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Against the Christians

The Rise of Early Anti-Christian Polemic- Second Printing


Jeffrey W. Hargis

Against the Christians examines the anti-Christian polemic works of Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. The first book to analyze the phenomenon of early anti-Christian literature in depth, it chooses the critics' objection to Christian exclusivism as its starting point. The evolution in the polemic, from a rhetoric of radical distinction to one of «rhetorical assimilation,» reveals a sophisticated attempt to expose contradictions and inconsistencies within Christianity, while at the same time reflecting the process of fusion between Christianity and the culture of late antiquity.


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3. Celsus, Plato, and the Gods 41


3 Celsus, Plato, and the Gods One of the observations frequently made in the study of early Chris- tianity is the wealth of syncretism between Christianity and pagan religion and culture. Naturally, Christianity "borrowed" greatly from its Greek and Roman surroundings, not a surprising observation given their common religious genetics. The ubiquitous presence of the gods gradually metamorphosed into the shrines of the saints; aspects of pagan religious art and the prophetic tradition were trans- formed for Christian use.l Only a short step was required, for example, for the third-century Egyptians who compiled the Her- metic writings (or, more accurately, their intellectual successors) to embrace Christianity: The Hermetist, when he became a Christian, would not have so very much to unlearn. . . . He had been accustomed to aspire towards union with God, and to hold that "to hate one's body" is the first step on the way to the fulfilment of that aspiration; and when we come upon him, a little later on, transformed into a Christian hermit in the Egyptian desert, we find that he is still of the same opinion.2 While most scholars observe the influence of paganism upon Chris- tianity, a few have noted that "influence" was a two-way street, and that Christianity may have had at least as great an impact upon late paganism as the other way around.3 In any event, these observations are made largely by contempo- rary scholars. Occasionally, however, ancient commentators also noticed such parallels between Christianity and paganism. Celsus is a case...

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