Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Comment on Richard Abanes

This is old news but I want to comment on something that Richard Abanes wrote concerning Deathly Hallows, most specifically in the Hogwart's Professor post, "Smuggling the Gospel" Fallout. Much of what Abanes wrote in his comments were ably responded to by John Granger, Travis Prinzi of Sword of Gryffindor, dcramer of Conciliar Press, aussieseeker71, and others. On to what Abanes wrote:

And as for the supposed “Christian” ending to HP that I am hearing about, I assume you ARE familiar with the dying-rising, savior-deliverer myth motif that is present in virtually every culture and actually pre-dates Christ? Rowling is using a very powerful, standard, ancient formula to pack a serious punch into the end of her book that will resonate (as the savior-myth has always done) with readers/listeners.

First things first, the concept of dying and rising gods in antiquity was popularized a century ago by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough. Scholars in the fields of anthropology and comparative religion have mostly rejected this concept, citing that Frazer over interpreted the evidence in his conclusions. Glenn Miller of Christian Thinktank (a great website on Christian Apologetics) quotes from Jonathan Z. Smith, who contributed the entry "Dying and Rising Gods" for The Encyclopedia of Religion (Edited by Mircea Eliade; Macmillian: 1987):

The category of dying and rising gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.

Smith examined the cases of ancient deities such as Adonis, Baal/Hadad/Adad, Attis, Marduk, Osirus, and Tammuz/Dumuzi and came to the following conclusion:

As the above examples make plain, the category of dying and rising deities is exceedingly dubious. It has been based largely on Christian interest and tenuous evidence. As such, the category is of more interest to the history of scholarship than to the history of religions.

Therefore the concept of "dying-rising" pre-Christian deities has, by and large, been disproved by scholars across the spectrum, and Abanes is inaccurate in his statement. It is worth nothing that resurrection is a purely Jewish concept from which the Christian movement flourished; the pagan world believed that resurrection was impossible. N.T. Wright in The Resurrection of the Son of God goes into this in his chapter "Shadows, Souls and Where They Go":

The great majority of the ancients believed in life after death; many of them developed, as we have seen, complex and fascinating beliefs about it and practices in relation to it; but, other than within Judaism and Christianity, they did not believe in resurrection. 'Resurrection' denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever 'life after death' there might be. 'Resurrection' was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied 'heavenly' life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death's reversal.

Pagan nonbelief in the resurrection shows the folly of the concept of "dying-rising" gods. Compared to what the ancients boasted about their gods, the resurrection of Jesus stands alone as an event that never occurred before. Folly indeed.

Second, even if the "dying-rising, savior-deliverer myth motif" was true, it does not matter. J.K. Rowling has said that her Christian faith is the key towards unlocking the ending of the series. She did not say that her belief in Osirus or any other pagan deity was the key to what's coming in the books. No, rather it was her Christian faith, and of course the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of that faith. No wonder JKR's favorite painting is Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, which shows a resurrected Christ appearing to three of his followers. Abanes is just grasping at straws here. JKR statements are what counts and in light of everything that occurred in Deathly Hallows, they are very telling.


H. L. said...

I appreciate your position, and on the whole you are quite right, but it's a little misleading to say:

"...the concept of "dying-rising" pre-Christian deities has, by and large, been disproved by scholars across the spectrum..."

What scholars have (on the whole) rejected is the notion of a universal category of religious belief/thought. Remember, the Victorians believed they were doing science when they studied myth and religion, and so were looking for immutable laws.

It is undeniable that there *were* deities who were understood to enter and leave the land of the dead at various times. Persephone springs (if you will) to mind, but there are a handful of others. This does *not* mean that there is some biological/psychological/ontological fixed reality of this category of being.

I think the most important point of this entry is the assertion that:

J.K. Rowling has said that her Christian faith is the key towards unlocking the ending of the series.

One of the things that makes the story of Jesus unique (and every culture's stories have uniqueness, regardless of similarities) is that Jesus was understood to be fully human. Yes, many believed and still believe him to be fully divine as well, but the amazing thing was that his fully human body returned from the dead. Not only was this human physical resurrection extraordinary, it was asign to people around him that resurrection was about to become possible for all human beings.

Inanna dies and returns to life, but you can be very sure she's not going to let that happen to just anybody.

Anonymous said...

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