John Dickson

Australian writer, speaker, and academic. Public advocate for the Christian Faith

Another Conspiratorial Documentary about Jesus

The history of Jesus has once again been disproven (and it’s not even Christmas time)! Amazon Prime is releasing a documentary arguing that the life and deeds of a first-century pagan philosopher-healer named Apollonius of Tyana were suppressed by the early Church, and ‘transferred’ onto the Jewish composite of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. Apollonius lived around the same time, the doco points out; he renounced worldliness, gathered many disciples, and, most tellingly, he performed miracles that read suspiciously like scenes in the Gospels … 

… except that …

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… the little we know of Apollonius places his public work no earlier than the reign of Nero (AD 54-68) through to the time of Domitian (AD 81-96). By the time Apollonius was a public figure, in other words, Jesus had been dead (and raised, if one accepts that) for three decades, and much of the New Testament was already written. By the time Apollonius died (around AD 100 at our best guess), ALL of the New Testament, including the four Gospels, were in public circulation. 

But it's even worse for this new conspiracy theory. We only have one source for Apollonius’ biography. It was written by the philosopher Philostratus around AD 220 at the urging of the famously anti-Christian Empress Julia Domna. This means that the ‘Life of Apollonius’ was composed not only 120 years after Apollonius himself, but 150 years after the first Gospels, and 190 years after Jesus of Nazareth. 

It is true that a few stories in Philostratus’ ‘Life of Apollonius’ read uncannily like stories written in the Gospel of Mark a century-and-a-half earlier. In fact, the scholarly Greek-English edition of the ‘Life of Apollonius’ in the Loeb Classical Library even provides footnotes pointing readers to passages in the Gospel. But thinking people will rightly ask, Which is more likely: (A) The story of Jesus was concocted to sound like a figure who worked three decades after Jesus, who died 70 years after Jesus, and whose sole biographical source was composed nearly 200 years after Jesus, or (B) The memory of poor old Apollonius was 'recast' by the third-century Roman elite (consciously or otherwise) to compete with the rising influence of Jesus and the Gospels?