by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

Did the American Founding Fathers study the case for Jesus Christ being a mythical figure? There is much evidence that Washington and Jefferson, among other famous and important figures of the day, were influenced by well-known French mythographers and “Jesus mythicists,” such as Dupuis and Volney.

“The fable of Christ and his twelve apostles…is a parody of the sun and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, copied from the ancient religions of the Eastern world…. Every thing told of Christ has reference to the sun. His reported resurrection is at sunrise, and that on the first day of the week; that is, on the day anciently dedicated to the sun, and from thence called Sunday…”

Thomas Paine, The Complete Religious and Theological Works of Thomas Paine (382)

“…the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

Thomas Jefferson, The Adams-Jefferson Letters (594)

Over the decades I have been researching the subject of the origins of Christianity, as well as religion and mythology in general, I have come across many astonishing facts that I have passionately worked to bring to light for the enjoyment of others. Along with this work has been the development of a history for what is called “mythicism,” which in this context specifically refers to the study of various biblical characters, such as Jesus Christ, as mythical and not historical figures.

In this quest to bring forth and help develop mythicism or the “mythicist position,” I have studied numerous primary sources in multiple languages from antiquity, as well as the writings of brilliant visionaries and credentialed authorities of the modern era. One of the juiciest tidbits I have ever uncovered on this quest is the evidence that at least a couple of the American Founding Fathers appear to have entertained the ideas of Jesus mythicism, although this contention seems to have been omitted from the historical record as much as is possible, for obvious reasons, perhaps.

“Some of the most famous early Americans may have considered Jesus Christ to have been a myth.”

Washington and Jefferson immortalized at Mt. Rushmore

It is a fascinating concept that some of the most famous early Americans may have considered Jesus Christ to have been a myth, but there are intriguing indications that it is true, at least in part or at certain times. In this regard appears the following astounding quote, which suggests that first and third American Presidents George Washington (1732-1799) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) were closet mythicists!

In Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (290), an article entitled “Virginia, First and Last” states:

The English Church at an early day in the history of Virginia gained for itself general odium: it levied heavy taxes on all who did not attend the ministrations of the ingeniously dull men whom England sent to colonial pulpits; it persecuted and taxed dissent heavily; and, worst of all, it opposed the revolution bitterly and to the last. Washington himself would have incurred popular distrust had he occupied that pew in the Pohick church. The result was, that so soon as the independence was gained, the English Church sank away, and the State was overrun with all manner of orthodox dissenters. From these the leading men took refuge in scepticism. Washington even was glad to have Volney as his guest at Mount Vernon, and Jefferson occupied his Sundays at Montecello in writing letters to Paine (they are unpublished, I believe, but I have seen them), in favour of the probabilities that Christ and his twelve apostles were only personifications of the sun and the twelve signs of the zodiac. If there was a believer among them all, I do not know his name.

The pertinent part of this eye-popping quote bears repeating:

“Washington even was glad to have Volney as his guest at Mount Vernon, and Jefferson occupied his Sundays at Montecello in writing letters to Paine…, in favour of the probabilities that Christ and his twelve apostles were only personifications of the sun and the twelve signs of the zodiac.”

The author of these revealing contentions refers to Count Volney, a famous French traveler, philosopher, writer and “Jesus mythicist” of the 18th to 19th centuries, as well as to the Anglo-American philosopher, writer and “Lost Founder” Thomas Paine (1737-1809). One must wonder if these important letters were left unpublished because they contained what might be perceived as “dangerous” information? Where are these purported letters? Do they exist, or have they been destroyed?

Rev. Dr. Moncure Daniel Conway

Moncure Daniel Conway; Library of Congress

This article about the State of Virginia was republished in Littell’s Living Age (no. 1088/8 April, 1865; p. 12), edited by Eliakim Littell. The author is not identified in either place, but the Wellesley Index to Victorian Publications (173) does identify him as Rev. Dr. Moncure Daniel Conway (1832-1907), a Harvard Divinity School graduate, minister, prominent abolitionist and friend of Charles Darwin, among other luminaries. Dr. Conway was also a well-known and foremost expert on Thomas Paine, having pored over the latter’s writings and correspondence, and composed a two-volume, oft-cited biography about him.

The fact that Conway’s name does not appear in either Fraser’s or Living Age possibly indicates his reticence in being associated with this potentially dangerous information. Yet, the article is long and full of markers that expose his true identity–including the fact that he claims to have seen these letters personally, a privilege undoubtedly reserved for the few, such as those in Conway’s position. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to believe that this respectable individual was behaving mendaciously, and, with the indications revealed here, we may logically conclude that Conway did not fabricate these letters or engage in “rhetoric” concerning their content.

Verifying the first contention in the “Virginia” article–and that he is the author of same–in Barons of the Potomack and the Rappahannock (182), Conway writes about Volney:

In the last century a wayfarer appeared in some of the Virginia villages and was hospitably received, on the strength of a note he bore in the following words:

“The historian and philosopher Volney needs no recommendation from–G. Washington.”

The implication here is that the mysterious and controversial Count had been introduced to American society by none other than George Washington himself.

Volney, Dupuis and Napoleon

Constantin François de Chasseboeuf (1757-1820), also known as “Count Volney,” was a professor of history and the author of the classic early mythicist work The Ruins of Empires, originally written in French. Like his fellow French mythographer, college professor and early mythicist writer Charles Dupuis (1742-1809), Volney was also a tutor of French leader Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), who made him a senator and a count.

Charles Dupuis, French mythographer

Unearthing fascinating facts concerning ancient religion and mythology, one of the academician Dupuis’s major views in his multivolume work Origine de tous les cultes ou religion universelle (1795) or Origin of All Religious Worship can be summarized as follows:

The existence of Christ, the restorer…, cannot be accepted as a historical fact… With a single blow we shall destroy the follies of the general public and those of the new philosophes, and at the same time we shall strip Christ of his two natures. The public takes him for a god and a man together; the contemporary philosophe takes him for a man only. We shall certainly not take him for a god, and even less for a man. (Bietenholz, 327)

In this same regard, Volney remarked:

There are absolutely no other monuments of the existence of Jesus Christ as a human being, than a passage in Josephus…, a single phrase in Tacitus…, and the Gospels. But the passage in Josephus is unanimously acknowledged to be apocryphal, and to have been interpolated towards the close of the third century… the existence of Jesus is no better proved than that of Osiris and Hercules… (Volney 1849, 118)

In The Ruins, speaking as a Buddhist lama refuting Christian claims of Buddhism plagiarizing from Christianity, Volney states:

Prove to us now…that the man whom you make the author of your sect is not [Buddha] himself disfigured. Prove to us by historical facts that he even existed at the epoch you pretend; for it being destitute of authentic testimony, we absolutely deny it… (Volney 1853, 113)

Volney’s section in Ruins on Jesus (172) is entitled:

Christianity or the allegorical worship of the Sun under the cabalistical names of Christen or Christ and Yes-us or Jesus

Thus, Dupuis and Volney’s thesis was that Christ was a mythical figure based on the sun.

“It is quite a big question, whether Jesus Christ has ever lived.”

Christopher Martin Wieland and Napoleon Bonaparte

So influential were Dupuis and Volney that in 1808 at Weimar, Germany, Napoleon remarked into the ear of a German writer, Christopher Martin Wieland (1733-1813): “By the way, it is quite a big question, whether Jesus Christ has ever lived.” (Bietenholz, 326)

In this regard, it is contended that Napoleon’s “Commission” to Egypt (1798-1801) was inspired by Dupuis’s work, with the desire to find evidence of the religion and mythology that influenced Christianity leading to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. (Knight, 679)

Moreover, when Napoleon returned from Egypt he reinstated Catholicism, at which point he was castigated by Dupuis, to whom he responded that “as for himself, he did not believe that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed; but as the people were inclined to superstition, he thought proper not to oppose them.” We are further told that Dupuis informed Paine and Chancellor Livingston of Napoleon’s remarks. (Theoanthr., 150)

Like Volney, and completing the circle, Paine also met with Napoleon, who was so enthralled with the philosopher that the emperor “declared that a statue of gold ought to be erected to him in every city in the universe…” (Linton, 53)

Volney and Franklin

Benjamin Franklin; oil portrait by David Martin, 1767; White House

Unsurprisingly considering the exalted company he kept, but highly interesting nonetheless, Volney was also friends with American Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), a known irreverent rabblerouser whom the Count encountered in France:

At Madame Helvétius’s home at Auteuil, he met Benjamin Franklin, then ambassador of the new United States to France, who decisively influenced his views on morality and introduced him to the next ambassador, Thomas Jefferson. (Leopold, 9)

Here we learn that the young Volney had made the acquaintance of not only Franklin, sometime between 1776 and 1780, but also Thomas Jefferson, before the Count traveled to America. In Volney’s subsequent correspondence with Franklin (Wilson, 306), the two evidently discussed philosophy, but Volney’s book on mythicism was not published until one year after Franklin’s death.

“Lighthouses are more useful than churches.”

Baptized a Puritan, Franklin adopted Deism as a young man, declaring in his autobiography, “I soon became a thorough Deist.” (Franklin 1834, 23) Although he was a spiritual theist who believed in “the Deity” and who encouraged humanity to worship and pray, Franklin himself did not subscribe to organized religion, once remarking, “Lighthouses are more useful than churches.” In consideration of his friendship with Volney and Paine, et al., one wonders whether or not Franklin too was at the very least a “rational Unitarian,” as appears to have been somewhat common among Deists.

Voltaire and Bolingbroke

At the same salons where he had encountered Franklin, Volney also met one of his namesakes, famed French philosopher Voltaire. (Linton, x) Born François-Marie Arouet, the pseudonymous Voltaire himself was certainly aware of the Christ-myth thesis, having once written (273):

“I saw some disciples of Bolingbroke…, who denied the existence of a Jesus…”

François-Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire; oil by Catherine Lusurier; Musée national du Château et des Trianons

Voltaire is referring to the English philosopher Henry Saint John, the Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751). In identifying Bolingbroke’s Deist disciples as Jesus mythicists, Voltaire has traced back this school of thought to before the time of Dupuis. Certainly, these Deists were likewise not the first mythicists. Despite knowing about the mythicist position, Voltaire evidently retained his perception of a historical Jesus in order to run down the latter’s character, which he could not do if Christ were a myth. (Bietenholz, 325)

The fact that Bolingbroke’s work had been translated into French by one of Ben Franklin’s good friends, Barbeu Dubourg, is yet another intriguing connection that may indicate Franklin’s awareness of mythicism as well. (Franklin 1905, 17)

Deism, Unitarianism, Evemerism and Mythicism

Achieving prominence during the 17th and 18th centuries as part of the “Age of Enlightenment,” Deism is a religious viewpoint that does not deny God’s existence but that avers “the Creator” can be perceived through nature and reason, while remaining aloof from creation, not interfering in the matters of men or suspending natural laws. The word comes from the Latin “deus,” which means “God” and which was previously used interchangeably with the Greek term “theos,” likewise meaning “God.”

“A number of the Founding Fathers had been exposed to ancient mythology and were disinclined to believe in the miracles of the Bible, including parts of the gospel story.”

A number of the Founding Fathers were classically educated and knew much about the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and it is claimed that, like Franklin, several others were Deists, rather than orthodox Christians. Thus, they had been exposed to ancient mythology and were disinclined to believe in the miracles of the Bible, including parts of the gospel story.

Athena springs from the mind of Zeus; Phrynos Painter, c. 560-550 BCE; University of Haifa Library

It appears that some of these individuals were also sympathetic to the idea of Unitarianism as well, the “nontrinitarian” ideology that denies the Triune nature of God in favor of a divine Unity. During this period in history, Unitarians espoused what is called “rationalist unitarianism,” which essentially rejects the miracles and mythical motifs of Christianity, such as the virgin birth, as reflected in Jefferson’s quote about Minerva (Athena) and Jupiter (Zeus).

This perspective of removing the fabulous fairytales in order to find a “real person” underneath is also known as “euhemerism” or “evemerism,” after the ancient Greek philosopher Euhemerus or Evemeras (4th cent. BCE), who posited that the gods and legendary figures of old were in fact kings, queens and other heroes who were deified after death, having supernatural and miraculous motifs added to their mundane biographies.

The contention that at least some Deists subscribed to the mythicist position as well is verified by Voltaire’s comments about Bolingbroke’s disciples. Indeed, these ideas all seem to have coalesced at various times in the views of certain Founding Fathers, some of whom were apparently intrigued by mythicism, such as Washington, Jefferson, Paine and possibly others acquainted with Volney.

Volney and Washington

Bust of Constantin-François Volney; Salle du serment du jeu de paume, Versailles; photo by Philippe Dessante

In 1795, Count Volney traveled to the United States with the intention of settling in America, and was welcomed by President George Washington personally. At his meeting with Washington, Volney recounted to the amazement of the Americans the exact moves of Napoleon’s military campaigns as they were happening, proving that he knew the French leader well. (Wilson, 306)

The famed globetrotter Volney’s travel guides to the East could be found in Washington’s private library. (Longmore, 221) Also listed in the catalogue of the Washington Collection at the Boston Athenaeum is Volney’s letter to the hostile American theologian Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), regarding a derisive pamphlet the minister had written against Volney’s work. (Griffin, 217)

The Athenaeum collection, which comprises part of Washington’s library from his home at Mount Vernon, also contains Priestley’s various letters to Volney in rebuttal. (Griffin, 170) The presence of these letters in his library demonstrates that Washington was aware of this controversy, which significantly swirled around Volney’s mythicism, as concerned his “conflating the God of Moses with pagan gods.” (Scholfield, 377) Moreover, in the history section of the Athenaeum collection we discover that Washington also possessed a copy of Volney’s The Ruins of Empires, in which the controversial thesis of Jesus mythicism is laid plain. (Griffin, 515)

“Washington possessed a copy of Volney’s The Ruins of Empires, in which the controversial thesis of Jesus mythicism is laid plain.”

In consideration of these facts, it is probable that Washington was cognizant of Volney’s arguments in favor of mythicism, even if he did not embrace them fully or publicly.

Jefferson and Priestly

For many years, it has been contended that Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, if not an atheist, although there are no writings in his own hand making such claims. Jefferson did, however, label himself a Unitarian, and he was so skeptical of many parts of the gospel story that he took a razor and literally cut out these unbelievable miraculous, mystical and magical scriptures, leaving a much thinner book. This “Jefferson Bible,” as it is known, is based on Jesus’s “principles of a pure deism,” a task that the American statesman had originally asked Rev. Priestley to do. In his letter to Priestley of April 9, 1803, Jefferson mentions “Pythagoras, Epicurus, Epictetus, Socrates, Cicero, Seneca, Antoninus” and speaks of Jesus as historical figure, albeit one who has been evemeristically mythologized. (Jefferson 1854, 475-476)

Joseph Priestley; Rembrandt Peale, 1801

Priestly was an influential Unitarian minister, a denomination that in Jefferson’s time stripped away the miraculous and focused on Jesus the compassionate man, the same position Jefferson took in his Bible. The minister, who had assailed Volney over his mythicism, was convinced not only that Jesus had existed as a historical figure but also that he had essentially been a Unitarian, like Priestley himself, who set out to prove this premise in his book about Christ.

Jefferson, Volney and Adams

Having met in France, between 1790 and 1806 Jefferson and Volney corresponded at least 30 times, which is prolific in consideration of the awkwardness and inconvenience of the medium of the day. During his sojourn in America between 1795 and 1798, Volney visited Jefferson at Monticello. (Leopold, 4) In this regard, in his letter of June 12, 1796 to then-Colonel James Monroe (1758-1831), fifth President of the United States and author of the Monroe Doctrine, Jefferson casually remarks, “Volney is with me at present. He is on his way to the Illinois.” (Jefferson 1829, 335) Volney needs no introduction to Monroe, and it is obvious that he is well known among the American elite of the time.

“Volney is with me at present.”

A week later (6/17/1796), Jefferson wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), who had been a general under Washington in the Revolutionary War and whose whereabouts Jefferson had learned from “M. Volney, now with me” (still). (Jefferson 1829, 338) One wonders what engrossing conversations the two may have engaged in at that time.

John Adams; Samuel Finley Breese Morse, 1816

Despite Volney having friends in such high places, in 1798 second American President John Adams (1735-1826), evidently influenced by Priestley and others, was able to drive the “infidel” Volney from America, allegedly out of “unmanly revenge,” labeling the French count an “atheist, an ignoramus, a Chinese and a Hottentot.” (St. John, 236) In view of such treatment of nonbelievers, it may be understood why interest in mythicism has not been overtly declared by the erudite and elite such as are discussed here.

Volney returned to France, where he associated with Madison, through whom Jefferson continued corresponding to the Frenchman, and in a letter of 1804 to James Monroe, President Jefferson mentions his close relationship with the Count. Jefferson’s role in this scandalous “French Connection” did not go unnoticed, however, as he too was castigated: “Federalists attacked Jefferson as a ‘howling atheist’ and infidel, claiming that his attraction to the religious and political extremism of the French Revolution disqualified him from public office.” (“Thomas Jefferson and religion“)

Jefferson’s Volney Collection

Thomas Jefferson

In 1805, Jefferson wrote to Volney that he had received the Count’s latest work, a travel guide, which the American President had read and “deposited in the Congressional library.” Further demonstrating his knowledge of Volney’s work, in 1815 Jefferson sold as part of his collection to Congress a copy of the English translation of Volney’s The Ruins, published in 1796–the same year Volney visited Jefferson at Monticello.

In fact, Jefferson himself evidently translated into English the first 20 chapters of Ruins, with Joel Barlow finishing the rest, which was published in 1802. (Linebaugh, 410; Gaustad, 35) Adding further intrigue to this tale, Jefferson allegedly asked Volney later to burn his manuscript (Linebaugh, 410), but it appears that instead the translation was simply attributed to Barlow, possibly in order to keep the third President out of what could have been a scandalous affair.

Indeed, as Steven Blakemore (261) states:

Jefferson began a translation of the book but upon becoming president, he realized that he could not complete it and, for political reasons, he did not want to be identified as the translator.

“…the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Volney translator Joel Barlow (1750-1812) himself was a American statesman well known for drafting the Islam-appeasing Treaty of Tripoli, in which it was written that “the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

“[Volney’s] ideas are similar to those represented in Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence and the statute of Virginia for religious freedom.”

Volney's Ruins of Empires, 1811

Speaking of the philosophical views in Volney’s Ruins, the Library of Congress (2/24/2000) remarks, “These ideas are similar to those represented in Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence and the statute of Virginia for religious freedom.”

Like Washington, Jefferson also had in his collection the commentary by Priestley on Volney’s mythicism, revealing he also knew about that debate, which might explain any evident reticence on his part about jumping into this intellectual fray, an apparent factor in the introduction of the “alien bills” Adams had used to expel the French mythicist. In consideration of the hostility from the highest office of the land, it is understandable if these gentlemen did not commit to writing much of their personal conversations about religion.

In any event, it is clear from Jefferson’s lengthy and enthusiastic correspondence with Volney about a wide variety of subjects, including travel, geography, weather, food, health, languages, politics and philosophy, as well as personal matters such as the state of his home, that he found the latter’s writings to be stimulating, that his fondness for the man was unaffected by Adams’s actions against him and that he was unphased by Volney’s mythicism, about which he clearly knew.

Jefferson, Paine and Jesus as the Sun

If Conway’s remarks are true–and we have little reason to believe otherwise–at some point and likely under the influence of Volney (and Dupuis), as well as the “militant Deist” Paine, Jefferson discussed with the latter the possibility of Jesus and his disciples representing the sun and the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Thomas Paine; oil by Auguste Millière (1880), after an engraving by William Sharp, after a portrait by George Romney (1792)

As early as 1793, Jefferson was aware that Paine was critical of the gospel story, as in a letter of that year to Jefferson, U.S. Minister to France Gouverneur Morris informs him that Paine is in prison, “where he amuses himself with publishing a pamphlet against Jesus Christ.” (Lawrence, 111) The pamphlet to which Morris refers, the first part of The Age of Reason, is a deistic tract that takes a typical evemerist position of Jesus being a “virtuous and amiable man” (Paine 1852, 14). In that same writing, Paine refers repeatedly to “Christian mythology” and “Christian mythologists.” (E.g., Paine 1852, 12)

It seems that, particularly after the publication of The Ruins, Paine became increasingly inclined towards mythicism, as displayed in his later work on Freemasonry, which was an essay to be included in the third part of his Age of Reason but which was not published until 1818, nine years after his death.

“The Christian religion and Masonry have one and the same common origin, both are derived from the worship of the sun.”

As he had done in his letter of 1806 to Andrew A. Dean (quoted above), in his “Origins of Free-Masonry” Paine likewise equated Jesus with the sun:

The Christian religion and Masonry have one and the same common origin, both are derived from the worship of the sun; the difference between their origin is, that the Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man whom they call Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the same adoration which was originally paid to the sun, as I have shown in the chapter on the origin of the Christian religion. (Paine, 324)

George Washington as Freemason

In this regard, George Washington himself was a Mason (Mulsow, 193), as was Benjamin Franklin (Popkin, 50). There is no official record of Thomas Jefferson being a Mason, but he was surrounded by Masons in his family and as business and political associates, and he attended a number of Masonic meetings and ceremonies at various lodges. (Beless) It is therefore likely that all three men were familiar with the doctrine outlined by Paine.

In the paragraph above comparing Jesus with the sun, Paine’s last sentence has an asterisk (*) on it that reads: “Not published,” in reference to the aforementioned chapter concerning Christian origins. One wonders what the chapter contained that prevented it from being published; it is likely from all this evidence that it was something in line with the works of Dupuis and Volney, i.e., mythicism.

Not content with censoring the Christian origins chapter, the entire paragraph was also omitted from Paine’s Freemasonry pamphlet published posthumously by Madame Bonneville in 1810, undoubtedly for fear of offending the masses. As American historian Dr. Bruce Kuklick writes (xxiii), “In a time of religious retrenchment in the United States, Paine’s theology became a matter of censure.” In this same vein, when in 1802 Paine went to publish his third part of Age of Reason along with a response to a prominent churchman who had assailed his work, Jefferson requested him not to do so. (Morais, 126)

It is therefore easy to understand why any letters from Jefferson to Paine regarding this taboo subject would go unpublished–or be destroyed.

“A couple of decades later, popular English minister Robert Taylor was imprisoned for being a mythicist.”

Any fears about censure–or worse–would have been well founded, however, as was discovered a couple of decades later, when popular English minister Robert Taylor was imprisoned for saying essentially the same thing, i.e., for being a mythicist.

Robert Taylor and Charles Darwin

One of Dupuis and Volney’s later devotees was Rev. Robert Taylor, author of 'The Diegesis'Rev. Dr. Robert Taylor (1784-1844), whose mistreatment under England’s “blasphemy” laws badly frightened the budding evolutionist and Conway friend Dr. Charles Darwin as to his own potential fate. Taylor was notoriously arrested, tried and convicted for publicly calling into question the veracity of the Bible and Christian tradition, preaching from the pulpit that Christ was a mythical figure. He served two prison sentences in the late 1820s and early 1830s for a total of three years, during which time he defiantly wrote two mythicist works, The Syntagma and The Diegesis. If Darwin was aware of Taylor’s fate, he was likely also knowledgeable about what the minister had been preaching: To wit, Jesus Christ was a mythical not historical figure, based on pre-Christian solar mythology.

“Such ill treatment may indicate why so little mythicism has made it into the public view, with questioners of the ‘historical Jesus’ treated as pariahs in both the public at large and the hallowed halls of academia.”

Such ill treatment may indicate why so little mythicism has made it into the public view, even to this day, with questioners of the evidence for the “historical Jesus” and propounders of mythical parallels treated as pariahs in both the public at large and the hallowed halls of academia. However, as we can see from this fascinating story, there is more to the picture than meets the eye, and the question of Jesus’s historicity has been on the minds of many of the greatest and most influential thinkers of all time.

The Sun of Righteousness, Valentinus and the Zodiac

The hypothesis by various erudite notables that Christ was the sun and his 12 apostles were the signs of the zodiac has a long and venerable history, beginning in the early Christian period, extending throughout later tradition. Indeed, perceiving Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness” was based on the scripture at Malachi 4:2, the biblical book immediately preceding the Gospel of Matthew:

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings…

This tradition of solar imagery within Christianity has continued abundantly to the present day.

Building on the precedent of the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria and the Jewish historian Josephus, both of whom equated the 12 Tribes of Israel with the 12 signs of the zodiac, early Christians and Gnostics did likewise with the 12 apostles.

For example, in the early third century, Church father Clement of Alexandria (Excerpts from Theodotus 1.25.2) reported on the doctrine of the Valentinian Gnostic Theodotus (fl. 150-180 AD/CE):

He says the apostles were substituted for the twelve signs of the zodiac, for, as birth is directed by them, so is rebirth by the apostles. (Hegedus, 324)

As theologian Rev. Dr. Tim Hegedus remarks in Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology (343):

“[The] twelve apostles have taken over the role of guardian…of the zodiacal signs that had traditionally been held by the twelve [Olympian] gods.”

Miniature zodiac, with Helios (Sun) as Christ, surrounded by the apostles, corresponding to the zodiacal signs; 813-820 AD/CE; Vaticanus graecus 1291

This correlation continued throughout early Christianity into the Middle Ages, as evidenced by imagery of Jesus as the central sun surrounded by his 12 as the zodiac, discussed by famed churchman the Venerable Bede, for one, in the seventh century:

In England the Venerable Bede, 673-735, substituted the eleven apostles for eleven of the early signs, as the Corona seu circulus sanctorum Apostolorum, John the Baptist fitly taking the place of Aquarius to complete the circle. (Allen, 6)

The astrotheological imagery within the Bible and Christianity is abundant and can be discussed at length, as have I done in my books.

In view of all these factors, it is evident that some of the most brilliant minds and greatest visionaries in history have entertained, if not been convinced by, the idea of Jesus Christ being a mythical figure, based significantly on Pagan mythology that revolves around the sun. It is also obvious that the public expression of such mythicism, whether verbal or written, could bring down the persecutory wrath of the reigning authorities, which explains why this amazing and important history is not more widely known. Until today…

Further Reading

What is a Mythicist?
A Brief History of Mythicism
Jesus as the Sun throughout History
The Christ Myth Anthology
Thomas Jefferson and religion

(Interview with D.M. Murdock below starts at 22:00 in)