Thomas Allen Publishers, 220 pp, $34.95, hardcover.
Tom Harpur has seen the light. The Toronto Star columnist and author (this is his 10th book) invites us to find the "Christ within", who has nothing to do with the historical Jesus; indeed, Harpur claims, there never was one.
In The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light, Harpur argues that Christ is a myth based on the deity Horus, the "Egyptian Christ". This bird-beaked pagan god was distorted into a flesh-and-blood crucified Jew by early church leaders who wanted their teachings to seem unique. The "lost light" of the subtitle is our divine nature. Taken symbolically, Christ's story teaches us how to unfold our Christ potential. Ditching Mel Gibsoní‚ esque literalism is the only way the church has a future: no literal miracles means no conflict with science; the insight that all faiths are signposts to that inner spark will end religious strife. Thus spake Tom Harpur.
He cites dozens of parallels between the Horus myth and the Gospels' Jesus. But Egyptian mythology was a kaleidoscope of tales about hundreds of local totem gods that merged and evolved through antiquity. There were at least 15 deities named Horus in this mythic mélange. It's no shock to find many matches between "Horus" and Christ, or any other god you'd care to compare.
Harpur was a Rhodes scholar and divinity professor, so it's odd to find his book chock full of factual flubs. He reports that the Egyptian name Iusu, supposedly the root of Jesus, can be traced to 18,000 BC. But writing doesn't predate the fourth millennium. A god crucified was depicted around 300 BC, he writes. The image dates from six centuries later; regarding Christian origins, the BC/AD thing isn't a fussy detail. The list of mistakes is longer than this review.
As history or comparative mythology, The Pagan Christ is too error-pocked to recommend. But what about that "lost light" to which Harpur passionately attests? It's not in a book (or even the Georgia Straight). Each day quiet your mind, aim to be more lovingly aware of everyone you meet, and see what happens. If Harpur's book, warts and all, helps us do this in the name of the "Christ within", it's a worthy tome.