“Miracles and wonders have indeed occurred everywhere and in all times.” — Celsus
In modern discussions of miracles, the conversation tends to focus on the plausibility vs implausibility of the occurrence of miracles. This is an unnecessarily high standard for the religious critique to meet. Every historical culture possesses supernatural claims, ideas of the divine, and stories of miraculous events. If one were to use miracles as evidence of the veracity of their belief system, they must demonstrate how those miracles are different in nature than those purported by competing religions. Therefore, the critique does not need to prove that miracles are implausible, they only need to demonstrate that the miracles claimed by a specific religion are no more plausible than another. For if equally plausible events occurred in different religions, and each claims miracles can only occur with the help of their one true divinity, then there is no logical justification to basing belief on miraculous claims.
The claim is thus that even if one gives credence to the historicity of miracles, it does nothing to prove Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ claims were in line with his contemporaries, weren’t unique, and were no more reliable than his opponents, in virtually every aspect. All religious figures prophesied and performed miracles, and many resurrected others or were born of virgins. Each section of Jesus’ miracles will be investigated for their lack of uniqueness.
Immediately, there are many curiosities surrounding the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin. First, the earliest gospel, the gospel of Mark, says nothing of the virgin birth. If the virgin birth was a theologically consequential event, it is doubtful it would be forgotten by those documenting Jesus’ life. The only gospel that references the virgin birth as a scripturally meaningful event is Matthew, where the gospel author claims Jesus’ virgin birth fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 [Matthew 1:22-23]. However, the Jewish text does not even mention the woman being a virgin [Isaiah 7:14 fn], nor does Isaiah claim a god would be born of a virgin, and the text was not understood to be Messianic, but “to reassure Ahaz that he need not fear the invading armies of Syria and Israel in the light of God’s promise to David” [Isaiah 7:14 fn]. Even if incorrectly interpreted as a Messianic prophecy, it still says nothing of Jesus’ divinity, since the Jews had no expectation that the Messiah would be a god.
Beyond the scriptural lack of necessity of a virgin birth, there are logical curiosities with the virgin birth in relation to credal Trinitarianism. Principally, “if God wanted to send down a spirit from himself, why did he have to breathe into the womb of a woman?” [Celsus, 105]. God the Father made non-divine men without birth [Genesis 1:27], so why would God require Himself to be birthed? If Jesus’ purpose was to live as an example to men, then why was he not born by natural means?
Given the Virgin birth is entirely unnecessary doctrine in regards to prophetic fulfillment, bears no requirement through reason, and is not mentioned in the earliest gospel, it is likely a theological development intended to defend Jesus against rumors of his unscrupulous heritage. Plausible physical explanation circulated about Miriam [Mary] in which Jesus was the illicit child of her affair, or raping, at the hands of a Roman soldier named Panthera. The gospels themselves record Joseph as being suspicious of her affair, before an angel tells him otherwise in a dream [Matthew 1:19-20].
It is true that dreams were often catalogued as divinely inspired throughout the canonical Bible, but they are also warned as unreliable, such as in Sirach: “Divinations, omens, and dreams are unreal; what you already expect, the mind fantasizes. Unless they are specially sent by the Most High, do not fix your heart on them. For dreams have led many astray, and those who put their hope in them have perished” [Sirach 34:5-7] and Jeremiah: “I have heard the prophets who prophesy lies in my name say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” [Jeremiah 23:25] and “do not listen to those among you who dream dreams, for they prophesy lies to you in my name, I did not send them” [Jeremiah 29:8-9].
Some of the earliest Christians believed Jesus was born naturally, such as Carpocrates who claimed “Jesus was the son of Joseph, and was just like other men [born naturally]” [Against Heresies, 56-57]. Even if Jesus was born of a virgin, the important point is that virgin birth stories were precedented, and not unique or remarkable for the time, such as the stories of Auge and Danae [Celsus, 57]. The Roman emperor Domitian was also said to have been the son of a god and eternal virgin, Athena [Philostratus II, 217].
The virgin birth is not Messianic prophecy, wouldn’t indicate divinity even if it was, isn’t recorded in the earliest gospel, is logically unnecessary for God to be incarnate, and was precedented by other faiths.
Jesus is said to have resurrected others and was resurrected himself. Jesus’ personal resurrection is often cited as the vindication of his divinity in the face of his execution disproving his authenticity according to Jewish law [Craig]. These claims are problematic. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, yet that says nothing of Lazarus’ divinity. Since Jesus is the one who raised him, perhaps that adds to the claims of Jesus’ divinity? This is incorrect for two reasons. First, Jesus raises Lazarus after praying that the Father will hear him [John 11:41-42], so Jesus does not resurrect Lazarus by his own power. Second, Jesus also did not raise himself, it was “God the Father who raised him from the dead” [Galatians 1:1]. Even in verses which indicate Jesus played a part in the resurrection, Jesus clarifies that the ability was “received from my Father” [John 10:18].
The Church Fathers also recognized the Father’s responsibility for the resurrection, as St. Ignatius wrote, Jesus “was truly raised from the dead when his Father raised Him up” [Jurgens, 21]. So if Lazarus’ resurrection would attest to the power of the resurrector [the Father], so too should Jesus’ resurrection attest only to the power of the resurrector, which is also the Father. If you say that the Father’s raising up of Jesus was Divine attestation of Jesus’ Godly claims, then why is the Father’s raising of Elijah not attestation to all of Elijah’s actions? For no one makes the argument that Elijah was sinless or God attested to his sins or mistakes by heavenly entry. Why is Jesus’ raising of Lazarus not attesting to the life and claims of Lazarus? Why is the medium conjuring Samuel not attesting to all the claims of Samuel; for did she not refer to him as a god [1 Samuel 28:14]? By what power did the medium even conjure him? For it was forbidden to practice as a medium, so it could not have been through holy rites [Leviticus 20:6; 2 Kings 23:24].
The idea that Jesus resurrected with his body and appeared in human form is evidenced by Jesus’ consuming fish with the disciples during his appearance [Luke 24:40-43]. Though a divine spirit could likely consume food if it chose to, Jesus clarifies “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” [Luke 24:39]. This idea of resurrecting back to human life was common for the time period and for Judaism in general. King Herod believed Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected [Mark 6:16] and John had his own cult of followers who worshipped him as the Messiah. During the crucifixion of Jesus, “tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many” [Matthew 27:52-53].
The disciples originally doubted Jesus’ resurrection during Jesus’ appearances as “when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her [Mary Magdalene], they did not believe” [Mark 16:11]. The gospel of Matthew never specifies their doubt was quelled as the last chapter states, “the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” [Matthew 28:16-17]. Why would the disciples doubt if Jesus predicted it and told them ahead of time he would resurrect? The obvious answer is that Jesus did not predict his resurrection and it was written later to justify their emerging theology. Even the staunchest apologists acknowledge this possibility, “Most critics think that these predictions were written back into the life of Jesus during the post-resurrection period. In other words, they’re not taken to be authentic sayings of the historical Jesus, but retrojections of the theology of the early church, which had come to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead” [Craig].
Many Christians outside Jesus conducted resurrections. The Apostle Peter resurrected a dead woman in Acts 9:40. Non-Apostolic resurrections were reportedly common, as Irenaeus says that they were “frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity” [Against Heresies, 132]. The power to resurrect is therefore not limited to Jesus, demonstrating that the power to resurrect is not unique even in Christianity and not proof of divinity. One must openly ponder that if the Church was frequently resurrecting people in the late 2nd century, why the resurrections have mysteriously stopped in modernity.
Resurrection was also not a unique belief to Jews or Christians. In ancient Egypt, the “Egyptians regarded Amon-Re, the personification of the sun, as their chief deity. They believed that Amon-Re in his rising in the east symbolized new life and resurrection” [Against the Gods, 106] and “the Pharaohs of Egypt desired to be identified with Osiris because they were then assured of attaining the resurrection” [Against the Gods, 116]. Eventually, in the New Kingdom, any Egyptian could be resurrected with Osiris “if they followed the correct religious rituals” [Krauss]. In Greek mythology, Pythagoras supposedly spent 207 years in Hades before he “returned to the land of the living” [Laertius, Book 8, Chapter 1, section 14]. Pythagoras also had 300 devoted followers and he was able to retain memories of past lives [Laertius, Book 8, Chapter 1, section 3]. “It is said that Zamolxis, Pythagoras’ servant, convinced the Scythians that he had risen from the dead” [Celsus, 67]. And “what about Orpheus among the Odrysians, Protesilaus in Thessaly, and above all Herakles and Theseus?” [Celsus, 67]. While Herakles [Hercules] descended into Hades for his twelve labors, Theseus and Persephone “stretched out their hands as if they should be raised from the dead by his might. And Theseus, indeed, he took by the hand and raised up” [Apollodorus, The Library 2, 2.5.12].
While Jesus is said to have resurrected people, he did not do it by his own power, but by the Father’s. His followers also resurrected people, as did Church members hundreds of years later, as did Egyptian and Greek heroes and gods. The tales of resurrection are common in antiquity and attested by numerous faiths. Even if the resurrections were true, it would not be unique to Jesus or differentiate him from the validity of other faiths.
It is widely known that “miracles and wonders have indeed occurred everywhere and in all times” [Celsus, 69]. In the preindustrial world, divinity was the solution for life’s ailments. As professor Dr. Kingsley notes “before the beginnings of what’s known as ‘rational’ medicine in the West, healing always had to do with the divine” [Kingsley, 80]. There was also a lack of differentiation between mysticism and magic, with the two overlapping in appearance and substance. The practitioners of these mystical and magical acts often had aretalogi, who were people set “to embellish the life of his master, to exaggerate his wisdom and his supernatural powers” [Philostratus, x]. As the topic of miracles is extraordinarily broad, this section will emphasize healings, exorcisms, and mighty deeds while expounding on these in later sections.
Jesus’ healings are well-known enough to merely acknowledge, as he purportedly healed the blind, cured lepers, exorcised demons, and multiplied loaves of bread to feed crowds. Beyond miracles in general being abundantly common in the Bronze Age, the specific acts of Jesus were also done by his followers and theological enemies alike, making Jesus’ miracles unremarkable and insignificant.
It is said that cloth which merely touched the Apostle Paul’s skin would heal the sick and expel demons [Acts 19:11-12]. Apparently, these miracles were not enough to convince cities of Paul’s apostolic status. In Corinth, a community which Paul had founded “and continued to look after it as a father”  he was viewed as “not equal to the other apostles and therefore does not enjoy equal privileges” [1 Corinthians 9:4-12 fn]. Paul was also stoned in Lystra and failed to establish a Church in Athens [Acts 15:36 fn]. In the modern era, if we observed magic cloth curing ailments and saving lives, we would be amazed at the power of such material. The fact that people were so unimpressed by Paul, the giver of miracles, attests to the miracles inauthenticity or their commonality and unremarkable nature.
Peter was also a healer, as he cured a paralytic [Acts 3:6]. Like Paul, these miracles were never claimed to be proof of divinity. Supposedly through prayer and divine attestation, the disciples performed miracles, which was no different from Jesus praying to the Father and conducting miracles. The archetype of a healer prophet was so common that it even had a name in Greek, Iatromantis [Kingsley, 108].
The commonality of healing miracles in other religions is incredibly clear. Greek heroes “had power over health and sickness and death. If you approached them the right way they could heal you” [Kingsley, 177]. Epimenides “became famous for his ability to heal whole cities” and possessed knowledge “about the world of the dead and the judgement of the dead” [Kingsley, 102]. An Egyptian tale of a man named Dedi knew “how to reattach a head which has been cut off” [Against the Gods, 123]. In Greece, people would meditate to the gods for healing, and “sometimes the vision or dream would bring them face to face with the god or the goddess or hero, and that was how the healing came about. People were healed like this all the time” [Kingsley, 81].
Exorcisms were also common. Jesus himself acknowledged that Jews had the ability to exorcise [Matthew 12:27] and also remarks that exorcism does not indicate divine approval [Matthew 7:22]. Jesus stating that exorcism does not equate to divinity or even good-standing is sufficient to rest the case of exorcisms, but further notes include 70 disciples commanding demons [Luke 10:17] and Jewish exorcists performing live to Roman emperors [Smith, 109].
Mighty deeds were done not just by Jesus, but by Jewish prophets, Egyptians, Greeks, and practically all other divine figures. Moses parted the Red Sea, caused plagues, set into motion the killing of all first-borns, and freed a race from slavery; all of these were greater feats than Jesus ever displayed, yet no one perceives Moses to be a God. Joshua caused the sun to stand still [Joshua 10:12-13] and Elisha enabled 20 loaves to feed 100 people [2 Kings 4:42]. Outside of Judeo-Christian tradition, Theudas claimed he could divide the Jordan [Smith, 28], “Asclepios did mighty works and foretold the futures of cities that kept his cult—Trikka, Epidaurus, Cos, and Pergamum” [Celsus, 69], Herodutus spoke of men who could turn themselves into wolves [Smith, 95], Apollonius’ disciples could calm storms [Smith, 145], “the magician-king Nectanebo II (c. 360-343 BC) turned wax figures of soldiers and ships into animate force” [Against the Gods, 117], and Djadjaemonkh could part lakes 18 feet deep and search the sea floor [Against the Gods, 125].
Lastly, much is made of Jesus’ claims to divinity, as they are foreign to Messianic Judaism. However, this does not make them unique, and other figures were viewed as god-men. Pythagoreans “knew him [Pythagoras] as a son of Apollo or, quite simply, as Apollo himself” [Kingsley, 157]. This sonship-homoousion claim is of the same type of the description of Jesus’ nature.
The legitimacy of magic in the ancient world is widely attested. The canonical Bible acknowledges the reality of magical powers as it order the Jews to execute sorceresses [Exodus 22:18] and in Exodus, Moses encounters Egyptian magicians who do great feats, such as turning their staff into snakes. The Book of Acts also attests to the presence of Jewish magicians claiming to be prophets [Acts 13:6].
Many Christians and non-canonical Christians believed in magic. Arbatel, a Christian book of magic, claims “satanic magi can have great abilities...This is well documented in stories from antiquity, and examples still occur daily” [Arbatel, 89]. Arbatel also describes how magic can be performed in the name of idols, and attributed them to angels [Arbatel, 75]. Not only is Yahweh is the most quoted authority in the Arbatel [Arabtel, x], He is also the most common deity in the Greek Magical Papyrii [Smith, 94]. Gnostic Christians considered Moses to be a sorcerer himself, having learned his arts in Egypt [Celsus, 136].
Egypt was somewhat of a hub for magicians and “Egyptian documents are loaded with examples of priests and magicians performing extraordinary feats, including changing inanimate objects into animals” [Against the Gods, 29]. Origen claimed the Egyptians used Yahweh in their magical formulae [Celsus, 129] and circumcision is sometimes said to have “came to the Jews from Egypt where the rite is used to produce magical effects” [Celsus, 56]. Critics of Jesus were quick to point out the magical abilities of Egyptian sorcerers, as Celsus writes:
The sorcerers [of Egypt] at least, for a few pence, make their magic available to everyone in the marketplace. They drive away demons, conquer diseases of all kinds, and make the dead heroes of the past appear—indeed sitting at long tables and eating imaginary cakes and dishes...As these men are able to do such wonderful things, ought we not regard them also as sons of God? [Celsus 59-60]
Christian apologists such as Origen conceded that “Jesus’ miracles resembled those of other magicians” [Smith, 114]. This was a frequent accusation against Jesus, and “the charge of practicing magic is made bluntly in Jn. 18.28ff. where Pilate asks, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ and the priests reply, ‘If this fellow were not a ‘doer of evil’ we should not have handed him over to you.’ ‘Doer of evil,’ as the Roman law codes say, was common parlance for ‘magician’” [Smith, 56].
Similar to how Gnostic Christians believed Moses was a sorcerer who learned magic in Egypt, pagans said of Jesus “is it not said that you hired yourself out as a workman in Egypt, learned magical crafts, and gained something of a name for yourself which now you flaunt among your kinsmen?” [Celsus, 57]. Other contemporary prophetic figures such as Simon the Samaritan accused Jesus and the Apostles of practicing magic [Against Heresies, 53].
So how do we determine if Jesus was practicing magic or divination? Divine men were distinguished from magicians by whether the man “did his miracles by his indwelling divine power and therefore did not need rituals or spells” [Smith, 102]. However, recall Mark 9 where the disciples fail to exorcise a demon, and then Jesus successfully does. The disciples ask “why could we not drive it out?” [Mark 9:28] to which Jesus responds “this kind can only come out through prayer” [Mark 9:29]. In Matthew 4, Satan asks Jesus to fulfill Old Testament prophecy by jumping off the temple, but “Jesus refuses to ‘test’ God by demanding from him an extraordinary show of power” [Matthew 4:5-7 fn]. Here again it is demonstrated Jesus cannot act from “his indwelling divine power” but needs to externally appeal to God the Father to save him if he falls.
Then there is the issue that Jesus failed to perform miracles in his hometown; “according to Mark, Jesus’ power could not take effect because of a person’s lack of faith” [Mark 6:5 fn]. This is an astounding admission from the Catholic Church as
This is to be expected of a faith healer [magician] whose power depends to some extent on the patients’ belief in him...No Christian making up a frame for the saying would have invented the report that Jesus could not do miracles when rejected. The report was an embarrassment...its preservation in Christian material means it was something the Christians had to concede. [Smith, 20-21]
Other Christian groups viewed magicians as “one to whom the spiritual essences serve to reveal the knowledge of the whole world and of nature, whether visible or invisible, through divine grace.” [Arbatel, 85]. Jesus does not even sufficiently fit this definition, as there are events he is unaware of [Mark 13:32].
To the credit of some early apologists, such as Lactantius, it was recognized that Jesus’ actions could not be differentiated from those done by contemporary magicians, and Jesus should not be believed in on the basis of miracles:
Therefore, if you have any sense, that Christ was not believed by us to be God on this account, because He did wonderful things, but because we saw that all things were done in His case which were announced to us by the prediction of the prophets. He performed wonderful deeds: we might have supposed Him to be a magician, as you now suppose Him to be, and the Jews then supposed Him, if all the prophets did not with one accord proclaim that Christ would do those very things. Therefore we believe Him to be God, not more from His wonderful deeds and works, than from that very cross which you as dogs lick, since that also was predicted at the same time. It was not therefore on His own testimony (for who can be believed when he speaks concerning himself?), but on the testimony of the prophets who long before foretold all things which He did and suffered, that He gained a belief in His divinity. [Lactantius, Book V, Chapter 3]
There is then the issue that Jesus and the Apostles partook in what could be characterized as black magic, or evil miracles. Early Christians, such as Macarius, argued that Jesus does not demonstrate his power to Satan in Matthew 4:6-7 because “to have acceded to any one of his requests, even when they seemed to accord with prophecy, would have been to obey the power of evil” [Porphyry, 52]. However, in Mark, Jesus literally accedes to a direct request from demons: “they [the demons] pleaded with him, ‘Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.’ And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine” [Mark 5:11-13]. It is hard to conceive how allowing demons to survive and torment the world is a positive act. Jesus also bizarrely curses a fig tree [Mark 11:14], Paul blinds a man [Acts 13:11], and Peter kills a couple with his words because they kept some money from the Apostles after a land sale [Acts 5].
As the quote from Lactantius shows, many Christians believed in Jesus due to prophecy. More recent apologists, like R.C. Sproul, also reference Jesus’ prophetic capabilities as evidence of his divinity. Not every claim of Jesus’ will be evaluated, but Sproul cites the destruction of the Temple as Jesus’ greatest prediction, “He predicts a future event that was absolutely unthinkable to the Jew of that day, to say that that temple with its Herodian stones, which was one of the wonders of the ancient world, would be completely razed” [Sproul]. This is a spurious claim as the destruction Jesus predicted was the second destruction of the Temple. The first Temple was also razed four centuries earlier, on the same date, by the Babylonians [“Destruction of the First Temple”]. Additionally, the Jews always had a shaky relationship with Rome and were actively revolting when the Temple was destroyed [“First Jewish Revolt”]. It is pretty reasonable to assume a fracturing relationship could result in the repeated destruction of the Jew’s sacred building. This is of course assuming Jesus actually made this claim and it was not a retrojection, as previously cited [Craig].
Again, prophetic abilities are not unique, and they were claimed by divine and non-divine men alike. The Roman emperor Julian,
prayed to the gods for a sign. Unsurprisingly he got one from them. Considerably more surprising, it was incredibly specific, referring to the emperor’s death when an uncommon conjunction of stars occurred that autumn: When Zeus had crossed Aquarius’ broad domain, And Cronos reached the five and twentieth day Of Virgo, then Constantius, Asia’s king, Shall end his life in pain and misery. [Murdoch, 87]
Why should Julian’s accurate prophecies be dismissed, but Jesus’ regarded as divine?
Hadrian also received an accurate prophecy: “After dipping a leaf of the laurel into the waters and reading what was written on it, Hadrian had learned that he would become emperor. Soon after taking the throne, he ordered the fountain to be blocked up so that no one else might be tempted to look into the future” [Murdoch, 123]. Entire wars were fought based on prophecy, “the Sibylline oracle had predicted that if Rome housed ‘the most holy statue of the goddess,’ then Hannibal could be beaten...The goddess brought the city luck as promised. The Third Punic War ended with the destruction of Carthage and a huge temple was built” [Murdoch, 115-116].
Josephus, a Jewish historian, claimed the ability to prophecy [Smith, 6]. Socrates was said to have “knew things beforehand” [Philostratus, 7] and was considered divine [Philostratus II, 81]. Anaxagoras foretold many things; he predicted weather, “foretold the fall of the house,—and truly, for it did fall; and of how he said that day would be turned into night, and stones would be discharged from heaven round Aegospotami, and of how his predictions were fulfilled” [Philostratus, 9]. Thales is also said to have had foreknowledge [Philostratus II, 321]. When Paul touched people they prophesied [Acts 19:6].
Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, and mere mortals all proclaimed the ability to prophecy. The Greek Magical Papyri is filled with spells for revelation. Since there are many claims of historically accurate prophecies, there is nothing unique about Jesus’ ability to also do so, if he could.
There is another prophecy that Jesus’ foretold which was also an obvious prediction: that there would be many other false prophets indistinguishable from him. Jesus explicitly said “many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” [Mark 13:6]. This is, above all else, an admission from Jesus that others would appear as convincing to the masses. Indeed, many did come, which was pointed out by apologists such as Macarius: John, Manes, Montanus, Marcion, Dositheus, and many more [Porphyry, 73]. That the presence of false messiahs was supposed to indicate parousia is a point lost on some apologists, and the incorrect predictions of parousia is covered more extensively in a separate essay. Regardless, an amazing amount of holy figures existed before and after Jesus who did everything Jesus did.
Others appeared in the flesh after their death. Just as Jesus’ disciples claimed they saw him after his execution, Greeks and non-Greeks alike reported seeing Asclepios after his death, “not a mere phantom, but Asclepios himself, doing his customary good works and foretelling the future” [Celsus, 71].
Simon of Samaria claimed he “descended in Samaria as the Father” and was “glorified by many as if he were a god” [Irenaeus, 53]. He was accused of using magic to perform miracles, and Simon accused the Apostles and Jesus of doing the same. So convincing were his acts, that it is said Claudius Cæsar honored him with a statue [Irenaeus, 53]. Simon had disciples and “conferred salvation upon men, by making himself known to them...for men are saved through his grace, and not on account of their own righteous actions” [Irenaeus, 53-54]. Simon’s followers continued after his death, and a priesthood formed around the cult, where they successfully practiced “exorcisms and incantations. Love- potions, too, and charms, as well as those beings who are called Paredri (familiars) and Oniropompi (dream-senders), and whatever other curious arts can be had recourse to” [Irenaeus, 54]. By what means could one differentiate Simon from Jesus? Simon also performed miracles, claimed to be the incarnation of the Father, acquired a group of devoted believers, and had a successive priesthood which continued to perform miracles.
Then there was Menander who “was a perfect adept in the practice of magic” and who claimed “he himself is the person who has been sent forth from the presence of the invisible beings as a saviour, for the deliverance of men” [Irenaeus, 54]. It is said “his disciples obtain the resurrection by being baptized into him, and can die no more” [Irenaeus, 54]. This is yet another case of a deliverer sent by God to baptize, save, and resurrect the faithful.
Who can forget the ever convincing Marcus? Marcus was also “a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him, as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above” [Irenaeus, 35]. He performed many miracles, including multiplying wine before his followers eyes [Irenaeus, 35]. Even St. Irenaeus, who was attempting to show Marcus a fraud, acknowledged “he seems able to prophesy, and also enables as many as he counts worthy to be partakers of his Charis themselves to prophesy” [Irenaeus, 35]. Irenaeus also reports his ability to magically attract followers, as well as his disciples doing the same [Irenaeus, 35-36]. Irenaeus quotes a “preacher of the truth,” describing Marcus’ “wonders of power that is utterly severed from God and apostate, Which Satan, your true father, enables you still to accomplish” [Irenaeus, 43]. While Irenaeus disbelieves Marcus, from an objective standpoint, how could you hold Jesus’ claims to be true and Marcus’ to be false? Marcus performed miracles, made claims to divinity, convinced onlookers, prophesized, transferred powers to his disciples, and even his critics attributed his miracles to a form of divination, as Irenaeus referenced Satan as the giver of Marcus’ power.
The followers of Carpocrates:
declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty, maintain that they are superior to his disciples...For their souls, descending from the same sphere as his, and therefore despising in like manner the creators of the world, are deemed worthy of the same power, and again depart to the same place...They practise also magical arts and incantations; philters, also, and love-potions; and have recourse to familiar spirits, dream-sending demons, and other abominations, declaring that they possess power to rule over, even now, the princes and formers of this world; and not only them, but also all things that are in it... [Irenaeus, 57]
One Marcellina, who supposedly adhered to some of these ideas, went to Rome and “led multitudes astray” [Irenaeus, 58].
St. Cyprian records a woman who
was moved by the prompting of the principal demons. For a long time she upset and deceived the brethren, working miracles and portents, and promised that she would cause an earthquake. Not that the power of the demon was so great that he could prevail to shake the earth or disturb the elements; but sometimes a wicked spirit foresees that there will be an earthquake, and so he pretends that he will do what he foresees will soon come to pass. By these lies and boastings he had so tamed the minds of individuals, that they obeyed him and followed wherever he commanded and led. [Aquilina, 186]
Here is another case of a woman who garnered a following through miracles. Cyprian also acknowledges the power of her foreknowledge and attributes it to a demon, meaning foreknowledge is no indicator of Godhead divinity, which is similar to how the prophets foretold the future without assumption of their personal divinity.
Countless other examples include Melicertes, Palaemon, and Pelops who were men “commemorated by the Greeks as Gods” [Philostratus, 301]. Anaxilaus was banned from Rome for his practice of magic. Saturninus claimed to be an angel and had a following in Antioch [Against Heresies, 54]. Brahmans knew all details of peoples’ lives [Philostratus, 263], claimed to “know everything” [Philostratus, 267] and publicly stated “we consider ourselves to be Gods” [Philostratus, 269]. Indian sages had “the gift of foreknowledge...and render themselves visible or invisible at will” [Philostratus, 251-253]. These Indian sages could also levitate at will [Philostratus, 257].
However, together with Marcus and Simon, the most similar figure to Jesus is perhaps Apollonius of Tyana, who was born around the same time as Jesus, but long outlived him [Philostratus, xi]. Apollonius also had a devoted group of disciples who documented his life. Just as Jesus’ followers were said to put on the armor of God [Ephesians 6], Apollonius’ followers metaphorically put on armour and adorned the shield of Apollonius [Philostratus II, 69]. Their texts were compiled together by Philostratus on behalf of a Roman Emperor’s request. This Bible-like book was written with the intent of truth, as Philostratus stated of his narrative, “my interest is not really in mythology” [Philostratus, 43-45]. Philostratus also openly claimed ancient myths, such as those of Prometheus, are “fable” [Philostratus, 123].
Like Jesus, Apollonius’ “birth was attended according to popular tradition with miracles and portents” [Philostratus, xi]. Just as Jesus’ disciples tied Jesus’ ancestry to David, Apollonius’ “family was ancient and directly descended from the first settlers” [Philostratus, 11]. As Mary was visited by an angel describing her to be child as “Son of the Most High” [Luke 1:32], Apollonius’ mother was visited by the god of Egypt who told her that she would bear “Myself” (i.e. the god of Egypt) [Philostratus, 13]. Apollonius performed many public miracles throughout his ministry. Without saying a word, “his mere appearance on the scene was enough to hush the noise of warring factions in the cities of Cilicia and Pamphylia” [Philostratus, xii; 39]. The Temple of Asclepius witnessed Apollonius’ curing of the sick [Philostratus, 21]. He was able to understand all languages without having ever studied them, including the languages of animals [Philostratus, 53; 57]. Apollonius healed a man with a damaged hip [Philostratus, 317], cured a blind man [Philostratus, 317], and cured a paralytic [Philostratus, 319]. He ended a plague in Ephesus in one day [Philostratus, 365]. He had the power to take human life and sustain life [Philostratus, 43]. He spoke to the divine and deceased [Philostratus, 367]. Apollonius healed a demoniac boy through a mere letter addressed to the demon [Philostratus, 315-317]. He resurrected a dead maiden by whispering to her [Philostratus, 459]. In front of witnesses, Apollonius identified a Vampire and rebuked her apparitions, who disappeared at his commands, and the vampire “prayed him not to torture her nor to compel her to confess what she really was...this the best-known story of Apollonius; for many people are aware of it and know that the incident occurred in the centre of Hellas” [Philostratus, 407-409]. Apollonius encountered the devil who possessed a boy,
when Apollonius gazed on him, the ghost in him began to utter cries of fear and rage...But Apollonius addressed him with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless slave and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man and show by a visible sign that he had done so. “I will throw down yonder statue,” said the devil, and pointed to one of the images which were in the king’s portico, for there it was that the scene took place. But, when the statue began by moving gently, and then fell down, it would defy anyone to describe the hubbub which arose thereat and the way they clapped their hands with wonder. [Philostratus, 391-393]
Apollonius also had many prophetic powers; he had “the reputation of knowing both past and future” [Philostratus, 13]. He predicted the length of stay with King Vardanes to the exact month [Philostratus, 65]. He predicted immoral sexual actions of a eunich to the exact day [Philostratus, 105]. He predicted a plague in Ephesus [Philostratus, 355]. He predicted an earthquake in Ionia [Philostratus, 357]. He predicted a Temple’s next hierophant [Philostratus, 387]. He predicted the failure of Nero’s Isthmian canal [Philostratus, 403]. He predicted the death of two Roman emperors succeeding Nero [Philostratus, 491]. He states the innocence and predicts the acquittal of a bandit [Philostratus, 517]. He knew a Roman temple was burnt down without having experienced it or heard about it [Philostratus, 533]. Apollonius had foreknowledge of everything, and only feigned ignorance for dialogue [Philostratus II, 11]. Like Jesus, Apollonius attributed his prophecies not “to any prophetic gift, but rather to the wisdom which God reveals” [Philostratus, 457]. This is reaffirmed by others who claim “his foreknowledge was gained not by wizardry, but from what the gods revealed to him” [Philostratus, 489].
Apollonius was also considered divine. In addition to his mother believing her son was the incarnation of the god of Egypt, the residents of Tyana thought Apollonius was the son of Zeus [Philostratus, 15]. He was worshipped as divine by both the Assyrians and Babylonians [Philostratus 53; 61]. Like Jesus, Apollonius was described as both a man and divine [Philostratus, 163]. After witnessing his miracles, Tigellinius considered Apollonius divine and was “careful not to fight with a god” [Philostratus, 457]. So well regarded was Apollonius that he was embraced by Emperor Titus [Philostratus II, 113] and the Roman Emperor Vespasian sought his counsel during the siege of Jerusalem. “Vespasian came in person to Egypt” to see him and stated “every word which falls from your lips I regard as inspired” [Philostratus, 525; 553].
Other similarities to Jesus include Apollonius possessing a discipleship, which started at 7 [Philostratus, 51] and grew to 34 [Philostratus, 435] until many abandoned him as they did Jesus, and he was left with 8 devoted followers [Philostratus, 435]. He also preached to the poor and unrefined [Philostratus, 49], rebuked the rich [Philostratus, 513], taught through parables [Philostratus, 363], condemned blood offerings and preached an end to animal sacrifice [Philostratus, 519], concealed his true identity [Philostratus, 445], claimed he owned “all the earth” [Philostratus, 59], and was accused of being a magician [Philostratus, x]. Just as Jesus forgave sins, Apollonius forgave man’s sins [Philostratus II, 11]. Just as Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem humanity, Apollonius claimed to be sent down by “wisdom” to save humanity’s souls [Philostratus II, 317].
The starkest difference between Jesus and Apollonius is that Apollonius succeeded where Jesus failed; Apollonius successfully escaped persecution, which Jesus was mocked for failing to do [Matthew 27:40-42], and effected the leadership of the Roman empire, something the Messiah was supposed to do. He colluded with Vindex to remove Nero from power [Philostratus, 487; 549] and claimed responsibility for making Vespasian emperor [Philostratus, 527; 533]. Also, unlike Jesus who was condemned as a heretic by the Jewish leadership, pagan priests accepted Apollonius’ religious reforms on their own accord [Philostratus, 399] and he separately convinced Telesinus the Consul who wrote to temples “to admit you and adopt your reforms” [Philostratus, 447]. When Apollonius was charged with impiety against Nero, he miraculously erased the charges on the accuser’s scroll and was released [Philostratus, 455]. Just as Jesus went before the Sanhendrin on charges of blasphemy, Apollonius went before the tribunal and was charged with being called God [Philostratus II, 273; 281]. While the Messiah was not supposed to be murdered, Apollonius escaped his fettership without a prayer or single word (remember the standards for divinity) [Philostratus II, 257]. When Apollonius stood before Emperor Domitian, he was acquited, yet suspicious of Domitian’s intentions, vanished from the court room with the legendary words: “send some one to take my body, for my soul you cannot take. Nay, you cannot take even my body, For thou shalt not slay me, since I tell thee I am not mortal” [Philostratus II, 283]. Just as Jesus appeared to his followers who believed him to be a ghost, Apollonius’ acquaintance Demetrius thinks Apollonius has come to him as a ghost and Apollonius says “Take hold of me” to prove his physical appearance [Philostratus II, 361]. Apollonius ascended to heaven without dying with “a chorus of maidens singing from within the temple, and their song was this. ‘Hasten thou from earth, hasten thou to Heaven, hasten.’ In other words: ‘Do thou go upwards from earth’” [Philostratus II, 401]. The gospel of Apollonius ends with Apollonius making post-assumption appearances to disbelievers [Philostratus II, 403].
Ultimately, Jesus’ acknowledgement that others would be like him, and so indistinct from him that they would falsely convince people, attests to the acknowledgement that his actions were unremarkable for the time. Nothing Jesus did in his life distinguished himself from other contemporaneous religious figures. Marcus and Simon both made similar claims to Jesus and also accumulated followings. Apollonius was arguably much more successful than Jesus. Regardless, if none of Jesus’ actions were unique, then there is no reason to logically believe his claims over other historical figures. Since history is riddled with equally plausible miracle workers, miracles are irrelevant in the evaluation of a figure’s divinity.