"You will not taste death: Jesus and Epicureanism"

  • By luck I have found a reference to a book on Epicureanism and early Christianity (it's quite interesting to myself because I am currently reading DeWitt's "St. Paul and Epicurus". It's titeled "You will not taste death: Jesus and Epicureanism" by Jack W. Hannah. Does anyone know more about the book or the author or already know something on the connection between the Gospel of Thomas and Epicureanism?

  • I do not think I have heard of that. Please keep us posted on what you make of it.

    Other than DeWitt's work, the only similar thing I am aware of - and it's not explicitly Epicurean but rather "materialism" - is the article from the early 1800's by Thomas Cooper "The Scripture Doctrine of Materialism" which gives his argument that a close reading of the bible supports the view that the human soul was viewed as a material thing in some of the biblical texts.


  • I read most of the book and definitely have some observations.

    He proposes that Epicurean philosophy not only influenced the development of early Christianity, but may even a primary influence on the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. His thesis relies on several assumptions that I think are difficult to prove, that the Gospel of Thomas is an authentic representation of early Christianity, that the life of the Jesus of the Gospels can be adequately reconstructed, and that the Jesus of the Gospels was an Epicurean wise man.

    He heavily relies on personal speculation to further his propositions.

    Chronologically, the Gospel of Thomas was written sometime after Mark, Matthew, Luke, and the hypothesized "Q" Gospel from which Matthew and Luke both drew. Most scholars date Thomas closer to John (if not explicitly after it), sometime at the beginning of the 2nd-century along with other, apocryphal writings of Gnostics. Given this chronology, the Gnostic tone, and the later rejection of this gospel of Biblical canon, it seems unlikely that the Gospel of Thomas is a useful historical text from which to reconstruct a sketch of the allegedly historical figure called Jesus.

    Hannah spends a significant chapter exploring "the paranormal" and speculates that Jesus may have been connected to ancient paranormal activity. He catalogues various accounts of "inexplicable" phenomena reported throughout the modern era to help substantiate his claim and further speculates that the "miracles" of Jesus were actual instances of extraordinary phenomena controlled by a wise man connected with "the paranormal". This chapter is a good example of Hannah's general approach, hand-picked evidence, a lack of peer review, and personal speculations.

    The rest of the book is a commentary on each Jesus Saying in The Gospel of Thomas. The connections drawn between most of the sayings and Epicurean philosophy are tenuous (much like our recent discussions about Buddhism). While Hannah does find several interesting connections, the lack of an ability to definitively demonstrate Thomas as an Epicurean document, and Jesus as an Epicurean philosopher neutralizes the speculation.

    I think De Witt makes the best argument for a connection between Epicurean philosophy and Christianity based on the historical tensions documented in the Pauline Epistles and Paul's appropriation of Epicurean vocabulary and techniques to evangelize a non-Christian, Greek audience. Beyond Paul, I don't think we'll find any Epicurean connections with the character of Jesus from the Gospels. There are obvious connections with Philo's Neo-Platonic Judaism, with the eschatological John the Baptist and the community of the Essenes, with the anti-imperialism of the Zealots, and, most of all given the likely historical context, as one (of many) 1st-century Jewish Messiah-claimants.

    Personally, I believe that any investigation of "the historical figure of Jesus" needs to begin with an honest attempt to authenticate his historicity as a verifiable individual, and not just the amalgamation of similar stories of Jewish guys named "Josh" who claimed to be the Messiah and were executed by the Roman empire. Besides several very brief anecdotes from Flavius Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny, we lack the evidence to authenticate his identity. It seems odd to me that someone writing from an Epicurean perspective would jump straight to the claim that "Not only did Jesus exist ... but also he harnessed psychic energy to heal people with Epicurean magic."

    I think Hannah set out to try to prove a highly imaginative fiction. He paints a colorful picture that would be the perfect topic for late night on the History Channel, but not something constructive to our study as Epicureans.

  • Given the quality of his posts I suspect Nate has retired and gone into full-time Epicurean commentary. Another great post.

    Last time I did not bother to look up that book. Here's a link or two:

    So it's fairly recent: https://www.amazon.com/You-wil…taste-death/dp/B0006FANBK

    You Will Not Taste Death
    A fine softcover copy. Indexed. Light shelf wear. Tight binding. Clean, unmarked pages. Not ex-library. Shipped Weight: Under 1 kilogram....

    I can't find much else as to who Hannah is or his views.

  • I got the book through interlibrary loan some months ago. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to read its contents sufficiently to get a complete picture before returning. I definitely agree with most of Nate's commentary.

    It's rather of the kind of books suggesting Jesus was a Yoga adherent who visited India than presenting facts like the appearance of Epicurean vocabulary in the letters of Paul.

    What I still find quite interesting is Hannah's suggestion that the Gospel of Thomas shall be a reliable and unaltered source while the other gospels are said to be compiled fiction. But this is off topic.