Edited and translated with an introduction and epilogue by R. Joseph Hoffman, Oxford University
© 1994 by R. Joseph Hoffman
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Table of Contents:
• Introduction. Persecution as Context
• A Note on the Text and the Controversy
• List of Abbreviations
• AGAINST THE CHRISTIANS: THE EXTRACTS OF MACARIUS MAGNES
o 1. Miscellaneous Objections
o 2. Critique of the Gospels and Their Authors
o 3. The Ruler and End of the World
o 4. The Life and Work of Jesus
o 5. The Sayings of Jesus
o 6. The Attack on Peter the Apostle
o 7. The Attack on Paul the Apostle
o 8. The Attack on Christian Apocalyptic Hopes
o 9. The Kingdom of Heaven and the Obscurity of Christian Teaching
o 10. The Christian Doctrine of God
o 11. Critique of the Resurrection of the Flesh
• Epilogue. From Babylon to Rome: The Contexts of Jewish-Christian-Pagan Interaction through Porphyry
• References and Bibliography
A famous saying of the Teacher is this one: "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have no life in yourselves." This saying is not only beastly and absurd; it is more absurd than absurdity itself and more beastly than any beast: that a man should savor human flesh or drink the blood of a member of his own family or people -- and that by doing this he should obtain eternal life!
Tell us: in recommending this sort of practice, do you not reduce human existence to savagery of a most unimaginable sort? Rumor herself has not heard of such a weird twist on the practice of impiety. The shades of the Furies had not made such practices known even to barbarians. Even the Potideans would not have stooped to such a thing had they not been starving. Thyestes' banquet became [a feast of flesh] due to a sister's grief, and Tereus the Thracian ate such food against his will. Again: Harpagus was tricked by Astyages into eating the flesh of his beloved -- also against his will. Yet no one of sound mind has ever made such a dinner!
No one learned this sort of foulness from a chef. True, if you look up Scythian [practices] in the history books, or delve into the habits of the Macrobian Ethiopians, or if you venture out to sea to lands dotted through the world, you will certainly find people who feed on roots or eat reptiles or mice -- but they stop short of eating human flesh.
And so, what does this saying mean? Even if it carries some hidden meaning, that does not excuse its appearance, which seems to suggest that men are less than animals. No tale designed to fool the simple-minded is crueler or more deceptive [than this myth of the Christians].
In another passage Jesus says: "These signs shall witness to those who believe: they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover. And if they drink any deadly drug, it will hurt them in no way." Well then: the proper thing to do would be to use this process as a test for those aspiring to be priests, bishops or church officers. A deadly drug should be put in front of them and [only] those who survive drinking it should be elevated in the ranks [of the church].
If there are those who refuse to submit to such a test, they may as well admit that they do not believe in the things that Jesus said. For if it is a doctrine of [Christian] faith that men can survive being poisoned or heal the sick at will, then the believer who does not do such things either does not believe them, or else believes them so feebly that he may as well not believe them.
A saying similar to this runs as follows: "Even if you have faith no bigger than a mustard seed, I tell you in truth that if you say to this mountain, Be moved into the sea -- even that will be possible for you." It seems to follow that anyone who is unable to move a mountain by following these directions is unworthy to be counted among the faithful. So there you are: not only the ordinary Christians, but even bishops and priests, find themselves excluded on the basis of such a saying.
Another of his astonishingly silly comments needs to be examined: I mean that wise saying of his, to the effect that, "We who are alive and persevere shall not precede those who are asleep when the Lord comes; for the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel; and the trumpet of God shall sound, and those who have died in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive shall be caught up together with them in a cloud to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall be forever with the Lord."
Indeed -- there is something here that reaches up to heaven: the magnitude of this lie. When told to dumb bears, to silly frogs and geese -- they bellow or croak or quack with delight to hear of the bodies of men flying through the air like birds or being carried about on clouds. This belief is quackery of the first rank: that the weight of our mortal flesh should behave as though it were of the nature of winged birds and could navigate the winds as easily as ships cross the sea, using clouds for a chariot! Even if such a thing could happen, it would be a violation of nature and hence completely unfitting.
For the nature which is begotten in all things from the beginning also assigns to those things a certain station and rank in the order of the universe:  the sea for creatures that thrive in water; the land for creatures who thrive on ground; the air for the creatures who have wings; the reaches of the heavens for the celestial bodies. Move one creature from its appointed place to another sphere and it will die away in its strange abode. "You can't take a fish out of water," for it will surely die on the dry land. Just the same, you can't hope to make land animals creatures of the sea: they will drown. A bird will die if it is deprived of its habitat in the air, and you cannot make a heavenly body an earthly one.
The divine and active logos [word] of God has never tampered with the nature of things and no god ever shall, even though the power of God can affect the fortunes of created things. God does not work contrary to nature: he does not flaunt his ability but heeds the suitability of things [to their environment. in order to] preserve the natural order. Even if he could do so, God would not cause ships to sail across the continents or cause farmers to cultivate the sea. By the same token, he does not use his power to make evildoing an act of goodness nor turn an act of charity into an evil deed. He does not turn our arms into wings and he does not place the earth above the stars. Therefore, a reasonable man can only conclude that it is idiotic to say that "Men will be caught up ... in the air."
[Is it not a little curious], this wiping away the stains of a lifetime of immorality -- of sexual license, adultery, drunkenness, thieving, perversions, self-abuse -- and assorted disgusting things -- simply by getting baptized, or calling on the name of Christ to get free of sin, as easily as a snake sloughs off its old skin?
I ask, who wouldn't prefer a life of corruption, based on the strength of these [promises]; who would not choose a life of evildoing and unutterable wickedness if he knew in advance that all would be forgiven him if only he believed and was baptized, confident in his heart that the judge of the living and the dead would pardon any offense he had committed.
Returning to consider again the matter of the resurrection of the dead: For what purpose should God intervene in this way, completely and arbitrarily overturning a course of events that has always been held good -- namely, the plan, ordained by him at the beginning, through which whole races are preserved and do not come to an end.
The natural law established and approved by God, lasting through the ages, is by its very nature unchanging and thus not to be overturned by [the God] who fashioned it. Nor is it to be demolished as though it were a body of laws invented by a mere mortal to serve his own limited purposes. It is preposterous to think that when the whole [race] is destroyed there follows a resurrection; that [God] raises with a wave of his hand a man who died three years before the resurrection [of Jesus] and those like Priam and Nestor who lived a thousand years before, together with those who lived when the human race was new.
Just to think of this silly teaching makes me light-headed. Many have perished at sea; their bodies have been eaten by scavenging fish. Hunters have been eaten by their prey, the wild animals, and birds. How will their bodies rise up?
Or let us take an example to test this little doctrine, so innocently put forward [by the Christians]: A certain man was shipwrecked. The hungry fish had his body for a feast. But the fish were caught and cooked and eaten by some fishermen, who had the misfortune to run afoul of some ravenous dogs, who killed and ate them. When the dogs died, the vultures came and made a feast of them.
How will the body of the shipwrecked man be reassembled, considering it has been absorbed by other bodies of various kinds? Or take a body that has been consumed by fire or a body that has been food for the worms: how can these bodies be restored to the essence of what they were originally?
Ah! You say: "All things are possible with God." But this is not true. Not all things are possible for him. [God] cannot make it happen that Homer should not have been a poet. God cannot bring it about that Troy should not fall. He cannot make 2 x 2 = 100 rather than 4, even though he should prefer it to be so. He cannot become evil, even if he wished to. Being good by nature, he cannot sin. And it is no weakness on his part that he is unable to do these things -- to sin or to become evil.
[Mortals] on the other hand may have an inclination and even an ability for doing a certain thing; if something interferes to keep them from doing it, it's clear that it is their weakness that's to blame. [I repeat]: God to be god is by nature good: he is not prevented from being evil. It is simply not in the divine nature to be bad.
There is a final point: How terrible it would be if God the Creator should stand helplessly by and see the heavens melting away in a storm of fire -- the stars falling, the earth dying. For no one has ever imagined anything more glorious than the beauty of the heavens.
Yet you say. "He will raise up the rotten and stinking corpses of men," some of them, no doubt, belonging to worthy men, but others having no grace or merit prior to death. A very unpleasant sight it will be. And even if God should refashion the dead bodies, making them more tolerable than before, there is still this: it would be impossible for the earth to accommodate all those who have died from the beginning of the world if they should be raised from the dead.
***A young baby is covered over with flour, the object being to deceive the unwary. It is then served to the person to be admitted to the rites. The recruit is urged to inflict blows upon it which appear to be harmless because of the covering of flour. Thus the baby is killed with wounds that remain unseen and concealed. It is the blood of the infant -- I shudder to mention it -- it is this blood that they lick with thirsty lips; the limbs they distribute eagerly; this is the victim by which they seal the covenant. (Fronto, para. by Minucius Felix, Octavius 9.5-6)
On a special day they gather in a feast with all their children, sisters, mothers, all sexes and ages. There, flushed with the banquet after such feasting and drinking, they begin to burn with incestuous passions. They provoke a dog tied to a lampstand to leap and bound toward a scrap of food, which they have tossed outside the reach of his chain. By this means the lamp is overturned and extinguished and with it common knowledge of their actions; in the shameless dark and with unspeakable lust they copulate in random unions, all being equally guilty of incest -- some by deed but everyone by complicity. (Octavius 9.5-6)
By Tertullian's day (144-220), however, suspicion of the cult had increased and had become a favorite topic for literary invective....Among the charges that most worry Tertullian are those of cannibalism, murder, treason, sacrilege, and incest, and the general complaint that Christian clannishness prevents them from leading the lives of ordinary citizens: they avoid the clubs, religious associations, the theater and (though there were exceptions) military service....
With the satires of Lucian, the moral critique of the church enters a new phase. Born at Samosata (Syria) around 120, Lucian regarded Christianity as a form of sophistry aimed at an unusually gullible class of people -- a criticism later exploited by Celsus (Contra Celsum 3.44). The members of the new sect worship a "crucified sophist," an epithet that suggests the influence of Jewish views of the church on pagan observers. Like Galen, Lucian imagines the Christians as men and women with little time, patience or ability for philosophy, and who are willing to enthrone new leaders and gurus at the drop of a hat. To make his point, Lucian invents a mock Cynic-turned-Christian priest, Peregrinus Proteus, who dabbles in a thousand different sects and philosophies before becoming an "expert" in "the astonishing religion of Christianity." As a man of atypical abilities in the context of the new faith, Peregrinus rises quickly in the ranks:In no time at all he had them looking like babies and had become their prophet, leader, head of their synagogue and what-not all by himself. He expounded and commented on their sacred writings and even authored a few himself. They looked up to him as a god, made him their lawgiver, and put his name down as the official patron of the sect, or at least vice patron, second to that man they still worship today, the one who was crucified in Palestine because he brought this new cult into being. (Death of Peregrinus 10-13)....
The climax of late second-century critiques of Christianity comes in the work of the philosopher Celsus....He thinks Christian teachers are no better than the begging priests of Cybele and the shysters of other popular religions.... [He]emphasizes that Christians are sorcerers like their founder, that they lack patriotism, and that every Christian church is an illegal association which exists not because their God arranges it (thus Tertullian), but because the emperor does not choose to stamp them out entirely....They are forever saying, "Do not inquire, only believe .... " This is their cry: Let no educated men enter in, no one wise, no one prudent, for these things we count as evil. But if any be ignorant, any foolish, any untaught, anyone simple-minded, let him come boldly. These they count worthy (as indeed they are) of their god, and it is therefore obvious that they can and will persuade only fools and the lowborn, the dull-witted, slaves, foolish women, and little children [Contra Celsum 3.44] .... We see in private houses wool carders, cobblers, fullers, the most ignorant and stupid of characters who would never dare open their mouths in the hearing of their teachers and intellectual betters. [But these then] get the children and women into corners and tell them wonderful things. "Do not listen to your father or your teachers," they will say, "Listen to us! Your teachers don't know what we know; they're too full of learning and systems. We alone know how to live; listen to us and you will be healthy, happy and prosperous." (Contra Celsum 3.55)
-- Porphyry's Against the Christians