""Ironically, it was the very work that had been intended to demolish Celsus that saved him. No books of Celsus have survived the centuries untouched, true - but Origen’s attack has and it quoted Celsus at length. Scholars have therefore been able to extract Celsus’s arguments from Origen’s words, which preserved them like flies in amber. Not all of the words - perhaps only seventy per cent of the original work has been recovered. Its order has gone, its structure has been lost and the whole thing, as Gibbon put it, is a ‘mutilated representation’ of the original.— But nevertheless we have it.
It is easy to see why it upset the ancient Christians. Even by today’s standards, Celsus’s On the True Doctrine feels bracingly direct. It wasn’t just Mary and Moses who were attacked. Everything was. Jesus was not, Celsus wrote, conceived through the Holy Spirit. This, he scoffs, was most unlikely because Mary wouldn’t have been beautiful enough to tempt a deity.— Instead, he says, Jesus was conceived via the rather baser means of that Roman soldier named Panthera.- When Mary’s pregnancy and infidelity had been discovered, she was
convicted of adultery and ‘driven out by her husband’.—
If that feels shocking, Celsus had barely begun. The divine scriptures were, he said, rubbish; the story of the Garden of Eden was ‘very silly’ and Moses ‘had no idea’ about the true nature of the world.— The ‘prophecies’ that had predicted Jesus’s coming were also a nonsense, since ‘the prophecies could be applied to thousands of others far more plausibly than to Jesus’. Judgement Day also came in for scorn. How precisely, asked Celsus, was this going to work? ‘It is foolish of them also to suppose that, when God applies the fire (like a cook!), all the rest of mankind will be thoroughly roasted and that they alone will survive.’— Cherished Christian beliefs were dismissed as being the sort of tales that ‘a drunken old woman would have been ashamed to sing ... to lull a little child to sleep’.—
Celsus professes himself baffled by the extent to which Jesus’s teachings seem to contradict many of those laid down in the Old Testament. Have the rules of an allegedly omniscient god changed over time? If so, then ‘who is wrong? Moses or Jesus? Or when the Father sent Jesus had he forgotten what commands he gave to Moses?’ Or maybe God knew he was changing his mind, and Jesus was a legal messenger, sent to give notice that God wished to ‘condemn his own laws and change his mind’.—
Celsus cannot understand, either, why there was such a great gap between the creation of mankind and the sending of Jesus. If all who don’t believe are damned, why wait so long to enable them to be saved? ‘Is it only now after such a long age that God has remembered to judge the life of men? Did he not care before?’— Moreover, why not send Jesus somewhere a bit more populous? If God ‘woke up out of his long slumber and wanted to deliver the human race from evils, why on earth did he send this spirit that you mention into one corner’ of the world - and, Celsus implies, a backwater at that?— He also queries why an omniscient, omnipotent God would need to send someone at all. ‘What is the purpose of such a descent on the part of God?’ he asks. ‘Was it in order to learn what was going on among men? . . . Does not he know everything?’—
Jesus’s logistical abilities are, like God’s, called into question. Celsus attacks the tendency for some of his most miraculous moments to be witnessed by the fewest number of people. ‘When he was punished he was seen by all; but by only one person after he rose again; whereas the opposite ought to have happened.’— What witnesses the Bible did offer were, for Celsus, rarely reliable. Of the Resurrection he says: ‘Who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say’ and one other person who then went on to invent this ‘cock-and-bull story’.— The Resurrection was therefore either ‘wishful thinking’ or perhaps ‘a
The claim that Christ was divine seems to Celsus a logical impossibility: ‘How can a dead man be immortal?’— The idea that Jesus came to save sinners also comes in for short shrift. ‘Why on earth this preference for sinners?’ he asks. ‘Why was he not sent to those without sin? What evil is it not to have sinned?’—
The arguments go on, hammering at Christianity’s central beliefs. The Creation story itself takes a particular bashing. Celsus disdains the idea of an omnipotent being needing to piece out his work like a builder, to make so much on one day, so much more on a second, third, fourth and so on - and particularly the idea that, after all this work, ‘God, exactly like a bad workman, was worn out and needed a holiday to have a rest.’—
To many intellectuals such as Celsus, the whole idea of a ‘Creation myth’ was not only implausible but redundant. During this period in Rome, a popular and influential philosophical theory offered an alternative view. This theory - an Epicurean one - stated that everything in the world was made not by any divine being but by the collision and combination of atoms. According to this school of thought, these particles were invisible to the naked eye but they had their own structure and could not be cut ( temno ) into any smaller particles: they were atemnos - ‘the uncuttable thing’: the atom. Everything that you see or feel, these materialists argued, was made up of two things: atoms and space ‘in which these bodies are and through which they move this way and that’.— Even living creatures were made from them: humans were, as one (hostile) author summarized, not made by God but were instead nothing more than ‘a haphazard union of elements’.— The distinct species of animals were explained by a form of proto-Darwinism. As the Roman poet and atomist Lucretius wrote, nature put forth many species. Those that had useful characteristics - the fox and its cunning, say, or the dog and its intelligence - survived, thrived and reproduced. Those creatures that lacked these ‘lay at the mercy of others for prey and profit. . . until nature brought that race to destruction’.""