It is not uncommon for critics (especially atheists) of Christianity to compare Jesus to Apollonius who lived from 15 – 100 AD. They will sometimes say that the gospel authors copied from the story of Apollonius, hence the core events in Christianity are not original. Others will assert that Apollonius also performed miracles and rose from the dead. So, we shall review whether or not this provides a defeater of Jesus, as Christians see him. There are several points that can be made in response.
Firstly, our textual evidence for Apollonius was written long after he lived by a Greek sophist named Philostratus, Philostratus lived from 170 to 245 A.D. This results in a significant time gap between the life of Apollonius and when the details were written down. When compared to our historical documents for Jesus, Jesus is evidently superior. We have roughly +/- 12 authors who wrote on Jesus all within 60 to 65 years of his life, and as early as 20 years afterward (1 Thessalonians). Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians houses a creed that is dated, by even the most skeptical historians, to within five years of Jesus’ death. We also have significant extra-biblical sources from other unsympathetic ancient writers that reference certain events in Jesus’ life (Josephus Flavius & Cornelius Tacitus are our most important sources, however there are several others). We also have pre-New Testament hypothetical sources that often pre-date our synoptic gospels, such as our pre-Markan Passion Narrative, Q, L, M, and John’s Signs Gospel. Just a brief surface analysis shows that our textual evidence is far more comprehensive and sufficient for Jesus.
Secondly, Philostratus is our only source for the accounts of Apollonius, whereas the New Testament consists of multiple documents (as noted above). This is significant as it means that there is no verification for Apollonius other than the single writing of Philostratus, whereas we can put our gospel & New Testament sources against one another, as well as other historical documents from Flavius, Tacitus, and others. Again, this allows us to have more confidence in our information on Jesus than that of Apollonius. Furthermore, the miracle status of Jesus is heavily embedded in our gospel, Pauline, hypothetical, and extra-biblical sources (Josephus Flavius). This has helped scholars, as in the case of the critical Bart Ehrman, to conclude: “Whatever you think about the philosophical possibility of miracles of healing, it’s clear that Jesus was widely reputed to have done them”. This cannot be boasted for Apollonius.
Thirdly, Philostratus was commissioned by an empress to write a biography of Apollonius in order to dedicate a temple to him. This means that there was a motive for Philostratus to embellish the accounts in order to satisfy the requirement of the empress. This is not to say that the gospel authors never had theological motives, but the majority of historical and New Testament scholars agree that their genre is of ancient Greco-Roman biography. This is because, despite theological motives, the gospel authors wished to write history and detail events of Jesus’ life, as New Testament scholar Craig Keener notes: “Most Gospel scholars today-not all, but most-see the Gospels as biographies”.
Fourthly, because this text by Philostratus was probably written between the years 200 and 220, it comes long after our New Testament sources (our latest source Revelation was written by 95 AD, 65 years after Jesus’ life) by approximately over 100 years! This would provide a defeater of the skeptic’s claim that the gospel authors copied, and attributed characteristics from Apollonius to Jesus. If anyone did copy it would have been Philostratus attributing characteristics of Jesus to Apollonius.
I think for these several reasons this challenge doesn’t carry through to its conclusion.
- Dzielska, M. 1986. Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History. p. 30–38.
- Ludemann, G. 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology.
- Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 199.
- Stanton, G. 2004. Jesus and Gospel. p. 192.
- Apologetics 315. 2012. Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
- Early Christian Writings. Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus. Available.
Original article: Jesus vs. Apollonius
You can’t blame the Children of Darkness for trying?
Or maybe we can.