The following is a guest post by Albert McIlhenny. I really appreciate the work of Albert as we share an interest in the Jesus Myth Theory. Albert blogs at Labarum and I would especially like to point you to his series of books on the Jesus Myth.
An Evaluation of the Work and Influence of D. M. Murdock
On Christmas 2015, D. M. Murdock, one of the more popular proponents of Jesus mythicism, died after a battle with inflammatory breast cancer. I expressed some thoughts on her passing on my blog but, upon the gracious invitation of Stephen J. Bedard to write a guest post, I will give an overview of her work and influence on Jesus mythicism over the last twenty years. I must begin by stating I have been a vocal critic of hers for some time and that I found her arguments to be uniformly poor. However, as I expressed earlier, I certainly took no joy in her passing and I hope to focus my criticism in this piece to her ideas and what I believe were her major weaknesses as a researcher.
Born Dorothy Murdock on March 7, 1960, she attended Franklin & Marshall University where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Classical Studies in 1982. While attending Franklin & Marshall, she also apparently participated in the Lake Forest College Program in Greece & Turkey in 1981. After her degree, she was enrolled in the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. At this point she appeared to be one of many who were perusing a career in the field of either archaeology or classical studies without any hint of the decidedly nonscholarly work she would produce later in life.
When Murdock next surfaced in in the mid to late 1990s, she did so as a conspiracy theorist specializing in anti-Christian polemic under the pseudonym “Acharya S.” Her website quickly gained a following with the tinfoil hat crowd and she was invited on some conspiracy theorist radio programs. As for her claims concerning Christianity, they were largely borrowed from the work of less than scholarly nineteenth century figures such as Gerald Massey and Kersey Graves and were likely influenced by similar ideas being promoted by Jordan Maxwell – then a leading figure in the same circles. Any attempt at academic rigor she may have learned in her earlier studies went out the window as she would accept any crackpot idea that supported her current passion.
When any of this is pointed out, Murdock’s supporters get rather indignant (they are an easily offended lot) that someone would label her a conspiracy theorist. However, even a cursory look at her early website illustrates support for wild claims that were popular among conspiracy theorists in the late 1990s. For example, in an essay she wrote titled “Is AIDS Killing Your Mind?” she promoted the belief that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus but rather was part of a great conspiracy to overthrow the sexual revolution:
It has also not escaped this dissident that the AIDS “epidemic” followed on the heels of the Sexual Revolution. It has been widely known for centuries that sexually liberated individuals are difficult to control and that the repression of sex is THE means by which the masses are most controllable. This control is found most blatantly in various religions, where sex is dirty and evil – original sin! The attitude has now been extended to the nth degree: Sex is now fatal! Have sex, suffer a horrendous death, wasting away over a period of years, taking toxic, sickening drugs and eventually IVs – all for having sex! While human compulsion and drive manage still to overcome these images, the mass human psyche has not been immune to their insidious effects, as, on the heels of that enlightening and liberating Sexual Revolution, humans are now more screwed up about sex than ever.
That’s right – AIDS is a nonexistent disease created to stop us from having fantastic sex so the powers that be are better able to control the masses!
Equally revealing was a letter (dated June 1, 1999) to the History Channel responding to a documentary on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Identifying herself as Associate Director of the Institute for Historical Accuracy, she sidestepped giving an opinion on the veracity of this infamous fake, but made clear her views on Judaism in general and charges of antisemitism in particular:
In fact, Jewish authorities will admit that the term [antisemitism] is used in order to quash any criticism of Judaism as a bigoted, sexist and divisive ideology, which it is clearly demonstrated to be in the Old Testament, the Jewish apocrypha, the Dead Sea scrolls and the Talmud.
When she began trying to revamp her image, Murdock’s website was scrubbed clean of such revealing items.
Prior to the release of her first published book, she wrote two titles that were presented on her website (and released years later as e-books): The Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus and The Gospel According to Acharya S. The first was an outline of her theories concerning the astrotheological origins of Christianity while the latter was a collection of rants posing as essays. Additionally, she had also written a science-fiction/fantasy novel titled Paradise Found and another book titled The Aquarian Manifesto: A Handbook for Survival into and a Blueprint for the New Age. Neither book was ever released although some excerpts from the former once appeared on her website. The latter title is interesting as she maintained she was not a “New Ager” but it is difficult to imagine someone using that title without having some sympathy with New Age ideas. However, since the book has never been published, one cannot be certain of its contents and it may be that she once held such views but later changed her perspective.
With her website gaining her exposure in the conspiracy subculture, she released her first published book, The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, in 1999 and it immediately struck a chord with conspiracy theorists interested in religion. That this was her target audience is underscored by the fact that Kenn Thomas (publisher of the conspiracy theorist Steamshovel Press) wrote the preface and the publisher was David Hatcher Childress (of Ancient Aliens fame) through his Adventures Unlimited Press.
The back cover advertised Murdock as an archaeologist, historian, mythologist, and linguist. That is an impressive resumé if true but Murdock never attained an advanced degree, published academic papers in a recognized journal, or was considered a peer by experts in any of these fields. All she had going for her was that she had just authored an anti-Christian polemical screed through a conspiracy theorist publisher.
A few examples of claims made in The Christ Conspiracy should serve to illustrate the delusional nature of the book:
- Murdock claimed Augustine was originally a Mandaean until his “conversion” at the Council of Nicaea when he was offered a prominent place in the Catholic Church. While mistakenly identifying him as a Mandaean (he was actually a Manichaen) could be brushed off as a minor confusion, claiming Augustine converted at Nicaea for power is harder to swallow. First of all, he was not even born yet when the Council of Nicaea took place (Augustine was a figure of the fifth century – not the fourth). Nor did Augustine gain a leadership role from his conversion. He was not ordained until five years later, and he was made a bishop a decade after that – hardly a rush to power at a time of relatively short lifespans.
- Murdock claimed Irenaeus was a Gnostic as proven by a zodiac found on the floor of a church in Lyons where he was bishop. This is obviously ridiculous as Irenaeus was the chief opponent of early Gnosticism. Moreover, no floor of a church has yet been found in Lyons (or anywhere else) dating to the second century when Irenaeus was bishop.
- Murdock claims the “true meaning of the word Gospel is God’s spell as in magic, hypnosis, and delusion. In reality, the word comes from the Old English god meaning “good” and spell meaning “message” and was a translation for the Greek evangelion.
- Murdock suggested a possible reason scholars ignored her views was that they may be participants in a Freemasonic conspiracy led by the Grandmaster of all Freemasons: the pope. The strangeness of this claim needs no explanation.
- Murdock claimed the Great Pyramid was never a tomb but was used to teach the “higher mysteries” of death and served as a celestial computer. Furthermore, it was probably not built by Egyptians but some earlier civilization. Of course, a century’s worth of work by qualified Egyptologists said differently, but that mattered little since she had David Hatcher Childress and a bunch of nineteenth century occultists as expert witnesses.
- Murdock believed the current religious apparatus derived from the corruption of a lost global civilization’s nature religion. Citing a litany of quacks promoting variations on the Atlantis mythology, she took their absurdities to heart and gave new life to the quackery of previous generations.
- Murdock somehow connected the Apostle Peter to a Roman statue of a penis-nosed rooster-man. This bit of strangeness became a hot topic on among some internet websites when New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, in his study of Jesus mythicism, excoriated Murdock and pointed to it as one example of why she should not be taken seriously.
Such are the wonders one will encounter in the pages of The Christ Conspiracy.
As for her source material, Murdock went above and beyond the call of duty to find authors from previous generations whose crackpot treatises were left unexplored by other Jesus mythicists. It is a safe bet that, given any crank anti-Christian author, they will be cited in the pages of The Christ Conspiracy. The list of supporting citations teems with specialty publishers’ reprints of forgotten atheists and occultists as Murdock left no stone unturned and found supporting sources from the dubious to the deranged.
This result is that The Christ Conspiracy is the one of the most unintentionally amusing books ever written by a Jesus mythicist. Towards the end of her life, Murdock was reportedly working on a second edition that would likely have reflected the far tamer pattern of her recent books – a pity as it would descend to the ranks of the dubious but mundane and lost the enthusiasm and audacity of unbridled wackiness. Whether the new edition will ever appear in some form is unclear.
In 2004, her follow-up book Suns of God: Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled and accomplished little more than extending her range of bizarre claims from one religion to three. Some point after this time, her “secret identity” was revealed and it was around this point that she began a quest to be taken seriously. In future books, she would write in a far less strident tone and attempt to use real scholars rather than the nineteenth century occultists and cranks that she had largely depended upon up to that date. However, in both her subsequent work, she twisted passages completely out of context to argue for things the authors would have considered absurd.
For example, one clear problem with her astrotheological theory is that the pieces of the theory (sky divided into twelve equal sectors by the zodiac, knowledge of precession, etc.) were not a part of ancient astrology until far too close to the time of Christ to present itself as an established matrix to imitate. The zodiac was developed in Babylon between 1000-500 BC and was never used in Egypt until the Ptolemaic period. Moreover, precession was not discovered until the second century BC. Murdock tried to avoid this by claiming David Ulansey associated Mithraism with the changing from the spring equinox rising in Taurus changing to rising in Aries – thus placing the knowledge of precession much earlier. What Murdock avoided stating (or did not understand) is that Ulansey explicitly stated that this was associated with Roman Mithraism – not its Persian counterpart – which developed around the same time as Christianity. Moreover, Ulansey even wrote that Roman Mithraism evolved as a result of Hipparchus’ discovery of the precession in the second century BC! The difference in the change was attributable a differing division of the sky by eight degrees. Murdock, like other mythicists backing the same theory, used a modern division of the sky that places the change to Pisces around the time of Christ. However, the division used in antiquity places the changes over half a millennium later. Thus the Romans were looking at a far more recent change to Aries and the change to Pisces was far into the future.
Even more dubious was her use of Josue V. Harari to back her idea of a crucified Attis. She claimed that Harari wrote of a “castrated and crucified Attis.” In the book she cited, Harari was the editor of a volume of papers on literary criticism and the page she cited was from a paper by Paul de Man titled “Semiology and Rhetoric” in which he discussed the figure Attis not as he was thought of in antiquity but as he appeared in a twentieth century poem by William Butler Yeats titled “Vascillation.” The poem used metaphors to describe the death of the classical world with Attis castrating himself and falling into a bush holding onto leaves dying on one side and alive on the other with his arms outstretched. This was to signify the death of the classical world gave way to the rise of the Christian world that followed. It certainly had nothing to do with an ancient belief in a crucified Attis.
She would also cited Andrew T. Fear to argue in a pre-Christian resurrected Attis when Fear had clearly stated that resurrection was a late addition to the Attis cult developed in reaction to the growing influence of Christianity. One has to seriously wonder if she merely did Google book searches to find any mention of a pagan god and a parallel to Christ by anyone without ever checking exactly what the author believed.
Added to this you may add the many quotemines of Church Fathers where she would claim they knew that Christianity was a copy of pagan religions when they did no such thing. For example, she used the famous quote that Christianity was “neither new nor strange but had existed from the beginning” to argue, as many mythicists have done, that Christianity was based upon pagan ideas. However, when one reads the quote in context, Eusebius is clearly arguing that Christianity is the rightful successor of the religion of the Old Testament and not that it had any connection to paganism.
However, the poor argumentation that Murdock displayed throughout her career is only one aspect of her work. Equally important – in fact, likely more important – was the deep passion with which she expressed it. This was particularly clear in her earlier books and in posts on her website and web forums where she was more “off the cuff” than in later books when she attempted to upgrade her image. She clearly had much animus against Christianity and the church but it is hard to say the motivation. She has stated that at one point when she was younger that she was an Evangelical Christian but never supplied any details for her leaving the faith or why she expressed so much hostility towards it once she left.
It is far easier to understand why The Christ Conspiracy is still her most popular book. It appeals to a certain type of anti-Christian zealot: those who are leaving or have left the faith, want to remove any lingering second thoughts, and will not question any anti-Christian claims that make their decision easier. The book tells these people what they want to hear – much like the film Zeitgeist did nearly a decade later – and gives them reassurance that anything they hear to the contrary is part of some great conspiracy that they may conveniently ignore. Glowing reviews from her fans continue to pour into Amazon despite it being ridiculed by anyone who has a clue about the history of Christianity.
Murdock’s fanbase is zealous and I have had my own experiences as has anyone who ever criticized her work. A particularly rabid bunch they are as they seem to scour any website or web forum dealing with the subject of Christianity to push links to her website and videos amidst the many “facepalms” of those who actually have a clue. It has almost become a bit of a sad joke how everyone seems to know about Murdock’s many follies except her own followers. This pattern will likely continue until her work meets its inevitable fate as forgotten period pieces dedicated to faddish crank theories. In this regard, she will finally achieve the status of her hero Gerald Massey.
You can find a pdf version of this article with endnotes here.