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Pagan Origins Hablo Greek-o
Ancient Judaism

Backgrounds of Early Christianity
by Everett Ferguson

An outstanding book to start with.

What you'll find:

A powerful introduction to the background of Christian-Pagan borrowing, the ancient Pagan (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc), Jewish, and early Christian political and religious culture and history.

A treasure: an unusually readable, well writtenfun!—book.

If you need a special-purpose book to understand Christianity's Pagan origins, then probably Christianity didn't have Pagan origins.  It does; you don't.  What you really need is a good book describing ancient Pagan culture and religion.  This outstanding, easy to read book is the best I've read.

From Greco-Roman religions (Mithras, Isis, Dionysus, Eleusis, the mystery religions, etc.) and philosophies (monotheism, the soul, life after death, etc.), on through an excellent section on Second Temple Judaism and another on early Christianity, you'll discover the facts and issues behind modern scholarship on Christian origins.

I bought this book on a whim, figuring it would have a relevant section or two;  I ended up reading the thing cover to cover, 600 delightfully clear and well written pages.  But you don't have to read it cover to cover—just pick the section you're interested in.


Bandits Prophets & Messiahs
Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus

by Richard Horsley
Professor of Classics and Religions, U Massachusetts

What you'll find:

a readable history of the popular movements in 1st century Palestine—bandits, prophets and messiahs. Lots of messiahs.






The Scepter and the Star
The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Literature
by John Collins

What you'll find:

A look a ancient Jewish ideas about "the" messiah. There were at least five kinds of messiah. Lots of messiahs.



The New Complete Works of Josephus
translated by William Whiston

What you'll find:

the writings of the 1st century AD Jewish soldier and Quisling Josephus

Jewish Antiquities
The Jewish War
Against Apion

Two brief mentions of Christ—both disputed.




Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora
From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE - 117 CE)

by John M. G. Barclay

What you'll find:

A scholarly but readable look at ancient Judaism around the Mediterranean. Palestinian Judaism was one small part of a much bigger picture.




The Jews Among the Greeks and Romans, A Diasporan Sourcebook
Margaret Williams, Editor

What you'll find:

A systematic look, though ancient sources, at ancient Judaism outside Palestine


The Early History of God
Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel
by Mark S. Smith

Like Christianity, Judaism had Pagan origins. Sound kooky? It's mainstream scholarship, though you don't come across it often. This well written, easy to read book is by one of the preeminent experts in the field.

Jewish ritual and mythology developed directly from Canaanite ritual and mythology. Yahweh was originally the son of the Canaanite God El and brother of the Canaanite God Baal.

How do we know this? Ugarit. In 1927 they dug up a Canaanite clay tablet library buried at Ugarit, an ancient city along the northern coast of Syria. Hundreds of ancient texts. Same myths. Same rituals. Same Gods. Only centuries earlier than Judaism.

Who knew?



The Origins of Biblical Monotheism
Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts

by Mark S. Smith,
Skirball Professor of Bible and Near Eastern Studies, New York University

What you'll find:

A well written and readable book—a real page turner

A highly technical book aimed at Old Testament scholars, tracing the origins of Israelite myth and theology to earlier Canaanite and West Semitic cultures.

Focuses on the texts unearthed at Ugarit.

For example: "[T]he priestly theological treatment of Israel's early religious history in Exodus 6:2-3 identifies the old god El Shadday with Yahweh:

And God said to Moses, "I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as El Shadday, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them."

This passage shows that Yahweh was unknown to the patriarchs. Rather, they are depicted as worshipers of El. In Israel El's characteristics and epithets became part of the repertoire of descriptions of Yahweh. Like El in the Ugaritic texts, Yahweh is described as an aged, patriarchal god ..., enthroned amidst the assembly of divine beings" [pg 141]

It helps to know a bit about Ugarit before you start. Exhaustive, exhausting. Expensive—but worth every penny. HIghly re commented.

The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus and Christianity
by James VenderKam and Peter Flint

What you'll find:

a carefully organized and very readable telling of the archeology, history and religious significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls






The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English
edited by Geza Vermes

What you'll find:

an English translation of all the dead sea scrolls


Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins
Diversity, Continuity, and Transformation
by George Nickelsburg

What you'll find:

A hot shot scholar of intertestamental Jewish writings lays out the ideas popular in Judaism around the time Christianity began. Salvation. Son of Man. Messiah-ism (three versions). End times apocalypses. Etc.

Christianity, says Nickelsburg, got its key theologies from intertestamental Judaism. This evidenced-based analysis should make apologists less happy than you'd think, since

1) It explains Christian ideas as flowing not from Jesus' revelation, but from the local culture.

2.) Pagan Origins wise, it's a distinction without a difference. Christianity got 'em from Judaism. Judaism got 'em from Paganism.



1 Enoch
by George Nickelsburg, and James Vanderkam

What you'll find:

Primary evidence: A hot shot in the field translates and comments on the ancient Jewish text called First Enoch

Enoch is a Jewish godman based on mythic elaboration of old Jewish legends.

SEE! the Jewish godman Enoch called the Son of Man, the Chosen One

SEE! the godman Enoch fly up to heaven and back.

Enoch is a Jewish hero who gets just a line or two in our Old Testament. In intertestamental Judaism his legend was puffed up with new myths that sound right familiar to folks who've read the Bible.

Adds plausibility to the theory that the Jesus stories are mythic elaborations of old Jewish legends (Isaiah).



Ugarit and the Old Testament (1983)
by Peter Craigie
Professor of Religious Studies and Dean of Humanities at the University of Calgary, Alberta

A nice little (110 page) general-audience introduction to Ugarit (modern Ras Shamara in Syrian), where clay tablets discovered in 1929 revealed a pre-Israelite Semitic civilization with gods and myths similar to, but earlier than, Old Testament gods and myths.

If you can find it cheap, read this before you read Smith's Origins of Biblical Monotheism.

Like most books about Ugarit, this one is out of print but often available used at It's not worth the ridiculously high price ($70 last I looked) they usually ask there. I got mine for $7 at ebay.


Old Testament Parallels
Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East
by Victor Matthews & Don Benjamin

What you'll find:

350 pages of ancient Near Eastern texts whose myths parallel and precede our bible's Old Testament stories.

There are lots of books like this to choose from. This is one of the clearest, most readable, and most comprehensive.

Highly recommended.


Ancient Near East, Volume 1:
An Anthology of Texts and Pictures
Edited by James Pritchard

The Ancient Near East, Volume II)
A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Paperback)
Edited by James Pritchard

Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. With Supplement
Edited by James Bennett

Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement
Edited by James Bennett Pritchard ISBN: 0-691-03503-2

What you'll find:

Egyptian, Syrian, Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian texts relevant to our Old Testament -- because of the clear parallels.

Primary evidence, with marginal notations referring you to the verses in the Bible that later expressed the same ideas.

A famous scholarly work, accessible to laymen.



What other people think about POCM


I've been meaning to write to you for a several months to tell you how much I enjoy your web site. However my fear of seeing my email listed on your feedback page with all my spelling errors highlighted in red and an image of a dunce cap next to it has kept me at bay. Today though I'm confident my email spill chucker won't let me down.

Last year around this time I began researching old European Christmas customs on the internet and stumbled onto a page which compared Mithras and Jesus. I found the parallels intriguing and have been researching Christianity's pagan origins ever since. Your web page has made my study so much easier. I appreciate the methodical, well structured argument you laid out on your web page, but it's your Good Books section that has been the most helpful. In the last few months I've read Shorto's Gospel Truth, most of Price's Deconstructing Jesus, and sections of Koester's Introduction to the New Testament Volume 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity. Amazon just emailed me that Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity is on its way. It looks like I'll have lots of good reading material this winter.