A couple of weeks ago, Brian drew our attention to the film Zeitgeist which hasn't (so far as I know) had a cinema reliease but is currently circulating on the Internet. Describing it as "confronting" film, Brian suggested that it "raises issues on a huge scale", and that "young people will be watching this film in their hundreds of millions".
I confess that I haven't watched the film yet, but I have visited the associated website at www.zeitgeistmovie.com to which Brian helpfully directed us, to see what it was all about.
The film seems to be basically an extended lecture and, conveniently, a transcript of much of the lecture is available on the website. From the transcript, it seems that Zeitgeist, at least in the section of the movie that concerns us most, is challenging the historicity of much of the Christian story, and suggesting that Christ and Christianity are basically constructs formed from an assembly of pagan and astrological mythologies.
Reading the transcript is, to my mind, the right way to try to get to grips with the film, since it is packed with factual assertions and claims, and they come so thick and fast that you wouldn't have time to consider or digest them or, frankly, to remember many of them while watching the movie. For instance:
Reading the transcript, you can deal with these claims at a more measured pace than you could watching the movie.
There are so many claims and connections made in the film that investigating and assessing them all would be the work of many weeks. Frankly, I'm not inclined to devote many weeks to the task. So let's look at just a couple.
The Horus Connection…
According to Zeitgest, the Egyptian deity Horus was born on December 25th, the offspring of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star and three kings, at the age of twelve he was a child prodigy as a teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptised by a figure called Anup, and began a ministry of teaching and signs accompanied by twelve disciples. He was betrayed, crucified, buried for three days, and resurrected. Spotting anything familiar here, are we?
I must admit that I'm suspicious from the outset. The very first claim is that Horus was born on 25 December. I'm no Egyptologist, but even I know that the the Egyptians didn't use the Julian calendar developed by the Romans, and it seems very unlikely that any event from Egyptian mythology can be fixed in the Julian calendar in this way.
What about the next claim, that Horus was born of the virgin Isis-Meri, the star, the three kings and so forth? Well, I did a bit of reading around, and the story of the birth of Horus seems to be this:
All of which leads to two observations. First, how very unlike the home life of our own dear queen. Secondly, if you can find in that story a meaningful parallel to the Christian accounts of the Annunciation and the Nativity, you've a more creative mind than I.
At this point I stopped pursuing the Horus connection. If the makers of Zeitgeist can see parallels to the Christian story in that, they can seem them anywhere, but I'm not sure the parallels they see will be of great interest to me. So testing the remaining parallels claimed by Zeitgeist is left as an exercise for the student. I turned instead to a different claim
The Astronomical Claim…
"The star in the east [referred to in the gospels in connection with the birth of Jesus] is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which, on December 24th, aligns with the 3 brightest stars in Orion's Belt. These 3 bright stars are called today what they were called in ancient times: The Three Kings. The Three Kings and the brightest star, Sirius, all point to the place of the sunrise on December 25th. This is why the Three Kings 'follow' the star in the east, in order to locate the sunrise -- the birth of the sun."
The claim here is that the gospel "three kings" are not three people, but the three central stars in Orion's belt which, it is said, are still called the "three kings" today. I've never heard them called that, but let that pass; it could be true. But, as we all know, they are not called the "three kings" in the gospels. The gospels mention neither kings, nor the number three; just some wise men from the East. So already the connection made in Zeitgeist is looking a bit thin.
It looks even thinner when we are told that Sirius aligns with the three stars in Orion's belt on 24 December. Look, people, the position of the stars in the sky relative to one another is fixed. That's how we get constellations. If Sirius is aligned with the three stars in Orion's belt — and it is, more or less — then it is aligned with them every night, not just on 24 December.
As for "pointing to the place of sunrise", well, because of the earth's rotation the stars appear to rotate around the celestial north pole (in the northern hemisphere) or the celestial south pole (in the southern hemisphere). Every primary school child knows this. It follows that, if you construct an imaginary line through any two or more stars and project it to the horizon, the point at which it touches the horizon will traverse as the night progresses. In a twelve-hour night, it will traverse exactly half the horizon. On any night of this year, therefore, the odds are fifty per cent that the point of intersection of any given line will traverse through the point at which the sun will rise the next morning.
In fact, the odds are greater than that, since our imaginary line can be projected in both directions and will intersect the horizon at two points, both of which will traverse through the night.
In short, it may be true that at some pont on the night of 24 December a line constructed through the stars of Orion's belt and Sirius intersects the horizon at the point where the sun will rise the next morning. But exactly the same is true of more than half the nights of the year, and it is also true of many other possible lines which could be constructed through stars, so there is nothing at all remarkable about it. It certainly does not serve to identify 24 December as a night of special significance.
But the clincher which shows that this is a bunch of nonsense is that the whole thing is an elaborate explanation to show why December 25 was chosen as the birthday of a mythical Jesus by the gospel writers who constructed the myth. But the gospels, as we all know, do not mention 25 December. 25 December was chosen a couple of centuries later for the celebration of the Nativity. Yes, it was chosen for basically astrological/astronomical reasons, but reasons completely unrelated to the nonsense trotted out here — it was around the time of the winter solstice.
The gospel writers could not possibly have known that this would happen, and the idea that their accounts of wise men coming from the East are actually a pointer to the state of the night sky on 25 December, apart from all the holes that I have pointed to, falls on this ground alone.
At this point I stopped trying to test the specific claims made in Zeitgeist. If you're trying to debunk the historicity of the gospels, you might start by reading the gospels, and they show no sign of having done this. Their claims to find parallels between Jesus and Horus are, as far as I have tested them, bogus; so completely bogus, in fact, that I am really not motivated to test their claims to find parallels with other pagan deities.
I had already reached this conclusion before I discovered that the next section of the film moves on from Christianity, and attempt to show that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre were perpetrated by the US government, and were the result of bombs detonated within the target buildings, not aircraft flying into them from outside. They're not the only people making this claim, but most of the others are obvious fruitcakes and what I've looked at in the first part of the film gives me no reason to think that the rest of it carries much credibility.
Is there a lesson in all of this? Yes. First, as a society we have to educate ourselves and our young people to test the information and beliefs we are offered, rather than to accept them uncritically. By all accounts Zeitgeist is polished and powerful, but it is nonsense, and if we are not to be taken in by nonsense we must learn to look beyond polished and powerful presentation, and think critically about what we are being offered.
What are your thoughts on this commentary? You can contribute to the discussion in our forum.