The Christ Conspiracy, Chapters 1-8: A Summary
Looking at details in the manner I have done may give off the impression that I fail to see the greater argument. Therefore, I will here present a summary of the arguments presented by the first seven chapters of the Christ Conspiracy.
The Introduction is a clear statement of intent. She does take a simplistic view of religion at this point:
Although many people believe religion to be a good and necessary thing, no ideology is more divisive than religions, which rends humanity in a number of ways through extreme racism, sexism and even speciesism. Religion, in fact, is dependent on division, because it requires an enemy, whether it be earthly or in another dimension. ... The result is that, over the centuries, humankind has become utterly divided among itself and disconnected from nature and life around it, such that it stands on the verge of chaos.
I suspect a more even-handed comparative study of a sufficient sample of religions would find this to be too strong a generalization, although it does seem fairly accurate for some of the major religions of the world. Minority religions live under a different set of environmental pressures, which selects for different traits to evolve over time.
What the verge of chaos is that she talks of I have a hard time imagining, considering that bloodshed between humans is at an all-time low, and pretty much every century has been an all-time low compared to the previous century for the last thousand years or so. (See, for instance, Stephen Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature for an intriguing perspective on this issue.) To the extent we stand at the verge of chaos, it results from unimpeded increase of the consumption of resources, more so than from religious conflict. Whether religion is a driving force in increasing consumption is not a question I will get deeper into.
With what seems to be some slight exaggeration, the first chapter does sum up rather well that religions have caused a lot of destruction. From a point of view that purely looks at the logic of the argument, this does not, of course, help establish that there is no historical evemeric Jesus behind the NT narratives.
The second chapter points out problems with the quest for the Historical Jesus, although I find her criticism of historical-Jesus research somewhat too strong; her own approach suffers from much the same drawbacks as does the historical-Jesus research, viz. researchers tend to find exactly that which they are looking for.
Chapter three, The Holy Forgery Mill, presents some practices of early Christianity when it comes to writing new scripture, editing scripture, etc. For a religious Christian, the claims made here about forgery and so on would probably feel rather offensive, downright, but for atheists and other non-Christians, it is not shocking or much of a surprise. For non-Christians, she is kicking in open doors.
Some minor details seem unjustified though, and would require some kind of credible source. There is a tendency in her books that minor details grow in importance later on, and once the reader has accepted them at face value, they will be used to prop up rather major details. A minor mistake is acceptable when it is but a minor mistake, it no longer is acceptable when it is part of a major claim.
Chapter four goes on to describe the new testament sources for the life of Jesus, and points out problems with them. Why she keeps talking about the process of canonization of the New Testament is relevant to the value of the books in it. The fact that the Old Testament canons of the Protestant and Catholic churches differ is also pointed out as though it were somehow a problem for the New Testament's value - which it clearly is not. She makes a big point out of New Testaments in different churches having the books in different orders, as if that is somehow relevant - does presenting two volumes with the same papers in different orders invalidate the content of the papers? By the logic of Acharya's screed, yes.
There are more weird things - some kind of elitist stance where words like "dregs of society" are used to designate early Christian groups, for instance. Why them being the dregs of society is relevant is never quite explained. This kind of dismissiveness really does not contribute to the actual argument.
The basic argument of chapter four can be found in other works, with much more convincing sources and arguments presented, and way less in ways of emotional plead and exaggerations. She does present some good things, some of which she also contradicts later on or ignores when convenient.
Chapter five looks into non-biblical sources. The problems she points out with the various historians of antiquity that directly or indirectly mention Jesus are correct - their value is overestimated by those who argue in favor of them being evidence for a historical Jesus. What is weird, though, is she occasionally beats a dead horse: first she claims the relevant passage is a later fabrication, but the entire work is also probably a fabrication. She also presents problems with the text - demonstrating that it is unlikely it refers to Jesus and Christianity in the first place, then going on to claim the entire text is a fabrication in the first place. Why would Christians go to the length of fabricating a text about Jesus, and then do it so half-assedly that it cannot even refer to Jesus? Somewhere, there's an odd problem in here:
Christian defenders also like to hold up as evidence of their godman the minuscule and possibly interpolated passage from the ROman historian Suetonius referring to someone named "Chrestus" or "Chrestos" at Rome. Obviously, Christ was not alleged to have been at Rome, so this passage is not applicable to him. Furthermore, while some have speculated that there was a Roman man of that name at that time, the title "Chrestus" or "Chrestos," meaning "good" and "useful," was frequently held by freed salves, among others, including various gods.[1, ch 4]
Why do we have to assume it is interpolated if we already know it cannot be about Jesus? She seems to be so used to thinking of things as interpolations and fabrications that even if it being genuine does not help her opponents, she'll go for accusing of fabrication anyway. I guess constant accusation is the way to go.
Regarding the Talmudic data-points, she provides the following explanation:
Of the Pandira/Pandera story, Larson states, "Throughout the middle ages, the legend of Pandera and Yeshu, considered by most scholars a Jewish invention, continued to persist." This Jewish invention may have been created in order to capitulate to the Christian authorities, who were persecuting "unbelievers." Thus we find the tale in the Talmud, written after the Christ myth already existed.
Yet we find more of it in the Talmud Bavli, written in a country where the authorities were Zoroastrian, than we find in the Talmud Yerushalmi, written in a country under Roman Christian rule. We find hints of it in the Tosefta and Mishna, written during times when Christians had no official power, and the rabbinate were quite willing to oppose Christianity.
I assume Larson refers to the Toldot Yeshu narratives, a bunch of parodies, essentially, of the gospels, which were common in some parts of Judaism of the time. These accuse Jesus of being a magician, who had learned his craft in Egypt. He is presented as a villain. The Toldot Yeshu narratives are an interesting glimpse into Jewish reactions to Christian claims, but it can be agreed they are no evidence of the existence of an historical Jesus. Why Christian authorities would pressure Jews into making up such narratives is quite contrary to reason, but fits the usual accusatory tone of Acharya's works.
I will agree with the final clause, though:
As it is said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"; yet, no proof of any kind for the historicity of Jesus has ever existed or is forthcoming.
Indeed, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Further on in the book, Acharya will make extraordinary claims without offering extraordinary evidence. The least extraordinary claim that can be made in regard to the origin of Christianity is the evemerist stance - ordinary humans introduced extraordinary stories and ideas onto less significant and way less* magical events of their day.
* by 'way less', I of course mean 'not at all'.
Chapter six goes by the title "Further Evidence of a Fraud". There may be some quote-mines in it that I currently am investigating, which takes time; I am fairly certain Acharya has not read them in the Latin, as the sources she provides are second- (or third-) hand quotes, which may remove the quoted passages from their context and thus misrepresent the actual intent of the stated bit.
She further assumes Trypho of Dialogue with Trypho to have been an actual person. Most scholars disagree with this, but even so, the statements of Trypho are given a rather absolute interpretation even then; the phrasing he uses may just as well be construed rather naturally to signify his disbelief that the claimed Messiah, Jesus, was the real deal. The stance Trypho does adopt is one of a pre-existing Messiah that will be sent to earth at some point. Such a stance does pop up in Judaism from time to time, but this is not per se evidence that Trypho ever uttered this particular argument, or even existed. He may as well be a literary construct which was made up so as to provide a single voice for various Jewish objections to Christianity.
The content of Dialogue with Trypho more generally fits such an interpretation. More on that later, though.
After that, the chapter investigates Gnosticism a bit, rightly rejects the relics as evidence regarding the existence of Jesus, and finally goes on to state that the Old Testament exaggerates the history of the Jewish people - a claim that indeed is correct, but she uses terribly shoddy evidence for it, and evidence that further contradicts other evidence provided in the same book - viz. yet another etymology for the name Solomon.
Chapter eight, finally, deals with the evolution of Israelite monotheism, and again, it gets the large picture fairly right, although some of the arguments seem rather exaggerated and in need of substantiation. I have one particular favorite, which I will discuss in greater detail later. She argues that Yahweh is a Volcano-god, which is reasonable, I guess, but with arguments such as these, who can take the argumentation seriously:
Furthermore, a representation of the Jewish "Feast of the giving of the law" has an image of an erupting volcano - Mt. Sinai - with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments above it. As Jordan Maxwell points out, the benediction or blessing sign of the Feast is the same as the split-fingered, "live long and prosper" salutation of the Vulcan character Spock on "Star Trek." Vulcan, of course, is the same word as volcano and the Roman god Vulcan was also a lightning and volcano god.[1, ch. 8, subheading "Yahweh"]
This far, the argumentation generally defends rather reasonable stances. The main conclusions are actually fairly valid to a point, even if the evidence presented in their favour at times is of rather questionable quality. Of course, not all the evidence is bad, but one could hope that she would reduce the number of 19th century theosophists, the third-hand quotations of church fathers, the use of paranoid conspiracy lunatics like Jordan Maxwell and so on.
* By this, I do not mean that we should believe what they say as such. I am convinced there is a lot of exaggerations and fabrications in it.
Acharya S/D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy