D.M. Murdock — Acharya S

Since the publication of her first book in 1999, D.M. Murdock, the artist formerly known as Acharya S, has garnered a sizable following of devoted acolytes who are always eager to bring her into any and all discussions on the subject of mythicism. No conversation about it can ensue for long without her name(s) popping up, along with an accompanying avalanche of links to videos on her website. That she has so many followers has baffled me for a long time, ever since I read her first book, The Christ Conspiracy (the only one of her books that I've read). Full disclosure: I straight-up did not think much of that book, either of its rancorous, dramatic, alarmist tone, or its quasi-mystical clearing-house mashup style of comparative religions speculation, where everything is filtered and catalogued to fit a prescribed astrotheological conclusion.  The credit for the fact that the term "astrotheology" is in the mythicist parlance at all belongs to Ms. Murdock, and this is a feather in her cap. It reflects the tenacity of her vision to show Christianity as 'just another sun cult.' Such a notion is a good example of what Daniel Dennett calls a "deepity", an expression that is trivially and superficially true, yet which is spoken with an inflated air of enigmatic profundity and importance. "Love is just a word," is another example of a deepity.

The Good

Here's the thing. She's not really "wrong" about that, per se. In fact, I think that she is more or less correct in highlighting the role that the sun and moon (etc) archetypes have had in the long progressive history of world religions in general. Some of the things she says about the many parallels that clearly exist between the symbolisms used by the countless religious traditions of the world (including Christianity) are genuinely fascinating. At its best her work is not entirely unlike that done by Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell in pointing to the similarities between world traditions. Such parallels can indeed be shown to exist. In fact they form a kind of symbolic/archetypal matrix from which all religious trajectories spring and take root and grow out of over the course of millenia.

The not-so Bad

Let's go way back. Long ago we started watching the skies at night. Years and decades and aeons of observations made it possible for us to theorize about the movement of celestial bodies in the firmament. Beside the obvious fact that the moon was our monthly dancing partner, we began noticing that the stars don't ever change positions relative to each other and that they go around and around the earth at a set regular rate of movement that corresponds to the yearly seasonal cycles. This observation made people realize that the firmament is in fact in constant revolution around our little planet.

Next we noticed a different kind of celestial body in motion. Planets. Planets, however, seem to display a somewhat different pattern of movement through the sky, one with much variation. They are all over the place compared to the stars, further observation and cataloguing revealed that even these seemingly chaotic bodies are also in constant regular revolutions around the Earth. Always around the Earth. This was the only conclusion that the early philosophers could come to in a pre-scientific world, based on the observational criteria they had. All heavenly bodies revolve around the earth. It's obvious, no? That people would make the solipsistic leap of seeing a connection between the trajectories of constellations and their own spiritual lives is not hard to see. Cyclic, the seasonal symbols worked their way into the rhythm of liturgical dances and songs and texts.  Yes. To deny that all religions started out as hymns to the rhythm of the sun and the moon and the stars would be silly, but, on the other hand, to stop there, that is, to not see that the skeletal understructure of any given individual religion needs fleshing out beyond this basic thumbnail sketch astrotheological reduction, would be way too simplistic. It's a matter of the scale of the problem. The origin of Christianity (the focus of my mythicist musings) just cannot be explained away by such simple generalities. It would be sort of analogous to saying, not incorrectly, that human beings are "vertebrates." It may be true, but this would do nothing to demonstrate an understanding of the detailed physiology of people, much less to demonstrate what makes them tick, what makes their lives lives.

Imagine the problem of the historical Jesus as a whodunnit scenario. Countless detectives (mythicist and historicist and agnostic) are there on the scene sleuthing around, diggin' up all the evidence they can, trying to figure out what's going on. There is a body on the ground. Some people are discussing a possible murder weapon. Some the possible motives. Some people are whispering and pointing fingers. Along comes Acharya S, who walks by and takes a look at the chalk outline on the ground and proclaims, 'Aha! It's elementary, my dear Watson ... what we have here is clearly a vertebrate creature of some kind ... a pretty large one ... possibly a simian or an anthropod,' as if this were at all relevant to the case at hand. 

"No, duh!"

The Bad

Scholarly disagreement nontwithstanding, it can get weird in the bloggosphere. At this point in this surreal whodunnit scenario, further imagine you are then suddenly handed a glossy flyer by a complete stranger that features Acharya's comely face. You deduce from his singleminded dedication (he hands them to everyone) that he is from her entourage. He's got a glazed look in his eye, and he stands way too close to you and says, "You know, I heard you say 'Duh!' to Ms. S, mister. That wasn't very nice. That was rude. " Under his arm he holds a whole stack of similar flyers and pamphlets. You can see that he already has another one ready to hand to you, in case you put down the one he's already put in your hand, even though you haven't even looked at it yet.
You finally look at it and notice the caption, "Great Minds of Our Time," it reads.

"Oy vey!" (facepalm and fade out ... at least that's my reaction ... you can have your own)

If I found Ms. Murdock's astrotheological speculations convincing or even relevant to the discussion in some significant way, then the surreal phenomenon of her acolytes always coming to her defense whenever they perceive violations to her honor wouldn't be such an awkward thing to encounter in my surfing. Of course, merely taking her to task for any little thing is often enough to be deemed such a violaton, I've noticed, so I could really be opening up a can of red wigglers here, I realize. Its too bad. She's a bright person. She's also obviously a good-hearted person, as we witnessed when she voluntarily rallied help for Bob Price when he fell on hard times and ill health. That was very kind and selfless, and deserves acknowledgement. But, regardless, the fact is that I find her peripherally relevant at best regarding mythicism. Whatever mojo charms her fans into thinking that she is the pinnacle of mythicist thought just doesn't seem to work on me, and so her vociferous sycophants are just a weird curiosity to me. She reminds me a lot of Ron Paul (congressman from the state of Texas and underdog U.S. presidential candidate) in this respect. Paul himself is a smart enough guy who just happens to hold big weird political opinions which are easy enough to dismiss as irrelevant and then to just theretofore ignore, but his followers are frigging everywhere and they like to make themselves known and heard, at times intrusively and combatively. It's kind of a drag, actually.

I don't ordinarily ever speak about Ms. Murdock. I think an ideal anthology of mythicism would probably not contain anything she's written, and that would be okay with me, but if I'm going to keep building a 'who's who' blog about mythicism, then in the interest of keeping it real I guess I have no choice but to break my reticent silence and to finally give my honest assessment of D. M. Murdock's value viz a viz mythicism.

There you have it.

Selected Bibliography:

  • The Christ Conspiracy — (1999)
    — The truth is that she lost me at "conspiracy" in the title.

    Rating: ☆☆☆☆


  1. Quixie: "The Christ Conspiracy (the only one of her books that I've read)." "The truth is that she lost me at "conspiracy" in the title."

    That is the problem I see far too often, people try to bludgeon her to death with her first book when she has written several other excellent books since then that are outstanding. Plus, she already announced a 2nd edition for "Christ Conspiracy" anyway.


    Quixie, you expose your own biases when you admit you had a knee-jerk reaction simply because the word "conspiracy" was mentioned in the title. How is that any improvement over fanatical theists? It's not.

    Criticism of her work is too often unfairly way over the top and also comes from those who have never studied her work but just regurgitate the trash from others on the net who also have never studied it. It's the blind leading the blind and we all lose because she actually has more to offer than most realize.

    Quixie, you need to read her latest book:

    Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver

    It's an excellent read for those very interested in the mythological background of Moses and the Old Testament leading up to the origins of Christianity and the New Testament. Dr. Robert Price posted a brief comment at Amazon praising her work.

    Scholars and others who've actually read Acharya's work are supportive of it:

    "...In recent months or over the last year or so I have interviewed Frank Zindler and Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald and Robert
    Price all on the issue of mythicism ... when I spoke to these people
    I asked for their expertise collectively and what I got, especially
    from Fitzgerald and Robert Price, was that we should be speaking to
    tonights guest D.M. Murdock, author of 'Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver'."
    - Aron Ra


    "I find it undeniable that many of the epic heroes and ancient patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament were personified stars, planets, and constellations." "I find myself in full agreement with Acharya S/D.M. Murdock"

    - Dr. Robert Price, Biblical Scholar with two Ph.D's

    "I have no objection to postulating a 'prehistoric' (i.e., prior to our earliest horizon on Christianity) phase to the heavenly Christ cult in which observations of the heavens helped shaped the Christ myth." "Acharya has that aspect of things sewn up!"

    - Earl Doherty

    Earl Doherty defers to Acharya for the subject of astrotheology:

    "A heavenly location for the actions of the savior gods, including the death of Christ, would also have been influenced by most religions' ultimate derivation from astrotheology, as in the worship of the sun and moon. For this dimension of more remote Christian roots, see the books of Acharya S"

    - Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, (2009) page 153

    "Your scholarship is relentless! ...the research conducted by D.M. Murdock concerning the myth of Jesus Christ is certainly both valuable and worthy of consideration."
    - Dr. Ken Feder, Professor of Archaeology

    "I can recommend your work whole-heartedly!"
    - Dr. Robert Eisenman

    "I've known people with triple Ph.D's who haven't come close to the scholarship in Who Was Jesus?"
    - Pastor David Bruce, M.Div, North Park Seminary

    "...I have found her scholarship, research, knowledge of the original languages, and creative linkages to be breathtaking and highly stimulating."
    - Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham, Pastor, Presbyterian Church

    People have a right to know the facts instead of malicious smears and intellectual dishonesty. It's an embarrassment to the mythicist movement.

    1. Thank you for repeating your comment (I knew you would).

      I DID NOT stop reading at the title. I read the whole book ... and thought it pretty much sucked. So badly, in fact, that I will be hesitant to read any other of the following works as a result (crappy writing will do that to me). I did recently read some of the Egypt/Horus one, on a commenter's suggestion. She seems to have cleaned up and lightened up on the paranoid/conspiracy tone of her first book. Good for her. But I still don't really care for it. You like it? Cool. I don't.

      I let this comment slide, to serve as an example of the type of comment that I will NOT publish in the future.

      Know it.

      Promotional soapboxes? I'll have none, please.

    2. Will you count as "promotional soapboxes" all comments that refer to the work of authors you dislike?

    3. Any comment that does nothing but gratuitously promote ANY specific scholar, whether I like them or not, is a promotional soapbox.
      I hope that helps you figure out what I mean.


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