If you don't remember, James McGrath and I had been debating the historicity of Jesus Christ.
Anyway, here is my response to one of his latest comments (his comments are in italics):
I have to be honest, I think that the parallels you point to are a slim basis for concluding that Jesus was a purely invented figure. Were the birth narratives invented? Sure. But it wasn't just mythical figures that had such stories made up about them (one thinks, for instance, of Alexander the Great).
I think I need to be a little more clear about my position on the pagan parallels: Pagan parallels don't mean that Jesus was definitely a myth, but, so long as there is no corroborating evidence for Jesus, it does place the burden of proof on the one who claims Jesus was a real person. If we have no need to posit a historical Jesus, and if he's cut from the same cloth as other mythical characters, it makes sense to presume he is just as mythical as Heracles or Dionysus unless there is a good reason to think otherwise. Still, there very well could have been a Jesus who had these stories (surviving death as an infant) grafted on to him, but, as I said before, we don't need that hypothesis. No one ever posits that Dionysus was a real person whose legend became drenched in myth over time.
Descending into Hades was presumably something most people who died were thought to have done, and so once again an examination of the details doesn't demonstrate direct borrowing. Indeed, in many instances you seem to be guilty of what Samuel Sandmel famously dubbed "parallelomania". Religions regularly come up with similar ideas, perhaps for reasons rooted in the human psyche, but often we find similarities even where direct borrowing is unlikely, if not indeed impossible.I'm just curious whether you think that the story of Moses borrowed from the story of Romulus, or vice versa, given the similarities one finds there as well.
Descending into Hades was something that most people who died were thought to have done. Exactly. This was a part of the zeitgeist of the time and culture, just as I believe that many of the other parallels were.
Now, as for the parallels: They may be due to influence/borrowing, or from some common feature of the human psyche. But I don't think this helps your case: If Jesus looks exactly like the type of Saviour God a human being would invent, that hurts your case! Let's go back to the criterion of embarrassment: You are arguing that a crucified messiah (or Savior/Son of God) would be unlikely to be invented by human beings because crucifixion was embarrassing and shameful. But the ancient Sumerians worshipped a goddess named Inanna who was said to have been stripped naked, killed, and hung from a hook for three days. Who would argue that this event was historical? It obviously wasn't (it took place in the underworld). Perhaps there is something about the human psyche which desires a humiliated god to worship. In that the case the crucifixion does not mean that Jesus must have been historical.
I believe Dr. McGrath agrees with me that Jesus was viewed in a way similar to the way in which other Savior figures were viewed. Jesus filled a void inside of his followers similar to the void filled by the followers of other savior deities. This is why we see the similarities we do between the birth narratives and such: Jesus played the same role that the other pagan gods played in the minds of their followers.
I'm going to close with some questions for Dr. McGrath: Do you agree with me that Inanna's death was humiliating, and, if so, do you think that this refutes your argument that the crucifixion was too shameful to have been an invention?
P.S. On the similarities between Romulus and Moses: I think its likely that both stories share a "common ancestor" - Both stories are influenced by a much older story (or maybe even heavily modified versions of the same story).