“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
“A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will not escape.” Proverbs 19:5
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:12-14
The Two Babylons
Many mistaken views can be traced to the pages of The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop. This book made a number of claims which do not rest on clear historical data, but were conclusions drawn by Hislop influenced by his own biases.
One of Hislop’s supporters, Ralph Woodrow, wrote a book based on Hislop’s book titled Babylon Mystery Religion. However, Woodrow later discovered that Hislop’s claims were largely unsubstantiated, and Woodrow withdrew his support of Hislop, pulling his own book out of print. Woodrow wrote a book to expose the false claims he was now rejecting, The Babylon Connection?
In an article, Woodrow shows the fallacies behind some of Hislop’s thinking:
“Let’s suppose that on May 10th a man was stabbed to death in Seattle. There were strong reasons for believing a certain person did it. He had motive. He was physically strong. He owned a large knife. He had a criminal record. He was known to have a violent temper and had threatened the victim in the past. All of these things would point to him as the murderer, except for one thing: on May 10th he was not in Seattle–he was in Florida!
So is it with the claims about pagan origins. What may seem to have a connection, upon further investigation, has no connection at all!
By this method, one could take virtually anything and do the same–even the “golden arches” at McDonald’s! The Encyclopedia Americana (article: “Arch”) says the use of arches was known in Babylon as early as 2020 B.C. Since Babylon was called “the golden city” (Isa. 14:4), can there be any doubt about the origin of the golden arches? As silly as this is, this is the type of proof that has been offered over and over about pagan origins.”
Since many popular ideas derive from Hislop’s book, some may not want to face the facts and prefer to cling to these unproven or even false views. Many notions linking Easter and Christmas with paganism came from Hislop. This is often used by cultists, pagans, and even some Christians as a battering ram against Christians.
But as Christians, we are called to truth. After all, Jesus is the truth (John 14:6)! How can we as Christians claim to embrace and preach Jesus if we ourselves do not want to see factual evidence that overturns some cherished beliefs that came from Hislop (or any other less than credible sources)? Therefore, it is suitable and biblical to examine all claims in the light of objective truth and reject any that are unsupported by solid data and which spring from dubious sources. Let us not jump to conclusions or make hasty judgments.
This is a blog by Dr. Huggins:
Christmas time is approaching and as a result we may expect people to be posting a lot of nonsense about its alleged pagan origins based on reprints of the 1871 7th edition of Alexander Hislop’s Two Babylons. I was reminded of this when my friend Marcia Montenegr
o reposted something she had done on it in view of the coming holiday.
The problem with Hislop’s book is that it was already terminally outdated when it came out. This is because it was rooted in scholarship relating to other religions and civilizations written BEFORE anyone could read the languages needed to understand the ancient religious monuments and texts. This did not stop them, however, from making sweeping claims about the common origins of the religions, and the meanings of their iconography, monuments, myths, and symbols, based on nothing but their own fertile imaginations. This resulted in a fanciful narrative that did not—indeed could not—take into account Champollion’s deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics using the trilingual Rosetta Stone in the 1820s (Hieroglyphic, Demotic, Greek) nor Sir Henry Rawlinson’s 1835 copying of the first characters from the trilingual Behistun Inscription in Iran (Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian), which would ultimately provide the key to cracking cuneiform, the script used in Nineveh and Babylon. As Hislop depended on theories proposed before anyone knew cuneiform, it was not possible for him to, as the subtitle of Two Babylons claims, prove Papal Worship to be the religion of Nimrod and his wives, because he relied on scholarship that had no access to the languages and texts of Ninevah or Babylon.
In addition, despite the fact that a great enthusiasm for India had emerged in Germany in the latter part of the eighteenth century, especially after 1790, very few classic Hindu or Buddhist texts had yet become available in European Languages, and hardly any Europeans could read Sanskrit. The first to learn it was the Englishman Charles Wilkin who also produced the first translation of a classical Sanskrit text in a European language: The Bhăgvăt-gēētā, or, Dialogues of Krĕĕshnă and Ărjŏŏn (1785). The first German said to have learned Sanskrit was Friedrich Schlegel, who began his studies of the language in 1803. Access to actual classical Indian texts of any sort remained patchy for some time after, as we see in Schopenhauer’s recollection that ‘Up till 1818…there were to be found in Europe only a very few accounts of Buddhism, and those extremely incomplete and inadequate, confined almost entirely to a few essays” This continued to be the case well into the 19th century. It was not until 1845 that Ralph Waldo Emerson finally gets a chance to hold a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in his hands, on loan apparently from James Elliot Cabot. The first complete edition of the Dhammapada in a Western language (Latin) did not appear until 1855.
As 19th century scholarship and the languages and texts opened up actual access to the meaning of the monuments and texts of ancient civilizations and the world religions, a full-scale revolution in understanding and access occurred as reflected, for example, in the 50 volume Sacred Books of the East series edited by F. Max Müller between 1879 and 1910. Still, in 1897, the noted folklorist Andrew Lang summed up the situation at the end of the 19th century as follows: ‘The history of mythology is the history of rash, premature, and exclusive theories. We are only beginning to learn caution’.
The problem was that many writers still preferred the narratives about the history of religion cooked up before real knowledge was available to the one that was emerging through the actual studies of languages and texts. This was in no little part due to the imagined usefulness of the older narrative for debunking Christianity, or at least Catholicism, as was the case with Hislop. This is the same reason we can expect our holiday Facebook feeds to be filled with memes confidently, and even cockily repeating claims that began to be firmly and finally debunked around 200 years ago.
As an example of the kind of mistakes based on pure guesses as to meaning of religious images and monuments (or even poorly drawn pictures of them) when one ignores the better information now long since available, we may think of Hislop’s claim that the Hindu god Krishna’s mother “Devaki, is represented with the woolly hair and marked features of the Negro or African race” (p. 238). Engelbert Kaempfer had made a similar claim about the Buddha in 1727 after seeing a statue of him in Siam: “The Saint being represented with curled Hairs, like a Negro, there is room to conclude, that he was no native of India, but was born under the hot Climate of Africa.”
However, both the Buddha and Krishna (and Krishna’s mother Devaki) were from India, and their clan and caste associations are identified in the texts. Hislop noted that Krishna was a black god. And indeed the word “krishna,” means “black.” This is not because he is from Africa but because Krishna’s color is linked (at least in part) to a story of how Krishna and his brother Balarama were conceived after a black and a white hair of Vishnu was placed in their mothers’ wombs. This is why they are depicted in their iconography as black (or blue) in Krishna’s case, and white in Balarama’s.
Hislop also features a picture which he captions “Crishna crushing the serpents head” (p. 60, fig. 23). In other words he uses Genesis 3:15, often seen as one of the earliest prophesies of Christ, and providing the key to interpreting a statue of Krishna. What he really needed to do was read the story of Krishna’s battle with the serpent Kaliya in book 10, chapters 16-17 of the Bhagavata Purana where the story is told of Kaliya’s taking up residence and polluting the Yamuna river where he didn’t belong. Krishna steps in and dances on Kaliya head. Given the fact that Krishna contains the universe within himself this causes a lot of damage. This continued until Kaliya’s snake wives succeeded through their prayers to get Krishna to stop. Once Kaliya recovers himself, he repents and Krishna orders him to leave the river and go back to the ocean where he belongs.
I remember struggling my way through Hislop back in the 1970s, and sort of assuming that a book so full of footnotes must have some merit. After all it was published by Loizeaux Brothers, a respected Plymouth Brethren publisher. Later I discovered that already in 1941 F. F. Bruce (who was himself from a Plymouth Brethren background) had written an article exploring what one might have to do to try to credibly update Hislop’s thesis in view of more current evidence. Then in the 1990s I was talking one time with Peter , president of Loizeaux Brothers (and a member of the family). He was not aware of the fact that Bruce had written the article. Bartlett told me that at that time the main customer buying the book was the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This is no surprise given the books anti-Catholic and anti-Trinitarian perspective. Happily, sometime after that Loizeaux Brothers ceased reprinting the book.
Article by Ralph Woodrow, regarding his previously published book Babylon Mystery Religion, and his public statement of the errors in that book (Woodrow also wrote and published The Babylon Connection? as a corrective to his original book that promulgated the Hislop errors)
Woodrow’s book, The Babylon Connection?
Expose of The Two Babylons
The work has been completely discredited by painstaking professional historical research, and thoroughly rebutted and refuted by strongly evangelical former supporters who did follow-up research of their own.
Historians who have carefully researched the historical claims made in this book, and the source materials that author Hislop relied on, have determined that he is unreliable as an historian. Almost all of his “facts” are shown to be false, and his reasoning from superficial similarities of appearances and ritual actions is demonstrated to be completely unsound and without merit as “proofs” of pagan origins. This has demolished his credibility. 16th–19th century anthropologists who were contemporaries of the authors of his source materials have also shown that even among historians in the 16th–19th centuries most of his sources had no reliable historical credibility as researchers.
Impartial and objective evaluations by non-Catholic reviewers of this book have also determined that it is simply a calumny against the Catholic religion. This has refuted his Christian integrity as a writer. This does not prove that Alexander Hislop was a liar, but only that his book is full of falsehoods. There is a difference. He may indeed have been sincere in his belief. His methology was entirely wrong. His conclusions are errors.
Video from Gervase Charmley on Hislop
Video from Joel Richardson on Hislop
Is Easter a pagan word?