The Mythical Interpretation of the Gospels: Critical Studies in the Historic Narratives

By Thomas James Thorburn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE DESCENSION TO HADES. THE RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION TO HEAVEN

The Descension to Hades

THE theological tradition of the descent of Jesus to the nether world, which forms a separate article of the faith in the so-called Apostles' Creed (though it was omitted in the symbol of Nicæa), is largely based upon the wellknown passage in I Peter 3: 191 (cf. Eph. 8: 9).

It has been the practise of many scholars for some years past to trace this tradition back to the mythological conceptions of various races and nations -- Mandaeans, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, etc. Even Buddhist eschatology has been drawn upon in the search for "origins" or at least "parallels." We will now examine the chief of these and see how far they can be said to correspond with Christian ideas and teaching.

Perhaps the oldest extant story of this kind is that of the now well-known "Descent of Ištar" to the underworld -- "the land of no return,"2 as it is pathetically

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1
It is doubtful here, however, whether the preacher is Christ or Enoch. Doctor Rendel Harris reads Πν καì 'Eνẃχ ( Expositor, April, 1901), which is a plausible correction, as a copyist might easily omit 'Eνẃχ after Πν . It is also uncertain whether the "spirits in prison" are not the rebel angels spoken of in the book of Enoch.

Other passages more or less definitely referring to the descent, or perhaps throwing light upon it, are: Matt. 12: 40; Luke 23: 43; Acts 2: 24, 27, and 31; Romans 10: 7 (on Deut. 30: 13), but note alteration in text of the LXX version here; Eph. 4: 9; Rev. 1: 18. See also Wisd. (Latin text) 24: 32, where "Penetrabo omnes inferiores partes terrae, et inspiciam omnes dormientes et illuminabo omnes sperantes in Domino" has been deemed an influence towards formulating the doctrine.

2
The ghost (utukku) of Eabani, the man-monster of the Gilgamesh Epic, however, returns when summoned, and appears to Gilgamesh for a brief

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