Flashcards in Apollonius Syncretism With Jesus Deck (3)
Apollonius. Pronounced: Apple loan E us
More Famous Than Jesus: Apollonius of Tyana
Often Called “the Greek Jesus,” Philosopher and Magician Apollonius Achieved More Fame Than Christ.
When we think of Jesus, we cannot avoid extrapolating his current fame to the ancient times. However, Jesus was far from being the most famous divine savior in late Antiquity, during early Christianity. He had a tough rival, much more popular than him: Apollonius of Tyana.
Apollonius was a Greek, celibate, and ascetic philosopher born around the year 3 BC in Tyana — what was then known as Cappadocia, and today as Turkey. Apollonius was a contemporary of Jesus. He was, in fact, his Pagan counterpart and rival. Jesus was issued from a small and stigmatized Eastern religion: Judaism. Apollonius was a member of the Neopythagoreans, a Greek Pagan philosophical sect well versed in the mystical and magic side of mathematics and geometry. Like Jesus, all we know about Apollonius comes from highly laudatory narratives — and highly fictionalized, according to scholars. Apollonius writings have not survived. Scholars have no doubts that Apollonius existed.
When studying foundational spiritual figures, we need to be able to separate the historical fact from the narrative. Jesus, Krishna and Buddha follow the same pattern. Historical facts are important, but they may not be that relevant when depicting this type of ascetic and wise figures. Scholar Joseph Campbell acknowledges that religious figures do not need facts in order to validate the message they are embodying.
As great religious teachers, the respective following crowds of Jesus and Apollonius professed an intense hatred to each other. Jesus followers in late Antiquity, like early Christian authors Eusebius, Lactantius, Augustine and John Chrysostom, depicted Apollonius as a satanic sorcerer full of deception and evil powers. On the other side, Pagans used Apollonius to diminish the stature of Jesus as savior and wonder-worker. The divide between Apollonius and Jesus resumed when the Neopythagorean sage was used to attack Christianity and the Church starting the 17th century. Hence, Apollonius has consistently been used as an alternative to Christ in history.
We should not be surprised about all these parallels between Jesus and Apollonius: they are specular figures.
The opposition between Jesus and Apollonius was not only restricted to their followers. In fact, Jesus and Apollonius held very different theological views. Even though both advanced wisdom and healed through miracles, their faith was quite opposed. In the Gospels, Jesus preaches the Kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of God, calls for repentance, conversion and return to the Father. According to Philostratus, Apollonius preaches a rather different God — a God unmoved by prayers, sacrifices or any kind of worship. While Apollonius does not deny the existence of many gods, he presents a One God. Apollonius’ God does not interfere in human affairs, and actually men can only access God through the nous — the intellect. This is a very Greek concept. The nous is one of the cornerstones of Western philosophy and rationalism. Because God is pure intellect, only the human intellect can attain God — nothing else. The God of Jesus is a personal God, creator and savior, heavily involved in human affairs; while the God of Apollonius is the God of philosophy and reason. It is also the opposition of a God of faith to a God of wisdom.
We should not be surprised about all these parallels between Jesus and Apollonius. They have an Eastern origin. They had miraculous births. They had a wandering preaching ministry. They gave precedence to the spiritual over the material. They performed miracles, healed the sick, fought demons and raised the dead. They had troubles with the authorities. Finally, their bodies ascended to heaven and were divinized by their followers. Even their iconography depicts both men bearded with long hair and simple robes. To sum up, both figures come from the same substratum. They are playing with similar myth and religious material. The material is combined and rearranged in order to produce the right narrative. This does not mean that Apollonius and Jesus did not exist. This idea is crucial and worth reiterating: existence is an aspect wholly irrelevant to the function and purpose of religious figures. Their existence as great influential teachers is, perhaps, the only true historical fact that we can attest. The rest is the product of creative religious plasticity and recombination — what is called syncretism.