This is my review posted at Amazon 8/26/03. Related pages: http://www.egodeath.com/#MysteryReligions
The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold
Rank: 7K, 3K (very popular)
Replaces historical Jesus by materialist astrology
Acharya's long book has several parts and aspects that need to be judged as distinct components. Similar to Freke & Gandy's book The Jesus Mysteries and its companion Jesus and the Goddess, and unlike Doherty's book The Jesus Puzzle, Acharya not only makes a case for the nonhistoricity of Jesus and absence of a single individual as the kernel for the Jesus figure, she also proposes an interpretation of what, positively, the original Jesus figure meant to the earliest Christians and proto-Christians.
Her presentation of the case for the negative half of the project, debunking the historicity of Jesus, is good, is standard, and strengthens the case made by the other mythic-only Jesus scholars. By providing a positive scenario of the real, original, esoteric meaning of Jesus, in addition to debunking the received history, Acharya is more ambitious than Doherty. However, her proposed explanation of the Jesus figure as a matter of initiation, myth, and esotericism is a 1-dimensional, literalist, materialist, and debased version of astrology.
She conceives of astrology as a study of physical bodies rather than as being also an allegorical system of psyche development grounded in the mystic state of consciousness. She thus misreads the nature and spirit of that which she proposes as a replacement for Jesus' historicity, astrology. Freke & Gandy have a better feel for the psychological and mystic-state emphasis in esoteric mystery initiations and myth.
Her lack of recognition of the mystic-state psychology emphasis in astrology is all the more remarkable because it contrasts with her own short section about visionary plants. In that section she again uses the term 'initiation', but doesn't describe what initiation is about.
That section on visionary plants is also oddly not integrated into the rest of the book, because it states that the Amanita mushroom (if it was a thematic source) was merely one aspect of the Jesus myth and Christ conspiracy, which incorporated virtually everything at hand. If this isolated, insightful statement of Acharya is correct, it contradicts, as too limited and too literalist, her own proposed positive explanation of the real original meaning of Jesus in the rest of the book, which she consistently portrays as strictly meaning the literal, physical sun within a conception of astrology that knows nothing of the divine experience of the bright mystic sun in the psyche during initiation.
Thus her book contains the necessary elements to portray astrology as a series of psychological, mystic-state initiation experiences integrated with external materialist, cosmological teachings, but she doesn't put the pieces together. Instead, the bulk of the book consistently portrays literal cosmological bodies as the only concern of astrology -- against all scholars of Western esotericism, who are unanimous that astrology is at least as concerned with nonordinary experiencing and divine development of the psyche, as with physical cosmological bodies.
This is an ambitious and at times overambitious book in that Acharya is unable to put forth a coherent and compelling positive explanation of what the Jesus figure originally meant in its cultural context. She fumbles the ball of esotericism, reducing it to a materialist, that is, non-psychological and non-mystical, conception.
She also misportrays the character of mythic and mystic thinking in ancient wisdom traditions in that she portrays astrology as an isolated esoteric sacred science. Fideler's book Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism provides a more accurate, multifaceted view of how astrotheology functioned as one esoteric thematic school among many.
I especially applaud her revealing that the Paul figure is not historical. More research is needed here, following the lead of the 19th-Century Dutch Radical Critics.
In the last chapters of the book, Acharya commits the common fallacy of postulating an ancient and materialist origin of religious ideas, rather than recognizing that religious ideas spring from the ever-available mystic altered state of consciousness. Because the origin of the ideas in psychological experiences during the mystic state isn't recognized, such nonmystical scholars as Acharya only have recourse to one type of explanation: a literalist, materialist, non-psychological historical origin of religious ideas. She relies too heavily on a single type of scholar, such as Doane in the 19th century, before Jung; she seems unaware of the Jungian or mystic-state theories of the origin of mythic thinking.
The only way she could succeed at convincing skeptics of Jesus' nonhistoricity is by providing a fully compelling positive alternative of what the mystic Jesus figure originally meant. In proffering a materialist version of astrology, she needs to state her position on the Jungian subconscious or mystic state psychological phenomena as an explanation for the origin of the mythic Jesus figure.
This is a highly readable book for a popular audience. Those wanting a more scholarly convincing argument should also read Doherty's book The Jesus Puzzle. Those wanting a more insightful characterization of ancient astrology as psyche-centered should also read Fideler's book Jesus Christ, Sun of God, and those wanting a more experiential characterization of mystery-religion initiation should also read Freke & Gandy's books The Jesus Mysteries and Jesus and the Goddess.
The goal of the book is to establish what Jesus wasn't (a historical individual serving as the kernel for the eventual Jesus figure) and what Jesus was. It is stronger on the first project than the second, because what Jesus was was -- as she states in one isolated spot but otherwise neglects -- a composite figure formed from many themes, not just from a physicalist type of astrology.
The goal of such a revised and corrected understanding is to change popular and scholarly understanding of the original meaning of the Jesus figure, which will then help prevent a continuation of the destructiveness that is supported by a literalist misconception of Christianity. Acharya only partially achieves this goal of providing an accurate understanding of the original Hellenistic meaning of the Jesus figure, and thus this book is of limited efficacy in switching the world away from a literalist to a truly esoteric comprehension of Jesus and Christianity.
Aspects I left out of the review at Amazon:
Astrotheology as concerned with the problem of experiencing and transcending cosmic determinism.
The fact that she discusses the Jesus figure as specifically a personification of the Amanita cap, as one thematic source.
Ruler Cult as a major thematic source for the Jesus figure and for the Christian version of the standard Hellenistic mystery-religion initiation cult.
I should have praised the book strongly for what it does present as an in-depth revealing of astrology allusions, while noting again that the allegory domain of Astrology, while fully and richly present, is not the only allegory domain from which the Jesus figure and Christian mythic system were constructed.
What she labels "astrotheology" (high astrology), she really only portrays as astrology (low astrology) -- her portrayal of astrotheology actually omits the theology portion proper. Theorizing about and analyzing the idea of "astrotheology" -- what does "theology" mean in "astrotheology"; if it's all really about physical planets, pointing ultimately to physical planets, how is that "theology" in any usual sense, rather than being plain old "modern materialist cosmology"? Discuss idea of "reductionism" in modern thinking, reductionism as defined by Ken Wilber and scholars of Western esotericism.
In some ways, this book was perfect for helping me develop my views on scholarship about mysticism and origin of religions.
The review may startle and jolt readers out of the usual ruts of thinking. In some ways the review affirms the book by criticizing it as not going far enough. The review affirms the book's no-Jesus theory by not even bothering to mention the quality of that coverage beyond a sentence or two -- from my point of view, the *least* controversial and debatable thing about the book is its position against historicity, and quality of coverage of the ahistoricist position.
The review also strongly enforces the view that Acharya is not a lone scholar in arguing for ahistoricism; in fact she's merely "typical", "standard" -- that downplaying helps establish and normalize "her" ahistoricist position as being simply *the* ahistoricist, anti-euhemerist position. It is common to marginalize and avoid engaging with a scholarly theory by conceiving of the theory as a position held only by one isolated scholar.
I could have emphasized more explicitly that Acharya is merely one of a large crowd that has drawn the same conclusion, as implied in Acharya's review of a certain book which covers the history of the ahistoricist position -- but my write-up may have more impact by treating this more implicitly, with just a few words such as "standard", implying that there's no need to belabor this clear point, that Acharya is to be counted among a large number, a major established school.
Arthur Drews: The History of the Denial of the Historicity of Jesus - new,
Sep. 1, 2003
Bernhard Hoffers' April 2003 Lecture about Arthur Drews - new, Sep. 1, 2003
Acharya is probably more concerned with, or driven by, what I call the negative project (disproving historical Jesus) than the positive project (proving what the Jesus figure actually meant in its early context), and I expressed and have no critique or criticism at all about that main concern, her disproof of the historical Jesus -- that half of the book, the half which most reviewers are solely aware of, is entirely beyond reproach, to the extent that it only warrants two sentences in a 1000-word review.
Book list: Western Esotericism