if an Eck is too stupid to know better, I'd like to know if he thinks the Essenes "highly respected" the Pharisees! (JP found me something neat here which says: Seeking holiness the Pharisees sought to integrate the priestly standards of ritual cleanliness and Temple purity into their private lives (Neusner 1979:89). The reputation of the Pharisees was as the most observant in the land (Josephus Wars 1.5.2; Whiston 1957:614) and "the strictest sect" of the Jews (Acts 26:5). They were not particularly popular with the Judean public although Josephus, a Pharisee himself, wanted his readers to believe they were (Josephus Antiquities 13.10.6; Whiston 1957:397). The general public tended to hold them in awe but as a rule did not join in their religious fervor. The Pharisees, on the other hand, restricted their dealings with the public whom they regarded as lax in matters of the law (Wyatt 1986:822). That fits right in with what I've been saying, thanks, Dad! -- er, I mean, JP!)

OK, well, that's about all I can stand of this drivel, that's for sure. I don't know how in the world JP puts up with these creeps like Van Eck all the time. I mean, he STILL hasn't replied to JP on ANYTHING, like on Mithraism, or Bible contradictions, or Gnosticism, or anything. I really don't blame JP at all for asking us toons to respond to Van Eck so that he doesn't have to waste time doing it. Well, we're always glad to help out. So see ya'll some other time, huh?

December 10, 2005 -- Open Your Mailbox and Eck It Out -- Yeah, well, not much this time either, so I guess Eck must be getting old or else Santa brought him a pair of Grounchy Underpants. He sent as "Exmas" card and one piece of scrap crap with a bunch of stuff about 1) Christmas, which none of us here, either in JP's house or here on Hearthstone, gives a toot about; 2) that same old census canard with JP and Glenn already took care of; 3) things like the mistake Matt was supposed to have made with Micah 5:2. BOO-OOORRRING! Golly, Eck, do some darned homework for a change!

January 8, 2006 -- Postcards from the Eck -- Boy! Now El Cheapo is really getting on in years. He sent us a postcard with some copy and paste from one of his sycophants who thought he was brilliant, and the comment, "See? Some people like what I write!" The funny thing is, the lady says, "None of us are Bible experts"! So what now? We're supposed to think that someone like THIS admires Eck's silliness is impressive? Golly! Hey, Eck: Some people liked Mein Kampf too, you goofball!