1. THE NOBLE LIE IN THE JUDEO CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES
I find instances of “noble lies” or “pious frauds” in the bible fascinating. For example, the Skeptics Annotated Bible points out:
1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh.
And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives. Exodus 1:18-20
2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies.
And the woman [Rahab] took the two men and hid them and said thus: There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were; and it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark that the men went out; whither the men went I wot not; pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house and hid them with the stalks of flax. Joshua 2:4-6Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. James 2:25
3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah.
David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business…. 1 Samuel 21:2
4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die.
Benhadad the king of Syria was sick … And the king said unto Hazael … go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease? Elisha said unto him, go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die. 2 Kings 8:8-10
5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.”
Tobias said to him: I pray thee, tell me, of what family, or what tribe art thou? And Raphael the angel answered … I am Azarias. Tobit 5:16-18
6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.”
[Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. John 7:8-10
7. Even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets.
And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22
Dr. James McGrath said in a blog post last August that : “I found myself wondering whether Jesus might have been viewed by the Gospel author as, like God, above such ethical matters just as God could be depicted as sending a lying spirit to deceive a king (1 Kings 22:22). I also wonder whether Jesus might be an example of the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.” see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2016/08/snts-third-main-paper-and-simultaneous-short-papers.html
Blogger John MacDonald responded to Dr. McGrath that:
This sounds right. “Truth” doesn’t just mean honesty and correctness, but also “exemplary,” like when we call someone a “true friend”. Jesus may be depicted in the Gospel of John as an exemplary way to behave when facing persecution – The societal norm of honesty may need to be bracketed for a while. This is echoed in the New Testament when the author of James says: “Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?. (James 2:25 )”
On the other hand, suspending the rule of honesty when it is needed or inconvenient, opens up a slippery slope. For instance, maybe the original Christians felt God was commanding them to be deceptive to sell Jesus to the masses in order to ultimately realize God’s plan. It is not out of the realm of possibility to speculate that the miracle/resurrection tales about Jesus started as Noble Lies to assist in selling Jesus’ ethical teaching of “love your enemy and neighbor,” a cause the disciples may have been willing to die for.
2. The New Testament And The Greeks as a Noble Lie:
Aside from the presence of the Noble Lie or Pious Fraud in Plato and Euripides, Seneca famously said “Religion is true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.” For example, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was strategically introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.
So the noble lie was part of the culture at the time.
Plato presented the Noble Lie (γενναῖον ψεῦδος, gennaion pseudos, literally – “a lie or wrong opinion about origin”) in a fictional tale, wherein Socrates provides the origin of the three social classes who compose the republic proposed by Plato; Socrates speaks of a socially stratified society, wherein the populace are told “a sort of Phoenician tale”:
…the earth, as being their mother, delivered them, and now, as if their land were their mother and their nurse, they ought to take thought for her and defend her against any attack, and regard the other citizens as their brothers and children of the self-same earth…While all of you, in the city, are brothers, we will say in our tale, yet god, in fashioning those of you who are fitted to hold rule, mingled gold in their generation, for which reason they are the most precious — but in the helpers, silver, and iron and brass in the farmers and other craftsmen. And, as you are all akin, though for the most part you will breed after your kinds, it may sometimes happen that a golden father would beget a silver son, and that a golden offspring would come from a silver sire, and that the rest would, in like manner, be born of one another. So that the first and chief injunction that the god lays upon the rulers is that of nothing else are they to be such careful guardians, and so intently observant as of the intermixture of these metals in the souls of their offspring, and if sons are born to them with an infusion of brass or iron they shall by no means give way to pity in their treatment of them, but shall assign to each the status due to his nature and thrust them out among the artisans or the farmers. And again, if from these there is born a son with unexpected gold or silver in his composition they shall honor such and bid them go up higher, some to the office of guardian, some to the assistanceship, alleging that there is an oracle that the city shall then be overthrown when the man of iron or brass is its guardian.
Socrates proposes and claims that if the people believed “this myth…[it] would have a good effect, making them more inclined to care for the state and one another.” This is his noble lie: “a contrivance for one of those falsehoods that come into being in case of need, of which we were just now talking, some noble one…”
Similarly, in Euripides’ Bacchae, Cadmus says “Even if this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you think, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele, for this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all our race.”
People have long suspected that Euripides’ Bacchae influenced the New Testament. It’s interesting to ponder the relationship between the Bible and the Greeks.
To take even one example, the parallels between Jesus and the dying-rising Greek god born of a god and a mortal woman, Dionysus, have long been posited, either in traditional myth or in places like Euripides’ ancient play ‘The Bacchae,’ with work ranging from scholars like Bultmann and others in the 19th century, to the more recent studies of scholars like Martin Hengel, Barrie Powell, Dennis MacDonald, Robert M. Price, and even popular writers like Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. Parallels, for example, in the play ‘The Bacchae’ can be drawn as to general overarching themes, as well as to specific details of the New Testament Narratives. In Freke and Gandy’s ‘The Jesus Mysteries,’ several striking parallels are drawn out between The New Testament and the ‘Bacchae,’ the latter being a much earlier work. To begin with, Freke and Gandy in Jesus Mysteries write:
According to the gospels, Jesus is an innocent and just man who, at the instigation of the Jewish high priests, is hauled before the Roman Governor Pilate and condemned to die on spurious charges. Exactly the same mythological motif is found five centuries earlier in Euripides’ play The Bacchae, about Dionysus. Like Jesus in Jerusalem, Dionysus is a quiet stranger with long hair and a beard who brings a new religion. In the gospels, the Jewish high priests don’t believe in Jesus and allege that ‘His teachings are causing disaffections amongst the people.’ They plot to bring about his death. In The Bacchae, King Pentheus is a tyrannical ruler who does not believe in Dionysus. He berates him for bringing ‘this new disease to the land’ and sends out his men to capture the innocent godman …
Like the Jewish high priests who are appalled at Jesus’ blasphemous claim to be the Son of God, King Pentheus rants in anger at stories of Dionysus’ divine parentage … Like Jesus, Dionysus passively allows himself to be caught and imprisoned …
The guard relates the wondrous things he had witnessed Dionysus perform and warns King Pentheus: ‘Master, this man has come here with a load of miracles.’ The king, however, proceeds to interrogate Dionysus who, like Jesus before Pilate, will not bow to his authority. When Pilate reminds Jesus that he has the power to crucify him, Jesus replies, ‘You would have no authority at all over me, had it not been granted you from above.’ Likewise Dionysus answers the threats of Pentheus with: ‘Nothing can touch me that is not ordained.’ Like Jesus, who said of his persecutors, ‘They know not what they are doing,’ Dionysus tells Pentheus, ‘You know not what you are doing, nor what you are saying, nor who you are.’ …
As Jesus is led away to crucifixion, he warns the crowd not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, who will suffer for the crime of his execution (cf. Luke 23 v 28-30) … As he is led away, Dionysus, likewise, threatens divine vengeance. (pp. 45-46)
Before his death, Jesus celebrates a symbolic ‘Last supper’ of bread and wine. . . . In The Bacchae, Euripides calls bread and wine the ‘two powers which are supreme in human affairs,’ the one substantial and preserving the body, the other liquid and intoxicating the mind. The ancients credited the Mystery godman with bringing to humanity the arts of cultivating grain and the vine to produce bread and wine. (p. 48)
As [Joseph Campbell] writes, ‘To drink wine in the rites of Dionysus is to commune with the god and take his power and physical presence into one’s body.’ In the Christian rites of the Eucharist Jesus is said to symbolically become the wine drunk by the participant in the ritual. Likewise, Euripides tells us that Dionysus becomes the wine and is himself ‘poured out’ as an offering. In some vase representations, bread and wine are shown before the idol of Dionysus. Just as in the Eucharist a Christian is given ‘redemption’ in the symbolic form of a wafer biscuit, in the Mysteries of Dionysus the initiate was presented with makaria (‘blessedness’) in the form of a cake. (p. 50)
In Euripides’ The Bacchae, King Pentheus tries to insult Dionysus by describing him as ‘the god who frees his worshipers from every law [cf. St. Paul],’ but Dionysus replies, ‘Your insult to Dionysus is a compliment.’ (p. 107)
A Letter To Philip explains that although from the time of the incarnation Jesus suffered, yet he suffered as one who was ‘a stanger to this suffering.’ This teaches that the incarnate Higher Self (represented by Jesus) seems to suffer when the eidolon suffers, but in reality is always the untouched witness. In The Acts of John Jesus explains
‘You heard that I suffered, but I suffered not.
An unsuffering one was I, yet suffered.
One pierced was I, yet I was not abused.
One hanged was I, yet not hanged.
Blood flowed from me, yet did not flow.’ … (p. 119)
Five hundred years previously Euripides portrayed King Pentheus as binding Dionysus, while actually he was not. As Dionysus says: …
‘He thought he was binding me; But he neither held nor touched me, save in his deluded mind.’ (p. 120)
.We also find striking parallels to ‘The Bacchae’ indicated in Robert Price’s article New Testament Narrative As Old Testament Midrash (2004). In terms of Dionysus in general, we read from Price
Water into Wine (John 2:1-11)
Though the central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus, the basic outline of the story owes much to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 LXX. The widow of Zarephath, whose son has just died, upbraids the prophet: “What have I to do with you, O man of God?” (Ti emoi kai soi, 17:18). John has transferred this brusque address to the mouth of Jesus, rebuking his mother (2:4, Ti emoi kai soi, gunai). Jesus and Elijah both tell people in need of provisions to take empty pitchers (udria in 1 Kings 17:12, udriai in John 2:6-7), from which sustenance miraculously emerges. And just as this feat causes the woman to declare her faith in Elijah (“I know that you are a man of God,” v. 24), so does Jesus’ wine miracle cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11).
In terms of The Bacchae, Price writes
Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4ff)
The whole scene comes, obviously, from the descent of the Mosaic spirit upon the seventy elders in Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25, with an assist from Euripides’ The Bacchae, where we read “Flames flickered in their curls and did not burn them” (757-758), just as tongues of fire blazed harmlessly above the heads of the apostles (Acts 2:3). Ecstatic speech caused some bystanders to question the sobriety of the disciples, but Peter defends them (“These are not drunk as you suppose” Acts 2:15a), as does Pentheus’ messenger: “Not, as you think, drunk with wine” (686-687).
Paul’s Conversion (Acts 9:1-21)
As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does.
Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi, Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness… After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).
So, some have concluded that the noble lie of Cadmus in the Bacchae of Euripides may have influenced the miracle stories about Jesus.
What is a secular person to think when encountering the myriad of miracle stories in the New Testament except that they were lies to sell Jesus’ ethical philosophy? The secular person doesn’t believe in miracles, so what are they to think?
Do you have any ideas about the issues raised here?
****************I HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS BLOG POST !