Celsus was a second-century Greek philosopher and a very strong opponent of Christianity. He was the author of a piece of work entitled “On The True Doctrine”, which was a scathing attack on early Christianity. This work prompted a severe backlash from the Roman Catholic Church which initially suppressed the book and in 448 CE officially banned it by order of Valentinian III and Theodosius II, along with Porphyry’s 15 books attacking the Christians, The Philosophy from Oracles, so no complete copies are available, but it can be reconstructed from Origen’s detailed account of it in his 8-volume refutation, which quotes Celsus extensively. Origen’s work has survived and thereby preserved Celsus’ work with it.
I kind of like this guy for attacking early Christianity but he still bases his writings on the belief that Jesus was a real person. A surviving portion of his writings, preserved by Origen, references the following:
“There is an ancient doctrine [archaios logos] which has existed from the beginning, which has always been maintained by the wisest nations and cities and wise men”. He leaves Jews and Moses out of those he cites (Egyptians, Syrians, Indians, Persians, Odrysians, Samothracians, Eleusinians, Hyperboreans, Galactophagoi, Druids, and Getae), and instead blames Moses for the corruption of the ancient religion: “the goatherds and shepherds who followed Moses as their leader were deluded by clumsy deceits into thinking that there was only one God, [and] without any rational cause … these goatherds and shepherds abandoned the worship of many gods”. However, Celsus’ harshest criticism was reserved for Christians, who “wall themselves off and break away from the rest of mankind”.
Celsus initiated a critical attack on Christianity, ridiculing many of its dogmas. He wrote that some Jews said Jesus’ father was actually a Roman soldier named Pantera. Origen considered this a fabricated story. In addition, Celsus addressed the miracles of Jesus, holding that “Jesus performed his miracles by sorcery (γοητεία)”.
O light and truth! he distinctly declares, with his own voice, as ye yourselves have recorded, that there will come to you even others, employing miracles of a similar kind, who are wicked men, and sorcerers; and Satan. So that Jesus himself does not deny that these works at least are not at all divine, but are the acts of wicked men; and being compelled by the force of truth, he at the same time not only laid open the doings of others, but convicted himself of the same acts. Is it not, then, a miserable inference, to conclude from the same works that the one is God and the other sorcerers? Why ought the others, because of these acts, to be accounted wicked rather than this man, seeing they have him as their witness against himself? For he has himself acknowledged that these are not the works of a divine nature, but the inventions of certain deceivers, and of thoroughly wicked men.
The problems with the writings of Celsus are as follows:
- Only spoke of Christianity over 130 years after it began.
- Only offered what to him was a plausible alternative explanation of how the Gospels came to claim what they did.
- Had no sources other than the Gospels, which we now know are wildly fictitious in nature.
- Therefore, Celsus cannot corroborate the Gospels; he is not an independent source.
Credit: Richard Carrier
Next up, Pliny the Younger.