Book review: Jesus Potter Harry Christ
by Derek Murphy
Was Harry Potter molded in the form of Jesus Christ? This book touches on the similarities between Jesus and Harry, but only as a surface introduction and running theme floating above a much deeper topic. The meat of the book is in its serious research into Jesus as a nonhistoric figure, a developed myth. Like our favorite little wizard.
This idea of a nonhistorical Jesus greatly disturbs most Christians. Murphy takes a stab at explaining our unease: “If Jesus was not historical, he would have been no different from other myths and fables … he would be meaningless, and it is impossible for him to be meaningless, because he is meaningful to me. Therefore he is historical.” He’s right, the idea of Christ as a myth is more than a bit disconcerting; it hits at the very heart of many of us.
Yet Murphy’s intent is not to demote Jesus to the role of an ordinary fictional being, or even an ordinary god. Jesus was never meant to be the same as other contemporary figures of mythology; to his storytellers, he was the epitome of such. “Jesus would be something entirely new simply by virtue of his being an assimilation of the best features of each. Jesus is the culmination and combination of all other religious traditions of his time.”
Murphy sifts through various mystery religions and myths of a dying and resurrecting god, and their possible influence upon the Gospel story. For once, it’s done tastefully and without sensationalism. Maybe you’ve read works by Freke, Dougherty, and Harpur. While I don’t want to take anything away from those researchers—their books are interesting in their own right—I found Murphy’s tempered treatment much more to my taste. Without trying to foist a Gnostic version of Christianity on me, and without succumbing to overzealous scholarship, Murphy gently yet forcefully introduces the strong similarities between Christianity and other first-century religious philosophies and mystery cults, concluding in the strong likelihood that Jesus was a mythical savior.
I cannot help but add my two cents. Part of Murphy’s argument seems to be that it’s unreasonable to expect first-century writers to knowingly attribute mythical qualities and stories to a historical person. Ergo, Jesus must have been understood mythically. I must confess that my area of research biases me in favor of a historical Jesus. I’m a hard sell, because for years I immersed myself in the topic of divine attributions awarded to real, historical persons in the Imperial Cult (the cult of the Caesars) and I recognize much of the New Testament as a response on the same playing field; Christians lifting up their guy in the same manner. I find nothing strange about honoring a man such as Jesus in supernatural story and find it a quite plausible explanation for the plethora of Jesus’ similarities to pagan gods and heroes.
Additionally, in order for Murphy to prove Jesus was never a real person, so much hinges on Paul, our earliest Christian writer, and Paul is an enigma. Murphy points out many interesting similarities between the teachings of Paul and the mystery religions, where the central rite, it appears, was a symbolic death of the initiate, followed by rebirth into a new life. Sounds a lot like Paul, doesn’t it? Murphy argues that Paul recognized Jesus’ crucifixion metaphorically, and expected his converts to experience the same death. Unquestionably, Gnostic strands of Christianity did worship Jesus in the form of a mystery religion, and such groups did embrace the writings of Paul. But would such an understanding of Jesus drive Paul to such great suffering and imprisonment? Would it leave him absolutely convinced that the world was ending—quite literally and quite rapidly—and that believers in Christ would be swept up to heaven? Remember, Paul was so convinced the end of the world drew near that he even encouraged abstinence, telling his readers that the time grew so short that they needn’t bother marrying.
So, even though it’s hard for me to fully embrace Murphy’s conclusion, I loved the book, and found it to be a fascinating and scholarly contribution to a very hot debate. It should be welcomed as such.